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?

Advertisements

NASAs FY ’14 Budget: Catch an Asteroid…

Satellite-Asteroid

Artist conception of a satellite on an Asteroid

In NASA’s next year’s fiscal budget, to be formally announced by the Obama Administration soon, it includes an appropriation of $100 Million for a satellite to capture an Asteroid and deliver it into the orbit of the Moon for study and possible mining.

Back in February, two large asteroids came closer to Earth than most of it’s communication satellites — one exploding in the skies over Russia, causing a fair amount of damage.  Could this be the Obama Administration’s response to the startling realization that Earth is indeed susceptible to strikes by the rocky and metallic objects?

russia-meteor-explosion

Meteor explosion over Russia

Aside from testing our ability to launch a satellite or other object to intercept and deflect an incoming stellar body — this could be an incredible chance for study… finding out more about what makes our universe works; as well as a possible source of rare minerals, or even possibly minerals not native to Earth.

Is this worth the hefty pricetag in today’s economy?  Could an investment today save us in the future — or is this something we should put off for another day?