Posted on 21-03-2013
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

And they are back. Barely a week after the orange hued one said that he would not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to repeal Obamacare, Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell both promised to require a dollar of cuts for a dollar increase in the debt ceiling.

The United Kingdom is heading to a triple dip recession from austerity insanity. Republican congressmen are squealing anytime their sequester cuts show up in their backyard. Yet the Congressional Republican leadership unable to control the extremists in their base has decided to hold the economy hostage for a third time to get unspecified spending cuts.

Don’t look for these deficit warriors to actually identify any cuts. Like Paul Ryan, erstwhile fiscal savant for the establishment media stenographers, they will not identify any unpopular cuts themselves. They will prefer Democrats to do the dirty work to attack them in the next election.

After the Republican capitulation a couple of months ago one had hoped that the Republicans would desist in their attempts to weaken a recovering economy. But a party swept by tax cutting hysteria seems oblivious to the fact that the fiscal deficit has actually been dropping, health care cost increases have slowed and it is essential to continue the task of reducing unemployment to complete this recovery.

But the madness continues. Paul Ryan’s nonsensical budget did not find as welcoming an audience in its second go around. One hopes that a third debt ceiling hostage crisis attracts the derision it deserves.

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Posted on 21-03-2013
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The ten year anniversary of the commencement of the Iraq quagmire passed this week. I have been reading the assorted mea culpas of various stenographers journalists with some satisfaction and some dissapointment. Americans are famously ignorant of foreign affairs, but on Iraq so many journalists who should have known better blindly accepted the Bush administration’s bullshit.

I was not blogging at the time but and arguments at the time were made primarily on the ultra-conservative Texas A&M message boards. But I do remember the gist of my points.

First the rationale for the war had an element of “lets throw as much shit as we can and some of it will stick” quality to it. Saddam was a monster (no argument there, but hardly an argument for war), he is funding terrorists and Al Queda, he is about to get WMDs, taking him out will magically make Iraq an oasis of democracy in the region and (chuckle) an ally of Israel. This is about the same time George W. Bush gave his silly “Axis of Evil” speech. An axis implies cooperation…but tossing Saddam’s Iraq with the Ayatollahs’ Iran was always a joke. Worse that speech knee capped the moderate Iranian President Khatami who had been cooperating with America over Afghanistan.

The Al Queda links were always tenous and as we are finding out this week pretty much non-existent. The arguments that a foreign invasion would magically turn the Arab Yugoslavia into a beacon of democracy (not to mention a buddy of Israel) fundamentally misread the nature of the region and the effects of a foreign occupation. Many commentators at the time noted that while Iraqis may welcome the toppling of Saddam, a proud people would never stand for an indefinite occupation let along American military bases. And it is this element of the administration’s war chatter that bothered me even more.

I harbored no fondness for Saddam. Removing him in the right circumstances would have been a highly desirable act. Yet Bush Jr. ignored why Bush Sr. hit pause in 1991. An occupation of Iraq was always going to be an extremely difficult venture. Yet people like Condoleeza Rice were touting the successful reconstruction of relative homogenous and war exhausted Germany and Japan after World War II (with far more troops on the ground) as examples of how it could be done. Even the Bosnian peace happened after the combatants had exhausted themselves in their attempts to kill each other. And much smaller Bosnia had as many troops as the administration was proposing for Iraq.

Many American allies knew this was bullshit and unlike Bush’s poodle in London refused to play along. Their reward was to be tagged as “Old Europe” and “Cheese eating surrender monkeys.”

The worst part of Iraq was that we did not finish the job in Afghanistan. Afghan reconstruction faltered under the venal and incompetent Karzai. Bin Laden escaped to his Pakistani hideout. Pakistan merrily continued its two faced strategy in the region. Afghanistan will probably never be a stable country, but a genuine opportunity to harness the war weariness of the Afghan people in true nation building was lost.

Sadly the perpetrators of this disaster have somehow not recieved the full amount of derision they desrve. Messers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Krauthammer, Bolton, Kristol, McCain etc. still pontificate on national media as if their views have any credibility and still beat the war drums for Syria. The corporate media still plays the role of stenographer over journalist. Small, broke and weak countries like Iran are still touted as existential risks. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Sadly the perpetrators of this disaster have somehow not recieved the full amount of derision they desrve. Messers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Krauthammer, Bolton, Kristol, McCain etc. still pontificate on national media as if their views have any credibility and still beat the war drums for Syria. The corporate media still plays the role of stenographer over journalist. Small, broke and weak countries like Iran are still touted as existential risks. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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Posted on 13-03-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

In a fairly quick conclave resulting from the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic church elected a new pope.  The choice was somewhat a surprise.  A pope who was 78 at the time of his election and who resigned for ill health was replaced by a 76 year old.  Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first pope from Latin America, the first pope since 741 AD not born in Europe, the first Jesuit to become pope and the first Pope Francis.

Elderly popes are generally chosen as transitory popes (though that logic backfired once rather spectacularly).  Yet Pope Francis inherits a church in turmoil.  The priest sex abuse scandal continues to sap the legitimacy and credibility of the Catholic Church.  Just before the conclave the United Kingdom’s most senior cleric (and notorious homophobe) resigned after allegations surfaced publicly that the cardinal had inappropriate relations with seminarians decades ago.  The Curia itself is rife with feuds which may have encouraged Benedict to resign.  The traditional heartlands of the Catholic Church no longer heed its teachings and the sex scandals have sapped the institution’s credibility.  The heart of the Church is in the southern hemisphere and here it faces aggressive competition from evangelical protestants.

The challenges facing Pope Francis are daunting.  His name may pay homage to either St. Francis of Assisi founder of the Franciscan Order (historically the rival of the Jesuits) or the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier (or both).  The new Pope has a history of humility and working with the poor.  Like Benedict he does not subscribe to the doctrine of government austerity indulged by the American religious right.  Yet he is doctrinally conservative.  Don’t expect too many changes in church policies regarding women and homosexuals.

The election of Pope Francis has already shone the light on the Catholic Church’s equivocal attitude to the atrocities committed by the Latin American military juntas in the 70s.  Francis has previously apologized for the the Church’s failure to speak out on the subject.  The record on his own activities during the period appears mixed.

The Catholic Church desperately needs a reformer who can clear out the muck that has accumulated over the past decades.  It remains to be seen whether the (likely brief) papacy of Pope Francis will achieve that result.

Some lighthearted irreverence below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 07-03-2013
Filed Under (Science) by Rashtrakut

This story from Lima, Peru is truly cool.  Faced with a city with almost no rain, 98% humidity and a water shortage Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology literally made water out of thin (albeit humid) air.  They put up a billboard that captured humidity from the air and turned it into water by reverse osmosis.  For more details click here and check out the video below.

This could be panacea for water starved regions with sufficient humidity to generate water.  However, before mass implementation of such techniques, studies should be performed to discover the impact on weather and rain patterns in other regions.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul could merely shift the water shortage elsewhere.  Yet this is a truly innovative solution that could help combat an issue that will cause more strife this century than oil – water shortages.

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Posted on 06-03-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hugo Chavez lost his battle with cancer yesterday.  The Venezuelan President who was recently re-elected to another term leaves behind a tumultuous legacy.  A man who reveled in taunting the West and consorting with the rogues gallery of the world, he also was genuinely loved by many of Venezuela’s underclass.

It is hard not to review the reign of Chavez and come back with a feeling of a wasted opportunity.  Chavez identified a legitimate problem in Venezuelan society.  Like many resource rich countries Venezuela’s oil wealth did not trickle down to the masses.  Under Chavez poverty levels in Venezuela dropped (as they did across Latin America) and the rise in oil prices allowed him to fund a number of populist policies.  Yet a lot of the largesse was wasted in crony politics, subsidizing Fidel Castro, funding other leftist politicians across Latin America.  The vaunted Bolivarian revolution is proving unsustainable (and hypersensitive to oil prices).  Crime has risen, inflation has skyrocketed, corruption is high and nationalization policies have led to a brain drain in the professional class who have emigrated to more welcoming shores.

A bigger problem for this blogger was Chavez’s authoritarian instincts.  He was a walking example of how winning elections does not make you a democrat.  The judiciary was packed with his cronies, opposition press was muzzled and after losing a referendum on amending the constitution he issued decrees on those provisions in any case.  Under the guise of leftist and anti-imperialist solidarity he funded terrorist movements like FARC and embraced tyrants like Gaddaffi.

As the Economist notes, now comes the reckoning.  For now reflexive anti-Americanism will rule the day.  Chavez may have squandered the opportunity to rebuild Venezuela’s infrastructure, but the oil resources are still available for a wiser ruler to use it for the benefit of the masses as Chavez originally intended.  For that to happen Venezuela needs to avoid any other megalomaniacal Caudillos.

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