Iran

If any event could illustrate the fragility of the BRICS conceit, it is the recent blackout in India, which left as many as 600 million people without power for up to two days. More than anything else, it reveals the sorry state of India’s governance. Yes, there are some extenuating circumstances: an unusually hot and dry monsoon season, which has reduced the available flow in hydroelectric plants while also causing the wealthy to use more power to run their air conditioners, while at the same time farmers are using more power to run pumps bringing up irrigation water from deep wells.

But the real story is under-investment in power generation, in coal production, and in transmission and distribution infrastructure, which in turn are attributable to monopoly pricing, hugely inefficient subsidies, endemic corruption, and political stagnation. The power outage was unique only in its extent and duration. Businesses, households, and public institutions all rely on diesel generators, which to a large extent have gone from a backup to the primary source of electricity, as “load shedding” – the system of rolling blackouts that utilities impose to reduce the strain on an overtaxed network, which often deprive whole areas of a city of power for as much as 14 hours a day. The event, and the global publicity it has attracted, has put a dent in India’s self-image as a nascent superpower. India has nuclear weapons and a space program – it launched a lunar probe in 2008 and has announced plans to send an orbiter to Mars next year – but it can’t keep the lights on. [click to continue…]

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In spite of our recent and ongoing misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States seems to be stumbling towards war with Iran. President Obama has stated that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable and that he is prepared to use force to prevent it. In part to prevent Israel from launching an immediate attack on Iran, he has offered assurances that we will act, if necessary, once all other options are exhausted. It would be hard for the President to back down from such pronouncements once it becomes clear that Iran is moving forward with its nuclear program, since it would reveal his strong language as so much empty bluster. [click to continue…]

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For years the news media have been full of shocking reports on the abuse of women, largely though not exclusively, in Muslim countries. Sentences of flogging and death by stoning for accused adulteresses in Nigeria and Iran, and forced marriage, the burqa and the niqab, female genital mutilation, flogging and prison sentences for “immodest” attire, and “honor” killings, not just in Somalia and Afghanistan, but also in the suburbs of Paris and Birmingham. It’s a pretty grim picture.

But now comes a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of The Economist magazine, which  has devised a new index that ranks economic opportunity for women in 113 countries. [click to continue…]

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I’ve just returned from a few days in Sydney, Australia, where it is more or less the dead of winter, which means sunshine, highs in the upper 60s, and lows in the 50s. Not a snowplow in sight. Leaving aside the World Cup and Aussie Rules football and the odd murder and sex scandal, the main news story is the precipitous loss of confidence in Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party leader who became Prime Minister in 2007, soundly defeating John Howard and his center-right Liberal Party, who had been in power for the previous eleven years.  Rudd, a former civil servant in the Foreign Office known mainly for his fluency in Mandarin Chinese and his geekish, technocratic look, was meant to be the antidote to Howard’s proud pro-Americanism and belligerent attitude towards darker-skinned folks seeking political asylum in the Land of Oz. Rudd was the new internationalist, prepared to identify Australia as an Asian country and to place Australia in the vanguard on such cutting global issues as climate change. Barely three years later, and with the next election no more than 10 months away, Rudd appears to be hanging on by his fingernails, facing his lowest poll ratings ever as well as grumblings within his own party that he might have to be replaced by another politician – Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for example – if Labor is to have any chance of staying in power. What went wrong? [click to continue…]

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