Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Conor Lamb leads Republican Rick Saccone by 0.3 percentage points or 579 votes in a Pennsylvania congressional District Donald Trump won by 20 points and where the Democrats did not even bother fielding a candidate in the last two elections.  Absentee votes remained to be counted, but most commentators do not believe Saccone has enough votes to make up the difference.  Absent a major tabulation error, Conor Lamb has won.  With Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered districts being redrawn, both candidates will run in other districts in November.

Lamb appears to have been an unusually charismatic candidate, but this was a race that should not even have been close.  Rick Saccone had the standard Republican resume that wins these heavily gerrymandered districts easily.  The Republican Party invested 10 million dollars in this race.  Donald Trump visited the district twice.  The Republicans tried playing the Nancy Pelosi bogeywoman and touting their tax cut scam, but both strategies fell flat.  Trump’s recent tariffs should have resonated with steelworkers in this district but did not.  A desperate Saccone was reduced to pathetically alleging his opponents hated Trump, America and even God.

Even had Saccone won, the 20 point swing should have set alarm bells ringing.  It now appears that the Democrats may have finally won a heavily Republican congressional seat. The difference appears to have been voter enthusiasm, the Democrats had more of it and it made a difference.

Do not look for Donald Trump to engage in any introspection.  Behind closed doors, Trump evidently has already cast the blame on Saccone.  However, there are more than a 100 Republican held congressional seats that Trump won with a smaller margin than PA-18 (including the seat held by Paul Ryan).  Tonight many of those incumbents have cause to be nervous and in November Pennsylvania will not have a Congressional map rigged in favor of Republicans.  The Democrats will obviously not win all of those seats.  However, they need only 24 to win back the house.

Tonight that target seems even more attainable.

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Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The President of the United States quoted today:

“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”

It could be a sign that an administration which goes out of its way to avoid criticizing Russia and just fired a Secretary of State who had the temerity to do so will not be constrained by facts in it its actions. After all they can always make up alternative facts.

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Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

It was a departure long expected, but the timing still took everyone by surprise.  Donald Trump finally canned his feckless Secretary of State.  In vintage cowardly Donald Trump fashion he could not do it face to face.  Rex Tillerson evidently found out about his departure on Twitter.  In the chaos that defines the Trump administration, they could not even get their story about the timing right.  A Tillerson aide who contradicted the story that he had been told about this on Friday also got the boot.

This of course is a boon for conspiracy theorists.  Just yesterday this blog noted that the administration seemed unwilling to criticize Tsar Vlad.  Tillerson deviated from the script by openly blaming the Russians, and a few hours later he was gone.

This ends the tenure of one of the worst Secretaries of State in living memory, if not American history.  Tillerson clearly did not have influence with Donald Trump leading to other countries ignoring him.  On his watch 60% of the State Department’s top ranking career diplomats resigned and new applications fell by half.  Key positions remained unfilled.  Treating the state department like the corporate bean counter he was his budget cuts slashed morale, staff and eviscerated American soft power.  He will not be missed.

And yet the remedy may be worse than the cure.  He is replaced by Trump sycophant, CIA director and foreign policy hawk Mike Pompeo.  Mike Pompeo will be replaced at the CIA with a career agent tainted by torture.  Increasingly the few people willing to stand up to Donald Trump’s worst impulses are being replaced by people who will encourage them.  Secretary of State Mattis remains one of the few checks on precipitate action, something that The Onion (which is on fire today) noted in its own fashion.

Look for a lot more hawkish stupidity in this administration’s actions against Iran, Syria and North Korea.

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Posted on 12-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

One has to wonder what Putin has on Trump.  Trump generally is fond of dictators, but he has never whispered any criticism of Tsar Vlad.  He has even made excuses for Putin killing troublesome journalists.  The administration has refused to enforce sanctions that overwhelmingly passed Congress or to spend funds appropriated to combat Russian meddling in our political processes.

So it should come as no surprise that the administration will not directly criticize the Tsar for the latest outrage.  Last week, a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked in the United Kingdom with a nerve agent.  This brought back memories of the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Today the British Prime Minister openly accused the Russians of orchestrating the attack and gave them 48 hours to make the case that the attack was not a state sponsored plot.

Unsurprisingly, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged questions about Moscow’s involvement in the attack and treated us to generic pablum about standing with America’s closest ally.

If the United Kingdom does take action (and as a common investment destination for Russian oligarchs, it has some leverage), it will likely have to do so alone.  The administration of the Muscovite Candidate will not take on Tsar Vlad.

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Posted on 09-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted in the previous post Trump shocked the world by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un.  Less then 24 hours later, the usual walkbacks have started.  Misstating the North Korean promise for talks regarding denuclearization the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that North Korea has agreed to denuclearize and progress on this would be needed before the summit takes place.

It appears that in an attempt to shut down criticism of Trump meeting Kim Jong Un unconditionally, the White House has added a poison pill to the whole mess.  Denuclearization as a precondition to talks is preposterous.  Outside the loony tunes world of Trumplandia, nobody expects North Korea to do this.  Trump’s “Nixon goes to China” moment could be over before it started and the incoherence of this administration is on display once again.

 

 

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Posted on 09-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

In his typical seat of the pants way of managing things, Donald Trump surprised the world by announcing (actually having the South Koreans announce) an impending summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in May.  Taken by surprise were the Pentagon and the State Department.  Just a few hours before the feckless Secretary of State had been announcing that talks were not on the horizon.

Given that the administration’s incoherent policy to date included Mike Pence glaring at North Korea, making a fool of himself at the Winter Olympics and making silly demands like requiring the abandonment of the North Korean nuclear weapons program as a pre-condition of talks, it is not surprising that talks were not going anywhere.  The stage was set for Kim Jong Un to make his offer of an in person meeting and Donald Trump’s ego promptly bit at the bait.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a President meeting a rival face to face.  Under a competent administration it is possible that there could be some progress made towards reducing North Korean paranoia and reckless behavior.  Unfortunately there are a lot of perils with THIS president meeting Kim Jong Un.  Lazy, uninformed, uninterested and incurious about the details of policy matters, Donald Trump still functions as a reality show host and only cares for the spectacle of the photo-op.  On at least two occasions he has publicly met with Democratic members of Congress only to have Baghdad Sarah clarify that he did not mean what he said.

The autocrats of Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have played Donald Trump (who seems to have a soft spot for autocrats) like a fiddle with flattery designed to boost his insecure ego.  This is something that the North Korean despot has likely noticed between large bites of emmental cheese.

Finally, there is the hollowing out the State Department under the incompetent Rex Tillerson.  Even had he been willing/able to read a policy briefing, there is no American ambassador to South Korea and the Senate has not confirmed the top diplomat to South Korea.  It is hard to see Donald Trump making the effort between rounds of golf to bring himself up to speed on the issues to be discussed here.

There will be some who will credit Trump’s reckless brinkmanship in the past few months and loose talk by the warmongers in his administration of a bloody nose strike for bringing this meeting about.  However, given the likely policy gains of such a summit it is hard to see why the bellicose talk was needed.

When Barack Obama received shrill cries from the foreign policy establishment that he was willing to meet with America’s enemies, he clarified that obviously there would have to be ground work before such a meeting.  Such ground work took place before his trip to Cuba.  There has been no such ground work here.

After watching the fate of Saddam Hussein (who had not yet obtained them) and Muammar Gaddafi (who voluntarily dismantled his WMD program) it is hard to see Kim Jong Un ever handing over his nukes (even though his artillery trained on Seoul is probably sufficient to make any offensive war a non-starter).  So at best we will get some unverifiable commitment of the sort that North Korea has repeatedly reneged upon.  We will likely get some easing of sanctions for good behavior i.e. the same dog and pony show that we have seen over the past few decades.  And then there is the risk of Trump blurting out something dumb as is his wont.

In exchange Kim Jong Un achieves a North Korean foreign policy goal for at least the past 20 years – a summit with the American President.  He gets the propaganda value of broadcasting his acceptance as a world leader to his people.  He also gets the opportunity to deal with a naive self proclaimed deal maker and will likely walk away with his nuclear program intact.

We still do not have the details of the location and exact timing of the summit.  However, at this point it is hard to see this as anything other than a win for Kim Jong Un.

 

 

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Posted on 09-01-2015
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

World news was understandably distracted by the events in France the last few days.  It overshadowed a surprise election upset in Sri Lanka last night.  Its been a few years since this blog discussed the authoritarian President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka who has spent the years following the end of the civil war suppressing dissent and trying to create a political dynasty.  In the triumphalism that followed the destruction of the LTTE, Rajapaksa spent almost no time in healing the divided nation and chose to ignore the reasons the war started in the first place.  The last few years Sri Lanka has been approaching pariah status, with Rajapaksa unwanted at international summits.

Yet even with his corrupt nepotistic despotism he remained very popular with the Sinhalese majority and called early elections in November expecting to win.  It seemed the plan would work until his former health minister entered the race, challenged the despot and won.  Rajapaksa has gracefully admitted defeat, ceding the stage to the new President Maithripala Sirisena.

Sirisena appears to have cannily capitalized on resentment among Sri Lanka’s minority groups and people turned off by the Rajapaksa clan taking control of all parts of government.  Yet, it is not clear whether he will bring any relief to Sri Lanka’s struggling minority groups.  Ethnic tension on the divided island could flare up allowing for a return of Rajapaka back to power, like Daniel Ortega did in Nicaragua.  Hopefully Sirisena bridges the gap that proved to be a chasm to far for Rajapaksa to leap – from politician to statesman.

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Posted on 01-10-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Month Python star explains how stupid people are too stupid to realize they are stupid.  Video below:

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Posted on 26-09-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Cable news continues to be unwatchable.  At a time when we face an Ebola epidemic in Africa, the threat of ISIS in the Middle East, a do-nothing Congress that will do nothing till the mid terms are done (and then thanks to the Republicans precious little after that).  However, cable news was fixated by the faux scandal of the President stepping off a plane with a coffee cup in his hand.  It gave the usual suspects an opportunity to vent their outrage on Barack Obama.  It also gave Jon Stewart the opportunity for an epic rant.  Video below:

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Posted on 22-09-2014
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

Many people are dumb (note the other idiot in the video who does not pull his hand out after seeing what happens to his neighbor)

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Posted on 22-09-2014
Filed Under (Science) by Rashtrakut

Indian mythology is full of folk tales of mongooses taking on and killing cobras.  None of the stories has them taking on a pride of lions and living to tell the tale. Enjoy the video below. (Hat tip to iflscience)

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Posted on 16-09-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

If there is a picture that sums up the bullshit Faux News spews on a daily basis, this is it (hat tip to to Daily Kos).

image

The editor who typed up the script to the right is correct.  But, why let facts come in the way of a good Obama bashing rant?

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Posted on 27-08-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The capture of Russian paratroopers 20 miles inside Ukrainian territory is the latest expose of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine.  Russia laughably claimed that the soldiers happened to get lost and just happened to stumble across the border.

However, reports indicate the Russian military has started military operations in Ukraine attacking Ukrainian forces closing in on Donetsk in the rear.  The downing of Flight MH-17 by his thugs had briefly backed the Russian despot into a corner, but with domestic pressure rising and Ukrainian forces on the brink of victory Putin appears to have decided to send direct military aid.  The half empty aid convoy last week appears to have been a distraction for the real invasion.

This happens as the Putin met the president of Ukraine in Minsk to discuss peace, even while he engages in bald faced lies about his invasion.

The problem for Ukraine is that Putin cares more about Ukraine than either the United States or Europe.  The other problem is that the economic tools at America’s disposal are limited since Russia is a minor trading partner.  Europe stuck in a long recession exacerbated by German demands for austerity is unwilling to risk further harm to its economy.

The result is Tsar Vlad is merrily annexing land from a neighbor with impunity.

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Posted on 09-06-2014
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

The 2014 FIFA world cup starts this week.  Much of the world (including yours truly) will be captivated by the spectacle that comes once every four years.  Soccer (or Football as the world outside the United States accurately calls it) is by far the most popular sport in the world.  Football crazy Brazil is hosting the world cup this year.

Yet the last year has seen the spectacle tarnished by controversy.  Brazilians have been publicly protesting the waste of resources to build brand new stadiums at the cost of other social spending.  The 2022 world cup awarded to Qatar has deservedly come for its share of abuse – from the idiocy of playing football in the desert in summer, to the slavery like labor practices in the oil rich Gulf countries and now allegations of corruption that have swirled around awarding the cup to Qatar in the first place.

FIFA like almost every multinational “non-profit” sports body is notoriously corrupt.  The blatant waste of resources is now affecting the 2022 Winter Olympics with almost every potential bidder based in a democracy withdrawing their bids.

Pro-sports in the United States are a continuing scam where billionaire owners shake downs cities, counties and states for brand new arenas on the public dime under the threat of leaving down.  The Atlanta Braves are the latest to pull off this con.  Makes you wonder and hope that the 2022 Winter Olympics are the first sign that people have had enough.

But even then what is a football fan to do.  Love the game, hate the corrupt bastards?  It is not an easy conflict to resolve.

 John Oliver delivered a comprehensive takedown of FIFA yesterday night, while admitting his own inner conflict.  Enjoy the video below:

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Posted on 29-05-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It is hard to overemphasize how the promise of the Arab Spring has turned into the depressing of an Arab Winter.  Other than Tunisia, the hopes of democratization in the region have fallen by the wayside.  Libya an artificial welding together of three Ottoman tribal vilayets under a flag has lapsed into chaos.  Yemen is a failed state rapidly running out of water.  Saudi Arabia has crushed the democracy movement in Bahrain (because it was Shiite).  At the same time it has projected itself as the patron of the Sunni rebels against the Alawite Baath regime in Syria.  Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war and a rapid exodus of population.

And then there is Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world which was once its cultural heart.  Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Pharoah President, was sentenced to jail for embezzlement last week along with his sons.  In the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall, Egypt actually had a free and fair election.  Unfortunately the Muslim Brotherhood which won the elections did not understand, that successful democracy requires the ability to respect institutions.  Mohamed Morsi showed some autocratic tendencies that aroused the ire of the secular portions of the country.  However, he was still the freely and fairly elected leader of Egypt.  Morsi’s incompetence paved the way for the thugs who backed the Mubarak regime to launch a coup.

For some reason, the corrupt, brutal and inefficient Egyptian Army is still popular in Egypt.  The Egyptian Army has not engaged in massacres like the Baath regimes of Syria and Egypt – but it is every bit as ruthless.  The fall of Morsi was followed by a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood and the brutal suppression of their street protests.  The Muslim Brotherhood is not a supporter of democracy.  However, they are quick to note that they won a democratic election and it was stolen from them by force.  The result will be the inevitable radicalization of its hard core supporters who see no reason to engage within the parameters of the Egyptian constitution.  For now, the Brotherhood is on the run.

Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi the head of the Egyptian army then anointed himself as the new man to save Egypt.  Spooked by the Muslim Brotherhood, much of Egypt’s secular element has allowed itself to being co-opted by the elements that used to support Hosni Mubarak – the very elements that had brought protesting mobs into Tahrir Square.

The election of el-Sissi was a foregone conclusion.  He faced no real rivals and the government was portraying him as Egypt’s only savior for the last 10 months.  There of course has been no real substance as to how the savior will work his miracles.

The result was the expected landslide for el-Sissi.  Yet the anointment turned into a farce.  The government wanted to show a turnout of 80% to demonstrate the deep reservoirs of support for the new Pharaoh.

The turnout ranged from 38-44% well below the 52% turnout in the election that elected Morsi.  The panicked government kept the polls open for two more days in a desperate effort to get more voters before announcing the results.

It did not help that the result was a foregone conclusions or that the Islamists who turned out to elect Morsi largely stayed at home.  The vote also probably reflects a deep ambivalence (his run for the presidency was greeted by a twitter hash tag that translates to “Vote for the Pimp“) about the self-proclaimed savior who has not identified any real program of reform (other than stomping the Brotherhood).  Egypt now faces the real possibility of reversion to the malaise of the Hosni Mubarak era for the sake of “security.”  The current government is essentially old wine in new bottles.

Hosni Mubarak may be headed to jail, but his clone has now ascended as the new Pharaoh.  What a waste.

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Posted on 26-05-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The European project has brought an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity to Western Europe.  When it was conceived in the ash heaps of World War II, the extent of its success could hardly be imagined.  After 1,000 years of hostility France and Germany would work to build a new Europe.  Yet over the past 20 years it is hard to avoid the impression that Europes elites are losing the argument with their own people.

The elitism has been on display since the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union.  It took Denmark two referendums to approve the treaty.  The French approved it with the support of barely 51% of voters.  Yet the elites soldiered on.  Later treaties amending the Maastricht Treaty (the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon) were generally kept safe from the vagaries of the voting public, after the Irish voters rejected each treaty in their first referendums necessitating a second referendum to approve the treaty.

Rather than the voters, parliaments would approve the treaty.  This is not uncommon in representative democracies.  The problem is that other than the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom almost every mainstream party in Europe is pro-Europe.  This short circuited the debates over increasing tensions over the loss of national sovereignty, the effect of unrestricted immigration and the effect of binding together the continent in a currency union via the Euro without the fiscal and banking unions to make it work.

The great recession has laid bare the fundamental flaws in the half-assed approach to creating a United States of Europe without political and fiscal union.  Stuck in the Eurozone, Southern Europe no longer has the flexibility to devalue its currency.  Germany the primary creditor to Southern Europe caught up in its historical nightmares of hyperinflation (and also benefiting from a stronger Euro) will not let the Euro devalue.  Even worse, it has insisted on insane fiscal austerity that has turned recessions into depressions.

Economic malaise haunts the Eurozone.  Xenophobic parties are on the rise across Europe.  Last week came the first signs that political retribution may be at hand.

The United Kingdom Independence Party has long been dismissed as a bunch of racist kooks.  The UKIP won a surprising victory in local elections held across England, which will send a shiver down the spine of the main three political parties in the UK.  They followed that up by winning the most seats in the European Parliament elections. It must be noted that the British government has also reacted to the recession by double dip recession inducing austerity.

Likewise in France the xenophobic National Front beat the more established parties in the elections to the European Parliament. Far right parties also did well in Denmark, Austria and Hungary.

Europe’s elites ignore this resentment at their own peril.  It is troubling that the elites in Brussels are still in denial about the real pain their policies have caused outside their ivory towers and attribute it to a failure of “national will.”

While, the UKIP and the National Front still poll under 30% of the national vote and it is unlikely they will actually seize power in either country they have tapped into a rich vein of resentment at the way the European Project has been hurtling across to union without taking into account the sentiments of the countries involved.  The rise of economic immigration from Eastern Europe into countries that are not immigrant societies has aggravated ethnic tensions that allows xenophobes to flourish.  The debates between the UKIP’s Nigel Farrage and the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg were a demonstration that the elites were losing the argument with the public. The election results have confirmed that.

It is time for Europe’s elites to engage in some introspection before economic turmoil puts the European project into jeopardy.

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Posted on 21-05-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Rousseau’s Confessions refers to a “great princess” who when told that the peasants had no bread responded: “Let them eat brioche.”  The contempt for the modern iteration of the Republican party for the poor is ill concealed – from their last Presidential standard bearer tagging 47% of the country as moochers to Congressmen waxing nostalgically of property requirements to vote.

The brazen cynicism seems to know no limits.  The last few years Congressional Republicans have tried hard to cut food assistance to the poorest Americans.  Yesterday Talking Points Memo flagged a recent House Republican Bill that pared back a modest food assistance bill to exclude urban areas and limit it to rural areas only.  Rural areas of course tend to vote Republican.

Meanwhile in New Jersey alleged fiscal Chris Christie, having blown up his state budget to fund tax cuts for the rich is now trying to pay for the shortfall by raiding public employee pension funds thereby jeopardizing his own plan to fix public pensions.  Christie is not the only Republican governor seduced by the tax cut fairy to believe that tax cuts magically boost growth enough to make up for revenue shortfalls (which has not happened under Reagan or Bush or anywhere else since).

Kansas, home of the oligarchs Koch, adopted their tax cut wet dreams.  The result has been a state starved of revenue that lags the national growth rate whose schools and public services are being slashed.

Then there are all the Republican governors who will cut off the nose of their poor to spite their face.  Obamacare derangement syndrome means that their states are rejecting federal money that for now covers 100% of expenses to expand Medicaid.  Instead of following the Arizona model where the state accepts the funds only so long as the federal government pays for it, they would rather have their poor clog medical emergency rooms instead of getting health care.

They truly have no shame.

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Posted on 18-05-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

India’s month long election process finally came to an end last Friday.  Everyone expected the ruling coalition led by the Congress to lose and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition to win or become the largest grouping in the new parliament.  The actual margin of victory was unclear.

After 10 years in power the Congress government was drifting aimlessly.  Corruption scandals had sapped its credibility.  Economic growth had slowed down, and the government was unable to offer up a meaningful economic program short of blatant populism.

Meanwhile, the BJP had anointed the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its standard bearer.  Even though he was tainted by the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, Modi was able to point to the stellar economic performance of Gujarat on his watch and his acumen as an administrator.  In contrast, all the Congress Party had to offer was a hapless bumbling dynastic scion, Rahul Gandhi.  As the Congress declined in the last few years, the BJP and regional parties had stepped into the void.

Then there was the newest player in the political scene, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party.  The 2014 elections came too soon for the party to take advantage of a population tired of the coruption that permeates all parts of Indian life.  And as it turned out, the AAP would be a bit player in the emerging “Tsunamo”.

As the image below shows, the results were breathtaking.

2014 Indian Lok Sabha Election Results (Source: Wikipedia)

2014 Indian Lok Sabha Election Results (Source: Wikipedia)

The BJP won…and it won Big.  For the first time since 1984 a single party won a majority in Parliament.  For the first time since 1984, a pre-election coalition won over 300 seats.  The once mighty Congress party was reduced to less than 50 seats, which due to a constitutional quirk requiring 10% of seats to recognize a leader of the opposition means that the position will stay vacant for the first time since 1989.

The map shows how the BJP reached victory by winning close to 100% of the seats in its base states.  While it won relatively few seats along the eastern seaboard, the BJP made deep inroads in the vote count that should unsettle the ruling regional parties.

Yet the results in Punjab, show the potential pitfalls for the BJP if it fails to deliver.  Punjab is ruled by a coalition of the BJP and a Sikh party the Shiromani Akali Dal.  The incompetent Akalis are unpopular and so is the Congress.  As a result, the fledgling Akali Dal won its only 4 seats in Punjab – a sign for the AAP that should it gets its act together, there is political space to for the party to grow.

For the ruling Congress, the results could be a death knell.  Reliant on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the party has been allergic to any other politicians with mass appeal.  Yet the unimpressive scions on offer leave them little hope but to pray for the BJP to stumble.

When he takes office this week (likely on Wednesday), Narendra Modi will become the first Prime Minister of India born after independence.  He will also be the first non-Septuagenarian/non-Octogenarian to hold the office in 18 years.  India’s youth bought into his promise of change and getting India working again and with a comfortable majority in Parliament he will have all the opportunity to succeed.  Yet, his party does not hold a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, whose consent is needed on certain legislation.  Many of the problems facing India also fall under the power of the states.  In Gujarat, Modi operated as a one man show.  He will now have to learn to play nice with others.

Modi brings with him a feeling of euphoria in the aftermath of a national election not seen in decades.  His personal story of rising to the top from an economically disadvantaged background makes his thumping of India’s most enduring dynasty even more compelling.  India’s stock markets have shown their excitement by jumping to new peaks.

Congratulations Mr. Modi.  Good luck as you get to work. Don’t eff it up.

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Posted on 14-04-2014
Filed Under (Entertainment) by Rashtrakut

The last few weeks my Facebook feed has been filled with parents complaining about their Frozen obsessed kids (generally daughters) driving them batty with repeated renditions of the songs.  The good folk at HISHE have an alternative ending…which would of course have meant a much shorter movie.  Enjoy the video below:

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Posted on 21-03-2014
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

This should not be funny, but for some reason it is.  [Hat tip to Chicagoist via Gizmodo.]  The group dynamics of the penguins trying to navigate their way across the rope are fascinating.  Video below:

 

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Posted on 19-03-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The last week has been a fascinating exercise to watch the Republican Party demonstrate its compassion for the poor and discriminated.  It started with alleged policy wonk Paul Ryan misquoting a story to advance his opposition to free school lunches because the kid at the other end would rather have a home made lunch in a brown paper bag.  This in typical Paul Ryan style ignored the possibility that the brown paper lunch bag from home could be empty.

Ryan then followed it up by following the vintage GOP racial dog whistle on urban poverty, ignoring rural poverty.  As Jamelle Blue notes that after decades of pandering to racial resentment the GOP should not be surprised at such a backlash.  However to give Ryan credit he did backtrack on his comments in a fashion few in his party would do. 

Then over last week the GOP has trotted out female representatives to explain why we don’t need statutes to mandate equal pay for women.  Now the extent of the gender pay gap can be debated, but there have been many cases like WalMart where women were paid less for the same work.

However according to Cari Christman, executive director of the Red State Women PAC, a Texas based group that is backing Greg Abbott, the current state Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor women are “too busy” for equal pay laws.  Watch below:

 

Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, followed that up by recommending that “instead of pursuing the courts for action, [women should] become better negotiators.”

According to Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) legislation to address equal pay and sick leave does not actually help women in the workplace, but makes them look like “whiners.”   Listen below:

 

In an ideal fantasy world like the one State Sen. Phil Jensen (R-S.D.) inhabits, we would not need discrimination statutes.  The ugly reality is that we are correcting centuries of gender and race discrimination and these attitudes still persist.  Laws that mandate equal treatment based on gender or race are not “special rights.”. But the GOP seems to think it is still 1964.  So much for the vaunted Republican outreach to women and minorities.

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Posted on 18-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

For the last few weeks Vladimir Putin has been mocking the intelligence of the world by denying the Russian invasion of the Crimea.  Even if the laughable interpretation that the soldiers taking over the peninsula were “local self-defense units,” the Russians had no explanation for the Russian tanks patrolling the streets.  Then this weekend came the mockery of a referendum on the fate of Crimea.  The status quo was not an option on the ballot.  Resentful Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum.  Support for unifying with Russia which measured in the 40s somehow manifested in a Soviet style 97% majority (aided by voting miracles like the votes cast in Sevastopol exceeding the voting population).  Fresh off this mockery, Putin then proclaimed that Crimea had “always” been a part of Russia (even though it did not become a part of any Russian state till the late 18th century and the current Russian majority is the product of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing).  The mask is off and Putin has now openly annexed the Crimea.

What happens next is where the danger lies.  Russia is now pushing for the Finlandization of Ukraine – demanding it remain non-aligned and drastically federalize its constitution to meet Russian diktats.  In the last few weeks Putin has asserted the right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians beyond his borders – a statement that probably sends a chill down the spines of his neighbors.

Yet in the long run Putin’s embrace of the Chinese model of making friends and influencing people belies a deep weakness – the KGB thug has been unable to steer his most valuable neighbor into his embrace with carrots and now tries the stick.  This model has not worked well for China, which counts on rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea as its ally.  Burma’s junta scared by a future as a Chinese colony choose to release Aung San Suu Kyi and cautiously democratized.  ASEAN countries and Japan scared by Chinese saber rattling have run back to Uncle Sam’s embrace.

This is the future for Russia.  Even if Putin detaches parts of Eastern Ukraine, he now has an extremely resentful neighbor on his western front.  And the reward for this is Crimea – a province that relies on Ukraine for its water and electricity and is currently unreachable from Russian territory by road.  He has ensured Russian expulsion from the G8 (not that Russia belonged there to begin with) and has sent alarm bells ringing in Russia’s former Warsaw Pact prisoners and the Baltic States.  All this because for the second time in a decade Ukraine would not be ruled by Russia’s anointed leader.

Russia has the ability to cause mischief (notably in Iran and Syria) but barring miscalculations that lead to war in Ukraine, not much more.

The reaction in the United States has been typical.  The Republicans agree with President Obama’s plans in substance (other than the silly desire to put missiles in the Czech Republic) but want more effective posturing.  Mitt Romney not realizing his 15 minutes are up showed up to predictably bash the President but had no real substance to add in terms of solutions.  The Obama administration’s hands are tied by the reality that its sanctions can have limited effect on Russia.  The substance has to come from Europe, where the United Kingdom has been cheerfully accepting the wealth of Russian oligarchs and Germany is worried about the economic fallout.  The next week will be critical to see if the Russians spend their time digesting the Crimea of proceed with the dismemberment of Ukraine.

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Posted on 10-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This blog discussed the desperate attempts to gin up support for Obamacare last week.  The oligarchs Koch have been running a series of mendacious sob stories about sympathetic victims losing health coverage.  Cancer patient Julie Boonstra starred in one of the first commercials.  As soon as the advertisement aired people smelled a rat and asked the Koch front group for supporting material for their assertions.

The group ran ads with Boonstra claiming that identifying factual inaccuracies was an attempt to “silence here.”  However, when confronted with information from her insurer that she would actually save money, Boonstra retorted she did not believe it was true.  Such is the legacy of Republican misinformation of the act.  It must also be noted that Boonstra is the ex-wife of former country Republican party chairman.  But of course that is just a “coincidence.” The mendacity will continue

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Posted on 09-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Asif Mandvi dismantles another tedious right wing talking point about Obamacare – that it will destroy “the best healthcare system in the world.”  Of course the WHO has ranked our system 37th- but why should facts interfere with a talking point.  The reality also is that many people cannot afford our health care.  The speechless look on Fox Business commentator Todd Wilemon who cheerfully opined that the solution for poverty was that the poor should “just stop being poor” is priceless.  Video below:

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Posted on 09-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Russian invasion of the Crimea is grist of the Obama derangement syndrome mill.  It is truly impressive how the right can fit their view of President Obama for any point of view.  He is the tyrant, the dictator, the man taking away all of your freedoms.  But now he is weak, feckless and wears mommy jeans.  Coupled with their contempt for the President is the odd fascination with former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (whose stock rose in certain circles after Russia passed statutes restricting the rights of homosexuals.

Putin of course is not the strongman of their wet dreams.  He heads a corrupt oligarchy funded by Russian oil and natural gas.  Russia is a decaying country facing demographic disaster and Putin’s long tenure has not even begun to stem the rot.  Even the invasion of Ukraine occurred from a position of weakness.  Putin’s patsy in Kiev was abruptly toppled and the demonstrators in the Western part of the country indicated that their future is in Europe not in Putin’s corrupt oligarchic embrace.

Jon Stewart has a nice rundown of the derangement infecting the right.  Video below:

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