Comments & Curios VI

So, as the picture above might suggest to those who know what Irish weather is usually like, summer is almost upon us. That means Sun, and more time to write and read! Anyway, here’s what I found interesting in the past week.

Firstly, there’s a press translating service for english-speaking Russia watchers! Much like presseurop.eu (which translates the best of the European media into 10 European languages daily) or inoSMI (which translates English articles into Russian), The Russian Spectrum performs a service previously lacking. Go to and check it out.

Jay Ulfelder gave a very interesting speech at TEDxTbilisi , on a subject that was covered well on his blog a while back .

Also, there’s an article by a student in Belfast who previously lived in Israel/Palestine. Gary Spedding writes Lessons for a fruitful peace process from Northern Ireland , in the Israeli 972 Mag .

Lastly, Kingsbury of New Republic challenges media hyperbole in Every President Since Nixon Has Been ‘Nixonian’ .

Forget 2011, there is a real threat to democracy in Russia in 2013

In 2011, there were protests concerning alleged election fraud by United Russia – which is now in government. Whilst it is near impossible to suggest that in a country such as Russia (that has only recently had comparatively free and fair elections) is completely clean of fraud, the exit polls (and  predictions by sociologists) showed a very small margin of error – let alone a sign that the election itself was rigged.

On Wednesday, it was announced that there would be an overhaul of the current system. Buried beneath the news of Depardieu’s defection, the new bill will change Russian elections from a system to a combination of proportional and majoritarian systems. Did you hear of any protests?

Putin & Medvedev (with the UR logo in the background)

Putin & Medvedev (with the UR logo in the background). Putin’s new bill is likely to benefit incumbents heavily.

There is a very clear comparison for this to show what will change, as Russia had this system up unti 2003 until the current administration changed it for more proportional elections. Back in 2003, United Russia won nearly half of seats available – even though it only got 38% and 24% in the proportional and majoritarian elections respectively. Whilst the system isn’t undemocratic in itself, this is perhaps a tactic of a ruling party that worries its days are numbered. Whether you agree with that or not, even most who agree with their policies would think such a move dishonest at the least.

The new system will also, somewhat ironically, lower the amount of complaints against electoral fraud whilst doing little about it compared to other recent bills concerning elections (that tended to have the opposite effect). This is because fraud, or accusing those of fraud, will only be worth it if your party wins that seat as results count only as wins/losses.

A funny concept too, is the fact that whilst many in the West have suggested that it was too hard to form a party in Russia, the New York Times now suggests that it was too easy – saying:

Mr. Putin, in a speech to the Russian Parliament last month, described the proposed change as a continuation of liberalization efforts that began last year with an easing of restrictions on creating political parties. Critics of that process say it is now too easy to form a party, effectively splintering the opposition like a shattered pane of glass.”

9/11 & 11/9 – Reasons to remember 9th November in Europe

English: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. Th...

English: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. The photo shows a part of a public photo documentation wall at Former Check Point Charlie, Berlin. The photo documentation is permanently placed in the public. Türkçe: Berlin Duvarı, 1989 sonbaharı (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1799

Napoleon leads a coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, establishing his government.

1917

Joseph Stalin enters the provisional government of Bolshevik Russia.

1938

Kristallnacht “, otherwise known as the night of broken glass. When the Nazis instigated a national pogrom in Germany.

1944

Otto Han awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering how to split heavy atoms. Following the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Han becomes a diehard opponent of nuclear weapons.

1989

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – led to German reunification (and probably the euro if Kohl is as influential as I think him to be), and the fall of Communism in the rest of Europe.

Why not find out more for yourself? Check out the 9th November wikipedia page.

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most famous Republican thinkers. Known for being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and as the third President of the United States, he is a fitting start to a Spotlight post.

In the UK, Republicans tend to be linked with either the IRA or left wing extremists. In America, the word is inseparable with the political party of the same name. In this post, and hopefully others later, I shall be looking at famous/infamous Republicans and their views.

Words To Live By – Tony Benn

I haven’t posted for a few days as I’ve been in Scotland visiting family. A bit tired and a lot of work to catch up on now but I thought I’d share a quick quote here, by his father:

Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you said you’d do, and don’t attack people personally.

Now if everyone could act on that, the world would be a lot better place. Anybody else got words of wisdom they like to live by?

Now Imagine You’re One of Them

So, here’s something novel – a game about homelessness . The game starts with several statements on your current situation scenario:

YOUR SAVINGS ARE GONE. YOU’VE LOST YOUR HOUSE. YOU’RE A SINGLE PARENT. AND YOU’RE DOWN TO YOUR LAST $1,000. CAN YOU MAKE IT THROUGH THE MONTH?

The game goes through a variety of situations that you have to overcome through multiple choices and are mainly based around money, I’d recommend playing it to get an idea as it doesn’t take too long. I thought it was useful as a tool to help you understand just how easy it is to go under financially and how hard it is just to survive financially. It gives a greater context to the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) protests in America and makes me feel much more privileged (and a bit smug) to have state welfare.

What’s more, it shows that there’s more than one type of freedom. Liberty isn’t just based on protecting you from others, but about your freedom to achieve very basic needs such as shelter or food. Thus, it made the political point that liberty is freedom to as well as freedom from . All my best wishes to the Urban Ministries of Durham who made this awareness campaign.

Ten Hours of Negotiations: Worth It?

All roads still lead to Berlin. The Greek stock market rose today, following a deal reached by key EU leaders. Bankers and investors of Greek debt are no doubt saddened by the news, however, as they faced a write-off of 50% of their returns. This ‘haircut’ on Greek debt is, according to the BBC, expected to cut debt to 120% of its GDP in 2020. It’s not likely that Greece, or other eurozone countries will be satisfied with this in 10 years time – a more long-term fix needs to be made now.

The Euro bailout fund (The European Financial Stability Facility) is to be boosted up to 1tn euros. Part of its purpose is to make eurozone debt more attractive to investors, by offering insurance – subsequently lowering borrowing costs for governments. There is also talk of incorporating a ‘special investment vehicle’ for other investors to contribute to, such as China . The structure for this should be set next month. However, some small good news came out of this. The statement released earlier on today. Banks are to be made to raise just over 100bn euros (privately) by mid 2012 – as a shield against government default and bank collapse.

What did the leaders have to say about this? Sarkozy believed that it gave them a “credible and ambitious and overall response to the Greek crisis.” I disagree, it is too little and too late . Nothing in the deal will actually solve the crisis and an overall response is lost in the lack of crucial details in the agreement (how exactly the rescue fund will work will only really be decided in November).

Europe is no doubt “closer to resolving its financial and economic crisis” as the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barrosso, says, but that doesn’t mean this agreement has helped in the long run. For instance if the downturn in the Italian and Spanish economies turn into recession then the leaders will have to return to talks – the current three prong plan is inadequate for Greece, let alone Spain or Italy.

Eurozone map in 2009 Category:Maps of the Eurozone

Eurozone map via Wikipedia

I was quite shocked seeing this story, in the headlines – that Occupy LSX (Occupy London Stock Exchange) protesters were leaving their tents and going home. However, the media seems detached from reality (or some basic tests on the effectiveness of their equipment). Thankfully we have youtube users such as ‘thermalunderpants’ to show us how wrong they were – using exactly the same thermal imaging camera and proving that you can’t tell when people are in their tents. Video comes highly recommended.