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When the country is in trouble, its servants shouldn't rest: No New Year holidays for Russian government ministers - Putin

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© RIA Novosti/Aleksey Nikolskyi
President Vladimir Putin (third right) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (fourth right) attending at the Government House the president's final Cabinet meeting in 2014, December 25, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin asked government officials not to take the traditional long vacation for New Year and Christmas, due to the country's economic situation. Cabinet ministers are particularly expected to be back at work earlier than usual.

"For the government, for your agencies, we cannot afford this long holiday, at least this year - you know what I mean," Putin said in a televised government session on Thursday, referring to the standard long vacation between January 1 and January 12 that is reserved for Russians to celebrate the New Year and Orthodox Christmas, which takes place on January 7.

"The hardships we are facing are not only external, they are caused not only by the sanctions restrictions or by restrictions linked with the objective international situation, they are also caused by our mistakes that have been made over the years," Putin said.

At the same time, he stressed that "we have been making efforts to change the structure of our economy, to refine it and make it more innovative...quite a lot has been done in this direction."

Comment: Putin provides other world leaders with another example of how public servants and government officials really should behave. He works hard for Russia and expects others in the government to do the same. No wonder people in other countries want Putin as their leader and ask for his help.
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Handcuffs

Roger Waters: My Pink Floyd hit and this tragedy

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Shaker Aamer has been held without charge at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since 2002

The revelations about the Americans' torture of terror suspects have rightly caused outrage across the world.

The U.S. government has owned up to the shadow of institutionalised brutality that has hung over 'The Land Of The Free' since the inception of the War On Terror after 9/11.

The sense of disquiet should extend to the political establishment in Britain, given the mounting evidence that our own intelligence and security agencies may have colluded with the CIA in rendition, torture and a disregard for international human rights law including the Geneva Conventions.

Nothing illustrates our own national disgrace more graphically than the case of Shaker Aamer, a 46-year-old family man from London, who has now been held for almost 13 years in the notorious detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, having been seized by the U.S. military in Afghanistan in November 2001.

During Mr Aamer's long spell of incarceration, he has never been put on trial or even had any charges levelled against him.

He has been subjected to systematic torture, humiliation and degradation, deprived not just of his liberty, but of all rights normally afforded to those in custody yet to be proven guilty of any crime.

The time has surely come for a judge-led inquiry to find out the true extent of Britain's role in the barbaric treatment of Mr Aamer.

Snakes in Suits

Executives operating Fukushima plant during 2011 meltdown unlikely to be indicted for negligence

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© Reuters / Toru Hanai
Tsunehisa Katsumata
Japanese prosecutors are expected again not to indict senior executives of the utility operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant with negligence over the facility's devastation in the 2011 quake and tsunami disaster.

The three former officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 74, company chairman at the time of the disaster, and two former vice-presidents - Sakae Muto, 64, and Ichiro Takekuro, 68.

The Tokyo District Prosecutors Office has been investigating the case after a citizen's panel ruled in July that the three former senior officers should be indicted over their handling of the aftermath of the quake and deaths and injuries caused by it.

The final decision of the office is expected early next year, but according to Kyodo news agency and the newspaper Yomiuri the three former executives would not face charges.

Last year prosecutors declined to charge more than 30 government and TEPCO officials with negligence in responding to the disaster.

Comment: There are thousands, perhaps millions of people affected by the Fukushima disaster, yet the court handling the case is chickening out when it comes to placing blame at the hands of those directly responsible for handling the plant during the time after the initial meltdown. Is it possible that those same executives have paid off the courts in order to avoid prosecution?


Red Flag

Female veterans struggling to get help with PTSD caused by sexual assaults while in service

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© Preston Gannaway/For The Washington Post
Army veteran Kate Weber is a survivor of military sexual trauma who now spends most of her time doing MST advocacy
Thousands of female veterans are struggling to get health-care treatment and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs on the grounds that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual trauma in the military. The veterans and their advocates call it "the second battle" - with a bureaucracy they say is stuck in the past.

Judy Atwood-Bell was just a 19-year-old Army private when she says she was locked inside a barracks room at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, forced to the cold floor and raped by a fellow solider.

For more than two decades, Atwood-Bell fought for an apology and financial compensation from VA for PTSD, with panic attacks, insomnia and severe depression that she recalls started soon after that winter day in 1981. She filled out stacks of forms in triplicate and then filled them out again, pressing over and over for recognition of the harm that was done.

The department labels it "military sexual trauma" (MST), covering any unwanted contact, including sexual innuendo, groping and rape.

A recent VA survey found that 1 in 4 women said they experienced sexual harassment or assault. And the problem is growing more pressing because female veterans represent the military's fastest-growing population, with an estimated 2.2 million, or 10 percent, of the country's veterans. More than 280,000 female veterans have returned home from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Comment: Since the military is practically the apex of a patriarchal social system, it shouldn't be surprising that women are finding great difficulty getting any kind of help coping with sexual assault. The military exists to provide cannon fodder to the elites. They care very little for the fodder's quality of life after leaving, as this article shows, despite what the VA spokespeople say.


Green Light

Missouri residents vote to ban speed cameras; city councilmen sue them

speed camera
It should come as no surprise to most drivers, that speed cameras are not being installed on your roadways to make your life easier (and they are your roadways. Your taxes paid for them). As much as the government would like you to think that they have your best interest at heart, these devices do not make our roads safer. If anything they may make intersections even more dangerous, and they really don't serve any purpose beyond generating revenue for the city and the police department.

One Missouri county has had enough, and decided to hold a referendum to ban the use of red light cameras. The measure passed with 73 percent of voters in support of the ban. However, some elected officials aren't happy with the new bill, and have decided to bypass the will of their voters.

Question

Silly controversy or diversion?: World reacts to 'The Interview' release

Interview poster
© AFP Photo / Christopher Polk
In the wake of a massive cyberattack and diplomatic furor, Sony Pictures has released 'The Interview' online after many cinema's opted not to show the film. The reaction to the irreverent flick has been equal parts critical, funny and even patriotic.

The brazen comedy, revolving around a farcical plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is now available through online video portals like Google's YouTube and Microsoft's Xbox Video.

The film's theatrical release had been bumped up from October to Christmas Day, though last week Sony opted to cancel the film's nationwide premier after movie theater chains said they would not run it because of security concerns.

After all the wait and controversy, reaction to the film has ranged from effusive praise to mockery and everything in between.

Comment: Spy-murders are the common method used by every nation and Hollywood glorified it for decades with James Bond-type movies. This controversy over a $44 million dollar movie looks like a simple diversion to the political wrangling going on over CIA torture, as well as good PR for Sony.


Handcuffs

Saudi women drivers sent to 'terrorism' court: Activists

saudi woman
© AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine
A Saudi woman gets into a taxi in the city of Riyadh on October 26, 2014, as a online campaign continues to call for an end to the driving ban for women in the country
Two women's rights campaigners detained in Saudi Arabia have been transferred to a special tribunal for "terrorism", activists said on Thursday after the women appeared in court.

The ruling came at a hearing in Al-Ahsa, in the kingdom's Eastern Province, according to the activists who declined to be named.

Loujain Hathloul has been detained since December 1 after she tried to drive into the kingdom from neighbouring United Arab Emirates in defiance of a ban.

Comment:
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are limited in comparison to many of its neighbors. The World Economic Forum 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity. All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Saudi women constitute 18.6% of the country's native workforce as of 2011.
...
According to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, two "key" conservative Islamic "concepts" that curtail women's rights in Saudi are
  • sex segregation, justified under the Sharia legal notion of 'shielding from corruption' (dar al-fasaad), and
  • women's alleged 'lack of capacity' (adam al-kifaa'ah) which is the basis of the necessity of a male guardian (mahram) whose permission must be granted for travel, medical procedures, obtaining permits, etc.
"It's the culture, not the religion," is a Saudi saying. At least according to some (Library of Congress) customs of the Arabian peninsula also play a part in women's place in Saudi society. The peninsula is the ancestral home of patriarchal, nomadic tribes, in which separation of women and men and namus (honour) are considered central. Many Saudis do not see Islam as the main impediment to women's rights. According to one female journalist; "If the Quran does not address the subject, then the clerics will err on the side of caution and make it haram (forbidden). The driving ban for women is the best example."Another (Sabria Jawhar) believes that "if all women were given the rights the Quran guarantees us, and not be supplanted by tribal customs, then the issue of whether Saudi women have equal rights would be reduced." Asmaa Al-Muhhamad, editor for Al Arabiya, points out that women in all other Muslim nations, including those in the Gulf area, have far more political power than Saudi women.



Pistol

India imposes curfews in Assam after 63 killed In rebel attack

ATTSA activists
© STRDEL via Getty Images
Activists of the Assam Tea Tribes Student Association (ATTSA) shout slogans as they block the road with burning tyres during a protest against attacks on villagers by militants in four different locations, at Biswanath Chariali in the Sonitpur district of northeastern Assam state on December 24, 2014. At least 56 people including children died in a series of militant attacks in Assam, Indian police said December 24, as rebels from the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) dramat
Hundreds of survivors of a brutal rebel attack that killed at least 63 people in northeastern India sought shelter Wednesday in a church and school while security forces imposed a curfew in a bid to contain the latest bout of ethnic violence.

Long-simmering land and ethnic disputes in Assam state erupted in bloodshed Tuesday when authorities said rebels belonging to a faction of an indigenous separatist group called the National Democratic Front of Bodoland attacked tribal settlers known as Adivasi. Most of the Adivasis, whose ancestors migrated to Assam more than 100 years ago, have worked on tea plantations.

At least 100 people, mostly women and children, sought refuge in a church in Shamukjuli village in Sonitpur district, where 26 of the victims died. Another 200 people ran to a nearby school. The Adivasis are a mix of Hindus and Christians and many had been preparing for Christmas when the attack took place, survivors said.

Comment: Big business exploitation of the land and its poor population is one of the causes of the violence. It will be interesting to see what Modi will do to address the problems of much-neglected remote regions of India.

Assam was also plagued by illegal migrations from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Land swap to ensure Assam security: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced that his government would utilise the land transfer agreement with Bangladesh in a manner that might seem to be an immediate loss to Assam but serve the security interests of the State in the long term.

Addressing Bharatiya Janata Party workers at the Sarusajai Stadium here, Mr. Modi said his government would utilise the agreement to seal all routes across the international border through which "illegal" Bangladeshi immigrants had been entering Assam and creating havoc in the State.

"There will be no compromise on security," he said. "I know the sentiments of the people. We will always protect the interests of Assam and the country."



Handcuffs

Hystericized society: Greene County, Virginia 4-year-old schoolkid arrested, handcuffed and shackled for being upset in class

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Greene County is buzzing this week over a surprising confrontation at one of its schools. A four-year-old kid with attention deficit disorder caused a ruckus in the pre-K classroom, and when the principal could not restore calm, the local sheriff handcuffed the child and took him away in a squad car.

This story began in mid-October when a child at Nathanael Greene Primary School allegedly threw blocks, climbed over desks, hit, scratched, and kicked the principal and the director of special education. A sheriff's deputy assigned to the schools was summoned, and his boss -- County Sheriff Steven Smith - says the student was handcuffed.

"The boy was out of control, basically, throwing his arms around and kicking-- trying to kick the deputy, trying to run away, and the deputy felt that putting the handcuffs on him was for his safety as well as everybody else's.

The child's mother, Tracy Wood, was notified, arriving at school soon after she got the call.

"When you call a parent to get their child, when they get to the school, you expect the child to be there-- especially when you arrive in a timely manner." Instead, she was met by the principal who said the boy had been transported to the sheriff's office. Wood went right over and found her son's legs in shackles.

Comment: From the Nathanael Greene Primary School website:
"We are committed to building self-esteem, fostering the love of learning, tailoring instruction to meet individual needs, and developing healthy lifestyles. In cooperation with parents and community, staff establishes high expectations for all students and provides a safe, nurturing environment where our students have the opportunity to become productive, knowledgeable, and responsible citizens."
And yet it seems that there was no cooperation with the parent, and no safe, nurturing environment for the child.

Something is very wrong when a place of learning resorts to calling law enforcement because they cannot handle a small, upset child.


Cowboy Hat

US court rules you need to be dumb to be a cop

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Can a person actually be "too smart" to be a cop in America?

A federal court's decision back in 2000 suggests that, yes, you actually can be.

Robert Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, scored a 33 on an intelligence test he took as part of the application process to become a police officer in the town of New London, Connecticut. The score meant Jordan had an IQ of 125.

The average score for police officers was a 21-22, or an IQ of 104. New London would only interview candidates who scored between 20 and 27.

Jordan sued the city alleging discrimination, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld that it wasn't discrimination. "Why?" you might ask. Because New London Police Department applied the same standard to everyone who applied to be a cop there.

And the theory behind it?

"Those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training," ABC News reported back then. While at least acknowledging the basic fact that such a policy might be "unwise," the court deemed it had a "rational basis" because it was put in place to lower cop turnover.