India and the US Reach “Breakthrough” Nuclear Deal
President Barack Obama traveled to India Monday to serve as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade, the first U.S. president to do so. This trip to India was the second of Mr. Obama’s presidency, another first for a U.S. president and an indicator of his commitment to closer relations and greater cooperation. He even switched the planned date of the State of the Union address in order to attend the celebration at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation.
During the trip, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi reached a “breakthrough understanding” that would shift the financial risk of nuclear energy onto the insurers rather than the suppliers. Before this deal was brokered, the Indian government held suppliers, designers and builders responsible for any accidents or losses. The new agreement allows United States’ firms to invest in power plants in India with little investment-associated risk.
The nuclear energy deal signals a promising step in the United States-India relationship. After the bilateral agreement was finalized, Prime Minister Modi stated, “The nuclear agreement was the centerpiece of our transformed relationship.” He continued, “we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our law, our international legal obligations, and technical and commercial viability.” U.S. firms, such as GE Hitachi, will begin investing in nuclear energy plants in India as soon as they are assured that a cap exists on their liability in the “case of a disaster.”
Measles Outbreak Calls Attention to Vaccination Debate
As of January 30th, 91 people in 14 states have reported cases of measles. The cause of the current outbreak is unclear, but most cases have been traced back to the Disneyland theme park in Southern California. The outbreak comes at the end of a landmark year for measles, with 644 reported cases in the U.S. in 2014, many of which originated from an Amish community in Ohio that had a large population of unvaccinated residents.
Measles is a highly contagious and potentially serious disease spread easily by coughing and sneezing. Although it was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, a combination of declining vaccination rates and increasing epidemics in other countries have allowed the disease to resurface.
According to the CDC, 95% of American children are fully vaccinated against measles as required before entering school. However, many states, including California, are allowing more religious and philosophical exemptions to this rule. Now some California school districts are banning unvaccinated students from coming to school in order to prevent further spreading of the disease. The disease is particularly threatening for infants under the age of one, who are ineligible for the vaccination and thus depend on the vaccination of the rest of the population to shield them from contracting the disease.
ISIL Kills Second Japanese Hostage
ISIL extremists released a video Saturday night showing the alleged execution of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto. This comes one week after the group released photographs of the apparent beheading of Haruna Yukawa, another Japanese hostage.
ISIL initially demanded $200 million for the release of both men but changed their demand to the release of Sajida al Rishawi, a convicted terrorist in Jordan, after killing Mr. Yukawa last week. In exchange for al-Rishawi, the terrorists offered to release Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, but Jordanian officials have demanded “proof of life” before moving forward with negotiations. Al-Kassasbeh was not mentioned in the video of Mr. Goto.
In the video, the executioner made comments directly to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concerning his “reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war” and threatened to create a “nightmare for Japan.” In response to the murder, Prime Minister Abe declared that Japan would never forgive the terrorists for the act and promised a continuation of humanitarian aid for countries fighting ISIL.
President Obama released a statement Saturday evening expressing “solidarity with Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese people in denouncing this barbaric act” and supported Japan’s commitment to continuing their policy in the Middle East.
Greece’s Syriza Party Promises to Fight Austerity Measures
Greece’s left-wing Syriza party dominated the national election on January 25, winning 36% of the vote. The party, led by Alexis Tsipras, campaigned on renegotiating the terms of the 2010 and 2012 bailout loans from the “troika,” a group of major creditors including the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The bailouts came in the wake of its government-debt crisis, a consequence of the Great Recession of 2007-2008.
One of the most controversial conditions attached to the bailout was the required austerity measures to restore fiscal balance. Today, unemployment is around 26% and the Greek public debt is 175% of GDP. These high figures, coupled with the frustration of the Greek people, have engendered public support for Keynesian deficit spending over austerity, a contentious issue for economists and a major part of Syriza’s platform.
Still, it remains unclear if Syriza will deliver on its promises. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear that the troika will not provide Greece with any further debt relief. And while newly elected Prime Minister Tsipras swore that Greece would neither renege on its debt nor act unilaterally, there are major differences between his party’s vision for Greek recovery and the Merkel’s vision, namely disagreements over public spending and the privatization of state assets.
While Greece leaving the euro seems unlikely after Tsipras’ recent conciliatory remarks, the “Grexit” could serve as the catalysis for the devolution of the Eurozone if countries such as Italy and Spain were to follow in Greece’s footsteps.
In other news…
Super Bowl XLIX featured dancing sharks and an insane final two minutes that led to a victory for the New England Patriots. This year’s advertisements took aim at social issues ranging from girl power to accidental childhood deaths. Check out clips here.
A Nashville jury convicted two former Vanderbilt football players on counts of aggravated rape. The pair took pictures during the attack that later proved instrumental in their conviction.
Considered “traitors” at home and “security risks” in the U.S., Afghan translators who served with the U.S. military were left behind after the withdrawal of American troops.
UVA alumna Jia Tolentino returns to campus to examine the aftermath of the infamous Rolling Stones article.
Is music really the universal language? Canadian researchers recently disproved the theory.