State Department: Google exec's North Korea visit not helpful

The State Department isn't too pleased with news that Google's Eric Schmidt plans to visit North Korea soon.

According to Politico, at a briefing today spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that State will have no involvement in the scheduled visit, and that both Schmidt and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is expected to accompany him, are well aware of the government's concerns:

"Frankly, we don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens and they are making their own decisions," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a regular news briefing. ..."They are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity they are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us," Nuland said.

The news, first reported by AP, that Google's executive chairman will be making a trip to the isolated country, has sparked chatter among analysts speculating about the purpose of the visit. Victor Cha, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has mused that the visit may be an effort to secure the release of Korean-American Kenneth Bae, currently being detained in North Korea. Richardson is well-known in North Korea, having visited at least six times since 1994 and Cha says he "has credibility with them."

Schmidt has remained silent, and a Google spokeswoman told Reuters Thursday that the company does not comment on the executive's "personal travel."



India is a death penalty country again

As recently as March, 2012, it seemed like the death penalty might be a thing of the past in India. The country is one of just a handful of large democracies in the world -- along with the United States, Taiwan, and Japan -- that still use capital punishment. (It's still legal in South Korea but no executions have been carried out since the late 1990s.)

According to a 1983 court ruling, execution can only be used in the "rarest of rare cases". Between 1995 and last year, India executed just two people -- a serial killer and a rapist/murderer. Last March, a court put on hold the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a Sikh militant convicted for the 1995 assassination of the Punjab State Minister.

Then, last November, the lone surviving Mumbai attack gunman, Amjal Kasab was executed swiftly and in secret, without any warning given to his family or attorney, a surprise to many in a country where the gears of justice usually turn pretty slowly. Amnesty International criticized the move, saying it "undoes much of the progress India has made over the death penalty."

Now, Indian prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty for the five men accused of raping and killing a woman on a New Delhi bus -- a case that has sparked protests throughout the country. Rape cases often linger in the Indian court system for years, so a special fast-track court has been set up for this case, following the widespread outrage.

It's certainly hard to argue that such a heinous crime shouldn't qualify under the Indian legal system's "rarest of rare" standard -- presumably this is exactly the sort of case the justices had in mind. But it appears that as long as there are angry people in the streets, the world's largest democracy is in no hurry to do away with the death penalty.