The future of downtown Chicago

Blair Kamen is one of Chicago’s major architectural critics/experts. Here he offers six ideas on how Chicago’s downtown “will rise again.” I particularly liked the first point:

“The lesson: Confident downtowns do not panic. They follow in the tradition of Daniel Burnham. They plan. They make big plans, Burnham style. And they make small plans, which wisely recognize that different streets, and even different sections of streets, represent different but interrelated parts of a larger urban ecosystem.”

King Mahendra and the (failed) Communist card

A common, and I think broadly accurate, critique of US foreign policy in Cold War Asia was its tendency to exaggerate the extent of Communist power within countries. Which makes it always interesting to find a countervailing case, in which the US did not buy the Communist card being deployed by a local actor.

An example is the State Department’s assessment of King Mahendra’s December 1960 coup in Nepal; after a meeting with the king on December 20 in which he claimed his coup was a result of needing to overcome corruption and communism, the Embassy offered its analysis:

“In analyzing this coup d’etat, for this is what we believe it to be, we feel that the King’s motives in taking the precipitate action he did were guided less by the issues of corruption and Communism than by a growing fear that his own personal position and prestige were dwindling and that if he did not act soon, it might be too late. [2 lines of source text not declassified] While it is doubtless true that there has been corruption in high places and evidence, some true and some fabricated, will be presented to prove this, and, less likely, there may be discovered some vague connections with Communist activity, the real motive behind the move was the preservation of the monarchy and the Shah dynasty in its absolute form. Although the King protests that the decision was his alone, we are convinced that it was aided and urged by the group around him, which may also have misled him. This group includes members of his and his wife’s family, remaining Class A Ranas, hereditary Generals and reactionaries and “feudal remnants” generally, who, themselves, are concerned over the survival of their privileged positions. Added to these forces are those land owners and others who stood to suffer financially from the enforcement of the recent tax and land reform laws.”

SD Muni on India-Nepal Ties

“no other factor has influenced the tone and temper of India-Nepal relationship more decisively than the changing parameters of internal political forces in these two countries. Between the two, the Nepalese internal politics has played a relatively greater role in this respect”” Muni, India and Nepal, 1993, p. 8 (which I find much sharper on Nepali internal politics than his Foreign Policy of Nepal).


I get why US diplomats don’t publicly comment on human rights issues in India – just becomes catnip for the BJP and its base, who gleefully link it to George Soros, “regime change,” etc; it probably on average just makes things worse.

But US diplomats get paid – by American taxpayers – to offer real, independent analysis to their government. Which is why this, from a Politico piece on the “softly, softly” approach the US has taken toward India, suggests the need for some changes:

“A second State official was more blunt, saying the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was well-known among diplomats for having “clientitus” — meaning it tends to parrot a host country’s line or at least avoid looking at it through a critical lens.

“Delhi is terrible on any kind of human rights reporting,” the second official said of the embassy there. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.”

This is especially problematic because so many US government officials with responsibility for India and Pakistan seem to have later gone on to become de facto lobbyists needing things from the Indian and Pakistani governments. Hard to imagine a worst set of incentives for producing autonomous or credible analysis. There are plenty of places to get bland, euphemistic takes on India and US-India relations; internal government communications, paid for by the US public, shouldn’t be one of them.