Thursday, March 31, 2016

ISIS Fight Medal

From the Stars and Stripes:
"New medal for campaign against Islamic State features armored hand stabbing a scorpion"
A new medal for service members fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday. The Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, authorized in an executive order by President Barack Obama, joins a growing list of decorations created for the wars and operations that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. To qualify for the award, a service member "must have been present in Iraq, Syria, or the contiguous waters or airspace of either country, on or after June 15, 2014, for a period of 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days," according to a Pentagon statement. "Service members who were killed or were medically evacuated due to wounds or injuries immediately qualify for the award, as do members who engaged in combat." Before the announcement of the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, troops fighting in Iraq and Syria earned the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, which is not to be confused with the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Troops deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, but not stationed in Iraq or Syria, will earn the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. The front side of the new medal features an image of a sword piercing a scorpion — probably a stand-in for the Islamic State. The display of such martial imagery is somewhat ironic, as the Pentagon has often gone out of its way to play down U.S. involvement in combat operations, insisting that U.S. forces are relegated to training and advising local allies and attacking targets from the air. The reverse side of the medal has an eagle perched atop a banner that says, "For service." The hand clutching the sword appears to be wearing armor, and the sword itself is a variant of one commonly used in earlier U.S. military insignias. Known as the Sword of Liberation, the blade is prominently displayed in the emblem of U.S. Army Europe — although in the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal, the sword is more of a dagger and the hilt is slightly altered. Compare this to the last medal awarded for operations in Iraq: the Iraqi Campaign Medal. Authorized in 2004, the medal features an outline of Iraq on one side and two curved Iraqi scimitars on the other along with the words "For Service in Iraq." It is unclear why the hand is wearing what appears to be medieval armor. Imagery of that sort could be construed to imply religious zealotry — insignia and call signs that invoke armor-clad crusaders have embroiled the U.S. military in controversy before. Last year, two Army units were criticized for using crusader names, shields and imagery in their unit logos. The Islamic State and other terrorist groups, however, have never shied away from calling their enemies in the West crusaders. The Islamic State said terrorist attacks in Paris in November were in response to a French "crusader campaign" in Iraq and Syria," while Osama Bin Laden's initial declaration of war against the United States also used the term.
^ The men and women who are risking their life to protect us from ISIS deserve this separate medal. ISIS is very different from Al-Qaida or any other terrorist group and so are the missions and risks involved in fighting them. ^

Bad Metro

From the WP:
"Metro could shut down entire rail lines to do extended maintenance, board chair says"
Metro’s top officials warned Wednesday that the transit system is in such need of repair that they might shut down entire rail lines for as long as six months for maintenance, potentially snarling thousands of daily commutes and worsening congestion in the already traffic-clogged region. Board Chairman Jack Evans and General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld put rail riders on notice about possible extended closures at a high-level conference of local leaders.  The discussion also revealed strong resistance to what Evans said was a “dire” need for more than $1 billion a year in additional funding for Metro. The officials’ comments underlined the depth of Metro’s problems, which are steadily becoming more apparent as Wiedefeld continues to probe the rail system’s defects since taking over as the transit agency’s chief executive in November. Until now, Metro has typically done repair work at night or during short shutdowns over weekends. An exception was the unprecedented shutdown of the entire system on a regular workday March 16 for emergency track safety inspections. Wiedefeld ordered that closure in what now seems to have been an initial taste of more bitter medicine to follow.
“The system right now, in order to do the maintenance that needs to be done, cannot be done on three hours a night and on weekends. It just can’t,” said Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2). “So in order to do repairs that are necessary, it may come to the point where we have to close the entire Blue Line for six months. People will go crazy. But there are going to be hard decisions that have to be made in order to get this fixed,” Evans said. Although he twice singled out the Blue Line as a candidate for closure, Evans said any of Metro’s six lines could be shuttered in full or in part.  He said the Red Line was the least likely to be shut, because much repair work has already been done on it.
^ I am so glad I no longer have to deal with the rat-race down there (where it can take 30 minutes just to get out of your development to go to the store.) While  I lived down there I had to take the Blue Line and the VRE (which uses the same tracks as the Blue Line) nearly everyday. There's no other option other than driving yourself and being stuck for hours in traffic jams or taking a commuter bus (and still being stuck in those jams.) There is no reason for this big mess since the Metro is only 40 years old (this year) while NYC's Subway is over 100 years old and hasn't had these kinds of problems. If any of the lines are shut down for more than a few days then it will be complete chaos with all the workers and tourists trying to get around an already congested area. ^

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Base Departure

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Hundreds of military dependents ordered to leave Turkey"
The Pentagon is ordering nearly 700 military family members to leave Incirlik Air Base and two smaller military installations in Turkey because of concerns over the deteriorating security environment there. Families are expected to begin leaving Turkey on Wednesday, stopping first at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, before continuing on to the States or other duty locations, U.S. European Command told Stars and Stripes. “We understand this is disruptive to our military families, but we must keep them safe and ensure the combat effectiveness of our forces to support our strong ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” EUCOM chief Gen. Philip Breedlove said Tuesday in a statement. The mandatory departure order, announced by the State Department, affects nearly all Defense Department dependents assigned to Incirlik, as well as those at smaller bases in Izmir and Mugla. The families of U.S. diplomats in the same areas also are ordered to depart. About 670 dependents are expected to be evacuated, along with 287 pets. About 770 dependents, most from Incirlik, are currently in Turkey, EUCOM spokeswoman Julie Weckerlein said. Those allowed to stay are family members with mission-essential jobs. The dramatic move to get families out of Turkey comes several weeks after Americans at Incirlik were put on base lockdown, when the force-protection level was raised to the military’s highest threat condition. The elementary/high school at Incirlik was temporarily shuttered on March 9 as a result. Classes for Incirlik students resumed Monday and Tuesday at different locations on base, but that arrangement appears to be short-lived given Tuesday’s announcement. Some families had already opted to leave Incirlik. In September, the Air Force authorized the voluntary early departure of residents, a temporary measure that resulted in about 100 family members leaving for the States. School enrollment since the fall has plummeted by more than 100 students, leaving about 250 students at the school. Also in September, the Air Force suspended the move of U.S. servicemembers’ families to Incirlik, an early signal of the growing concern over violence in the region. Incirlik has one of the smallest populations of any U.S. Air Forces in Europe facility, with fewer than 2,000 airmen normally assigned there. Weckerlein said no decisions have been made on the future status of Incirlik as a continued destination for families. “They will review this in the future,” she said. The evacuation does not signify a permanent decision to end accompanied tours to Turkey, EUCOM said. “It is intended to mitigate the risk to DOD elements and personnel, including family members, while ensuring the combat effectiveness of U.S. forces and our mission support to operations in Turkey,” according to the EUCOM statement. Uncertainty about the nature of future deployments to the base comes as military operations at Incirlik have increased. Now, the base is on the front lines of the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, with U.S. fighters routinely launching from Incirlik on strike missions. In July, U.S. troops and aircraft began rotating through Incirlik in larger numbers as part of the ramping up of the air campaign. At the same time, NATO allies have been conducting operations from Incirlik, including surveillance flights around the Turkish border. For the U.S., Incirlik Air Base has long been a strategic spoke for U.S. forces, dating back to the Cold War. While Incirlik has no permanent U.S. aircraft assigned, the base has long served as a temporary hub for cargo and refueling missions supporting U.S. aircraft in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The base also is only about 200 miles from the Syrian border, where the transit of foreigners back and forth to Turkey has been a long-standing concern for the U.S. and its allies. The town of Incirlik, a small village, is about 10 miles from the largely conservative Turkish city of Adana, home to nearly 2 million people.

^ With the bombings in Turkey, the bases being only 200 miles from the Syrian border with the Syrian Civil War and the War on ISIS right there it is not surprising that the families are being evacuated. ^

Barely Minimum

From the MT:
"Russia Raises Minimum Monthly Wage to $110"
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced on Monday that the minimum monthly wage in Russia will increase to 7,500 rubles ($110) starting from July 1, the Interfax news agency reported. The minimum wage currently stands at 6,204 rubles ($91) and so the new figure will be an increase of 21 percent.  However, the minimum wage in Russia remains significantly lower than the minimum subsistence level, which is currently 9,452 rubles ($139).  Labor Minister Maxim Topilin said earlier this week that raising the minimum wage to the subsistence level will require three years, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
^ Not sure what the point is of having a minimum wage of $110 when it costs $139 a month for basic things. ^

Monday, March 28, 2016

You Caring

From You Caring:
"In Memory of Gloria DeVoe - Help with Memorial Expenses"

The Story:

My mom, Gloria, was the matriarch of our family. She was the rock of the family, the glue that held us together, and helped organize our family traditions and holidays, among other things. On Saturday, March 26th, after being ill in the hospital for a few weeks, my mom passed at 5:04pm, surrounded by her family she loved. Now we are faced with not only grieving her and being accustomed to life without her, but the cost of her memorial service. My mom wanted to be cremated, and she had previously chosen where she would like to go, as far as the funeral home is concerned. My parents were on a limited income as it was, and now with her loss, it is going to be a tight budget with keeping everything going concerning my dad and his bills, etc. We now have to come up with the money for a memorial service for my mom. She deserves something simple, but nice, and even with the bare necessities of the cremation, memorial service, etc, it is going to be over $3000, with a deposit of $1000 pretty much asap. I am hoping that you all can help us give her a memorial that she deserves, and not strain my dad's budget. Whether it is a small donation, large, or even sharing this page, I appreciate anything you would be willing to do to help us.

^   I went to school with this person and any help would be appreciated. Please check-out the link below for more information and to share and/or donate. ^

Russian Reality

From the MT:
"Russian Economic Crisis Risks Stagnation, Degradation"
The Russian economy is locked in an especially bad crisis. It differs significantly from the crises of 1998 and 2008-2009, when rapid downturns were followed by equally rapid recoveries. If anything, the current crisis more closely resembles that of the early 1990s, when Russia was transitioning from a planned to a market economy. Although salaries fell further then — by more than 50 percent — the same institutional problems caused both crises. The norms and rules now in place in the Russian economy are blocking its further development, just as they did back then. Budgets are in the worst condition. The federal budget deficit for 2015 totaled 2 trillion rubles ($32.8 billion) or 2.5 percent of gross domestic product. The combined deficit for all regional and municipal budgets totaled 2.7 trillion rubles ($44.3 billion), or 3.5 percent of GDP — 11 percent more than in 2014. Industrial output fell by 5 percent by May 2015. Household personal incomes dropped last year by 4.7 percent (and by 6.9 percent this February when compared to February 2015). Consumption slumped sharply, causing a 10 percent decline in retail sales. Construction was down by 13 percent in September 2015, and by 7 percent for the year overall. Investment continues to fall for the third consecutive year, and each year the rate of decline increases. Last year alone investment dropped by 8.4 percent. That means the crisis is continuing, and even if this or that sector has already "hit bottom," there is no guarantee that investment will not fall even further — because there are no drivers of growth in the Russian economy. What are drivers of growth? They include improvements to the business environment, more predictable policies and the absence of geopolitical adventurism. Businesses do not invest when they are uncertain what will happen tomorrow, next year or five years from now. This crisis has geography of its own. Worst hit are the industrial regions that produce automobiles and train wagons. In those sectors, production is off by as much as 30-50 percent. That is the result of a sharp drop in buying power. The Russian car industry modernized over the last decade, but people do not have enough money to buy foreign cars assembled in Russian plants. They can't even afford the basic Lada automobile manufactured by AvtoVAZ. A sharp drop in foreign demand for Russian train wagons has led to a steep decline in manufacturing by UralVagonZavod in Nizhny Tagil. Now that John Deere harvesters have become too expensive for Russian farmers, the only domestic industrial sector experiencing growth is agricultural machinery. But how long will that last?
Oil and gas regions are faring better, especially such relative newcomers as Sakhalin, eastern Siberia and the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district. Extraction continues and production is up in those regions thanks to investments made in past years. Agrarian regions in the south are also on the upswing, although growth is slow — at just 3 percent for agriculture and similar figures for food production. That is the result of import substitution caused by the devaluation of the ruble. However, import substitution is progressing slowly. For example, Russia was already producing 90 percent of its own poultry before the crisis, but now produces only 95 percent. It was meeting 70-80 percent of its pork needs, and now only close to 90 percent. However, the drop in demand and buying power will soon put a halt to such growth. The same thing is happening in the pharmaceutical sector. Imported drugs have become more expensive and the government is purchasing fewer of them. Demand has therefore risen for cheaper and lower quality drugs produced in Russia.  And last, regions that are home to military-industrial complex facilities are also seeing growth. These include the Bryansk, Tula, Vladimir and parts of the Yaroslavl regions, along with some of the republics on the Volga. The federal budget finances the defense industry and increased defense spending by 28 percent in 2015. But that holiday is already over: The federal budget is in the red and maintaining that level of defense spending is no longer an option. In fact, defense spending accounts for more than 20 percent of all federal spending — 33 percent if one includes national security expenses. I anticipate spending to decrease in those areas in 2016. But the greatest impact this crisis has is on major cities, where people earn the most and consume the most, where demand is most modernized and where people make the greatest use of services. These residents buy more, they spend more on culture, recreation, travel, education and healthcare. After becoming accustomed to modern lifestyles, metropolitan residents are now forced to gradually abandon them. The services sector is the main form of employment in major cities, and as resources become increasingly scarce, employment falls fastest in this area. With the crisis hitting businesses that provide services that improve life, major cities are witnessing the greatest overall drop in the quality of life and standard of living. This is a very serious problem. Not only incomes are dropping: so are people's work status, consumption patterns and standard of living. Every large city is also a huge labor market, and under crisis conditions, residents are forced to accept less desirable jobs that offer lower pay. Of course, people in the big cities feel frustrated and depressed, but they are adapting to their new lives. The crisis will not cause an increase in unemployment in major cities, but it is reducing status and stifling ambitions.
Unemployment is rising slowly in the regions. Official statistics put it at only 5.7 percent in late 2015. That is negligible. The people of Spain and Italy would be happy with such an "unemployment problem." Unemployment is not rising faster because, firstly, the effects of the crisis are felt slowly and factories are not generally closing down. Secondly, Russia has an unusual labor market. In place of layoffs, employees are given fewer work days per week, go on forced leave or simply stand idle. Business owners understand they can be punished for shutting down enterprises. They know it is better to keep their doors open. Demographic factors also influence unemployment statistics. For example, more people are reaching retirement age and leaving the labor market than there are young people coming of age and entering it. Also, with the decline in construction, migrant workers that composed the greater part of those work crews are returning home and, as non-Russian citizens, were never included in official employment statistics. As Russians adapt to the crisis, a sense of individualism and "every man for himself" has begun to dominate. Some find a second job, others settle for a less desirable position and still others go "underground" and stop paying taxes. In the provinces, residents are raising more chickens and pigs and planting more potatoes — the traditional way that Russians have fed themselves throughout the ages. One's own labor does not cost anything. That is the classic Russian "survival mode." This year Russia is once again facing the prospect of double-digit inflation — and that means a new decline in real wages and real incomes. Russia becomes a poor and low-cost country full of great deals for foreign hard currency tourists. It is the protractedness of the current crisis that makes it particularly challenging. Russia will remain at a nadir for some time to come. But the worst part is that people are getting used to it. And when people grow accustomed to a crisis, their primary coping strategy is to tighten their belts. They eat more potatoes and bread and less meat and mandarins, vacation at their dachas rather than at the sea and modify their consumption to fit their shrinking incomes. That is the main survival strategy. And it leads to degradation.

^ This is a well-balanced and thought-out article that shows the current  economic reality for Russians and how it differs from the villages to the cities and even region to region.  It also confirms what I have been hearing from my friends in Russia (all living in cities, but spread throughout the country.) ^

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Czas Honoru

I randomly came across this TV series from Poland called "Days of Honor" in English. It is in Polish with English subtitles.The series has seven seasons and I have watched seasons 1 and 2 (with the other 3-7 coming in the mail.) This post is about those seasons (1 and 2) I have already seen. The series is about the German occupation of Poland (focusing on Warsaw and starting in 1941) during World War 2. I have seen many TV shows, mini-series and movies about World War Two from around the world and have to say that this is one of the best. Most shows and movies focus on a specific event during the war, but this one goes in-depth to the whole Polish experience during World War 2. It portrays, the: Polish Resistance (and the different factions and groups within it), the London Poles, the Christian Jews, the "full" Jews, the Polish Collaborators, the "13",  the Volksdeutsche, the Gestapo, the German Military, etc.  It gives a complete view of what Warsaw and the rest of Poland was like during the war (ie. the frequent street round-ups, the deportations, Pawiak, the executions, the Ghetto, the segregation between the Germans and the Poles (Nur für Deutsche), Auschwitz (although during the time of these two seasons Auschwitz wasn't a death camp yet, but a concentration camp for political prisoners), the soup kitchens, the black market, the bribes, the living "underground", forced labor, etc.)
The four actors playing the main Polish Resistance fighters of the series (so far) are: Jan Wieczorkowski, Antoni Pawlicki, Jakub Wesołowski and Maciej Zakościelny. They each have their own storylines that often inter-twine, but it's still easy to follow. In the 2nd season, Piotr Adamczyk (who played Pope John Paul 2nd in two movies) joined the cast as the main Gestapo commander. The only thing I thought was odd was that the actors portraying the Germans look Slavic (and not Germanic) and they speak Polish (and not German) to each other. I know that is done because it is for Polish TV and easier for the Polish audience to understand, but it does a way with some of the authenticity. Of course I say that having to read the English subtitles.
All in all I am really impressed with these two seasons and hope that 3 through 7 are just as good (if not better.)


Geseende Paasfees!  Gezuar Pashket! Քրիստոս յարեա՜ւ ի մեռելոց: Օրհնեա՜լ է Յարութիւնն Քրիստոսի!  Ondo izan Bazko garaian! Pask Seder! Felices Pasques!  Христос възкресе! Наистина възкресе! Pask Lowen! Sretan Uskrs!  Vesele Velikonoce!  Glædelig Paske!  Gelukkig Paasfest!  Joyeuses Paques!  Glethilig paskir!  Hyvaa Paasiaista!  Frohe Ostern!  E olelo malie!  Boldog Husveti Unnepeket!  Buona Pasqua!  Glethilega paska! Linksmu Velyku! Prospera Pascha sit!  Priecigas Lieldienas!  Schein Ouschteren!  L-Ghid it-tajjeb!  Caisht sonney dhyt! God paske! Wesolych swiat!  Boa Pascoa! Paste Fericit! Христос воскрес! Воистину воскрес! Hristos voskrese! Felices Pascuas!Glad Pask!  Milostiplne prezitie Velkonocnych sviatkov! Vesele velikonocne praznike! Pasg Hapus! Happy Easter!

100: Easter Rising

From the BBC:
"Easter Rising: Michael D Higgins takes part in Dublin remembrance ceremony"

Irish president Michael D Higgins has laid in wreath at a remembrance ceremony held in the Republic of Ireland to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. The ceremony is part of a series of commemoration events this weekend. Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Joan Burton were also at the ceremony. The president met relatives of those involved in the events of the Rising at a state event on Saturday.  The Easter Rising was a rebellion held in April 1916 to overthrow British rule in Ireland. It was unsuccessful but is seen as a significant stepping stone to the eventual creation of the Republic of Ireland and the partition of Ireland.   The wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday took place at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. The memorial garden is dedicated to people who fought for Irish independence from Britain.  The event began with a performance of The Parting Glass, a traditional Irish song, sung by the Island of Ireland Peace Choir.  After a wreath was laid by President Higgins, a minute's silence was observed. Relatives of 78 people who died during the Rising were also at the event and were invited to lay wreaths after the state ceremony had ended. The event is part of the Republic of Ireland's official commemoration programme.   Thousands of people are expected to take part in events throughout the Republic leading up to an Easter Centenary Parade on Sunday. In an interview with the BBC, President Higgins said the Republic's approach to the rising's centenary was one of "ethical sensitivity" and that the event was of "immense significance".
^ This is basically Ireland's Lexington and Concord (from the US Revolution) and so it is only fitting that the Irish remember the 100th anniversary that saw part of Ireland gain it's freedom. The British treated all of Ireland and the Irish as their slaves for hundreds of years - using barbaric methods to starve them, openly discriminated against them and used murderous squads like the Black and Tans to terrorize the Irish) and then the Irish finally had had enough and wanted their freedom. This was sparked by the Easter Rising of 1916 and would lead to Ireland becoming a self-governing Dominion within the British Empire (like Canada and Australia) in 1921 and then eventually to a complete separation from the British when they became a Republic in 1949. The British continued their "old" practices in the part of Ireland they kept and called Northern Ireland. Those practices (along with their 3 tier system where the British - ie. English, Welsh and Scottish - were at the top, the Irish Protestants came next and at the bottom were the Irish Catholics) led to The Troubles (with its' bombings, violence and deaths)which officially lasted from 1969 to 1998 which saw Northern Ireland occupied by the British Military and where the basic civil rights of the Irish Catholics were ignored until the Good Friday Accords of 1998. Some will see this 100th anniversary as a way to unite all of Ireland (the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.) I don't know if that is a good idea (and I say that as a person with a Catholic parent and a Protestant parent and also Irish, Scottish and English roots.) I would have definitely said "yes' to a united Ireland with the British completely out during The Troubles, but now that everyone in Northern Ireland finally has an equal chance (and they can get both Irish and British citizenship if they want) I'm not so sure. Regardless, the 1916 Easter Rising should be remembered by everyone: Irish from the Republic, Irish from Northern Ireland and the British. The ruthless treatment of innocent people should never be forgotten. ^

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Archives Battle

From the MT:
"Battle in the Archives - Uncovering Russia's Secret Past"
The year is 1941, and hundreds of miles from Germany, Nazi armored divisions gather speed along newly-frosted soil. They are almost within striking distance of Moscow, the Soviet capital Eventually, the charge is halted before the city by a series of bloody, desperate battles. Famously, 28 members of the Red Army's 316th Rifle Division were reported wiped out as they blew up 18 German tanks to help scupper the Nazi advance. The sacrifice of the 28 "Panfilov's guardsmen" became a Soviet symbol. Streets and monuments across the country were dedicated to the men. They were immortalized in Moscow's city anthem. In schools, children memorized the soldiers' names. But last year, the story itself became a battleground. Sergei Mironenko, the longtime director of the Russian State Archive, denounced the tale as a fake, and published documents to prove it. The heroic 28 had been invented by a war journalist, the documents showed. Moreover, the Soviet authorities uncovered the fiction, but buried the evidence. In the storm that followed the revelation, Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian culture minister, attacked Mironenko. A head archivist should confine himself to handling documents, he said, and leave the interpretations to others. In mid-March, Mironenko was demoted. The 65-year-old historian told The Moscow Times in an interview that he had wanted to change positions. But many of his colleagues have bristled. They say that Mironenko fell victim to a new official approach to history, of which Medinsky is the chief advocate. Whatever the truth, Mironenko's exit marks the end of an era. His 24 years in charge of the state archive spanned modern Russian history. He arrived as an explosion of openness swept away the Soviet Union; he leaves amid fears that an increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian Kremlin is seeking to suppress uncomfortable truths in Russian and Soviet history.  Mironenko watched the U.S.S.R. start to unravel as a historian at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He remembers being bored by most of his Marxist colleagues, who dogmatically stuck to outdated ideals. Mironenko could see that those ideals were crumbling. Dissident Soviet culture had used Mikhail Gorbachev's reform attempts to take over the mainstream and demand access to the secrets hoarded by the communist bureaucracy.
Slowly, Mironenko witnessed how the secretive apparatus loosened its grip. Books were published that had been censored for decades, and the nation learned the true extent of Joseph Stalin's repressions and prison camps. In August 1991, following a failed coup by hard-line communists, things became electric. Boris Yeltsin seized power, and the new zeitgeist was total openness. The KGB and Communist Party were sidelined, and entire Soviet institutions were collapsing left and right, leaving mountains of papers. Meanwhile, the government passed laws that abolished blanket secrecy and guaranteed access to documents. The public wanted knowledge, and Mironenko was on a mission to provide it. Appointed head of the new Russian State Archive in 1992, he rushed to get as much information as possible into the public sphere, working with journalists, arranging exhibitions and releasing catalogues. He made hundreds of short television programs, each dedicated to a document. The point was to put Russians face-to-face with facts. "Less commentary, more document," Mironenko said. "Let the document speak for itself." He began to oversee a mass declassification. In 1992, some 40 percent of the files in the state archive were marked "secret." In 1993 alone, more than 300,000 documents were to be declassified. It was "an archive revolution," Mironenko said.  But ending secrecy was easier said than done. One problem was that declassification was driven from the top. In the early 1990s, a law was passed that would declassify every document older than 30 years. But the process was not automatic. "Millions of documents had to be looked at and given expert opinions before they could be released," says Nikita Petrov, a historian. However, the experts giving their opinions were from the very offices that had created and stored the documents in the first place. They were used to secrecy, and they received bonuses for working with classified information. "There was a constant war with those experts, who were simply unwilling to open all the documents," says Petrov. Then the regulations began to tighten. In 1993, a complex new declassification procedure replaced the previous system, under which an archive could declassify a document on its own authority. In 1996, a "commission for guarding state secrets" was put in charge of declassification. The name revealed the change in direction, says Petrov: "This commission had been responsible for keeping today's secrets, and then they were asked to reveal yesterday's. Mentally, they weren't ready for that." Meanwhile, some state agencies refused to play ball. Yeltsin had corralled all the country's archives under the umbrella of Mironenko and the Russian State Archive, but the Foreign and Defense Ministries, along with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, decided not to cede control. After handing over a trickle of files early in the decade, by the mid-1990s they stopped. As resistance to declassification solidified, an ideological basis appeared to support it. Officials began asking questions: What sort of history do we want to see? A heroic one or one that is full of crimes?  This was a kind of question for which the Yeltsin government was unprepared. The liberals who ascended to power in the 1990s thought they had won the argument, says Petrov. They thought their conclusions about the value of freedom and openness were self-evident. They turned out to be wrong. The chaos and poverty of the Yeltsin period bred distrust in democracy and the government. Demand for history was largely sated in the early 1990s, says historian Alexei Makarov. Journalists — the buffer between historians and the public — gradually stopped writing about the past. Reconciliation with the crimes of the communist period had only been skin deep. As the reality of the Soviet past receded into history, myths and nostalgia reasserted themselves. When Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, he quickly articulated the changing mood. "The Kremlin suddenly began to announce that Russia (and the U.S.S.R.) had had bright periods of history and dark ones, and there was no need to focus only on the dark," says Petrov. The call for bright spots was quickly answered, and the heroic battle against the Nazis was reenergized as a symbol of Russia and a justification of Soviet rule. Tales such as that of Panfilov's guardsmen were stressed. Things like Stalin's failure to anticipate the Nazi attack, the secret pact with Hitler in 1939 and violence committed by the Red Army in eastern Europe were not. Vladimir Medinsky, a politician and  author of popular history books who was appointed culture minister in 2012, is the apogee of this obscurantism, says Petrov. Historian Askold Ivanchik summed up Medinsky's attitude to history in a talk hosted by Open Russia, a non-government organization: "Historical truth isn't important … We should relate to heroic feats during the war in the same way the church relates to the lives of saints." Medinsky has huge influence over Russian arts, culture and history, distributing funding and setting the tone. Under him, the Culture Ministry has financed and promoted a steady output of patriotic films and exhibitions, many centered on World War II. One of these, due for release later this year, is about Panfilov's 28 guardsmen. Now, only around 5 percent of documents in the Russian State Archive are "secret" — roughly in line with a global norm of about 4-5 percent, according to Mironenko. But that doesn't include the classified storehouses of the security, defense and diplomatic services. It is unclear how many documents they hold.  The 30-year declassification rule is routinely ignored. The fight for openness has moved to the courts, but they often refuse to release documents. Petrov in 2010 lost a court battle to access papers from the late 1940s that held neither state secrets nor names. He thinks the authorities don't want to set a precedent that would limit their control over their information. The security services have claimed that those named in historical documents might be at risk of reprisal attacks — despite a lack of such cases. They have also said, according to Makarov, that the papers could reveal methods that are still in use — an odd argument, as it seems to suggest that the Russian security services still work like Stalin's secret police, the NKVD. The result is that Soviet history remains partially obscured. Full details of communist foreign policy are still secret, including efforts to sabotage and subvert the Western imperialist order in the early and mid 20th century, according to Petrov, a specialist in the Soviet security services. A blackout has been imposed on the Communist Party's secret support for terrorist groups in the Middle East and Latin America, he adds, and some evidence of how the Red Army consolidated its control over Eastern Europe during its defeat of the Nazis is hidden. Historians still cannot draw a line under the murders of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 at Katyn — the government in 2004 classified the results of its 1990s probe into the massacre and stopped providing official confirmations of individual deaths.  Whether for propaganda reasons or to avoid precise allocation of blame, authorities don't seem interested in full disclosure. Mironenko is now head of research at the Russian State Archive. His verve to widen access to historical documents is undimmed. In fact, within the archives under his control, the number of available documents continues to expand, and recent publications include tomes on subjects including Stalin and Russian collaborators with the Nazis.
^ The following quote shows the true nature of the Russian character: "Who needs historical truth?" The answer: only a democratic and free society. Russia has done little to nothing to admit or fix the mistakes of their past and that includes the crimes committed by the Communists. While Russia is not the only country that hasn't addressed it's dictatorship past (most of Eastern and Central Europe as well as parts of Africa, Asia and South America.) it is the largest officially non-dictatorship today that hasn't done a thing to current their past mistakes. It's not surprising as a large majority of former Soviet Communist members are still in large positions of power 25 years  after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It can be compared to having former Nazis in positions of power in West Germany from the 1940s-1970s. Now they are all retired or dead and the Germans are finally really starting to dive into their Nazi crimes (but don't want to touch the Communist crimes of East Germany.) ^

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Keeping Their Flag

From the BBC:
"New Zealand votes to keep flag in referendum"
New Zealanders have voted to keep their existing flag after a national referendum, preliminary results show. The referendum asked whether the flag which includes the Union Jack should be replaced by a design called Silver Fern, which won an earlier ballot. The results show 56.6% voted for no change, while 43.1% opted for the new design. Just over 2.1m votes were cast.  PM John Key had advocated the new flag but called on New Zealanders to "embrace" the people's decision.  A final result taking into account late ballots will be announced next Wednesday  Mr Key said he was disappointed but would support the current flag. Despite criticism of the cost of the vote and the process, he argued that it had at least generated discussion.  "You can't shy away from a debate or a discussion about nationhood," he told reporters. The existing design features the British Union Jack, a legacy of New Zealand's days as a British colony and the reason many wanted to change it. One of the most vocal groups opposing the flag change was the military veteran group the Returned and Services Association. It called Thursday's result "an inspiring, strong show of democracy in action". The lobby group Change the NZ Flag told the BBC that it would continue to push for a new flag.  The exercise has been mired in controversy from the start.  Many objected to the 12-member panel overseeing the process not including a designer, and the longlist whittled down from thousands of entries was said to lack imagination. Many also described the process as unnecessarily expensive, with the bulk of the NZ$26m ($17m) cost going towards conducting postal voting.

^ While this referendum was very expansive at least it is over and now New Zealand can move on to other things. I didn't like any of the choices for a flag, but then again I'm not from New Zealand. ^

Karadzic Guilty

From the BBC:
"Radovan Karadzic jailed for Bosnia war Srebrenica genocide"
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of genocide and war crimes during the 1992-95 war, and sentenced to 40 years in jail. UN judges in The Hague found him guilty of 10 of 11 charges, including genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Karadzic, 70, is the most senior political figure to face judgement over the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. His case is being seen as one of the most important war crimes trials since World War Two.  He had denied the charges, saying that any atrocities committed were the actions of rogue individuals, not the forces under his command. The trial, in which he represented himself, lasted eight years.  Some relatives of victims expressed disappointment at the outcome. This came too late," said Bida Smajlovic, whose husband was killed at Srebrenica.  "We were handed down a verdict in 1995. There is no sentence that could compensate for the horrors we went through or for the tears of only one mother, let alone thousands," she was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
  • Count 1 - genocide (in municipalities of Bratunac, Foca, Klyuc, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Vlasenica and Zvornik) - not guilty
  • Count 2 - genocide (in Srebrenica) - guilty
Crimes against humanity
  • Count 3 - persecutions - guilty
  • Count 4 - extermination - guilty
  • Count 5 - murder - guilty
  • Count 7 - deportation - guilty
  • Count 8 - inhumane acts (forcible transfer) - guilty
Violations of the laws or customs of war
  • Count 6 - murder - guilty
  • Count 9 - terror (in Sarajevo) - guilty
  • Count 10 - unlawful attacks on civilians (in Sarajevo) - guilty
  • Count 11 - taking hostage of UN observers and peacekeepers - guilty
Mr Karadzic was also found guilty of orchestrating a campaign known as "ethnic cleansing" of non-Serbs from the territory of the breakaway Bosnian Serb republic, in which hundreds and thousands were driven from their homes. He would only be expected to serve two-thirds of his sentence. His time spent in detention - slightly more than seven years - will count towards the total. Top UN human rights official Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein welcomed the verdict as "hugely significant". He said the trial "should give pause to leaders across Europe and elsewhere who seek to exploit nationalist sentiments and scapegoat minorities for broader social ills". At least 100,000 people in total died during fighting in the the Bosnian war. The conflict lasted nearly four years before a US-brokered peace deal brought it to an end in 1995. Gen Ratko Mladic, who commanded Bosnian Serb forces, is also awaiting his verdict at The Hague.
^ It's "good" to see something come out of this, but there's no reason it should have lasted 8 years. Hopefully Bosnia and Herzegovina is now a step closer to overcoming the effects of the war. It has been 21 years and there is still a ways to go.  ^

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brussels Timeline

From Yahoo:
"Timeline of the Brussels attacks"
Brussels, home of the European Union (EU) and NATO, was hit Tuesday by bomb attacks at the airport and in the metro that killed around 35 people. Authorities say some of those responsible for the carnage might still be at large and have asked media not to report on details of the ongoing investigation. The blasts occurred four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.
Here is a timeline of what has happened so far on Tuesday.
- Around 0700 GMT (8:00 a.m. local time): Two blasts hit Zaventem international airport outside Brussels. Witnesses cited by the Belga news agency say they first heard shots in the departure hall before someone shouted in Arabic and then two explosions occurred.
- Shortly before 0800 GMT: Federal police say at least one person is dead and several others wounded. The airport is closed and a crisis cell meets at the interior ministry.
- Shortly after 0800 GMT: A third explosion rocks the Maalbeek metro station near the EU headquarters. Around a dozen injuries are reported at first.
- 0815 GMT: Belgium moves to its highest level of terror alert.
- Shortly before 0900 GMT: The European Commission tells staff to stay home or in their offices.
- Shortly after 0900 GMT: The federal prosecutor's office issues a casualty toll of at least 13 dead and 35 wounded at the airport.
- Shortly before 0930 GMT: The crisis centre asks inhabitants to stay put, and all public transport systems grind to a halt.
- Security is reinforced in airports, train stations and public transport systems in Paris, while airports in Frankfurt, London, Moscow and the Netherlands beef up their measures too. The border between Belgium and the Netherlands is reinforced.
- Shortly before 1000 GMT: Fire services say at least 21 people have died, including 11 at the airport.
- High-speed Thalys trains between Belgium, France and the Netherlands stop running.
- 1015 GMT: European Council President Donald Tusk condemns the "terrorist attacks".
- Shortly before 1030 GMT, police and soldiers reinforce security around Belgium's nuclear power plants.
- 1043 GMT: Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel condemns the "blind, violent and cowardly" attacks.
- 1046 GMT: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says the Eiffel Tower will be lit in Belgium's national colours and calls for a silent vigil in the evening in Paris.
- Shortly before 1100 GMT: Federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw says one airport blast was "probably caused by a suicide bomber."
- 1100 GMT: "The whole of Europe has been hit," says French President Francois Hollande.
- 1115 GMT: Brussels transport operator STIB says the metro blast killed at least 15 people and wounded at least 55, including 30 seriously.
- Eurostar train service between London and Brussels is suspended.
- 1230 GMT: "We will never let these terrorists win," says British Prime Minister David Cameron.
- 1235 GMT: The investigation is ongoing and authorities "fear that people are still at large," says Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders.
- 1336 GMT: Local mayor Yvan Mayeur says "there are around 20 dead with another 106 wounded, 17 of them gravely" at the metro station.
- 1357 GMT: A fire service spokesman says the airport attack killed 14 people and left more than 90 wounded, and warns the toll could change.
- The number of known casualties stands at around 35 dead and more than 200 wounded
^ Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but also the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. There is clearly a message being sent from ISIS as they are being taken down and loosing more and more of the territory they occupy, their funds and their leaders. The arrest of the mastermind of the Paris attacks in Brussels was clearly the main reason for today's attack. Apparently, that captured terrorist is "singing' like a bird and telling the authorities everything they want to know (including that he was supposed to be a suicide bomber in Paris and "chickened" out and I'm sure even his fellow ISIS wants to get him. You read and hear a lot about the idiots from around the world that are joining ISIS and how now many see just how stupid they were and want to defect. I could care less about them or what happens to them. They made their choice. What we need to focus on now is coordinating a real response against ISIS and not just in Syria and Iraq. It's clear they have members and supporters around the world who have carried out attacks (in Turkey, the US, Franc, Belgium, Tunisia, etc.) with more probably planned. The Europeans need to do a lot more to find and stop their own "home-grown" fifth columnists before more attacks occur. ^;_


Monday, March 21, 2016

Remembering Crimea

"Europe to Russia: We won’t forget Crimea"
On the second anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation, foreign ministers of Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Denmark call for sanctions to be upheld in an op-ed published on "Two years have passed since Russia illegally annexed Crimea and Sevastopol,” write the foreign ministers. “March 18, 2014, marked the beginning of Russia’s ongoing attack on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and represents the most blatant violation in decades of the U.N. charter, international law, the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris — documents at the heart of the European security order.” Noting deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea, the authors say that Crimeans are forced to adopt Russian citizenship, with more reports of torture and ill-treatment of ethnic Ukrainians and members of the Tatar community. "The Ukrainian language is under severe pressure and media freedom is curtailed,” the ministers write. “Practically all Ukrainian TV channels have been switched off and replaced by Russian state-controlled broadcasting. Russia’s illegal detention of Crimean film maker Oleg Sentsov and social activist Oleksander Kolchenko is a flagrant example of Russia’s attack on the freedom of speech in Crimea.” The most vulnerable and affected group in Crimea continues to be the Crimean Tatars, with their only TV channel ATR being harassed and forced to move to Kyiv by the Russian de facto authorities. Their national language being oppressed, Crimean Tatars are also being targeted for prosecution and arbitrarily arrested for their alleged membership in terrorist organizations. “The Russian-installed prosecutor in Crimea recently requested to ban the activities of the Mejlis — the self-governing body of the Tatars that dates back to 1991 — with the intention of labelling it as an extremist organization,” reads the op-ed. “Continuous violations of the freedom of expression and opinion as well as the freedom of belief are also frequently reported. Accounts of enforced disappearances and suspected killings committed by the de facto authorities are particularly alarming.” “Crimea is not forgotten. And Russia must be held accountable. The Crimean Tatars and other Crimeans affected by Russia’s repressive policies have to be supported,” the authors say. The diplomats reconfirm “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its sovereignty over its entire territory.” “The EU’s non-recognition policy of the annexation is the clearest and most effective manifestation of our support,” they write. The foreign ministers stress the need to remain vigilant: “Letting Russia’s actions go unchecked would send the message to future aggressors that they can disregard international law without repercussions.” “The EU non-recognition policy and the sanctions must be kept under constant review, to remove loopholes and to make sure they are effective,” the authors say. “They will remain in place as long as Russia’s illegal annexation continues.”
^ In the end what the Crimean Crisis and the Russian annexation of the Crimea boils down to are how the men and women, the ethnic Russians, the ethnic Ukrainians and the ethnic Tartars that live in the Crimea are. The poor economy,, the self-imposed isolation, the internationally-imposed isolation, the censorship, the human rights situation, the basic standards of living being lowered, the lack of tourism have all been a result of Russia's invasion, occupation and annexation 2 years ago. Russia should respect international law and all the agreements they signed with the Ukraine over the Crimea since 1991. ^


Kinder Eggs

Happy Danes

From Yahoo:
"Denmark tops global 'happy' index, Burundi at bottom"
Denmark, closely followed by Switzerland, is again the happiest country in the world while crisis-torn Syria and Burundi are the most miserable, according to a global ranking released Wednesday.  The 2016 World Happiness Report seeks to quantify happiness as a means of making societies healthier and more efficient. The United Nations published the first such study in 2012. As with last year, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden round out the top 10, making small or medium-sized countries in Western Europe seven of the top 10 happiest countries.  Denmark, which was ranked first in the 2012 and 2013 versions of the report but lost that honor to Switzerland in 2015, now reclaims its title as happiest country on Earth. Burundi was the most miserable, followed by war-ravaged Syria, Togo, Afghanistan and six other countries in sub-Saharan Africa -- Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar as the least happy of 157 countries. The United States, where sharp polarization has been exposed in the 2016 presidential election campaign, out-ranked several Western European countries to be 13th most happy nation, up two spots from last year. Germany was 16th, Britain 23rd and France 32nd. A string of Middle Eastern kingdoms -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain -- out-ranked Italy, which came in at number 50, and Japan, which took the 53rd spot. China, the world's most populous country, was ranked 83rd and India, the world's largest democracy, came in at 118. The authors said six factors -- GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption -- explain almost three-quarters of the variation across different countries.
^ This is no surprise - both the countries that are happy and those that aren't."

The Passion Live (2016)

I DVRed this Live show so I could watch it later. I have just finished it and have to say it was ok. It was by no means great, but it was a decent attempt. Of course it isn't based on a Broadway musical or film like "The Sound of Music Live" or "Grease Live" but on the Bible. It is supposed to be the modern-retelling of the Passion (the last days of Jesus.) I know the story from the Bible and have seen various movies about it (such as "The Passion of the Christ", etc.) and wanted to see how it would be set against modern music with famous performers. The fact that it aired on Palm Sunday made me want to see it even more (I'm not sure why but there only seems to be movies about Jesus around Easter and not Christmas.)
As for the show itself: it was filmed in New Orleans whose greatest achievement is surviving a Hurricane. Everyone I know who has been to that city (and isn't from there originally) says it is an ok place, but unless you are there for Mardi Gras there's not much there but crime and jazz.
Tyler Perry was the host and narrator and poor can he be long-winded. It would have been better if he just told the story and not give long commentaries. I also didn't care for the reports from people carrying the cross. It distracted from the main story (as did the different commercials thrown in.)
Trisha Yearwood played Mary and you could tell she tried hard, but some of the singing was flat - maybe because it was live and/or outside. The same with Seal who played Pontius Pilate
Jencarlos Canela (from "Telenovela") played Jesus and he was probably the best performer on the show.
As I said above it was an ok show. They get an "A" for effort, but a "C" for execution.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ottawa's 65

From the BBC:
"Trudeau: Canada's retirement age to shift to 65 from 67"
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he will lower eligibility for Old Age Security to age 65 from 67, reversing his predecessor's policy. The Liberal government's first budget, to be announced next week, will include the policy, he told Bloomberg TV. He called former Prime Minster Stephen Harper's policy a "simplistic solution to a complex problem that won't work". He said the budget will also include investment for "much-needed" infrastructure projects. Moving the retirement age up to 67, which was not set to kick in until 2023, was a "mistake", Mr Trudeau said. "How we care for our most vulnerable in society is really important," he said, and the challenge of encouraging people to stay healthy and stay in the workforce longer is a more complex issue. In the US, the opposite is being discussed and some Republicans are calling for cuts to the programme or to privatize it. The Liberal budget is bucking austerity for the idea that the government can move the economy, he said. "What we're looking at is not so much trying to jolt the economy into life, as trying to lay the groundwork, the foundation for better productivity over the long term, and not just an influx of cash," he said during the televised town hall. Mr Trudeau ran his election on the promise of running deficits, which he said helped secure his win. "We had made that announcement, and the left-wing New Democratic Party had announced they were going to balance the budget at all costs, just like the Conservative government," he said. "The day we said, 'No, it's time to invest in the future of our country' and they confirmed they weren't, I got home to my wife and I said: 'I'm pretty sure we just won the election.'"
^ Hopefully the Liberals' move will help Canada. I don't know all the aspects of their new budget, but do like the move to make the retirement age 65 again. ^

Faces Of Margraten

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Project pairs photos of WWII dead with their graves at Netherlands American Cemetery"
For years, thousands of Dutch families have been tending the graves of American World War II servicemembers as a gesture of gratitude. Last year, they finally were able to see the faces of many of their liberators. Thanks to volunteers at the “Faces of Margraten” project, more than 3,300 photos of servicemembers buried or listed on Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten, were put on display last year during a four-day tribute. The project, sponsored by the Foundation United Adopters American War Graves, continues to grow and about 4,000 photos will be on display next to the graves at this year’s tribute May 1-5. There are 8,301 graves at the cemetery and 1,722 names of servicemembers who were missing in action. “When we talk about war, we often talk about abstract numbers,” said Sebastiaan Vonk, the 23-year-old chairman of the foundation. “What we are trying to do here is to show that these were all individuals who fought in a war and died in a war, and there’s no better way than putting those photos out and showing that they were an individual like you or me.” “Often we have relatives in the photos — the wife, the children, parents, brothers,” Vonk said. “So we really see the people that are buried here in the cemetery are just ordinary people who lived in extraordinary times.” Teresa Hirsch, a retiree from Indianapolis and one of the group’s volunteer researchers in the U.S., said she learned about the project last year through social media. “It can be long and tedious, but rewarding, knowing you’re providing a face to the person who has adopted the grave,” she said, referring to the Dutch who tend the graves. At the inaugural tribute last year, Hirsch — a self-proclaimed “military groupie” who became interested in the war after attending the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004 — said she understood the power of the photos when she spoke with a Dutch man who has been caring for a grave for years. “He was really emotional,” Hirsch said. The man had been tending the grave for 15 years but didn’t know what the man buried there looked like. “And now, here was this picture that somebody, somewhere, somehow found and sent to the project.” “Thinking about that just keeps me going and doing this,” Hirsch said. The group is accepting photo submissions through April 18, Vonk said. Anyone who has photos of a soldier buried in the cemetery or listed as missing can submit them through the project’s website, To search for names of those interred or listed at the Margraten cemetery, go to the American Battle Monuments Commission website:
“It’s important to us that we are able to reach the families of these soldiers because they are the ones who have the information and photos tucked away at home.”
^ The Dutch have been one of the very few people to continuously remember the men and women from the US (and Canada, the UK, etc.) that helped liberate them from the Germans during World War 2. Most Europeans "forget" that the United States saved them not only during World War 2, but also World War 1 and the Cold War and treat Americans as something to be treated poorly while at the same time they watch/use/buy American movies, shows, products, etc. This project is a great idea that should be made permanent and expanded to every other American Cemetery (both overseas and within the US.) Millions of American men and women fought and died (and continue to do so today) to help keep the world safe. Putting a picture by a tombstone shows that there was an actual person with a family and a story behind the name. ^

Maryland Junk

From Yahoo:
"Maryland lawmakers junk 'Northern scum' from state song"
Maryland's legislature moved to toss Civil War-era lyrics about "Northern scum" and other lines disparaging President Abraham Lincoln from the official state song on Thursday. The state Senate voted 38-8 to revise the state song, with sponsors saying a modern-day Maryland needed more unifying lyrics to represent it. The state song was based on a poem written by James Ryder Randall, "Maryland! My Maryland!," in 1861 when he was despondent about the shooting of a friend by Union troops in Baltimore. The poem calls for Marylanders to fight for the Confederacy and was adapted by Southern soldiers as a battle hymn. It became the state song in 1939. Lyrics include "Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!" and refer to Lincoln as "despot" and "tyrant" and Union forces as vandals. The revised version deletes several stanzas that include those references. It adds a verse from a 1894 poem by John White, called "Maryland, My Maryland," a work which celebrates the state's natural beauty. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
^ It is no surprise that a southern state has these kinds of lyrics. While Maryland was not technically part of the Confederacy (because Lincoln sent Federal troops and forced them to stay "loyal") the residents were Confederate at heart. During most wars the different sides say they will punish those that loose and when the fighting stops people and governments are usually too tired from the long struggle to back those promises with action. The Allies said it during World War 2 and then let most Germans, Japanese and their collaborators to remain free. The same is the case with the Civil War. The Union/Federal side let the Confederate/Southern side carry on with their racist and anti-northern attitudes after the war ended. That didn't solve a thing. In fact it helped the Southerners to implement the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws that openly discriminated against blacks and which would led to violence through the next century when the Civil Rights Movement (and the Federal Government again) had to step in and tell the Southerners to stop being racist and backwards. I have lived in Maryland and Virginia and have seen first-hand have they continue to discriminate against others - especially non-Southerners.) It is as though it is ingrained in their DNA to hate anything that is not "native" to their territory. I have never heard or seen the concept of "Southern hospitality" against a non-Southerner. It is a farce. I remember talking to a  policeman when we lived in Virginia who said he has seen lots of cases of "passive aggressive" discrimination against non-Southerners. Of course our case was a little different as it wasn't passive, but a crime for which the one guy went to jail and another guy (in a separate case) paid our losses after we settled out of court. That is one reason why the capital should be moved away from DC (the North/South line.) It forces people to move to a discriminatory area to work for the Federal Government while the Feds and the state officials do little to nothing to protect us. ^

Canada Sanctions

"Canada slaps additional sanctions against Russia"
Canada on Friday introduced additional sanctions on individuals and entities for activities related to Russia and Ukraine, according to a news release on the Canadian government's website.  "In order to maintain the efficacy of existing sanctions until Russia fully complies with its international obligations with respect to Ukraine, the Special Economic Measures (Russia) Regulations have been amended to list 10 additional entities and two additional individuals in Schedule 1 that are subject to an asset freeze and dealings prohibition," the release reads. The Russia Regulations have also been amended to expand the category of entities that may be subject to sanctions under Schedule 1. In addition, the Special Economic Measures (Ukraine) Regulations have been amended to list four additional entities and three additional individuals that are subject to an asset freeze and dealings prohibition. The Canadian government says that sanctions are more effective when applied in coordination with partners. "Canada's new measures align with recent actions taken by the United States and the European Union. They are designed to maintain the efficacy of existing sanctions measures, to underscore continued transatlantic unity in responding to Russia's actions on Ukraine, to maintain pressure on Russia to fully implement its Minsk commitments and to demonstrate our commitment to a policy of non-recognition of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea," the release reads. Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion says that the additional sanctions support wider international efforts to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine."By engaging with Russia on the one hand and demonstrating our firm resolve on sanctions on the other, we strengthen our collective ability to hold them to account. I have instructed Global Affairs Canada to update engagement policies accordingly. As agreed by G7 leaders, Canada believes sanctions should not be lifted until Russia fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements," he said.

^ While Putin was in the annexed Crimea the other day praising the 2 years since Russia invaded and occupied the territory Canada and other countries/organizations have renewed their sanctions to show that we do not support this unilateral and non-UN backed move. In the 2 years since Russia took over the Crimea promising both the Crimea and Russia lots of benefits, etc. in reality both the Crimeans and the Russians have only suffered with rising unemployment, rising prices on basic services, rising food prices and rising distrust. So in those 2 years there hasn't been much good or positive things to come out of this Russian operation. It was a gamble that has so far failed and has hurt the ordinary people of the Crimea, Russia and the Ukraine. ^

Thursday, March 17, 2016

New Ruble

From Wikipedia:
"New Belarusian ruble"

The new Belarusian ruble (Belarusian: новы рубель novy rubyel, (partitive) genitive plural: новых рублёў novykh rublyow) will be the official currency of Belarus from July 2016, thus replacing the old Belarusian ruble. The symbol for the ruble is Br and the ISO 4217 code is BYN. In 2016, banknotes will be introduced in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 rubles. On 4 November, 2015 the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus announced that the banknotes that has been in use at that time will be replaced by the new ones due to the upcoming redenomination. The banknotes will have security threads and will show 2009 as an issue date (the date of an unsuccessful attempt at currency reform). Their designs will be similar to those of the euro. The future ISO 4217 code will be BYN. The redenomination will be made in a ratio of 1:10,000 (10,000 rubles of 2000 pattern = 1 rubles of 2009 pattern). This currency reform also brings the introduction of coins, for the first time in The Republic of Belarus In 2016, for the first time in the history of Belarusian ruble, coins will be introduced due to the redenomination planned. Slovakia has offered to mint the coins, and has provided prototypes. The coins of up to 5 kapeykas are to be struck in steel and copper; the 10, 20, 50 coins in steel, copper and brass; and the 1 and 2 rubles coins in steel, brass and nickel. All coins will show the National emblem of Belarus, the inscription 'БЕЛАРУСЬ' (Belarus) and the year of minting on their obverses. The reverse will show the value of the coin accompanied by different ornaments with their own meanings.  The banknotes are printed by the banknote manufacturer, security printing, papermaking and cash handling systems company De La Rue in the United Kingdom. As for coins, they have been minted by both the Lithuanian Mint and the Kremnica Mint. Both banknotes and coins have been ready in 2009, but the financial crisis prevented them from being put into circulation immediately, resulting in a 7-years delay conditional on the necessity to lower inflation.
^ I collect currency bills from around the world so this is something I am interested in. Not only can I add it to my collection, but it will make it easier for Belarusians and anyone in Belarus to do everyday things like shopping. I have several Belarusian friends and they have seen their currency revalued in the past and so are as "excited" but they hope this time inflation, etc. will improve. ^