Posted on 31-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Foreign Affairs has a post up about Turkey leaving the West.  To some extent it is not surprising.  While people in the West and even previous Pakistani dictator Musharraf praised the Turkish model of secularism as a guide of the Middle East, it has always had an air of artificiality to it.  The aggressive elimination of religion from the Turkish public sphere was influenced by the admiration of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his fellow officers for the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.  It was also made possible by his iconic status as the defender of the Turkish state following World War I.  As a result it has not been easy to replicate.

The Foreign Policy article however seems excessively alarmist.  For a different tone see here.  In recent years Turkish attempts to engage with the West and  to join the European Union have been repeatedly rebuffed.  It is not surprising that Turkey would want to reorient its foreign policy that has it stuck between Asia and Europe and yet a member of neither.

It is hard to see how a democratically elected Turkish government can totally ignore domestic opinion, which after repeated rebuffs by Europe and outraged by George W. Bush’s unilateral invasion of Iraq, turned very hostile to the United States in the last decade.  The Turkish reaction is yet another example of just how big was the public-relations disaster created by the Israeli military action in Gaza at the beginning of the year.  Turkey’s recent actions also demonstrate the folly of  an approach to foreign policy that eschews active diplomacy.  Countries will follow what they deem to be their best interest and the support, even of allies, should not be taken for granted.

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Posted on 31-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Its part of a predictable pattern.  Barack Obama goes to Dover Air Force base to honor returning the war dead.  Shortly there after is the latest Liz Cheney critique on the visit which misleadingly suggests that George W. Bush made similar visits to Dover without cameras (Bush never went to Dover though he visited with the families of the war dead in private).  All of this causes MSNBC’s Lawrence O’ Donnell to sound off on the latest Cheney broadside.

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Posted on 31-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The official Republican candidate whose campaign is collapsing suspends her campaign for the good of the party, even though her opponents were willing to see the Democrat win instead of a so-called RINO.  It will be interesting to see how her supporters break out for the other two candidates or if they just stay at home.

UPDATE:  It appears that Scozzafava intentionally did not endorse Hoffman to prevent her disgusted moderate supporters from going to the Democrat and possibly avoiding Hoffman’s supporters from being upset if he praised her personally.  Lets see how they plays out and how much support Scozzafava actually draws at the polls next week.

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It gets worse.  Presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah threatens to  pull out of next week’s runoff.  One of the contentious issues is the head of the Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Lodin who made some fairly partisan comments last week essentially assuring a Karzai victory.  I am not sure I understand the American desire for a “power-sharing” arrangement to solve the standoff.  For that to work, it requires a level of trust that does not exist on either side here.  Otherwise you have the problem that caused the breakdown of a similar process in Zimbabwe.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has tossed out thousands of juvenile convictions by former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella from Jan. 1, 2003 to May 31, 2008.  Judge Ciavarella allegedly received kickbacks for sending juveniles accused of minor crimes to a detention facility.  The good judge was essentially being compensated handsomely while he maintained his tough on crime image and ruined young lives in the process.  Corruption in the administration of justice is not unknown, but something this blatant destroys the credibility of the justice system.  Another reason why lay persons and the media should pay closer attention to local officials and their myriad conflicts of interest.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A comment to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her refreshingly frank tour of Pakistan has irritated me more than it should.  During an exchange she was told that Pakistan “was fighting America’s war”.  As Clinton herself acknowledged, the United States did abandon Pakistan when the Soviets left Afghanistan.  But Pakistan’s current situation is the result of the terrible choices made by its security and political establishments in the past 20 years and beyond.  Pakistan’s failure to create a viable educational system or develop its economy delegates a vast section of its population to madrassas where they emerge as radicalized youth with no career skills ripe for harvesting by terror groups.  Pakistan’s security establishment turned a blind eye to many of these groups because they could be used to bleed India in Kashmir.  The ISI created and funded the Taliban’s rise to power in the 90s and Pakistan was one of only three countries (along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize that brutal regime.

After 9/11 the Musharraf dictatorship avoided many hard choices with respect to the terrorist establishment and in fixing Pakistani society.  Instead, it used American aid replenish its military arsenal against India.  Pakistan has been riding the jihadi tiger for the last 20 years and is now finding out that it is very hard to get off without being bitten.

For the  last decade the Pakistani establishment has acted as if it could continue business as usual in launching terrorists against India and pretending all was well in its unruly Northwest.  The American drones were used because the Pakistani army would not or could not launch anti-insurgency operations in Waziristan.  After the Mumbai attacks last year and with the increasingly brazen attacks on army and civilian targets inside Pakistan in the past few months, it is clear that things have to change.  Its time the Pakistani people stopped blaming everybody else and took a close hard look at the ruin they have created from its founder’s dreams.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Previously posted on the administration calling out Fox.  Its been amazing to see the mainstream media rally to Fox’s defense and pretend that what the Obama administration is doing something new…except that the Bush administration did the same thing to MSNBC this last year.  But the reason for this post is the absolutely brilliant, must see video from Jon Stewart skewering Fox.  Enjoy!

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
For Fox Sake!
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis
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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

From the folks at deadspin.com a case of sheer bureaucratic stupidity.  High School cross-country team gets disqualified because of the color of the stitching on their shorts.  And nobody can really give a good reason why this rule was enacted.  But a rule is a rule, however stupid.  This is the sort of bureaucratic rigidity that breeds contempt for rules and regulations.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This blog has not had much good to say about the feckless Hamid Karzai.  But today we shift gears to the men with the guns who make Afghanistan ungovernable while fattening their pockets.  A Who’s Who from the folks at American Progress.  Some like Rashid Dostum have a long bloody history.  The brothers Karzai are recent additions to the list after their brother’s elevation to the presidency.  Ismail Khan and his fiefdom of Herat was one of the few bright spots in Afghanistan between the fall of Mohammad Najibullah and the rise of the Taliban.  Lately he is yet another squabbling warlord hovering around the weak Karzai regime.  As these warlords squabble they help generate the insecurity that allows the Taliban to dream of a comeback.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A previous post alluded to the problem the United States had in training an Afghan army.  Here is another article about the cultural, economic and logistical nightmares that bedevil the training effort of an Afghan army and have prevented any draw down of American troops.  The United States had a similar problem creating an Iraqi army, but Iraq at least had a tradition of a professional army.  Then there is the insistence on training the soldiers with the M-16.  This may be a boon for American military suppliers and it does have superior firepower than the the low maintenance AK-47, but one wonders whether a weapon which even trained American soldiers find difficult to maintain in rugged Afghan conditions is ideally suited as the weapon of choice for the rag tag Afghan army.

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Posted on 29-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Time magazine has an article up about Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of Osama bin Laden and a disturbing inner look at his abusive and ruthless upbringing.  With the father hiding in the wilds of Pakistan’s northwest, this may be the closest insider account we may get for a while.

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Posted on 29-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

An update on a previous post regarding the Republican civil war in upstate NY.  Buoyed by celebrity support Doug Hoffman is now surging and the official Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava is fading rapidly.  It is now a battle between the right wing conservative and the Democrat.  A Hoffman victory will cheer the Republican base but offers little comfort to moderates like Mark Kirk in Illinois who must not tack hard right in their primary and face a loss in the general election in their centrist states.

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Posted on 29-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

This seems too close to the Governator’s (or his staff’s) likely feelings about the California legislature to be an (extremely unlikely) coincidence.  The key is to read the first letter in each of the letter’s eight lines vertically downwards.

Schwarznegger's subliminal message

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

A close family friend forwarded me the latest offering from Wendy Doniger on Hinduism.  I first became aware about the controversy surrounding the good professor during the dispute a few years ago regarding Professor Courtright’s book about Ganesha.  For a discussion of the academic analysis behind that particularly book see here.  The revelations of the incestuous peer review process in humanities academia (which is something I previously noticed in my education)  have soured my perceptions of humanities and social science academia.  There is already a critique of Doniger’s book by Aditi Banerjee on line. See here.

Doniger and her cohorts have the tedious tendency to dismiss all her critics as Hindutva fundamentalists.  However, the controversy surrounding their scholarship does raise some questions: (a) how appropriate is it to apply the social mores of today in reviewing books written thousands of years back rather than the cultural context of the time? (b) how effective is a peer review process when most of the reviewers are not practitioners of that religion, and (c) who gets to define a religion, its practitioners or academic scholars who openly admit they are not practitioners.

These are not straight forward questions and the answers in my opinion can come tinged in gray.  Research into Hinduism and provocative theories and research into Hinduism should be encouraged and the perspective of someone raised outside a cultural milieu can provide valuable insight or provide a thought provoking moment for practitioners.  The problem is that Hinduism academia in the United States is largely filled by non-practitioners and non-Indians.  Even with the best of intentions it very easy to miss cultural contexts in this isolated academic ivory tower.

However, the 1000 lb gorilla in the room is whether the mis-characterization of Hindu texts and beliefs (even if unintentional) will be used for propaganda purposes.  Post 9/11 we have already seen how selectively quoting verses from the Quran can be used to demonize a whole faith.  It will be naive to assume that the works of Doniger and Courtright are not been eagerly lapped up for aggressive missionary work in India.

Doniger’s book by its title indicates that it should not be used as an introduction to Hinduism.  An “alternative history” suggests a book written to advance a view-point or an agenda. However, Doniger’s high profile presence in American academia suggests that it will be used exactly for that purpose.   And that creates the risk that a work by an admitted non-practitioner whose scholarship has been questioned could become part of the academic curriculum in the United States.

Doniger’s book will generate the inevitable firestorm.  One hopes that the critiques and reviews that come steer clear of ad hominem attacks and focus instead on the substance of her book.  This will require a dispassionate reading of ancient texts which may lead to some unsettling conclusions.  However, this will generate a genuine exchange of ideas and opinions that ultimately will serve the cause of American scholarship on Hinduism.

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

An interesting New York Times article on Google’s latest challenge to Apple.  It will be interesting to see how these technological giants rumble in the future and whether they can recover their previous cooperation.  It is interesting to see how other giants like Microsoft and Nokia (in the interests of disclosure love my Nokia phone and have no desire to switch to the iPhone) respond.  With the PC market maturing rapidly, Microsoft needs to expand beyond its excessive reliance on Windows licensing revenues.

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

A by-election in an upstate New York congressional seat has set off a furious battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.  Aided by New York’s unusual political setting the race for NY-23 could hint at the continuing irrelevance of the Republican Party or suggest that appealing to the core could lead to political revival.  It started when President Obama appointed the long serving congressman of NY-23 as Secretary of the Army.  The local party nominated Dede Scozzafava to replace him on the ballot.  However, her views on taxes, abortion, and same-sex marriage infuriated the true-believers.  The Republican candidates in New York generally also run on the New York Conservative Party ballot with the votes from each party line added to the candidates total.  A different Conservative Party nominee can take away votes from the Republican.

The Conservatives responded by nominating the markedly more right wing Douglas L. Hoffman whose candidacy has eagerly been embraced by luminaries on the right wing fringe like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey  and Sarah Palin.  This has triggered a full scale mutiny from the base.  Even though the Republicans have held this district since the 1800s, Barack Obama carried it last fall.  Ergo its a classic swing district that could go Democratic depending on the candidate.  Pointing out that the Republican party with its current 20% identification needs to expand its reach has earned even former Speaker Newt Gingrich the derisive appellation R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only).  Even though the Club For Growth has dutifully trotted out a poll showing Mr. Hoffman leading, its methodology has been questioned.  At this point the likely result is an unexpected victory for Democrat Bill Owens.

While the Republicans are likely to eat their own in the near future they must ponder if they wish to remain a regional party of white Southerners.  Gingrich is right.  To win a majority you have to appeal beyond your base.  At present the Republican Party is non-existent in New England, fading in the Midwest and struggling in the Southwest after alienating the Hispanic vote.  The Democratic takeover of the House was aided by choosing conservative Democrats in conservative districts (like Heath Shuler in North Carolina) or Senate seats (like Evan Bayh in Indiana).  Ideological purity becomes viable in a state or district aligned to the cause.  Which is why Joe Lieberman who would have probably been fine in Nebraska was given the boot by exasperated Connecticut Democrats (and won largely on Republican votes).  Sticking a hard right conservative in a moderate district appears to be a recipe for long term failure.  The right wing better keep its fingers crossed that Mr. Hoffman does not come in third as most polls indicate.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

Kudos to the Obama administration for clarifying that they oppose the ridiculous UN motion regarding defamation of religion.  It is understandable that Muslims are upset about the assaults to their faith by prominent western politicians and the infamous Danish cartoon controversy.  But this resolution undercuts at the very essence of free speech and the exchange of ideas, even obnoxious ones.  What makes this resolution even more offensive is that it is being sponsored by countries like Saudi Arabia which do not permit free exercise of religion, prevent the importation of religious texts of other countries and insult other faiths in their academic curriculum.  Many of these states also have blasphemy laws that are often used to abuse religious minorities.  Even with some of the offensive comments made regarding Islam in the last decade and the documented cases of discrimination against Muslims, the West does not have any reason to feel defensive about their record on respecting religious freedom (particularly given the track record of some of the accusers).  People have noted that while the Saudis have funded the construction of a mosque in Rome, they are unlikely to permit the construction of a church in Saudi Arabia.  Freedom should work both ways.

This brings up a conversation I had with an extremely religious neighbor a few years back that free speech should not allow people to offend.  Actually it should…otherwise the speech is not truly free.  The assault on free speech is not unique to any ideologies, but it should be pointed out that free speech also does not  prevent others from calling out bigoted or hateful comments.  There is some unintended irony in the attempt by Muslim countries to pass such a resolution.  All of the founders of the Abrahamic faiths (including Islam) would have likely violated this resolution by “defaming” the religious practices of their neighbors.  But then this is not really intended to be an ecumenical resolution.

The Canadian representative at the United Nations this March got it right, “Individuals have rights, not religions.”  The OIC would be better off in assisting the victims of discrimination, cooperating with the West in combating incidences of bigotry and cleaning up their own acts at home.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Scientific American has an interesting read on a new analysis that seems to confirm the sometimes derided hockey stick graph of global warming.  I don’t share the optimism that it will change the minds of prominent global warming deniers.  As in the debate over evolution, emotion trumps empirical evidence.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

See article here.  Its a cautious rating and hard to argue with.  People scoff at the value of talk over action, but Obama’s calm demeanor has considerably cooled down global temperatures.  Time will tell where the Incomplete grade ends up.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Matthew Hoh, former Marine corps captain who served in Iraq to join the foreign service resigned last month in protest over the continuation of the Afghan war.  This is not a man who can be dismissed as a week kneed liberal and appears to have been highly regarded.  This blog has been ambiguous on the subject of the Afghan intervention.  It has expressed concerns that the United States appears to be intervening in the next round of the Afghan civil war and that unless the corrupt Afghan government gets its act together the sacrifice of men and material will all ave been for naught.  Mr. Hoh seems to have expressed similar concerns from his vantage point on the ground with concerns that the American military involvement is fueling Pashtun nationalism.  These are valid concerns that must be addressed.  Unfortunately, domestic politics may trump these valid points as the ultimate tipping point on remaining in Afghanistan for the near future.

Having generally ignored Afghanistan for most of the Bush presidency, former Vice President Dick Cheney reemerged last week to accuse President Obama of dithering on Afghanistan and urging him to rush his decisions in a manner that obviously worked so well on Mr. Cheney’s watch in Iraq.  Likely 2012 presidential rivals Mitch Romney and Tim Pawlenty whose foreign policy statements generally contain more platitudes than deep thoughts or practical policy are also tossing some criticism.  See here and here.  A cynical outlook suggests that a fear of looking weak will force the Administration’s hand, though if Mr. Karzai continues his delightful habit of blaming everybody but himself it will increase American eagerness to jettison its Afghan albatross.

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Posted on 26-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

How to deal with emerging economies has been a huge stumbling block in climate change negotiations.  The Kyoto treaty foundered in the United States because it did not place requirements on India and China.  India and China point out that their per capita pollution is a fraction of western countries and they would need assistance in terms of technology transfer.  This position has been cynically exploited by resource rich countries like Saudi Arabia.  However, faced with the impact of global warming the Indian environmental minister is internally lobbing around a proposal to kick start negotiations.  However, as the article suggests that none of this will work without American leadership.  And American leadership is imperiled by climate change deniers (See a slideshow of some of the most vocal deniers) many of whom who control the ideology of its opposition party and a national chamber of commerce too short sighted to explore the opportunities that a clean energy policy could provide.

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This link by Andrew Sullivan about a proposal to replace the House of Lords got me thinking about an issue that has fascinated me for a while.  How did government structures evolve as to their current form and how does a country choose a structure best suited for its needs?  Why do countries with a similar socio-economic background have differing successes with the same governmental system?  As Afghanistan founders in its presidential election and Iraq struggles to draft an electoral law these are pressing concerns in current affairs.  So this will be the first of a series of (non-academic) ramblings on the subject surveying the evolution of ruling systems through history.

Thomas Bingham’s proposal in someways is emblematic of the patchwork way the United Kingdom’s unwritten constitution has evolved.  Most of its constitutional developments have been ad hoc attempts to address the problem at hand rather than a result of a comprehensive review of how and why things are the way they are.

King John abuses the nobility, get the Magna Carta.  Henry III squanders money on foreign favorites and wars (and a quixotic attempt to place his son on the Sicilian throne) get the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster.  Edward I wants money for wars in France and Scotland get a parliament.  Worried about a Catholic monarch, toss him out, restrict his successor’s power and bar Catholics from the throne.  Worried Scotland will break the personal union of the crowns when the childless Queen Anne dies. ram through an Act of Union. Expand the franchise as needed.  If the House of Lords gets in your way, cut down its power and alter its composition.  The United Kingdom did completely separate out its judiciary from Parliament until October 1, 2009 when it finally created a Supreme Court.  Until then it was a function of the House of Lords.

The piecemeal approach has generally worked, but there are some major inequities in the current system.  Even Thomas Bingham’s proposal does not address the problem created by devolution of powers to a Scottish and Welsh Parliament.  Scottish and Welsh ministers in Westminster can vote on solely English issues.  However, English MPs cannot vote on items devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments.  The London based governments of England have historically been slow to address issues of concern in the far off regions of the country. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 25-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

An interesting article by Time on the appearance by British National Party chief Nick Griffin on a BBC show last week.  An economic downturn combined with rising immigration seem to bring an upswing in the fortunes of parties like the BNP.

When mainstream parties latch on to this fervor it can backfire.  In the United States the California Governor Pete Wilson latched on to anti-immigrant fervor to win re-election in 1994.  When the fervor died down it emerged that he had driven Hispanic voters into the Democratic column for the foreseeable future.  Egged on by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs and Republican congressmen like Tom Tancredo, certain sections of the Republican party adopted a similar tack dooming the Presidential ticket in the Southwest and scaring off white middle class voters in the 2008 election.

But the Time article does raise a valid issue of how these concerns are to be addressed.   This issue has affected many other European countries like France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary etc.  The fundamental problem in Europe has been that as non-immigrant societies they have struggled to integrate their immigrants.  Even though the United States has had nativist outbreaks dating back to Benjamin Franklin grumbling about German immigration, the immigrant populations have generally integrated into American society.

The burden does fall both ways.  While immigrants should have a right to have their religious and cultural traditions respected, they must also understand that their is a reason why they left their homelands to settle down far away and the inhabitants of the country can feel unsettled by a sudden influx of people who look, dress, eat, worship and talk differently.  A healthy dialogue of communities is essential to prevent repeats of stories like this one from last month.  For the follow up click here.

Ultimately a lot of the BNP’s support appears rooted in economic malaise.  Immigrants are likelier to compete for jobs with people at the lower rungs of the economic ladder.  The added competition in a shrinking job market provides a simple breeding ground for the type of emotions the BNP feeds on.  And job creation is not an easy task in the current economic climate.

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Posted on 25-10-2009
Filed Under (History, Politics & Propaganda) by Rashtrakut

The previous post on this topic delved back into ancient Indian history.  This one deals with a person still alive and of far more recent vintage.  The underlying thesis of this post is not as likely to be as uncontroversial.  The presidency of his son has done wonders for the image of George Herbert Walker Bush.  However, most of the praise has been directed to his wise decision not to invade Iraq without knowing what regime he would install to replace Saddam Hussein.

The problem with the 41st President was that unlike his predecessor and successor he struggled to connect emotionally with the American people.  Since the Great Depression the failure to capture the emotive aspect of the American presidency can make or break an American President.  With his aristocratic Yankee upbringing and ivy league background, George H. W. Bush never  managed to be a man of the people.  Coming from the now largely defunct centrist wing of the Republican party he also struggled to connect with the religious right and other hard right conservatives who increasingly constituted the true believers of the Republican Party.  The failure to connect with the public and the lukewarm relations with his base resulted in his failure to reap the benefits of the major successes in his term.

On domestic issues his term saw the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act, neither of which did much to endear him with his base.  However, the act that caused him the most grief was his sensible decision to raise taxes to combat the rising deficit.  This required reneging on his unfortunate pledge at the 1988 Republican Convention to not raise taxes and was the straw that broke the camel’s back with the increasingly vocal contingent of supply-siders in his party.  And then there came the recession.  This is where his inability to relate and provide assurance to the public haunted him.  When he protested loudly at the end of the presidential campaign that the recession was over, he was mocked.  The first jobs report after his presidency would show that he was right and that must have stung.  The failure to relate would result in him being the first Republican to not win re-election since Herbert Hoover (ironically Bill Clinton would be the first Democrat to be re-elected since Hoover’s successor Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 24-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Update on a post earlier in the month when Turkey and Armenia signed their historic accord.  Turkey’s domestic cousin Azerbaijan has tossed the first (and expected) roadblock in the attempted rapprochement.  Like with most regional disputes the final normalization of ties is going to require a regional settlement and a lot of patience.  The benefits to the region and the world’s (particularly Europe’s) energy supply are great.  An added benefit will be the diversification of energy supplies so that Europe does not have to rely as much on Russia’s mercurial mood swings the next time they want to send a message to Ukraine  or another country that displeases it.

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