Posted on 25-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Christian Science Monitor has reported that Pakistan  arrested half of the Afghan Taliban leadership in recent days.  See link.  Speculation abounds about the timing of the crackdown and whether it was related to Pakistan seeking a more direct role in the Afghan peace negotiations.  To me the speed at which the Taliban leadership is being rounded up raises the question why this was not possible in the past eight years or even in the last couple of years when Pakistan itself became the target of the fundamentalist terror it midwifed.  Pakistan’s future actions will show just how serious it is in tackling the threat, or whether this is merely the latest gambit in the new Great Game (see previous blog post).

Also, unclear is the extent the lack of leadership affects the Taliban’s military operations.  It should make it harder to coordinate joint attacks, but there are enough lower level commanders with guns and experience to continue fighting.  Similar decapitations of the leadership among the Pakistani branch of the Taliban appear to have lead to militants training their guns at each other as they jockey for power.  Whether and to what extent the pattern repeats itself here remains to be seen.

For now, this should be a boost to the American surge.  But good news in Aghanistan seems to be accompanied by bad.  As usual it comes from the man supposed to provide the good governance essential for a lasting peace.  In recent days Hamid Karzai has tried to pack Afghanistan’s impartial election commission with his cronies, deepened his ties to the corrupt warlords and once again pandered to the fundamentalist fringe by weakening constitutional protections for female representation in parliament. See here, here and here.  Some things never change.

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Posted on 18-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The casting of Gerard Depardieu to play Alexandre Dumas in a biopic about the famous author has stirred up a hornet’s nest in France.  See link.  Many fans of the possibly greatest author of historical fiction may not know that Dumas whose grandmother was Haitian of Afro-Carribean ancestry dealt with racial taunts all his life.

Alxeandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, photo by Nadar (from Wikipedia)

To play the role, the blond fair-skinned Depardieu had to wear blackface and a curly wig.  Needless to say this has kicked up a racism row.  It looks like the producers tried to raise the likely viewership by latching on to the Depardieu’s popularity.  I am not in principle opposed to actors portraying a different race, recently satirized by Robert Downey, Jr.’s brilliant performance in Tropic Thunder, but it is a sore subject among minority actors in Hollywood (and evidently in France) for good reason.

If roles were subject to race-blind casting this would not be an issue.  But ethnic actors find themselves pigeonholed into stereotypical roles with few opportunities for a major role.  So when a prominent part like this in their ethnicity goes to someone who has to perform in blackface, it is not hard to see why they get upset.  For an alleged bastion of liberalism, Hollywood has aways been retrograde and craven on race.  Race was evidently a major factor in the casting of the leads in Hitch (African American superstar with a Latina actress). See link.  Minorities often disappeared on major TV shows.  The sitcom Friends somehow spent a decade in New York City with lily white racial surroundings.  “ER” set in downtown Chicago had a near total absence of any Asians.  Indian American characters on TV speak with the exaggerated accent of Apu on the Simpsons (voiced by Hank Azaria) though many of them are born and raised in the United States.

Now I don’t think TV shows need to match the exact racial percentages that exist in American society, but I do wish that the TV execs would break out of their own ethnic prejudices and put some faith in the American public.  At a time when we have a President of mixed race, interracial or race-blind casting should not be taboo.  Based on recent shows, Hollywood seems to be improving.  But more needs to be done so that  a cross-racial casting like the one above can one day pass with little comment, other than those evaluating the caliber of the performance.

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Argentina upped the ante in its long dispute over the Falklands.  See link.  It does not help that the disputed islands may have oil and natural gas deposits.   This is makes Argentinian angst on the subject even more acute, and probably explains why Argentina is trying to make it harder to sustain an oil exploration venture on the Islands.

Geographic proximity would appear to argue for Argentinian control of the Falklands.  But since the islands were uninhabited when Europeans landed, the sovereignty claims are fairly complex.  It does not help Argentina’s case that the islanders themselves vocally want to be a part of the United Kingdom.  With no native populations displaced by the colonization there are few moral arguments against respecting their wishes.

This is very similar to the periodic spats between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar.  Ever since the British conquest was ratified by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Spain has tried repeatedly to get it back (including a 4 year siege during the American Revolution).  With two referendums (the last in 2002) having overwhelmingly voted for British sovereignty Spain has periodically responded with petulant economic blockades and harassing border restrictions.  Unlike the Falklands the capture of Gibraltar was accompanied by the departure of the native Spanish inhabitants.  Whether that has any moral bearing on the dispute 300 years later depends on your point of view.

Ironically Spain is engaged in a similar dispute with Morocco over Spanish enclaves on the North African coast.  Spain rejects any equivalency because these were Spanish possessions before the current state of Morocco existed.  See link.  Morocco obviously disagrees.

The age of decolonization has reduced the number of far flung outposts (e.g. Hong Kong, Macau and the Panama Canal Zone), but the remaining ones can still cause tempers to fray, even if war is unlikely in many such disputes.

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Posted on 17-02-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The United States Mint has accomplished an unlikely feat.  The have two cities in upstate NY feuding over the rights to hometown son Millard Fillmore.  The minor dust-up that should cause amusement everywhere else came as a result of the Mint’s choice of Fillmore’s birthplace Moravia to launch the new Presidential dollar bearing his name.  Buffalo where Fillmore spent most of his career, where he founded the University of Buffalo and where he is buried has taken umbrage.  See link.  Most Americans (and almost all non-Americans) will probably respond with “Millard Fillmore, who??”

Its hard to blame them.  History has not been kind to the 13th president of the United States.  As one of the mediocrities between James Polk and Lincoln, he is remembered for his failures rather than any successes.  Fillmore had some successes resolving some prickly foreign policy disputes amicably.  But domestically his desperate desire to appease the South gradually built up the tensions that exploded into the civil war.

It is an irony of history that the one Southerner (and the last President to own slaves while in office) to hold the Presidency in the 19th century, Zachary Taylor, had the gumption to stand up to the South promising to lead the army personally to hang traitors.  In contrast, his three vacillating Northern successors spent their tenure appeasing the South.  Fillmore has attracted the most opprobrium for the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that forced Federal marshals in free states to arrest fugitive slaves (somehow revisionist Southerners arguing that the Civil War was about federalism and not slavery forget this basic assault on federalism they perpetrated (albeit based on the US Constitution) to protect slavery).

As a Vice President who was unexpectedly elevated to the Presidency, Fillmore also displays the flaw in the American political process in how Vice Presidential candidates are selected (in recent years John Edwards and Sarah Palin provide examples of people chosen by the arbitrary whims of the candidate and who mercifully were not elected).  He was selected to geographically balance out the ticket, for his obscurity that would not generate too much hostility and to deny some New York party bosses a space on the ticket.

As an ultimate indignity, Fillmore is probably remembered most for a hoax, that he was the first President to install a bath tub in the White House.  The hoax was used without correction in the Kia ad below a couple of years back, which cost some ad execs their job.  See link.

Admirers of this much maligned and obscure President can try joining one of the local Millard Fillmore Societies that pops up as a lark every so often.  See link.  Meanwhile, Millard Fillmore has received the honor of two launches of his dollar coin.  A precedent has been set for the battle over Grover Cleveland, born in Caldwell, New Jersey but whose career was largely in Buffalo, best remembered for being the only President with non-consecutive terms and the last man before Al Gore to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college.

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Posted on 17-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut
  • Howard Fineman who is a friend of the Bayh’s offers a kinder take on Bayh.  See link.  It paints him as a fundamentally decent man who did not have the stomach for nasty politics and the campaign this fall where his wife’s corporate directorships would come under scrutiny.  But one wonders why such a thin-skinned man thought he could rise to the presidency.  While praising Bayh, Fineman unintentionally opens up a couple of critiques for Bayh.  There appears to be an element of petulance at being passed over for the Vice Presidency yet again.  I find it interesting that a man who like Al Gore attended St. Albans, never suffered from financial hardship, worked in private practice only for about 3 years and parlayed his family name into statewide elected office at 31 knows so much about how America operates.  And could we please stop referring to politicians who do not have the spine to cut entitlement spending but want to slash government tax revenues by incessant tax cuts as deficit hawks.  Deficit peacocks seems more appropriate.
  • Ross Douthat from the right repeats many of my critiques yesterday that Bayh was essentially an empty shirt who never had the guts to take a courageous policy stand.  See link.  He articulated conventional wisdom but for a self-professed executive never provided much leadership.  Now he leaves whining about partisanship in the Senate (which to be fair is toxic) but without doing anything meaningful about it.  And on his way out he repeated the nonsensical Republican canard that the stimulus did not create a single job.  The stimulus is unpopular (which naturally finds Bayh ranged in opposition) and one can question how effective it was and whether it was an appropriate policy, but in their honest moments (or when they petition for stimulus funds or while posing for the cameras at ribbon cutting ceremonies for projects they solicited but voted against) even the Republicans agree that jobs have been created.

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Posted on 16-02-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Science (and DNA testing) have now answered some of the mysteries behind King Tut.  Tutankhamun (who started his reign as Tutankhaten) is a fairly obscure and unimportant Pharaoh.  But he is one of the only one whose tomb was discovered nearly intact (perhaps because of his lack of importance and possibly from the loyalty of a successor).  The opulence of his tomb catapulted him into public imagination far beyond what the accomplishments (if any) of the boy-king justified.

And yet not much is known about the boy/man himself.  He ruled during the period when the Egyptian New Kingdom under the XVIIIth dynasty was at the peak of its opulent splendor but facing religious turmoil.  He succeeded the enigmatic Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) who drew the wrath of the priestly class by transferring royal patronage from Amun to the sun god Aten (which has also drawn a lot of attention for alleged monotheism).  The relationship between the two Pharaohs (an there relationship to the even more obscure Smenkhkare who was co-regent and perhaps the brief successor of Akhenaten was not known.

Tutankhamun was assumed to be Akhenaten’s son, but his mother was not known.  Most historians doubted that his mother was the famous Nefertiti and speculated that it was a minor wife of Akhenaten called Kiya.  The damnatio memoriae that appears to have been inflicted on Akhenaten in the religious reaction following his death (when Tuthankhaten morphed into Tutankhamun) may be to blame for this.

But now DNA technology has lifted the veil.  King Tut was likely not murdered by his vizier and successor Ay, but was instead a frail product of inbreeding who suffered from a bone disorder and likely died from an infection from a broken leg aggravated by malaria.  See link.   Also see here and here.  Akhenaten has been identified as his father and Amenhotep III and his chief queen Tiye as his grandparents.  His only grandparents.

Tutankhamun’s mother was Akhenaten’s full sister.  There are no records indicating that Nefertiti was related to Akhenaten which likely rules her out.  So far the identity of the mother is not known.  This also makes Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun known to be a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti his half-sister.

Royal inbreeding was very common in Egyptian history.  The royal family being considered divine a “pure” bloodline was expected to be passed down.  This occurred elsewhere (including for example with the Incas) and the Egyptians appear to have passed it along to their Persian and Greek conquerers.  While sibling marriage faded away after the rise of the Roman Empire, royal families until this century were plagued by the effects of inbreeding.

The DNA testing has also confirmed that Akhenaten was not androgynous in appearance from some medical condition as the artwork of his reign appears to suggests.  The unusual renderings of the Pharaoh and his family appear to have been made for artistic and religious reasons.

Deciphering a 3300 year old mystery was made possible by the Egyptian habit of mummifying the dead.  There seems to be a pattern of solving ancient Egyptian mysteries of late.  See previous blog post.  Maybe the trifecta of finding the tomb of Alexander the Great is round the corner.

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Posted on 16-02-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The last few weeks have seen an uptick in right wing carping about the Obama administration’s allegedly weakness in fighting terror (in large part based on increasing discredited facts about the arrest and interrogation of the underpants bomber and their refusal to torture him).  As signs of the silly season of the silly season are this piece by vocal torture supporter Marc Thiessen that the Obama administration is too darn successful in killing terrorists and is thereby costing us valuable intelligence.  Dick Cheney emerged from his coven to lob his usual broad sides at the administration.

Then came the news of the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi.  See link. Mullah Baradar is second in influence to Mullah Omar and coordinates the old Afghan Taliban’s military operations.  See link.  The arrest complicates the Taliban’s military response to the surge and is an opportunity to be exploited.  The administration is also drawing kudos for keeping quiet about the arrest while intelligence leads against the Taliban in Karachi were pursued.

The fact that this arrest occurred in Karachi shows how the drone campaign is affecting Taliban operations.  Pakistan’s commercial capital has seen an influx of Pashtuns of late and an uptick in violence (beyond the usual round of blood letting between the native Sindhis and the Muhajirs – Muslims who emigrated from India after partition).

The arrest has raised hopes that Pakistan is finally co-operating fully in the fight against the Taliban.  But not everyone is convinced.  Juan Cole in the link above speculates that the violence triggered by the Taliban starting to relocate to Karachi forced the Pakistanis to act.  Others have speculated that it is a cynical attempt to insert Pakistan into the talks with the Taliban.  See link.  I have been harsh in my evaluation of Pakistan’s Janus-faced cooperation in the past, but for now I will defer comments until events play themselves out.

I will also allow my sliver of hope for Afghanistan to widen, slightly.

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Posted on 15-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Evan Bayh’s resignation today rocked the political world.  Nobody saw this coming.  Even though Bayh was likely to draw a Republican challenger, he was expected to win re-election.  His departure leaves the Democrats scrambling for a candidate and makes it very likely that the Republicans pick up the Indiana Senate Seat.

Bayh joins a long string of moderates from both parties departing the Senate fed up with the partisan rancor that permeates the body.  Bayh has also been the target of vituperative attacks from the Democratic base which probably contributed to his weariness with the fray.

Bayh was once the rising star of the Democratic Party, particularly the centrist wing.  Always the bridesmaid never the bride, Bayh was seriously considered as a Vice Presidential running mate for the last three Democratic nominees but none of them took the plunge.  A fairly colorless persona and a policy platform designed to leave the base cold likely prevented Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama from making the pick.

Bayh represents the wing of the Democratic Party that appears to have over learned the mistakes of their fathers.  His father Birch Bayh was a liberal hero who lost his Senate seat in the 1980 Republican landslide to Dan Quayle.  His son was clearly determined to never become more liberal than his state, a fact reflected in his policy stances.

In a conservative state like Indiana, running as a moderate is not necessarily a bad thing.  What has soured the liberal base on politicians like Bayh is the fact that the blue-dog wing of the Democratic Party are essentially Rockefeller Republicans without a spine.  Cautious, timid and ever ready to roll over at a sign of Republican opposition, they are hardly the kind of leaders who can excite a base in a national election.  In fact in the face of an aggressive Republican challenge, as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas will discover in November, the timidity and refusal to take any risks will be a recipe for defeat.

It is worth noting that for all the abuse hurled at Bayh (and his fellow blue dogs) the liberal base of the Democratic Party has not made any serious efforts to run a primary challenger against him (in contrast to the travails of former Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and the challenge facing Olympia Snowe in Maine).  While his vacillations and cheerful willingness to stick it to the base drove them mad, (so far) many on the left realize that a hard left candidate will not win Indiana (in fact the likely replacements on the Democratic ticket will be a centrist Democratic congressman in Indiana – which will likely cost the Democrats a seat in the House).

My personal feelings on Bayh are ambivalent.  I am not fond of dynastic scions.  Bayh’s success as a tax cutting governor in Indiana in the 1990s was made possible in large part by the economic boom/bubble, more a function of good timing rather than any gifts as an administrator.  The orgy of tax cutting in the states in the 1990s caused a fiscal nightmare after the Internet bubble burst in 2000.  Bayh is a self proclaimed “deficit hawk” who blindly supports increased military spending and reflexively supports unsustainable tax cuts (particularly on folks in his high tax bracket).  For the last 30 years this approach has guaranteed higher deficits.  Then there is the walking conflict of interest in his wife Susan being appointed to an assortment of corporate boards just as her husband entered the Senate.  For a man who claims he misses being in the executive branch, his waffling on the health care bill was excruciating to watch.

Bayh in many ways epitomizes the cozy corporate lobbyist culture that corrupts Washington DC.  So why am I ambivalent about Bayh?  Because his  Republican alternatives in Indiana will be far worse (particularly on social issues) and equally tied to the hip with K Street (the likely Republican nominee former Senator Dan Coats is actually a lobbyist in Washington at present).

After licking his wounds Bayh will probably run for Governor again.  There is speculation that Bayh is preparing for his long promised run for the Presidency.  People who think Bayh will successfully challenge Obama in 2012 are deluding themselves.  2016 will likely be a free for all that could draw in Bayh.  Age will likely take Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden out of the race.  But even though six years is an eternity in politics (in 2004 who saw Barack Obama in the White House 4 years later), I have a hard time seeing Evan Bayh getting the nomination.

The Democratic Party’s future probably belongs to someone like Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

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Posted on 14-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The maxim above is one that the American devotees of torture often forget.  This article by Glenn Greenwald is worth reading because it captures right wing hypocrisy on torture and prisoner conditions when Americans or co-religionists are involved.  Greenwald’s column was triggered by recent hand-wringing from usual torture supporters at the plight of the American Baptists arrested in Haiti for smuggling children out of Haiti.  It also gave him the opportunity to revisit this article from 2006 where Michelle Malkin fretted about the quality of legal protections awarded to alleged (Christian) terrorists in Indonesia.

This double standard was of course predictable.  The uniformed military many former officers (including then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Arizona Senator John McCain) and many JAG officers (including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a former JAG officer) opposed the Bush administration’s eagerness to torture (somehow magically transformed by calling it enhanced interrogation) for exactly such reasons.  Once America tortures it does not have much standing to grouse about similar treatment to its own citizens and soldiers.  When America uses fear to toss away the rule of law and the right to a fair trial it is much harder to claim such rights for its citizens, let alone sermonize about the denial of rights to others.

What the torture loving elements of the right also fail to appreciate is that when America eschews torture, it can actually enhance security.  While Republicans have been up in arms lately that the Obama administration did not torture the underpants bomber, they ignore the point raised by Fareed Zakaria in his recent column.  See link.  The underpants bomber and the five American Muslims arrested in Pakistan when they went for jihad training were turned in by their parents.  Zakaria is right to observe that this would not happen if the parents felt that he would be tortured, and while the example of Chechen parents not turning their kids in to Putin’s thugs is a bit extreme it is on point.

So basically the American security hawks want the right to torture or deny trial to terrorist suspects (my guess is that given how the right reacted to the FBI raid at Ruby Ridge in the 1990s we are talking about Muslim suspects here) in the interest of national security, but such deviations from the rule of law are not permitted elsewhere (particularly against Christian suspects).  It is hypocrisy at its rankest.

One of my complaints about the American legal response to 9/11 was the failure to evaluate how other countries handled similar (and often far more severe and pervasive) terrorism threats and the failure to set up mechanisms to limit the inevitable abuse of power from draconian anti-terror statutes.  It was also unfortunately not the first time in American history fear became a mechanism to subvert the rule of law and American values.

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It has become a predictable pattern ever since Pervez Musharraf as chief of the Pakistani army instigated the the Kargil War.  Barely a week after the announcement that India and Pakistan would resume the talks that were put on hold after the Mumbai attacks, comes a bomb attack.  See link.  This time the target is the city of Pune.  As in Mumbai, the target of the attacks was a location where foreigners congregated.  Even though the perpetrators have not been identified, the site of the attack was surveyed by David Headley, the Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is being investigated for his connection with Mumbai attacks.  See link.

The attacks promptly brought calls to suspend talks with Pakistan, which the Indian government has said will continue.  Personally, I see the talks as a charade played out for public (particularly Western) consumption.  President Zardari’s government simply does not have the power to make the compromises necessary for a lasting peace treaty and does not control the Pakistani security establishment.  Islamabad still tries to distinguish the jihadi movement in Afghanistan from the proxies launched against India.  India is never going to accede to a demand to sever Kashmir from the Union of India, at best the Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LOC can look forward to a type of enhanced autonomy (which should probably be extended to the other states of India).  If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the height of his power did not have the ability to recognize the LOC as the international border with India (when he signed the Simla Accord), his widely despised son in law (Asif Zardari) who genuinely seems to want peace with India will not be able to do so either.

So the impasse will continue.  A few months from now Pakistan will complain the Indians are not serious about negotiations.  India will respond that the jihadi network still flourishes in Pakistan.  A terrorist strike that tests India’s patience will occur.  Pakistan will make some token arrests and bans to deflect attention.  One difference from the Musharraf years is that Pakistan stands alone and bereft of world sympathy as a result of its role in midwifing global terrorism.  As the Indian economy grows stronger and as Pakistan crumbles the balance of power is inexorably tilting in New Delhi’s favor.

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Posted on 13-02-2010
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

One of the problems with choosing a sanctimonious corporate motto like the one above (which may be loosely derived from the Hippocratic Oath) is that it opens you up to charges of hypocrisy when you inevitably fall short.  After years of fudging the oath to comply with the dictates of the Chinese security state Google pulled back to a chorus of applause.  Now in one stroke Google has squandered that goodwill with its disastrous launch of Google Buzz.

The arrogance of the implementation of Google Buzz is breathtaking.  New users of Google Buzz found that Google preselected a list of contacts based on the people with whom they communicated with the most on Google mail and chat.  See link.  Also see here.  Did the testers for the product not see the obvious flaw in the procedure and how Google’s presumptuousness was likely to piss off people?  Privacy concerns with social networking sites are hardly new.  Its only been a couple of months since there was a brouhaha about Facebook’s new options to reset privacy settings.  See link. For suggestions to enhance your privacy on Facebook see here.

An example of the privacy maelstrom Google kicked up see this expletive laden blogpost from a blog dedicated to women’s violence issues (the blog itself appears to be offline).  Also as Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy points out Google’s new system could be manna from heaven for authoritarian regimes hunting down dissenters.  See link.

With Google’s Orkut not having a huge following in the United States, Google appears to have tried to jump start its new networking tool to allow it to catch up with Facebook and others.  See link.  Google is right in how tedious it is to populate a new list of friends on a new social network.  The proliferation of these sites makes it very difficult to follow all of them and most users trim the amount of sites they follow.  But Google should still have given people the choice whether they wanted to toss their privacy to the winds (something Facebook in its pursuit of Twitter and a positive revenue stream needs to remember as well).  The brouhaha makes me glad that logistical reasons prevented me from switching my primary email use to my gmail account a few years ago.

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Posted on 12-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

With Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island announcing his retirement the next Congress will not have a member of the Kennedy clan.  See link.  Patrick Kennedy in many ways showcased the advantages of his famous family name and the inner demons that have plagued the clan.  With no real accomplishments other than the luck of birth, he was elected to Congress in 1994 in the face of the Republican wave over a more experienced opponent.  In Congress he has been a reliable progressive Democratic vote, but his personal demons drew him more attention outside Capitol Hill.  Like both his parents he has struggled with substance abuse and today spoke of his desire help people with similar problems in a more hands on fashion.

About 15 years ago there were many promising Kennedys of the third generation holding or expected to seek elective office, with some prospective senators or governors in the mix.  None of that came to pass as scandals (Joe Kennedy Jr.), ineptitude (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) or untimely deaths (JFK, Jr.) limited the rise of the generation.

Kennedys will probably run again, but the passage of time and public revelations have dimmed the lure of Camelot.  The Kennedy name with its implicit reliance on privilege can also be a hindrance (Caroline Kennedy).

But for all all the carping about the Kennedys and privileged politics, dynastic politics is still alive and going string today.  While the House of Bush is tarnished at present by the failure of W’s presidency, it is still likely to produce some more political candidates.  A Daley still governs Chicago.  Sons of sitting and former Congressmen and Governors litter the lists of candidates for elected office.

The reasons are not hard to find.  As the cost of running for office keeps rising, a famous last name gets instant name-recognition, a functioning Rolodex of and access to moneyed contacts and often a political infrastructure to aid the run.   Running as an outsider is incredibly hard.

The cost of running for office is also the reason why both political parties look for candidates who can self-finance (aka are filthy rich).  As a result about 44% of Congressmen (237 per a report last year) are self-reported millionaires.  See link.  With limits on campaign contribution going the way of the dodo, it is an amount likely to increase (an interesting statistic will be to examine how many of them became millionaires after getting to Washington).

Even as the Kennedys fade away the culture of dynasty and money will be around for some time to come.

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Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Newsweek has ruffled some feathers in Switzerland with a provocatively titled article “The Death of Switzerland.”  While this probably sounds like music to the ears of mercurial Libiyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi who tried to introduce a resolution in the United Nations last year calling for the dissolution of country, it has naturally drawn some pushback from the locals that Newsweek is being a a tad melodramatic.  See link.

They may have a point.  Even in their alpine refuge the Swiss are hardly immune to the worries and fears that have spread across an aging continent.  With no tradition of taking in immigrants, Europeans have struggled to integrate the more conservative and religious (and often Muslim) newcomers.  Even the increasing separation of Switzerland’s communities is hardly original in today’s Europe.  See link.

If, as the Newsweek article suggests, English is rapidly becoming the common tongue of the Swiss, it is yet another example of how the former language of imperial rule is today the glue that holds diverse countries (like India) together.

Malaise is easy to find across the Western world nowadays.  One thing the Swiss have in their favor is 800 years of experience in keeping an unwieldy confederation together and adapting to changed circumstances.  It is too early to count Switzerland out.  Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

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Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Many observers have noted that one of the unintended side effects of weakening European nation states in the cause of European integration has been to give the long suppressed sub nationalities their opportunity to claim greater autonomy.  For example the Catalans and the Basques in Spain, some Scots (and increasingly many English) in the United Kingdom do not see the advantage of being a constituent part of the national unit when they could instead get the protection of the super-national European Union.

This has been most evident in Belgium.  Created in 1830 after a Catholic and often French speaking region revolted  against the Dutch dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, the country has always been divided among the French speaking Wallonia in the south and the Dutch speaking Flanders in the north.  Last year there were serious concerns that the country that houses the headquarters of the EU would dissolve. (For analysis of possible scenarios of dissolution see here, for the experiences of a bemused American tourist making sense of the situation in Brussels see here).  An artificial country that some joke is united only by its soccer team and monarchy in a region that has almost never been united, Belgium may have outlived its purpose.

The secessionist trend started by Woodrow Wilson’s famous calls for self determination 90 years ago is not one I look on with much favor.  I can understand it in national units that suppress regional languages and cultures (like France) or where the majority community oppresses the minority and exploits the resources in the minority region (Pakistan in Baluchistan; Sudan with its southern half), but in many of these European countries such a situation does not exist.

What often exists is rank selfishness.  In Belgium a once dominant community is now the economic underclass taking more than its fair share of state resources.  In Italy some in the more prosperous North would rather get rid of the far poorer South (if that was where Italy would end up, they might as well have left poor Francis II on his throne).  It is a sentiment sometimes expressed in the United States where residents of certain states are convinced they are subsidizing everybody else (some with more justification than others).   It is also evident in India as noted by the recent brouhaha in Maharashtra.  See link.

It is a short sighted approach that ignores the inevitable swings of history.  Belgium where poorer Flanders is now economically dominant is a fine example of this.  A cacophony of small states will eventually bring with it far more intransigent battles over national resources (notably water and in the case of England and Scotland oil reserves), inherited debt and other conflicts and a much harder job to divide aid at the European level.  They would be better off working towards a common national purpose while retaining their regional culture (that includes you too Quebec).

But then I do not speak from the perspective of a paranoid or threatened minority.

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Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Following up on my previous posts here and here, is this Newsweek article on the practical difficulty of buying off the Taliban.  See link.  A failure to buy off the “good-Taliban” renders a large chunk of the Obama administration’s Afghan pacification strategy meaningless.  Ron Moreau’s article highlights how the choice before the Pashtun peasantry resembles Morton’s fork.

There is no love lost for the brutal Taliban, but still a sneaking admiration for the true believers who have not taken the easy way out.  But the weak and venal Karzai regime along with its equally brutal warlords offer likelihood of protection.

When the Americans leave it is very likely things fall apart.  As noted in previous blogs, the Taliban resurgence has been immeasurably aided by the inability or the unwillingness of Pakistan to crack down on their former clients.   Pakistan’s crumbling state has also been unable and unwilling to seal off the porous Afghan border.  So the Taliban can strike, retreat to its Pakistani refuge and strike again. Even without the active backing of Pakistani intelligence services, this strategic advantage allows them to survive the immense disparity of manpower that exists on the ground.

Assuming Pakistan has cut off the cash and weapons flow to its former proxies, will that continue once America leaves?  There is little love lost between Karzai and his Tajik and Uzbek allies and Pakistan.  The temptation to rehash the early 1990s could prove irresistible to a Pakistani regime that still tries to distinguish between the domestic Taliban it is bombing and the Afghan Taliban it harbors, however unwillingly.

For a long time I supported the Afghan surge and still believe the diversion of American attention to Iraq cost the world a chance in a generation to guide an exhausted Afghanistan to an uneasy peace.  But as the Afghan conflict starts morphing into a tribal civil war of the sort that has plagued it since the creation of the country by Ahmad Shah Abdali, the desirability of American boots on the ground in the middle of the crossfire will continue to drop.

I hold out a tiny sliver of hope that the Afghan regime will prove my pessimism wrong, but the sliver is tiny and keeps shrinking.

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Posted on 10-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

In the last decade its become fashionable in certain quarters to lob the charge of anti-semitism at any criticism directed at Israel.  For example see link discussing a similar charge against General Wesley Clark.  But the blogging world was stunned this week by the broadside launched by The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier against erstwhile pal Andrew Sullivan.  See link.  Worth reading is this long piece by Glenn Greenwald about TNR’s reckless hurling of anti-semitism charges which has limited its impact (something similar seems to be happening with Nazi and Hitler comparisons lately) particularly when Wieseltier’s boss Marty Peretz delights in racist innuendo against Arabs and Muslims.  Sullivan has himself responded to the screed.  See here, here and here.  Greenwald has also linked to some of the other blogs demolishing Wieseltier’s rants, some of which for convenience are re-linked here, here, and here.  Also see this by Daniel Luban on how the outrage seems generated by the changing rules on how Israel is to be criticized.  Given the material linked above, I will avoid the repetitive task of going through Wieseltier’s tedious post myself.

The anti-semitism card is not targeted just against gentiles.  Associates of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netenyahu were allegedly convinced last year that Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod and other Jews in the Obama administration were “self-hating” Jews for failing to give Israel a blank check.  See link.

Needless to say, this is a very unhealthy manner to conduct a debate.  It is also the fastest way to build resentment among Israel’s well wishers who do not always toe the party line while making it much harder to corral the true anti-Semites.  TNR and their allies would be well served by brushing up on their Aesop’s, particularly the part on The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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Posted on 10-02-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

A pending federal class action case could change the landscape of college sports.  See link.  This case does not deal with the issue of compensating current athletes.  The issue is whether a one year scholarship gave the NCAA the perpetual right to market a college player’s name and likeness and keep the proceeds.

The concept of amateur athletics is steeped in class issues.  The wealthy and upper middle-class idealized the amateur as a true lover of the sport.  Needless to say it helps when your pocket books are so comfortably lined that you can take time off to indulge in your hobby.  This is a luxury unavailable to the economic underclass.  The NCAA fudges the issue by permitting its members to offer academic scholarships to athletes with the understanding that they will not be paid.  The system probably works for the non-revenue sports which do not attract as intense  a fan and alumni following.  In the revenue sports (particularly men’s basketball and football) the system is a joke.

The rules prohibiting players have frequently been broken with punishment being meted out for the most blatant violations.  The NCAA’s enforcement mechanism is already somewhat a joke given its propensity to make an example of smaller programs while giving the major programs (the cash cows) a slap on the wrist.  And herein lies the problem.  The NCAA pretends that college athletes in major college football and basketball are their for an education.  The reality is that major college football and basketball are essentially minor league training leagues for the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.  Insult is added to the injury when major colleges enroll athletes in lightweight majors and courses that do them no good (assuming they graduate) in the job market.  Coaching salaries at major programs run into millions of dollars and successful a athletics program is a cash cow for these schools.

The myth that these athletes are there for an education also results in a bunch of rules to protect college programs.  Transferring athletes have to sit out for a year (something other students do not have to) and transfers within a conference have more draconian consequences.  Meanwhile coaches come and go as you please.  Scholarships are on a year to year basis and totally at the discretion of the coach.  So a hard working player who maintains his grades can still be cut because he did not have the athletic talent the coach thought he did.  Coaches regularly oversign players beyond the permitted scholarship numbers and can trim their rosters with no consequences if too many players qualify.  All of these are the hallmarks of a commercial and not an educational venture.

Then there are NCAA double standards for two sport athletes who turn professional in one of them.  University of Colorado football player Jeremy Bloom happened to be an Olympic caliber skier.  But to afford to ski competitively he had to turn professional which means accepting endorsements.  Seeing this as a backdoor to allowing players being paid the NCAA terminated his college football career.  Meanwhile it is possible for college football players to play professional (generally minor league) baseball.  So in 1998 the Texas Rangers (owned by University of Texas alumnus Tom Hicks) purchased the rights to University of Texas running back Ricky Williams (who everyone knew would play pro football in the future).  This is perfectly fine with the NCAA.

The professional leagues also encourage this fiction of the NCAA’s academic mission with arbitrary minimum ages for entering athletes.  After all they have a good thing going.  They get a minor league system they do not have to pay for and protect themselves from the desire to draft an athletic specimen who still needs to refine his skills.  So they prate on about the value of an education and player maturity.  One should note that similar concerns are rarely expressed for sports like tennis, gymnastics and golf dominated by white middle class kids.

The solution to this is simple though a bit expensive.  Create a genuine minor league system and/or remove the arbitrary age limits for playing in the professional leagues.  The success of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James makes the basketball age limit even more offensive.  The kids who have not matured yet or cannot hack it at the next level will go to college.  College basketball does have cause to tremble, since more kids will consider the path taken by Brandon Jennings who skipped the sham of one year in college to play in Europe.

Most college athletes will never get a chance to play professional sports.  Careers are often cut short by injury, whims of coaches and a lack of talent to play at the next level.  Given the NCAA’s limp enforcement of academic standards for major programs it seems even more egregious to permit them to keep raking the money from their former indentured servants.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Had previously posted about the mystery of Nigeria’s missing president.  See link.  That mystery continues since President Umaru Yar’Adua has still not given a video interview. But for now the limbo in Africa’s giant has been alleviated with parliament elevating Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to acting President.  See link.  Political tensions still run high and Muslim power brokers are unhappy that President Yar’Adua’s illness caused them to lose power before their turn was up.  In someways the Presidential system of government chosen by Nigeria is ill suited for the delicate sharing of power that its competing ethnicities and religions need.  The theoretical stability of tenure also relies heavily on the wisdom of the man of top.  It is not clear whether a man chosen (in a fashion similar to American practice) to balance a Presidential ticket will be up to the job of balancing the various tensions in the country.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

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The LA Times has an article about the emerging showdown between the next round of the confrontation between the Iranian regime and the opposition on the 22nd of Bahman (February 11), the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution.  See link.  In recent days the regime has tried to decapitate the opposition with executions, arrests and attempts to suggest that opposition Presidential candidates Mousavi and Karroubi had conceded defeat.  But as previously noted the strength (and weakness) of the Iranian protests is the absence of a leader whose removal will demoralize the protesters.  While the regime has not hesitated to use batons and occasionally bullets to disperse the crowds, it has not yet brought (or has been unable to bring) tanks on the streets to decisively crush the opposition like the Syrians did at Hama and the Chinese did at Tiananmen.  Till then the world can draw inspiration from the dogged protesters in the street and hope that the men with the guns will have a change of heart.

Meanwhile neocons are still equally dogged in their determination to bomb Iran, however pointless and self-defeating the attack will be.  See link to the latest by Daniel Pipes. Also see link.  One of the lines of attack seems to be to keep referring to the Iranian regime as “apocalyptic” even though since its inception the Iranian regime has been ruthlessly pragmatic in its primary goal – survival.  A regime allegedly rooted in Islam has even given itself the right to suspend Sharia law in the interests of the state (a marked difference from the Saudis and the Taliban).  Even North Korea, whose actions are significantly more irrational and unpredictable, has demonstrated that nuclear weapons are primarily being used as a deterrent.  There seems little evidence (other than verbal broadsides) that the Iranian regime with its lust for power and keen eye for survival would not do the same.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the latest Juan Cole column about the scaremongering and hyperbole that American policy makers (Hillary Clinton) and neo-con pundits keep coming up with to inflate the military threat from militarily weak third world countries.  When Barack Obama pointed out this fact in the 2008 eight presidential campaign, that Iran is hardly the existential threat that the Soviet Union was he was pilloried for it.  Here is one blogger who is glad that the occupant of the White House has the ability to keep things in perspective.

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A recent Foreign Policy article highlights a danger to stability in Afghanistan not often discussed – the toxic relationship between India and Pakistan.  See link.  This dates back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.  Afghanistan (even under the Pakistani created and supported Taliban) never accepted the Durand Line drawn by the British as the border between the two countries.  This line divides the Pashtun people between the two countries.  As a result every government in Kabul (other than the Taliban) has had a frosty relationship with Pakistan and a warm one with India.  Paranoid about facing hostile states on both flanks, Pakistan has always sought to install a more pliant regime in Kabul.

Baluch and Pashtun dispersion between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (in red). The blue area represents the predominant Pashtun and Baloch area.

It is one of the reasons why Pakistan has proved so unwilling to dump its Taliban clients and has eagerly pushed the idea of a reconciliation with the “Good Taliban.”  India having faced a tide of Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in the past decades sees this as a distinction without a difference.

India has been one of the major aid contributors to rebuilding Afghanistan.  This has, as usual, stirred paranoia about Indian intentions in Pakistan with wilder theories speculating that India intends to install military bases in the region once the Americans leave.  In 2008, these fears appear to have prompted an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  See link.

Given its ethnic divisions, Afghanistan is always likely to be a weak state subject to meddling by its neighbors.  The Indo-Pakistani tussle is yet another destabilizing influence that imperils any attempt to pacify Afghanistan.  And then there is Iranian meddling in the western part of the country.  The world community should prepare contingency plans if (or maybe when) things fall apart after the United States departs the region.

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Posted on 08-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Previous posts in this blog (see link) had noted the challenges facing Sri Lanka in the aftermath of its total military victory against the LTTE.  Sri Lanka’s President and the Amy Chief tried to hog the credit for the victory and both giant egos faced off in the recent Presidential election, which President Rajapaksa won handily.  In what seems like a harbinger of the policy facing the defeated Tamils, President Rajapaksa seems unwilling to rest on the laurels of victory at the ballot box.  He has now proceeded to arrest General Fonseka, confirming the fears of the opposition.  See link.   Generals who grow too big for their boots while in uniform are a concern for any democracy.  But arresting the loser of an election a week later is an authoritarian move that does not bode well for Sri Lankan democracy.

Many Tamils are still stuck in refugee camps.  The minority areas had ironically voted for General Fonseka feeling he was more likely to seek a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide.  With the firm backing of Sinhalese nationalists President Rajapaksa may not see the need for compromise or to implement the Sri Lankan constitution’s mandate to devolve power to the provinces.  See link.  It is hard to see how a state with two distinct ethnicities at loggerheads who are also conveniently segregated can survive without such a compromise.  The failure to compromise (and the attempt to deny citizenship to the Tamil minority) helped spark the civil war in the first place.

The LTTE’s assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 cost it Indian sympathy.  But the LTTE is now gone and sympathy for Sri Lanka’s Tamils runs deep in the next door Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  Any recurrence of civil war would put domestic pressure on India to intervene to protect the Tamils ( a situation neither New Delhi or Colombo want to arise).  Sri Lanka could use a dose of enlightened leadership that uses the period of war exhaustion to forge a lasting settlement.  I am not sure that President Rajapaksa’s thin-skinned government is up to the challenge.

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The strange political odyssey of Scott Lee Cohen has come to a close.  See link.  Cohen was the unexpected winner in a political primary for Lt. Governor in a multiple candidate race.  An early entrant into the race he spent lavishly to build early name recognition and eked out a narrow win over the favored candidates.  There is plenty of egg on many faces, and justifiably so.

Cohen made an ambiguous disclosure about a previous battery arrest, but thinking he had no chance to win no media outlet bothered to investigate any of this until he actually won the nomination. None of his opponents or the party  establishment bothered to check Cohen’s shady background either.  Exposes like this abruptly popped up when the media realized that a candidate they failed to vet had actually won.

It is in some ways reminiscent of the 2004 Illinois Senate election when the leading (and relatively unvetted) Democratic candidate Blair Hull was torpedoed a week before the election by disclosures in his divorce file which he tried to avoid.  The Republicans failed to get the divorce file on their winning candidate Jack Ryan until after the primary, leading to a tragicomic farce in their attempts to find a replacement.  That election is notable of course because it saw the rise of one Barack Obama into national politics.

The position of Lt. Governor in Illinois is a cushy job with no responsibilities.  It was amusing to see various candidates in the recent primary promise to bring changes that they have no ability to provide.  There is a legitimate question as to why the position exists at all.  In fact, Illinois like most other states has a surfeit of elected positions.  The general public probably cannot distinguish between the function of comptroller and treasurer at the state level.  At the local level it is a mystery why certain positions like the commissioners for park districts and water districts (and in some states the position of coroner) are subject to elections rather than becoming civil service (and non-patronage) positions that allow experienced people to perform these jobs.  Then there is the issue of judicial elections, which as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has pointed out opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical conflicts while requiring a public to vote on judges they have never heard about and about whom they generally do not bother to take the trouble to read about.

General voter disinterest in the political races at the bottom of the ticket opens the door for the Scott Lee Cohens’ to enter based largely on name recognition or the pull of the party machine.

Direct elections for many of these positions arose from the desire for more democracy in the late 19th and early 20th century.  But it also results in state executive teams that may not be pursuing the same political goals.  It can also make it harder to assign responsibility and blame for the actions of government.  The states may be better served with fewer elected positions at the top (like Governor and Attorney General) with the rest nominated subject to the approval of the legislature.  It could allow for a more coherent functioning of state governments with no doubt as to where the buck comes to a stop.

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The liberium veto is attracting some more attention.  Yglesias disputes Krugman’s contention that the liberium veto and the resulting government nightmare led to the disappearance of Poland as an independent nation.  See link; Also see previous blog articles here and here.  I disagree.  While the decline of Poland-Lithuania had commenced before its invention, the liberium veto made it impossible to reform Poland while its neighbors on east and west were awakening from their slumber.  It is true that the great plains of Eastern Europe do not provide Poland with many barriers from invasion.  However, unlike some other countries Poland had sufficient manpower and geographic depth to overcome this defect.

An example to the contrary would be the coastal strip of Israel-Palestine-Lebanon.  In recent years some opponents of a Palestinan state have used the absence of any Muslim state since the Arab conquest of the region to argue that the Palestinans were not a national entity.  That ignores the unfortunate reality that Christians and Jews have struggled to establish viable independent states in the same region.  Sandwiched between Egypt and Syria (and occassional erruptions from Babylon-Mesepotamia), each with significantly greater resources of manpower and wealth, independent states in the region have historically had to rely on weakness of its neighbors or significant assistance from abroad.  A survey of the four independent states to rule the region shows why.

The biblical kingdom of David and Solomon flourished at a time when Pharaonic  Egypt was in deep decline and the Hittite Empire on the other flank had long since dissolved.  The weakness became evident shortly after Solomon’s death when a revived Egypt under Sheshonk I would humble Solomon’s successors.  The twin Kingdoms of Judea and Israel would survive, but would have to pay tribute to the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians until their destruction.

The second independent Jewish state of the Hasmoneans emerged as the Hellenistic successor states of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria were in decline.  Even then, the Hasmoneans would not obtain independence until the Seleucid state dissolved into civil war after the death of Antiochus VII.  Independence would be extinguished by the Romans a century later.

The third independent states in the region were the Crusader states of Outremer formed after the First Crusade conquered Jerusalem.  The First Crusade was aided my the tumult in Islamic Syria following the Seljuk invasion and the weakened state of Fatimid Egypt.  Outremer was extremely reliant on continued immigration from Western Europe, particularly landless younger sons of the nobility to provide a manpower for its army.  Once Syria started to consolidate under Zengi and Egypt and Syria were united under Saladin, Outremer was doomed.  Understanding this inherent defect, many of the crusades following the Third Crusade were targeted at Egypt (which had a large native Christian population).

Which brings up the current states of Israel and Lebanon.  Israel has benefited from superior organization in its early years, heavy immigration of European Jewry and immense amounts of American military aid.  This has helped it overcome its exposed strategic situation.  In contrast Lebanon has been for most of its history a Syrian satellite.

Poland never faced similar issues of viability.  Its wounds were self inflicted.  For example Poland disappeared as a single entity for about 200 years when Boleslaw III Wrymouth chose to divide the country among his four sons after his death in 1138 (a succession policy similar to the one that contributed to the fragmentation of the German principalities next door).  Yet the concept of a Polish nation and the title “Duke/King of Poland” would survive until the reconstitution of the Polish state 200 years later.  After its union with Lithuania, during the reign of Casimir IV Poland-Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Hardly the mark of an inherently doomed state.

If Poland had an exposed geographical frontier, so did every other European state except England. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 05-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

One of the more amusing (yet sad) events in the past few months has been to watch Republicans preening as they proclaim their new found desire to trim the budget deficit (ignored in all of this is their contribution in the past 8 years to creating the fiscal straitjacket the country finds itself in).  Of course it is all talk with no plan rooted in reality.  Republicans and Democrats are committed to no cuts in social security and Medicare, an understandable political impulse since pissed off old folks actually vote.  Republicans go further in wanting absolutely no cuts in the military budget (whether the United States can keep spending as much as the next five nations combined is a debate for another day) and absolutely opposing any tax increases (and actually wanting to cut taxes some more).  Somehow the trillion dollar deficit is to be magically erased by trimming the small remaining faction of the budget devoted to discretionary spending.

But as the President pointed out earlier this week, Republican commitment to cutting discretionary spending wanes when Republican districts are impacted.  After bloviating about the stimulus before the revelation of his extra-marital affair, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is now heading to Washington to get more stimulus funds (formerly known as pork) for his state.  See link. But the cake goes to Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama who seems to be trying to validate the caricature of the Party of No by blocking all 70 pending nominations President Obama sent to the Senate for confirmation.  The administration has drawn the Sentor’s ire by axing a couple of home state projects.  See link. As the article shows this is not the only time a Republican Senator has held up a nomination for issues unrelated to the nomination and to secure pork funding (I am sorry, critically needed funding for a dire emergency) in their state.  Shelby has tried wrapping his decision in the flag by citing the national security importance of funding his pet Alabama projects.  But how exactly is national security protected by placing intelligence and diplomatic positions on hold?  See link.

Holds and filubusters have been a problem in the Senate for the while, but lately they have gone out of control providing even more evidence that the Senate is broken.  Shelby’s actions have caused Paul Krugman to bring comparisons to the liberium veto that destroyed the Commonwealth of Poland (See link) causing my brother to joke that the Nobel laureate must have read my blog (See previous blog post on the liberium veto).

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