Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Obama’s Dramatic Showdown Leads to Climate Deal

Monday, December 21st, 2009

The dust is still settling from Copenhagen, and the reactions that I’ve seen so far have been muted. But the consensus is that it was something between a disaster and a face-saving attempt to achieve the smallest measure of progress possible. One item that has begun to be reported, but not gotten much attention is how in a dramatic gesture, President Obama himself salvaged what of the agreement there is by breaking into a secret meeting organized by China with a few emerging countries to develop their own local non-binding goals instead of working with the world community.

Some environmental activists havetried to spread out the blame around – as Rick Patel of Avaaz wrote in an email:

Big polluters like China and the US wanted a weak deal, and potential champions like Europe, Brazil and South Africa didn’t fight hard enough to stop them.

Interestingly, this breakdown conforms almost exactly to what critics of the Copenhagen summit such as Charles Krauthammer would predict – as they see these efforts to combat global warming as a giant socialist conspiracy to “raid [...] the Western treasuries” by imposing “taxes on hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies” with “a dose of post-colonial reparations thrown in.”

But the opposing sides weren’t the simplistic ones outlined by either Krauthammer or Patel. The principles at stake weren’t simply big polluters versus small polluters or the proponents of global socialism versus its opponents. Instead, Copenhagen was about whether or not there could be collective action and global governance in the face of a global crisis – or whether each nation would act on its own. When Obama along with most other world leaders arrived at the end of the conference, the final details were supposed to come together quickly as the principals gathered in the same rooms and made the deals they needed to. Which is why despite grumbling before the conference about America’s inability to pass legislation to combat climate change* and the concerns of poorer countries about being restrained from development, the blame has settled on China for scuttling the talks. As the Guardian reported:

The Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, walked out of the conference at one point, and sent a lowly protocol officer to negotiate with Barack Obama.

After the snub and with China refusing to back down from any attempts to bind itself to meeting targets, Obama spoke to the conference. David Corn, writing in the Atlantic explained the impact:

Not hiding his anger and frustration, [Obama] said, “I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt.”

…Obama played it simple and hard. He maintained the United States was calling for three basic principles: mitigation, transparency, and financing. But he noted that it was absolutely necessary to verify the reductions commitments of the major emitters.

Obama’s speech left the gathered leaders and activists stunned as he seemed to be signalling the collapse of any possible agreement – of even some small measure of progress. Following this speech, Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and America’s negotiators attempted to salvage some agreement meeting with various world leaders (pressing China to come as a key player). But China’s negotiation team refused, secretly meeting with leaders from India, Brazil, and South Africa to negotiate on a non-binding agreement they could announce independent of the global community. The situation grew tense as world leaders realized no agreement could be reached without China’s participation. But in a dramatic moment, Obama salvaged some small measure of a deal, as John M. Broder reported the drama in the New York Times:

The deal eventually came together after a dramatic moment in which Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret.

The intrusion led to new talks that cemented central terms of the deal, American officials said.

The deal was less than was expected going in, but it signified some small measure of progress:

Expected to be included in this agreement is a commitment by developed nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, to create a finance mechanism to handle any agreement, to set a climate “mitigation target” of 2 degrees Celsius, to create a high-level panel to monitor carbon emissions, and to push for increased transparency in how they are being dealt with.

Like much of Obama’s presidency thus far, this deal is both a disappointment and the most significant effort to date to deal with an intractable policy and political problem.

*John M. Broder of the Times had a good piece on the obstacles the Senate was posing to climate change legislation as well as the measures the Democrats and Obama administration were taking to get around their sluggishness – including Pelosi pushing the legislation through the House and Obama’s EPA complying with the Supreme Court order and taking steps to regulate carbon.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

A Counterbalancing Bloc

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

David Rothkopf makes a good point, reflecting on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China):

I don’t think we should see the rise of a counterbalancing bloc  as a terrible thing either for the world or even for America. While having enemies is to be avoided wherever possible, having rivals is essential. It promotes reevaluation and growth. Imagine what computing would be like if we lived in an all Microsoft, Apple-less world. They make each other better. (Which in that case means Microsoft forces the smaller Apple to be innovative and Apple forces the Microsoft behemoth to be less awful.)

Charles Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire, and Somalia

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I watched Slumdog Millionaire this weekend – and was struck most of all by the Dickensonian character of the world it took place in – brutal everyday violence, orphans lost in a cruel world, children exploited yet resilient in the face of crushing trauma, unspeakable squalor, and a rigid class structure. Then there were two non-Dickensonian elements – the animalistic urge to live, to survive, and to thrive which often seemed to be the only thing keeping the characters going and the miracle of globalization and free markets which seemed to bring the possibility of hope and opportunity by the end. The serious social issues and grand societal evolution are merely the backdrop for a love story, which in the end, seems to make the depiction more powerful (Contra Alice Miles’s nonsensical criticism of the film as “poverty porn.”)

Last week, I was reading the United Nations International Labor Organization Global Employment Trends 2009 report (pdf) and was struck again at what I had forgotten – that some billions of people in this world live in extreme poverty. The report had to differentiate between those in extreme poverty (USD$1.25 per day) and those in just plain poverty (USD$2.00 per day) – the difference is only $0.75 per day. The report dealt with all this analytically – with charts and graphs – but Slumdog Millionaire gave a visual image of what this might look like, what it does look like in some places in the world still. It truly is a world alien to our own, yet filled with individuals with recognizable emotions and desires.

In that spirit, while realizing that extreme poverty has not been eliminated in India and other developing countries, it’s worth taking note of a country that does not even seem to be developing – in which there is little if any hope or opportunity – labeled the most dangerous place in the world by Jeffrey Gettleman in Foreign Policy – Somalia. 

Gettleman describes a country that is little more than a Hobbesian state of nature in between it’s neighboring countries and the ocean, where violence is rampant and everyday, where global powers intervene sporadically with varying motives but always perverse results, and the fourteenth government of the past twenty years now only controls a few city blocks in a country the size of Texas. 

[Photograph by Wen-Yan King licensed under Creative Commons.]

Friedman is annoying, but essentially correct

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Tom Friedman apparently spent last week talking to a slew of Indian businessmen – after all, he is in Bangalore – and he found that they were attempting to say something to him, that they were:

trying to make a point that sometimes non-Americans can make best: “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”

The prose and the formulation is Tom Friedman at his insufferable worst. And I think Friedman is fundamentally wrong in his point – America did not get to be “the wealthiest country in history” by acting as Friedman describes. No – we got there by building up our infrastructure, exploiting our vast natural resources, and creating an enormous manufacturing base. Friedman was right about the immigrants part.

The reason we stayed enormously wealthy as a nation after this old manufacturing economy began to be outsourced is our higher education system – and the other stuff that Friedman mentions. 

Which is to say that Friedman’s frustratingly dumbed-down “letter to America” that many Indian businessman are trying to speak to Friedman – is essentially correct in its prescriptions if not it’s history. We cannot have institutions “too big to fail” – and we cannot allow the massive government intervention into the economy to last. (On this though, Obama and Geithner seem if anything overcautious.) We cannot prop up “zombie” institutions. We cannot “protect” jobs – except temporarily. We need to create new jobs. We need smaller and more nimble companies. 

This is what we need to keep our nation strong as we enter the period of the market-state – in which governments will succeed based on the amount of opportunity they are able to offer their citizens.

Frustratingly, I think Friedman – even with such dumb prose – is essentially correct.

These Enemies of Civilization

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari on the terrorists of Mumbai:

The terrorists who killed my wife are connected by ideology to these enemies of civilization.

That’s the perfect use of a martyred wife as a political attack from a defensive position. But the fact that Zardari felt the need to make this point – in an op-ed for The New York Times no less – demonstrates the tenuousness of the India-Pakistan relationship, and the degree to which pressure by America is responsible for the current lack of open hostilities.

Technology Aided Terrorists

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The group appears to have used complex GPS systems to navigate their way to Mumbai by sea. They communicated by satellite phone, used mobile phones with several different SIM cards, and may have monitored events as the siege unfolded via handheld Blackberry web browsers

The legal petition also follows unconfirmed reports that Faheem Ahmed Ansari, a suspected militant who was arrested in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in February, said he was shown maps of Indian locations on Google Earth by members of Lashkar-e-Taiber, the Pakistan-based terrorist faction that Indian officials are convinced was behind the Mumbai attacks. [my emphases]

So – to prevent another similar attack, the plan is to get rid of one brand of map that one of the terrorists may have been shown according to unconfirmed rumors – at least that’s the plan of the petition in Indian court.

Somehow, the various handheld communications devices and the GPS positioning seem to be more significant.

Like Small Children

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

In my piece yesterday about the New York Times coverage of the Indian response to the Mumbai massacre, I was struck by the comparison to America’s response to 9/11. I didn’t realize that the person cited in the column, Vir Sanghvi, had actually written a column on this subject:

[In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Indians believed that the] real heroes of 26/11 were the men in uniform, the navy commandos, the Army, the Mumbai police and the ATS. Therefore, we should put our faith in these people not in politicians.

Others simply say that democracy has failed India and that we need a strong leader. Some talk openly about a benign dictator (a commodity on par with virgin prostitutes) and some demand an abridgement of the universal franchise that, they say, has led us to this mess…

I’m not saying that any of this is dangerous—no dictator is going to seize power because of discontent in Malabar Hill or Cuffe Parade—but it is certainly silly. Not only does it demonstrate that we have forgotten the lessons of the Emergency but it also shames the Indian middle class and shows up the cowards that are some of its most vocal members.

Like small children we crave the security offered by men in uniform every time we sense danger. We lose our nerve, abandon the only real functioning democracy in the populous states of the Third World and long for a leader who will fight the terrorists in the manner of Superman. Like frightened rabbits scurrying for cover, we lose all perspective and all common sense.

Contrast our responses to those from America after 9/11. The President was a dimwit, a man who had just stolen the election, and who reacted bizarrely to the news of the strikes and then took to his plane. But Americans did not abandon faith in their democracy. They came together and resolved to fight terrorism as one nation.