Former Ukraine PM released from prison, a new beginning?

The embattled former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was released from prison in the middle of what appears to be a monumental shift in government in the former Soviet republic.

A stark contrast from her usual publicity photos pre-prison, the wheelchair-bound former head of government broke down in tears when she announced that her countrymen were “heroes, [and are] the best of Ukraine.”

No stranger to political revolution, the then-recently defended Ph.D. student was instrumental in bringing about the Orange Revolution, a political shift that brought her and her political coalition, “Bloc Yulia,” to power in Ukraine, becoming Prime Minister, and Forbes-rated third most powerful woman in the world, behind then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Communist China’s Vice Premier Wu Yi.

With the release of Tymoshenko, the sitting President’s effective political enemy, does this signal a true shift of power within the former Soviet state; or just a simple placation move while the President figures out his next move from a Russia-bordering stronghold?

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Apollo 11 on the Moon

Chinese rover successfully lands on moon…

Chang'e-3

Chang’e-3

Today, the People’s Republic of China became the third nation in human history to successfully land on the moon, behind the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The Chang’e-3 spacecraft, launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, PRC on 01 December, just two weeks ago, will soon release the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit“) rover, a six wheeled scientific vehicle that contains an imaging sensor array, a telescope, an ultraviolet sensor and arms that can dig into the lunar soil up to 90 feet.  With a planned mission of three months, hopes are that the solar powered vehicle will live well beyond it’s life expectancy and mission time, much like other rovers have done.

Further, the next phase of the CNSA’s lunar program, Chang’e-5 is set to not only soft-land also, but has a stated objective to return to Earth with lunar soil samples, with a projected launch date of 2020.

Coming a long way since it first put a Chinese cosmonaut into space for the first time just ten years ago, the Chinese National Space Administration has clearly made leaps and bounds in putting the flag of it’s nation on another celestial body in a soft landing.

During the first EVA of Apollo 17, Eugene Cern...

Harrison Schmitt with the American flag and the Earth,400 000km away.

The last soft landing on the moon was by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24, which occurred in August 1976.  This mission was the third Soviet lunar expedition to successfully return lunar soil samples to Earth.  Four years before, Apollo 17 was the last manned exploration of the Moon, made up of Professor (and future United States Senator) Harrison Schmitt, and Navy Captain Eugene Cernan, known as “the Last Man on the Moon,” when his mission left the lunar surface exactly 41 years ago today, funny enough, when the Lunar Module ascended to meet the CSM at 10:54PM UTC.

“Sometimes, I catch myself looking up to the Moon and I wonder, when are we going back, and when will that be?”
— Captain James Lovell, USN (Retired)
Commander, Apollo 13

Russia — What’s happening?

English: Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin

English: Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone’s concerned with things in the Middle East.  Be it Iran or Morsi’s Egypt… or even the Korean Peninsula.  Rightfully so, these could be hotspots for problems that America; and even the world, could find itself dealing with in the future if they’re not handled appropriately by the international community.

However, I look at one country — like many others, and wonder: What’s happening in Russia?

Over the past several years, Putin has managed to not only consolidate a considerable purse of power, but indeed, even a cult of personality that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un would even find respectable.  However, compared to North Korea, Russia is far more democratic.  …or is it?

Not only has Putin managed to skirt the constitutional term limits in office by playing musical chairs with his Prime Minister (and former President) Dmitry Medvedev, but he’s also begun exercising power by “popular decree.”

Indeed, when Putin was originally elected in 2000, he drastically restructured the governance of the Federation as such.  When he took office, there were 89 regions that had some form of independent governance.  Chechnya itself had a democratically elected President.   This changed under Putin, who essentially reshuffled their powers into seven (now eight) federal districts that aligned almost exclusively with the Army commands, with the heads of these regions enjoying powers similar to that under Imperial Russia.

Bribery, particularly when it comes to government contracts, went from “accepted” practice to near-standard practice.  In a poll conducted in 2010, 15% of Russians admitted to paying a bribe within the previous year.  Those are the ADMITTED numbers.

Moreover, the amount of bribes in the economy have skyrocketed from the equivalent of $33 billion to over $400 billion in the last decade, notably during the Putin Administrations.  Arguably a consequence of economic and legal mismanagement after Federation from the Soviet era.

Media has also become a major concern.  Two of the three major television outlets are owned and operated by the Russian Federation itself.  State owned, state controlled.  Further, ITAR and RIA-Novosti are state-owned as well, while Interfax is stated to not be.  Music and public expression is also a concern, as members of the band Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with “hooliganism,” stating that the band was trying to incite religious hatred and blasphemy.  The Orthodox Church has even called on the Russian government to “criminalize” acts of blasphemy.

Obviously, the external forces in government, as well as the will of Vladimir Putin, are a major concern.  Bribes fly back and forth, ambitious Putin-friendly commissars are installed as figurative regional-governors general, and the political freedom of the people continue to erode, all while the cult of personality that surrounds Vladimir Putin continues.

Why aren’t people talking about the political freedoms in the largest nation on the face of the planet being talked about more?