Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Foreign Policy attempts to burst many long held notions on what brought down the Berlin Wall.  The article does not list another factor that contributed in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union.  Other than Yugoslavia (which having declined to be a client state had been expelled from the Soviet bloc), all the other regimes were imposed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.  The illegitimacy of these puppet regimes did not help the cause of Soviet control.  Even though public unrest was brutally suppressed previously in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, cracks had already appeared in the Iron curtain by 1989(Poland had struggled to control Solidarity for a decade).  The outcome could have been far bloodier, but by 1989 it is not clear that these regimes could indefinitely bribe the men with the guns.  In contrast the regimes that were not imposed solely as a result of Soviet tanks rolling into town and whose local communist leadership had genuine nationalistic credentials (China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam) have proved much harder to dislodge.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Rupert Murdoch is continuing to fire away at Google.  So far it is all talk and no action.  The media baron is stymied by the change brought about by the internet that had upended journalism’s traditional revenue model.  It is hard to see him actually take Fox News off search engine sites that drive traffic to his websites.  Others like Mark Cuban think he may be on to something.  The problem is that many newspapers like the New York times have tried and failed to get subscribers to pay for content.  The Wall Street Journal with its unique business following is one of the only “old media” outlets to succeed with this model.  I tend to agree with Matt Ingram, a link to a site that requires subscription or worse payment is likely to send me scurrying in search of alternative news sources.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Time magazine reviews Hillary’s performance at the State Department.  Tina Brown who previously tut-tutted that Barack Obama had essentially made Hillary don a burkha, changed her tune after the blunt press conference in Pakistan.  See previous post on the subject here.  With the presence of Joe Biden, Robert Gates and Susan Rice in the cabinet and not to mention the President’s own strong views on the importance of diplomacy, Hillary Clinton was never going to have carte blanche on foreign policy (and but for the scandal in New Mexico that kept former ambassador extraordinaire Bill Richardson out of the cabinet she would have had to contend with another foreign policy heavyweight).  However, the tensions within the administration so far have not spilled into the public.  As Tina Brown notes, she appears comfortable with where she is.  Even with an occasional gaffe like the one on Israeli settlements last week, she has largely stayed on message.  With the most challenging foreign policy atmosphere in a generation Barack Obama will need all the help he can get.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Dahlia Lithwick comments on the recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole violates the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  It is not hard to feel revulsion at some of the crimes that caused the juveniles to be tried as adults.  However, locking away teenagers for life without ever reviewing the possibility of redemption (which is unlikely given prison conditions) seems like such a waste of human life.

With the largest per capita incarceration rate in the world, the United States appears to have essentially abandoned the pretense of prison as a deterrent.  As the chart below shows, the war on drugs in the 1980s has also caused an explosion in prison populations.

Prison incarceration in the United States

Locking people up and throwing away the keys has caused a drop in the crime rate in the last 20 years.  But at the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart, it has come at the cost of writing off a large section of American society.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

By demanding the return of Mother Teresa’s remains to the land of her ancestry, Albania has ruffled some feathers in the city where the diminutive nun conducted her mission.  Not surprisingly the request has been summarily rebuffed.  But it raises a question of national identity and ethnic pride.

To what extent should one bask in the accomplishments of ethnic kin that were almost entirely achieved in another country?

2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan caused some heartburn in India when he publicly wondered why so many people in India kept contacting him to offer congratulations.  Most such emigres do not share Dr. Ramakrishnan’s humility and are only too eager to soak up all the adulation they can get.  Likewise the people granting the adulation often merely seek to bask in the reflected glory from their ethnic kin.  A more positive use would be to use the ready made role model to inspire and encourage future accomplishments on the home front.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted earlier, there seems little enthusiasm to create a genuine European state which would require an even greater surrender of national sovereignty to Brussels.  The Economist on how the process to select the new President will lead to a noneity whose words will carry little weight.  But even if the Europeans choose a stronger personality for the Presidency and for Foreign Minister, the larger European countries are unlikely to kowtow to the missives from Brussels.  With such an inherently flawed structure, the whole debate seems an exercise in futility.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Economist details the simmering tensions between China and India and the ongoing struggle to resolve the century long dispute over the McMahon Line.  Ever since India’s defeat in its 1962 war with China, the two countries have eyed each other warily.  Pakistan ever eager to seek a counterweight against India has latched on to the Chinese lifeline, while India during the Cold War veered towards the Soviet Union.  In recent years some American policymakers have sought out India as a counterweight to the emerging Chinese superpower.

None of this is in the long term interest of either country.  Both have restive minority regions and threats to their stability from regions that have not shared in their economic boom.  The dispute at present is also over a remote sparsely populated region which few Chinese or Indians have bothered to visit, but as the Economist notes is complicated by ties to Tibet.  Hopefully calmer heads will prevail and the countries will avoid a armed confrontation driven solely by notions of national pride.

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Posted on 10-11-2009
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

The Vatican reaffirmed today that the attempt to reel in disaffected married Anglican clergy will not ease the ban on married clergy within the Catholic church itself.  As someone watching from outside, it seems difficult to see how long the Vatican can just ignore this contradiction.  Then there is the failure to effectively enforce the ban in Africa and Latin America, the most notorious recent example being the current President of Paraguay who fathered at least one child when he was still a bishop.  It is yet another example in church history where political expediency causes headaches in matters of religious doctrine.

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