Saturday, April 30, 2016

US' Kyiv Bill

"U.S. bill links Russia sanctions relief to Crimea's return to Ukraine – RFE/RL"

A new bill in the U.S. Congress would prevent the White House from lifting a raft of sanctions against Russia until Ukraine restores control over Crimea, which Moscow forcibly annexed in 2014, or settles the peninsula's status to Kyiv's satisfaction, Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. 
The legislation, announced on April 29 by U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York) and Adam Kinzinger (Republican-Illinois), aims to bolster U.S. support for Kyiv with measures that include tightened sanctions against Russia and a push for greater private investment in the Ukrainian economy, according to RFE/RL. "We need to build on our sanctions regime against troublemakers in the Kremlin, while working to preserve transatlantic unity," Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "And we need to find ways of shoring up Ukraine and deterring [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that go beyond just throwing more money at the problem," Engel added. The bill would require that the U.S. president, prior to lifting a raft of Ukraine-related sanctions, submit "certification" to Congress that Ukraine has restored "sovereignty" over Crimea or that the peninsula's status has been resolved to the satisfaction "of a democratically elected government" in Kyiv, the statement reads. "As we have seen time and again, there is no stopping Vladimir Putin's disrespect for global order, especially in regards to Ukraine," Kinzinger said. "It's time for the United States to stand up and reiterate that it will not tolerate Russia's aggression," he said. Called the Stability And Democracy For Ukraine Act, the legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 28 by Engel, Kinzinger, and 14 other co-sponsors, RFE/RL writes.

^ I completely agree with this. While sanctions haven't been the "cure-all" to stop the fighting in the Donbass or return the Crimea to the Ukraine it has made some impact and shouldn't be stopped until the original conditions have been met. Doing otherwise would only show Russia that they can invade, occupy and annex anything they want. It would also be a huge political defeat for the US and the other countries/organizations (ie. the EU, Canada, etc.) that have also placed sanctions. ^

Confederate Removal

From USA Today:
"Confederate memorial at Ky. university to be removed"

Saying it no longer has a place here, Louisville's mayor and its university's president announced that a 121-year-old Confederate monument on the University of Louisville campus is being removed. Mayor Greg Fischer and President James Ramsey of the University of Louisville gathered Friday at the monument across from the Speed Art Museum, joined by several city and university officials and students. "I recognize that some people say this monument should stay here because it is part of history, but I also appreciate that we can make our own history," Fischer said. The decision came less than two weeks after Ricky L. Jones, professor and chairman of Pan-African Studies at the university, wrote a column calling for the monument to be removed.  "We don't consider ourselves in Louisville to be part of the South," Fischer said in an interview after the announcement. In the Civil War, Kentucky was a border state. Since it became a state in 1792, residents were allowed to own slaves, and many fought for the South. But the state never joined the Confederacy.  Both Fischer and Ramsey’s offices said they had been working on moving the memorial for several weeks. Whatever motivated the decision, Jones said he is elated the monument will no longer be on campus. "Let's see the Confederacy for what it is, not some lost cause; it was a war about slavery," Jones said. "And that is fundamentally inhumane, so if that's a part of Kentucky history, place it in a part of Kentucky where people still have those beliefs." The memorial’s statues will be held in storage until an appropriate location is selected, the mayor's office said. The monument will be disassembled, and the bronze figures and embellishments will be cleaned and repaired — something that has not been done since the monument was erected in 1895. The Confederate monument has been a point of contention on U of L's Belknap campus for at least the past two decades, prompting student protests on several occasions.  In 2002, Ramsey's administration renamed Confederate Hall, which sat across from the monument, as Unity Hall. Later that same year, the university's board of trustees unanimously approved a $2 million plan to rename the area surrounding the monument as Freedom Park, honoring Louisville civil-rights leaders. A study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in April found at least 1,500 symbols across the USA honoring the Confederacy in public spaces. Most are in the 11 states that formed the Confederacy, but some are located as far away as California and Massachusetts. The law center's report said outside of the seceding states, Kentucky has the most Confederate monuments on public property with 41, far ahead of Missouri, which comes in second at 14. Removing the memorial was an easy decision and part of a larger conversation about race and symbolism in the country, Fischer said.

^ This is a great step in the right direction. There should be NO memorials to the Confederacy. They should all be removed and placed in a museum in the same way Nazi and Soviet symbols are. It's true you can not change the dark parts of your history, but you don't have to glorify them with memorials and naming things after them. ^

Medical NH

From WMUR:
"Medical marijuana dispensary opens Saturday morning"

Granite Staters with medical marijuana cards will be able to get therapeutic cannabis in the state Saturday morning after the state Legislature legalized medicinal cannabis in July of 2013.  Sanctuary ATC announced Friday that it would open its dispensary in Plymouth at 11 a.m. The company said there could be long lines throughout the weekend. Dr. Syrek is the pathologist on staff with Sanctuary ATC. He said 147 patients and caregivers have qualified to receive cannabis at their center. New patients will have to fill out intake forms, and only people who have a therapeutic cannabis card will be able to enter the facility. "These patients have serious conditions and they want their medical cannabis to really help them," said Syrek, "I've talked to patients that have stage 4 cancer and it's terminal, and they say that cannabis is the only thing that helps them with their pain." Syrek sees therapeutic cannabis as a safer, non-addictive alternative to opioids prescribed to numb pain. "First of all, you can't overdose or die from marijuana. It's impossible," he said, "Because your brain stem, which controls your breathing and your cardiovascular functions, has no receptors to where the cannabinoids can bind to." John Martin with the Department of Health and Human Services said more than 800 people have already applied to receive medical marijuana in the therapeutic cannabis program, but he expects more after tomorrow. "Our anticipation is that numbers will tick up now that people know that there is a place I can actually purchase products," Martin said. Three others dispensaries have licenses. Temescal Wellness will open its dispensaries in Dover and Lebanon in the next few weeks, and Prime ATC expects to open its Merrimack dispensary this summer.

^ This is long-overdue. There is no excuse that it took nearly 3 years for New Hampshire to go from making medical marijuana legal to giving people access to it. The state is just slow to get anything done and that means that people who are in extreme pain have had to suffer for that incompetence - especially after the tightening of opioid prescriptions. ^

Baghdad Storm

From the BBC:
"Iraqi Shia protesters storm Baghdad parliament"

Hundreds of Shia Muslim activists have stormed Iraq's parliament in protest against ongoing deadlock in approving a new cabinet.vSupporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through barricades of the protected Green Zone in Baghdad after MPs again failed to convene for a vote. A state of emergency has been declared in the city, but not a curfew. Security forces near the US embassy later fired tear gas to stop more protesters entering the Green Zone. Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone, the most secure part of Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings, to protest against the political deadlock.  A new protest outside the zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum on Saturday. Groups marched on the district soon after the end of a televised appearance by Mr Sadr, although he did not call for the storming of parliament. One protester, Ali Mohammed, said they were angry at the politicians' failure to act. This is a major escalation of a political crisis that's been brewing for months. The Iraqi prime minister set out an ambitious programme for reform last year - intended to foster a sense of political unity and accountability to help Iraq tackle the challenge of a failing economy and even more urgently, the battle against IS. But he's met fierce opposition at every turn in his attempt to cut off the political and financial corruption that's enriched and empowered the elite for so long. Moqtada Sadr has ostensibly supported him in this aim - having reinvented himself as the voice of the angry Iraqi people, fed up with the status quo. But with the storming of parliament by his followers, there must now be a big question over whether he offers support to the beleaguered prime minister, or a challenge.  The protesters are reported to have begun ransacking parliament buildings. United Nations and embassy staff were on lockdown inside their compounds, Reuters reported. Iraq's system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

^ Maybe the Iraqis should focus on destroying ISIS and freeing their own country that currently live in areas occupied by them. These same protesters should be sent to liberate Mosul. Once the whole country is free then they can talk about reforms. I'm also not sure that it is wise to storm the Green Zone or the Parliament. Baghdad should be trying to protect itself from more violence and bombings. How would those protesters feel living under ISIS? The Iraqi Government has always been corrupt and pretty weak, but when there's a greater threat you should band together to get rid of it first. ^

Friday, April 29, 2016

Silent Big Ben

From Yahoo:
"London's Iconic Big Ben Going Silent for $42 Million Makeover"

Big Ben, the U.K.’s most famous clock, will fall silent for several months in preparation for the start of much-needed repair work. The three-year job will cost about $42 million and is scheduled to begin in early-2017. The clock is in such need of repair that it’s at risk of not functioning without the work, the British parliament says in a Q&A about the project on its website. The Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, will also be refurbished during the period. “The Elizabeth Tower is a symbol of the UK’s democratic heritage and forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” member of Parliament and House of Commons Commission spokesman Tom Brake said in a statement. “We have a duty to ensure that it is safeguarded for future generations to appreciate, just as we owe it to our predecessors to restore their masterpiece to its former glory. While these works are much needed in the short-term, they will also ensure the long-term future and sustainability of Big Ben.”  The last time Big Ben’s bells stopped ringing for several months was 40 years ago. The bells were also stopped in 2007, but only for six weeks. Starting next year, the clock will be stopped at different times within the three-year repair period. The bells will still chime for important events. “This historic clock is loved by so many people,” Steve Jaggs, keeper of the clock, said in a statement. “It is both an honor and a great responsibility to keep it in good working order for public enjoyment. Every day our team of highly skilled clock mechanics cares for this Victorian masterpiece but, in order to keep the Clock ticking, we must now take the time to thoroughly inspect and restore it.”

^ I've been to London numerous times and have heard Big Ben many times. The quicker they fix the problem and get it back to working correctly - the better. ^

Female Draft Closer

From the Stars and Stripes:
"In surprise turn, House panel backs women in the draft"

A House Republican’s attempt to take a stand against women in combat took an unexpected turn Wednesday. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a vocal opponent of infantry and special operations integration, proposed opening up the Selective Service — and future military drafts — to women during a House committee debate over next year’s defense budget. The Marine veteran hoped to raise opposition to combat integration by forcing fellow lawmakers to consider young women dying on the front lines of a major war. “This is about a big war, meaning when you have tens of thousands of people dying — tens of thousands — that is when you have a draft,” said Hunter of California, who vowed to vote against his own draft proposal. Instead, the proposal whipped up enough support for female integration that members of the House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of opening the Selective Service and the draft. “I actually support your amendment and will be delighted to vote for it,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. The Selective Service measure is now part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved by the committee early Thursday, and heads for a vote on the House floor. If passed by both chambers of Congress in a final defense bill, women ranging in age from 18-26 would for the first time have to join men in registering and could potentially be forced into combat. The question of the draft suddenly looms because the Defense Department decided in December to open all remaining gender-segregated combat jobs — about 225,000 — to female troops. “If we want equality in this country, we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” Speier said. In February, Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., chairman the Senate Armed Services Committee, came out in support of requiring women to sign up with Selective Service, though he said a future draft is highly unlikely. Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have testified on Capitol Hill that there should be no exemption for women now that the military is all inclusive. Men are required to register with Selective Service when they turn 18 years old. In 1981, the Supreme Court backed the exemption for women because at the time they did not fill combat roles. The NDAA bill passed early Thursday also orders the Pentagon to study the issue of the draft and report back to Congress, he said. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the all-male draft is working its way through the U.S. court system and might ultimately decide who can be drafted.

^ Women should be allowed in every role (combat or supportive) that men are as long as they pass the same tests and fulfill the same requirements. With that said women should also have to register for the Selective Service in case the Draft is ever brought back (I don't think it will be since it completely divided the country for a decade during the Vietnam War.) Any one who says women should be treated equal  - which I think they should be - then there can be no exceptions. ^

Romania Speeding

From Yahoo:
"Romania to speed up Holocaust-era property restitution"

Romania is to fast-track claims from Holocaust survivors under an amended law on property restitution which is expected to be passed by parliament next week, legislators said on Tuesday. Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany during World War Two until it changed sides in August 1944, and much of the property seized during the war was later nationalized under communist rule which followed. After the collapse of communist rule, Romania passed laws for returning property to the original owners in the 1990s but red tape prevented legislation from having any real effect. The country used to have a pre-war Jewish population of about 800,000 but now only up to 11,000 Jews live in Romania. An international commission, in a 2004 report, put the total number of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews who perished in territories under Romanian administration at 280,000 to 380,000 people. A draft law, published on parliament's website, said that in processing applications for the return of property priority would be given to "requests by people certified as Holocaust survivors by entities designated by the Romanian state or other European Union states ..." The draft easily cleared the upper house of parliament last week and will go to a final vote next Wednesday in the lower house, legislators said. Politicians expected it to win overwhelming support in the lower house.

^ This is long over-do. I understand that the Communists didn't allow the property taken by the Nazis to go back to their rightful owners, but Communism ended in Romania in 1989  - 27 years ago - so there is no reason it has taken this long. Hopefully, now the survivors and their families will get what should never have been taken from them during World War 2 or kept from them during Communist times. ^

Equal Colombia

From the DW:
"Colombia legalizes same-sex marriage"

Colombia's constitutional court has given the go-ahead for gay couples to marry. The decision is a milestone in the traditionally Catholic country.  The court ruled in favor of gay marriage on Thursday in a widely expected decision. "The judges affirmed by a majority that marriage between people of the same sex does not violate the constitutional order," judge Maria Victoria Calle said. The ruling gives gay couples for the first time ever the ability to wed the same as heterosexual couples, although they were already allowed to form civil unions. Earlier this month, the court rejected a justice's opinion that would have denied public notaries the right to recognize same-sex marriages, paving the way for Thursday's ruling. Other Latin American countries that have legalized gay marriage include Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

^ It seemed that gay marriage had stalled around the world after last year's whirlwind. It's nice to see it is still being discussed. ^

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Large Millenial

From  USA Today:
"Millennials become largest generation in U.S., surpass baby boomers"

Baby Boomers are no longer America’s dominant generation. According to information published by the Pew Research Center April 25, and 2015 U.S. Census population estimates, there are 75.4 million Millennials versus 74.9 million Baby Boomers in the United States. Millennials were identified as those born between 1981 and 1997 and are between the ages of 18-34 years old, while Baby Boomers were identified as those born between 1946 and 1964 and are between 51-69 years old. The Research Center reports that young immigrants and Baby Boomer deaths are reasons for why the Millennial number continues have surpassed those of Baby Boomers. It is predicted that by 2050, the Millennial count will reach 79.2 million, and the Baby Boomer population will drop to 16.6 million. Over the last several years, Baby Boomers have consistently dominated other generations. In 1999, it was reported that there were 78.8 million boomers in the United States. Generation X, the smaller generation born between 1965 and 1980, are expected to surpass Baby Boomers in 2028.

^ Of course the older generation (the Baby Boomers) is going to decline as they pass away. ^

Ed Rising

From Disability Scoop:
"Special Education Enrollment Rises"

An increasing number of American students are reportedly utilizing special education services in the nation’s public schools. The number of students ages 6 to 21 covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grew to 5.83 million in the fall of 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available. By contrast, just three years earlier, that count was at 5.67 million, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data conducted by Education Week.  A single state — New York — accounted for a third of the uptick, though it’s unclear why, the publication found. Nationally, the analysis indicates that the number of children receiving services for an autism diagnosis ballooned 165 percent between the 2005-2006 and 2014-2015 school years and those classified with “other health impairments” grew 51 percent. At the same time, the report suggests that students classified as having specific learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, emotional and behavioral disturbance or intellectual disabilities are on the decline.

^ We are learning more and more about different disabilities and how to educate people with them. It's good that those that need special education are getting it. ^

Kyiv Remembers

From the BBC:
"Ukraine marks 30th anniversary of Chernobyl disaster"

Ukraine has begun commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Sirens were sounded at the same moment as the first explosion at the reactor, in the early hours of 26 April 1986. The meltdown at the plant remains the worst nuclear disaster in history. An uncontrolled reaction blew the roof off, spewing out a cloud of radioactive material which drifted across Ukraine's borders, into Russia, Belarus and across a swathe of northern Europe.  A memorial service was held in the town of Slavutych, built to re-house workers who lived near the nuclear plant.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is due to attend a ceremony near the site and a church service will be held in Kiev for the families of victims. Some former residents returned to the area, now derelict and overgrown, ahead of the anniversary. Zoya Perevozchenko, 66, lived in Pripyat, the town inhabited by Chernobyl workers which was abandoned in the wake of the accident.  She told Reuters news agency: "I barely found my apartment, I mean it's a forest now - trees growing through the pavement, on the roofs. All the rooms are empty, the glass is gone from the windows and everything's destroyed. Levels of radioactivity remain high in the surrounding area. A charity, Bridges to Belarus, is warning that a number of babies in a region close to Ukraine's border are still being born with serious deformities, while an unusually high rate of people have rare forms of cancer.   Donors around the world pledged €87.5m (£68m; $99m) on Monday towards a new underground nuclear waste facility in the region. Ukraine will need to commit a further €10m in order to complete the new storage site. Work began in 2010 on a 25,000-tonne, €2.1bn sarcophagus to seal the uranium left in the damaged reactor, thought to be about 200 tonnes. Experts fear that if parts of the aging reactor collapse, further radioactive material could be spewed into the atmosphere. The number of people killed by the disaster remains disputed. It is thought that about 30 people died in the initial meltdown and rescue operation, and a UN report published in 2005 estimated that up to 4,000 people could eventually be killed by related illnesses. But Greenpeace has said the UN figure is a underestimate.

^ People should never forget are the men and women (first responders) who did their job despite the extreme danger, lack of equipment, etc. and risked their lives and their health so that even more innocent people didn't get killed or sick. ^

Another German Strike

From the DW:
"Lufthansa strike to impact 'tens of thousands'"

A German trade union has called for a strike at airports across the country on Wednesday. All intercontinental flights to and from Munich will be canceled; Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Frankfurt airports will also be hit.  A Lufthansa official said the upcoming strike shows "that we desperately need rules for labor disputes in the air transport industry," as six airports across Germany prepare for cancellations of both international and domestic flights on Wednesday. The airline said that all intercontinental flights leaving from Munich will be cancelled, as will many domestic and European flights. The airports in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dortmund and Hannover will also be affected. Tens of thousands of passengers will be impacted by the strike, which will end later on Wednesday. Lufthansa said that in Frankfurt flights will resume as normal after 3 p.m. (1300 UTC).
The German trade union Verdi is demanding a six percent wage increase for some two million public service employees, as well as an pay increase of 100 euros per month for trainees, according to The next round of negotiations between the union and the government will take place on April 28 and April 29. Verdi had earlier rejected the offer of a three-percent wage increase over a period of two years. German airports were massively disrupted last year after Lufthansa flight attendants organized a mass protest that lasted for seven days. The strikes cost the company an estimated 140 million euros, not including a separate series of strikes by Luftahnsa pilots. The pilots' labor dispute remains unresolved.

^ This is beyond ridiculous. Germany needs to do what Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s - fire anyone who strikes. They have everything and yet they still "fight"  - probably because they get paid while they are on strike and don't care about the millions of people around the world that their actions. Germans, in general, don't seem to care when their actions affect millions of innocent people. Lufthansa should fire the strikers and give their jobs to the refugees - it's a win-win for everyone.  ^

Monday, April 25, 2016

US Chernobyl Aid

"U.S. pledges additional $10 mln to ensure Chornobyl safety"

 The U.S. Department of State announces it marks the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster by additionally pledging $10 million to ensure "the safety of future generations" who live in the Chornobyl exclusion zone.  "The United States marks this anniversary with a pledge of an additional $10 million to help ensure the safety of future generations who live in the affected area," U.S. Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson for the Bureau of Public Affairs John Kirby said in a statement on Monday, April 25. This pledge comes on top of the more than $400 million the U.S. has already committed to the international effort to help Ukraine restore the site of the accident to an environmentally safe and secure condition. "As we reflect on the tragedy of Chornobyl, so too must we recognize the progress that has been made to complete a new confinement structure for the destroyed reactor, which should soon be moved into place," he said. The structure is designed to protect the surrounding environment for the next 100 years and allow for the safe clean-up of Chornobyl. "We look forward to continuing our work with the Ukrainian Government and our international partners to improve the lives of Ukrainians there and across Ukraine," he added.

^ Both the Ukrainian and Belarussian Governments have been dealing with the Chernobyl disaster for 30 years. While they have received help from around the world in the past more is needed to both contain the nuclear plant as well as help the survivors. ^

Windows 10

Last night my computer randomly and without my permission upgraded itself to Windows 10. I upgraded to 10 several months to check it out and didn't like it and so went back to what I had. I don't seem to be able to do this time. I really don't not like anything that Windows 10 has to offer. It would be nice if Bill Gates let us decide which version we use rather than force it on us. I was fine with what I had and now I have to deal with this new, screwed-up version called Windows 10. My sister has a Mac and has been saying I should get one of those. Maybe I will look more seriously into that option - where at least I have a choice - something that Windows didn't give me.

250 More Troops

From USA Today:
"Obama To Send Up To 250 More Military Personnel To Syria"

President Obama announced Monday that he was authorizing the deployment of up to 250 additional military personnel for the 5-year-old conflict in Syria as the U.S.-led coalition tries to "keep up momentum against the Islamic State." Obama said in a well-received speech here predominantly about the future of Europe that the additional U.S. troops would provide training and assist local forces in the fight against the extremist group but not play an active combat role. The move raises the number of U.S. special forces in Syria to 300. “They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential," the president said in Germany, where he attended a manufacturing technology trade show. The address capped a week-long foreign trip for the president, who also visited Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom  Obama said he would ask Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy for more equipment and troop contributions to aid the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State militants. “Europe and NATO can still do more,” he said. “We need to do everything in our power to stop them."

^ I'm not sure why Obama is being praised around Europe - probably because he hasn't done as much damage there as he has at home. It seems that there really is no strategy in our fight against IS either in Iraq or Syria (or anywhere for that matter.) Hopefully, the next President will have more global and domestic sense and can how fix the numerous problems Obama either created or couldn't fix. ^

IS Hostages

From the BBC:
"How four men survived as hostages of IS"

In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell writes about Room 101 - a torture chamber where you are subjected to your worst nightmare, the worst thing in the world, to break your resistance.  To survive any such place of profound pain is the greatest of gifts, a triumph of the human spirit. In our time, surviving brutal captivity at the hands of so-called Islamic State in Syria must certainly count as such a triumph.  When four former hostages came together this month for their first reunion since they were freed, at different times, two years ago, it was a celebration of friendship forged in the most threatening of circumstances, a remembrance of an agonising ordeal. In the BBC radio programme Held Hostage in Syria they recall months without sunlight, weeks chained together, days upon days of beatings. There was too little food, and so much longing for clean clothes, a proper toilet, and most of all, freedom. But it was also an affirmation of extraordinary resilience. They had all won what they call a "game of survival" which lasted about one long terrible year of torment for all of them.  They played this game in their own individual ways to preserve themselves, and some semblance of human dignity. Federico Motka, an Italian aid worker, lowered his gaze and raised his guard to avoid his captors' efforts to demean him. French war correspondent Didier Francois pushed back and stared them straight in the eye. Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen, an elite gymnast, did the splits to convince them he was not a spy. French blogger Pierre Torres took beatings, but satisfaction, from ignoring their orders.  And they played this game together, helping each other endure their ordeal, as IS guards of different nationalities deployed diverse tactics of physical and psychological torture to try to break them. Only one, Daniel Rye, was subjected to such brutality that he tried to take his own life - but the guards stopped him, and his fellow hostages brought him back to health.  There were real games too: chess, with pieces fashioned from cheese cartons with nail clippers; draughts (checkers), with the seeds of olives and dates; a self-styled lecture series on everything from carp fishing, to sailing, and how to dive into a small pool. This is how they escaped in their mind. At one point in 2013-2014 19 men carrying a Western or a Russian passport were held hostage together in one small room. An adjacent room was a cell for five women. One by one, they have been freed for ransom or executed. Of this group of male hostages only one, British journalist John Cantlie, is left and one woman whose name has not been made public. Several journalists and aid workers, and hundreds of Syrians, have not lived to tell of their ordeal. We know of their fate from grotesque videos on social media which have brought a sickening cinematic slickness to medieval beheadings.

The 19 hostages

  • Federico Motka, 33, Italian aid worker - captured March 2013, released May 2014
  • Daniel Rye Ottosen, 26, Danish photographer - captured May 2013, released June 2014
  • Pierre Torres, 31, French blogger - captured June 2013, released April 2014
  • Didier Francois, 55, French journalist - captured June 2013, released April 2014
  • Six of the men held with them were beheaded by IS - James Foley, Sergey Gorbunov, David Haines, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and Steven Sotloff
  • Eight were released - Edouard Elias, Javier Espinosa, Nicolas Henin, Marc Marginedas, Ricardo Vilanova, Toni Neukirch and two un-named aid workers
  • One remains in captivity - the British journalist, John Cantlie
  • Of five women held captive separately at the same time, aid worker Kayla Mueller was killed, three were released and one remains in captivity
  • No-one was released without the payment of a ransom

^ I watched the documentary "The James Foley Story" and heard some of this from some of the freed hostages. No one can imagine what it is like to go through such an ordeal unless you go through it yourself. Then to be freed while others held with you are murdered. Governments around the world handle hostage situations differently - especially those held outside their home country. I don't agree with how the US handles (or I should say doesn't handle) an American being taken hostage. It is a policy that needs to be changed. You can sometimes compromise with a hostage taker without giving into their full demands. Of course sometimes you can't and there should be a special hostage rescue team created for those situations. ^

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chernobyl Lessons

From Yahoo:
"Lessons of Chernobyl disaster, 30 years on"
 Ukraine next week marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, when human error and flawed Soviet reactor technology led to the world's worst nuclear accident. Ahead of the April 26 anniversary, AFP looks at the steps taken since 1986 to improve nuclear safety around the world and -- as Fukushima showed in 2011 -- the challenges that remain. Experts say a big factor behind the disaster was the unusual and poor design of the reactor, known as RMBK, particularly its propensity to sudden power surges -- as happened at Chernobyl. In addition, and unlike elsewhere outside the Soviet Union, there was no containment structure shielding the reactor to stop radioactivity escaping.
But there was also human error. According to the World Nuclear Association, the accident was also due to "the violation of operating procedures and the absence of a safety culture". The aftermath was also poorly handled, with officials slow to evacuate locals and Moscow sending 600,000 "liquidators" with little or no protective gear to put out a fire that raged for 10 days. The first alarm was raised on April 28, 1986, not by Russia but by Sweden after it detected an unexplained rise in radiation levels. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did not admit the disaster had occurred until May 14. With enormous public outrage around the world Chernobyl, suddenly a household name, spurred an international push -- even overcoming Cold War divisions -- to improve atomic safety and reassure the public. One of the most important steps was the 1989 creation of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which carries out "peer reviews" of 430 reactors around the world to detect problems. "The industry has undoubtedly learned the lesson that we are stronger together," WANO chief executive Peter Prozesky told AFP. The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of its Cold War isolation has also removed barriers to international cooperation. Ex-communist eastern European countries, many now EU members, have also been helped to adapt their Soviet-built plants. Of the 17 RMBK reactors in operation in 1986, six have been permanently shut down. In addition the role of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency was beefed up. It expanded and revised safety standards and member states were required to report swiftly any incidents with potential cross-border effects. A number of international agreements were signed, the most important being the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS). Others covered nuclear waste and early warning systems for accidents.
^ Chernobyl is the embodiment of the Soviet Union and Communism in general. Soviet Communists were more concerned with quantity than quality and so rushed the building of the Chernobyl without regards to safety . It was more important to them that they build it quickly to show how "great" Communism was. The fact that Chernobyl occurred a few years before the Soviet Union itself collapsed enhances its symbolism. From the 1970s to the early 1990s the Soviet system was stagnant with poorer quality products, buildings, food, etc. available. The Soviets focused their attention on military means (which Chernobyl was part of) but they kick corners so they could meet their quotas and not look bad to their superiors back in Moscow. Even after the disaster at Chernobyl the Communists tried their best to act as though nothing happened. They risked the lives of millions of their own people (as well as people in the rest of Europe) just so no one would question the achievements of Communism or the Soviet state. That was part of their own downfall. The world came together to stop the spread of radioactivity from Chernobyl and while that was happening internationally the Soviet people themselves saw first hand how inept their Communist leaders were and how their were out-rightly lied to. Those were not that new to the Soviets since their Communist leaders had lied and censored them from the beginning (1917) but this time it was not over a political prisoner arrested in the middle of the night and sent to the Gulag or about the world around them, but of something as extreme as a radioactive disaster that risked everyone's life and from which there was very little escape from. Chernobyl is the beginning of the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of Communism working in practice. Both were explosive, affected millions of people and still haunt the world 30 years later (for Chernobyl) and 25 years (for the Soviet Union.) ^

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Armenian Genocide

Rough Perks

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Draft defense budget offers troop perks"
The annual defense budget began to take shape Friday with proposals for a bigger Army, troop pay raises and longer hours at military hospitals. The perks were part of an early draft of the National Defense Authorization Act unveiled by the House before the massive policy bill is debated next week. The Senate is expected to hammer out its version of the bill in May.  House Republicans are pushing to bolster the military and put more money into defense despite tight budget caps on federal spending. The reversal of a planned Army troop drawdown and the highest troop pay raise in years is central to the efforts in the $610-billion legislation, which is being crafted by the House Armed Services Committee. The biggest hurdle Republicans face is paying for the bill. The dollar amounts in the defense budget are capped, according to an agreement struck by Congress last fall. But Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said this week that he will find the extra $18 billion needed by only funding the war against the Islamic State group for seven months, instead of a full year. However, he acknowledged the move will likely draw a veto threat from President Barack Obama. The NDAA was vetoed last year due to a similar budgeting tactic by Republicans.
Here is a preview of what is in the draft NDAA before it is debated – and potentially amended – Wednesday by the Armed Services Committee:
  • A bigger Army – The bill blocks the service from culling 15,000 soldiers and adds an additional 5,000. It does not stop but throws up a significant roadblock to the Army’s plans to reduce its active-duty force from 492,000 to 450,000 over three years.
  • Pay raise – Troops would get a 2.1 percent increase to base pay, an increase to the 1.3 percent ordered last year by President Obama. That would be the highest raise in years and equal an additional $11 per month for an E4 servicemember.
  • After-hours health care – Military hospitals and clinics would be required to stay open beyond normal business hours. The Pentagon would be left to choose precise hours for specific facilities but treatment facilities would no longer be allowed to close for the day at 4:30 p.m. New urgent care centers would be required to remain open until 11 p.m.
  • Tricare fee hike in 2018 – If you join the military after Jan. 1, 2018, you and your family would be required to pay new annual Tricare enrollment fees. For basic health insurance, an individual servicemember would pay $180 and a family would pay $360. Those fees would double for Tricare coverage that allows beneficiaries to go outside of their network for care.
  • Commissary reform – A pilot program for variable pricing would allow stores to raise prices in some areas to be more competitive with grocery prices outside of the base gate. The commissary system also would be permitted to sell its own brand of products. It is an attempt to reduce the $1.4 billion annual cost of running the worldwide chain of 243 military grocery stores.
  • Women in the draft – The Selective Service program, which registers men for the draft, would be reviewed in the wake of the military’s decision to fully integrate women into all combat roles. The review will look toward alternatives to the system, presumably adding registry of women or doing away with the draft system.
  • Afghanistan forces – The bill provides enough money to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, despite Obama’s plans to draw down forces there to 5,500. It would give the next president the flexibility to halt the reduction if the situation there deteriorates further.
  • Iraq and Syria plan – The Obama administration would be required to write up a plan for stabilizing Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria – the two power centers of the Islamic State group – if the United States and its allies are able to retake the cities. The projected number of U.S. troops needed to stabilize the area would be part of the plan.
^ At a time when the US Military is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaida in Asia and Africa  ISIS in Syria, Libya and Iraq not to mention being a deterrent to Russian aggression in Europe and protecting the United States at home you can not realistically cut the military's size or budget. If you do then you have your head in the sand and don't live in a world of reality. While I know this is just a rough draft of the proposals and many won't see the light of day I agree that: the military should get a pay raise, there should be after hours health care, women should have to register for the Selective Service in case the Draft if ever brought back and that there needs to be a better plan for Iraq and Syria. ^

Feeling European

From Business Insider:
"This chart shows which Europeans are the least likely to consider themselves European"

The British are the least likely Europeans to consider themselves European. That's according to data from the Spring 2015 Eurobarometer report, which we spotted in a recent Morgan Stanley research note. The Eurobaromater report, published by the European Commission, surveyed Europeans to see how they understood concepts of European citizenship and identity. One of the most interesting questions in the report focused on how European citizens viewed their relationships to their home nations and to Europe as a whole, asking whether they identified themselves only by their nationality, by nationality and then as European, as European and then by their nationality, or just as European.
Overall, British respondents were the most likely to identify themselves only by nationality, at 64%. Notably, the British also happen to be fast approaching the June Brexit vote, which will determine whether the country wants to remain in the EU or leave. And for what it's worth, the Morgan Stanley team included this data in a section of their research note which suggested that the "Leave" vote isn't just a tail risk. Citizens from Cyprus (57%), Greece (51%), and Latvia (48%) were also highly likely to identify themselves only by nationality. On the flip side, Luxembourgers were the least likely to identify themselves only by nationality (17%), followed closely by then Germans (25%). Residents of these countries were much more likely to at least partially embrace a European identity.

^ It's not surprising that the British don't feel very European since they barely feel British. Most identity themselves as: English, Scottish or Welsh. It is really only the Protestants from Northern Ireland that see themselves as British even though Northern Ireland isn't part of Great Britain. The Catholics in Northern Ireland see themselves as Irish. The fact that the UK is going to have a vote in June on whether or not to stay in the EU  shows the lack of European identity among the Brits. ^

Friday, April 22, 2016

Climate Signed

From the BBC:
"Nations ink historic Paris climate deal"

Amid hope and hype, delegates have finished signing the Paris climate agreement at UN headquarters in New York. Some 171 countries inked the deal today, a record number for a new international treaty. About 15 nations, mainly small island states, had already ratified the agreement. But dozens of other countries were required to take this second step before the pact came into force. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "Paris will shape the lives of all future generations in a profound way - it is their future that is at stake." Speaking at the opening ceremony, he said the planet was experiencing record temperatures: "We are in a race against time. I urge all countries to join the agreement at the national level.  "Today we are signing a new covenant for the future."   As the world marked the 46th Earth Day, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres explained what now needed to happened.  "Most countries, though not all, need to take the signed document and go back home and go to ratification procedures that in most countries requires parliamentary discussion and decision."

^ It will be interesting to see which countries actually implement this agreement and how long it takes them to do so. The countries in Green on the above map signed the agreement. The countries in Orange are participants. ^


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Legal Pot Eh?

From the BBC:
"Canada to push for making sale marijuana legal"
The Canadian government will introduce legislation next year that would make the sale of marijuana legal, its health minister has said. If enacted, the move would make Canada one of the largest Western countries to allow widespread use of the drug. Health Minister Jane Philpott pledged on Wednesday to keep marijuana "out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals".
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed for legalisation during his campaign. The announcement coincided with 20 April - an unofficial holiday among cannabis advocates. Hundreds of marijuana users demonstrated outside Parliament in Ottawa on Wednesday. Medical use of marijuana is already legal in Canada. Some have argued that legal marijuana would reduce stress on Canada's criminal justice system. "We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures," Ms Philpott said. "We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem." However, Gerard Deltell, a legislator from Canada's opposition Conservatives, opposes the change, saying it would harm Canadians' health. "That's one of the worst things you can do to Canadian youth - to open the door to marijuana," he told Reuters news agency. Mr Trudeau has named Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as the government's point person on legalisation. "We control who it's sold to, when it's sold and how it's used," Mr Blair said likening marijuana to how alcohol is regulated. "And organised crime doesn't have the opportunity to profit from it." He stressed that marijuana would remain illegal in Canada while legislation is being discussed.  Ms Philpott said the exact details of the legislation are still being worked out. In the US, voters in four states plus the District of Columbia have already legalised the recreational use of the drug in ballot initiatives.  In other parts of the US, however, the drug remains illegal. 
^ I believe marijuana should only be legal for medical issues. I have seen pot-heads (those who got it legally and those illegally) and it changes how they act mentally more than alcohol.  ^

Catastrophic Issues?

Why does everything have to be made into a catastrophic issue? One minute we are all going to catch Ebola and then "magically" you never hear about it again. Then Zika. Then illegal immigrants. Then guns. Then bathrooms. Then opioids. The worst is the weather. Not every storm can be called the "storm of the century." The majority of these issues are hyped-up just to fill a slow newsday and most fall for it (i know I do sometimes.) What's funny is that most people only get involved when the weather is warm (the Occupy Movement collapsed with the first freeze - even in places that don't freeze.) It's nice to see people are really committed and focused - squirrel!

Almost Free Travel

From the DW:
"Ukrainians move closer to visa-free EU travel"
Visa-free travel in Europe for Ukrainians with biometric passports has been proposed by the EU migration commissioner. Dimitris Avramopoulos said Kiev had met all EU benchmarks. Turkey had only 10 days to do so.  Ukrainians are to be allowed short stays of up to 90 days within Europe's Schengen zone under the proposal to be submitted EU interior ministers Luxembourg on Thursday and later to the European Parliament. Excluded would be travel to Ireland and Britain. Ukrainians would, however, also have visa-free access to four Schengen associated countries - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Ukrainians visa-free short-stays would be allowed within any 180-day period for business, tourist or family purposes, assuming they had sufficient funds. The recommendation on Ukraine came from Avrapoulos at the close of a Brussels' press conference at which he said Europe should work towards a "security union" to better coordinate anti-terrorism practices and refugee arrivals. Avramopoulos praised Kiev, saying it had met "all the benchmarks" set out in a Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) worked through by Ukraine and the EU since 2008 - as part of the EU's Eastern Partnership that has riled Russia. The VLAP's four key tests include document security, integrated border management, migration management and upholding public order and fundamental rights. The commission had scrutinized five progress reports culminating in finalization of the plan last December.
^ The Ukrainians continue to impress me and the rest of the world. They have been struggling to over-come their Soviet past, am overthrown dictator, the annexation of part of their country as well as fighting a war in the eastern half of their country with Russian-supported fighters. Into all that mix  - which most countries could never overcome - they have come to the last step of visa-free travel to the Schengen Area. I hope the EU's Schengen members quickly pass the law to let the Ukrainians travel there without visas soon. It not only shows the support of the EU to the Ukraine, but also that the sacrifices the Ukrainian people are currently making in their own country are not in vain. ^

Around The World

From Yahoo:
"Queen's travel miles add up to 42 times round the globe"
The jet-setting Queen has travelled around the world 42 times, visiting 120 countries during her 90 years - and all without a passport. The monarch, who celebrates her 90th birthday on Thursday, has travelled to more than 60% of the world's 196 countries, according to royal historian Kate Williams. Canada, which the Queen has travelled to more than 25 times, is her most-visited long-haul destination. While closer to home, France and Germany have proved popular, the research commissioned by travel website found. Over the last 90 years, the monarch has visited countries including Thailand, Latvia, Pakistan and Sudan - and as British passports are issued in her name she is the only member of the Royal Family not required to carry one during her visits. During her first year on the throne, the Queen travelled more than 40,000 miles and visited 12 countries for her six-month Commonwealth tour, which took place between November 1953 and May 1954. And in 1979, she visited six countries in two months as part of a tour of the Middle East. The Queen has received many gifts on her travels, including a baby elephant during her visit to Cameroon in 1972, which was given to London Zoo. Although usually accustomed to staying in the smartest hotels, the Queen took a bed and breakfast manager by surprise in 1981, after getting stuck in a blizzard near Bristol and asking to stay the night. The manager insisted on giving the monarch his own top floor flat to stay in.
^ It's interesting to see how much of the world she has seen and how things have changed during her long reign. ^

Victims' Collect

From the BBC:
"Iran funds can go to US Beirut blast victims - Supreme Court"
The US Supreme Court is allowing the families of victims of a 1983 bombing in Beirut and other terror attacks to collect nearly $2bn (£1.4bn) in frozen Iranian assets. The court ruled in favour of more than 1,300 relatives of the 241 Americans killed at a US Marine barracks. The US government holds the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, responsible.  Both Hezbollah and Iran have denied any involvement. Iran's central bank, Bank Markazi, tried to defy court orders demanding payment for losses. It opposed a law that directs its US assets be turned over to the families. The bombings of the US embassy and US Marine barracks, both in 1983, are believed to have been carried out by Lebanese Shia militias that went on to form Hezbollah two years later. The militias were reportedly receiving considerable military training and organisational support from Iran at the time.  The next year, the US withdrew nearly all its troops from Lebanon. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the court rejecting Iran's efforts to avoid the payments. The law "does not transgress restraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution", she wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the 2012 law passed by Congress was an overreach. More than 1,300 people will receive the money, relatives of victims of the Beirut bombings, a 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia and other attacks. The lead plaintiff is the sister of a US Marine killed in Beirut.
^ This is a step in the right direction for those affected by the terrorist acts. It shouldn't have taken 33 years to do this for them though. ^

NATO-Russia Talk

From the BBC:
"Ukraine differences mark Nato-Russia talks"
Differences over the conflict in eastern Ukraine have marked the first formal meeting of the Nato-Russia Council in almost two years. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the two sides "disagree on the facts, the narrative and the responsibilities" on Ukraine. Relations between Russia and the West have been tense since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014. Russia's envoy also criticised Nato for a military exercise in the Baltic. Wednesday's talks in Brussels ran more than 90 minutes over schedule.  "Many allies disagree when Russia tries to portray [the Ukraine conflict] as a civil war," Mr Stoltenberg told a new conference.  "This is Russia destabilising eastern Ukraine, providing support for the separatists, munitions, funding, equipment and also command and control."
He added: "Nato and Russia have profound and persistent differences. Today's meeting did not change that." Mr Stoltenberg said it was important to keep channels of communication open "to discuss our differences and to reduce the risk of military incidents". He also said that the two sides had agreed on the importance of implementing the Minsk peace agreement, which has produced a fragile truce in eastern Ukraine. The Nato-Russia Council was established in 2002. Although meetings at ambassadorial level have not taken place since June 2014, there has been other political dialogue. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of covertly backing the rebels who now control much of eastern Ukraine. Russia strongly denies the claims. Nato has since moved to bolster its forces in its east European member states to counter what it says is a Russian military build-up. Russia has described Nato's increasing presence in eastern Europe as a threat to its national security.
^ Not sure what NATO or Russia thought was going to happen at this meeting. Nothing has really changed in the Ukraine (the Crimea is still annexed to Russia and Russia continues to give soldiers and weapons to the ethnic Russians in the Donbass) in the two years since their last official meeting. ^

Canada Honors Queen

From the Governor-General of Canada:
"Celebration Hosted by the Monarchist League of Canada in Honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday"
Thank you for inviting Sharon and me to celebrate a very special occasion. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 90 tomorrow at 2:40 a.m. London time—or later tonight, if you like, Canadian time. Her Majesty is renowned for her unwavering dedication to the Crown, her attention to detail, her sharp wit, her ability to connect with the people she meets and to inspire respect. But one of the qualities I admire most is her selflessness, her altruism and her belief in the decency of people. The Queen has lived her life according to deeply held beliefs, influenced by her family and her faith. She frequently touches upon themes such as tolerance, children, the goodness of people and helping those in need. It’s this inherent goodness of our queen that inspires so much admiration. Of course, there are the details of her story to admire as well. She assumed the responsibilities of being queen at an early age after the sudden death of her father. She is head of the Commonwealth and the longest-reigning sovereign in modern Canadian history. Her Majesty has seen the world at its very best and its very worst. She’s grown with the advent of technology and the 24-hour information age. In front of the world, she became not only a queen, but a mother, grandmother and now great-grandmother. A lot has changed in 90 years! Through it all, Her Majesty has remained as steadfast and true as the day she ascended the Throne. As His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales said of Her Majesty on the occasion of her 80th birthday: “[Her Majesty is] an example to so many of service, duty and devotion in a world of sometimes bewildering change and disorientation.” Ten years after these words were spoken, The Queen is still setting an example for all of us to follow. On this occasion, we also unveil a commemorative coin from the Royal Canadian Mint. Both the Mint and the Monarchist League of Canada have my gratitude for the work they do in informing Canadians and in promoting the Crown in Canada. I think it only fitting that we end with the words of Her Majesty The Queen, who reflected on her 80th birthday: “…as one gets older, birthdays seem to come round quicker; they are therefore less obvious excuses for wider celebration than personal moments to count one’s blessings.” Let’s count our own blessings that we live in such a great country, and that we’re gathered to celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. Thank you.

^ It's nice to see the official representative of the Queen in Canada honor her on her 90th birthday, ^

Queen's 90 Facts

From USA Today:
"90 facts about Queen Elizabeth II as she turns 90"
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch, turns 90 Thursday. In celebration of her birthday, here are 90 facts about her life:
1. She was born at 2:40 a.m. on April 21, 1926, at 17 Burton St. in Mayfair, London.
2. She was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary at Buckingham Palace on May 29, 1926.
3. Elizabeth was named after her mother.
4. In 1930, then-Princess Elizabeth's sister Margaret Rose was born.
5. When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth's father became King George VI.
6. After the 1936 abdication, Princess Elizabeth became first in line to the throne.
7. During World War II, Elizabeth and sister Margaret moved to Windsor Castle for their safety.
8. Elizabeth was educated at home.
9. She studied constitutional history and law, preparing for her future role as queen.
10. She was also instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
11. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip met at a wedding in 1934.
12. Elizabeth learned how to drive in 1945.
13. Elizabeth and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, were married at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947.
14. For a while, Elizabeth and Philip enjoyed a somewhat normal existence in Malta between 1949 and 1951. Philip was an officer in the Mediterranean Fleet.
15. Elizabeth became queen when King George VI died in February 1952.
16. In 1953, Elizabeth II attended her first football match (FA Cup Final).
17. Elizabeth had four children (Prince CharlesPrincess AnnePrince Andrew and Prince Edward).
18. She has made five official visits to the United States during her reign.
19. Elizabeth II has answered over 3.5 million items of correspondence.
20. She has owned over 30 corgis. Her first dog was named Susan.
21. Elizabeth says Prince Phillip has been her "strength and stay" during her reign.
22. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh became the first couple in the Royal Family to celebrate 60 years of marriage, also known as their diamond wedding anniversary.
23. For her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the queen received over 120,000 cards, letter and gifts.
24. Her coronation was the first to be televised in England.
25. Her grandson calls her "Gan-Gan."
26. The oldest recipient of a message from the queen was a man from Canada who turned 116 in December 1984.
27. Elizabeth carries cash in her purse only on Sundays; she donates money to her church.
28. The queen learned of her father's death while she was in Kenya.
29. The last British governor of New South Wales made three films, entitled Long to reign over us about Elizabeth's accession and coronation
30. She was coronated in Westminster Abbey in June 1953.
31. It was raining during her coronation.
32.  Drives through London, visits to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and a review of the fleet at Spithead followed the coronation.
33. In three months in 1977, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her accession, Elizabeth went on six tours that took her through 36 counties in the UK and Northern Ireland.
34. In that same year, her travels continued overseas to countries including Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and other countries.
35. That year, it's estimated that the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh traveled 56,000 miles.
36. That June, she lit a a bonfire beacon that began a chain of celebratory beacons across the country.
37. The next day, after making a speech during which she declared she had no regrets in taking on her responsibilities, 4,000 street and village parties were reported to have been held across the country.
38. In 2002, she celebrated 50 years of reign.
39. During that year, she visited every region of the UK, as well as many other countries.
40. June 2002 was the main focus of the celebration, and involved services as well as two concerts including artists such as Paul McCartney and Elton John.
41. During Elizabeth's 80th-birthday celebrations, she held a "Children's Party at the Palace" and invited 2,000 kids.
42. On April 19, two days before her birthday, she invited guests who also turned 80 years old to Buckingham Palace.
43. She spent April 21 meeting the crowds in Windsor before a family dinner, with fireworks.
44. During the year, she received almost 40,000 birthday messages from the public.
45. For the queen's 60th wedding anniversary, she returned to her honeymoon location, Broadlands in Hampshire; she and Philip recreated their wedding photos.
46. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Trust took donations for initiatives like Queen's Young Leaders.
47. The queen's favorite animals are horses and dogs.
48. She regularly attends both the Derby at Epsom and the Summer Race Meeting at Ascot.
49. Elizabeth owns and breeds thoroughbreds and often watches her horses race at other events, where they have won numerous times.
50. She also is interested in Scottish country dancing, and she gives annual dances for the community.
51. She gives to almost 40 animal-related organizations as well as almost 90 medical and health-care charities, in addition to the hundreds of other organizations she is involved with.
52. The queen celebrates her birthday twice — once in April and once in June — because sovereign birthdays are often celebrated twice when not naturally in the summer.
53. Once a week for an hour, she meets with Britain's prime minister.
54. The queen speaks fluent French.
55. Norman Hartnell designed the queen's wedding and coronation gowns, as well as her dress for her first visit to the U.S. as monarch.
56. Queen Elizabeth II is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.
57. There have been 12 U.S. presidents since she first began her reign.
58. There have been seven Roman Catholic popes during her time as monarch.
59. The queen was a Girl Guide as a child, as well as a Sea Ranger (a portion of Girl Guides dedicated to sailing).
60. Elizabeth has 30 godchildren.
61. Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to visit China in 1986.
62. She sent her first email in 1976 from a British research facility.
63. Since she began her reign, there have been six Archbishops of Canterbury.
64. She bred a corgi with a dachshund and created the dorgi, and has continued to breed them since.
65. The queen once had to demote a footman for putting whiskey and gin in one of her corgi's water bowls.
66. She is the oldest to celebrate 60 years in the crown, second only to Queen Victoria who celebrated the milestone at 77.
67. In summer 2005, she opened the first children's trail in the Buckingham Palace garden.
68. The British Monarchy Youtube channel launched in 2007 and has almost 56 million views and more than 150,000 subscribers.
69. The queen is the only person in the UK who doesn't need a driver's license or a license plate to drive.
70. Elizabeth also does not need a passport to travel internationally.
71. As a princess, Elizabeth drove a truck and trained as a mechanic in World War II.
72. Whales, dolphins, porpoises and sturgeons are considered “Fishes Royal" and therefore the property of the monarch when caught within three miles of the UK coast.
73. The queen, when gifted rare animals such as jaguars, donates them to the London Zoo.
74. To pay for her wedding dress materials, she collected rationing coupons.
75. She has visited more than 115 countries.
76. After visiting Belfast in 2014, she referenced her June Game of Thrones set tour in her Christmas message. She even met some of the actors.
78. Her love of dogs came from her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, who owned dachshunds and Scottish collies.
79. Only five other British kings and queens have ruled for 50 years or more.
80. Since her rule began, she has visited Edinburgh nearly every year during Holyrood Week. She stays in the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
81. Queen Elizabeth II has given royal assent to, or passed, more than 3,500 Acts of Parliament after passed by the houses of Lords and Commons.
82. The queen has visited the Vatican three times, most recently to visit Pope Francis in 2014.
83. The Royal Yacht Britannia traveled over 1 million miles in the more than 40 years it was in use by the royal family — that's an average of 25,000 miles a year.
84. The queen has traveled overseas more than 250 times.
85. Elizabeth has attended every Parliament opening with the exception of two, during which she was expecting two of her children.
86. Two of the more recent prime ministers were born during her reign: Tony Blair and David Cameron were born in 1953 and 1966, respectively.
87. Her love of horses began with a gift of a pony for her third birthday.
88. The queen usually receives around 60,000 letters a year.
89. She made a radio broadcast in 1940 at the age of 14.
90. The queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have sent more than 45,000 Christmas cards.
^ This has some good tid-bits about the Queen. The ones in Bold I already knew. ^