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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 04:46 PM
Number of posts: 17,683

Journal Archives

Pressure from the EU is thought to be the main reason Serbian officials allowed gay pride parade

Marchers were protected by strong security lines as anti-gay activists protested before event

It was a rare sight for Serbia, one of the most conservative countries in Europe, to witness a march akin to those found in the more cosmopolitan cities of London and Berlin. Albeit on a smaller scale and with far more security.

After a march in 2010, pride events were banned for three years because of clashes between police and extreme right-wing groups, which saw more than 100 people injured. This year there appears to have been little violence, despite threats made by ultra-nationalists.

Pressure from the EU is thought to be the main reason Serbian officials allowed Sunday’s event to take place after the three year ban. The country is keen to join the organisation and wants to burnish its human rights credentials.

There is some way to go before members of the LGBT community can enjoy full acceptance in Serbia however, as thousands of anti-gay campaigners protested against the march on Saturday and the head of the country’s Orthodox Church denounced the march.


Serbia obviously has a long way to go before gays are accepted by society but this is a first step. Serbia's desire to join the EU is motivating it to become less homophobic, though it is still a very conservative society with a long way to go.

Assad's troops have control of western Aleppo and drop barrel bombs on the eastern half every day.

The Syrian Front: Waiting to Die in Aleppo

Eastern Aleppo has been virtually abandoned, as have most residential districts located away from the front. Those left in the city prefer to crowd into housing right up against the battle lines, which have remained virtually static in the last two years. Paradoxically, people feel safest living within range of enemy tank and sniper fire. Such are the rules of Aleppo.

The reasons are pragmatic. For one, the lower floors of the buildings along the front still offer some protection from artillery shells. More important, however, is the fact that no "baramil" fall here, those half-ton barrel bombs dropped from helicopters flying high overhead. The bombs are murderously effective, but they are so imprecise that the Syrian Air Force refrains from using them too close to its own troops.

The rest of eastern Aleppo, though, is fair game. Filled with explosives and shrapnel, the bombs can destroy entire buildings and the Syrian army has tried out various designs in the city. Some even have tanks of gasoline attached so as to start fires when they detonate; others are so heavy that they are rolled out of the helicopters on small gun carriages.

The helicopters appear in the mornings and late afternoons, usually at the same times each day, and circle for a while at altitudes of 4,000 to 5,000 meters (13,000-16,000 feet), little more than tiny dots in the sky, before dropping their payloads. The sound of the bombs falling can only be heard seconds before impact -- enough time to know that you are about to die, but not enough time to flee.


If the US and others want to bomb ISIS in Raqqa and other urban areas - and do not care about civilian casualties - they should just let Assad do the bombing. There is nothing 'precision' about the bombing his troops do, but it may be 'effective' in killing opposition fighters - if you ignore the 'collateral damage'.

Juan Cole: How Repression and Climate Change Drove the Civil War

How Repression, Drought & Climate Change Drove the Syrian Civil War

Long before March of 2011, when Syrian demonstrations calling for reform and in some cases, regime change, morphed into a full-blown military conflict that has transformed into a supranational bloodbath, the economic and political policies of Bashar Al-Assad’s Baa’thist regime undoubtedly fomented major discontent among various segments of Syria’s population. ... events in the south-Syrian bordertown of Dera’a would forever change the socio-political dynamics of a nation ruled by the iron fists of the Al-Assad clan for more than four decades. Upon assuming the mantle of power in Syria, Syrians hopeful of political and economic liberalization under the modern, western-educated ophthalmologist-turned-president Bashar Al-Assad were mainly met with disappointment.

However, in a nation where the mukhabarat (secret police informants/intelligence agents) have long infiltrated all segments of society and institutions, a general aura of fear, suspicion, and paranoia persisted well into Bashar’s reign. I witnessed this first-hand when I visited and stayed in Dera’a for a few days with family friends several years before the uprising and recall the kind of vexing stares I received from some of those whom I attempted to raise the issue of Syrian politics with. I was a bit naïve and so I, more than anything, wanted to know if the stories I had heard about Syrian fears of the regime were legit. They were.

During the same year Bashar Al-Assad took power, ninety-nine Syrian intellectuals, writers, and critics crafted and signed the “Statement of 99” calling for an end to emergency rule/martial law that had been in place since 1963, for the state to pardon political dissidents detained, imprisoned, deported, or exiled by his father’s regime, formal recognition and implementation of freedom of assembly, press, and expression, as well as an end to the surveillance of its citizens by the secret police and security forces. The movement behind the statement was composed of both anti-regime hardliners as well as moderates who collectively sought political reform. The result of long-festering political and economic dissent among Syrians, the “Statement of 99” was a brow-raising announcement that, at minimum, made the regime slightly uncomfortable. The formation of various think-tanks, organizations, and social and political ‘parties’ coincided with Bashar’s takeover of Syria- all of which were critical of the regime’s political and economic monopolies on the country caused the regime to crack down on dissenters. The following year, in 2001, one thousand academics, critics, and activists launched the “Statement of 1,000” which expanded on the previous statement’s tenets and called for a multi-party democracy to supplant the one-party Baa’thist state. This was met with another, albeit harsher, government crackdown.

All of these grievances began to fester when anti-regime protests began in early 2011. While initially limited to small demonstrations calling on the lifting of the Emergency Laws and better economic policies, the government was able to contain them with relative ease. When they grew as they did in Dera’a in March of that year, the government’s crackdowns intensified and greater numbers of Syrians became disillusioned by the regime’s insincerity in addressing and implementing political, social, and economic reforms. The zero-tolerance policies of the Assad regime only sought to radicalize some already, economically and politically disenfranchised segments of the Syrian population, some of which had been subdued by his father in previous years and had since been boiling with discontent.


CAP: The Top 10 Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class

Center for American Progress

With flat incomes and inequality stuck at historically high levels, one might assume that chronic economic insecurity and an off-kilter economy are the new normal and that nothing can be done to fix it. But there is nothing normal or inevitable about elevated poverty levels and stagnant incomes. They are the direct result of policy choices that put wealth and income into the hands of a few at the expense of growing a strong middle class.

1. Create jobs

The best pathway out of poverty is a well-paying job. To get back to prerecession employment levels, we must create 5.6 million new jobs. At the current pace, however, we will not get there until July 2018. To kick-start job growth, the federal government should invest in job-creation strategies such as rebuilding our infrastructure; developing renewable energy sources; renovating abandoned housing; and making other common-sense investments that create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and boost our national economy. We should also build on proven models of subsidized employment to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers re-enter the labor force.

2. Raise the minimum wage
In the late 1960s, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could lift a family of three out of poverty. Had the minimum wage back then been indexed to inflation, it would be $10.86 per hour today, compared to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation—as President Barack Obama and several members of Congress have called for—would lift more than 4 million Americans out of poverty. Nearly one in five children would see their parent get a raise. Recent action taken by cities and states—such as Seattle, Washington; California; Connecticut; and New Jersey—shows that boosting the minimum wage reduces poverty and increases wages.

4. Support pay equity
With female full-time workers earning just 78 cents for every $1 earned by men
, action must be taken to ensure equal pay for equal work. Closing the gender wage gap would cut poverty in half for working women and their families and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to hold employers accountable for discriminatory salary practices would be a key first step.

5. Provide paid leave and paid sick days
The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid family and medical leave and paid sick days
, making it very difficult for millions of American families to balance work and family without having to sacrifice needed income. Paid leave is an important anti-poverty policy, as having a child is one of the leading causes of economic hardship. Additionally, nearly 4 in 10 private-sector workers—and 7 in 10 low-wage workers—do not have a single paid sick day, putting them in the impossible position of having to forgo needed income, or even their job, in order to care for a sick child. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would provide paid leave protection to workers who need to take time off due to their own illness, the illness of a family member, or the birth of a child. And the Healthy Families Act would enable workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days per year.


U.N. Investigators Cite Atrocities in Syria (both sides, of course)

As Western and regional powers prepared to step up the fight against Sunni militants of the Islamic State, United Nations investigators presented details Tuesday of more atrocities committed by Islamic extremists and the government in Syria, warning that there could be no battlefield solution to the “madness” in the civil war there.

In addition to the killing of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff, and a British aid worker, David Cawthorne Haines, the Islamic State “has continued to subject scores of Syrians to the same fate in public squares in the north and east of the country,” Mr. Pinheiro told the council, describing the terror of communities in large swaths of Syria that it controls.

Despite the extremes of violence committed by Islamic militants, Mr. Pinheiro said, the Syrian government “remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily,” describing killing “from a distance” by shelling and aerial bombardment and “up close at checkpoints and in its interrogation rooms.”

Mr. Pinheiro recalled that the panel had repeatedly urged the United Nations Security Council and influential states to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and to push for a political settlement. Their inaction “nourished the violence” consuming Syria, he told the Human Rights Council. “Its most recent beneficiary is ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.


The UN Human Rights Council must feel obligated to continue to investigate and publish the continuing human rights abuses in Syria. For the most part, the world seems not to care or only be interested in protecting one side or the other.

It is no wonder that the Syrian refugee problem is the most serious since WWII.

Ethnic Ukrainians are a majority in every eastern province other than Crimea. Polls don't support

the idea that any part of eastern Ukraine should separate from the country.



Those election monitors from Europe's far-right are back. This time in St Petersburg.

They did such a fine job in Crimea that they are back for an encore.

Russian daily Novaya Gazeta reports that far-right EU parties sent monitors to local elections in St Petersburg this weekend. The monitors, many of whom blessed the Crimea referendum in March, came from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland. They said the St Peterbsurg vote was fair despite NGO complaints.


These election observers from far-right political parties in Europe are certainly popular with the Russian government. If they don't mind foreigners coming to observe their elections, there are more objective and experienced election observers including those at the Carter Center's Democracy Program.

Perhaps folks are a little too liberal at times in St Petersburg, so trustworthy election monitors were needed for the vote.

The new Putinism: Nationalism fused with conservative Christianity

Vladimir Putin meets with Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill

Two recent stories offer a revealing -- and, to some, unsettling -- view of Russian President Vladimir Putin's emerging state ideology. The new Putinism, you might call it, seems to be a fusion of two older Russian ideas: nationalism, sometimes with an anti-Western tinge, and conservative interpretations of Orthodox Christianity. Both stories portray the coalescing, Kremlin-pushed ideology as a response to rising dissent and, more broadly, an effort to fill an ideological vacuum that has to some extent remained since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago.

The Financial Times' Charles Clover chronicles the new ideology's emergence in the typically vibrant city of St. Petersburg, "long regarded as Russia's liberal window to the west" but now "the testing ground for a new wave of conservative, Orthodox church-going, pro-Kremlin patriotism that has gripped much of Russian officialdom." Clover cites recent censorship of classic Russian works by Vladimir Nabokov and Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well as new law that forbids "yelping" and "stomping" at night, possibly aimed at curbing protests.

Through the previous 12 years of his hegemony, Mr. Putin observed a balance between liberals and conservatives in the ranks of the elite, catering to each group in an effort to play one off against the other.

Today, that balance appears to have been jettisoned after liberals deserted him, with protesters taking to the streets last December and high-ranking figures – such as his finance minister – joining the dissenters.

The Kremlin has turned to the more conservative elements of society. More rural, older and less educated, they respond well to Mr Putin’s nationalist and slightly paranoid rhetoric as defender of the Orthodox faith from blasphemers and protector of the nation against foreign plots.


Good point. Norwegians have the freedom of movement, trade and work within Europe that

citizens of EU countries have because Norway belongs to the European Free Trade Association and the Schengen Agreement. And they don't have the obligations that the French or English or Swedes have towards the Moldovas of the continent.

Of course, Norway is very generous with foreign aid anyway but that is a voluntary thing not something mandated by the EU.


Perhaps Yanukovich made a wise choice but he was reversing a campaign pledge. People cared.

From my understanding of the deals on offer, I can understand that Yanukovich may thought that Russia's offer was better for Ukraine. Russia had made it clear that there was a big downside if Ukraine chose a trade deal with the EU and Russia terms were indeed more favorable, at least in the short terms - which is all politicians care about.

The real problem he had was that he had campaigned for president on a platform of seeking closer integration with Europe rather than with Russia. Did he really mean that during the campaign or was he just saying something that he thought people wanted to hear? (He would not be the first politician to say something that he did not believe just to get elected.)

He had every 'right' to change his mind about a policy he had campaigned on, just as Obama and all politicians and political leaders seems to think they have. Of course, citizens had every right to express their discontent about his policy reversal, just as our voters do. Either voters felt more deeply about the issue than Mr. Yanukovich understood or he simply did not do a good job of explaining why the Russian offer was superior and he was reversing his previous pledge.

The massive crowds of protesters were not just Western-backed protesters unless you assume that Ukrainians don't care enough about their country to protest political decision they don't agree with. They protested in Kiev throughout a Ukrainian winter - which is not an endeavor for the faint of heart.

And they did not stage a coup. Mr. Yanukovich did not have to leave but chose to do so and flee to Russia with his money. (Perhaps coincidentally, his departure for Russia provided the pretext for the chain of events that led to Russian annexing Crimea. Funny how that worked out.) He still controlled the army and security forces, including the Berkut, when he left. The demonstrators had none of the tanks, mortars, artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and other military equipment that the separatists in eastern Ukraine have. He was in no danger and could still be in Kiev governing until December elections which is what he had agreed to do.

Who would issue loans? Any country looking for a good investment. China eg. We are indebted to China, why not Ukraine?

In December 2013:

China has already given Ukraine $10 billion in loans, Reuters reported, citing Volodymyr Fesenko of Ukraine’s Penta think-tank.

Although Russia has repeatedly warned Kiev it will end trade benefits if it signs an association deal with the EU, Ukraine remains caught between Russia and the EU. Ukraine will send delegations to both the EU and Moscow “to restore economic trade relations,” Prime Minister Azarov said Tuesday.


Ukraine has borrowed $10 billion from China as of last December. They weren't getting any more.

In February 2014:

China sues Ukraine for breach of US$3b loan-for-grain agreement

China is seeking compensation of US$3 billion from Ukraine for the breach of a loans-for-grain contract signed in 2012, Russian media reported yesterday


It looks to me like China was not likely to loan Ukraine any more money. So it probably came down to Russia or the EU/IMF.

Equalizing salaries across the globe (more equality) would be a good thing. Lowering them would not.

I don't think there are many liberals who support LESS equality in global salaries. (That sounds like a republican/conservative goal.) We want our standard of living to improve even if poorer countries improve faster and eventually catch up with us.

Most of the income gains in the past 25 years have gone to the bottom 70% and the top 5% on the global income scale. Those who have suffered have been the bottom 5% and the 80-90 percentile in income.

There should be a way to reign in the top 5% with their exponential increase in income and redistribute it to the bottom 5% and the 80-90% people. (The folks in the 10%-70% range have had even greater percentage increases in their income than the top 5% has had.) We should be able to do this without jeopardizing the progress made by the lowest 2/3 of the world's population.

The key to help the American middle class while those of poorer countries rise. It can be done as evidenced by many progressive countries with progressive taxes, good safety net, strong unions and effective regulation. These countries have much stronger middle classes than we do. It takes smart legislation on taxes, union, regulation and the safety net. Without such legislation (and we are nowhere near passing anything of the sort), our middle class will continue to suffer.

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