Good news, bad news: Dec. 1-7, 2011

Vladimir Putin’s cult of personality takes a hit at the same time as the Kyoto protocol

Good news

Good news

NASA found a habitable planet much like Earth, 600 light years away. (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/AP)

Deficit chopper

Defence Minister Peter MacKay continued to face fire this week for abusing military resources when he ordered a Cormorant helicopter to pick him up from a Newfoundland fishing trip last year. MacKay claimed the purpose of the flight was “familiarization” with search-and-rescue operations. Emails from military commanders, however, characterize this as a “guise” (using a boat and car would have taken only 90 minutes longer). MacKay hasn’t acknowledged the error of his ways, but at least cost-conscious Forces officers knew right from wrong, advising their boss that they would follow orders but that his plan was wasteful.

Vlad the paler

Russian PM Vladimir Putin’s cult of personality took a hit as his United Russia party received slightly less than 50 per cent of the vote in a fraud-riddled election, down from 67 per cent in 2007. A pre-election crackdown on critics was followed by tension at polling stations, which appear to have been deluged with pre-marked ballots. Protesters descended on Moscow’s Triumphal Square in larger-than-usual numbers after the election. With disaffection rising, the dream of “Russia without Putin!” may lie within reach.

Making good

A year ago Maclean’s wrote about the disappearance of O.B. tampons from stores. Johnson & Johnson, which still makes the products, stayed mum on the disruption, which frustrated devotees—a situation that went largely uncovered by the press and prompted a Web backlash. Now, finally, an apology, via a website where visitors are serenaded with a song and receive a discount on the now widely available tampons. The irony is, without the Web, women might have been too abashed to agitate for the return of their favourite tampons in the first place.

Everyone’s happy

Ban-happy San Francisco has received a salutary lesson on the results of over-regulation. After it passed a law aimed at stopping McDonald’s from including free toys with its fast-food Happy Meals, the restaurant chain announced it will now charge a dime for the toys—revenue will go to build a new Ronald McDonald House near a city hospital.

Bad news

Bad news

A near hurricane-force windstorm hammered downtown Los Angeles. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Inhuman acts

In a disturbing new twist in the tale of Afghan recovery, more than 60 Shiite worshippers were killed in a trio of suicide bombing attacks. Until now, war-ravaged Afghanistan had been free of strife between the Sunni majority and the one-fifth or so of the population that adheres to Shia Islam. The Pakistani fundamentalist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, outlawed by Pakistan in 2001, claimed responsibility. Shia leaders urged calm while even the Taliban denounced the attacks, calling them “a wild and inhuman act.”

Too much hot air

The Kyoto Protocol is crawling toward a likely 2012 demise after efforts to extend it at a UN summit in South Africa met resistance from mega-polluter nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted to delegates that renewal “may be beyond our reach.” Kyoto signatories now account for only a quarter of global CO2 emissions; the U.S. still won’t join up, and while leading global emitter China has been cagily offering support in principle, it remains reluctant to accept the inspection and reporting requirements other Kyoto parties live by.

Paycare probe

Quebec’s $7-a-day public daycare program will be investigated by the province’s police anti-corruption unit after the auditor general disclosed irregularities in the allocation of spaces, which are heavily subsidized. The report found that new spaces were being created in over-supplied areas even as waiting lists grew to absurd lengths elsewhere. The findings may lend validity to opposition claims that political donors have been unfairly handed licences, which they can then hire out to raise cash under the table.

Tony the Tweeter

Treasury Board president Tony Clement is evangelizing ever more heavily for his favourite social-networking tool, the 140-character messaging service Twitter. He wants public servants to make better use of the “freewheeling, fun” medium where he has amassed 19,858 followers. Unfortunately, Twitter is a less-than-ideal venue for delivering serious answers to constituents, and Clement’s talk about “enhancing productivity” seems false—especially considering the 11,000-word memo bureaucrats will have to consult before they tweet.