Posted on 22-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Lib Dem surge I blogged about earlier in the week as brought in its wake the hysterical counteroffensive of the Tory media barons who feel victory slipping away.  It is a type of full scale media assault in the news pages rather than the editorial pages that Americans do not typically see outside of the tabloids and the non-Murdoch owned media (the Murdoch owned Sun has been up to tricks familiar to critics of its American affiliate).  The effectiveness of the broadside remains to be seen.  For one thing, the political affiliation of British newspapers is not secret which distinguishes Fleet Street from its American brethren in the last few decades.  The overreaction is spawning a backlash on the web with the twitter hash tag “nickcleggsfault” soaring in popularity with mocking tweets blaming Clegg for all of the world’s problems.

The second of the two prime ministerial debates held earlier today is unlikely to help the Tories or Labour quell the upstart Lib Dems.  While Conservative David Cameron performed better, Clegg appears to have held his own on foreign policy and is further entrenching his brand as something different.  Whether that brand can survive the inevitable back room deals that will follow the now likely hung parliament remains to be seen.

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Posted on 21-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Jon Stewart must love having Fox “News” and its laughably inappropriate slogan “Fair and Balanced” as a reliable foil.

He touched a nerve with this clip about the tea party movement acknowledging the points of various Fox contributors about the evils of sweeping generalization.  Of course this being Fox, he was able to show the same hosts making sweeping generalizations about the evil liberal elites.  That portion of the clip starts at the 5:11 mark.  It ends with Stewart telling the Fox blowhards to “Go F–k Yourselves.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tea America
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

So Bill O’Reilly brings back Bernie Goldberg to ask him if this was true, even though the clips of O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s shows speak for themselves.  Goldberg surprisingly fessed up but then tried to rationalize his broad generalization and took pot shots at Stewart.  This of course is grand material for the comedian to respond with some lines breaking down Goldberg’s attacks by questioning why Stewart on Comedy Central is being held to Fox New’s misleading “fair and balanced” logo, further pointing out:

“Comedians do social commentary through comedy. That’s how it’s worked for thousands of years. I have not moved out of the comedian’s box into the news box. The news box is moving towards me.”
explaining why he constantly critiques Fox:
“I know that I criticize you and Fox News a lot, but only because you’re truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization.”
before terming them the network as the  ”Lupus of News” and closing out with a gospel choir rendition of  his “go f*ck yourselves” message.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bernie Goldberg Fires Back
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Fox should probably take to heart the old quote “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it” before taking on Stewart again.  It does not help that Goldberg essentially admitted the validity of Stewart’s critique before launching petulant attacks (note he never said that Frank Rich made the broad generalizations on Stewart’s show with no challenge, but merely that Rich made generalizations).  This is a few months after he caught Sean Hannity’s show splicing footage from a previous rally to build up the number of the later rally in Washington.  As the gospel choir number shows, Stewart’s role as a comedian gives him far more latitude to respond than O’Reilly’s usual bluster when Fox “News” is called out for making stuff up.

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Posted on 21-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

It took one debate to send the upcoming British elections into a tailspin.  With his rivals attacking each other the young Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg emerged the surprising victor.  Now in a meteoric rise rivaling that of Barack Obama (Clegg is still in his first parliamentary term) at least one poll has the Lib Dems leading the popular vote with Clegg polling as the most popular politician since Churchill.

However, as the polls above indicate the surge in the polls will not translate into enough seats to form a government.  Britain’s first past the post system can result in the seat allocation being very different than the popular vote.  The likeliest result will be a hung parliament and a coalition government.

The biggest losers in this are the Conservatives.  Originally expected to end Labour’s 13 year hold on power they have seen their fortunes fade even before the recent Lib Dem surge.  With the Lib Dems ideologically closer to Labour a coalition with the Conservatives is unlikely.  Labour and the Lib Dems previously had a coalition in Scotland.  The result will be to extend the Conservative sojourn in the political wilderness.  This is likely to be extended even further if the Lib Dems extract as their pound of flesh the goal most dear to their hearts – proportional representation.  Whether Labour will consent to a policy directly contrary to its political interests is not certain.  Even if Labour comes third in the popular vote they could still be the single largest party.  However, if proportional representation does come the United Kingdom will join its continental cousins in experiencing coalition government politics.  Even the huge Thatcher majorities in the 1980s barely cracked 40% of the national vote.

I have always had a soft spot for the Lib Dems, and particularly their predecessor the Liberal Party.  In its heyday the party championed free trade, relatively low governmental interference, social reform, extending the franchise and personal liberty.  Under William Gladstone it was decidedly ambiguous about Empire.  But by the beginning of the 20th century the party was being squeezed by the rise of the socialist Labour party on the left and during the Boer Wars its Liberal imperialists on the right.  To head off social unrest the party enacted a number of reforms designed to protect the elderly and children but was ultimately shattered in the aftermath of the First World War.

Inherently opposed to Britain’s military-industrial complex the party under the leadership of David Lloyd George pushed the more pacifist liberals out and entered into a coalition with the Conservatives.  With the left wing of the party thrown into the arms of Labour, Lloyd George’s imperialist policies provoked a rebellion among his Conservative allies forcing him from office.  No Liberal has come close to the post of Prime Minister since the fall of Lloyd George in 1922.  A sizable portion of the right-wing rump of the Liberal Party (including one Winston Churchill) ended up with the Conservatives.  Over the next two decades the party almost ceased to exist.

The Liberals fractured in their attempt to find a middle path between Labour’s pacifist radical socialism and the Conservatives reactionary imperialist positions on the right.  The fractures were evident in the fall of the last two Gladstone governments in an attempt to grant Ireland Home Rule in the 1880s.  The project was stopped by Conservative opposition in the House of Lords, but had it passed could have spared Ireland much of its misery in the 20th century.

In the 1980s the Liberals merged with the Social Democrats – moderate Labour Party members fed up with that party’s radicalism on the left to form the Liberal Democrats.  Three things predispose me in their favor – a more middle of the road approach, a stronger commitment to civil liberties (will be interesting to see if that survives if they ever get to power) and a love for lost causes.  But they have also benefited in the current climate from not being one of the two parties in power.  There are many scenarios on what may happen.  The Lib Dem surge may not hold up under the almost certain harsher scrutiny of the next two debates – stuff like this will be used to lampoon Clegg.  But for now they have made the usual two party British election tango much more interesting. More than 75 years after Lloyd George destroyed his own party, his successors are making their best run for political power

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Posted on 20-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This chilling piece on on time anthrax attack suspect Dr. Steven J. Hatfill by David Freed is worth a read.  It is a stark reminder of the slender thread on which liberty stands when the government succumbs to fear.   The government bureaucrats, their enablers at the local level and the credulous media will walk away with few consequences, apart from any discomfort to their consciences, if they exist.  While Dr. Hatfill was not driven to suicide, Dr. Bruce Ivins (now presumed to be responsibel for the anthrax attacks) cracked quickly.  By committing suicide he gave the FBI the opportunity to close the case.  Given the myopic vision with which people honed in on the suspect the entire truth may never be told.

Dr. Hatfill was the latest victim of the police-media rush to judgment in prominent cases.  Other victims in the last 15 years include Dr. Wen Ho Lee (accused of spying for China and who received an apology from the Federal judge for government misconduct), Richard Jewell (accused in the Atlanta Olympic bombing) and Brandon Mayfield (accused of involvement in the Madrid terror attacks due to sloppy fingerprint analysis).

And then there is the ongoing blot of Guantanamo, where it was asserted recently that even George Bush and Dick Cheney knew that many of the prisoners were innocent (the dubious capture methods were widely reported by the non mainstream news media), but were willing inflict the collateral damage to catch a few hardcore terrorists.  With the innocents now likely radicalized that has been advanced by some Fox “News” contributors as an argument to keep them locked up.

One of my biggest disappointments with Barack Obama has been his rather retrograde record on civil liberties.  While he said a lot of the right things on torture and closing Guantanamo (which is still open), his administration has brushed the Bush administration’s torture record under the carpet (the cynic in me thinks because they are probably doing it themselves more discreetly), dismissed privacy concerns in tracking cellphones, and asserting a right to assassinate American citizens.  The last one is an invitation to a slippery slope of the type of police “encounters” and extra judical killings that occur in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.  Given the sheer incompetence in many prominent cases, it seems like a dangerous road to cross.

noted previously the power wielded by prosecutors and law enforcement and the risk of abuse.  I understand that the line between liberty and security is a fine one.  But the harassment meted out to Dr. Hatfill to buttress a weak case is truly disturbing.

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Posted on 10-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Poland is in shock today as a plane carrying its President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, the chief of the general staff of the Polish Army, the heads of all of Poland’s armed forces, the president of Poland’s national bank, and number of other members of the government crashed in Russia killing everyone on board.  Kaczynski was on his way to an event commemorating the Katyn massacre of World War II where the Soviet Union executed over 20,000 Polish POWs (including many senior officers).  Russia has never apologized for the massacre (Stalin conveniently blamed the Nazis) and the issue has hung heavy over Polish-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War.  But progress has been made and Kaczynski was on his way to a joint commemoration of the event with the Russians.  Needless to say, the symbolism of a large portion of Poland’s elite being struck down yet again near Katyn is hard to miss.

The impact on Polish politics is unclear.  Kaczynski was trailing in his attempt for re-election after a prickly tenure that generated tension with his European Union colleagues and Russia.  During his term Poland had the unusual experience of rule by identical twins (his brother Jaroslaw was Prime Minister from 2006-2007).

This is not the first time a head of state has been killed in a plane crash, but I am having a hard time recalling one which took out such a large portion of a country’s government and leaders of the armed forces.  While the world mourns with Poland, their governments should review their disaster contingency plans to limit the impact and paralyzing effect of such tragedies to their nations.

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

European Islamophobia masquerading as womens lib has made its way to Canada.  With the blessings of Canada’s prime minister Quebec is all set to prohibit Muslim women wearing face veils from public sector jobs or access to public services.  See link.  I tend to agree with the author.  This is an embrace of feminist thought that allows women to make choices so long as the self proclaimed guardians of women’s liberty approve of it.

As I noted a couple of months ago in this blog and as the author in the article above notes, this is conceptually not different from the Saudis and the Taliban forcing the veil. Obviously the right to veil yourself should not be absolute.  There are certain situations like security checkpoints where it is essential to have an unveiled face.  Also this should be a free choice and not a coerced one.

Canada has not yet got to the ridiculous French notion of banning head scarves in schools, but it will be a matter of time before someone raises it.

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The United States and Russia signed a new treaty designed to slash nuclear warheads of each country by 30%.  See link.   This leaves  each with about 1,550 warheads, more than enough to create nuclear Armageddon many times over and each will still have more nuclear warheads than those of all the other nuclear powers combined.  This will ratchet up the pressure on other nuclear powers to trim their own stockpiles, which are not cheap to maintain in any case.

The treaty also explicitly gives the countries a free hand with violators of the NPT (Iran and North Korea).  The most controversial part of the treaty is a commitment not to threaten non-nuclear states in compliance with the NPT with with nuclear strikes even in response to chemical and biological attacks.  However, there remains sufficient wiggle room as the treaty does not specify who defines compliance with the NPT and provides the United States the ability to modify its commitment as the chemical and biological threat evolves.  See link.   The biggest importance in the treaty is likely a reduction in the chill in United States and Russian relations over the last couple of years.  See here.

The bellicose John Bolton has not surprisingly already starting barking disapproval on the odd grounds of sovereignty (See here) but one hopes that the party of no (whose support will be needed for ratification) understands the limited scope of the deal.  See here.

It does not help that Fox “News” in its inimitable fashion started characterizing the treaty (and some legitimate concerns) like this:

Former half-term governor Sarah Palin and Mr. 9/11 have started singing praises of Ronald Reagan in marking their opposition to the treaty (ignoring the fact that Reagan signed a similar treaty for a 30% reduction of the nuclear stockpile during the Cold War and (like Obama) set a Utopian goal of a nuclear weapons free world…but why let facts interfere with the random invocation of the GOP’s Reagan mythos).  It brought on the unusually sharp slap down below by the President on the “policy wonk” Palin:

This does raise the question whether the fairly pragmatic Reagan who was not averse to raising taxes if needed or was willing to (gasp) negotiate with the Evil Empire and thru back channels with Iran would have any place in today’s Republican party.  The mythology of the man grew in comparison with George Herbert Walker Bush and when the Republicans lost the White House to Bill Clinton and is now quoted as gospel by empty suits like Giuliani or Palin with little regard for whether their invocation comports to reality.  In today’s radicalized GOP rump, it is not impossible to think that Reagan would run the risk of being labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only).  It is hard to see how Nixon with his far more moderate social stances and much greater willingness to have the government interfere in the economy would not earn the derisive label.

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Posted on 08-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Mohammed Al-Madadi is an idiot.  Its bad enough he could not swear off his nicotine addition for a two hour flight between Washington and Denver.  But it appears that the Qatari diplomat made things  worse on being caught by joking that he was trying to light his shoes.  See here and here.  Given the history of shoe bombing it is not clear why he felt this would be funny on a plane.  Qatar is a close ally and presumably Al-Madadi will soon be summoned home for a tongue lashing if not worse.  If the summons do not appear Washington should expedite his departure.  Meanwhile he can count himself lucky that diplomatic immunity shields him from consequences here.  And on the 14 hour flight home, please wear a nicotine patch.

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Posted on 08-04-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

Saw this blog post on Obsidian Wings and noticed that I omitted a major result in Virginia’s attempted secession that is often overlooked today.  While it is often the butt of jokes for being on the right side of history it earned a spot as a star on the American flag.  I speak of course of West Virginia.  Western Virginia long seethed in discontent and having few slaves felt disenfranchised by an apportionment process that counted each of the the close to half a million slaves in the rest of the state as 3/5ths of a person.  Needless to say the region declined to join a rebellion in support of slavery.  West Virginia was lucky.  It was occupied by Union troops early in the war and largely escaped the ravages of the war.  Its reward was statehood.

Eastern Tennessee (where slave ownership was rare as well) made a similar attempt to break away from its seceding state.  See link.  Unlike West Virginia it was occupied by the confederates and was unsuccessful.  While the region did not get a star on the flag, it was rewarded by the inclusion of native son (and War Democrat) Andrew Johnson on the 1864 Republican presidential ticket as Lincoln’s running mate.  It was a fateful decision whose repercussions on race relations in this country are perhaps still being felt.

More evidence on why the revisionism diminishing the role of slavery as a cause of the Civil War is bunk.

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After eight year lapse when the Democrats controlled the statehouse, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) quietly declared April 2010 to be Confederate History Month.  This was a practice started by former governor George Allen (he of macaca fame).  For some reason the California bred Allen had a predilection for confederate imagery.  While from my perspective the confederates were traitors who tried to tear apart this nation for a disgraceful motive couched in noble sounding words, I have no deep objection to such an acknowledgement as long as confederate symbols are not glorified and the context of the war is understood.  It is after all a part of the history of the South.  What does bother me is the revisionist movement of the past two decades that tries to minimize the extent to which slavery led to the civil war and the pandering of politicians to the racist fringe.

Revisionists would have you believe that the South fought solely for the cause of states rights.  This is bullshit.  Just like politicians ignore states rights when it suits them, the South had no reservations in infringing of the right of the free states to ban slavery.  The antebellum years were full of attempts like the Fugitive Slave Act that overrode states rights in the North.  But heaven forbid the Union attempting to ban slavery.  That was intolerable.  At the time of secession the Southern states made no bones about the fact that the “states right” at issue was slavery.  This is evident from their declaration of causes for secession where slavery dominates the reason of their departure.  See link.  Mississippi went on to declare “[o]ur position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

Even the Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens in his infamous Cornerstone Speech, parts of which are quoted below, had no doubt of the part slavery played in the civil war:

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 06-04-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

People don’t always appreciate how much power prosecutors hold in America and how much harm an irresponsible one could cause.  A recent case in Wisconsin demonstrates just how.  After much debate the Wisconsin legislature passed a law requiring schools that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives See link.  One can debate the merits of the law or whether it was good policy to pass the law.  However, the power of the Wisconsin legislature to pass this law is not in dispute.  But such trivialities do not concern Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth.  His primary concern is his sense of outraged morality and in his zeal the legislative mandate is no bar.  So he has fired off a letter to local school districts that any attempt to comply with legislative mandate could result in charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

How exactly he will obtain such a conviction for teachers complying with an express legislative mandate is not clear.  This is sheer prosecutorial intimidation.  Yet this is not the worst such case.

Maricopa County Arizona has not received the attention it should.  Over the last couple of years it has been the scene of abuse of the legal process that belongs in a tinpot dictatorship.  The perpetrators are controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio and his man Friday the county attorney Andrew Young.  Having no patience with the legal niceties they appear to have responded to criticism by bringing the force of their offices against critics in government by bringing flimsy indictments (since dismissed) against a local judge and a couple of county board supervisors.  See link.  The abuse of power included arresting attendees of a county board meeting for having the temerity to applaud criticism of the sheriff and intimidating county employees by sending deputies to their homes to find dirt on their bosses.  For a detailed read on the antics of the duo see here.  In the last few years the duo have branded themselves as front-line soldiers against illegal immigration, giving them a partisan shield from their excesses of power.  However, a backlash has set in and the duo are being investigated by a federal grand jury but the taxpayers will be footing the bill for the wrongful arrests and malicious prosecutions on their  watch.  See link.

These cases serve as a reminder for the need of constant vigilance when those in power infringe on liberty or abuse their authority, particularly in local government where seedy corruption often flies under the radar due to the public’s benign neglect.  A vigilant media and public can terminate the career of such officials, as was the case with now disbarred Durham County district attorney Mike Nifong who infamously pursued the Duke lacrosse team on flimsy rape charges to secure his re-election.

We take many liberties for granted in this country.  Stories like these show how real they can be without delving into the paranoid conspiracy theories that have been a fixture on cable news the past year.

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Posted on 06-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hamid Karzai is the gift that gives on giving.  The latest by Afghanistan’s venal leader was a burst of peevishness at members of his parliament for having the temerity to block his takeover of the Afghan electoral commission.  See link.  Karzai declared that any more pressure on him would make him join the Taliban.  I encourage him to make the jump, though expect that he will receive the Najibullah treatment in short order if he makes such a move.  Now it is understandable that Karzai is looking for room to maneuver as the United States prepares to leave.  See link.  But by repeatedly criticizing the United States and NATO troops attempting to secure Afghanistan as occupiers he makes the task of pacification that much harder.

Others have noted that Karzai seems to be banking on the fact of his supposed indispensability and perhaps Washington has long memories of the South Vietnam quagmire after it acquiesed in the removal of President Ngo Dinh Diem.  See link.  If so, I think it is a mistake.  It is a mystery of why this venal incompetent with no political base to speak of became indispensable.  Part of the Karzai appeal stems from his being one of the few Pashtun leaders acceptable to other Afghan ethnicities.  But the election fraud last year has dimmed that appeal in the non-Pashtun regions.  His government’s corruption has similarly sapped reservoirs of goodwill in the Pashtun heartland (not helped by the nefarious dealings of his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai).  The supposed indispensability largely stems from a fear of the unknown, something previous Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf exploited to the hilt.

Yet after Musharraf’s departure Pakistan has finally moved against its Taliban proxies and its feeble civil institutions are showing signs of life.  And yet for years Washington and its allies and neighboring India put up with Musharraf’s double dealing because of the fear of what would happen if the urbane English speaking dictator left.  Pakistan may yet fall apart but fears of its imminent cataclysmic collapse appear overstated.  The same appears true in Afghanistan.  The west needs a competent reliable ally in Kabul and it is increasingly clear that the urbane English speaking Karzai is simply not that man.  His presence in power is likely to result in the waste of American blood spilled during the ongoing surge.

Karzai’s departure obviously will not be a panacea to Afghanistan’s ills.  Yet at this point it is increasingly hard to see how it will be worse.  I will close with a couple of clips from yesterday night’s Jon Stewart.

The first is a tongue in cheek look at Karzai’s latest blathering and the consequence of Karzai’s departure.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Turncloak
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

The second is a more serious discussion with Reza Aslan on why and whether America should remain in Afghanistan.  While I understand Aslan’s point about the moral commitment made by the United States and the squandered opportunity, the reality is that the presence of foreign troops is increasingly unpopular and it is not clear that America will ever be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Reza Aslan
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

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Posted on 05-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

One of the oldest coins in history hit the auctioneers block last month.  The fourth known stater of Phanes dating to about the 7th century BC sold for 345,000 Euro.  See link.  While these coins bear the badge “Phanos emi Seima” (I am the badge of Phanes), not much is known about Phanes.  Whether this represented a ruler, a wealthy merchant, a deity or a city state is not clear.  But these Electrum coins may predate the Lydian staters, generally deemed to start the concept of coinage (up for debate is whether the Shatamana of Gandhara or Chinese coinage predated the Lydians) .  For more on the origins of this coin and speculation regarding its minter see here.

The emergence of coinage greatly facilitated the growth of international trade in the Mediterranean world and along the trade routes to China and India.  The city states seem to have understood the importance of weight standards early on (with the Lydians even managing to keep the gold and silver content of their electrum coins constant).  And the states that resisted the urge to debase their coinage and/or had the largest imperial reach saw their coinage spread across the world and become almost ubiquitous like the Athenian Owl Tetradrachms, the Mauryan Karshapana, the Roman Denarius etc and sometimes spawned local imitations.  See herehere, here and here.

A lot of history in a small blob of metal.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

A unique Brutus aureus is on display at the British museum.  See link.  As is evident from the picture the coin commemorates the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar.  While the silver denarius version of the coin is known, the coin on display at the British museum may be the only authentic gold coin commemorating the assassination in existence today.  See link.  As noted in the articles above, these coins were famous in antiquity and were referenced by the second century historian Cassius Dio.

However, these coins are replete with irony as a few years before minting them Brutus himself would have considered them an act of impiety.  For a long time in the Greco-Roman world it was considered an act of impiety to use the image of a living person on a coin.  Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander created a loophole to get around this.  Philip’s tetradrachms display the image of Zeus and Alexander’s that of Hercules.  However, the gods on the coin just happen to look like the king.  After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I of Egypt was the first to brazenly use his own image on his coins without resorting to the divine loophole.  With the horse out of the barn, the other Hellenistic states followed.

But the ban remained in place for Roman coinage for another 250 years until it was breached by Julius Caesar (probably one of the items added to his myriad alleged offenses that led to the assassination).  And yet Brutus, that stern defender of the values of the Roman Republic, issued coins with his own image on them.  The likely reason for this apostasy is the fact that after Caesar’s death his successors discovered the propaganda value of using their own images on the coins used to pay their soldiers.  Once again after horse got out of the barn everybody else followed.  And Brutus decided to use his apostasy to glorify the assassination of Caesar, the act primarily associated with his name two millennia later.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan has evidently asked the Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Ajmal Kasab and Fahim Ansari in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  See link.  The oddity stems from the fact that there is no mystery about their presence, both are lodged in Indian jails.  As the article notes it has raised speculation that this is an opening gambit in a sequence of moves designed to let Pakistan’s LeT proxies off the hook.  It could be just innocent bureaucratic paperwork, but this highlights the futility of talks in an atmosphere of deep distrust and until Pakistan’s commitment to dismantling its terror infrastructure is not established.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As predicted in previous posts (see here and here) the Indo-Pak talks have hit a dead end.  See link.   The talks were taken for the benefit of the United States and Europe and were never going to go anywhere.  The undiplomatic truth from the Indian perspective is that there isn’t much to talk about as long as Pakistan keeps its terror proxies in reserve.  After being burned by the Pakistani security establishment many times New Delhi is not eager to repeat an experience akin to the classic clip from Animal House below.

What use is a composite dialog of the sort Pakistan wants when there is no trust on the ground and when Pakistan’s civilian government does not have the ability to rein in its military.  In the meantime Pakistan continues to ratchet up its complaints.  The latest concerns alleged violations of the long standing Indus Waters Treaty.  See link.  So the dance between the nuclear emerging power and the nuclear failed state continues.  The result will be headaches for the persons in charge of Washington’s Afghan policy.

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Posted on 03-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Update to the blog post from yesterday.  See here.  After shoving his foot firmly in his mouth the Mayor of Kabul has tried to “clarify” his comments by blaming every politicians favorite target – the media.  See link.  While Karzai likes to blame foreigners his own Parliament almost unanimously gave him an open handed slap by rejecting his attempt to pack the Electoral Complaints Commission with his cronies.  See link.  Its not clear whether this restores the autonomy of the commission, but its a small step for the rule of law in the face of a venal leader’s diktat.

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I will let the video below speak for itself.  Brings out the absurdity of the media’s hand wringing tendency.  Would like to see more of this Obama around.

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Posted on 02-04-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

On the heels of one of the most exciting and upset prone March Madnesses ever, the NCAA seems to be laying the ground work for diluting its finest championship event.  See link.  College Football’s so called national championship (which is not run by the NCAA) is already a joke and despised by most fans.  The bowl season whose “tradition” supposedly is one of the reasons why Division 1A football is the only major sport in the country without a playoff gets diluted each year with the addition of new bowl games.  The scintillating match ups of teams with 6-6 records evokes a collective yawn.  But in the midst of this, college basketball delivers possibly the most exciting championship playoffs in the country.  But it was too much to expect that the money hungry overseers of a supposedly non-profit organization and coaches hoping for job security by getting their mediocre teams into the playoffs would not spoil a good thing.

A few years ago the NCAA allowed the camel to get his nose in the tent by expanding the bracket from 64 to 65 (two unfortunate teams play a one game playoff for the last spot on the brackets used in pools across the country).  Now the camel is all set to barge in with the bracket expected to expand to 96 teams.  The regular season (the holy grail in denying us a playoff in college football) now matters even less.  In the current format a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed.  What are the chances of a 24 seed doing anything in this bloated playoff?

A rare word of praise to baseball in this blog.  It provides the toughest challenge for a team to make the post season, providing some exciting match ups in the home stretch.  That will change in March Madness.  At present the major conferences send between 30-50% of their teams to the playoffs.  The proverbial NCAA bubble provides some exciting match ups in February as teams are fighting for their post season lives.  Now that tension is likely gone.  Making the tournament will feel very similar to little leaguers all getting a trophy.  It will be hard to generate enthusiasm for the remaining bottom feeders with losing records on the new tournament bubble.

Mammon wins out once again.

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Posted on 02-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Words fail me.  The logic of the claim is baffling.  After blatantly rigging last year’s Afghan elections Hamid Karzai now claims that it was the EU and UN observers who committed the rigging to place a puppet regime in power.  See link.  Either Karzai’s delusions have deepened or this is his latest ham-fisted attempt to explain why he is trying to pack the  Afghan electoral commission with cronies appointed by him.  If he wants to bullshit his way out of his latest jam couldn’t his brain trust come up with something better?

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Posted on 01-04-2010
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

On Friday, Saudi Arabia is scheduled to execute Lebanese TV host Ali Hussain Sibat for sorcery.  See link.  Sibat’s “crime” was hosting a TV show based in Lebanon where he claimed to be able to read the future.  He was arrested by Saudi religious police when he visited the Kingdom for a religious pilgrimage.  None of the acts of the supposed crime took place on Saudi soil, the accused is not a Saudi national. Yet Saudi Arabia has arrogated to itself the right to judge a case of apostasy for a foreign Muslim merely because the acts were broadcast into the country (and even more so because the unfortunate Mr. Sibat was conveniently on Saudi soil).  This is similar to what would have happened to Salaman Rushdie if the fatwa against him was meaningfully carried out.  The slippery slopes of this logic are endless.  Muslims world wide, particularly those whose jobs get them on TV, now face potential charges for violation of Saudi Arabia’s archaic laws the next time they visit there for any reason.

This is obscene.

In the interest of fairness one must note that making a living as a fortune teller was (and in many states is still) illegal in the United States.  However, these are not capital offenses.  Apart from the lack of proportionality for the alleged offense (which to me should not be illegal), my rant is headed in a different direction.  The Saudis are not the first country to assert Universal Jurisdiction for crimes unconnected or fairly lightly connected to their country.

A few years Belgium ticked off many of its allies by granting its courts legal jurisdiction to hear human rights complaints from any corner of the world even if no Belgian national or Belgian interests were involved.  Just why Belgium smugly decided it had the right to sit in judgment over the world is not clear.  It is not as if the Belgian nation in its rickety 180 years of existence has been particularly pure, particularly in the Congo.  It was at the same time Spain asserted its right to overrule the political agreement in Chile whereby Augusto Pinochet stepped down and permitted the restoration of democracy in exchange for immunity, by trying to arrest the former dictator.  This conveniently ignored a similar amnesty Spain instituted for the Falange after the death of Franco.  Human rights groups like Amnesty International have cheered on these attempts for national courts to enforce Universal Jurisdiction.  I disagree.

National sovereignty is no longer an absolute protection for human rights violations.  But the ugly reality of international law is that human rights cases are enforced only against the weak.  The other ugly reality is that they are often a sword used to justify political ends and harass opponents.  Also arrogating the power to try a bunch of human rights cases to a bunch of former colonial powers reeks of neo-colonialism.  Decisions by these courts are unlikely to hold much moral water in the countries being targeted.

A spin-off of the claims of universal jurisdiction for the type of cases cited above are “crimes” performed in another country that are broadcast around the world by the internet or satellite television.  Many of the cases (particularly in Europe) have involved lawsuits against the instruments of broadcast like Google or YouTube.  For example see here.

While Amnesty has criticized the horrendous Saudi case on free speech grounds it has not acknowledged the harm of letting the universal jurisdiction genie out.  In a world where cultural norms vary and where a large portion of the world does not follow the Western devotion to individual human rights, this is a double edge sword.  So we are creating an odd situation where the sovereign shield may not protect its own subjects but can be used as a sword against unconnected foreigners.  Also, cases like the claims against Google will strike at the roots of global commerce and chill free speech on the web.  The burden should shift to countries to institute filters on what cannot be shown in their country rather than gratuitously striking at foreign entities.  Of course this reeks of the censorship practiced by China and Iran so the Europeans prefer to strike back in home courts.

Federalism in the United States has struggled to adapt to changing technology and improvements in communication technology.  Needless to say the burdens are far higher at the international level where different social, legal, religious and cultural norms collide with another.  More cases like the unfortunate Mr. Sibat are likely to arise unless the concept of universal legal jurisdiction is reined in.  For Mr. Sibat his best hope is to pray for King Abdullah who has shown clemency for similar judicial excesses in the past to step in.

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