Archive for November, 2015

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Grand Rapids Transit Chief is paid too much

ATUGR_BudgetGrand Rapids transit chief Peter Varga’s boost in pay while bus riders get stuck with an unprecedented 16.1% fare increase, and workers are stripped of retirement security has now come under public scrutiny. Varga is the highest compensated transit head in the state of Michigan by a long shot and makes more than the Grand Rapid city manager. Local 836 has been in a contract battle and is taking the Rapid back to court saying management continues to violate their right to free speech. This comes after an August court ruling stopped The Rapid from interfering with the Union’s distribution of flyers that criticize the bus system. Stay tuned for updates. Read more.

Boston bus driver diffuses potentially

MBTA_BusDriverA 21-year veteran MBTA bus driver is being hailed as a hero after he diffused a tense situation on his bus with a troubled rider who is a war veteran. The veteran got on his bus on Veterans Day and pulled out a hatchet saying he was going to take hostages. The driver talked with the veteran to calm him down and found out he was homeless. The driver convinced the man to let the passengers go. The driver changed his route to where he knew police would be. When the driver saw police he jumped off to alert police who then talked to the troubled veteran by thanking him for his service and took him to get help.  Read more.

Social media awash with the French Tricolor in solidarity with France

The National Gallery is lit up in the colors of the French flag in solidarity with France after the deadly attacks in Paris, in London, on Nov. 14, 2015. (Matt Dunham / AP Photo)

The National Gallery is lit up in the colors of the French flag in solidarity with France after the deadly attacks in Paris, in London, on Nov. 14, 2015. (Matt Dunham / AP Photo)

LONDON — Social media was awash Saturday in the red, white and blue of the French flag as people worldwide expressed their solidarity with a nation in mourning in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris.

Users of Facebook shaded their profile pictures in the French Tricolor, and on Twitter and Instagram, people posted vacation photos, teardrops and a peace symbol with the Eiffel Tower inscribed in the centre as they expressed their grief over the carnage.

People also harnessed the power of social media in the search for their missing loved ones as Parisians desperate to get in touch with family and friends missing since Friday’s wave of gun and bomb attacks posted heart-breaking messages and photos under the hashtag .rechercheparis — Paris Search.

Scores remain unaccounted for in the aftermath of the co-ordinated attacks on a rock concert, a soccer stadium, bars, restaurants and other popular nightspots that killed at least 129 people.

“Waleed is missing,” read one post. “We last contacted him at the match, Please share & contact me if u have any info. .rechercheParis.”

“I’ve been looking for my cousin since last night,” read another. “He’s 25 and 1m75. He’s called Younes. .rechercheParis.”

The photos and messages garnered hundreds of retweets from users eager to help in the search for survivors.

Across the globe, people joined in to offer sympathy and share a nation’s pain. Many posted the poignant video of the Eiffel Tower — the beacon of the City of Light — going to black in memory of the dead.

Some of the world’s most recognizable buildings and monuments — the Sydney Opera House, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, One World Trade Center in New York, the Mexican Senate — were shaded in the colours of the French flag.

Sports teams also expressed their solidarity. The Washington Capitals splashed the red, white and blue of the Tricolor across the team’s ice rink before Friday night’s game against the Calgary Flames. “The National Anthem is playing, but tonight our thoughts are with Paris,” a caption on the Capitals Twitter feed read.

The images and sentiment, shared under the hashtags .prayforparis or .parisattacks, mirrored the outpouring of emotion that followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks 10 months ago.

One of the most shared was a peace symbol by Jean Jullien, a French graphic designer living in London, that showed a stark image of the Eiffel Tower rising in the centre of a peace sign.

Jullien said the design came to him by simple association of Paris and peace.

“I was overwhelmed that so many people used it,” he said in an email to the Associated Press. “It’s a communication tool for people to share their solidarity. It’s a message for peace.”

Courtesy of CTV News

 

ISIS expresses fury over French airstrikes in Syria; France says they will continue

This photo released on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows a French army Mirage 2000 jet on the tarmac of an undisclosed air base as part of France's Operation Chammal launched in September 2015 in support of the US-led coalition against Islamic State group. (French Air Force/ECPAD via AP)

This photo released on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows a French army Mirage 2000 jet on the tarmac of an undisclosed air base as part of France’s Operation Chammal launched in September 2015 in support of the US-led coalition against Islamic State group. (French Air Force/ECPAD via AP)

NEW YORK — The Islamic State group on Saturday expressed fury at France’s recently launched airstrikes against it in Syria as it claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks in Paris. The airstrikes have hit training camps and reflect France’s fears that hundreds of French fighters in Syria and Iraq could return home and, as President Francois Hollande put it last month, “plant bombs in our country.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Saturday told French television TF1 that France’s fight in Syria will continue.

Many details about Friday’s attacks remain unclear, including how long the co-ordinated assault had been planned.

Here is a look at recent French action in Syria:

NEW AIRSTRIKES TARGET CAMPS, OIL FACILITIES

The Paris attack comes less than a week after France’s military said a French airstrike had targeted an oil distribution centre in Syria controlled by Islamic State militants in an attempt to cut a crucial source of the group’s funding.

The Islamic State’s online statement Saturday on the Paris attacks specifically mentioned France’s airstrike campaign, launched less than two months ago.

“The stench of death will not leave their noses as long as they remain at the forefront of the Crusaders’ campaign, dare to curse our prophet, boast of a war on Islam in France, and strike Muslims in the lands of the caliphate with warplanes,” the statement said.

France joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq last year and expanded its campaign to Syria in late September, starting with a five-hour attack by jet fighters on a training camp in the eastern part of the country.

In announcing the strikes on Sept. 27, Hollande told reporters that the strikes, and others to come, were aimed at “protecting our territory, cutting short terrorist actions, acting in legitimate defence.”

AIRCRAFT CARRIER NOW BEING DEPLOYED

Also this month, Hollande announced that France will deploy an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to assist in the fight against the Islamic State group in both Iraq and Syria.

He didn’t say when the carrier, which will boost the air power of the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes, will leave the French Mediterranean port of Toulon.

France already has 12 jet fighters based in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan involved in the operations. Two of the Jordan-based jets carried out the Nov. 8 strike against the oil distribution centre controlled by the Islamic State group near Deir ez-Zor, in eastern Syria.

The French government has insisted that while it is part of the U.S.-led coalition, France is deciding independently who and what to hit in Syria.

600 FRENCH NATIONALS ESTIMATED IN SYRIA, IRAQ

In an interview last month with French broadcaster RTL, Hollande acknowledged French airstrikes on other Islamic State camps in Raqqa, the capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate, and elsewhere in Syria, saying “there are terrorists training to lead the fight in Syria but can also plant bombs in our country.”

He repeated his government’s estimate that there are 600 French nationals in the “combat zones” in Syria and Iraq who could return to France with the potential to carry out attacks at home.

FRANCE’S TOUGH LINE ON ASSAD

Until launching the airstrike campaign, France had held back on engaging in Syria, citing concern over playing into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s hand and the need for such action to be covered by international law.

But Hollande on Sept. 7 announced France’s intention to start airstrikes in Syria, days after the photo of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy on a Turkish beach galvanized concern about Syrian refugees fleeing to save their lives.

In addition to the military moves, France has remained insistent that Assad must go — a stronger stance than that of the United States, which recently has tamped down demands for Assad’s quick departure.

“The future of Syria cannot (include President) Bashar Assad,” Hollande said in announcing France’s airstrike campaign.

 

Death toll in Paris attacks hits 129; another 352 hurt

PARIS — Three teams of extremists carried out the coordinated gun-and-suicide bombing attacks across Paris that left 129 people dead and 352 injured, a French prosecutor said Saturday.

Paris Terror attack

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said 99 of the injured were in critical condition after the “act of barbarism.” He said the attackers in the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people died, mentioned Syria and Iraq during their deadly rampage.

French President Francois Hollande has vowed that France will wage “merciless” war on the Islamic State group, after the jihadists claimed responsibility for the attacks Friday night.

Grief, alarm and resolve spread across Europe on Saturday as officials raced to piece together information on the seven attackers. Officials said one was a young Frenchman known to the authorities. In addition, a Syrian passport found near the body of another attacker was linked to a man who entered the European Union through a Greek island last month.

Canadians in France: For emergency assistance, contact consular officials at sos@international.gc.ca or call collect at 1-613-996-8885

Attackers launched gun attacks at Paris cafes, detonated suicide bombs near France’s national stadium and killed hostages inside a concert hall during a rock show — an attack on the heart of the pulsing City of Light.

“These places are the places we visit every week,” said Ahsan Naeem, a 39-year-old filmmaker who has lived in Paris for seven years. “Streets we walk every day … All those places will have been full of my people. My friends. My acquaintances.”

Hollande, who declared three days of national mourning and raised the nation’s security to its highest level, called the carnage “an act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help.”

The president said France would increase its military efforts to crush IS. He said France — which is part of a U.S.-led coalition bombing suspected IS targets in Syria and Iraq and also has troops fighting militants in Africa — “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group.”

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in an online statement in Arabic and French circulated by supporters. It was not immediately possible to confirm the authenticity of the admission, which bore the group’s logo and resembled previous verified statements from the group.

The statement mocked France’s involvement in air attacks on suspected IS bases in Syria and Iraq, noting that France’s air power was “of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris.”

Many of Paris’s top tourist attractions closed down Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Disneyland theme park east of the capital. Some 3,000 troops were deployed to help restore order and reassure a frightened populace.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that all public demonstrations would be banned until Thursday and local governments would have the option to impose nightly curfews.

The attacks, on an unusually balmy November Friday evening, struck at the heart of Parisian life: diners in cafes, concertgoers watching a rock band, spectators at a soccer match.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the places attacked are ones Parisians love — and ones where they celebrate diversity.

“It is this Paris that was hit. Probably because this example of living together, which is so strong in our city, is unbearable for fanatical people,” she said.

Parisians expressed shock, disgust and defiance in equal measure. Some areas were quiet, but hundreds queued outside a hospital near the Bataclan concert hall to donate blood. As a shrine of flowers expanded along the sidewalk, a lone guitarist sang John Lennon’s peace ballad “Imagine.”

Authorities said eight attackers died, seven in suicide bombings, a new terror tactic in France. Police said they shot and killed the other assailant.

Molins, the prosecutor, said all the suicide attackers wore identical explosives vests.

Authorities in Belgium conducted raids in a Brussels neighborhood Saturday and made three arrests linked to the Paris attacks. Justice Minister Koen Geens told the VRT network that the arrests came after a car with Belgian license plates was seen close to the Bataclan theater.

Officials in Greece said the Syrian passport found in Paris had shown its owner entering in October through Leros, one of the islands that tens of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Syria and elsewhere have been using as a gateway into the European Union.

If the attack does involve militants who traveled to Europe amid millions of refugees from the Middle East, the implications could be profound.

Poland’s prospective minister for European affairs, Konrad Szymanski, said that in light of the attacks, Poland would not comply with an EU plan to accept refugees unless it received “guarantees of security.”

The attack brought an immediate tightening of borders as Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced renewed border checks. Germany also stepped up border checks.

The militants launched six gun and bomb attacks in rapid succession on apparently indiscriminate civilian targets.

Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national Stade de France stadium, in the north of the capital, where Hollande was watching a France-Germany soccer match. Fans inside the stadium recoiled at the sound of explosions, but the match continued.

Around the same time, fusillades of bullets shattered the clinking of wine glasses in a trendy Paris neighborhood as gunmen targeted a string of crowded cafes.

The attackers next stormed the Bataclan concert hall, which was hosting the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal. They opened fire on the panicked audience and took members hostage. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot.

Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor’s office said.

Video shot posted by newspaper Le Monde Saturday captured some of that horror as dozens of people fled from gunfire outside the Bataclan.

At least one person lies writhing on the ground as scores more stream past, some bloodied or limping. The camera pans down the street to reveal more fleeing people dragging two bodies along the ground. A woman and two others can be seen clinging to upper-floor balcony railings in an desperate bid to stay out of the line of fire.

Le Monde said its reporter Daniel Psenney filed the scene from his apartment balcony, and was shot in the arm when he went downstairs to help someone who had collapsed.

A tall, sturdy 38-year-old concert-goer named Sylvain collapsed in tears as he recounted the attack, the chaos and his escape during a lull in gunfire.

“First I heard explosions, and I thought it was firecrackers,” he said.

“Very soon I smelled powder, and I understood what was happening. There were shots everywhere, in waves. I lay down on the floor. I saw at least two shooters, but I heard others talk. They cried, ‘It’s Hollande’s fault.’ I heard one of the shooters shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,'” Sylvain told The Associated Press.

He spoke on condition that his full name not be used out of concern for his safety.

The Paris carnage was the worst in a series of attacks claimed by the Islamic State in the past three days. On Thursday, twin suicide bombings in Beirut killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200, and 26 people died Friday in Baghdad in a suicide blast and a roadside bombing that targeted Shiites.

The militant group also said it bombed a Russian plane that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, killing 224 people.

IS also suffered significant reversals this week, with Kurdish forces launching an offensive to retake the strategic Iraqi city of Sinjar and the U.S. military saying it had likely killed Mohammed Emwazi, the masked British-accented militant known as “Jihadi John” who is seen in grisly IS beheading videos.

France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died in those attacks, including three shooters.

French authorities are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals who have traveled to Syria and returned home with skills to mount attacks.

“The big question on everyone’s mind is: Were these attackers — if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria — were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters?” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert.

 

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day (sometimes known as Poppy Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919,[1] the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.[2]

The memorial evolved out of Armistice Day, which continues to be marked on the same date. The initial Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic”[3] during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning.

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields”. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I; their brilliant red colour became a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.image

Union Meeting

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Syracuse bus driver’s cell phone stops bullet 


SyracuseDriver_cellWhat are the chances of a cell phone stopping a stray bullet headed for a bus driver’s chest? About one in a billion according to Centro, Syracuse’s transit system. But that’s exactly what happened when a Centro bus driver and another man were caught in the crossfire of a shooting at an intersection. A cellphone came between the 64-year old driver and the possibly fatal bullet that smashed through his windshield. A “higher power: was certainly watching over the driver, as he was not injured at all. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing. Read more.

Calgary transit workers, city pull bus for charity

ATU members and locals are well known for holding charitable activities like the “StuffCalgaryTransit_buspull the Bus” food drives and other events each year. In Calgary, AB, Calgary transit workers and city of Calgary employees compete each year to pull a 13-ton bus across a finish line in the fastest time – all to support the United Way. For the fourth year in a row the waste and recycling workers won the bus pull, but more importantly they raised more that $1,500 for United Way. Keep up the great work.

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