Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Religious Idiots

In one of episodes of my favorite TV show, House M.D., Dr. Greg House, the protagonist, utters the memorable line, “Religion is not the opiate of the masses, it’s the placebo.” As a self-confessed non-believer, or atheist, as it’s popular to call one-self nowadays, I thought it was funny, yet quite poignant in many ways. I realize it’s quite arrogant of me to believe that a quote attacking religion is poignant, but then I have also heard that I’m arrogant because I don’t believe in a God, any God for that matter.

I have never had a problem with any person being religious, as a matter of fact, my wife’s very religious. By nature, I believe in the right of a person to practice in any faith he chooses, even though that directly conflicts with my view of life. I always thought that people needed to be religious, to believe in a higher power than themselves, to give them hope in after-life. More so, the concept of mortality has often scarred people. The thought of your loved ones passing away, is not something any one can scoff at. Looking at religion from that vantage point, I viewed religion more as a means to spirituality, a way of achieving balance, where one could accept the inevitable.

I don’t hold that belief about religion anymore, and it has in many ways colored my opinion about people who openly spout religion. Actually, let me rephrase that, I now hold a very negative view of any person who chooses to use his religious belief to make decision for the rest of the population. Living in U.S., it’s very hard to not miss those people. Often, these people are also known in other parts of the world as politicians. In a polarizing country, such as U.S., where elections can be lost or won, because you may believe in the right of a woman to choose, or not judge a person by his or her sexual orientation. Actually, that’s one of my pet peeves: the whole shenanigan about the sanctity of traditional marriage. Marriage, is a sociological phenomenon, a contract that society has, over many generations, enforced onto us to maintain morality in the society. I have nothing against traditional marriage, but people need to get their heads out of their asses, that traditional marriage is not the only thing, and more importantly, it’s not my or anyone’s choice to decide what’s acceptable for a gay or a lesbian couple, period.

Now, moving on to the germane point of my post- politicians, who use religion as a platform to run elections. Last week, Indiana Governor was in news for some innocuous comments he made. The story in detail here. This quote caught me off-guard-

“Let me be clear…the issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues,” the former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate said in an e-mail to supporters Friday. “They are moral issues. I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and deficit spending though I believe in both and have done it as a Governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.”

Is it me, or did he just contradict himself in that quote. And he agrees with me that issue of traditional marriage and abortion are moral issues, which means they dont’ affect economy, international relations, and other fun stuff that usually deals with politics. Oh, and the basic premise of civilization? What, Mr. Huckabee would that be? That it’s okay for your beliefs to trespass on other person’s beliefs. More importantly, how does union of a gay or lesbian couple affect your married life? Should your belief, in what you call traditional marriage, be the reason for two people obviously in love to not be united together, and not be offered the same rights that you and your wife enjoy.

And for a change, I thought that GOP had something constructive to say. Sadly, I was wrong. Here’s another genius talking about how social issues are more important. Forget BP, shaky economy, war in Afghanisthan and high rates of unemployement, let us bloody prevent gays from getting married. Lets make sure we shove religion down everybody’s throat. I mean really. This is same guy that wants to protect unborn life, yet is okaying gun-rights to people, who clearly don’t have the right to hold a hockey stick, let alone a shotgun. Oh, and all this in the name of religion. Sheesh!

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Bargaining Power and Negotiations

In classic “Negotiations Theory”, the most optimum solution to any bargaining or negotiation situation is to strive for a ‘win-win’ solution, i.e., find a solution that satisfies the needs of all the parties involved. However, how many times in real life have we – and I used the word “we” in a general, holistic sense- have thought about the needs of the other party in a negotiation. It’s basic human nature to want to only care about one’s needs, other be damned.

This is the exact premise that applies in international relations today; and it isn’t exactly a surprise. Each country when negotiating a trade treaty, a military or agreement of any kind with a friendly country, looks to maximize its gains without really thinking about the other country’s need. After all, no politician will be successful, if he goes to his people and says, “It’s okay if we didn’t get all we wanted, the other nation also got some benefits.” What’s really interesting in international negotiations isn’t the actual bargaining power, but the perceived bargaining power.

For instance, everybody and their uncle thinks that China has some influence over North Korea. Often, U.S., South Korea, and Japan are at China’s door asking for it to put pressure on Pyongyang to not perform its usual mischievous tricks. China in turn milks this when discussing trade and Yuan appreciation with U.S. Reality, however, is completely different. China has no more influence on North Korea, than does any other nation. There is some truth to the notion that NK and China share some history as they were or are Communist nations. It’s a different matter that China is trending more towards a Socialist governance rather than a Communist one. North Korea in reality brings no bargaining power to the table, but the perception of it as a renegade and a notorious nation gives it a perceived bargaining power to negotiate at the table.

To me this notion of perceived bargaining power hasn’t been more evident than in the case of India. The Flotilla incident is very fresh in our memories and here is a comparison of different approaches of India and Israel towards terrorist organizations [or in India’s case the reaction it would take]. India’s reaction, or lack of it, is a direct result of it buckling to international pressure. It is common knowledge that most terrorist attacks in India happen from across the border in Pakistan. To be clear, the people of Pakistan are not to be blamed for the attacks, as much as the Pakistan military is. The Pakistan military has always had the policy, after ’71 war, to not directly engage India in a war, but in a guerilla-warfare type proxy war, and provide resources to home-grown terrorist to bleed India via a thousand ‘paper-cuts’.

During Kargil war, there was ample justification for India to wage a war against Pakistan. At the very least, there could have been surgical strikes against the terrorist organization hiding across the border. Despite the national sentiment, India buckled or caved under international pressure. Argument proposed then and now is, that India needs to focus on its internal problem if it ever harbors any ambition of being considered a world superpower. In reality, India’s internal problems can’t be solved with a complete focus of its resources to it’s domestic issue, which can’t happen with all the external distractions that India often faces from its friendly neighbors.

Prior to 9/11, U.S. didn’t care much about India-Pakistan conflict, because there was no genuine terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda. Now, with cat among the pigeons, U.S. can’t afford to have India-Pakistan to go to war against each other. Pakistan, clearly can’t control the Taliban in NWFP, yet it parades the line to U.S., ” You need our help against Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” In return, Pakistan gets billions of dollars of bailout. This is happening while U.S. is sinking knee deep in debt. What’s India’s role in this, well nothing. What has India to offer to the whole Taliban solution. Apparently, nothing. Or so Pakistan would have you believe.

The money and weapons that U.S. provides to Pakistan, aren’t exactly being used against Taliban. Pakistan made the deal with the devil years ago, and now is paying the price. Deteriorating economy and infrastructure, along with frequent civilian casualties are one sign of it. So when I read stories like these, I can’t help but scoff. Frankly, U.S. can’t even guarantee that those weapons will be used against its troops, that’s how much in shambles the Pakistan Army is in.

The blame lies squarely on India, for not developing any perceived bargaining power. As the world’s 7th largest country, and a rapidly developing economy, India has no bargaining power today at the world stage. Perhaps, being overtly aggressive like Israel wouldn’t have achieved the aim, but the current policy hasn’t done anything, either. Repeating the same thing over and over again, and excepting different result each time, is stupidity, and that pretty much characterizes India’s foreign policy. And this is only with respect to Pakistan, forget the actual threat – China.

Tap Tap goes the Phone

Since I got bored of all the Chirayu Amin, IPL and other useless stories going around in the media, I decided to look up more about the whole phone tapping issue. You know, just because it infringes on the civil liberties of the population, and yes I do feel that the corrupt politicians do deserve their civil liberties, even though these politicians are the ones who steal common’s folks right. Vir Sanghvi presents an analysis here about the whole issue. Now, Vir Sanghi is fine one to speak about poor discussions on TV. Ofcourse, there used to be a time, when he among other TV anchors was well respected.

There used to be a time when presenting the facts and news mattered, now it’s more important to shout and repeat Lalit Modi’s tweets, without analysis, and pass them off as news. If I come across as cynical, perhaps the problem lies in what I consider a distrust of any media personality, presenting news. This is a pandemic, and often I feel the same way when I watch Campbell Brown on CNN. Anways, I digress. This isn’t about what media does or rather doesn’t do.

A snippet from Sanghvi’s blog-

 This is the most likely scenario: It is possible that both Outlook and Chidambaram are telling the truth. The way phone tapping works is that the agency that wishes to monitor a phone line has to get permission in writing from the home secretary or a state chief secretary. Chidambaram’s denial indicates that in these cases, no permission was granted by the home secretary. But the truth is that phones are routinely tapped by the security services without bothering with any written permission. Partly, this is out of necessity. In most countries (and especially the US), intelligence services regularly scan the ether to see if they can pluck out conversations of value.

Sanghvi’s right in saying that often in US, intelligence agencies tap the phone to actually search for terrorist activities. Is this phone-tapping morally acceptable? The answer is no. But this is the price you pay for living in a post 9/11 world, where there are credible threats, and the only way to avoid them is by actually sniffing them out. However, this misses the point in the case of phone-tapping of Opposition leader, or leaders who’re renegade. This is a blatant misuse of power. Not to mention illegal and as I mentioned earlier infringing on someone’s civil liberties.

As far as Govt. not involved and aware of phone tapping. Hogwash. Intelligence Agenices are least interested in what Opposition leader does, unless he shows up on the radar due to unfortunate use of words. The reason I say so is what Sanghvi inadvertently points out – “Spooks” survive on politics and politicians, and thus sway with winds of power. Sanghvi further points out that Politicians are too smart to indulge in phone-tapping. Actually, politicians are too smart to accept phone-tapping, more so when they can order phone taps as word of mouth, rather than a memo. Good luck trying to prove Governemnt’s involvement. It’s very naive of Sanghvi to believe that any spy agency in India or any country for that matter operate independent of Goverments invovlement or its agenda.

In passing, what intrigued me was this bit-

 For instance, R&AW picked up the conversations of the 26/11 terrorists on board a dhow in the Arabian Sea during one such scan. It had no permission from the home secretary for this kind of surveillance.

What does this say about India’s intelligence agencies? I’m not going to analyse that bit, but it should really scare you if you’re living in India.