Saturday, April 29, 2017

Southwest's Change

From Yahoo:
"Southwest to stop overbooking flights. Will other airlines follow?"

Overbooked flights are a regular occurrence in the airline industry, but one major carrier has announced it is bucking the trend. Southwest (LUV) CEO Gary Kelly said in an interview with CNBC that the airline will soon put an end to overbooking flights.  “I’ve made the decision, the company made the decision, that we will cease to overbook going forward,” he said. The news comes just weeks after passenger Dr. David Dao was involuntarily bumped from a United flight, and violently removed from the plane after refusing to give up his seat on the overbooked flight. Dao received a concussion, broken nose and two broken teeth, his lawyer says. He is now suing United Airlines (UAL).   While the United incident has caused many airlines to rethink their overbooking policies, Kelly says it’s not what inspired his decision. “I bet we don’t overbook a flight more than say one seat,” he said. “We’ve been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves for this anyway.”   In an email to Yahoo Finance, a Southwest spokesperson confirmed that the airline will no longer book a flight over capacity as part of the selling process. “As we have dramatically improved our forecasting tools and techniques, and as we approach the upcoming implementation of our new reservations system on May 9, we no longer have a need to overbook as part of the revenue management inventory process,” said the airline. But that doesn’t mean that flights will never be at overcapacity at the time of departure. The spokesperson clarified that occasional “operational challenges” may require the airline to ask volunteers to give up their seat. Still, this will happen less frequently because overbooking will be discontinued.   Airlines regularly overbook flights because some passengers simply don’t show up. By overbooking, airlines are able to reduce the number of empty seats and keep fares low. So far Southwest is the only airline that has promised to stop overbooking, but several airlines have updated their policies on the issue.  On April 14, Delta (DAL) announced that it would offer customers up to nearly $10,000 in compensation to give up their seat if a flight was overbooked. Previously, gate agents were only allowed to offer passengers up to $800; now that number is $2,000.  If the airline still doesn’t get volunteers, supervisors can offer up to $9,950 in compensation. This is up from the previous max of $1,350. Even with the changes, the maximum payout will probably be tough for passengers to actually get. The airline’s contract of carriage very clearly states that the amount of compensation is “subject to Delta’s sole discretion.”

^ I'm glad that Southwest is doing this. Over-booking should be illegal, but until that happens - if it happens  - then it will be up to the airlines to do what is right and that is not to sell something they don't have (extra seats.) ^

Funny Quote

Just heard a little kid on the news say to a reporter that he knew the British drive on the "wrong" side and then asked her if they also walk backwards. Kinda funny to imagine them - or anyone - working backwards all the time.

German "Safety"

From the BBC:
"German airlines drop safety rule prompted by Germanwings crash"

German airlines are dropping safety rules brought in after the 2015 Germanwings plane crash which require two people in the cockpit at all times. Andreas Lubitz killed 150 people by crashing the plane - apparently on purpose - after the plane's captain left to use the toilet. Airlines now say the two-person rule has no safety benefits. Eurowings, which merged with the Germanwings brand, is one of the airlines now dropping the requirement. The German airline association BDL announced the change, which will come into effect by 1 June, on its website. It said its airlines will be re-introducing their original cockpit safety procedures.  The European Aviation Safety Agency, which was behind the original rule change, relaxed the requirements last year to allow individual airlines to evaluate their own safety needs. BDL said that its airlines had "independently" reviewed the rules and decided that the two-person rule had no safety benefits - and could actually be more dangerous. The group said the changes caused "more frequent and predictable" opening of the cockpit door and expanded the number of people with access to the cockpit.  It also said that the risk of a similar incident to the Germanwings crash was extremely low, and the risk of criminal or terrorist activity was much higher.
Lufthansa, the country's biggest airline, is one of the groups removing the requirement. Its airlines include Austrian Airlines, Swiss Airlines, and Eurowings - which was merged with Germanwings in 2015, a process which had begun before the company's high-profile crash. However, other airlines in Europe have said they will be maintaining the two-person rule.  The investigation into the 2015 Germanwings crash found that co-pilot Lubitz locked the plane's captain out of the cockpit when he left to use the toilet, before putting the plane into a dive. It struck the mountains at 700km/h (430mph) an hour, instantly killing everyone on board. Investigators later discovered he had been suffering from psychiatric issues he had hidden from his colleagues. He believed he was losing his sight - although he was not - and had been taking psychotropic medication which made him unfit to fly. Since the Germanwings crash, additional screening measures for mental health have been introduced for pilots.

^ Talk about a bad idea. You would think that Germanwings and other German airlines would take this seriously - especially since 150 people were killed - or doesn't the lives of innocent men, women and children matter to them (rather than saving money?) I'm not sure why the EASA will give the airlines so much leeway  - it didn't seem to help back in 2015 when the co-pilot's mental state "fell through the cracks." I also don't understand why the airlines would want to risk more lives rather than keeping the cockpit requirement. It's not like a re-enforced cockpit door or "restricting" access to the cockpit would have saved any of those 150 people. The killer was legally inside the cockpit. Having 2 people always inside the cockpit will stop this from happening again. Any airline or person who doesn't see that clearly only see the Dollar (or Euro) signs they will save rather than the human lives. ^


How come there are people named Miles in Canada, but not Kilometres?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

New Twist

From Disability Scoop:
"With New Season, Down Syndrome Reality Show Broadens Focus"

 A  reality television show about a group of young adults with Down syndrome is set to return with a new season that will also explore the experiences of children with the chromosomal disorder. A&E Network said a third season of “Born This Way” will start in May. The hour-long show, which won an Emmy last year for outstanding unstructured reality program, offers a lens into the world of seven individuals with Down syndrome and their families as they navigate their paths to independence.  Over the course of the new 10-episode season, there will be “job changes, new living arrangements and evolving romantic relationships,” A&E said. “‘Born This Way’ has contributed to a cultural shift in the way individuals with differences are viewed and it remains incredibly rewarding to have such an impactful series on our air,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive vice president and head of programming for A&E. “This season we continue to highlight the shining personalities and incredible abilities of this cast of young adults who, alongside their families, fearlessly represent and celebrate diversity on television.” In addition, the show will add a new viewpoint this season by documenting a family raising a 3-year-old named Rocco who has Down syndrome. “Born This Way” will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on A&E starting May 16.

^ I have seen the first 2 seasons and liked it. I am interested to see how the 3rd season will be. Sometimes TV shows (especially reality-based ones) don't do a good job after the 2nd season and just air anything for ratings. I hope this new season goes against the trend and continue to show people how those with Down Syndrome live. I think they will. ^


From USA Today:
"Trump backtracks: U.S. will not withdraw from NAFTA"

President Trump reversed course late Wednesday and said he had agreed to renegotiate rather than withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, a surprise announcement that came just hours after reports said he was considering an executive order to pull out of the trade pact and as his administration faces questions about what he has achieved in his first 100 days in office. “It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation. It is an honor to deal with both President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better," Trump said in a statement about his calls with the Mexican and Canadian leaders. Early Thursday Trump added to that by appearing to claim the diplomatic upper-hand. In a tweet, the president said he "received calls from the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada asking to renegotiate NAFTA rather than terminate. I agreed ... subject to the fact that if we do not reach a fair deal for all, we will then terminate NAFTA. Relationships are good — deal very possible!" Renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA, a decades-old trade deal that Trump has described as a "disaster" and says hurts U.S. workers, was one of the president's campaign pledges. Trump has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal brokered by President Obama. Mexico and Canada are the U.S.'s two largest export markets. NAFTA was established in 1994 to remove taxes on goods traded between the three countries. Pulling out of the pact would send the strongest signal yet from Trump that he intends to follow through on his vow to recast years of American economic policy. The about-face followed a Politico report that said senior White House aides were drafting an executive order to withdraw from the pact, a move that drew immediate objections from some in Congress, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “Withdrawing from #NAFTA would be a disaster for #Arizona jobs & economy,” he tweeted. “@POTUS shouldn’t abandon this vital trade agreement.” “Scrapping Nafta would be a disastrously bad idea,” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a statement. “Yes, there are places where our agreements could be modernized, but here’s the bottom line: Trade lowers prices for American consumers, and it expands markets for American goods. Risking trade wars is reckless." Since taking office Trump has repeatedly indicated he planned to either renegotiate or terminate NAFTA, which he and other critics blame for wiping out U.S. manufacturing jobs because it allowed companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labor. “I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press last week. The decision comes just days after the White House announced hefty new tariffs on softwood lumber from Canada and as Trump has labeled changes to Canadian milk product pricing that he says are hurting the American dairy industry a "disgrace." The climbdown sent the Mexican peso and Canadian dollar higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. In the event that Trump changes his mind, he could withdraw from NAFTA but he would have to give six months’ notice. It is unclear what would happen next. Lawyers at international legal firm White & Case say the president's constitutional authority would likely permit him to withdraw from a U.S. trade agreement without seeking approval from Congress. However, he may still be forced to wrangle with lawmakers over putting tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports. It is also not clear what changes Trump will be seeking in the renegotiation. In an eight-page draft letter to Congress seen by the AP, acting U.S. Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn wrote that the administration intended to start talking with Mexico and Canada about making changes to the pact, but the letter spelled out few details and stuck with broad principles. Much of the existing agreement would remain in place, the letter showed, including private tribunals that allow companies to challenge national laws on the grounds that they inhibit trade. Critics say such provisions allows companies to get around environmental and labor laws. During the campaign, Trump made 28 promises that he said would be achieved within his first 100 days in office, which he marks Saturday. The pledges were broad and covered constitutional amendments, regulations, trade, tax reform, health care and the military. A USA TODAY analysis found so far he has not achieved his goal.

^ Sometimes you need to stop and think before you speak. Trump made lots of promises and so-far they have either not happened or were thrown-together without a good foundation that they were stopped by the courts. Trump had a window of opportunity to show the divided country that he could get the job done. So far, I don't see it. ^

The Real Heroes

From USA Today:
"What happened to the draftees who stepped forward the day Muhammad Ali stood still?"

Fifty years ago Friday, on a day when 37 Americans died in the Vietnam War, a group of young men reported to a military induction center in Houston to answer their nation's call to service. When their names were read, all but one stepped forward. Today, the only one we remember is the only one who refused to take that step — Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight champion. He claimed that he was a minister of the Nation of Islam, a conscientious objector, and exempt from the draft. We know what happened to Ali after that — how he was stripped of his boxing license and title and convicted of draft evasion; how he successfully appealed the conviction in 1971 and regained the title in 1974; how he became, with time and in sickness, an almost universally sympathetic figure. But what happened to those draftees who did step forward? Richard Budrow stood next to Ali at the Houston induction center on April 28, 1967, seven months before a bomb exploded under him in Vietnam. Sometimes, he says, “You want to ask, ‘Who went and who didn’t, and who went in their place, and how did they fare?’ ’’  USA TODAY located and spoke with two groups of draftees: some who were at the Houston induction, and some from Ali’s hometown of Louisville who registered for the draft when he did and whose Selective Service numbers were in the same sequence. No one in the Houston or Louisville cohorts said he regrets his service, including those who saw combat and one who still suffers from PTSD. Most said they benefited from the experience — learned a skill, saw the world, got money for college or simply matured. No one known to have been with Ali in Houston, or who was with him on page 5 of the Louisville roster, died in Vietnam. Most did not serve there; and some did not serve in the military at all. Eight of the 29 from Louisville listed with Ali were excused for one reason or another. Others, to avoid the draft, joined the Army reserve, the Navy or the Air Force. But they expressed no such unanimity about Ali’s refusal to join them. In fact, their opinions on his stand — pro and con — have changed little over the decades, even as the national understanding of what Ali did mellowed and deepened.  That split is personified by two Houston inductees: Budrow, then 26, and John McCullough, 22. Both went to Vietnam and, in different ways, were seriously injured. But decades later they disagree on the merits and meaning of Ali’s stand. That day, “It was my turn to step up,’’ Budrow says. “I was not concerned with a loudmouthed celebrity refusing induction’’ whose score on the military aptitude test “was slightly above that of a turnip.’’ When Joe Frazier beat Ali in 1971, “somewhere down deep, I got a little satisfaction,’’ he says, in a tone that guarantees his satisfaction was not small. To McCullough, Ali was what he said he was — the greatest. Every year he buys a new Muhammad Ali photo calendar. “I have no resentment toward Ali,’’ he says, “He did what his heart said to do.’’ When Ali died last year, he says, “I just about cried. I prayed for him. I’d learned to love him.’’  On April 18, 1960, Cassius M. Clay registered for the draft with Selective Service System Board 47 in Louisville. Four years later, based on an aptitude test, he was classified unfit for service. But in 1966, with more soldiers needed to fight in Vietnam, the military lowered the mental standard, and he was reclassified 1A. His memorable reaction: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.’’ He’d already embraced the separatist Black Muslims and dropped what he called his “slave name.’’ This was before Colin Kaepernick took a knee on the NFL sidelines, before Tommie Smith raised a gloved fist at the Olympics. Ali, to many Americans, was anathema. His appeals failed, and he was ordered to report for induction in Houston, where he lived. He arrived at 8 a.m. to find a crowd outside the federal building composed of a few sympathetic demonstrators and a lot of journalists. Other inductees had to squeeze through. One was McCullough, a recent college graduate who got drafted before he could enter the Peace Corps. “I’m going because it’s my duty,’’ he told reporters. As for Ali, “If he really is a minister I don’t think he should have to fight if he doesn’t want to.’’  When Ali walked into the induction center on the third floor, he looked to Phillip Baxley, a 23-year-old draftee who’d just bid his wife goodbye, like “the scaredest son of a gun I ever saw. He didn’t know what was going to happen.’’ But Ali loosened up. He shadow boxed and threw playful jabs at one inductee. He joked that if he went to Vietnam, “I’d have the Viet Cong shooting at me in front and you guys shooting at me in back.’’ According to another draftee, Gary Laine, “some took offense at that.’’  Today, some of the draftees’ resentment toward Ali is mitigated by their belief that military service changed them for the better. In the Louisville contingent, Steve Stigers was assigned to the horn section of an Air Force band that toured the West. Worth Robbins picked up programming languages that led to a career in computers. Bill Gehring learned, at 19, "to keep my mouth shut when I don't know what i'm talking about.'' Among the Houston group, Laine became a chemical salesman. Neel, after passing through “my hippie phase’’ and protesting the Vietnam War, became a cable TV tech. Baxley still practices architecture in Dallas. Budrow stayed in the Army for 21 years and rose to sergeant major. He still has pieces of shrapnel inside him, but walks so well on his reconstructed ankle you hardly notice a limp. He gave his two Purple Heart medals to his grandchildren.  He’s says he’s lucky he was drafted; the Army gave him structure and self-esteem. His framed delinquent induction notice hangs in the study of his house in Middletown, Del. McCullough retired after working for 34 years on the Puget Sound ferries in Washington state. Although he's suffered from post-traumatic stress for many years — he can't even watch war movies — it became worse after a head injury about 10 years ago. His Vietnam nightmares seemed so real he’d swing at things; he and his wife had to sleep apart. Unlike Budrow, McCullough never believed in the war, and he didn’t want to be drafted. He wonders about the Peace Corps and what might have been. “My shrink says, ‘John, I blame the war. It took you out of a peaceful life.’ ’’  During Vietnam, when the Army conscripted about 2 million men, the draft became almost as big an issue as the war. No American has been drafted since 1972, when the U.S. role in Vietnam was winding down. And today, with voluntary military service venerated by many Americans, it may be hard to imagine a national hero as a draft resister, or vice versa. When Ali died last year, that chapter of his life was either downplayed or presented as an understandable response to a mistaken war. But some of those who went when he stayed have never forgotten or forgiven. Several fault him not so much for his views on the war or his religious sincerity, but for not taking a compromise offered by the Army — accept induction and spend your tour far from the battlefield, entertaining troops with boxing exhibitions.  Budrow feels Ali was used by the Black Muslims — “a racist cult’’ — for their own ends. But he reserves his contempt for those who lionize Ali. When Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, “that insulted me,’’ he says. “The government called him a great American. A great American what?’’ Budrow admits, however, that Ali differed from those who dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada or grad school; he faced the consequences and, in not stepping forward, embarked on an odyssey as challenging as any who did.
“He was poorly advised,’’ he says. “When my grandchildren asked me about Ali, I’d just say, ‘I don’t plan to invite him to go fishing.’ ’’ In his later years, Ali backed away from the Black Muslims’ separatist line and embraced a moderate form of Islam. In 1994 he visited Vietnam, where he was received as a hero. He never apologized for his draft stand. It doesn’t really matter, says Laine, the former medic. “In any war, there are some that go and more that don’t go. If you talk about the ones that didn’t go, you’re missing the point.’’

^ I have never been faced with being Drafted (I did register for the Selective Service at 18) and so can not 100% say what I would have done had I been Drafted for World War 1, World War 2, Korea or Vietnam. I would like to think I would have served, but that is just what I hope would happen. With that said I have respect for people who pick a side and stay with it regardless of the consequences. Ali just doesn't fit that for me. Had he tried to be a C.O when he first registered for the Draft in 1960 then he would have, but instead he registered and hoped it wouldn't happen and because of his low military test scores it didn't for a while. Then when it became a reality he decided to change his belief structure and I don't buy it. People have made him into some great hero who stood-up for his beliefs, but I see him as a man who flipped-flopped rather than sticking to his beliefs from beginning to end. I find this article is really interesting because it shows the different dimensions and fates of people Drafted at the same time. Some served, some didn't, some went to Vietnam, some different, some were wounded, some weren't, some benefitted from their service and some different. The ordinary person's story is sometimes more real and "better" than the celebrities' story. This is one of those cases. ^

King's Day

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mounmental Review

From the BBC:
"US parks may lose federal protection"

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order requiring a review of environmental protections given to lands owned by the federal government. The order aims to shrink the borders of national monuments created by previous presidents, which Mr Trump called an "egregious abuse of federal power".  Unlike national parks, which require an act of Congress, national monuments can be created by a presidential directive. However, a president does not currently have the right to abolish a monument. The White House intends to shrink the borders of existing national monuments that have drawn controversy from Republican lawmakers and the mining industry.  Environmentalists fear this order will unleash a wave of new oil and gas extraction, which was a Trump campaign promise.  It directs the Department of Interior to examine all lands designated as national monuments since 1996, and threatens the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which was created by Barack Obama during the final days of his administration. Utah lawmakers oppose the Obama action and have lobbied Mr Trump since his November election to overturn it.   Mr Obama placed 553 million acres under national monument protection during his presidency - more than any other US president.  This, his successor said, was an abuse of power. "The previous administration used a 10-year old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control… eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land," Mr Trump said during a signing ceremony on Wednesday. "Today we are putting the states back in charge - big thing."

^ Trump has been in office for 100 days now and it seems that all he is able to do is make Executive Orders that in the end get stopped by the courts rather than doing anything concrete that stays. This current Order is just one of the many that show all the pomp and ceremony, but probably won't end in anything definite. It's time to do more than talk and more than symbolic Orders that don't last a basic check-and-balance review and start doing things that will last the test of time. ^

Double-Sided View

From the DW:
"Austria interior minister Sobotka calls for indefinite extension of border controls"

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has urged the EU to extend the country's border controls. Citing security concerns, Sobotka said he "simply needs to know who is coming to our country."  In an interview with German daily Die Welt on Wednesday, Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said that while external EU borders could not be adequately protected, Vienna would continue to take national measures. "In terms of public order and internal security, I simply need to know who is coming to our country," Sobotka said, adding that he was optimistic that Brussels would give the necessary consent. The EU Commission is due next week to announce its decision on a renewed extension of border controls under Article 29 of the Schengen border code. At the beginning of February the EU Council of Ministers already allowed Germany and four other countries - Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway - to extend border controls for three more months until mid-May.  The reason for the extension, the Council said, was the danger of so-called "secondary migration" between EU countries and the burden on individual states through the influx of refugees from the Syrian war zones that had crossed Turkey and the Balkan route. Austria and Germany introduced border controls for the first time in September 2015 at the height refugee crisis  Almost two years on since the height of the refugee crisis, Vienna is also seeking an exemption or "postponement" of the EU refugee distribution program.  The system requires EU member states to accept a mandatory and proportional distribution of asylum-seekers who arrive in other member nations. After accepting around 90,000 refugees in 2015, the EU gave Austria a temporary exception from the relocation program until 2017. However, the country is now expected to accept 2,000 people seeking asylum from Greece and Italy.  The two-year plan, which expires this September, was supposed to cover 160,000 migrants across Europe. Yet the agreement included only a small portion of total migrant arrivals in the EU. Moreover, opposition from eastern EU members, such as Hungary and Poland, has stymied the agreement's implementation. Fewer than 14,500 asylum-seekers have been redistributed thus far from Greece and Italy, two arrival points for the Mediterranean Sea crossings favored by Middle Eastern and African migrants.

^  It's interesting that many EU countries criticize the US over trying to protect our external borders when they have imposed border controls even on "internal" borders (like between Germany and France - which because of Schengen is like having border controls between New York and Massachusetts.) Some even have concrete fences/posts/walls (ie. Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece.) I guess double standards do exist. ^

German Spying

From the DW:
"German spies to access citizens' ID photos"

A new German law will allow intel agencies access to all citizens' ID photos. In combination with facial recognition surveillance technology, this means agents will be able to identify people in crowds, warn critics.  Data protection experts, lawyers, and opposition politicians lined up in the German parliament this week to comment on a new law that will give security forces direct access to citizens' ID photos - and create a "de facto national image database," according to critics. The new electronic ID law (eID), introduced by the government in February and discussed this week in a parliamentary hearing, will give police automatic access to German citizens' ID data to prevent perceived dangers - and not just when they suspect crimes. Germany's intelligence agencies - domestic, foreign, and the military intelligence agency MAD - will also have access to the images. The Green party's internet policy spokesman Konstantin von Notz was one of the law's more vociferous critics during the hearing, arguing that it would give intelligence agencies the power to create their own databases of images without anyone knowing. "The hammer to civil rights, carefully hidden on the back pages of the law, is the introduction of unconditional automated passport and personal ID checks throughout all German secret services," the parliamentarian said in a statement emailed to DW. "This is no less than the open introduction of a nationwide biometric picture database of all German citizens." This was particularly galling, von Notz added, at a time when "scandals have shown us again and again that we still lack the necessary legal control over the [secret] services."  Frank Herrmann, privacy spokesman of the German Pirate Party, agreed, arguing that giving access to spy agencies - essentially a national security measure - was being smuggled into a law that was mainly supposed to be about updating ID card infrastructure. It was, he said, a kind of "cuckoo's egg," a reference to a famous 1989 book detailing a real-life hacking of US government computer systems. Not only that, since the German government is about to start testing facial recognition software in conjunction with video surveillance in major railway stations, Herrmann argued that the fact that intelligence agencies will theoretically have access to a database of biometrically recognizable images of all German citizens is a "big step to what we generally call a surveillance state." "For me it's like a noose that's slowly being tightened," he told DW. "To be able to recognize the faces of people in the train stations, I need to have a picture to compare it to," Herrmann explained. "The cameras in the railway stations identify a face, recognize its characteristics - eyes, mouth, nose, shape - and then the biometric ID pictures from the local authorities provide a picture to compare it to. And then the computer has a name - an official name. That's technologically already possible, and it would be legally possible with this law."  Germans are legally required to carry a state-issued ID card, but the data on it, including an image, is kept with local district registration authorities rather than in a central nationwide database. But since the police can already access the data centrally if they suspect a crime, some argue Germany already has such a database. Bernd Holznagel, a Münster law professor who specializes in IT law and spoke at this week's public hearing in the Bundestag, saw this as the main sticking point in the new law. "The problem is that the lawmakers themselves say that a national database shouldn't be made," he told DW. "That's for data protection reasons - they don't want a central database, they want local ones, to decentralize the power." This could, Holznagel suggested, lead to a constitutional problem. "The Constitutional Court has always had trouble permitting such central databases, because it could lead to a very far-reaching surveillance of citizens," he said. "But there are a lot of questions about how it would function practically, which would all have to be answered before you said for sure that it was unconstitutional." In general, Holznagel argued, Germany has among the highest data protection standards in the world.  In fact, Holznagel was broadly in favor of the government's eID reform - not least because it offered a state identification process that was independent of online Facebook or Google profiles. "I think it's important that we have a secure identification procedure," he said. "If you register your car, or if you move house and register your new home, you can't trust some procedure where you just type in your Facebook name and then it's authenticated - none of that is secure. This is an attempt to set up an infrastructure like that, and I think that's very good." He also said he didn't understand the objections to the sharing of images, seeing as Google was already storing images of people online. "But there's a very big difference," countered Herrmann. "The pictures in the registration offices are official documents. With Google I never know for sure if the name and picture go together. Not only that, all the images on ID cards are biometric photos - that means they can be identified by computer software."

^ And this is why many countries (ie. the UK, Canada, Australia, the US, etc.) have opted-out of forcing it's citizens to have and carry a national ID card. This new step seems innocent enough (especially when you put it under the term "national security", but it just a stepping-stone to more invasion of privacy. It reminds me of the old Nazi or East German movies of people being stopped and asked for "their papers" and then being carried away and never heard from again. It also sounds a little creepy. That a card someone has in their wallet can be viewed by anyone (if the government can do it so can hackers) even if you are by yourself. Plus it raises the question about identity theft since your ID card has a lot of personal information on it. If anyone can just get the information along with your picture on it they can also do a lot to ruin you financially. ^

Limited Troubles

From the BBC:
"Westminster report backs Troubles prosecution limitation for soldiers"

Westminster's defence committee has backed a statue of limitations stopping investigation or prosecution of former British soldiers for murders during the Troubles. It has been claimed that legacy cases involving soldiers have been "unfairly prioritised". Prime Minister Theresa May described soldier prosecutions as "appalling". The head of Northern Ireland's Public Prosecutions Service has said the claims were unfair and "an insult".  Earlier this month, Army veterans held a rally in Belfast to protest what they called "imbalanced investigations".  Figures obtained by the BBC in February challenged the claims that investigations into Troubles killings are unduly focused on those committed by the Army. The report published by the government's defence committee said it favours a statue of limitations, coupled with a truth-recovery process to help bereaved families. It said that the committee heard from senior legal experts that if a statute of limitations was applied only to former Army personnel, then the government could be accused for legislating for "state impunity". However, the report stated that the committee stopped short of recommending a statute of limitations for all sides during the Troubles as it "would be for the next government to decide". It added that the government should "not lose sight of its moral responsibility to those who have served our country".   Dr Julian Lewis, the committee's chair, said: "To subject former soldiers to legal pursuit under the current arrangements is wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice." DUP MP Gavin Robinson, a member of the committee, said the report is attempting to redress the "completely imbalanced treatment of those who terrorised our society and those brave service personnel who ensured they would never succeed".  "Early release of prisoners, a maximum two-year sentence for fresh terrorist convictions, odious on-the-runs legislation and a secretive scheme to issue letters of immunity have all tarnished the balance of justice." He added that he was "delighted the committee backed my amendment to recommend such a proposal would extend to members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other security personnel".  However, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the committee's recommendation was "an insult to victims and survivors".  "There can be no immunity for people who have murdered Irish citizens," he said. Tom Elliott, from the Ulster Unionist Party, welcomed what he described as "moves to protect those who risked their lives to defend the people of Northern Ireland". The SDLP's Dolores Kelly said no-one should be off limits to the rule of law.

^ As how the a military brat I know how the military "closes" ranks to protect its own. Most of the time the non-military side of the Federal Government also joins in that "closing." With that said. In this instance it does more harm than good. People may say that The Troubles ended in 1998 and that people should just move on instead of trying to bring-up the crimes of the past. To them I say that the crimes were committed in the past, but they were not treated as crimes by the local authorities (in Northern Ireland) the military authorities or the authorities in London when they were committed. Many were covered-up with the blame being placed on the innocent men, women and children that were their victims. A major example is Bloody Sunday in 1972  -which the 1970s British government report placed the blame on the victims themselves, but a new 2010s British government report placed the blame on the British soldiers and the British Prime Minister even apologized for the decades-long government cover-up. Had the events on Bloody Sunday been correctly handled at the time the soldiers would have been tried by a military court instead of receiving medals for their crimes and the innocent victims and their families would not have had to go through 40+ years of official government lying. The British Government and Military covered-up their crimes for decades and of course now they simply want it all to go away without the truth being made public. When a Government/Military of any country does that it shows they don't really feel any sorrow for the crimes committed in their name. Every country has a dark past and the sign of a great country is one that fully and openly admits those mistakes rather than continuing to cover-up and place blame elsewhere. ^

Chernobyl 31 Years

From the IBT:
"Ukraine Still Feeling Chernobyl's Effects 31 Years Later"

Thirty-one years ago Wednesday, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded, commencing the worst nuclear disaster in history. More than three decades later, the 1986 meltdown is still considered the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The area surrounding Chernobyl was previously home to 16,000 people. Now, the barren land is populated only by those workers involved in the plant’s cleanup, an occasional group of tourists and a vast variety of wildlife unknowingly living in the radiation left behind.
  1. The explosion still ranks as the worst nuclear disaster in history. Only the incident in Chernobyl and the meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 were ranked as a level seven event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
  2. The disaster began in the midst of a systems test at reactor number four. A spike in power and an emergency shutdown led a reactor to rupture, sparking a series of explosions.
  3. An estimated 30 people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown. A report issued by Greenpeace revealed that the world could see more than 200,000 eventual cancer deaths as a result of Chernobyl.
  4. Almost five million people currently living in areas considered contaminated, according to Greenpeace.
  5. The accident released 5,300 PetaBecquerels of radiation, according to some estimates. That amount is nearly 10 times that which was released during the meltdown of Fukushima’s Daiichi power plant in 2011.
  6. The closest town to the explosion, Pripyat, was evacuated a full two days after the disaster.
  7. Over 350,000 people were ultimately evacuated from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus from 1986 to 2000.
  8. The countries most affected by contamination from the disaster were Ukraine, where the plant was located, Belarus and Russia.
  9. After the explosions, radioactive rain was recorded as far away as Ireland.
  10. Chernobyl was opened to tourists in 2011. The area is frequently overrun by animals such as moose, bison, horses, wolves, bears and other creatures that have been living in the midst of the radiation.
  11. The giant cement sarcophagus housing the 200 tons of radiation began to crack in recent years, leading workers to construct a new steel arch called the New Safe Confinement to put over the cement.
  12. People living in the area were still eating food affected by radiation in recent years. Greenpeace issued a report in 2016 stating that 30 years after the incident, locally produced food contained radioactive contamination.

^ It still amazes me 31 years later how destructive this was and how little the Soviet Government did to prevent it or to help the people affected. ^

Socky Sandals

Here's a helpful tip: if it's so cold outside that you have to wear socks with your sandals then just wear shoes. It is never a good idea to wear socks with sandals (I'm looking at you Europe.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ANZAC Celebrations

From Yahoo:
"Large crowds as Australia and New Zealand mark Anzac Day"

Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders, many braving heavy rain, turned out Tuesday to mark the Gallipoli landing and to pay tribute to soldiers in current conflict zones in moving ceremonies. Ceremonies are held annually on the April 25 anniversary of the ill-fated 1915 landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in modern-day Turkey during World War I, known as Anzac Day. More than 10,000 New Zealand and Australian servicemen died in the failed eight-month campaign, and Gallipoli became a defining symbol of courage and comradeship for the two countries.
Dawn services also acknowledged the contributions of troops currently serving in the Middle East, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited camps in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Like your forebears, 100 years ago, the Anzacs of the First World War, you are here in the Middle East as the Anzacs were," Turnbull told soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq. "This time (it's) the fight against terrorism and you're on the front line here and I want to thank you... for your service." The Australian leader also met with his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi and pledged an additional Aus$110 million (US$83 million) in funding to combat the Islamic State group. In Afghanistan, he met with President Ashraf Ghani, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Australian personnel in Qargha outside Kabul. There are some 270 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed in Afghanistan and another 780 in the Middle East including Iraq. Forty-two Australians have died while on military service in Afghanistan and two in Iraq since 2002. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid tribute to the war dead in an Anzac Day message. "We will not forget that by the time the American Expeditionary Forces were organised in 1917, the Anzac had already been fighting for over two years," he said. "The tenacity and sacrifice of your brave servicemen and women represent to this day the determination of the people of Australia and New Zealand to defend democracy and freedom."  In Canberra, indigenous veterans -- who had to fight to be recognised for their sacrifices -- led the national march for the first time. Drawing attention to the current batch of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, Curtis McGrath spoke of how his friends fought to save him in 2012 after an explosion blew off his legs. The Afghanistan veteran called for "a mighty dust-off" for returning service personnel, using a military term for emergency evacuation which stands for "dedicated unhesitating service to our fighting forces". "May we, as a nation, continue to provide those men and women who have served us with the care they need, dedicated, unhesitating service to our fighting forces, a mighty Australian 'dust-off'. Lest we forget," McGrath, now a Paralympian, told the Canberra dawn service. Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith also called on Australians to support returning troops. "We understand a great deal more now about what happens for our veterans when they make their transition back into civilian life," he told the dawn service in Melbourne. "It can be very tough on their mental, emotional and physical well being, on their relationships, kids, families and friends." In Wellington, Governor-General Patsy Reddy remembered that a century ago New Zealand experienced the most costly year in terms of lives as the Western Front campaign ground on. "For the bereaved, an Anzac Day service was the nearest thing to a funeral that their loved ones would ever have," she told a service attended by New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

^ Australia and New Zealand have fought in every major war since World War 1. Many people around the world know little about the sacrifice these two countries have made for them. ANZAC Day is one day that we should stop and remember what Australia and New Zealand did and continue to do today to help keep the world free. ^


Monday, April 24, 2017

Why A Shutdown?

From the BBC:
"US government shutdown: How did we get here again?"

Outsider observers would be forgiven for being a little mystified at news that the US is - yet again - days away from a potential government shutdown. What is going on?

When is the deadline?

A spending bill - called an appropriations bill in US political parlance - must be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Donald Trump by midnight on Friday 28 April. If that does not happen, the federal government effectively closes its doors, although emergency services would continue.

Haven't we been here before?

Yes, several times. Most recently in 2013 for 16 days, when Republicans demanded the spending bill have provisions to strip funding from Obamacare or delay its implementation.  National monuments and parks were closed and hundreds of thousands of government workers put on unpaid leave. Only one person was left to patrol the 5,525 mile (8,891km) border with Canada. Before 2013, there was a shutdown for 18 days in 1978 and two under Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1996.

Who is putting the bill together?

There are appropriation committees in both House and Senate that write the legislation, which is then reviewed and amended by the leadership in both parties and the White House.

Wasn't everything looking good for it to pass?

Yes, it was. The noises coming out of the committees were that agreement was very close. But in recent days, extra provisions requested by the White House have put a considerable spanner in the works.

What does the White House want?

The big one concerns the wall President Trump wants to build on the Mexico border. This central campaign promise provided a rallying cry - literally - among his supporters. But it now comes with an estimated price tag of $22bn and faces opposition from Texas border Republicans, other Republicans worried about the cost and all Democrats. It had been expected to be dealt with at a later date but the White House now insists it wants the first tranche of money for the wall to be in the spending bill. Democrats say no way. The president had always insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall but they have said they won't, so now he says they will pay later.

Any other sticking points?

Take your pick:
  • defunding women's healthcare group Planned Parenthood
  • increasing military spending
  • ending subsidies to Obamacare recipients
If any of the above are attached to the spending bill, expect strong resistance from Democrats. Unlike with the Cabinet appointments or the Supreme Court nominee (after a change in the rules), the Democratic votes are crucial. That's because the spending bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate and the Republicans only have 52 votes from their party.

So what's probably going to happen?

One of the following:
  • a so-called continuing resolution that buys more time and continues current funding levels - likely
  • the White House backs down and Congress passes a "clean" bill with no strings - very unlikely
  • the Democrats concede defeat, hold their nose and help pass the bill - not going to happen

What date should we pencil in our diaries for the next shutdown fight?

Probably wise. Mark it down for 1 October 2017. That's the end of the present fiscal year, the period covered by this bill. The president has already outlined his budget priorities for the next fiscal year, and he will submit his proposal by the end of May, after federal agencies and Congress have kicked it around.

^ My earlier post showed the possible effects of a government shutdown. I thought it would be nice to know the possible reasons for the possible shutdown. ^


Close To A Shutdown

From USA Today:
"What would a government shutdown mean for you?"

Funding to keep the federal government up and running will run out at midnight Friday unless Congress passes a new spending bill and President Trump signs it into law. If they fail, the result would be a partial government shutdown in which most services would stop except those deemed "essential" — such as national security work performed by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Active duty military personnel would not be furloughed, but roughly 40% of non-defense employees would be. Every shutdown is different because federal agencies have quite a bit of leeway in deciding how to carry it out. But, based on previous shutdowns, here's what you can expect:

1. Will my mail stop coming?

No. The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency that does not receive tax dollars to operate. It is funded through the sale of stamps and other products and services.

2. Will I still get my Social Security benefits?

Yes. Social Security is a mandatory program that will continue even if Congress fails to pass a spending bill.

3. What about that tax refund I'm counting on?

It could be delayed. However, the IRS will continue collecting taxes, so a shutdown won't get you off the hook for paying what you owe.

4. Will I still get food stamps?

Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a mandatory entitlement program that is not dependent on annual spending bills.

5. Will my child still get a free lunch at school?

Yes, as long as the shutdown doesn't last too long. In the past, federal officials have estimated that most school districts had enough money to continue providing free lunches to eligible students for about a month.

6. What about my summer vacation? Will I still be able to get a passport?

Maybe, but don't count on it. The State Department's passport service is funded partly by fees, which means it is not completely dependent on Congress for money and may be able to continue to issue passports for at least a short time. But if you need a new passport, act fast.

7. Will I still be able to visit a national park or monument?

No. During past shutdowns, the National Park Service has had to close its parks and historic sites, which range from the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona to the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York Harbor.

8. Will the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., be closed?

Yes. These popular, admission-free museums are paid for by federal tax dollars and would be closed during a shutdown. They include the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Zoo, which is famous for its pandas.

9. Will a shutdown affect air travel?

Not dramatically. Airports would remain open and air traffic controllers and Transportation Safety Administration security officials would remain on the job. However, there could be some delays as "non-essential" employees are furloughed.

10. What about Amtrak?

You should still be able to travel by rail. Although Amtrak depends on federal subsidies, it gets much of its revenue from ticket sales and has managed to stay open during past shutdowns.

11. Will members of Congress close their offices?

It depends. In the past, individual members of Congress have reacted differently, with some closing their district offices and others leaving them open. During previous shutdowns, lawmakers were advised that they did not have to furlough aides that they needed to write laws, help them vote, or communicate with their constituents. That gives members of Congress quite a bit of leeway.

12. Will federal courts be closed?

Not immediately, but they could be closed if a shutdown lasts more than 10 days, according to past guidance.

^ I really hope there won't be a shut-down. No one wins. It doesn't matter if you are a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent. I have lived through pass government shutdowns and they are not pleasant. Congress and the President need to make sure they pass a new budget before the deadline otherwise ordinary Americans will be the ones to suffer and of course we will remember that suffering in the next election. ^

Free To Attack

From the DW:
"Saxony men to walk after tying mentally ill man to tree"

The judge said the defendants' guilt was negligible. The decision sparked heated discussion, with some saying the men had showed moral courage and others saying the dismissal opened the door to "arbitrary law."  The four men who tied a mentally ill man with refugee status to a tree in Arnsdorf in spring 2016 will walk free without a conviction. After a short deliberation on Monday, the judge decided that the defendants weren't significantly guilty of any major wrongdoing and that there was no public interest in prosecuting them. The case has caused heated discussion in the eastern German town and across the country.  "The judge made a good decision," said Thomas Israel, executive secretary of the district chapter of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in Saxony's Bautzen region, which includes Arnsdorf.  "It shows that citizens can still display moral courage without having to be afraid that it could land them in court." Jürgen Kasek, head of the Greens in the state of Saxony, said he was horrified when he heard that the charges were dismissed. "The court is saying that the four men's behavior was acceptable," Kasek told DW. "This sends a dangerous signal to vigilante groups across the country, who now feel they have the right to enact arbitrary law. We could see a rise in violence after this." The room where the trial took place was far too small to hold all interested spectators.  The victim, who was 21 at the time of the assault, could not appear as a witness in court on Monday. He died in January. His body was found just last week, in the woods in central Saxony. Police say the man probably froze to death there in January and that there were no signs of foul play. The homicide division of the local police still took up investigations. In May 2016, the man entered a supermarket in Arnsdorf, where he was being treated in a local mental hospital, and complained about a phone card that he had purchased earlier in the day. He had already been there twice that day and was escorted back to the mental hospital by police both times. In a video, the man refuses to put down a bottle of wine. He and the cashier couldn't communicate because of the language barrier, and a voice can be heard suggesting that someone call the police. But, instead of uniformed officers, the four men who would later go to court appeared. They beat up the victim, yelling "What do you want here? You pig!" and pull him out of the store. Before the video cuts off, a woman is heard saying: "It's a shame we need a neighborhood watch group, isn't it?" The recording does not follow the men outside, where they tied the victim to a tree with cable connectors.There was great interest in the trial on Monday. Early in the morning, crowds had gathered in front of the court building. Some protesters showed their support of the four defendants with signs reading "Solidarity with Arnsdorf heroes."   After the charges were dismissed, supporters of the men voiced their exhilaration online; critics of what they had done took to the internet to express their despair. On Monday afternoon, #Arnsdorf was trending on Twitter in Germany. One person wrote on Twitter that Saxony's judiciary "opened the door to Nazi vigilantism" by dismissing the charges.  Kasek, of Saxony's Greens, said he didn't understand the verdict, because the victim didn't try to flee the supermarket last spring and didn't pose a danger to the people around him. That's why, in his opinion, the behavior of the four men wasn't justified. "They would have only had to call the police," Kasek said. "But they didn't do that."

^ Germany has a long history of hating foreigners. Of course there is the Nazi period that most of us known lots about, but then there is what happened in West Germany and East Germany and then more recently in a  reunited Germany. I remember when I lived in Germany and all the violence I saw against the Kurds, Turks and others. This case in particular shows how messed-up German society and the judicial system is in Germany. You may not want refugees or non-Germans living in Germany, but you should never have the right to attack anyone (unless you are defending yourself- which these men clearly were not doing.) It would have been one-thing if these men were protecting themselves or others while the police were coming, but they were simply looking to vent their anger at a foreigner. He may have been mentally unstable, but as I said before, unless he is harming you or anyone else then you don't have a good reason to attack him - much less tie him to a tree. These kinds of attacks just portray Germany and the Germans in the same bad light as other racists. Germany in effect controls the EU and the main purpose to the EU is to bring the different countries/languages/customs/ people of Europe together. This attack and the lack of justice do the opposite of the EU's goal. ^

Support Fading

From the MT:
"New Poll Says Putin's ‘Crimean Consensus’ Is Fading"

Most Russians still support Vladimir Putin's presidency, but the surge in popularity Putin has enjoyed since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 is beginning to fade, according to the latest poll by the independent Levada Center. The president's approval ratings remain high: 22 percent of Russians say they fully trust Putin, and 50 percent say they trust him somewhat. Ten percent of the country says it views President Putin with admiration, and 32 percent of Russians say they're sympathetic to the president. Twenty-seven percent of respondents say they don't have anything bad to say about Putin, and 17 say they're either neutral or indifferent about the president. Just 14 percent of Russians express cautious, critical, or disapproving thoughts about Vladimir Putin. The nature of Putin's support over the years has changed. In the mid-2000s, his popularity was most closely associated with economic success and rising living standards. More recently, Russians credit President Putin with restoring the military and strengthening Russia's role on the global stage. Since the annexation of Crimea, the number of Russians who say improving living standards has been Putin's greatest failure has more than doubled, peaking this month at 32 percent. Russians also say the fight against corruption and bribery is one of Putin's weakest policy areas. There's also been a 10-percent drop over the past three years in the number of Russians who say Putin brings the country new hope for positive change. For the first time since March 2014, more than half of the country now says they're tired of waiting for the president to make “positive reforms. " “The Crimean consensus is fading,” says Denis Volkov from Levada Center. “It’s not clearly visible in Putin’s approval ratings, but it’s visible in the drop of other institutions' credibility, like the cabinet, the Duma, and so on.”  Last month, just 38 percent of Russians said they approved of the State Duma. The Russian government had a slightly better report card with a 43-approval rating.   

^ The Russians don't usually speak their minds openly (whether good or bad) especially when talking about their Government. It does seem (from this poll and talking to my Russian friends) that the "Crimea Craze" is now winding-down. It's good because now people will have to look at the real issues affecting ordinary Russians and not just see all the "hype." ^

N.O. Removes

From the BBC:
"New Orleans removes first of four Confederate statues"

Masked New Orleans workers in bullet-proof vests have removed a Confederate monument that officials said was a symbol of the US South's racist past. Watched by police snipers, the statue was gone before dawn in a stealthy operation designed to foil protests. The statues will be relocated to "a place where they can be put in historical context", the city said. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said workers had faced "intense" intimidation and threats. The last chunk of the Battle of Liberty Place obelisk was hauled away in lorries, whose registration plates were covered, by around 05:30 on Monday after four hours.  First erected in 1891, it commemorated the Crescent City White League's attempt to overthrow the post-Civil War government. The monument's original inscription hailed "white supremacy in the South", but this was more recently replaced with another plaque recognising "Americans on both sides" who died during the war. Mayor Landrieu called it the "most offensive" of the majority African-American city's memorials. "The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance," Mr Landrieu said on Monday.  Elected officials in the city voted 6-1 to remove four monuments to the Confederacy, the southern states who seceded from the US, sparking the 1861-65 American Civil War. Activists opposed to the removals have staged vigils, and a car belonging to one worker hired by the city was set on fire. Supporters of the monuments say they are a cultural legacy that promotes heritage rather than racism. The decision to remove the statues came in December 2015 after a white supremacist shot dead nine black worshippers at a South Carolina church.

^ Good job New Orleans! ^

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fake Disabled

From Disability Scoop:
"Undercover Sting Targets Accessible Parking Violators"

Dressed in heavy boots and plain clothes, the Department of Motor Vehicles investigators lay in wait, ready to strike. They skulked behind concrete slabs in the parking lot of the Glendale Galleria shopping center. Their quarry: customers suspected of illegally parking in spots reserved for people with disabilities. “Hello, ma’am. I’m a DMV officer of the peace. We’re doing a compliance check,” one investigator said as he flashed his badge at a woman who parked her white Mercedes in one of the spots.  She was asked to produce her license, the placard and her registration. But the placard didn’t belong to her. The woman insisted it belonged to her husband. But since it wasn’t hers, she was cited — and you could say she was apoplectic. The TV camera crews that descended on the scene only made her more livid. With tears welling in her eyes, she tried to walk away from the officers as she exclaimed: “Am I being arrested?” Soon her husband and daughter arrived. They hurled expletives at the DMV investigators and then at the scrum of media. “You portray our president as bad,” the daughter said as she tried to shield her face with a handbag before declaring the whole lot, well, jerks (but with another word). The DMV — which has 200 sworn peace officers across the state — dispatched investigators to the shopping center recently to nab people improperly using the parking spots for people with disabilities. These most desirable spots are close to the store entrances. In the last three years, the state agency has conducted 270 of these enforcement operations and handed out about 2,000 citations. The number of citations issued has increased each year, according to data provided by the DMV. DMV Commander Randy Vera said that it’s not uncommon for people who are caught to say that the placard belongs to a spouse. But the person to whom the placard has been issued must be in the car when it’s parked in one of these spots. Vera said the problem is worse in areas where there aren’t many parking spaces and a lot of demand. “The most frequent violators we get are those who are utilizing parking placards of a friend or a family member or a placard they found,” Vera said. Sometimes people will buy them online, he added. The citations can lead to fines that range from $250 to $1,000. On this day, the investigators stopped 280 people and found that 42 of them were using their placards fraudulently. They issued misdemeanor citations to these offenders. Even those who were not cited because they had parked legally were often annoyed to be stopped. One driver asked for the officers’ shield numbers and accused them of harassment. One woman wondered why people were photographing her before she put on her designer sunglasses, tousled her hair and used her Louis Vuitton bag as a shield. But she was in the clear. Other shoppers were less disturbed. After handing over her placard and identification, one woman who declined to give her name said: “I’m glad you guys are doing this because most people just get these placards from anywhere.” Hanna Shweyk said she often ferries around her octogenarian mother in their minivan. On days like this one when the parking lots are crowded with spring break shoppers, she’s lucky to find a parking spot for those with disabilities. When all of these spots are taken, she’s forced to drop her mother off in front of the store and go hunting for parking. That means her mother is left alone, she said. “Then I see people with no placards. I think this will teach them a lesson not to park here,” Shweyk said to a battery of cameras. She turned away from the reporters and began to head to the shops, but stopped to ask with a smile: “Am I going to be on the nightly news?”

^ There needs to be more of these kinds of operations around the country and those who use disability placards illegally should not only be fined, but should also get their pictures published so everyone in the community can know that they are taking-up the few spots that should have gone to someone disabled. I used to drive someone disabled around and only used their placard when they were in the car with me. I know how difficult it is to even find a disabled parking spot when you have a legal placard and so when those that use them illegally take up the same spots it makes a bad situation even worse. ^

PM: Yom HaShoah

From the Canadian Prime Minister's Website:
"Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on Yom HaShoah"

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on Yom HaShoah: “At sundown tonight, Jewish communities and others in Canada and around the world will unite to commemorate the lives of the six million Jews who were systematically murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. “Memorial candles will be lit to honour victims and survivors. The Mourner’s Kaddish will be repeated, reaffirming the commitment of the Jewish people to God in the face of tragedy. “The atrocities carried out during the Holocaust have caused some people to ask whether it is possible to still have faith in humanity. Yom HaShoah teaches us that we must maintain that faith. To honour the victims of the Holocaust is to recognize their humanity, which no human act can erase. “At Auschwitz this year, participants in the March of the Living will walk in silence as a testament to the resilience of the survivors of the Holocaust. In Israel, a whole nation will pause as air raid sirens sound in remembrance. Here in Canada, events across the country will be held to commemorate those who perished, and to honour the survivors, and those who risked their lives to save others. “Today, I call on all Canadians to guard against a resurgence of anti-Semitism and racism, and to fight all forms of hatred and discrimination, whenever and wherever they occur. It is up to all of us to bring meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.’ “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I extend our thoughts and prayers to all those observing Yom HaShoah.”

"Déclaration du premier ministre du Canada à l’occasion de Yom HaShoah"

Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau a fait aujourd’hui la déclaration suivante pour souligner Yom HaShoah : « Ce soir au coucher du soleil, les communautés juives au Canada et partout dans le monde se rassembleront pour commémorer la vie des six millions de Juifs qui ont été systématiquement tués par les nazis pendant l'Holocauste. « Des chandelles commémoratives seront allumées pour rendre hommage aux victimes et aux survivants. Le Kaddish des endeuillés sera récité pour réaffirmer la loyauté du peuple juif à Dieu face à la tragédie. « Les atrocités perpétrées pendant l’Holocauste ont poussé certains à se demander s’il était encore possible de croire en l’humanité. Yom HaShoah nous enseigne que nous devons garder l’espoir.  Afin de rendre hommage aux victimes de l’Holocauste, nous devons reconnaître leur humanité qu'aucun geste humain ne peut effacer. « Cette année à Auschwitz, ceux qui participent à la Marche des Vivants marcheront en silence pour témoigner de la résilience des survivants de l'Holocauste. En Israël, une nation entière observera un moment de silence au son des sirènes d’alerte aérienne en souvenir des victimes. Ici au Canada, des événements auront lieu à travers le pays pour commémorer ceux qui ont péri et rendre hommage aux survivants ainsi qu’à ceux qui ont risqué leur vie pour sauver celle des autres. « Aujourd’hui, j’invite tous les Canadiens à résister contre la résurgence de l’antisémitisme et du racisme, et à lutter contre toutes les formes de haine et de discrimination, quels que soient le moment ou l’endroit où elles se manifestent. C'est notre devoir à tous de donner un sens à ce vœu solennel : « Plus jamais ». « Au nom du gouvernement du Canada, j’offre nos pensées et nos prières à tous ceux qui observent Yom HaShoah. »

^ It's important to remember what happened and to do more than just say "Never Again." I'm glad the Canadian Government has remembered this date. ^

New Files Released

From the DW:
"UN Holocaust files reveal Allies' knowledge"

The UN War Crimes Commission has finally released files that show the Allies knew much more about the Holocaust during WWII than previously thought. Cold War politics kept the files locked away.  Previously ignored and hard to access, the Holocaust files kept by the UN War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) have finally been made publicly available, potentially debunking many assumptions about the Nazi genocide of the European Jews. The Wiener Library in London announced this week that it is making 900 gigabytes of data - copied as PDFs from originals kept at United Nations headquarters in New York - publicly available this Friday. The files document how war crimes were handled by the Allies between 1943 and 1949, and include "lists of alleged war criminals, files of charges brought against them, minutes of meetings, reports, correspondence, trial transcripts and other related materials," the library said in a statement.  The UN archives have always been notoriously difficult to access. The Wiener Library, one of the UK's most important Holocaust and genocide archives, asked the British Foreign Office to request copies of the UN's files around four years ago, but it took much persuasion, particularly from Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the SOAS department of the University of London, to have the files released to the public. Researchers previously needed permission from both their own government and the UN secretary-general to read the files, and even then they were not allowed to make notes, let alone make copies. But that wasn't the only reason why they never saw the light before, according to Ben Barkow, director of the Wiener Library.  "I just think people haven't been interested," he told DW. "If you read the books that have been written about war crimes trials generally and after the Second World War particularly, they nearly all completely ignore the UN War Crimes Commission." But Plesch's research, which has resulted in the freshly-published book "Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes," showed that what the UN knew "was important - it was very important," as Barkow put it.  The files make clear that Allied forces knew more about the details of the Nazi concentration camp system before the end of the war than has generally been thought - thanks in part to files collected by the exiled governments of Belgium, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, who spent a lot of time collecting hundreds of pages of detailed evidence of war crimes to indict specific leading Nazis - including Adolf Hitler himself. "That shows what the Allies knew," Plesch told DW. "Frankly, the continental European exiled governments were limited and suppressed by elements in the US State Department and the British Foreign Office, who didn't support what their own ambassadors were doing in the [war crimes] commission." Not only that, few scholars have picked up on the fact that as early as December 1942, various Allied governments were releasing statements explicitly condemning the Nazis for exterminating the European Jews. "The BBC broadcast this in 23 languages at the time," said Plesch. "This is very early public condemnation by the Allies, including the Soviet Union, of the Holocaust while it was at its height." Among these governments statements is one from France that "details the round-ups of Jews by French police that [far-right presidential candidate] Marine Le Pen denies."  Barkow also says that the files include about a hundred pages of documents on the early history of the Treblinka death camp, which "scholars are almost completely unaware of." Treblinka, Barkow says, is a "very poorly understood camp," because it was run very secretly by the Nazis and there were virtually no survivors. Not only that, Treblinka was almost completely destroyed as the Nazis shut it down, and as a result, recent researchers have been reduced to forensic archaeology and aerial surveys to even recreate its layout. The first post-war West German government, under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, played its part in burying many Nazi crimes investigations, with the support of US senators including Joseph McCarthy. "It was German pressure in the 40s and 50s that brought the Allies' war crimes processes to an end, and resulted in the release of many, many convicted Nazis from Allied prisons," said Plesch. "One of the reasons why the UN archive has been forgotten about is because it did rather fall victim to Cold War politics," said Barkow. "And there were sections of the American government, even before the end of the war, that were not supportive of the work of the commission, and when the Cold War got going did their best to bury it." The UN files will be available at the Wiener Library as of April 21, but due to the level of demand expected, researchers are being asked to contact the library in advance to make an appointment.

^ Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that the Allies hid the truth about what they knew about the Holocaust for all of these decades or the fact that the German Government worked hard to help them hid the facts. It is 70 + years since the end of World War 2 and the Holocaust and yet we continue to learn new details and facts all the time. ^