Monday, December 05, 2011

Monday, Monday

Lots to say.

Vladimir Putin is dealt a serious blow, despite attempts to silence an election watchdog:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets Monday night and accused Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party of rigging this weekend's parliamentary election in which it won the largest share of the seats.

It was perhaps the biggest opposition rally in years and ended with police detaining about 300 activists. A group of several hundred marched toward the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin, but were stopped by riot police and taken away in buses.

Estimates of the number of protesters ranged from 5,000 to 10,000. They chanted "Russia without Putin" and accused his United Russia party of stealing votes.

In St. Petersburg, police detained about 120 protesters.

United Russia won about 50 per cent of Sunday's vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated because of ballot-box stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the last election, when the party took 64 per cent.

Pragmatically, the loss of seats in the State Duma appears to mean little because two of the three other parties winning seats have been reliable supporters of government legislation.

Nevertheless, it was a substantial symbolic blow to a party that had become virtually indistinguishable from the state itself.

The result has also energized the opposition and poses a humbling challenge to Putin, the country's dominant figure, in his drive to return to the presidency.

Putin, who became prime minister in 2008 because of presidential term limits, will run for a third term in March, and some opposition leaders saw the parliamentary election as a game-changer for what had been presumed to be his easy stroll back to the Kremlin.

More than 400 Communist Party supporters also gathered Monday to express their indignation over the election, which some called the dirtiest in modern Russian history. The Communists finished second with about 20 per cent of the vote....

(Sidebar: Russian communists know all about dirty tricks. That's why they can call this out.)

Although the sharp decline for United Russia could lead Putin and the party to try to portray the election as genuinely democratic, the wide reports of violations have undermined that attempt at spin.

Boris Nemtsov, a prominent figure among Russia's beleaguered liberal opposition, declared that the vote spelled the end of Putin's "honeymoon" with the nation and predicted that his rule will soon "collapse like a house of cards."

"He needs to hold an honest presidential election and allow opposition candidates to register for the race, if he doesn't want to be booed from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad," Nemtsov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Many Russians have come to despise United Russia, seeing it as the engine of endemic corruption. The balloting showed voters that they have power despite what election monitors called a dishonest count.

"Yesterday, it was proven by these voters that not everything was fixed, that the result really matters," said Tiny Kox of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, part of an international election observer mission.

Other analysts suggested the vote was a wake-up call to Putin that he had lost touch with the country. In the early period of his presidency, Putin's appeal came largely from his man-of-the-people image: candid, decisive and without ostentatious tastes.

(Sidebar: thank you for pointing out how ridiculous he's been looking.)

He seemed to lose some of the common touch, appearing in well-staged but increasingly preposterous heroic photo opportunities — hunting a whale with a crossbow, fishing while bare-chested, and purportedly discovering ancient Greek artifacts while scuba diving. And Russians grew angry at his apparent disregard — and even encouragement — of the country's corruption and massive income gap.

"People want Putin to go back to what he was in his first term — decisive, dynamic, tough on oligarchs and sensitive to the agenda formed by society," said Sergei Markov, a prominent United Russia Duma member.

The vote "was a normal reaction of the population to the worsening social situation," former Kremlin-connected political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Only seven parties were allowed to field candidates for parliament this year, while the most vocal opposition groups were barred from the race. International monitors said the election administration lacked independence, most media were biased and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels.

That Russians take their authoritarian leaders and their machinations seriously is heartening, actually.

Imaginatively related: how would the Russians have handled Caledonia?


Canada will not renew its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, despite a tempting climate-change offer from China, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Monday.

Kent said Canada will not sign on for a second Kyoto phase, even if doing so meant top polluter China would agree to targets to cut its own greenhouse gases.

China has long refused to adopt binding treaty commitments to lower its greenhouse-gas emissions. But this weekend, China's top negotiator signalled that Beijing would consider a target if the European Union and developed nations — including Canada — first agreed to extend their Kyoto commitments.

China's olive branch did not sway Kent. When asked if the offer might get Canada to reconsider signing on for a second phase of Kyoto after it expires next year, the minister simply said No.

He said Canada's "fixation" is on sealing a deal made two years ago at a United Nations climate-change conference in the Danish capital of Copenhagen.

"Canada has made clear this year that Canada will not make a commitment to a second Kyoto period," Kent said.

The NDP's environment critic, MP Megan Leslie, said China's move puts Canada in a tough spot.

"The argument that China isn't doing anything, well, that's gone," she said.

"I'm left to ask, 'What is Canada's excuse now?'"

Don't make drastic and unrealistic promises to shut up people like David Suzuki. Furthermore, if the NDP love China so much, they are welcome to move into a hut in one of its many cancer villages. Why do we have to bow to China, anyway?

The Heian Temple in Kyoto- not at all infeasible.

Ethical oil from Canada will not lead to women driving, dancing or having extra-marital relations:

A report given to a high-level advisory group in Saudi Arabia claims that allowing women in the kingdom to drive could encourage premarital sex, a rights activist said Saturday.

The ultraconservative stance suggests increasing pressure on King Abdullah to retain the kingdom's male-only driving rules despite international criticism.

Rights activist Waleed Abu Alkhair said the document by a well-known academic was sent to the all-male Shura Council, which advises the monarchy. The report by Kamal Subhi claims that allowing women to drive will threaten the country's traditions of virgin brides, he said. The suggestion is that driving will allow greater mixing of genders and could promote sex.

Saudi women have staged several protests defying the driving ban. The king has already promised some reforms, including allowing women to vote in municipal elections in 2015.

There was no official criticism or commentary on the scholar's views, and it was unclear whether they were solicited by the Shura Council or submitted independently. But social media sites were flooded with speculation that Saudi's traditional-minded clerics and others will fight hard against social changes suggested by the 87-year-old Abdullah.

We don't have to get our oil from these nutcases.

(from the hostess with the mostest)

It may have seemed like a good idea in our new, culturally sensitive times: a ban on Christmas decorations at federal government buildings.

But a senior manager’s directive to banish tinsel, trees and holiday wreaths from front-line Service Canada offices across Quebec came undone Friday as fast as gift wrap on Christmas morning.

By afternoon, the ban had been reversed by a federal minister who reassured Canadians that the Harper government did, in fact, like Christmas.

The backpedalling capped a day of denunciations, after the Quebec chief of Service Canada sent e-mails to employees telling them they could hang holiday decorations in their personal spaces, but not in areas serving the public.

Within hours, the ban at about 120 federal offices in the province had been ridiculed on Twitter, derided on open-line shows, and criticized by the very religious minorities whose sensibilities the government was ostensibly trying to respect.

The storm reached the House of Commons, where opposition MPs from Quebec seized on the matter.

“Why do the Conservatives want to steal the magic of Christmas from employees of Service Canada?” said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said there was no Canada-wide directive against Yuletide decor. 

By the end of the day, she issued a statement that she was asking Service Canada to send a new directive to employees telling them they can “celebrate Christmas or the holidays as they please. This includes decorations in Service Canada offices across Canada.”

The move makes Santa safe for another year. Beyond the rhetoric, however, the measure struck a chord about cultural and religious displays in the public realm, a controversial issue in Quebec. The anti-decoration rule had already taken hold at Ottawa’s major front-line services building in Montreal, the Guy Favreau complex. There was not a shred of holiday decor in the cavernous downtown building.

The union representing Service Canada employees in Quebec initially supported the ban, but retreated by the end of the day.

“It’s absurd,” said Sylvain Archambault, a spokesman for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union. 

“But we have trouble in Quebec with handling Christmas. As a society, we’re struggling to figure out how to deal with reasonable accommodations [of minorities].”

Mr. Archambault said the measure was meant to keep decorations out of unemployment insurance offices. “We’re not supposed to look festive while you’re waiting for your UI cheque,” he said.

Religious minorities, meanwhile, lined up against the ban. Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said he enjoys seeing Christmas lights and other decorations.

“I guarantee you, for most Muslims this is a non-issue,” he said. “I’m not offended by these decorations at all. They remind us of the spirit of giving.”

Once again, white liberal Puritans- horrified that someone is not only having fun but that someone they've never even met or would bother to ask might be offended by a string of colourful lights- decide to do the thinking for the rest of us. Thank God everyone put them right before the end of the business day (as it should always be). The cherry on top of this Christmas pudding were the words of the minorities who are allegedly so tender they need constant protection (I won't even get to the panty-waists in the NDP who will make political hay of a holiday they would LOVE to see banned). No one is bothered.

Move on.

If you have to explain to others that killing is wrong and stinking up the joint doesn't win you any friends, you've lost the battle.

(Muchas gracias)

And now, a super happy fun slide.

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