Posted on 27-03-2011
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

Taking a break from the usual litany of war. economic ruin, natural disasters, and politicians is the video below that an uncle shared on Facebook.  After you are done watching the adorable tyke click here for the background and a second video.  Enjoy….

 

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Posted on 27-03-2011
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

Saw the video below when it was posted by a cousin on Facebook.  It showcases a “Green Pizza Box” made of recycled cardboard that converts into plates for eating and a smaller storage container for leftovers.

 

People grumble all the time that environmental regulations kill jobs.  Yes, some energy inefficient jobs will be lost.  But “green” jobs will be also created by innovations like the one above that will be spurred by the need to preserve the environment and conserve natural resources.

Global Warming sucks up a lot of oxygen in environmental debate, but a probably more pressing issue in the coming decades will be the need to conserve water resources which are not keeping up with rising global population.  As water shortages increase from the Southwestern United States to Yemen to India, look for more conflicts on that issue to flare up.  The makers of the James Bond franchise were one of the few prescient celebrities to draw attention to this issue in the most recent adventure of 007.  The innovation above can do its part by reducing water usage for dishwashing.

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Posted on 22-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

John Solomon at the Daily Beast has a column discussing the nostalgia for George Herbert Walker Bush in certain circles.  This Blog shares that nostalgia and posted similar emotions about a year and a half ago.

I particularly miss the George H. W. Bush wing of the Republican party when it comes to foreign policy, given the (sometimes scary) blather that emanates from most Republican presidential hopefuls on the subject these days.  When Bob Gates steps down as Defense Secretary, he will probably be the last senior Bush ’41 foreign policy official to hold public office (though who knew Dick Cheney would morph into the Prince of Darkness).  Even though Gates’ performance as CIA Director at the time was forgettable, his second act as Defense Secretary to the 43rd and 44th Presidents has displayed the pragmatism of Bush ’41 and a refusal to be trapped by rigid and unrealistic ideologies.  Unfortunately the George H.W. Bushes and the Dick Lugars of the Republican Party have increasingly given way to the Jim DeMints, Sarah Palins and the Michele Bachmanns.  Of the younger Senators only Lindsey Graham (from time to time) hearkens back to the Bush ’41 tradition on foreign policy.  Mark Kirk could do so as well if his spine was not made of jelly.

As a result this Blog is willing to renew its nostalgia for the 41st President as he proceeds in his twilight years and is proud that his Presidential Library graces the campus of the author’s alma mater.

 

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Posted on 22-03-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After weeks of refusing to get involved in Libya with the war-mongerers Stateside accusing him of dithering, Barack Obama turned on a dime and endorsed military action in Libya.   The push for war was largely driven by the French and the British and cloaked with legitimacy by the Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone over Libya.  The French intervention appears driven by a desire to restore their tarnished prestige following a series of diplomatic blunders with respect to the Arab uprisings.  In my opinion Obama’s shift can be explained by the following:

  • Nobody likes Muammar Gaddafi (other than Hugo Chavez) and everybody was excited at the thought of his imminent departure.
  • But Gaddafi has proved surprisingly resilient and his opposition hopelessly disorganized.
  • Last week as Gaddafi’s armor reached Benghazi there was the sudden unpalatable realization that Gaddafi was about to win.
  • Gaddafi went on television once again promising wholesale slaughter, conjuring up memories of the failure to prevent the massacres at Srebrenica in 1995 and of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991.
  • Even though he stood at the brink of victory, Gaddafi’s armed forces are weak and his advance was easily stopped.

It is interesting to speculate whether the UN would have acted if Gaddafi had not broadcast his genocidal intentions to the world.  The broadcasts may have been enough to prevent Russia and China from vetoing intervention in Libya (ironic given the willingness of both those regimes to slaughter their people in Chechnya and at Tiananmen respectively).  Yet the old fault lines are obvious.  The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and Germany all abstained at the vote.  The Arab League whose support lent legitimacy to the operation promptly flip-flopped when the bombs started to fall.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the war was a half-baked attempt to stop a Gaddafi victory.  To his credit Barack Obama is aware (unlike many of his domestic critics) that the United States no longer has the credibility to initiate an armed intervention in the Arab or Muslim world.  Unlike the coalition of the billing that accompanied the United States into Iraq, this is a true (if disorganized) coalition with NATO allies doing heavy lifting and a few Gulf monarchies sending their fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone.  Gaddafi’s unpopularity on the Arab street has muted some of the reflexive anti-American voices.  People still carp that this is “about oil.”  That makes no sense since Gaddafi’s legitimization in the last decade was followed by the entry of western oil companies into Libya.  Getting rid of Gaddafi was no longer a prerequisite to get Libyan oil.

The problem is that nobody has explained the end-objective of what is likely to be an open-ended military commitment.  Nobody has any idea what the disorganized Libyan opposition stands for.  Various parts of the coalition differ on the wisdom or legality of killing Gaddafi with a military strike.  Other NATO allies are showing marked reluctance to being involved in the operation and the United States is on record wanting to hand off the baton to someone else.  With the rest of the world used to freeloading on US leadership and the casting stones at the United States for “causing civilian deaths,” it is difficult to see who that would be.  There has been no debate within the United States about what American strategic goals are and how this war will be paid for.

Basically the allies are gambling that elimination of Gaddafi’s air and armor advantage will allow the opposition to sweep into Tripoli.  The precedents for this exist in the success of the Bosnian Muslims and Croats after NATO’s bombing of Serb positions.  Aerial bombardment and limited special forces involvement enabled the Northern Alliance to sweep the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001.  Yet key differences exist.  The Bosnian and Northern Alliance forces had been tempered by years of war and had an organized command structure.  The Libyan opposition is hopelessly out-gunned by even Gaddafi’s ramshackle army and mercenaries.  On the flip side the ramshackle nature of Gaddafi’s military and regime makes it unlikely that his generals will want to go down shooting for him.  There is a rumor that a kamikaze attack by a Libyan pilot may have killed one of Gaddafi’s sons.  Combined with rumors of members of the regime seeking exit strategies, Gaddafi’s rule may be cracking.

The quickest solution to this military dilemma would be for the Egyptian army to march west.  Even if it is bloated and inefficient, the Egyptian army would probably sweep aside Gaddafi’s forces.  Such an intervention would probably play well with the Egyptian street that is suspicious of the Generals’ commitment to democracy.  But the Egyptians are playing coy and their aid to the rebels has been under the table.  Their Generals have some cause for worry that an invasion of Libya could trap their army in an unwinnable occupation of a failed tribal entity with a national flag (See: Ethiopian intervention in Somalia – 2006-2009).

This is a war where the ends will unfortunately justify the means.  The quick fall of Gaddafi (even though regime change is not a declared purpose of the war) with minimal bloodshed will vindicate Messrs. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron.  If Gaddafi holds on and the result is a long drawn civil war and military stalemate the intervention will ultimately be seen as a failure.  The fall of Gaddafi followed by chaos will probably be seen as a failure as well.

For now we cross our fingers and wait….and hope.

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Posted on 18-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute”

(It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder) – Comment by a Napoleonic official on the judicial murder of the Duc d’Enghien.

“What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” – Soon to be sacked State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley.

By sacking P. J. Crowley shortly after he committed the gaffe above (i.e. spoke the truth), Barack Obama has endorsed the sadistic jollies that Bradley Manning’s jailers receive from torturing him.  Previous winks at torture could somewhat be justified by the need to obtain information.  There is no such excuse here.  Bradley Manning is being subjected to a regimen that appears intended to drive him insane, allegedly because he is a suicide risk.  Then there is the ritualized humiliation of forced nudity and sleep deprivation he is being subjected to.   The media outrage at the treatment of a man not yet convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks is growing – see here, here, here, here, here, and here – but will probably have no effect on our ruling class.  At some point this should not be surprising.  On human rights, after the decree to close Guantanamo (which is still open), Obama has been a colossal disappointment and has been unwilling to stand up to the excesses of the national security apparatus.  His administration seems to pursue whistle-blowers more aggressively than the abuses they uncover.

Unlike some of my friends I do not condone Bradley Manning’s alleged leaking.  But he has not yet been convicted of his crime.  And even if he were, his treatment would still be unjustified.  The last decade has seen the Executive and Judicial branches wink at the abuse of prisoners.  Congress, which is particularly prone to jingoistic populism, is also useless.  Large sections of the Fourth Estate have also condoned torture because of the unsympathetic nature of people being tortured and the fears of terrorism.  This is a disgrace, as is Obama’s reaction to the news of Manning’s treatment:

“With respect to Private Manning, you know, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are.”

Gee..the alleged abusers have assured him that the treatment is appropriate.  End of inquiry.  How heartwarming.

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Via Joshua Green of the Atlantic: so spoke the only President of the United States to ever lead a union. The reference is to the Solidarity Trade Union that challenged the communist regime in Poland.

This is yet another piece of evidence that the mythology created by the Bircher, Birther and Know-Nothing rump of the Republican Party today does not comport to the reality of their hallowed President.  (Note: In the interest of being fair and balanced one must note that Reagan broke the air-traffic controllers union when they went on strike on the obvious public safety grounds, but as a man who drew his support from blue-collar Democrats did not actively attack the Unions).  The man was no bleeding heart liberal but had the pragmatism to raise taxes when needed, bailed out GM and Chrysler (sound familiar), refused to demonize gays, was willing to cut his losses and withdraw from Lebanon without trying to avenge the dead Marines, was willing to deal with the evil Empire and even Iran, and was willing to genuinely compromise with the Democrats instead of taking a position of “my way or the highway.”  Frankly none of the Republican Presidents since World War II would satisfy the purity test imposed on today’s Republican candidates.

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Posted on 01-03-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

(Via Andrew Sullivan) Jimmy Kimmel flags the early Oscar front runner for 2012. Video below:

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