Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Boycott Toxic Swaps

Protesting Toxic Swaps Ain't Gonna Do ...
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union is protesting toxic interest rate swaps that they say have cost the city over $100 million.

At last month's Chicago Board of Education meeting, union reps said the board of education should file for arbitration to potentially get back $440 million on the grounds that the banks did not deal fairly with the district, Substance News reported.

Now, first and foremost, kudos to the CTU for raising this issue loud and clear - how the banks who entered into fraudulent interest rate swaps are now bankrupting cities across the country.

But to ask the very people who represent the banks - government officials such as CPS board trustees appointed by the mayor - is like asking the wolf to stop sneaking into the hen house at night.

Sorry, ain't gonna happen!

Now let's look at the protesting. 

Protesting is a funny thing. I used to be marching up and down streets when I first got involved with this union when I saw the previous leadership was doing little to stop the privatization of the schools more than 10 years ago.

I also marched the streets to protest our wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.

You feel good to be involved in a fight for something better.

But then I took a closer look at the organizers and decided something wasn't quite right.

In the case of protesting two disastrous wars, I noticed that the big organizer of the first Iraq War was the democrat party. When it came to protesting President Barak Obama's Afghanistan War, not many people were marching the streets. Suddenly, it was the democrat's war and no longer was there any massive organized resistance (I still protested with scores of true blue anti-war people!).

In the case of protesting school closings, it felt good to finally do real active union work that had seemingly been neglected under the previous administration.

And in many ways, it worked. Suddenly, the city under former mayor Richard Daley (remember him?) had to acknowledge the unfairness of supporting charter schools at the expense of funding neighborhood schools. God, they had to actually address that question that the old union was supposed to have assured the mayor would not be a problem.

But, the city under the neo-liberal blanket regrouped and have been on the offensive ever since.

The CTU organized school protests, and yet the next mayor Rahm Emanuel still closed a record 50 schools!

How did that happen?

I once again looked at the organizers and tried to answer that question. I see that the mayor was on a 'mission' from the 1% to destroy public education. The fight was real. 

The CTU earlier went on strike and gained some concessions - the mayor fought back and closed 50 schools.

The protests did nothing!

So now the CTU, along with two other unions, is protesting Loop Capital, that has extracted "through risky interest rate swap deals" over $100 million from the city's public schools.

Again, they are asking that the city of Chicago renegotiate the loans and alleviate the funding crisis. 

Do you think Mayor Emanuel will have a change of heart and listen?

Hell no!

Especially when the CTU is endorsing democrats who are rubber stamping these toxic swap deals and not demanding the banks do anything.

May it be because many of these officials get political donations from the very funds that rip off the city? Mike Madigan? Pat Quinn? All CTU endorsed politicians, all receiving big bucks from hedge funds and other investment interest groups.

If the CTU was serious about challenging the toxic loans, they would organize their 29,000 + members to boycott Chase Bank or Bank of America, who are up to their ears in setting up toxic loans that have helped to bankrupt municipalities across the country.

Believe me, money talks!

That is, if the organizers are really serious about the fight. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Flowers to Give!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia)As school students are returning to school on the first of September, a Russian teacher has sparked off an intensely emotional and at times angry debate over     whether the custom of students presenting teachers with flowers is justified!

The Russian tradition of giving flowers to teachers on the first day of school September 1 is being challenged! (Photo courtesy of Russian Life)

             Foreign observers who visit some Russian schools are often non-plussed by the relative respectability school children still pay their teachers. Yes, amazing as it may seem, in some parts of the World school teachers still command respect!

             For instance, when a teacher enters a classroom school students swiftly stand up. After the lesson, school students can eagerly beg to mop the dirty blackboard for the teacher and on the 1st of September they bring the teachers flowers.

             But that custom could end if a flashmob gets its way. For over the past weeks a teacher, Asya Shtyin, has been actively attempting to dissuade parents from buying           flowers for teachers. Asya is proposing to organise some kind of boycotting of this custom by means of a flashmob demonstration under slogans such as 'Living children instead of dead flowers' or simply 'Flowers of life!'

             The  logic behind the campaign is that 'Why should we purchase all those exorbitantly expensive bouquets when we can spend the money on better causes such as a charity for sick children or a homeless person?'  Isn't spending money on flowers which
teachers don't really need or want an extravagant waste of money? 'A lot of teachers who get those flowers simply throw them into the school bin!' argues Asya Shtyin. The money would be better spent not on dead flowers, but on living children who may be treated for illness,or purchasing a portable respiratory machine, etc'.

             Asya has certainly succeeded in catching the attention of the public if not quite persuading many parents.

             For example, a local Moscow newspaper with a huge circulation carried a story with her views and a colleague of mine, Russian English teacher Oksana Chebotareva
received her request to send her message on to some parents. Oksana expressed mixed feeling about this.

             Like many teachers and parents she resents how florists often speculate on this day by driving up the prices of roses by three times the normal price. Almost every time on the 1st September the price soars up only to suddenly plummet on the 7th of September. Who needs flowers which quickly die the next day? Svetlana Wilson (whose first name happens to mean flower in Russian!) stated that, 'I 'm almost certain that teachers would prefer to just be handed money instead of flowers. You can have a stupid situation where one primary teacher gets 20 bouquets. What does she do with them all? She can't take     them all home? '

             Oksana argues 'it is too cynical to claim that all those flowers are thrown in the school bin. In fact, the teacher often hands those flowers to other members of staff who     don't have them'.

             Svetlana Wilson states, 'What is wrong with giving flowers?

             It is up to the school-children. Let them decide. Some children get pleasure in giving their favourite teachers flowers. My daughter Anna wants to give her history teacher flowers to show her affection and appreciation!

             Of course, there will always be a teacher who doesn't like getting a bouquet of flowers because he or she finds it a hassle to bring them home or wants to drop into the nearest bookshop for a browse. They can be too cumbersome and awkward to carry home. But are they always expensive and do they always die on the next day?  It depends on where and whom you buy them from.

             It is possible to buy good flowers at a very cheap price if you look hard or are lucky to meet an illegal street vendor who has fresher flowers than in the florists.

             Haggling the price does not seem to be an option as Moscow, unlike Greece or Croatia, lacks a haggling culture. You can buy a bouquet for as little as 200 rubles as opposed to 1000 rubles (30 dollars).

             You might ask 'What is all the great fuss about? Are not the flashpower mob making a storm out of a tea cup?'

             After all, the 1st of September is only once a year. It may be that education in Russia is becoming increasingly expensive as parents are expected to pay more and       more for uniforms, notebooks, school uniforms and even repairing schools which is the duty of the government. At present we are witnessing parents taking schools to court for insisting they pay for repairs as this violates an article in the Russian constitution which stipulates school education must be free.

             Aleksi Terekhov does not agree with Aysa. He argues, 'Why should we be forced to either give flowers to teachers or charity? Why can't we do both?

             Teach children to help the needy, bring them up to develop the habit of giving to charity. This is correct.

             But the first day at school must be a celebration. Flowers are one of the attributes of a celebration.

             In addition, many children want to give teachers presents. For them it is important. Charity must be of an extra nature instead of some other activity. 

             The conclusion to draw is not to abandon the custom of giving flowers. You could get children to organise a jumble sale to raise money to buy a stove for needy people and also continue to give teachers flowers'.

             Presenting flowers to teachers on the 1st of September should not be perceived as a casual or stiff formality. 

             It is much more. It conveys deep, profound and sincere symbolism. It demonstrates one of those rare things of our time which is respect, reverence and homage to teachers. In a gift-giving culture in Russia giving flowers is not an empty ritual or stale habit but actually an act of loving respect to the teacher. So it is illogical to argue that we will become more charitable to the needy by being less charitable to teachers. A lot of Russian teachers are so low-paid, overworked and abused that they would themselves fall into a needy group. Does it make sense to pay Peter by robbing Paul?

             However, there may be long-term effects which abandoning this custom may carry. The flashmob has not fully considered the future status of teachers. By abandoning this custom, school students might well begin to respect teachers even less and less.  It also seems so mean not to give a teacher flowers at least once a year! If we abandon this great custom, then 1st of September will lose part of its captivating aura and just become another banal and humdrum day.

             That would be lamentable to say the least.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Raise the Bar!

Let's Raise the Bar if You're Failing!
By Jim Vail

Have you ever watched the high jump performance in the Olympics? Where the athlete runs and then springs up and arches his body over the pole. 

If he or she makes it over the pole, they raise it a bit higher to see who can jump the highest.

However, in the land of the Chicago Public Schools, if you missed your mark, they still raise the bar and make you jump even higher.

Call it whatever you want - Common Core, education reform, tougher standards. It's all designed by the corporate sector to destroy the public schools by continuing to place impossible demands on its struggling students.

You would think that in a city where over half of its student body drops out of high school, more resources and services would be devoted to helping these adolescents make it.

But in today's world, those resources are being cut back, while more rigorous tests are being developed to make sure more and more students fail, or so it seems.

It's all masked under the term "College and Career Readiness!"

There is nothing in the Common Core to address the students who need specialized services.  There is nothing in the Common Core to address the students who are just learning English.

In the city of Chicago, that's a lot of students. And that's a big problem.

But the schools and teachers are all being told it is your fault if these kids do not pass these increasingly difficult tests.

Now we have the new Parcc - Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers assessment. 

In the spirit of Substance News, which went to battle with the previous mayor over publishing test exam questions on the infamous Case exam and had its editor fired and blacklisted from teaching, we at Second City Teachers would like to publish some of the 8th grade questions on this test for adults to sample.

And I'll bet we will realize these tests are designed to make sure even more students fail in this new global age.

That way they can blow things up - just as our government is doing in Iraq and Seria, while threatening the rest of the world.

It's a war on the people - whether it takes the form of a drone, or a standardized test. And we the people need to wake up and opt out of this madness and fight back!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

CTU Gloats about Gov. Quinn

CTU Proud of Gov. Quinn Endorsement
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she is proud that Gov. Pat Quinn has been formally endorsed by the union after an interesting debate in the house of delegates two weeks ago.

"I am proud CTU's rank-and-file has made Governor Quinn their choice to lead Illinois," Lewis stated in a press release. "He is a consensus builder, will support public school educators and will continue his work to strengthen public education in Illinois and protect working families. Governor Quinn believes in public schools and I know he will fight to make sure every child has a great education."


This endorsement, while a majority of delegates voted in favor to back Quinn, came after activists in CORE pointed out that this democratic governor has repeatedly "stabbed the union in the back," such as when he signed punitive municipal pension legislation that the union calculated would wipe out up to one-third of a future retiree's pension.

Quinn also chose the union's first public enemy, Paul Vallas, to be his running mate. Even though some delegates pointed out that the lieutenant governor is not as important a position, Quinn made it clear the democrats are no friends of unions by choosing Vallas.

Vallas served as the head of the Chicago Public Schools under former Mayor Richard Daley. He immediately went to battle with the union by firing many African American educators and administrators, outsourcing and privatizing a lot of services and implementing high stakes testing. He has helped destroy public schools in other urban districts such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport.

Lewis of course blasted challenger Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire republican hedge fund candidate who is more honest about the fact that he hates unions and would like to further cut public school spending.

The press release further claimed that Rauner was the master mind behind bringing Stand for Children to Illinois. 

Stand for Children, which helped craft the SB7 bill (signed into law by Gov. Quinn) to cut back on the union's seniority rights and tie teacher ratings to high stakes tests, worked with many democrats to implement the education reform agenda.

The CTU press release states that Quinn has "a strong record of fighting to improve education" by claiming he has increased education funding by $2.2 billion, increased the number of students taking AP exams (really?), and made higher education more accessible (indeed, as costs continue to rise!).

 Illinois is one of the worst states when it comes to funding public schools.

The sad fact is most information is controlled by those at the top making deals to sell out the rest of us. When the CTU issues a glowing press release endorsement of how Gov. Quinn is a wise choice, they are fooling teachers and other CTU members who otherwise may not know the dark side to who this candidate really is.

The fact that the CTU may believe this democratic candidate is better than the republican should not include issuing half facts and misleading information about the candidate they chose to endorse.

When the CTU wants to protest school closings, privatization via charter schools, unfair pension cuts - just look at the candidate they endorsed. Gov. Quinn stands behind all that because the corporations give him the money to do it.

But to lie to your members, and make this democrat out to be the perfect candidate the teachers vote for, the credibility of this union loses, as more and more people begin to figure out that those who are responsible for destroying our public education system include the politicians we proudly endorse.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish Independence Vote!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - 
              'Don't leave us. We love you' plead an almost desperate British Prime Minister after arriving in Edinburgh in an attempt to woo Scottish voters who appear to have become more inclined to vote for Independence on September 18th. According to some reports, the publication of a 'You government internet poll', for the first time, revealed that as many as 51% of Scottish voters would vote for independence from England in the coming Referendum. The revelations of  the poll sent those in Westminister into a state of 'panic'. The Queen was reported to be very worried. 

              Meanwhile, in Moscow, many Russian journalists appear to have been jubilant and       pleased with the news. Maybe it will humble the British interference in Ukraine! If the Scots do in deed vote for independence, it would mean David Cameron would lose his job and a constitutional crisis might arise.

              An earthquake would erupt, not only humiliating Britain but psychologically, profoundly and utterly shattering it.

              Why all the fuss you might think? Can any credence really be granted to what might be a freak opinion poll? Judging by the mood of some, opinion polls can be taken seriously.

              While all the previous pollsters have never put the 'Yes' vote above 38% (except one by the Panel Base ICM which found 48%) the You government found 51% said 'Yes'.

              One analyse of the polls would suggest as many as one third of Scots are 'undecided' though others consider the figure to be only one out of seven.The Scottish nationalists appear to be elated, euphoric and excited about the findings.

              Professor John Curtis, a lecturer in political science at Strathclyde University is not so complacent. He tends to be more cautious and guarded about jumping to rash conclusions. He is my former teacher of statistics and research methods and has been observing the polls for maybe more than 30 years. He stated, 'Opinion polls have a profound influence on the atmosphere of a campaign. If they suggest one side is well ahead, the media loses interest. The politicians get less space and perhaps air-time while some voters decide that the result is a foregone conclusion and might as well stay at home.

              If on the other hand the polls suggest the result will be a close one, the media gets excited. The campaign gets more coverage and voters are persuaded it might be worth turning up to vote  after all'.

              Yet people have short memories. An opinion poll which suggested that over 50% of Scots wanted full independence before the General election in 1992 was discredited by
the fact the Nationalists obtained abysmal results.

              Mairi Koroleva, an academic who is a specialist in Scottish culture stated, 'The You government poll might just indicate two things; that most people who use the internet and are young tend to vote for Independence'. After all, the survey was conducted via the Internet. So since the sample of the population may or may not have been fully representative of the Scots (it is too small a sample and its methodology of relying on the internet does less justice to the older Scots who don't use the internet and tend to be in the 'No' camp we can't be complacent.) In other words, it is too premature for the nationalists to open the champagne bottles!


              What the polls do seem to more accurately reflect are how deeply divided the Scots are on many issues. Scotland is plagued by deep divisions between the rich and poor, north and south, those with socialist leanings and those with liberal. For instance, my own family is divided over whether to vote for independence. My mother claims 'It will lead to bad relations between England and Scotland and a lot of trouble for us. What currency would we use?'

              While two of my brothers ae going to vote 'Yes', my younger one is so unsure he is wavering between voting 'yes' and 'no'.

              The recent 'you poll' has injected some excitement into what has been a rather dull, dreary and predictable affair. One Scot complained in a recent television debate 'Is that all Scots care about, their financial affairs?' For the debate often resembled an argument between two accountants trying to show how they could better balance the books. In other words would we be better or worse off by 500 pounds each after independence?

              Why is the 'yes' vote more popular than anticipated ? There are a number of reasons. The 'Yes' vote has campaigned very professionally and convincingly. It is difficult to see how they could have conducted the campaign any better. The rising support also indicates how many Scots feel alienated by a government who never listens to them and always attempts to privatise just about anything. The Scots don't want to endorse an  unbridled free market nor do they want to pay for their health and education. In fact, they
envy Norway and Denmark's generous welfare state and ask 'Why can't  we emulate it?' Other Scots resent the fact they are asked to support unpopular oversea wars and want to pull out of NATO .' Look how NATO has ruined Ukraine and Iraq? Why do we have to be part of it?' This disaffection and antipathy to Britain's pro-American and NATO policies is not understood or respected by officials in London.

              Many Russians welcome the break-up of Britain. They offer all kinds of reasons. For example, one student, tired of hearing self-righteous sermons from David Cameron over Ukraine, stated, 'It would teach Britain a lesson'. Other reasons given are much more pragmatic.' It would be easier for Russians to get a visa and visit Scotland. The Scots are less hostile to Russians than the English'. I'm not sure that claim can be sustained. It may turn out to be wishful thinking than anything else.

              So it appears that Ukraine is not the only state which has deep national problems. Although the United Kingdom might or might not fall apart on Sept. 18, the           British government still has to make more of an effort to listen not only to disagreeable voices from Russia but also north of the border. Even the United Kingdom can't be fully taken for granted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Swim Coach is Back!

Falsely Accused Lane Tech Coach Back in Class!
By Jim Vail

Lane Tech teacher and former girls swim coach Paul Rummelhoff is back in the classroom after being under investigation for the past nine months.

The Lane Tech High School swim coach who was falsely accused of having sex with a female swimmer and was under investigation for the past nine months has been reinstated as the math teacher at Lane Tech High School.

He just began his first day of school this week on Monday, September 15.

"It feels great to be back," Paul Rummelhoff told Second City Teachers. "I can get on with my life."

While the "distinguished" math teacher (the highest rating given under the teacher evaluation system called Reach) is back in the classroom, he cannot coach.

"Right now I want to concentrate on my main job that is teaching," he said. 

Rummelhoff has a two-year-old daughter and his wife is expecting their second child early next year. He said rather than spending the 20 - 30 hours coaching the girls swim team this year, he will be concentrating on his young family.

"I can use that time now to help my wife and even take classes to obtain a masters," he said.  

However, Rummelhoff said he will be allowed to ask for an "amendment" in the future so that he could be reinstated as a coach should he choose to do so.

The former Lane Tech girls swim coach said he was issued a warning resolution for texting students and 'unauthorized tutoring.'

"I stopped and talked to students while I was coaching and that was 'unauthorized tutoring," Rummelhoff said. "One girl said I had tutored her before or after lunch. It was not formal tutoring, it was just answering questions about the homework or explaining something in class during the practice."

Rummelhoff said he thinks the Chicago Public Schools had to come up with something to justify keeping the Lane Tech math teacher out of the classroom since January, even after the Department of Children and Family Services found the teacher and coach innocent of the charges.

The Lane Tech teacher said he believes the decision could have been to spite the parents who spoke up in his defense at a board of education meeting last month, in addition to the media he generated on his behalf.

Second City Teacher news blog first reported in April that he was totally exonerated of all charges and yet was still not allowed to teach. This story created a lot of buzz in his defense via social media, and a CBS TV news report in July featured interviews with the parents who wanted him back as their coach because he was innocent. 

Rummelhoff said the CPS investigator Hal Ardel, who tried to get him to admit he was having sex with a female swimmer, had followed up with a few soft questions about tutoring students during his practices right when the parents were speaking out at the board meeting demanding his return. He said he thinks the timing was obvious.

"The fact that the parents were pushing this moved the process along," he said.

The exonerated teacher also said he will contact the news station that first ran the story to run a follow up report. He said he thinks many people who watched his name in the news believed he was a sexual predator. He said he will also try to have Google clear his name so that a search will not immediately show the accusations, but rather the final verdict of "Not Guilty!"

Rummelhoff said he could understand CPS's reason to keep him away from the girls swim team for a bit because of the controversy that happened. 

"They want to get you to quit," Rummelhoff said. "It could have been another year of being investigated until you resign. Then they could say he resigned while under investigation. That's how they deal with problems from the teachers; they ignore it long enough until it goes away."

Rummelhoff said while he is happy to be back in the classroom, it will be unfortunate for the girls on the swim team that he cannot coach.

"I want to continue teaching," Rummelhoff said. "I just feel sorry for the students who were looking forward to my return."      

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ukrainian Crisis on Hold

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) A tensely, brooding and at times broken cease-fire has been established since Friday the 5th September. Critics claim it is a highly fragile and fleeting peace and is almost all about to collapse. However, for now, most observers claim though the peace is not perfect, it is largely holding out on most fronts.

               'Pray for my 18 year old Ukrainian cousin who is serving as a conscript in the Ukrainian army but has deserted and planning to cross the border to get refuge in Russia'
plead a Russian English teacher colleague to me.

               Well, given the number of refugees we are encountering we are having to do a lot of praying as well as acting. 

               The Ukrainian and Orthodox churches may be divided on who really caused the war but both are absolutely and implacably agreed on one urgent need; to quickly end the war with a solid and secure peace agreement.

               To paraphrase the English soldier Cromwell, soldiers on both sides should 'Pray to God and keep their gunpowder damp.'

               That a significant number of Ukrainian and separatists want peace is indicated by the facts that a significant number on both sides are deserting. For why on earth would the leaders of the Separatists constantly complain of the lack of volunteers and feel the need to issue a stringent order to shoot deserters.

               Ukrainian soldiers have been constantly complaining of being used as 'mere cannon fodder ' where they are sent on an offensive in a first wave only to be mowed
down by well entrenched defenders of the break-away republics. They are often badly trained,badly fed, poorly paid and ill disciplined. Many of them needlessly perished in a suicidal offensive to seize Donetsk. Instead of taking it they were repelled and driven back. They only succeeded in dissipating the last reserves of almost spent energy. Now the rebels have been winning the war to such an extent that some  feel reluctant to agree to the cease-fire.

               That Ukrainian soldiers are deserting to the other side indicates real desperation.

               Nevertheless, young Russian soldiers who have been ordered to venture into Ukraine have also not had a field day in the war. As many as 80 Russian paratroopers are thought to have died in a botched military operation.

               Although the Russian government attempted to explain away the intrusion of Russian soldiers 'as a map-reading error', very few are convinced. In fact, many of the parents of the soldiers are angry about why their children were sent into a war-zone at a time when the Russian government is busy telling the public they are not intervening in Ukraine.

               Journalists and politicians who have made unwanted inquiries into this incident have been threatened, assaulted and in one case, badly beaten up.

               The death of one poor soldier, Anton Tumanov, best exemplifies the predicaments which young men find themselves in. For it is often the universal case that those who join the army and are sent to war-zones are from the poorest communities. They join the army
to escape ghost towns where there is almost no employment prospects. Even so -called dead-end jobs might represent a luxury. So they unwillingly join the army. This is often the rule in not only Russia and Ukraine, but America and Britain. Twenty-year-old Anton Tumanov came from the town of Komodemranskaya where employment is scarcely provided by two factories and unemployment epidemic. So he went to work in a car plant but could not afford any accommodation so he next went to Moscow where he worked as a construction worker. Despite working for two to three months, he was not paid. Feeling he had run out of options, he enlisted.

                He was later ordered by his commander to enter Ukraine only to be blown to pieces on the 13th August 2014. Like many of the unlucky paratroopers, he has yet to be given a proper grave.

                NO INVASION

                Despite evidence pointing to the intervention of some Russian soldiers and volunteers in Ukraine, Russia has not invaded or attempted an annexation of parts of Ukraine.

                If the Russian government was carrying out a full scale invasion of Ukraine the bombardment would be enmass and awesome. Its presence would be highly conspicious
to say the least. To describe a few tanks, weapons and the presence of volunteers as amounting to an invasion is ludicrious. Most sober political observers and academics           don't make such claims. The Russian government doesn't want to carry out such an invasion as it is fraught with too many high risks. Politics is a continuation of war by other means and can be a more effective tool in exerting influence. It is fair to say that the Russian government is not encouraging, promoting or actively supporting the rebels. On the contrary, some of the most ardent supporters of the rebels accuse Putin of not offering       enough support and even abandoning them. 'Why can't Putin properly invade Ukraine' laments not a Russian but an Englishman! Russian visitors to London were astonished to find many of the locals saying how they like Putin and think he should invade Ukraine to protect people from fascism. Why is this the case? Are those people just eccentric Englishmen? They explained to me that they liked how the Russian government stood up to the Americans whom they resented.

                REFUGEES COME AND GO

                Perhaps one urgent reason why the Russian government has been busy attempting to get sides to accept a full cease-fire and enduring peace is a worsening refugee problem. The United Nations claimed that maybe as many as 730,000 refugees have fled to Russia. As many as 8000 to 10,000 refugees may have come to Moscow itself. An indication of how pervasive this problem remains is the fact that everywhere I go I           encounter their strikingly manifest presence or at least their footprints. For instance, when I go to drink some kvas from a warm, friendly and talkative vendor she shouts to a courier rushing past on a pressing errand 'How is life?' He sadly answers 'Not bad'. She informs me 'He is a refugee from Lugansk. He tried to get a job as a computer programmer, but the pay was too low. So he got a job as a courier. It pays more'. No wonder he looks sad. Refugees have that particular look about them. It is the eyes. They look wounded and sad as if haunted by some traumatic experiences they don't want to speak about. The vendor then told me 'Just across the road a refugee from Lugansk found a job working in the cafe across the road. The refugee women from Donetsk are easy to tell. They often tend to be quite stout, strong and well built.' After leaving to visit my colleague Oksana, she tells me her neighbour Olga is helping their relatives from Lugansk to find work and a place to stay. Later when I go to a class of students down the road, one of them tells me, ' I 'm putting up two single women with children at my dacha and don't know how I will keep them warm during the winter.'

                 At Oksana's place of work, a fellow teacher asks her for advice on how to help her refugee cousins who arestaying at her dacha. Those refugees who come to Moscow and are put up by relatives are the lucky ones. 

                 Many refugees who have come to Moscow have no friends or relatives to help them. They phone up charity groups from the railway stations. Maxim, an aid worker whose job is to help refugees told me, 'Moscow is the worst place for a refugee to come to. Officials have an almost unannounced order to refuse refugees status, work permits and registration of any kind.' Instead, they are to redirect them to other regions of Russia.

                 This attitude of officials has already alienated and embittered many refugees. For they have watched government news reports which show refugees arriving from Ukraine automatically being given forms to fill in, transport to accommodation and work. However, this propaganda is often wholly at odds with the real plight of refugees who come to Moscow. Moscow simply doesn't want them. The city's infrastructure is also strained and threatened by implosion from too many migrants. What awaits refugees in Moscow quickly shatters great expectations of an affluent future. They are shocked to be offered low paid jobs, exorbitantly high rented rooms and being forced into being dependent on charity. Some refugees may well be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome which is rarely acknowledged, never mind treated in Moscow.

                 There are no free kindergartens in Moscow. One refugee was told she would have to pay 100,000 rubles to place her child in the local kindergarten. Where could a refugee find this kind of money? There is even evidence that some refugees have become so disenchanted with their experience that they have risked returning to Ukraine. One refugee who returned told a woman, 'At least I have a house in Ukraine. But over here?'

                 According to the OSCE observers at the Ukrainian border, on the 27th and 28th August they observed a trickle of refugees returning home to Donbass.

                 Thousands of refugees are returning not to mention fleeing to Russia.

                  It is easy to understand why refugees don't want to stay in Russia. A typical situation tends to be that a family who flees Russia, is placed by relatives in a dacha, in a forest which is remote from the nearest towns with essential services. The dacha has no running water so the family must fetch water from a well and wash their children with this. On top of this they can't find any paid work which would allow them to support themselves. Many refugees feel they are being treated as distainfully as bomzhi (the homeless) and resent this. They did not expect things to be quite this bad in Russia!  Many of those refugees would eagerly return to Ukraine if a secure peace agreement was reached.


                  There is no doubt that this civil war in Ukraine is a dirty war. Both sides have been responsible for committing atrocities, war crimes and unmentionable cruelties. Anyone who has any doubts can consult the pages of the latest Human rights investigation into the war by Amnesty International. The report accuses both sides of kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing and shooting innocent civilians. Neither side in this senseless conflict comes away unscathed. There are few angels and heroes to emerge from this saga.

                  When one side dehumanises the other side by describing them as Colorado Beetles that should be crushed and the other answers that the other side is lice to be eradicated you can see the potential for atrocities arising. All the more reason for persistently and indefatigably striving for peace. There is also another problem to be faced -  Some people thrive on conflict. They find the challenge of war invigorating, exciting and an adventure. A contract soldier informed me of such people he fought along with. While getting out of Voikovskaya metro near the centre of Moscow I encountered an oddly courious  aid group called 'Help Donbass'. It consisted of a daily picket manned by volunteers who held placards, flags of the Republics (one resembles the confederate flag     of the old south (1861-65 American civil war) and a person collecting money. They turned out to be supporters of 'The Other Russia'. They were not just raising money for medicine, but appealing for people to go to volunteer and fight in Ukraine. The appeal sounded more like an advertisement for a holiday brochure. It declared 'Summer, the time for a holiday.     Plan your holiday wisely! Spend your time well!

                  Volunteers from the movement Interbrigade invite you to take part in a hot tour of Novorussia ,Slavyansk, Kramatorsk,Golovka ,Mariupol which await you!'

                   The brochure goes on to say you can man defences, dig trenches, do military training and sit around camp fires. 'Have a rest in Donbass this Summer! You are not a real man unless you have to Donbass.' I almost felt I was reading some Biggle's novel or cartoon for 8-year-old school children. I can now understand why Russians feel the war is being fostered by silly children in a kindergarten. A later issue of a newspaper published a photo of volunteers who had been on a tour but commented 'unfortunately some of the soldiers in the photo have died or been wounded'. Try saying 'unfortunately'  to the parents of those men.

                   The peace proposals from Putin seem quite reasonable on paper. It calls for a full cease-fire, prisoner exchange, a humanitarian convoy to be allowed in, international         observers to help control the situation. It has been followed by 12 conditions for a full cease-fire.

                   Over the past few days the cease-fire has largely held. Yes,there has been fighting by units in some areas but that does not mean the agreement has been a flop. It just has to be full implemented with a great deal of persistence and patience.

                   The problems are that the rebels don't have a completely accepted and acknowledged leader.

                   So one leader might agree with the peace agreement while another continues to fight.

                   Another problem is that some people presume Putin can resolve the problem by snapping his fingers at the rebels. They would like to imagine that Putin is like a tap who can be used to switch off the support of the rebels. But Putin has not that much power over the rebels. In fact, he has a problem exerting any real control over them. If a president of one of those republics can't win authority over them why should he be able to more effectively? However, even if the rebels agreed to a long term cease-fire, President Petro Poroshenko     also feels he can't exert full control of the situation.

                   Feeling the pressure of extreme nationalists and the war-party, he has made two contradictory statements such as ' I completely support peace which we the world and the people of Donetsk want badly' and 'I'm prepared to fight on to the end and even give my life rather than surrender Ukrainian territory.'

                   Timoshenko , who is part of the war party, is reputed to have advocated dropping an atomic bomb on Donetsk and calling for the invasion of Crimea. Many private
and illegal military units and paramilitaries don't want to abide by any agreement. They have discovered from their experience of using physical violence at Maiden that violence can be effective and attain spectacular results, such as the toppling of governments. They might well reason that 'If we can overthrow Yanukovitch, why can't we also overturn Poroshenko if he sells the nationalists out?' So any peace-agreement is very vulnerable to violent conflict or street power junkies.

                   Securing a peace also may mean facing either a dangerous military coup or 'collective bargaining by rioting again!' Only an extraordinary strong and fearless president could contain such extremists.