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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Priest:9/11 Health bill;Net Neutrality?;Israel-Turkey crisis;Greece-Russia Visas;Schengen no-go;START elements;CERN-Serbia

The Rev. Stephen Petrovich, 58, of Huron, Ohio, is Metropolitan Archbishop Emeritus of his orthodox Ukrainian Church. He does not perform archbishop duties because he is dying, from the damage to his lungs from the air at Ground Zero in 2001. Petrovich spent nearly two weeks at Ground Zero giving last rites to human remains and counseling the living. He expects this Christmas to be his last. He has written the following letter in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which will likely come up for a vote in the Senate today or tomorrow. The measure will provide $6.2 billion for permanent healthcare and compensation for the approximately 20,000 Americans who are suffering from illnesses contracted while working at Ground Zero in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. Passage is uncertain. Senators of the United States of America, My name is Rev. Stephan Petrovich. I was a First Responder Chaplain at the World Trade Center; I am now ill and receiving hospice palliative care for the effects of the toxic dust at Ground Zero. I responded to the Call on 9/11 working at the morgue and on the Pile giving last rites to the bodies of the recovered victims. I am terminally ill from 9/11 yet cannot afford the medical treatments I need as my entire Workers Comp check and most of my Social Security goes to home care. I have been borrowing for years now to pay ongoing ($50,000+) medical bills and am now facing winter with $800 in gas arrears that the company is threatening to turn off. This is most likely my last Christmas; I dread to think of all the Responder children and their families who have suffered over the past 10 Christmases. To the Senate I say: we the Responders have done nothing but answer the call to help on 9/11, yet there are people in power who seem to trifle with human life. Money appears to be the root of the problem, yet how can one put a price on human life? Senators, please be assured: we are not seeking to enrich ourselves, we are only asking for help--to live. There is nothing more frightening than being unable to breathe; I know this first hand as I have slept in a chair the past three years as I cannot breathe lying down. I have not attended church in four years due to my health; the next time I attend will be at my own funeral. I implore Senator Enzi: Sir, I understand your concern but Senator, Please! Give us our Health Care and pass S.1334 this most important Bill! In closing, I ask the Senate to please do the right thing by helping the sick and dying and showing mercy to the suffering. Pass S. 1334 for the good of mankind and our great country America. You have been elected by the people, for the people--may this calling bestow you with honor, duty and compassion. I wish to extend to each of you a most happy Holiday Season and only the best of health to you and your families--God Speed. To read more about 9/11 Health Now, please click here.

Net neutrality is in the headlines again, but what does it mean for you? Is this just some wonky, inside-the-Beltway chatter that won't have an impact on our daily lives or an issue that will affect how we access the Web in the future? The short answer is: both. The basic news is that the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality rules yesterday and those rules give the commission the authority to step into disputes about how Internet service providers are managing their networks or initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules. One important thing to note is that the FCC hasn't actually released the full text of its net neutrality rules yet. The Republican commissioners voted against the plan yesterday, and according to FCC procedures, the commission must respond to any dissent before releasing its rules. So it could be another day or two before the commission adds that response and publishes the rules. That being said, the FCC did provide an overview of what's included in the order and it breaks down to three high-level rules: transparency; no blocking; and no unreasonable discrimination. Transparency: Does your ISP slow down its network at peak times? Does it have a usage cap? What about roaming fees? The transparency requirement basically requires broadband providers – fixed and wireless – to be more transparent about their activities. They need to be upfront about how they manage their networks, how well (or poorly) their networks perform, as well as details about their plan options and pricing. Most ISPs would argue that they already do this, but if you disagree, you could conceivably take it up with the FCC. No Blocking: Much of this net neutrality debate started in 2007 when Comcast was accused of blocking access to P2P networks like BitTorrent because people using BitTorrent on Comcast's network were slowing down the experience for everyone else. Comcast denied cutting off access completely but said it did delay access to P2P sites during peak times. Under the FCC rules, an ISP would not be able to pick and choose apps or service to block in order to improve network performance. Your ISP would not be able to block access to Netflix's streaming service, for example, or Xbox Live just because a select few people were clogging the system. The rules differ slightly on this for fixed versus wireless. Fixed providers cannot block lawful content, apps, services, or "non-harmful" devices, or charge providers of these services for delivering traffic to and from their networks. Wireless providers, meanwhile, cannot block access to lawful Web sites or block apps that compete with their own voice or video telephony services. It does not apply to mobile broadband app stores. No unreasonable discrimination: A key term being thrown around this week is "network management," which basically governs how an ISP like Comcast or Time Warner Cable runs their operations. Under the FCC rules, ISPs can manage their networks, but it can't be "unreasonable" or discriminate against specific applications. In other words, Comcast could slow down its entire network to handle an influx of users, but it could not cut off a specific, bandwidth-hungry service – like BitTorrent or Netflix or Hulu. The FCC acknowledges that network management is necessary to block harmful things – like malware and child porn – from making its way onto ISP networks. Blocking child porn and spam? Good. Blocking Netflix or BitTorrent because it competes with your own service or eats up bandwidth? Bad. Again, we haven't seen the actual text of the rules, so what makes something "unreasonable"? In a press conference after Tuesday's meeting, an FCC official said the agency has included specific language in its rules to define unreasonable network management. "Generally if there are practices that are targeted for specific use – like controlling spam or malware – [that] would be reasonable," she said. "Certainly things that appear to be discriminatory would be a red flag." Among those things that would probably be unreasonable? Paid prioritization. The whole idea behind net neutrality is that everyone has equal access to the Web; a wealthy company like Amazon should not be able to pay to have their Web site load faster than a mom-and-pop e-commerce site. While this practice of paid prioritization is not strictly banned in the net neutrality rules, the FCC said yesterday that it would likely be deemed unreasonable. "It's a very dynamic marketplace … so everything would have to be evaluated," the FCC official said. "I think there's significant concern about paid prioritization … but it's not ruled out." Can I Report a Violation? If you think your ISP is violating these rules, you can complain to the FCC. The agency has two types of complaint processes: an informal consumer complaint and a more organized formal process. Going forward, consumers can go to the FCC Web site and file their complaint at no charge. This is mainly for those who suspect that something is going on and possibly have a certain amount of proof, but lack the ability (or funds) to pull together a more formal complaint. As Free Press did with its original complaint against Comcast, larger, more organized groups can band together and file a formal complaint with lawyers and fees and affidavits. When asked yesterday if formal complaints would take priority over individual consumer complaints, the FCC said it would evaluate everything individually on its own merits. The agency will also keep tabs on individual complaints to watch for trends that require a larger investigation, the commission said.

A new agreement on exploration rights at sea between Israel and Cyprus has once again pushed Israel's relationship with Turkey into a diplomatic crisis. Meanwhile, the talks to end the impasse over Israel's apology for the incident of the Gaza flotilla have bogged down... The Ankara government's latest gripe with Israel is a new treaty, signed last week between Israel and Cyprus, demarking areas of oil and gas exploration rights between the two countries. Turkey does not recognise the Greek-Cypriot government of Nicosia, supporting instead the breakaway Turkish minority on the island, and now claims that the agreement between Jerusalem and Nicosia is "a challenge to Turkey's regional interests". Israel's ambassador to Turkey was summoned last Friday to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara where he was told that the Turkish government demands Israel cancel the agreement. Israel's Foreign Ministry did not comment on the Turkish protest, but a senior diplomat said: "If anyone thought that all it would take was a couple of Turkish planes to fix the ties between the two countries, it is now clear that a lot more work is needed. We still are not clear that Erdogan has any interest in fixing things at all." The agreement with Cyprus is another sign of the warming of ties between Israel and Turkey's regional rival, Greece. The countries have held two joint military exercises in recent months, signed a series of co-operation agreements and prime ministers Netanyahu and George Papandreou have visited each other's capitals....

Greece’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism, George Nikitiadis’ recent visit to Russia and his participation in a seminar of Hellenic-Russian Federation under the title “Russia – Greece – Cyprus: Political, Economic and Cultural Synergies in Present and Future”, bore fruit with his announced opening of more Greek visa centers in Russia. More specifically, during his visit in Moscow aimed at strengthening tourism relations between Russia and Greece Mr. Nikitiadis suggested the simplification of procedures for visa issuing. After his meeting with representatives of Visa Center there he announced 5 new visa centers will open in Russia, bringing the total to 8 in 2011. These offices will collect all necessary documents, and visas will be issued within a maximum of 48 hours. Moreover, visa centers will cooperate with a private courier service company covering 177 points all over Russia. According to statistics, in 2010 328.000 Russian tourists were issued visa to visit Greece; an upward trend of 52 percent in comparison to 2009, and this increase is expected to be more than 50 percent more in 2011. Mr. Nikitiadis stressed the new governmental strategy for the promotion of Greek tourism product as well. Last but not least, Nikitiadis informed participants about investment opportunities in the tourism sector in Greece and the simplification of relevant procedures through fast track initiatives. Also worth mentioning is that on 20 December Greek government announced the privatization of tourism real estate.

Chief elements of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty called New START: NEW LIMITS ON STRATEGIC NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Each side would have to limit their arsenal of warheads ready to launch to 1550. That's down nearly 30 per cent from the limits imposed in the last U.S-Russia nuclear pact, the 2002 Moscow treaty. NEW LIMITS ON MISSILE DELIVERY SYSTEMS: The treaty also limits missiles, bombers and launchers capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Each side will be allowed up to 800 submarine launched ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, whether they are deployed or not. Of all of these only 700 can be nuclear armed. This halves the limits under the 1991 START treaty. VERIFICATION: The treaty restores elements of the system under the previous START treaty that allowed each side to verify that the other was sticking to treaty terms. The old system expired with the START treaty just over a year ago and neither side has had inspectors on the ground monitoring the other's arsenals since then. The new treaty would include key changes that the Obama administration says would make inspections cheaper and easier. It would add, for instance a numbered inventory of items relevant to the limits in the two arsenals. Each missile and heavy bomber will have unique data identifying it. The treaty would allow 10 short notice inspections of ICBM, submarine and air bases annually and an additional eight inspections of storage facilities for non-deployed warheads. WHAT THE TREATY DOESN'T DO: The treaty does not limit warheads that are in storage and not ready to launch, though it does allow monitoring of those assets. It also does not limit nuclear warheads intended for short range delivery to counter conventional armies. These smaller warheads are known as tactical nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has said it would like to negotiate with Russia new limits on both non-deployed warheads and tactical weapons in a follow-up treaty after New START is ratified. The treaty also does not impose any significant limitations on the countries' ability to build missile defense systems, as critics have charged.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux and German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere told European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem in a letter that it was "premature" to let them enter the passport-free travel area in March 2011. The ministers said a decision on the applications would be made once the two former communist bloc nations make "irreversible progress" in the fight against corruption and organised crime, according a copy of the letter seen by news agency AFP. Romanian President Traian Basescu slammed the Franco-German move as "an act of discrimination." Bulgarian officials said they would do their utmost to ease any doubts about their readiness to join. The Schengen area allows more than 400 million citizens to travel across a territory that ranges from Greece to Finland, and Portugal to Poland, without having to pull out a passport. The area includes 22 of the European Union's 27 members plus Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. By choice, EU members Britain and Ireland have not joined the travel zone while Cyprus has applied to enter Schengen. Experts from EU states who visited Romania and Bulgaria will present a report in January that will be used by governments to make a decision. Allowing a country to join Schengen must be agreed by members states by unanimity, meaning that France and Germany have veto power over the applications. The decision to block the entry of Romania and Bulgaria follows a summer row over France's deportation of Roma migrants from the two eastern European nations, although the issue was not cited as a reason for the Schengen veto.

Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration and Minister of Science and Technological Development Bozidar Djelic said today that Serbia is starting negotiations on membership in the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and pointed out that membership in this organisation will be of great importance for development of science in Serbia. Djelic told at a news conference at the Serbian government that the membership negotiations will last one year, after which Serbia will get the status of associate member, and it will become a full member of CERN within two to five years. He said that the beginning of membership talks is a great day for Serbia, adding that accession to CERN is very important because this organisation is conducting the greatest scientific experiment in human history - construction of Large Hadron Collider accelerator, in which 40 Serbian scientists are participating. Djelic noted that in addition to Serbia, the countries that will also start membership talks are Slovenia, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey. President of the Commission for Cooperation with CERN Petar Adzic thanked the Serbian government for the support it has given to scientists, adding that membership in CERN is not only an opportunity for physicists, but for all other scientists dealing with biomedicine, engineering and IT. Representative of the Institute for Physics Marija Milosavljevic-Vranjes underlined that CERN membership will give an opportunity to young scientists from Serbia to take part in major international research projects. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was one of the 12 founders of CERN in 1954, but it left the organisation in 1961. CERN has 20 members and around 30 countries cooperate with this centre in Geneva. To read more about CERN, please click here.