Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Numbers

From USA Today:
"Boo! Halloween by the numbers"

Here's a look at the numbers behind Halloween: 

- $8.4 billion will be spent on Halloween this year: According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), U.S. consumers will spend an average of $82.93, up from $73.34 last year.

- $3.1 billion will be spent on costumes: Americans want to dress to impress, according to the national retail report. And while Americans are spending a lot of money on costumes, some are more expensive than others.

- $2.5 billion will be spent on candy, according to the NRF: But your sweet tooth may cost you more this year. The price of candy and chewing gum has been on the rise since 1998 (even greater than the rate of inflation), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I- f you want to cover up this Halloween, you may have to pay for it. On average, women will pay double for “non-sexy” Halloween costumes, according to a new report from the Indix Data Marketplace, which combines data on online merchandise. The report found that 31.7% of women’s online costumes are labeled “sexy,” and 68.3% do not include the word “sexy.” The “sexy” costumes are on average $30.56, and those without sexy were 59.28, according to the report, which compiled information on over 226,7070 in-stock costume products online.

- 171 million Americans plan to partake in Halloween festivities. 

- Pokemon is in this Halloween, but some characters are favored more than others. According to the Indix Data Marketplace,  37.3% of online Pokemon costumes are ‘Pikachu’ related.

- Trump is a big seller: Devin Rubink with said Trump costumes have been the clear winner on the site with sales 3 to 1 in favor of Trump over the past couple of weeks.  The National Retail Federation has any kind of political costume pegged at third most popular choice for adults this year, behind witch and pirate.

^ I've never been a huge fan of Halloween, but I do eat my candy corn and watch scary movies every year (no one comes up my mountain so I don't have any trick-or-treaters. ^


Ceta Signed

From the BBC:
"Ceta: EU and Canada sign long-delayed free trade deal"

The European Union and Canada have signed a long-delayed landmark trade deal, following weeks of uncertainty due to opposition in Belgium.  The deal was signed in Brussels by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and top EU officials. The signing ceremony initially planned for Thursday had been cancelled after Belgium's Wallonia region vetoed the agreement. All 28 EU states approved the deal on Friday when consensus was reached. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, known as Ceta, required all EU member states to endorse it. The deal removes 99% of tariffs - and officials hope it will generate an increase in trade worth $12bn (€10.9bn; £9.8bn) a year. 
The deal was due to be signed at 11:00 local time (10:00 GMT), but was postponed after Mr Trudeau's plane had to turn back to Ottawa airport after experiencing "mechanical issues" shortly after take-off. After the agreement was finally signed several hours later, Mr Trudeau said: "Canadians and Europeans share the understanding that in order for real and meaningful economic growth, we need to create more good, well-paying jobs for our citizens.  "Progressive trade agreements like the one signed today, will do just that." European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker referred to "a new chapter" in relations between the EU and Canada, which would open new opportunities "more than half-a-billion people on both sides of the Atlantic".

^ Here's hoping this helps both Canada and the EU. ^

Communist Crimes

Many people have heard the word "Communist" before, but don't really know the crimes that have plagued every single Communist-run country. On paper Communism sounds great: a classless society where everyone is equal. In reality, Communism has never worked because it goes against human nature and the end result has always been Communists creating a dictatorship and imprisoning and killing anyone who isn't a Communist (and even some "good" Communists that have fallen out of favor with the Communists currently in power.) I know there are many people around the world who want the return of the "good ole days" when they had free healthcare, had to have a job (or be imprisoned) and where things seemed better on surface. The reality was: long lines for everything, rationing, special stores and housing for powerful Communists, restricted travel inside your own country, restricted travel outside your country, strict censorship, a distortion of the facts and history, the imprisonment, deportation and/or killing of anyone  - Communist or non-Communist - simply because the authorities could and a society where no one could trust strangers, friends or even family as they could be reporting on you to the secret police. I have been to several former Communist countries and know many people that lived under different degrees of Communist dictatorships, but have found the same overall "theme" throughout: the Communist countries were not "classless workers paradises where everyone was equal", but were corrupt, segregated societies where torture, murder and fear were used to gain and keep control. Even the few Communist countries today (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos) have had to dramatically change their traditional stance on Communism in order to survive. North Korea has to accept foreign aid from non-Communist countries to feed its own people the same way the Soviet Union did from the US. China had to open-up to the outside world and now more Chinese tourists travel the world than ever before.

While Communism doesn't have the same terror-sounding effect it once did we can't forget that just 25 years ago there were many Communist countries killing their own people as well as other people around the world and the majority of the murderers have never been brought to justice or their victims remembered.

The following are estimates of the number of people killed by the Communists in that country and are taken from numerous sources (see below) along with the time period the Communists were/are in power from:

1.) China (1949-Present):  73,237,000 people killed

2.) Soviet Union (1922-1991):  58,627,000 people killed

3.) Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (1919-1922): 3,284,000 people killed

4.) North Korea (1948-Present): 3,163,000 people killed

5.) Cambodia (1975-1987): 2,627,000 people killed

6.) Afghanistan (1978-1992): 1,750,000 people killed

7.) North Vietnam (1945-1976), Vietnam (1976-Present): 1,670,000 people killed
       *This estimate doesn't include the 1,062,000 people killed by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and goes from 1945-1987. *

8.) Ethiopia (1974-1991): 1,343,610 people killed

9.) Yugoslavia (1945-1992): 1,072,000 people killed

10.) Chinese Soviet Republic (1931-1934): 700,000 people killed

11.) Mozambique  (1975-1990): 700,000 people killed

12.) Romania (1947-1989):  435,0000 people killed

13.) Bulgaria (1946-1990):  222,000 people killed

14.) Angola (1975-1992):  125,000 people killed

15.) Mongolia (1924-1992): 100,000 people killed

16.) Albania (1946-1991): 100,000 people killed

17.) Cuba (1961-Present): 73,000 people killed
     *This estimate covers the time period 1959-1987*

18.) East Germany (1949-1990): 70,000 people killed

19.) Czechoslovakia (1948-1990): 65,000 people killed
     * This estimate covers the time period 1948-1968*

20.) Laos (1975-Present): 56,000 people killed
   * This estimate covers the time period 1975-1987*

21.) Hungary (1949-1989): 27,000 people killed

22.) Poland (1948-1989): 22,000 people killed

23.) Yemen (1969-1990): 1,000 people killed

These numbers are only an estimate of the number killed by the Communists and doesn't include those arrested, kept in corrective labor camps or mental institutions or deported. As stated above the vast majority of the Communist officials who planned, organized and carried-out these murders have never been brought to justice and many are still alive today receiving government pensions for their "good work in service of their country" the same way many Nazis were receiving government pensions from 1945-on. The scope of the crimes committed by the Communist dictatorships around the world far surpasses what the Nazis did (mostly because the Nazis were in power for 12 years while many Communist dictatorships were around for 60 + years.) In many parts of the world the same Communists who did these crimes are still in power (at the local and Federal levels) and that is just plain wrong.

References Used:

BBC News (2000, April 6). Flashback 1984: portrait of a famine. Retrieved May 7, 2006, from
Chang, Jung, & Halliday, Jon (2005). Mao: the unknown story (1st American ed.). New York: Alfred A Knopf.
Courtois, S., Werth, N., Panne, J., Paczkowski, A., Bartosek, K., & Margolin, J. (1999). The black book of Communism: crimes, terror, repression. United States: Harvard University Press.
Rummel, R. J. (1994). Death by government. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Rummel, R. J. (1996). Lethal politics: Soviet genocide and mass murder since 1917 (1st paperback ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Rummel, R. J. (2005, November 20). Reevaluating China’s democide to be 73,000,000. Retrieved April 5, 2006, from
Rummel, R. J. (1997). Statistics of democide: genocide and mass murder since 1900. Charlottesville, Virginia: Transaction Publishers.
U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (2006). Failure to protect: a call for the UN Security Council to act in North Korea. United States: DLA Piper.
Young, Lance S. (1991). Mozambique’s sixteen-year bloody civil war. Retrieved November 1, 2006, from

France Recognizes Roma

From the DW:
"Hollande recognizes French role in WWII internment of Roma"

President Hollande has acknowledged France's "broad responsibility" for the internment of Roma under the Vichy regime. Hollande was making the first-ever presidential visit to the main camp where Roma were held.  French President Francois Hollande said it was time for France to recognize its part in the persecution of the Roma people, both at the time of the Vichy regime and in the months that followed. "The day has come, and this truth must be told," Hollande said at a ceremony in Montreuil-Bellay, in central France, to commemorate the plight of Roma. "The republic acknowledges the suffering of traveling people who were interned and admits that it bears broad responsibility," Hollande said, in what was the first visit to the camp by any French president.  The Roma, also known as gypsies, were brutally persecuted in the Holocaust. Vichy France, which included most of the south of the country, was not directly occupied but was under de facto Nazi control with French officials enforcing Nazi edicts. Between 6,000 and 6,500 Roma were interned in 31 camps, the biggest of them being at Montreuil-Bellay. More than 2,000 people were confined there between November 1941 and January 1945, 100 of whom died. The camp was also used to intern people from the city of Nantes who were officially categorized as homeless. Some Roma remained detained at Montreuil-Bellay until 1946, long after World War II was over.  "Nearly all families of traveling people have at least one relative who passed through Montreuil-Bellay," Hollande said. More than 500 people took part in the events on Saturday, held 70 years after the last Roma to be interned at Montreuil-Bellay left. A commemorative art installation was set up, including engraved columns with the names of the 473 affected families. "It was important to us to have this recognition, said Fernande Delage, head of the France Liberte Voyage NGO. "It affects thousands and thousands. It's late but better late than never," he added.  The killing of Roma across the Third Reich as a whole has parallels to the systematic murder of some 6 million Jews, with estimates placing the number of murdered Roma between 220,000 and half a million. Hollande also said on Saturday that he would throw his weight behind moves in parliament to scrap a 1969 law that requires "nomads" to have a special identity card. The legislation traces its roots to a 1912 regulation aimed at forcing Roma to settle down. In 1969, the rule was replaced by a requirement for "traveling people" to have a specific set of papers, and name one district as their home base.

^ The imprisonment, deportation and murder of many groups of people during World War 2 (the Jews, Gypsies, disabled, Slavs, Freemassons, etc.) wasn't just carried-out by the Nazis. The Nazis had help from collaborators from every occupied territory and in some cases in-occupied territory like in southern France for most of the war. In many cases these collaborators were more "efficient" in their methods than the Nazis themselves as they wanted to prove themselves to them. The French collaborators were one of the most "ambitious" of them all. Modern-day France needs to fully recognize the role they played in helping the Nazis from 1940-1944. This is a step in the right direction. Every country has a dark past and can only be considered "great" if the government and citizens recognize that past and work to make sure it doesn't happen again. ^

Hitler Exhibit

From the DW:
"Exhibit replica of Hitler's bunker opens in Berlin"

A museum in the German capital has unveiled a copy of the bunker where Adolf Hitler spent his final days. Critics have accused the project's curator of sensationalizing history.  The replica of Adolf Hitler's office went on display Thursday in Berlin, about two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the site where the Nazi leader's actual bunker once existed. The exhibit's first visitors were greeted by copies of Hitler's desk, couch, grandfather clock, a portrait of King Frederick II on the wall and an oxygen cylinder in the corner. The room, housed in a former air-raid shelter, is a short walk from Potsdamer Platz. The exhibit is a reconstruction of the space where Hitler took his own life on April 30, 1945.  On its opening day, however, the Berlin Story Bunker - as the private initiative is called - drew criticism from some quarters. The nearby Topography of Terror museum, which documents war crimes committed by the National Socialists, dismissed the bunker exhibition as showmanship. "We explain history, document it, and stick to the facts. That is why we cannot support such productions," the museum's spokesman, Kay-Uwe von Damaros, told German news agency DPA. "Sensationalism isn't our thing." The exhibition's curator, Wieland Giebel, said the aim was not to "create a Hitler show." He said the replica office was only accessible to visitors as part of a private tour through another war-time shelter that was built for 3,500 people and which ultimately provided refuge to 12,000 by the end of the war. He added that photography was not allowed.  Hitler retreated to his underground Führerbunker in central Berlin in early 1945, as Allied forces made greater gains in German territory. During the last months of the war, as the Soviet army advanced west towards the German capital, the underground complex served as the headquarters of the Nazi regime. Hitler married Eva Braun in the bunker shortly before they both committed suicide there. The site was destroyed in the war's aftermath as part of an effort to wipe out landmarks from the Third Reich. Today, the area is covered by parking spaces with an inconspicuous information plaque explaining its former purpose.  According to Adam Kerpel-Fronius, from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, there's a huge public interest in authentic historical sites.  "I don't think that's a bad thing," he told dpa. "There was always a fear that [the original bunker] would become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. But that isn't the case. Everyone who comes to Berlin and who is interested in history knows that there was a Führerbunker, and they'd be surprised to find only a parking lot at the site."

^ This is more historical than it is anything else (especially since it's not at the actual site of Hitler's bunker.) People should see how this mad-man lived his final days and how he abandoned the German people even after they followed him blindly for years. ^

Friday, October 28, 2016

Busy UPS

From USA Today:
"Your UPS driver will be a lot busier this year"

Your UPS driver is going to be a lot busier this year.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve the shipping giant expects "to complete over 700 million deliveries worldwide, about 100 million more than last year," said Kate Gutmann, UPS's senior vice president of worldwide sales and solutions, on a conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings. That's about a 17% increase. The continued move of holiday shopping to online from traditional, physical retail stores is fueling the increase. New Year's Day falling on a Sunday is also a factor, as it gives UPS two additional operating days to move shipments. To prepare, UPS is hiring an additional 95,000 temporary workers and  is adding automated shipping hubs in the U.S. just for the holiday season. The hubs handle sorting, storage and manage where packages go. By most accounts, the holiday season is expected to be busy. The National Retail Federation announced earlier this month that it expects sales to increase 3.6% overall in November and December to $655.8 billion. Amazon similarly announced earlier this month that it was planning to hire 120,000 temporary workers to better handle the busy season, a jump from the 100,000 temp workers it brought on last year. Rival FedEx announced in September it was bringing on more than 50,000 temporary workers. UPS is also planning to add 14 new Boeing 747 plans to its fleet, with the option to add 14 more. But don't expect them to help your ship times this year, though. The first two planes of that order won't be added until "the end of 2017."

^ I have ordered many things online for holidays and birthdays for years. Now that I have Amazon Prime I order things year-round and get them shipped (mostly by UPS) right to my door. Otherwise I have to drive off my mountain to my mailbox, get a package slip, drive 23 minutes to the Post Office in the next town and pick it up. That's a hassle - especially in the winter. I know I have made my UPS delivery guy come to my house many times over the past few months and so believe they will be even busier during the holidays. ^


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ceta Back On?

From the BBC:
"EU-Canada trade deal: Belgians break Ceta deadlock"

Belgian political leaders have reached a consensus in support of the Ceta trade deal between the EU and Canada, Prime Minister Charles Michel has said.  He said they had agreed on an addendum to the deal which addressed regional concerns over the rights of farmers and governments.   The changes will still have to be approved by the other 27 EU members.  A signing ceremony on Thursday was cancelled after the French-speaking region of Wallonia vetoed the deal.  Wallonia, a staunchly socialist region of 3.6 million people, had been leading objections, demanding stronger safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards. It also wanted more protection for Walloon farmers, who would face new competition from Canadian imports. But after the latest round of marathon talks, Mr Michel tweeted: "All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada." He did not give further details, but the premier of the Flemish region, Geert Bourgeois, said the original text of the trade deal remained the same. "This is a clarification. The actual treaty does not change," he said.  Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the deal was back on track.

The Ceta trade deal in numbers:              
98%  = The number of tariffs between the EU and Canada that would be eliminated
€500 million  = The estimated amount that EU exporters would save in duties annually
  • 3.6m The population of Wallonia
  • 36.3m The population of Canada
  • 508m The population of the EU
"Once bitten, twice shy, we hope that the Europeans have agreed between themselves because Canada is ready to sign," he said during a visit to Paris, adding that "if the news you announced becomes reality, it is excellent news." European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, "Only once all procedures are finalised for EU signing CETA, will I contact PM @JustinTrudeau".  The head of the Walloon government, Paul Magnette, said the region's resistance had yielded big results.  "Wallonia is extremely happy that our demands were heard," he said.  "If we took a bit of time, what we achieved here is important, not only for Wallonia but for all Europeans," he added. It took seven years to negotiate Ceta, the EU's most ambitious trade deal yet. The Ceta wrangling has raised new concerns about future UK negotiations with the EU on a Brexit trade deal.

^ This now has to re-pass on the EU member states and then be signed before it goes into effect, but it looks like it will now go through. Hopefully, it will help both the EU and Canada. ^

Two Bads Don't Equal A Right

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vatican's "Dirty" Archives

From the BBC:
"Vatican to open Argentina's 'Dirty War' archives"

The Vatican says it will open its files relating to military rule in Argentina to victims and their relatives. It says the decision has been taken at the request of Pope Francis "in the service of truth, justice and peace". Thousands of people were tortured, killed or disappeared during the period known as the Dirty War in Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Many victims accuse the Roman Catholic Church of complicity and failure to speak out against abuses. On Tuesday, the Vatican said that - together with Argentina's bishops - it had finished digitizing the Church's archives relating to the period. It said the files would only be open to victims and their relatives, without setting a firm date. The documents are being held in the Vatican's secretariat of state, the Vatican's embassy in Buenos Aires and also at the Argentine bishops' conference. Most of them would normally never be made public.  Pope Francis - who led Jesuits in his native Argentina under the junta and was known at the time as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - had pledged to open up the archives.  In 2013, the Vatican denied that the pontiff had failed to speak out against human rights abuses, saying "there has never been a credible, concrete accusation against him". Correspondents say that like other Latin American churchmen of the time, he had to contend, on the one hand, with a repressive right-wing regime and, on the other, a wing of his Church leaning towards political activism on the left.

^ This is a step in the right direction for the Catholic Church, but it should also open its files on other events like the Holocaust, the sex scandals, etc. to the relatives of those affected. ^

Sad Crying

Suspended Pentagon

From the BBC:
"US veteran bonus repayment plan suspended after outcry"

The Pentagon is suspending plans to collect bonuses that were given to California National Guard veterans in error. The decision, which was announced by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during a visit to Brussels, comes after a congressional outcry. The bonuses were offered as incentive to fill the shortage of troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 10,000 soldiers were expected to repay at least $15,000 (£12,270) each. Some soldiers received bonuses in exchange for enlisting, and others received university tuition assistance. Since the federal investigation concluded in 2010, about $22m (£18m) has been recovered, the Los Angeles Times reported. "This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members. Too many cases have languished without action. That's unfair to service members and to taxpayers," Secretary Carter said in a statement, adding that about 2,000 soldiers were given erroneous payments.  Robert D'Andrea, a retired Army major and Iraq veteran, was told in 2008 that he must repay $20,000 (£16,350) because auditors could not locate a copy of the enlistment contract that he says he signed. "Some benefit of the doubt has to be given to the soldier," Mr D'Andrea told the Los Angeles Times. The reimbursement suspension will continue until Mr Carter "is satisfied that the process is working effectively". "While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not," Mr Carter said, adding that he has appointed an official to review the process. The Pentagon will set up "a streamlined, centralised process" to help soldiers determine a reimbursement plan, Mr Carter announced.  On Monday the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform called for on the Pentagon to absolve the soldiers' debts.

^ This suspension is a start, but it seems the Pentagon still wants the soldiers themselves to re-pay their bonuses and not the National Guard or states that offered the bonuses to fill their recruitment void.  Go after the big guy (ie the states that did it) and leave the little guy (the soldiers) alone. ^

Candy Corn's Story

From USA Today:
"Here's a treat: All you need to know about candy corn!"

Aagh!! I’m already having a sugar headache just thinking about it. Candy corn, that is -- the traditional Halloween sweet handed out by householders to the ghosts and goblins trawling the streets for gobs of goodies. Produced since the late 19th century, candy corn has long fascinated Americans. We buy so much – about 9 billion kernels, more than 35 million pounds each year – and yet it always seems to be the last candy left in the collection bag after the more tempting treats are taken. Why? Partly, it’s tradition – candy corn’s orange, yellow and white reflect the colors of fall, the harvest and Halloween. Partly, it’s because it’s relatively inexpensive.  “It’s a nostalgic item,” said Lisa Brasher, president and CEO of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, one of the major candy corn manufacturers. “A lot of people were raised with candy corn in their childhood and they now want to share that tradition with their kids.” Jelly Belly, formerly the Goelitz Confectionery Company, is the oldest existing candy corn manufacturer, having turned out the tasty treats since the turn of the century. But it was not the first. “The oral tradition that has been passed down,” said Brasher, “is that candy corn was first made by a gentleman named George Renninger from Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia in the 1880s.”  Goelitz, which was started in 1869 by Brasher’s great-great-grandfather Gustav Goelitz, a German immigrant, began manufacturing candy corn in about 1898. “It was a revolutionary item back in those times,” said Brasher, “because it was made with three different colors.” The ingredients are simple, based around sugar, corn syrup, food coloring, vanilla flavoring, waxes and confectioners glaze (to make it shiny) and a pinch of salt. The mixture is then heated to turn it into a liquid. Another major candy corn manufacturer, Brach’s, adds a little honey. “In the old days we would use open copper kettles over an open flame,” Brasher said. “We would make three of those open kettles, one for the white tip of the corn, one for the orange center of the corn and one for the yellow top of the corn.” It was a very labor-intensive process, with the candy liquid being hand-poured, color by color, into the molds to be set. But in the 1930s, his muscles aching, Brasher’s grandfather invented an automated system.  With automation came huge amounts of candy corn. “We can make 28,000 pounds in an eight-hour shift,” Brasher boasts. “After the candy comes out of the molds it sets for about a day before it is shined with confectioners’ glaze and waxes,” Brasher added. “Then it sits another night before being packaged.” And then it goes from the company’s factory in North Chicago, Ill., into the hands of trick or treaters and tradition-loving adults. According to the National Confectioners Association, about 68% of people surveyed say that chocolate is their favorite Halloween treat, followed in second place by candy corn, at 10%.   Then there is the matter of how it is eaten. Another National Confectioners Association poll found that about 47% of people eat the whole piece of candy corn at once while about 43% start by nibbling the narrow, white end. The other 10 percent? They begin by munching on the wider yellow end. And it’s not just at Halloween. “We sell candy corn year-round,” said Brasher, “but we definitely see a spike in our sales around the autumn season.” In order to extend candy corn sales, Jelly Belly now has Reindeer Corn for Christmas (green, white, and red), Cupid Corn for Valentine's Day (pink, red and white) and Bunny Corn for Easter, which comes in a variety of pastel colors. Meanwhile, Brach’s makes Indian Corn for Thanksgiving, which is brown, orange, and white, as well as a variety called Autumn Mix.  So why, I asked, is candy corn the last sweet treat left in the bowl after Halloween? Brasher did a masterful politician-like pivot. “Definitely chocolate is the most popular,” she said. “Candy corn is a nostalgia item. A lot of people were raised with candy corn in their childhood and they now want to share that tradition with their kids.” As for Halloween, Brasher – known in her neighborhood as “the Candy Lady” -- is an equal-opportunity candy giver. “I love all candy, and I give out other brands of candy, not just mine.” Let the sugar headaches begin.

^ I love candy corn and eat it every Halloween. ^

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pentagon After Soldiers

From the BBC:
"Outrage over US attempt to recoup veteran bonuses"

Thousands of California National Guard soldiers have been ordered to repay enlistment bonuses given to them a decade after they signed up to serve.  Pentagon audits found the California Guard overpaid recruits in an effort to fill the shortage of troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers and veteran leaders decried the decision on Monday, calling on the Pentagon to absolve the debts.  Soldiers face interest charges and wage garnishments if they refuse to pay.  The welfare of veterans has been a central plank of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, although the issue has not figured much in the three TV debates. In the latest scandal, nearly 10,000 soldiers are expected to repay upwards of $15,000 each after a 2010 federal investigation found that the California Guard doled out more money in bonuses and student loan payments than it was supposed to, according to US media. The total amount given out is still unclear, but the Los Angeles Times reported that $22m (£18m) has been recovered in California so far.  Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said she was "appalled" by the news.  "It is unacceptable to now subject them and their families to undue financial burdens thanks to mismanagement from the California National Guard and rigid bureaucracy on the part of the Pentagon." Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pointed to the incident as an example of a "corrupt" system.  "This can only happen with these incompetent people we have," he said at a rally in Florida. "No common sense. They're incompetent."  At least 54 members of Congress and the California state legislature sent letters to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, calling on the Pentagon to stop the collections and provide more details.  "We understand other states may have been affected but are pending verification of which ones,'' National Guard Bureau spokeswoman Laura Ochoa told the AP news agency. "California is where the majority of this occurred." Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the directive "disgraceful" while Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged for legislation to halt the collection.   Maj Gen Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, said the California Guard was working with lawmakers to introduce a measure that would clear the debts.  Four people were convicted of fraud over the improper use of funds.  Navy Capt Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said the agency would work with the Army, National Guard Bureau and California Army National Guard to "strengthen efforts to respond to this situation".

^ Why should the soldiers be forced to repay the bonuses they received when it was given to them legally and they fulfilled their part of the contact. It is the State of California and the California National Guard that should have to repay the Pentagon - not the soldiers themselves.  This is a horrible way for the Pentagon and California to "thank" the men and women who risked their lives to protect us.  ^

Holidays Countdown

Denying Disabled Organs

From Disability Scoop:
"Disability No Reason To Deny Organ Transplants, Lawmakers Say"

Members of Congress are pressing the Obama administration to issue guidance clarifying that life-saving organ transplants should not be denied because of a person’s developmental disability. In a letter sent this month to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the agency to address what they called “persistent” organ transplant discrimination. “Unfortunately, many transplant centers and surgeons continue to refuse to provide access to transplant registries and transplantation surgery to qualified people with disabilities,” reads the correspondence to Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Office for Civil Rights.  “No one should be denied their right to life simply because of their intellectual and/or development disabilities,” the lawmakers wrote. In recent years, a handful of high-profile cases have highlighted the disparities faced by people with developmental disabilities needing organ transplants. In 2012, then-3-year-old Amelia Rivera, who was diagnosed with intellectual disability and Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, was initially denied a kidney transplant, but doctors reversed course amid public outrage. In a separate case later that same year, the family of Paul Corby said that his autism diagnosis was cited when he was turned down for a heart transplant. The lawmakers noted in their letter that several states including California, Maryland and New Jersey have passed laws prohibiting discrimination in the organ transplant process. The letter, which includes signatures from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, calls for guidance from HHS clarifying that denying an organ transplant based on a person’s disability would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. What’s more, the lawmakers said that an individual’s support network should be considered when determining how a patient with disabilities would handle postoperative procedures. “This is discrimination that has life or death consequences,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., who worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., to spearhead the effort to reach out to HHS. “Such discrimination directly violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and does not abide the American values of fairness and inclusion that we hold so dear as Americans, for all our communities,” Honda said. A coalition of 14 disability advocacy groups called on HHS to provide similar guidance four years ago. Lesley Cothran, a spokeswoman for the HHS Office for Civil Rights, told Disability Scoop that the agency is looking into the issues raised in the letter and plans to respond to the members of Congress directly.

^ It is pretty pathetic that organ centers and doctors are doing this (denying the disabled transplants.) Doctors took an oath to help EVERYONE and yet they tend to forget that when it suits them. The disabled have long been the victims of discrimination, sterilization, institutionalization, etc. for centuries. It has only been in the past few decades that the disabled in the US have had any legal protection (the ADA in 1990) and even that doesn't fix many aspects of what the disabled have to go through on a day-to-day basis. Denying the disabled the organs they need to live is playing God and is just wrong. If they meet all the guidelines that everyone else has to pass then they should be given equal access to the transplants. ^

Drinking Ban

From the BBC:
"Iraq alcohol: Parliament imposes ban in a surprise move"

Parliament in Iraq has voted to ban the sale, import and production of alcohol, with backers of the move arguing that its availability contradicts Islam and is unconstitutional. Opponents argue that the vote infringes constitutional guarantees of freedom of religious belief for minority groups such as Christians.  They say they will appeal against the surprise decision in the courts.  An official said that the ban was a last-minute move by conservatives.  Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, activities perceived to be contrary to the moral code of Islam have come under repeated attack, with alcohol shops targeted in Baghdad and other cities. While alcohol is not commonly found in restaurants and hotels in Iraq, correspondents say its consumption is relatively widespread in the scores of small shops and bars in Baghdad. Correspondents say the new law has been passed at a time when attention is focused on the battle to wrest control of Mosul from the militant group known as Islamic State. Ammar Toma, an MP who supported the ban, argued that it was justified because the constitution stipulates that "no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established".

^  Iraq has many more problems (IS, high unemployment, suicide bombs, anti-government protests and riots, etc.) than banning alcohol and they should focus on those. The timing does seem off too. Rushing a quick vote while the country and the world are more focused on the current international push to liberate Mosul from IS. ^

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mandating Day Care

From the DW:
"Germany rules parents with no day care options can sue cities for lost earnings"

Germany's highest court has decided that muncipalities are the responsible party for the lack of legally-mandated day care spots for every child. The ruling comes after three mothers sued for lost earnings.  Germany's Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that parents may sue their town for lost earnings if there are no places for their child in day care facilities. The decision comes after a 2013 law guaranteeing a right to free care for German children above the age of one, a decision which left the question of responsibility shifting between Berlin, regional governments, and municipalities. The court in Karlsruhe was answering a suit brought forward by three mothers from Leipzig who said that they could not return to work after the births of their children in 2013 and 2014 because no nurseries had free places for them. They charged that the authorities had neglected the duties given to them by the 2013 statute. "This law is meant to improve the compatibility of work and family," said Chief Justice Ulrich Herrmann. The judge added the caveat that "the municipality cannot cite general financial bottlenecks" as a reason for lacking funds to construct kindergartens, as they are provided with money to this end from both the federal and state governments. However, they may not be held responsible if they have made reasonable efforts to recruit the requisite amount of personnel for the facilities but have been unable to do so. The current suit now goes back to the regional court in Dresden to address these issues and just how much the city of Leipzig is liable to the three plaintiffs. The mothers have asked for between 2,200 euros ($2,412) and 7,330 euros ($8,034) in lost earnings.

^ This is one reason why Germany and Europe is weakening. If you can't afford day care for your child than maybe you shouldn't have a child until you can. You can easily find out beforehand what child care options are in your area and if you are going to be responsible for a child for the next 18 years than you should be held completely responsible for them. The government doesn't force you to have children (or not to have children) so why should they be forced to take care of your children when you don't? People need to stop suing about everything because they are too lazy or too stupid to do things for themselves. They need to put their "big boy/girl pants on" and start taking responsibility for their own actions. ^

Bullying Craze

I know the latest "craze" is to call everyone a bully (mostly because they don't believe the same thing as you), but this trend will go the same way as the witch trials of the 1600s, the Communist scare of the 1930s and 1950s and the Political Correctness Craze of the 1990s. Until then people should relax and stop being so paranoid. Not everyone is a bully out to get you (and if you think they are then maybe you need to be in a padded room.) Also crying "bully" on everyone makes it more difficult to stop real bullies (like crying "wolf" when there isn't one.)

Casting Diversity

From Disability Scoop:
"CBS Launches Casting Diversity Initiative"

CBS is launching a major casting initiative designed to discover new performers from across the country and increase the pool of diverse talent for its current dramas and upcoming dramatic pilots. The announcement comes a little more than two months after the network came under fire for a fall lineup that included six new series all featuring white male leads. CBS has repeatedly been criticized for its lack of progress on the multiculturalism front — few of its programs in the last decade have featured a minority in a leading role, and it is the only broadcast network not to have a series built around a family of color. CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller said at that time that diversity has been and is a priority of the network. In announcing the new initiative, Geller said the objective is to address and correct those concerns by inviting performers who are not based in New York or Los Angeles to try out for CBS shows.  “We’re timing this initiative to pilot season,” he said. “The long-term goal is to broaden our already increasing pool of diverse talent.” The initiative will also serve as a counterpart to CBS’ annual Comedy Sketch Showcase, in which minority, LGBTQ and differently abled talent seeking representation perform for agents, managers and network executives. Performers who have been discovered through that showcase include Justin Hires (“MacGyver”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”). Through Oct. 28, actors 18 and older will be able to submit a self-taped monologue via According to the announcement, executives say applicants will be accepted from groups “that have traditionally been under-represented, including African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities. Actors should possess strong dramatic talent and a technical skill set.” Casting honchos will review all online submissions and make selections for regional callback auditions in Atlanta (Nov. 7, 8 and 9), Austin, Texas (Nov. 3 and 4), Chicago (Nov. 2, 3 and 4), Miami (Nov. 10 and 11) and San Francisco (Nov. 10 and 11). Those chosen for the callbacks will rehearse with casting executives and be put on tape. Following those regional casting sessions, 14-16 actors will be selected to travel to Los Angeles for a network screen test that will be used for casting opportunities for current series, pilot season and in the future. Geller added that producers and writers in the past months have pitched shows where “diversity is baked into the concept. That of course is step one in how we become more diverse, if it’s organic.” He also touted the diversity of the network’s reality slate, which includes the upcoming series “Hunted,” in which contestants participate in a nationwide manhunt and are challenged to run from some of the world’s most highly skilled investigators.

^ Hopefully this is more than a publicity stunt to gain attention and will actually result in real change on the screen. ^

Measurable Snow

From the Weather Channel:
"Higher-Elevation Snow Ahead in the Northeast After Record-Warm Temperatures"

The record warmth of this week will be a distant memory as snow is expected in some of the higher elevations of the Northeast this weekend. After very warm temperatures for mid-October, a pattern change is beginning to take place, that will usher in more fall-like temperatures. It may even feel more like winter to some. For those who prefer a warm, toasty fire to air conditioning, good news is ahead as a pattern change is on the way. Temperatures will remain warm for this time of year through Friday in the Northeast, but temperatures will not be as warm as earlier this week. By this weekend, temperatures will drop back to closer to average. Temperatures will even be slightly below average in spots, beginning Friday. Lows will be up to 10 degrees colder than average into next week.  These changes are courtesy of an upper-level trough that will move across the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region late this week. An area of low pressure, associated with this trough, will move through the Northeast, slowly moving northeastward into Canada this weekend. This area of low pressure will deepen and northwesterly winds will allow cold air to surge southward. This will set the stage for the possibility of some snow in the higher elevations. Moisture from a possible tropical system could be drawn northward, which may enhance precipitation in the Northeast. As this system slowly exits the region, some rain and snow showers may linger in the mountains through this weekend.  The first chance for snow showers will be in the Adirondacks and Catskills of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire on Saturday. Lake-effect rain showers are possible with this system as well, with the potential for a dusting of snow for the Tug Hill Plateau, especially Saturday night. Some locally heavy snow is even possible over the higher summits of the Adirondacks and Green Mountains through Sunday morning. Most areas, however, will see cold rain showers.  Sunday, additional light snow showers or flurries may be seen over the Adirondacks and into northern New England. A few snowflakes may linger into Sunday night and Monday in far northern New England and northern New York. Windy conditions are also expected this weekend, which could leave to some power outages given the risk of wet snow and leaves still on trees.  High pressure is then expected to build across the region early next week, bringing drier weather and temperatures that likely will remain cool.

^ While we have already had snow flurries this could be our first measurable snow of the snow. It wouldn't be such a big deal (we live in the mountains) if it hadn't been in the 80s and sunny just yesterday. ^


From the DW:
"What is behind the right-wing 'Reichsbürger' movement?"

They are radical and violent. In recent years more and more people identifying themselves as Reichsbürger have drawn the attention of authorities. Who are they, and what kind of danger do they pose?  They think Germany is simply an administrative construct still occupied by the Western powers. For them, the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist. We are talking about so-called "Reichsbürger," which translates as "Citizens of the Reich," people who swamp German authorities with lawsuits and are not averse to violence. The Reichsbürger movement is made up of a number of small groups and individuals - mainly in the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bavaria. They do not accept the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany nor any of its government authorities. They refuse to pay taxes and have declared their own small "national territories," which they call the "Second German Empire," the "Free State of Prussia" or the "Principality of Germania." Members of these groups print passports and driver's licenses for their supposed states. They even produce T-shirts and flags for advertising purposes. Reichsbürger simply ignore the fact that such activity is illegal and not recognized by any German authority. They proudly announce their intention to "carry on the fight against the Federal Republic of Germany" on their websites.  State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution estimate that there are only a few hundred Reichsbürger in Germany. It is thought that some 150 to 200 are in Brandenburg. Most are male, on average they are over 50 years old and they tend to come from socially disadvantaged segments of society. Many members ascribe to right-wing populist, anti-Semitic and Nazi ideologies. A district court judge in Saxony-Anhalt has described them as "conspiracy theorists" and "malcontents." The growing radicalization of this group of people, however, is becoming a problem. That radicalization often begins with floods of motions and objections filed against court orders and payment demands issued by local authorities. Regardless of content, authorities are required to process every properly filed formal request they receive.  Mayors from a number of communities have protested that, beyond having to deal with so much senseless work, they have also been attacked by Reichsbürger, verbally and even physically. Members often film such attacks and then post them online. In Bavaria, a group of Reichsbürger actually stormed into a courtroom trial and stole documents from the judge's bench. Workers at Wittenburg city hall in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were given security training to deal with such attacks. All sharp instruments have since been removed from their desks and the building's doors are now locked. Brandenburg has tested emergency call systems for its tax offices. Meanwhile, the Brandenburg Institute for Local Community Advice has compiled a comprehensive guidebook for administrators seeking help on the issue. One of their suggestions: Don't attempt to counsel!  Of late, Reichsbürger have increasingly gained attention for committing violent acts. This spring a bailiff was threatened with a knife. Police also had to assist in a forced eviction this fall in Saxony-Anhalt to hinder an armed confrontation. In Reuden, Saxony-Anhalt a Reichsbürger fired upon security forces at his "State of Ur" property. Police have found large caches of weapons and ammunition during house searches, too. And Reichsbürger members are continuing to arm themselves. In Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia a group from the "Free State of Prussia" attempted to build up its own militia by smuggling in arms from outside the country. The "German Police Aid Organization" in Meissen, Saxony, is closely related to the Reichsbürger regarding the idea of creating an independent protection force. Police officers and bailiffs have fallen prey to the group. The district court has reacted by sentencing members of the group to jail terms of up to two-and-a-half years for the criminal offenses of extortion, deprivation of liberty and battery.   On Wednesday, a law enforcement officer was critically wounded during a raid on a 49-year-old Reichsbürger man's apartment in Georgesgmünd, Bavaria. Authorities said the man, a hunter, had a permit for his weapons but that he had since been deemed unfit to possess them. The raid, carried out by members of a special task force unit and police officers, was initiated to confiscate the firearms. Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Hermann announced that he will closely monitor Reichsbürger in the future.

^ Germany hasn't done enough to stop these so-called Reichbuergers over the decades. They are Neo-Nazis (they only recognize the 1937 Germany which was then under the Nazi dictatorship.) I lived in Germany and was always told that they had strict laws about the Nazis and Neo-Nazis, but clearly they don't or they don't enforce them that well since they are a major threat. These Neo-Nazis are all over the former East Germany  -which isn't surprising since the people there live in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945 and then Communist East Germany from 1945-1990 (57 years of direct and strict dictatorships.) With Germany accepting lots of refugees and the EU weakening these Neo-Nazi groups are only going to get stronger and something needs to be done right now to stop them. I know many Europeans live in a world of "lemon drops and moon beams" and think nothing bad can happen to them, but the recent attacks from IS and the growing Neo-Nazis show that isn't true. You have to actually do something other than hold rallies and hope things change. Hopefully the Germans and the rest of Europe can stop this threat before more violence comes. ^ürger-movement/a-36094740

Turing Law

From the BBC:
"'Alan Turing law': Thousands of gay men to be pardoned"

Gay and bisexual men convicted of now-abolished sexual offences in England and Wales are to receive posthumous pardons, the government has announced. Thousands of living men convicted over consensual same-sex relationships will also be eligible for the pardon. Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey, who proposed the amendment to the Policing and Crimes Bill, said it was "momentous". It follows the pardoning of World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing for gross indecency in 2013. Under the amendment - dubbed "Turing law" - deceased people who were convicted of sexual acts that are no longer deemed criminal will receive an automatic pardon.  Anyone living who has been convicted of such offences could already apply through the Home Office to have the offence wiped from their criminal records.  But now, if the Home Office agrees that the offence is no longer an offence under current law, they will automatically be pardoned. Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said it was "hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today". Lord Sharkey said he understood why some people may not want a pardon, or may "feel that it's wrong". But, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, "a pardon is probably the best way of acknowledging the real harm done by the unjust and cruel homophobic laws, which thankfully we've now repealed. And I do hope that a lot of people will feel exactly the same way". He said of the 65,000 men convicted under the laws, 15,000 are still alive.  George Montague was convicted in 1974 of gross indecency with a man. He says he wants an apology - not a pardon. "To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he told BBC Newsnight. "I think it was wrong to give Alan Turing - one of the heroes of my life - a pardon.  "What was he guilty of? He was guilty of the same as what they called me guilty of - being born only able to fall in love with another man." He added: "If I get an apology, I will not need a pardon." He added that there "never should have been an offence of gross indecency". "It didn't apply to heterosexuals. Heterosexuals could do what they liked, in the doorways, in passageways, the back of their car. "It only applied to gay men. That's not right, surely?"  The Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 in England and Wales, in 1967. The law was not changed in Scotland until 1980, or in Northern Ireland until 1982. Announcing the new plan, Mr Gyimah said the government would support Lord Sharkey's amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill - which would apply to England and Wales, but not Scotland and Northern Ireland as the Justice Department does not cover devolved administrations.  In 2013, the posthumous royal pardoning of Turing led to calls for wider pardons, and the launch of a petition in 2015. The petition gathered almost 640,000 signatories, including the actors Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Turing in the film about the enigma code, The Imitation Game. The charity Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said it has begun discussions with the Scottish government to allow similar procedures to be introduced in Scotland.  In Northern Ireland, the Rainbow Project, also a charity and campaign group, met with the justice minister in August to discuss the law around historical convictions.  Turing, the Bletchley Park code-breaker, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man. He was later chemically castrated and died in 1954 after poisoning himself with cyanide. His pardon, almost 60 years later, followed a Private Member's Bill introduced by Lord Sharkey. The Lib Dem peer said it was "a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK".  He said: "It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during the coalition."  Turing's great niece Rachel Barnes said the moment Turing's family heard he was to receive a pardon was "absolutely tremendous". She told the Today programme: "Alan Turing just so, so deserves this. To think that this is the man who cracked the enigma code and saved countless of millions of lives during World War Two and to think of the treatments that he went through at the hands of the government in 1952 is still unbelievable to us." She said that the family has always highlighted his achievements rather than the fact he was a gay man. She added: "Because we shouldn't be thinking about his sexuality, we should really be focusing on the successes of this incredible man in history who has done so much for the country and for the world".

^ I don't understand why men convicted of homosexuality who are now dead will automatically be pardoned and why those still living have to apply - it should also be automatic. ^

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Real Flight Prices

From USA Today:
"DOT mulls forcing airlines to include fees in fares. Again."

As Transportation Department officials debate to force airlines to include fees for bags and seat assignments in fares, they already have hundreds of comments to consider. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Tuesday the department would conduct a rule-making to “explore” a requirement for all-in-one pricing that includes fees for baggage, seat assignment, change and cancellation of tickets. The goal would be to reduce piecemeal pricing for ancillary fees, which the industry calls unbundling, because it frustrates travelers by making it tougher to compare fares.  But the department already collected more than 750 comments for a rule-making posted in May 2014 governing ancillary fees. “This will be a step backwards from two earlier rule-makings,” said Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group. “If DOT is planning on starting from scratch, it will be an enormous retreat from overall airline pricing transparency.” Airlines contend that Congress deregulated the industry in 1978 and the department should allow competition without dictating how to market fares. For example, Southwest Airlines promotes its lack of bag fees, but other airlines charge a variety of fees depending on loyalty and other factors. The debate promises to remain contentious. In the 2014 rulemaking, travelers said the growth of fees and proliferation of choices has made buying tickets too difficult. For example, last year airlines collected $3.8 billion in bag fees and $3 billion in change and cancellation fees. “The airlines are difficult enough to navigate with the different boarding, seating, baggage, meals, by nickel-and-diming of the consumers, it will be almost impossible to find a flight and compare the final price,” said Joan Horn of Walkersville, Md. “Displaying all fees as part of the ticket price levels the playing field and makes it much easier for consumers to compare apples to apples,” said Matthew Kirkland of Watkinsville, Ga. In addition, the department was studying in 2014 whether to force airlines to charge the fees at the same time as the airfare, under a policy called “transactability.” The U.S. Travel Association said nearly half (45%) of the 1,031 travelers surveyed found it difficult to budget for travel because of fees and that one-fourth faced a fee at the airport they didn’t anticipate.

^ Of course the airlines are fighting this tooth-and-nail since they have swindled the flying public since 2001. Passengers have to pay for food, blankets, bags, seats, etc. and get treated as cattle through check-in, security and on-board (not to mention if there are delays at the terminal or on the plane.) Even when you pay for your bags and they get lost by the airline they keep the money rather than refund it. Airlines should display all their prices up-right to potential passengers as a sign of good-faith and that they actually want us rather than being forced to be a law. The fact that the airlines don't want to says a lot about them and how they view us "cattle." ^

75: German Deportations

From the DW:
"Commemoration marks 75 years since the start of Jewish deportations by the Nazis"

75 years ago, the Nazis began deporting Jews to death camps. The infamous Track 17 at Berlin's Grunewald station was the departure point. Contemporary witness, Horst Selbiger, shares his memories of the "shipments."  Horst Selbiger had prepared his speech well for the invited guests at the commemoration of the first deportations on October 19. Selbiger, now 88 years old, knew personally many of the people who were sent to their deaths from Track 17. There were many of his relatives and also close friends. He and his parents were lucky. They were not deported and survived.
Selbiger recently traveled from Berlin to the final destination of the transports to the East: the Polish city of Lodz. "And then all these things surfaced," explains Selbiger from his small, tidy kitchen in a high-rise apartment block. "It is unbelievable the brutality with which the Nazis housed and then gassed totally innocent people." In official Nazi documents the deportation is euphemistically referred to as a "resettlement" or "evacuation" or people being "deposited." In reality, people were taken with the German state railway to their deaths in ghettos, labor camps or concentration camps. At first they were transported in decommissioned carriages; later they were taken in cattle cars.  The first deportation left Track 17 of Berlin's Grunewald station on the 18th October 1941. 1089 children, women and men were taken by force to Lodz. By the end, some 50,000 Jews from Berlin were deported; victims of the Nazi "Reign of Terror." Today, these railway platforms are memorials situated on the edge of the capital. This is where Horst Selbiger will be holding his speech. "For me, Track 17 is the train station from where all the suffering began. Us kids were smarter than the grown ups. We knew by 1941 that the Jews were being exterminated like vermin." The adults were led to believe otherwise, but Selbiger, who was 13 at the time, as well as his classmates, had already been observing for a long time that the Jews were being carted off.  Horst Selbiger was born in Berlin in 1928. His mother was not Jewish, but due to the wishes of his Jewish father he was raised devoutly. He went to a Jewish school, until it was closed down. From 1942 he had to do forced labor. In February 1943 he was arrested, and he and his parents only narrowly escaped being deported to Auschwitz. After this, followed the years in East Germany. Selbiger wanted to help rebuild the country, but after being professionally disqualified and refused membership in the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), he moved to the West. But here he also found it difficult, saw how "fascism in the West was indestructible." In his mid 40s, with the scars to his body and soul, he took early retirement. He was simply exhausted from all he had been through.  For years, Selbiger has offered himself as a contemporary witness of the Nazi era, giving lectures and even helping to found the self-help association, "Child Survivors Deutschland – Surviving children of the Holocaust." In explaining why he goes to such efforts to prevent history from being forgotten, he says: "61 people with the name Selbiger were deported and killed. One of them was my first great love. And all these people call out to me: tell our story!" And he intends to do this for as long as he can. He will also be doing this when he holds his speech and remembers the horrors of Track 17 on the 75th anniversary of the first deportations from Berlin. At the end of our interview he says, "If I could hold a class reunion, then it would be held on Track 17," the station in Berlin Grunewald from where so many of his Jewish classmates were deported – taken by force by the Nazis to face certain death.

^ Any German who was 18 or older in 1945 and claims to not know what was happening to the Jews or any of the other groups the Nazis arrested is an out-right liar. They use the phrase "We didn't know" to make themselves feel better and to make themselves out to be the victims too. You can't trust those kind of people. The Germans started deporting full-Jews to the ghettos and death camps from Germany and Austria in 1941 (after 8 years of open discrimination and violence at home) and started deporting half-Jews and Jews married to non-Jews in 1943. From 1933 to 1943 the majority of Germans said nothing in protest and many openly participated in the attacks. The few times the German public did openly protest the attacks, deportations and killings (ie. the T 4 program where the handicapped where murdered and the Rosenstrasse protests where non-Jewish spouses demonstrated for their arrested Jewish relatives) the Nazis backed-down. Had the German public done more then millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children would have survived. Instead they did nothing or openly participated and then after the war the whole country got amnesia over-night that has lasted 7 decades. It may have been 75 years since the deportations began, but no amount of time passed can negate what the Germans at the time did and how the majority literally got away with murder even to this day. ^

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Maldives Is Out

From the BBC:
"Maldives leaves Commonwealth amid democracy row"

The Maldives has withdrawn from the Commonwealth, accusing it of interfering in domestic affairs and "unfair and unjust" treatment. The Commonwealth had warned the Maldives of possible suspension if it failed to show progress on democracy. It has faced questions over freedom of speech, the detention of opponents and the independence of the judiciary. The Indian Ocean nation became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. The Maldives foreign ministry said in a statement: "The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable. "Regrettably, the Commonwealth has not recognised progress and achievements that the Maldives accomplished in cultivating a culture of democracy in the country and in building and strengthening democratic institutions." It said that President Abdulla Yameen's government had introduced a raft of measures promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law.  It said the Commonwealth had "sought to become an active participant in the domestic political discourse in the Maldives, which is contrary to the principles of the charters of the UN and the Commonwealth". The Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland said in a statement she was saddened by the Maldives' decision to leave.
She added: "We hope that this will be a temporary separation and that Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course." One of the key issues for the Commonwealth was the detention of a number of political leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed. Anti-government protesters have expressed fears they could lose freedoms gained since the first multi-party elections in 2008. August saw a strict defamation law come into force, with stiff punishments for comments or actions considered insulting to Islam or which "contradict general social norms", and tighter restrictions on demonstrations. The death penalty is also being reintroduced, after a 60-year unofficial moratorium. In the past the Commonwealth has suspended some members, including Pakistan, Fiji, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, over government oppression or violence toward citizens.  No country has formally been expelled but some have withdrawn, including Zimbabwe in 2003 and most recently The Gambia in 2013. The Maldives is a largely Sunni Muslim nation made up of 1,192 individual islands. It is renowned as a holiday destination for its beaches and luxury resorts.

^ I no very little about the Maldives - except what a few Russian friends have told me about it after vacationing there - but I do know a lot about the Commonwealth and know that it could and should do a lot more than it currently has with its member states. I am a Canadian citizen and so also a Commonwealth citizen and as such see the Commonwealth having great potential, but not seizing that potential. It is a mish-mosh of countries around the world (all but two former British colonies) and that British legacy seems to be the only thing "uniting" the Commonwealth. There are the Commonwealth Realm countries that have the same monarch (ie. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of the UK, Queen of Canada, etc.) but that is where the similarities seem to end. Some people have compared the Commonwealth of Nations with the European Union, but the Commonwealth doesn't have freedom of movement, free trade, a common currency, etc. The vast majority of the Commonwealth is part of the Third World with places like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand part of the First World and so having free trade and immigration wouldn't be a good possibility right now. It will be interesting to see what the UK (who basically runs the Commonwealth) does - if anything - once they leave the EU. ^

Rum It Up

From the BBC:
"US-Cuba ties: Rules eased on cigars and rum"

American travellers to Cuba will now be able to bring back far more rum and cigars, after the Obama administration announced new trade measures. The previous $100 (£82) limit has been lifted, meaning most visitors could bring home up to 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. The latest measures reflect continuing moves by the former Cold War rivals to normalise relations after 53 years.  President Barack Obama paid a historic visit to Cuba in March. The latest raft of measures are in an administrative order by the president, meaning he can sidestep the Republican-controlled Congress. Analysts say he wants to cement the new trade relations before he leaves office in January.
Other measures in the latest batch include:
  • lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the nations
  • easing rules on joint medical research
  • allowing export to Cuba of some US goods sold online
  • allowing US firms to improve some Cuban infrastructure
  • allowing Cuban pharmaceutical firms to apply for US approval
But the cigar and rum measures will be the most beneficial for Cuba. Given the high value of some cigars in particular, the Cuban government could benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  Mr Obama said in a statement: "Challenges remain - and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights - but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values." More than 160,000 Americans went to Cuba in 2015 and the figure could double this year. In July, Cuba and the United States formally re-established relations.

^ It seems that Obama is just getting himself ready to retire to Havana this January and wants to make sure he can have all the cigars and rum he wants. It seems that so far all this re-establishing of relations has been one-sided with the US giving Cuba everything. Regular Americans still can't go to Cuba without official US permission and I don't understand why anyone would want to. I would have liked to have gone to the Soviet Union before it collapsed, but that is different than Cuba. The USSR was a world Super Power and I am a Russophile. Cuba is just a sinking communist country that is struggling on with rafts (get the joke there) until communism there falls. I don't get what all the hype is about. If I go back to the Caribbean I would want to go to Bermuda, Montserrat or back to the Bahamas - definitely not Cuba. ^

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Disabled-Friendly Cities

From Disability Scoop:
"Cities Named Most Disability-Friendly"

A new analysis is ranking the nation’s most populated cities based on how desirable they are for people with disabilities. Overland Park, Kan. is number one on the list followed by Scottsdale, Ariz. and Lincoln, Neb. Two other Arizona cities — Gilbert and Peoria — round out the top five. The listing comes from the personal finance website WalletHub, which assessed 25 factors ranging from availability of doctors to employment rates and park accessibility, in order to compile the ranking of 150 locales across the country. WalletHub said its ranking is designed to “determine the most disability-friendly locations in America” by looking at a cross-section of economic factors, quality of life issues and access to health care for those with disabilities.Extra consideration was given to workforce participation and pay for individuals with disabilities in each city as well as the number of people within this population living in poverty. One factor that significantly boosted Overland Park’s standing: the city had the highest median earnings for people with disabilities at $46,345, WalletHub said. Coming in at the bottom of the list are Worcester, Mass., Anchorage, Alaska and Providence, R.I.

^ I have never heard of the places in Kansas or Arizona so can't really say anything about them other than the fact that since I haven't heard of them they are most-likely very small and it surprises me that small towns would rank at the top of the list. I live in a small town and it is anything but disabled-friendly. I have been to Worcester, Anchorage and Providence and am not surprised that Worcester and Anchorage are on the bottom -- they weren't that nice for non-disabled people so I can imagine how the disabled would view it. I am a little surprised at Providence because I thought it was pretty nice. ^

France's Guard

From the DW:
"France creates National Guard to combat terror threat"

The security initiative is expected to develop a force of 84,000 people by 2018. It will pool together the police and armed forces, as well as volunteers who wish to serve their country.  France's government on Wednesday approved the creation of a National Guard to bolster the country's security against potential terrorist threats.  The Guard is expected to reach 84,000 people by 2018 and will relieve traditional security forces. France's police and military have been stretched following a series of devastating terror attacks across the country in the last two years. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve presented the decree to the cabinet during its weekly meeting on Wednesday, where it was approved. The French National Guard will not be a completely new initiative. Rather, it will bring together personnel from the police, gendarmerie and armed forces under the National Guard umbrella – currently totaling around 63,000 reservists. The decree also borrows from the US National Guard as it aims to encourage citizens to get involved and serve their country. A dedicated government-backed website hopes to win over a number of new volunteers.  French President Francois Hollande first proposed the creation of a French National Guard following the Islamist terror attacks in Paris on November 13, which killed 130 people. The plans were pushed ahead and concretized following the attack in Nice on July 14, which left 86 people dead. Since the Nice attack, approximately 5,500 police and military staff have been patrolling the streets of major French cities. That number is expected to rise to around 10,000 with the deployment of a National Guard. Tasks will vary from patrolling major cities, to securing major sports and celebratory events, to even working in military offices.

^ Hopefully this will help the French to stop the attacks before they happen. ^

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Paris Drug Room

From the BBC:
"France's first drug room for addicts to inject opens in Paris"

A Paris hospital is now housing France's first "shooting gallery" - a safe place where drug addicts can inject under medical supervision. The controversial drug room was opened by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Health Minister Marisol Touraine on Tuesday. It is near the Gare du Nord, a busy station where drug crime is common. The users will exchange hard drugs like heroin and crack for substitutes, along with sterile injection kits. Critics fear it could fuel drug abuse. Ms Touraine said France had become the tenth country to set up drug rooms, which Switzerland pioneered in 1986. There are plans to open two more - in Strasbourg, eastern France, and Bordeaux in the south-west. "This is a very important moment in the battle against the blight of addiction," Ms Touraine said.  One of the chief arguments for such places is that they put addicts - often poor, marginalised and sick - in touch with medics and social workers, who can help them. Consuming substitute drugs in a clean environment also reduces the risk that addicts face from contaminated hard drugs bought from criminal dealers. The Paris facility is in the Lariboisiere Hospital, and has a separate entrance. It will formally open its doors to addicts on Friday, and about 200 are expected there daily. The addicts will have to register, but are not obliged to give their real name, and will not be pursued by police for going there. The facility has a dozen cubicles affording some privacy to addicts when they inject. It is run by Gaia, an association that helps to treat addicts, and the annual running cost is put at €1.2m (£1.1m; $1.3m).  A leading Paris politician in the centre-right Republicans party, Philippe Goujon, is among the opponents who fear the initiative will undermine efforts to stop the hard drugs trade. "We're moving from a policy of risk reduction to a policy of making drugs an everyday, legitimate thing. The state is saying 'you can't take drugs, but we'll help you to do so anyway," he told the daily Le Figaro (in French). According to French health ministry data from 2011, more than 10% of drug abusers in France have HIV/Aids and more than 40% are infected with hepatitis C. Dirty needles and unprotected sex are the main routes for virus transmission. Drug rooms exist officially in several European countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Spain, as well as in Canada and Australia.

^ If a country allows these drug rooms than they should just make all drugs legal since they already are sanctioning its usage. I don't believe in things like this as it doesn't help the drug problem, but merely makes it easier for people to do them. ^