Update On Malaysian Flight 17, Russia and Ukraine Tensions Rise at Border, Iraq Declared an Emergency, and The Ebola War Zone

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Dutch authorities have identified 127 victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine. The flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine last month killing all 298 aboard. The investigation suffered many delays due to fighting between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces near the crash site leaving the bodies to decompose in the sun for a week or so. Eventually, the victims’ remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification. According to AOL, 127 victims identified from Ukraine plane disaster, the Justice Ministry Thursday said the identified victims’ families were notified. One of the Netherlands’ top prosecutors hops those responsible for downing the plane will eventually face trial in the Netherlands, according to confirmed remarks by his office, Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, and the case will take years to build. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations, while jurisdiction is unclear.

Meanwhile, at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Alexander Roslyakov reports, Ukraine: Inspectors checking Russian convoy, Ukraine said its customs and border service officials on Friday began inspecting Russian aid convoys parked just beyond its border addressing the mounting tensions over the shipments. Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said the cargo will be inspected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. Friday morning, a group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. Russian news agencies said Russia will present all necessary documentation and had over the cargo to the Red Cross. The 200 Russian white tarped trucks had been parked since Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky some 17 miles from the border where much of the border in this part of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of pro-Russian rebels. Russia sent the aid despite tentative agreements to deliver the aid through government controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine fears that Russia is using the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion to help the rebels and threatened ti use all means necessary to block the convoy if Ukrainian officials and the Red Cross were unable to inspect them. A statement on President Petro Poroshenkp’s website said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron via phone spoke about reports from some Western journalists that Russian APCs crossed into Ukraine near the point where a Russian aid convoy was parked, according to the article, Ukraine: Some Russian military vehicles destroyed. No proof was provided, but the statement said: “The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night.” Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine, a charge Russia denies, but Lysenko provided no specific source for his information. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday the alliance had observed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and was set to travel to Ukraine on Saturday. After the talks, Putin stated, “we will do all we can to end the military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between the interested parties and provide humanitarian assistance.” Some Russian Military vehicles seen near the aid convoy Friday carried a Russian acronym that stands for “peacekeeping forces” which means Moscow could consider a possible military escort. Ukraine has warned Russia that an attempt to have a military escort will be seen as an invasion. Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area as trucks from Kharkiv unloaded Friday at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, which is 60 miles north of Luhansk, where the goods were to be sorted and transported by the Red Cross. Other Ukrainian aid was taken to Lysychansk, which was retaken by Ukrainian forced last month despite sporadic clashes until earlier this week. So far, fighting has claimed 2,100 lives with half of those in the last few weeks and began after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in April.

Late Thursday, back in he Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will step down and relinquish his post to his nominated replacement, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report, UN Declares Highest Level Emergency In Iraq As Militants Battle On. Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Hider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he would step aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.” The United States, the u.N. and political faction in Iraq have backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader can unite a country under siege by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. In a televised address, al-Maliki said his decision to support his rival reflect his desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country” adding, “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address. In a statement, national security adviser Susan Rice said the White House commended his efforts for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …” The United Nations also welcomed the change, according to special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.” The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work toward “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.” Iraqis everywhere welcomed the announcement on Thursday. The extremist Islamic State group has moved across norther and western Iraq displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely automous Kurdish region. The U.N. declared Wednesday the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” allowing for additional assets to respond to the need o the Displaced, U.N. special representative Nicoklay Mladenov said pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.” The decision followed the news that 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority escaped from the remote desert mountaintop where they were encircled by Islamic State fighters. The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 Iraqis who fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. In total, 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. French President Francois Hollande Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces via phone call to the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, according to Hollande’s office. On Thursday, according to Robert Burns and Julie Pace, Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely, President Barack Obama said the humanitarian crisis atop the barren hill in northern Iraq is over thus no U.S. rescue mission is necessary, however, Iraqis elsewhere face dire threats from advancing Islamic army. A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the conditions for a possible evacuation, but reported the number trapped to be 4,000 and that U.S. supplied food and water to those in need in recent days totaling 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water. The U.S.Central Command said late Wednesday four cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people making it the seventh delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,000 and could last another six months, according to Doctors Without Borders said Friday, with the true death toll unknown, Sarah Dilorenzo and John Heilprin report, Aid group: W. Africa Ebola outbreak like ‘wartime’. Tarnue Karbbar, working for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams are unable to document all the cases erupting as many of the sick are still being hidden at home by relatives fearful of going to treatment centers. Others are buried before the team gets to the areas. In the last several days, some 75 cases have emerged in the Voinjama district with Karbbar saying the challenge now is “to quarantine the area to successfully break the transmission.” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for World Health Organization in Geneva, said the beds are filling up faster than expected demonstrating that the outbreak is more severe than the number shows. Joanne Liu, the medical charity’s international president, likened the situation to war as the outbreak has continued to move unpredictably telling reporters in Geneva Friday: “We’re running behind a train that is going forward. And it literally is faster than what we’re bringing in terms of a response.” The U.N. health agency Thursday warned that the official count at 1,069 dead and 1,975 infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.” It said extraordinary measures are needed “on a massive scale to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday deciding who receives an experimental drug that could be live saving, ineffective or harmful. Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Sarah DiLorenzo report, Nigeria Confirms 1 More Ebola Case, ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the country late Wednesday, however a day later no one has received the treatment yet which official said would go to three people. The Liberian government said two doctors would receive the treatment, while Information Minister Lewis Brown said Thursday the remaining dose would probably go to another health care worker. These are the last known doses of the drug and San Diego based company who developed it said it would take months to build a modest supply. The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving untested drugs to the sick and deciding who gets the treatments, since two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp with the Spaniard dying within days. According to the U.N. health agency, 50 percent of those infected with Ebola have died. Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who helped Libria obtain the drug, said: “The criteria of selection is difficult, but it is going to be done. We are going to look at how critical people are. We are definitely going to be focusing on medical staff.” Arthur Caplan, director of medial ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the choice of who to treat would have to balance helping the largest number of people with learning the most from the treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department ordered families of embassy personnel to leave Sierra Leone on Thursday as concerns arise that the crisis would make it difficult to receive treatment for routine health problems. Nigeria announced Thursday that another person died from Ebola, bringing the total to four. The Health Ministry said the person was a nurse who helped treat the country’s first Ebola case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer who flew in last month and died. The ministry corrected the number of cases from 11 to 10.

It’s the Little Things that Lead to Big Change

The news ain’t all bad here. Some stories highlight the good deed of a few that are bringing attention to the important issues of this generation and maybe thr next. As the world’s leader continue to struggle to find the answers and some sort of conclusion to the ever growing problems of peace, population, climate change and a plethora of other issues, these individuals have found a way to make their voice heard whether to help others or bring the issues to light. So here we go, some good news to help keep your faith in humanity.
Banana vitamin: Altered to increase Vitamin A levels, super banana saves
According to AOL.com and Agence France-Presse, ‘Super bananas’ may save millions of lives in Africa, Australian researchers are pioneering a new project to enrich bananas with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A in order to provide poor and subsistence farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food. The project, if successful in its mission to grow the special variety in Uganda by 2020, will save million of lives. The Researchers as of June 16 have announced the bananas are being sent to the United States to start the six week trial to measure how well the bananas will raise vitamin A levels in humans.

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In Mexico City, as the world watches with bated breath to see who will win the World Cup, for the past 18 years another kind of soccer championship has been going on. AOL.com reported on the 17 of June about the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired who spend their Sundays traveling from their homes to Mexico City to play the country’s most popular sport. Each team has one sighted player or two visually impaired players who use their eyes on the court, while others wear blindfolds to make sure the match is fair. Without their sight, they rely on sounds the ball makes when it hits the boards or rolls at their feet. The six team league allows a rare chance for the blind and visually impaired community to come together and play their favorite sports while family watches, according to the league president Javier Mosqueda Lomeli.

Ad courtesy of Jim Romenesko

HuffPost’s Eleanor Goldberg’s on June 18 reported the story of a Chinese multimillionaire has decided to come to New York city to tackle the issue of poverty.  In the article, Chinese Mogul To Throw $1 Million Lunch In Central Park For The Poor, Goldberg explains that Chen, a recycling tycoon, wants people to see how generous people are in his country by “taking out a half page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a full-page ad in The New York Times on Monday June 16, inviting people who are struggling in New York City to lunch at Central Park’s Boathouse on June 25, the South China Morning Post reported.” The idea? To spread the message that not all well to do Chinese millionaires are crazy spenders and are good philanthropists, according to the South China Morning Post. The guest list will allow 1,000 people to attend the free meal and will cost $1 million. In addition, diners will get $300 to be used toward occupational training. This is not the first time Chen has created a spectacle to get people talking about important issues. Last January, Chen handed out free cans of fresh air in Beijing to draw attention to the increasing pollution problem reported the Guardian.

ronnie goodman

Another article posted by Eleanor Goldberg of HuffPost, entitled Homeless Artist To Run Half Marathon For Charity That Helps People On The Streets, posted on June 17, tells the story of Ronnie Goodman, as homeless man himself, who has decided to run a 13.1 mile half marathon for charity next month. The 53 year old man has been living under the freeway in San Francisco, according to San Francisco Chronicle, and trains every day to fulfill his dream of running in the event. His fans have stepped up and donated $120 to cover the entry fee for the July race. Instead of using the race to raise money for himself, Goodman has decided to give the money to Hospitality House who has helped him get back on his feet. The organization empowers the homeless and low income people through a number of initiatives including the art program Goodman takes part in. Goodman hopes to raise $25,000 and donors will be entered to win one of his original works. If you would like to help click here.

In an Associate Press story covered on AOL.com entitled Obama Expands Government Benefits For Gay Couples, the article covers the plethora of newly approved benefits allocated to same sex couples granted on June 20 by the Obama administration including those who live in states where gay marriage is against the law. The new measures range from Social Security and veterans benefits to work leave for caring for sick spouses. The effort to expand protections to states that don’t recognize gay marriage have been confounded by laws stating that benefits are conferred only to couples whose marriages are recognized by the state they live in rather than the states where they were married. In order to get around this, the Veterans Affairs Department and Social Security Administration are letting gay people who tell the government they are married to apply for those benefits only allocated to married couples i.e. veterans can now be buried alongside their same sex spouse in the national cemetery and apply for survivor and death benefits regardless of the state they live in. In additions, the Labor Department will start drafting rules that make it possible for gay and lesbian workers to receive unpaid leave to care for a sick spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act. On top of everything else. last week, the Obama administration with support of gay rights advocated has announced he will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Westboro Baptist and Equality House: The Lion and the Lamb

Equality House: Find out more about Planting Peace’s Mission and Westboro Baptist.

Appropriately titled considering the Westboro Baptist church strong stance on almost anything really but especially their holy war so to speak on the LGBT community with their anti-gay sentiments. If you are not familiar with the group let me help you out. The church has a sign hanging outside their church (the building above on the left) that reads, “GodHatesAmerica.com” and a fun fact for all of the newbies out there is the Westboro Baptist church is famous or I should say infamous for their protests of military funerals where they will shout slogan and carry signs within hearing or seeing distance while the funeral is underway making an already very unfortunate situation worse. Their slogans range from stick figures having sex to “God hates fags” or “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The church as well as its founder have become infamous for their protests and media attention drowning out their opposition however they can. Many groups have tried to drown out the noise with singing or their own peace loving slogans, but my favorite would be the group of bikers who showed up to a funeral of a soldiers whose young bride was scared of the group and already distraught over the death of her husband. In order to shield her from the verbal onslaught, the bikers drowned out the noise by revving the engine of their motorcycle cleverly protecting the young woman from the abuse. Apparently, several groups of bikers have made it their mission to show up to these funerals and the latest promise was for the Sandy Hook victims funerals in order to protect the innocent from the Westboro Baptist members.

The newest group who have decided to take on the church just happened to buy a house across the street…their name, Equality House, and Planting Peace’s mission is to directly challenge teachings of the church. How can he do this? Simple he has turned the house into a giant gay flag painted in bright colors with prime viewing directly across the street from the church. Aaron Jackson, one of the founders of Planting Peace, a charity that wears many hats in the past focused on rainforest conservation, opening orphanages and deworming programs, bought the house six months ago in Topeka, Kansas, and on March 19 the team of volunteers painted the house to match the gay pride flag. Jackson told the Huff Post about why he purchased the house:

“I read a story about Josef Miles, a 10-year-old kid who counter-protested the Westboro Baptist Church by holding the sign that says ‘God Hates No One.’ I didn’t know anything about the church or where they were located, but that story kept popping up. And one night I wondered, Where is this church? I got on Google Earth, and I was ‘walking down the road,’ and I did a 360 view. And I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign sitting in the front yard of a house. Right away it hit me, Oh my gosh, I could buy a house in front of the WBC! And immediately I thought: And I’m going to paint that thing the color of the pride flag. The reason I haven’t gotten into the gay rights activism is because, in a sense, it’s almost silly — it’s 2013, are we really still in this position? It just seems ludicrous,” he said. “But it is a real issue and kids are killing themselves. I’ve wanted to do something, and I knew when I saw that house for sale that it all came together. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a little crazy and there’s no red tape in my charity. When I want to do something, I do it.”

Jackson, according to Huff Post, believes the Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps family is well aware of his presence in the town and expecting some sort of action as he has already encounter members of the group and the Phelps family who has run the church since 1956. Surprisingly enough, he told the Huff Post that the family member have been quite pleasant toward him especially Shirley Phelps, the daughter of the church leader Fred Phelps, but Jackson has already seen several church member taking photos of the house especially the industrial flagpole he installed  that is in direct line of site of the Westboro Baptist Church’s pole that flies the pride flag and American flag upside down. The mission according to Jackson will be for Equality house not just to be symbol but take the negative attention of the Westboro Baptist Church and make it a positive by teaching people where there is hate, there is love. One last thought on the subject from Jackson himself reported by the Huff Post: “I love seeing all of these Republicans and all these people who have been anti-gay all this time jumping ship because they know they’re on the wrong side of history. It’s an amazing thing to see. I know we have a long way to go in fighting bigotry, but we all know the gays are going to win. It’s going to happen.”

Ari Fleischer Says He’ll Give Less To Charity Because Of New Limits On Tax Breaks

Ari Fleischer Charity Tax Break

And we thought we avoided the fiscal cliff. Well we avoided the major cliff but now we have some mini cliffs to deal with one to address is charitable donations. Legislation passed by the Senate late Tuesday night will limit the amount wealthy people can claim for charitable deductions on their taxes. While some say donors shouldn’t be motivated by the amount of money they can write off, others –- including some nervous nonprofits –- argue that tax breaks for charitable giving should have been left untouched in the deal.

This is ridiculous since if you want to help help without exceptions like a higher tax write off. Is this guy going to feel the crunch if he can’t deduct as much? It appears not just our government is selfish but other special interest like non-profits and the wealthy are trying to get in on the act. These people again need to realize that the people who are going to get hurt in this scenario are those people who need the help and let’s be frank the people these kind of people make money off of everyday.