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Current Event Cat of the Day: Scottish Independence Referendum

Scotland Referendum Scottish

The Scots hit the polls today to vote on whether the country should stay in the UK or become an independent Scottish nation. 

Voters will answer a straightforward “Yes” or “No” to the referendum question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Putting American voter turnout to shame, 4,285,323 people – 97% of the electorate – are registered to vote in what is expected to be the busiest day in Scottish electoral history.

A vote for independence would mean Scotland, with its population of about 5.3 million, splits from the rest of the United Kingdom, made up of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But a vote against independence doesn’t necessarily mean the status quo will continue. Promises of further devolution to the Scottish parliament have made by all the main parties.

The Yes campaign argues that the Scottish people should be able to decide how their money (and future untapped oil resources) is spent. They’d rather sustain welfare spending than waste money on England’s nuclear weapon program and getting involved in wars. Also, since Scotland consistently votes to the left of the rest of the UK, they would never have to deal with another Conservative government telling them to cut this and privatize that.

The No campaign is more about the fear of the unknown, highlighting the risks of independence to the Scottish economy. These include the uncertainties over what currency the country would use in the event of a yes vote, doubts over the reliability of oil reserves, how the country will pay for its public services, uncertainties around Scotland’s continued membership of Europe, and the threat to jobs if businesses pull out of Scotland. Plus, the shared history of the union and the institutions that bind it together, blah, blah, blah.

As for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who foolishly agreed to the referendum back when support for Scottish independence was much lower, he’s reportedly had enough.

“I have to say that after the events I’ve been facing over the past few days, assassination would be a welcome release,” Cameron said.

The vote will be seen as a huge failure for Cameron if the Scots choose to go independent. But one good thing has come out of the referendum debacle for Cameron – a budding new friendship with former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“We’re actually good friends,” Cameron said of his former rival, who has since become his ally in the political battle to keep Scotland from seceding.

The Prime Minister said he and his predecessor also have regular phone chats, having put aside their political differences in recent months. Well, that’s sweet.

The Prime Minister also reiterated that he will not resign in the event of a Yes victory.

“My name is not on the ballot paper,” Cameron said. “What’s on the ballot paper is ‘does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom, or does Scotland want to separate itself from the United Kingdom?

“That’s the only question that will be decided on Thursday night. The question about my future will be decided at the British general election coming soon.”

Unless, of course, he’s assassinated first….

Update: Scotland voted No (55%), so no need to assassinate David Cameron just yet.

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Current Event Cat of the Day: MH17

Current EVent Cat - MH17

All 298 people on board flight MH17 died when it crashed over the pro-Russian rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine on July 17. The good news is that CNN will have enough material for the next 3-6 months. The bad news is… everything else.

Since the tragedy, the US and other nations are growing increasingly suspicious of Russian complicity in the crash.

Secretary of State John Kerry said “it’s pretty clear” the missile that downed the commercial jetliner came from “a system that was transferred from Russia.”

As for Vladimir Putin, he pointed his finger at the pro-Western government in Ukraine, arguing Ukraine’s crackdown on separatist rebels stoked tensions that led to the disaster.

“I believe that if military operations had not resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided,” Putin said, referring to the end of a 10-day-old cease-fire.

Interesting theory. And how can you not trust a guy who kills his political rivals?

Putin’s involvement aside, there has also been international outcry over the way rebels have handled the whole situation. Pro-Russian rebels have delayed access to the site, allowed untrained volunteers to comb through the area, and even seized the remains of MH17 victims and stored them in train cars, much to the dismay of the international community.

John Kerry said on television on Sunday, “Drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and removing them from the site. What’s happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything President Putin and Russia said they would do.”

Pro-Russian rebels have since allowed Dutch investigators to examine bodies from the crashed MH17 flight at a railway station in eastern Ukraine, but internatonal investigators are still being denied full access to the wreckage at the accident site.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting broke out between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels on Monday – the first fight since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down. Ukrainian military tanks reportedly launched an assault in Donetsk in an attempt to break the separatists’ hold of the city.

All in all, you know it’s a rough situation when it’s eclipsing an onslaught of Israeli air strikes and a (mainly civilian) Palestinian death toll of 500.

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European Court: French Veil Ban Stays

French Veil Ban

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a ban by France on wearing the Muslim full-face veil – the niqab.

The French law that everybody must show their face in public or face a 150 euro fine came into effect under former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who declared that religious face veils were “not welcome” within France and vowed to uphold France’s secular values.

Three year later, while Sarkozy was off dealing with his own problems/corruption allegations, the debate over face veils came back into the limelight when a 24-year-old French woman, who argued that the ban on wearing the veil in public violated her freedom of religion and expression, brought her case to court.

Unfortunately (for her and the other estimated 2,000 women in France who wear the full veils), the European Court of Human Rights agreed with France’s “fit in or f*ck off” policy and upheld the ban, arguing that the ban was not an anti-Muslim religious issue, but a face concealing issue.

“While the court was aware that the disputed ban mainly affected certain Muslim women, it nevertheless noted that there was no restriction on the freedom to wear in public any item of clothing which did not have the effect of concealing the face and that the ban was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face,” the court said in a statement.

A court statement also said the ruling “took into account the state’s submission that the face played a significant role in social interaction”.

But there are still some ways to get around the ban. Exemptions from the ban on public face concealment include motorcycle helmets, sports related face covering, carnival masks, and face masks for health reasons. Face masks for health reasons? Like covering the facial deformities of burn victims? I hope the pro-veilers don’t resort to this…

In related news, acid sales in France have risen 400% this week…

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American Exchange Student Gets Trapped in Giant Vagina Statue

Trapped in Giant Vagina Statue

More than 20 firefighters stepped in to rescue a U.S. student trapped inside giant vagina statue in Germany.

So many questions: How did he get in? Why is there a giant vagina statue on a University campus? Will he be charged with statutory rape?

On Friday afternoon, a young American exchange student in Tübingen, Germany climbed into a 32-ton vagina statue as part of a dare. Before he knew it, he found himself trapped in a giant stone vagina surrounded by 20 firefighters, five fire engines, a number of paramedics and a bunch of gawking of students holding camera phones.

The firefighters had to deliver the American student (head-first, of course) to safety after his feet became trapped in the large marble sculpture. Police confirmed the rescue was successfully undertaken “by hand and without the use of equipment”. Ahh, the old pull-out method.

The “born again” student was unharmed by the incident but will forever be known as that foreign kid who got stuck in a stone vulva thanks to some camera ready friends who snapped a few incriminating pictures.

“The fire department was not really amused, and he was really embarrassed,” one witness said after he uploaded some pictures of his red-faced pal on Reddit.

The Chacán-Pi (Making Love) artwork by the Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara is meant to signify “the gateway to the world”. But in the 13 years the statue has sat outside the university’s institute for microbiology and virology, never once has someone become trapped inside the giant vulva – until last Friday. And that was when the Tübingen Unversity began to reconsider its American exchange program

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Current Event Cat of the Day – Black Hawk Down: Ukraine Edition

Current Event Cat - Ukraine Helicopter Black Hawk

So much for not turning into Somalia… Rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter black hawk down style Thursday amid heavy fighting in the town of Slovyansk.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov (until the Chocolate King takes over) said the rebels used a Russian-made anti-aircraft system to bring down the helicopter. Ukraine’s National Guards put the death toll at 12 soldiers, including one general.

Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 residents in the Donetsk region (one of the two provinces in eastern Ukraine that have unilaterally declared independence from the evil government in Kiev), has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces in recent weeks. And it’s not the first time the region has been some black hawk down action. Earlier this month the separatists shot down two other army helicopters, also near Slovyansk, killing a pilot and another serviceman.

Shortly after his election win, President-elect Petro Poroshenko (aka the Chocolate King) vowed to tackle the “bandits” in the east “in hours”, not months.

“The anti-terrorist operation should not last two or three months. It should last for a matter of hours,” Poroshenko said on Monday, adding: “They (pro-Russian separatists) want to preserve a bandit state which is held in place by force of arms. These are simply bandits. Nobody in any civilized state will hold negotiations with terrorists.”

He also vowed not to let eastern Ukraine turn into Somalia.

“Their goal is to turn Donbass (east Ukraine) into Somalia. I will not let anyone do this to our state and I hope that Russia will support my approach.”

Well, he better hurry up and take over office, because once you go full Somalia, it’s hard to go back. Just ask Somalia.

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Current Event Cat of the Day: The Chocolate King

Current EVent Cat - Chocolate King

All hail the Chocolate King! While the rest of Europe took the ultra right-wing xenophobic route, Ukraine turned to chocolate, electing the billionaire candymaker Petro Poroshenkohas.

Ukraine’s Chocolate King-turned-politician Petro Poroshenko won Ukraine’s presidential elections with 54 percent of the vote, eliminating the need for a run-off vote. The 48-year-old billionaire and former foreign minister, was formally declared the winner on Monday and wasted no time in promising to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east and saying he was willing to begin talks with Moscow. If anyone can sweet talk Putin, it’s the Chocolate King!

But things aren’t going as smoothly as the Chocolate King would like. During the elections, armed separatists in the eastern regions took over polling stations, blocking some citizens from casting their ballots. And then after the election… trouble continued with bloody clashes in the eastern city of Donetsk. At least 30 pro-Russia separatists were reportedly killed after a failed attempt to take over the airport early on Monday.

“The airport is under our full control. The enemy suffered heavy losses. We have none.” Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

So far, Poroshenkohas has taken a no-nonsense approach with the pro-Russian troublemakers.

There are no talks with terrorists,” said the centrist pro-Western tycoon.

“Their goal is to turn Donbass (east Ukraine) into Somalia. I will not let anyone do this to our state and I hope that Russia will support my approach.”

Vowing not to let Ukraine turn into Somalia, the go-to example of a failed state? Don’t set your goals too low Chocolate King…

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Next Up: Russia Plans to Annex the Moon

Soviet Cities on the Moon

Turns out annexing Crimea was just practice for something far more important – taking over the Moon.

Nearly a half-century after the US won the Space Race, Russia is ready to take another crack at lunar exploration. Determined to start (and win!) round two of the Space Race, Russia is planning to put a manned colony on the Moon by 2030 and is racing to dispatch the first robotic rovers to explore the Moon’s surface within two years. And why not? Putin’s already snatching up old Soviet territories, might as well throw the Moon in there too.

According to a leaked draft of a government document that Izvestia newspaper claims to have obtained, the first stage of the ambitious “Colonize the Moon” project may start as soon as two years from now.

The Concept of Russian Lunar Program outlines a three-step plan toward manning the Moon.

  • Step 1: Send four automated rovers to the Moon and check out the Moon’s natural resources.
  • Step 2: Send manned missions to the Moon’s orbit and check things out further.
  • Step 3: Send cosmonauts to the selected site on the moon’s surface to survey the area and set the infrastructure for an initial colony using local resources. Also, set up an Earth monitoring observatory… possibly entitled the Kosmic-intelligence Gathering Building.

The leaked document stressed the importance of speedy lunar exploration, saying Russia needs to step up their game because “leading space powers will expand and establish their rights to convenient lunar footholds to ensure future opportunities for practical use” in the next 20-30 years. And while the program envisages some kind of international cooperation on the project, it emphasized that the “independence of the national lunar program must be ensured regardless of the conditions and the extent of the participation in it by foreign partners.”

In other words, Russia, and Russia alone, will claim dominance over the Moon. Although *technically* America already dominated the Moon back in 1969 with the clever use of a flag – and if Russia ever tried to remove the flag, well then…. I guess NASA would get some more funding?

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Current Event Cat of the Day: Pro-Russian Separatists and Their Pro-Russian Vote

Current Event Cat - Pro Russian Rebels

Despite a weak effort on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s part to postpone any independence referendums in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists went ahead with the “self-rule” referendum and the results were decidedly pro-Russian.

Last week, in a possible attempt to appease the West, Putin called for a postponement of the independence referendums in eastern Ukraine in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue. But the pro-Russian separatists in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk decided to go ahead with the vote anyways.

So while Putin spent his weekend attending a giant Soviet-style parade in Moscow’s Red Square and travelling to newly annexed Crimea to check out some of Russia’s warships and bask in the loving patriotic chants of Crimeans, rebel leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk geared up for a hastily put together self-rule referendum.

The leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said the decision to proceed with the vote had been unanimous.

“We just voice what the people want and demonstrate through their actions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities (along with the US and the EU) say they will disregard the results, calling the referendums an illegal farce with no legal consequences for Kiev.

And the results of the illegal referendums are in… and the pro-Russian separatists have declared a resounding victory in their favour!

According to the pro-Russian leaders,who counted up the votes without the help of international election monitors, roughly 89% of Donetsk voters and 96% of Luhansk voters opted for sovereignty in the Sunday elections.

Cue more violence and further sanctions on Russia, who Ukraine is accusing of orchestrating the unrest in a possible attempt to grab another chunk of the crumbling country.

But before Donetsk and Luhansk can go full Crimea, they must first ask Putin whether or not Russia will “absorb” them. So far the Kremlin has shown no immediate intention of annexing eastern Ukraine, although they still haven’t pulled back their 40,000 troops from the border. Either way, Donetsk and Luhansk had better ask Russia extra nicely to take them in – because neither region could survive economically on their own.

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Current Event Cat of the Day: Putin Backs Down… A Bit

Current Event Cat - Softer Stance Putin Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled his forces back from the border and endorsed Ukraine’s presidential election on May 25 as a step “in the right direction”.

Speaking on Wednesday during a meeting with the Swiss president, President Putin appeared willing to keep his promise not to invade Ukraine (for now).

“We’re always being told that our forces on the Ukrainian border are a concern. We have withdrawn them. Today they are not on the Ukrainian border, they are in places where they conduct their regular tasks on training grounds,” Putin said.

After a tumultuous week that involved pro-Russian militants wreaking havoc in Odessa while Ukrainian officials scrambled to reclaim what’s left of the eastern region of the country, killing at least 30 pro-Russian separatists in the process, Putin now appears willing to make some concessions – with a few conditions of course.

Putin urged pro-Russian activists in southeastern Ukraine to cool it, suggesting that the series of independence referendums planned for this weekend should be called off “in order that conditions necessary for dialogue are created”. Instead, he gave his approval to the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine, calling it a “step in the right direction.”

BUT Putin made it clear that the vote would decide NOTHING unless the rights of “all citizens” were protected.

“I would like to stress that… while they are a move in the right direction, [the election] will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held,” Putin said.

The Kremlin says it will protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in south and east Ukraine against what it calls an undemocratic, Euro-wannabe government in Kiev.

Of course, protecting the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population was kind of their rationale for annexing Crimea, so who knows what will happen…

UPDATE: NATO and the Pentagon say Putin is pulling a fast one on them and there is no indication that Russia has withdrawn its forces from its border with Ukraine. Oh Putin!

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Insane in the Ukraine: Pro-Russia Mobs Seize Buildings and Declare Donetsk a People’s Republic

ukraine-donetsk-protests-referendum

Russia’s sinister plot to get the whole Soviet gang back together is unfolding very quickly. After pro-Russian protesters took control of government buildings on Sunday, they declared the Ukrainian city of Donetsk a “people’s republic”.

Over the weekend pro-Russian groups in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine occupied a number of government buildings, protesting against the new, less Russian interim government in Kiev. Things went one step further in Donetsk when protesters proclaimed independence called for a referendum on secession from Ukraine by May 11.

Ukrainian officials were not too pleased at the rapid deterioration of their country.  In response to the unrest, Ukrainian leaders, including the interior minister Arsen Avakov, accused Moscow and ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych of inciting “separatist disorder.”

“Putin and Yanukovych ordered and paid for the latest wave of separatist disorder in the east of the country. The people who have gathered are not many but they are very aggressive,” Avakov wrote on Facebook.

Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov also condemned the seizure, calling the unrest an attempt by Russia to “dismember” Ukraine.

Following the government building seizures, Ukraine sent in a bunch of security officials to  Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv to try and calm things down, but it didn’t stop the protesters from proclaiming the Donetsk region independent and demanding a secession referedum. Pro-Russia activists are even asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send “peacekeeping troops” to the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kyiv junta on our own,” one activist said.

Russian troops remain within 30km of the border and NATO says up to 40,000 Russian soldiers have mobilized and present a distinct threat to Ukraine – so maybe the pro-Russian activists will get lucky.

However, according to Moscow, Putin has no intention of invading. But… he does reserve the right to protect the rights of ethnic Russians, which pretty much leaves the door open for an invasion at any time.

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