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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 pm

The Invisible Hand Revealed


This ad ran many, many years ago.  That doesn’t make it any less condescending or unfortunate.  It  unknowingly foreshadows one of the worst disasters of the industrial age.

From Wikipedia:

The Bhopal disaster. . .in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, [resulted] in the immediate deaths of [at least] 3,000 people. . . . A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that the same number have since died from gas related diseases. However, testimonies from doctors who provided medical assistance during the tragedy claim over 15,000 were dead in the first month and approximately 20,000 in total.

The incident took place in the early hours of the morning of December 3, 1984, in the heart of the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. A Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, killing approximately 3,800 people instantly. The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster. . . . Two decades later, more than 100,000 people have permanent injuries, light or severe. The groundwater around the plant area remains contaminated, and the question of cleaning up the area is still unresolved.

Proof positive that yesterday’s progress is tomorrow’s horror.

The ad also offers what, I am sure, was an unintentional allegory for the dangers of globalization.  The Bhopal disaster demonstrates what can happen when unregulated and unrestrained globalization intersects with weak local government.  Corporations take advantage of lax regulations, get lazy, and people die. Despite what the right wants us to believe, we can’t count on the “invisible hand” of free market capitalism to regulate corporate behavior.  All too often, that hand, instead of regulating its own behavior, releases toxic chemicals into the ground, air, or  water.

Hat tip:  Ultrabrown

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Russia-Georgia: The Other Shoe Drops


This isn’t good:

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

September 8, 2008

The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (the so-called ‘123’ Agreement). As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.

The U.S. nonproliferation goals contained in the proposed Agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civil nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities, and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global nonproliferation issues.

We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.

We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.

For those not familiar with 123 agreements, they are named after Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which requires that the U.S. government negotiate and sign an agreement with a given country before commerce in nuclear materials can be established.

Although 123 agreements can be controversial in and of themselves (as is the case with the U.S.-India pact), they also offer a way to help promote nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

The era of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nukes may have just come to an end.

Hope Saakashvili is feeling more secure now — because something tells me that a few of those missiles are now pointed his way.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

16 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:37 pm

Helping Padma


Anna at Sepia Mutiny has a heart-wrenching post about the lives and deaths of what sounds like a truly wonderful family — and the challenges faced by the sister left behind to care for two disabled younger brothers.

I urge you to go to the site, read their story, and learn how you can help.

| posted in world at home | 0 Comments

11 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:55 am

Whazzup to All the Ladies Hangin’ out in Mumbai


I’ve found one of the signs of the Apocalypse.  Or should I say Apocalypse-hop?

US rapper Snoop Dogg has made his debut in a Bollywood film which is being released on Friday. Dogg, whose real name is Cordozar Calvin Broadus, sings and acts in a romantic comedy called Singh is Kinng [sic].

Fusing hip hop and bhangra, Dogg appears in the film with leading Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, singing the eponymous title track. . . .  Wearing a tradition[al] Indian turban and a tunic, Dogg. . .sings: “This is Snoop Dogg/Singh is the king/This is the thing.”

The words in the song are a combination of English, Hindi and Punjabi language lyrics and rap.  [In t]he rapper’s introduction to the song. . . [h]e says: “Yo, what up. This Big Snoop Dogg. Represent the Punjabi. Aye ya, hit em with this.”

The photos of Snoop in a turban are priceless, but a video from what appears to be an awards show earlier this year is even better.  It’s one part Bollywood, one part MTV Raps, and one part fascist rally:

What’s up with Akshay Kumar’s Sammy Sosa chest thump?

Best part:  Snoop actually rhymes Massala and Dollars.  Heh.

| posted in globalization, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Five to Watch: The Rest of the World


Between the U.S. Presidential election and the Beijing Olympics, there isn’t much space on the Intertubes or the cabletubes for other stories.  And I understand that The Washington Postdated is running a five-part series on McCain’s wacky aunt, so they’re not going to be much help either.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has taken a break.  Here are five stories worth watching in the coming weeks:

1.  Bolivia.  This Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales (an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the Vice President, and nine provincial governors — many of whom are Morales critics.  Originally envisioned as a way to end the political impasse between Morales and his opponents, the vote instead has exacerbated tensions, and could strengthen separatist sentiment in four provinces.  In the lead-up to the vote, Chavez and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner had to cancel a planned meeting with Morales as a result of the unrest, and Morales had to relocate planned independence celebrations to La Paz from the opposition-controlled Sucre after opposition supporters blockaded the airport.

2.  Rwanda-France. On Tuesday, Rwanda issued a report formally accusing French government officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has steered Rwanda away from the francophone bloc and towards a closer relationship with the United States, cut ties with the French government back in 2006 as a result of a French judge’s efforts to have him charged for allegedly playing a role in the death of President Habyarimana — an event that either triggered the genocide or was used as an excuse for its genesis.  Two separate issues appear to be at play here:  questions about French complicity, which may have included training of and advice to the pre-genocide army, and the role of Kagame’s RPF movement, which human rights groups say is responsible for war crimes (albeit not genocide).

3.  Mauritania. On Wednesday, a group of Army officers seized power from the first-ever democratically elected government in Mauritania.  The coup took place after Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attempted to fire four senior military officers — who instead led the coup.  The President and Prime Minister are both under house arrest, and while the new leaders have promised new elections, a history of coups and military rule make such an outcome unlikely.  The recent discovery of significant oil reserves further complicates matters.

4.  Iraq. Think everything in Iraq is peachy?  Think again.  The Parliament recessed on Wednesday without passing an essential provincial elections bill, hampering further efforts at reconciliation dependent on the vote’s outcome.  The sticking point is Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex but other factions want to keep separate.  Once again, oil is playing a role — Kirkuk has lots of it.  Perhaps the worst news is that the Iraqis decided the best course of action at this point is  to appoint yet another commission to study the matter while the rest of the Council of Representatives went on vacation.

5.  Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself.  As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been.  The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either.  Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics.  With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility.  This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

2 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:29 am

The Mother of All Hungamas


My friend Nilay, who hails from Guwahati in the Assam province of India, taught me a great Hindi word:  hungama.  Think of it as a cross between a major kerfuffle and a holy mess.

RIght now, Pakistan has managed to put itself in the middle of one big honkin’ hungama, perhaps the largest ever recorded.  Via The New York Times:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful [Inter-Services Intelligence] service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

[I}ntercepted communications between [ISI] officers and militants who carried out the attack…[provide] the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence not only has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a longtime ally, but also has fanned tensions between Pakistan and its archrival, India.

[snip]

When asked Thursday about whether the ISI and Pakistani military remained loyal to the country’s civilian government, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the [U.S.] Joint Chiefs of Staff, sidestepped the question. “That’s probably something the government of Pakistan ought to speak to,” Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon.

Uh-oh.

If there’s one thing we don’t need right now, it’s a nuclear state deciding to commit an act of war on another nuclear state.  What the hell were these guys thinking?  “I’m bored.”  “Yeah, me too.”  Hey, I know what we can do.  Let’s turn South Asia into a big glass puddle!”

This could spin out of control faster than a tight-fitting sari on a Bollywood starlet.  The Indians are not going to be satisfied with false contrition and muttered apologies.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:00 am

Where are the Media? Where is the Outrage?


Imagine, if you can, that a series of more than 24 bombings took place in two key Western cities, killing at least 40 and injuring close to 150.  Imagine the media frenzy, the days of coverage, the breathless speculation, the hunt for those responsible.

So why is there hardly a mention of the terrible events of the past two days in the world’s largest democracy?  From Reuters:

India’s major cities were put on high alert on Sunday, with fears of more attacks after at least 40 people were killed in two days of bombings that hit a communally-sensitive western city and a southern IT hub  At least 16 small bombs exploded in the Indian city of Ahmedabad on Saturday, killing at least 39 people and wounding 110, a day after another set of [8] blasts in Bangalore killed a woman [and injured 29].

Where are the media?  Where’s the outrage?

| posted in globalization, media, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

26 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:00 pm

Heightening Contradictions: Mumbai and English


As you may have heard, Barack Obama has suggested that we all learn a second language.  Buddha knows I’ve tried, but now with much success.  I now know a bit of French, Russian and the artist formerly known as Serbo-Croatian, but when I try speaking one, I usually end up mixing in the others.

The rest of the world is, of course, way ahead of us on this front.  Still some argue that since the rest of the world has to learn English, why should we learn other languages?  There are three answers to that question.  The first, that we are better world citizens when we can speak other languages, is very idealistic but doesn’t really motivate people.  The second, that everyone is going to have to learn Chinese instead if we keep flushing our economic strength down the toilet, may motivate some, but that’s really more a question of fixing what’s wrong at home.

But a third argument often gets overlooked:  that other people don’t want to learn or use English.

Granted, that isn’t true in say, Iceland, but it certainly is true in Paris (well actually that’s not entirely accurate — it’s not that they don’t speak English, it’s that they want you to mangle French).  But in other parts of the world, English is losing its place:

India’s capital of commerce speaks in many tongues but from this month, when it comes to official communications within the municipal authority, English will no longer be one of them.

The move was pushed through without debate by Shubha Raul, the mayor, who is a member of Shiv Sena, a political party that encourages the nativist pride of Marathis and chastises Indian immigrants who fail to behave like good guests in the city.

No city official is against Marathi communication — although Marathis make up less than half of Mumbai’s population the language is understood to some degree by many long-term residents.  But some officials say that while the Marathi of the bazaars is easy to understand, the officialese version of the language is confusing, and a poor substitute for English.  Like the Academie Francaise in Paris, city bureaucrats are increasingly on guard against English loanwords, even when they are more widely understood than the Marathi equivalent.

Ah yes, the Shiv Sena, a party headed by a man who emulates Hitler and favors ethnic cleansing.  Real winners, those guys.  They’re big believers in the idea that all political decisions should be not about consensus, but instead about heightening contradictions in society so as to bring on conflict.

And promoting a single dominant language is all about conflict, not consensus.  Take a look at what happened in Sri Lanka, where English was downgraded back in the 1950s.  As public education reverted to Sinhalese, Tamils grew increasingly unhappy.  Soon, Tamils — for this and other reasons — felt more and more like second-class citizens.  As that festered, Tamils started to attack Sinhalese, and Sinhalese started targeting Tamils.  Next thing you know, everything had gone to hell, the Tamil Tigers were teaching the world about suicide bombing, and Sri Lanka was mired in decades of civil war.

Yes, that’s an oversimplification.  But it does make a broader point:  promoting a language for reasons of national pride is one thing; promoting it (or downgrading others) in order to trump minorities is quite a different kettle of Goan prawn curry.  Mumbai has been on slow boil for years.  And the Shiv Sena would like nothing better than to turn up the heat.

| posted in globalization | 0 Comments

25 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:00 am

Triple Damages (Score): L A W S U I T


Hey — 10 points, plus a double letter on the W for another 4 points, 50 points for using all my tiles — and a triple word score!  That’s  192 points!  W00T!!  Molly is gonna kill me — it’s celebrations like this that led her to put me in “Scrabble Time Out.”

Which apparently is where Hasbro, the creator of Scrabble, is wants  to put Scrabulous:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in globalization, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:00 pm

“Mostly by Growing Old and Dying, Andrea.”


Trust the Onion to capture the absurdity of breathless cable news coverage:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in media, pop culture | 0 Comments

6 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 am

Incredibly Bad Idea of the Day


Jim Hoagland wants to “blow up” the G-8 and replace it with a G-3:

Predictable suggestions that this body be expanded to a G-13 or a G-20 go in the absolute wrong direction. More expansion will destroy any opportunity for informal, effective consultation by world leaders. They will be talking for the press releases, not for each other. Such proposals should be put forward only as cover for a more sensible proposition: The United States, the European Union and Japan should quietly form a G-3 that would operate in the shadows of the much larger talk shop.

Oh boy would that be a good idea incredibly stupid thing to do:  alienate everybody except Japan, the one country without the capacity to help us militarily.

The French, Brits, and Germans would be angry because their three votes would be reduced to one, not to mention the fact that the EU would be represented by whichever country happens to hold the Presidency  (right now, that would be France, but come January it would be the Czech Republic, whose economy currently ranks somewhere between 31st and 40th largest, depending on your source).

The Russians, who already disdain us (as we do them), would get even madder.

The Chinese, Spanish, Brazilians, Indians, and Koreans would have brand new reasons to be annoyed with the arrogance of our foreign policy.

The Canadians and Italians would be upset at being kicked out of the one club where they are somewhat relevant.  And of course, we would look like the big bully once again.

I’m no fan of the G-8.  I think it’s the wrong grouping for the wrong reasons.  I agree with Hoagland that it’s not a very useful construct.  Every two years these (mostly) guys get together and set out an ambitious agenda on a given problem or set of problems, which they then trumpet as a breakthrough.  Two years ago, it was Africa, debt, and development (thanks largely to Bono and Blair).  This time, it’s (again) climate change and the rapid rise in commodity prices.  But if the past is prologue, they’ll negotiate until the last minute, issue a communique, and then… go home.  Little else ever comes of these “breakthroughs.”  And that doesn’t even get to the fact that the host country has to establish a miniature police state to make the event happen.

Part of the problem, as Hoagland notes, is that the G-8 really doesn’t have a clear definition of membership.  That is in part a consequence of the dumb decision to admit Russia in the post-Cold-War-end-of-history euphoria of the 1990s (I would not be the first to call this one of Clinton’s dumber ideas).  But it also is a product of the fact that the G-8 (with that one exception) has remained a static body while the world has changed.

So what is the G-8?  To put it in Jim Collins’ Good to Great terms, what is its hedgehog concept?  Is it a gathering of the world’s largest economies?  If so, what’s Russia doing there?  Is it the world’s largest democratic economies?  Again, Russia disproves that.  Furthermore, Spain (which by some (but not all) accounts has surpassed Canada in terms of nominal GDP), India, and Korea have just as much right to a place at the table as the Canadians.

I also have a hard time understanding why China is excluded when Russia remains at the table.  It’s either the world’s biggest economies or it’s the world’s biggest democratic economies.  Right now it’s a ridiculous hybrid.

Instead of maintaining the status quo or arbitrarily growing the club to include/exclude certain countries, why not draw a line that gives countries aspiring to membership a clearly delineated criteria for membership?  From now on, The G-xx will include

  1. only those economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater;
  2. only those democratic economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater; or
  3. some other equally arbitrary criteria that is clear to outsiders.

Doing this might create incentives for economic growth and perhaps even democratic governance.

Of course, the problem is deciding whose standard to use.  If we were to use the first criteria listed above, would the membership be ten (using World Bank numbers) or twelve (using those of the IMF)?  That explains one of the real reasons the group hasn’t changed:  everyone is terrified of making somebody else angry.

I recognize none of what I’m proposing is new:  as Hoagland notes, there are numerous proposals to expand the group to a G-13 and even a G-20.  But instead of coming up with a bad idea to fill a column, let’s acknowledge the truth of the matter:  the time has come to revise G-8’s mission statement or abolish it altogether.

Of course, the chances of this happening are almost infinitesimal — if it takes these guys months to negotiate a statement on debt relief, imagine how long this project would take?

| posted in foreign policy, globalization | 0 Comments

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