Wednesday, December 31, 2008

With Friends Like These...

Looks like Joe Biden was on the money when he predicted a "major international crisis" early on in the Obama administration (okay, the timing was a bit off, we are still in 43's closing days, but no one takes him seriously any more). Operation Cast Lead didn't come from North Korea or Syria or Iraq or Russia or Cuba or Venezuela. Israel's air camapign on Hamas has retrained the world'd attention on what started it all in the middle-East: remember, Palestine v. Israel* is the real big top, even though the Iraq tent became more prominent in recent times. 

Obama should declare (at least) - and soon. How he handles this will have a greater impact the Arab world's perception of the "new" US than how he unwinds Iraq. People will forgive some slips there (W's mess etc) but on Palestine, he'll be judged by his own doing. If he is true to his "principled stand" claims, it is still possible that he'll come out in favor of Israel on this (or some other) tactical steps but it is also probable that he'll have a strategic emphasis that means a move away from their historic preferences. In any case, continuing to wait is a bad option - the default setting; given the reality, perception and propoganda of decades, is not one that makes the man on the street trust the US or its allies in the region

*Note: Like much of the problems around the middle-East (and some of the South Asian ones too) that the US is dealing with, even this is an inheritence. A classic understatement of this: "...the origins of the Arab-Israeli problem are too complicated for easy summary, but among the points normally overlooked by most of the British media is that the government of the United Kingdom bears a unique responsibility for the problem. It sold the same real estate twice. In the direst moments of the first world war Britain promised the same territory to the Jews and to the Arabs..."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Charity begins (not) at home!

One Indian name high up on the Clinton Foundation Donor List is a certain Amar Singh. He's second only to Laxmi Niwas Mittal among desi donors (and very much in the group that gave between $ 1mm - $ 5mm). 

What are the odds that it isn't the Hon' MP Mr. Amar Singh (Samajwadi Party, Rajya Sabha) but some other Amar Singh? I couldn't find the full list (which will have some more details than the NYT summary, I trust) on the Clinton Foundation website - there's a press release that says it has been put up.
Even in these depressed times, LNM's net worth is well into double-digit billions. But what about Mr. Singh? If it is the socialist socialite, a  report in Indian Express (7 Nov 08) says he has declared owning movable and immovable assets worth Rs. 37 crore (no mean sum, right, but the cash in hand and bank deposits within this are about Rs. 5.7 crore - for him and Mrs. Singh together). At these levels, it takes a large heart to give away $1mm (at least Rs. 4 crore). 

Of course, it's his money, he can do what he likes with it - but as a person in public life in India, it is a worthwhile question to ask how this compares to help he's provided charities closer home.

Maybe it wasn't charity at all - he could have just been buying a celebrity visitor.

Has someone else - any one of Mr. Singh's wealthy friends (wealthier, actually, he's not in the poor house himself) donated on his behalf? What sort of disclosure norms should we expect from our politicians? As a MP, he's already a public servant - and somewhat more influential than the average member, if one believes half of what is written

Enough. For more, tune into the main stream media, which should pick it up in due course. And then proceed to make a complete hash of the issue.