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Monday, June 30

What's ahead for Pundita blog

Because I haven't put up a post since even before the following conversation, which was days ago, I'm publishing the conversation by way of updating readers.  For the next post I'll scare up links to reports on some topics that were discussed.    
MICHAEL WRIGHT:  What's happening?

PUNDITA:  Let me see.  Well, everybody's trying to turn everybody else into each other's plantation.  What did I just say? Is that English? 

MW:  I don't know.  I was asking about what's happening with your writing.  You haven't put up anything at your blog for some time. 

P:  I'm finishing up the essay on swarming.

MW:  Is that a running joke?

P:  No. Long story why it's taking me so long to get it out the door, but soon.

MW:  I can see you've been moving away from defense issues and foreign policy. It's just that I can't see where you're headed.

P:  I'm looking at land grabs right now.   
MW:  Old story.

P:  This isn't like the old days.  It's now so bad PepsiCo has made it policy that they won't buy produce raised on land that's been grabbed.
MW:  That is interesting. 

P:  They did it under pressure from shareholders, but Pepsi is a huge player in global agribusiness.  Someone has to do something because entire countries have been put up for sale.

That might have been a big factor in the recent coup in Thailand and the previous one.  The military and the king are trying to prevent the country from being sold under from under Thais.  They don't want to see Thailand go the way of Cambodia.  It's now a huge problem in Burma as well.

See this is what happens when you open up your country.  First come the rent-seeking crowd, wrapping itself in the flag of democracy. Then the scavengers yapping about capitalism and foreign direct investment.  Then come the human locusts, who don't even bother wearing a mask. 

Now a lot people are wising up to what's behind the masks.  Turns out the yippity-yap is "land grab" spelled backward. 

MW:  So much for the "Pentagon's New Map."

P:  [laughing]  Good call!  What is it?  The Core countries, the Seam countries, and the Non-integrating Gap countries.  It's all turning into the non-integrating gap.

MW:  You know there's a lot of land grabbing going on here in the United States.  The feds are doing big land grabs.

P:  Land grabs are going on all the over world. No country is safe.  But while I don't like to give Obama credit for anything, my question is whether he's designating huge chunks of the U.S. as federal lands in an attempt to prevent land grabs by foreign business concerns.

That might possibly have been in play with the national park he just carved out of a New Mexico border area.  My question is whether they're running out of land in northern Mexico border factory towns. If so there are big problems with setting up more factories deeper in Mexico. So, go north, across the U.S. border, to set up the factories. 

MW:  Wouldn't it be an advantage to the U.S. to industrialize New Mexico?

P:  Depends on who owns those industries and where they think they can get the water from to run the factories.  There's a serious water problem in that state.  Last year the New Mexican AG called the Texans water rustlers -- 

MW:  [laughing]  Water rustlers?  What is this?  Range wars?
P:  Oh, things are getting pretty intense, everywhere the drought is.  Texas sued both Oklahoma and New Mexico over river water rights -- Red River in Oklahoma and Rio Grande in New Mexico.  One of those cases went to the Supreme Court; I can't remember which.  I don't know what's happened since; I still have to follow up.

A lot of the mess is over old water agreements that don't apply to current conditions. Same with California.

MW:  They kicked the can down the road.

P:   A lot of cans were kicked, in several states, we're finding out now.  Before it was a purely local issue.  Bottom line is that the last century was wet, so local governments could get away with putting things off.  Now everybody's scared that drought is the new normal, so now they're scrambling.

MW:  If it's the new normal we're screwed. 

P:  I'm not so sure. Desperation is the mother of invention, and all that.

MW:  There wouldn't be enough time. Not before big changes are forced on the American way of life.

P:  My point was that many of these foreigners scooping up land aren't capitalists; they're not even really investors.  They're locusts on two legs. But they've learned the lingo; understand?  They can yap about FDI and sustainable development until you're cross-eyed. Behind the masks they have no interest in investing.  Just squeeze it for a quick profit until it's dry, then move on to other pickings.

Plus, if you think illegal immigrants are a problem now, wait until that entire southwest border region is turned into one big factory plantation owned by Mexico.

MW:  Globalization. Ain't it grand. 

P:  This isn't globalization --

MW:  It's one of the downsides.

P:  I meant that there's nothing inherently wrong with globalized trade, but what's been termed globalization has devolved into a mask for land grabs. 

It's all masks now.  Everything good, every idea that resonates with a great many people, has been co-opted.  Phony democracy revolutions.  Phony ngos -- gongos.  Phony capitalism.  Phony sustainable development. Phony human rights movements.

They've even co-opted nonviolent protests.  The Tea Party movement was co-opted.  Even that silly Occupy movement was quickly co-opted.  And if co-option don't work, there's coercion, and if that don't work, out come the brass knuckles. 

MW:  Halloween all year round. Trick or treat.  The worst part of this would be that the genuine people get lumped in with the phonies.

P:  Sure, sure!  They're killing capitalism, they're killing the genuine ngos.  But what can you do?  At some point you just write them all off.  That's dangerous, it's counterproductive.
MW:  I notice you're interested in the weather again.  You were on a weather kick a few years ago, then you seemed to lose interest. 

P:  It was more a convergence kick.  All over the world, for a period of about a year, countries were getting walloped by unusual or unprecedented natural events -- unprecedented since record-keeping had started, at any rate.  It was all different kinds of events. They were happening in perceived sequential fashion, but the events weren't necessarily linked. So I called them convergences when I wrote about them on the blog.

Yet there was a link.  Many of the events created disasters for human populations because of long-standing problems that local and national governments had put off dealing with. It was if the universe was sending a message during that year to all governments:  Wake up, fools. 
Right now I'm interested in how people are responding to the weather and the water crises.  Simple solutions were ignored for decades, so now there are gigantic problems.
MW:  California's water crisis is a dress rehearsal for what's on the way, if climate change predictions aren't a false alarm.  It always comes down to the basics. Land. Water. Weather.

P:  That too, but I think [Thailand's King] Bhumibol identified the key basic. It comes down to sufficiency. His doctrine has been called "self sufficiency" and that's a part of it. Yet from what I've read here and there about the doctrine, I think the meaning he imputed to the term in the Thai language is much more basic.  It's doing just what's sufficient. Consolidating your gains before you rush ahead into bigger projects.

MW:  It's been called Buddhist economics.

P: That's a misnomer, isn't it?  It goes far beyond economics and it's not an exclusively Buddhist view. It's really a way of thinking grounded in common sense, in making sure you don't get so off balance in your rush to get more that you can't right yourself. 

It's not such a big problem during the salad days to be off balance.  But when events, the weather or anything else, start throwing curve balls, then the margin for error goes to zero if you're way off balance.  It looks as if that's where we are now.  Zero margin for error.  Anyhow, many people around the world are looking at it that way, not only about the USA but also about their own governments.

MW:  Don't bite off more than you can chew.

P:  Right. There's old sayings in every language to convey the same basic wisdom.  But I think it's big news when a king tries to make common sense into a national policy. And now he's right on time.  There's a lot of fear driving land grabs since the financial crash.  People don't trust currencies, they're looking for tangibles, things they hope will appreciate in value. So, buy land dirt cheap in some foreign country, put up tourist resorts on it, then wait for the geologists to show up and find gas or rare earths on your land
Since the gold smash last year, many of them don't even trust gold, unless it's gold coins, which weren't affected by the crash in price.

Do you know what villagization is?

MW: Something to do with the Malayan Emergency, right?

P: [laughing]  Now there's a flash from the past!  Come to think of it, it is rooted in POPCOIN [population-centric counterinsurgency tactics]. What did they call it in Vietnam?  Strategic hamlets?
Anyway, in its current incarnation the term means the opposite of what it sounds like.  It's not about securing villages, it's about moving people out of their villages to make way for foreign agribusiness.

When last I checked the Saudis are the worst culprits but Indian agribusiness is also a player. And probably more players are piling on from whatever nation has big food security issues.  Everywhere they can set up a plantation in a foreign country they'll looking to bribe government officials to displace the natives so they farm the land.  

African countries are the biggest target right now because several of the governments there are easily bought, and the villagers are completely powerless.

MW:  This isn't actually a land grab, is it, if villagizers are just using the land?

P:  I haven't looked into it that deeply. I'd say probably the governments are keeping hold of the land in most cases.  Anyhow, the agribusiness crowd that's part of this is rationalizing villagization. They claim that they can farm the land better than the villagers. That's true in many cases, but often the villagers are relocated to land that can't be farmed.

MW:  I can understand the Saudis. They wanted Western-style societies in the desert.  Why are the Indians doing this?  There's plenty of good farmland in India, isn't there?  Plenty of rivers? 

P:  Only a third of Indian farmland is irrigated.  The rest depends on the monsoon.  Weak monsoon, big trouble. 

MW:  Why don't they irrigate more?

P:  You'd have to ask an Indian. While you're at it, ask a Californian why they've been pumping so much groundwater to irrigate crops in the Central Valley the land has been sinking. It's been sinking by a foot a year, it turns out.  New study published recently.  I mean, they knew the valley was sinking but not at the rate. 

MW:  When will they hit ocean floor?

P:  I don't know, but this groundwater pumping didn't start with the current drought. Looks like the Central Valley has never been able to sustain that much agriculture without the pumping. Recently I wrote about the subsidence issue for big cities, but they're pumping the groundwater for drinking water.  The Central Valley has been doing it for farming.

I read that one side of a key canal in the valley has been collapsing because of the subsidence; the engineers are limited in making repairs because the land keeps sinking so fast.
MW:  They'll have to move a lot of agriculture out of California.

P: That's been happening. Some of it has been moved to Texas and other U.S. states, but look at what happened.  Now Texas has a big water problem. So, increasingly the food growing for Americans is being offshored. That is running the USA smack dab into the kind of situations it encounters with dependence on imported energy.  Right away, you're involved with the natives and their problems.  Pretty soon you're up to your neck in war.

MW:  Food isn't oil.  Imported produce has to be inspected for safety. There aren't enough inspectors as it is now.   
P:  I didn't think of that, but that too.  And speaking of cities in the desert, have you seen what's been happening in Las Vegas?  Those people don't know what they'll do if the drought continues.

MW:  What's the meta-message?

P:   Meta-message?  Globalized trade has always had benefits, and it's had big benefits in this era.  It's not a panacea, however, and it generates it's own problems.  Instead of facing the problems, policymakers chant that the solution is more globalized trade, more global rules and regulations.

Against this are King Bhumibol's simple observations about sufficiency. When he first talked about it, this was decades ago, a lot of people scratched their heads.  A U.S. Ambassador in Thailand wrote back to State about it at that time; said it was vague, that it didn't make much sense, or words to that effect. Today I think many people who know about the doctrine are seeing the sense.

Meanwhile, many people are asking how to save the globe.  Not to put words in Bhumibol's mouth, but he'd probably say to stop thinking globally and instead think and act locally.  Although he might also say not to go overboard in that direction, either.  Some of these anti-globalists want every country to go back to prehistory. That's not the way.  Balanced approach is what you want to shoot for. 
Yet it's just common sense that if everyone focuses more on doing just what's sufficient to save their own neighborhood, their own region, their own country, this will add up to better solutions for everyone, the world over. 

MW:  That would be a big reversal of the argument that to save the world you have to think and act globally.

P:  What do you do when you realize you're arguing with the wall?  A crumbling wall, for that matter?

MW:  You think the new era is here?

P:  Yes, it's just not on television yet.

MW:  Between now and the time it gets on the nightly news there's going to be a lot mess.  Governments are very resistant to change. 

P:  The land grabs, the endless small wars, the insistence on a draconian global regulatory regime -- all that mess and more is on the way. It's always a big mess at the end of the era.  But I've left off squabbling with a wall.

I see the challenge as learning about action paths being developed in the new era. These paths are being worked out all over the world as well as here. Yet while many people can see the old era is ending, but not all of them can see how to build paths in the new era. Yet it's like anything else. Once we learn an action path, a path we can reasonably implement, we stop wasting our breath with arguments that go nowhere and start doing this differently.

MW:  Are you going to be talking about these new paths on your blog?

P:  Uh, there must be many websites doing that; it's just that I haven't made the time to go looking for them. I plan to do that later in the year. 

But the Wealth Account I proposed is one idea for an action path, although no one has implemented it yet, to my knowledge.  You need to get the thinking behind it to appreciate the idea.  Also my reference in the "Devil and Departmentalization" series to Paul Glover's recommendations. A number of those paths have been implemented.  And years ago on the blog I talked about localism, which is itself a path for the new era.
I have some old essays to finish up, and right now I want to talk more about the water crisis.  After that, I think I'll transit to writing about the way things are shaking out in the new era.
MW:  Then if I asked what you thought about [Obama] sending advisors to Iraq?
P:  Did you read my essay about the new kind of silvopasturing?  Stack the forage instead of spreading it out, and pack the stacks with a weed-like plant that's protein rich.  The farmers using this approach get double the milk output from the cows on half the land, against the old way. Brilliant. Can you imagine how much water that approach could save California dairy farms?

The high protein forage also makes less cow poop because the cows don't have to eat so much to be well fed.  So that's less methane or whatever gas going into the air, for those worried about cow poop contributing to global warming.  And the cows love the stacking idea. They get it right away:  eat down, not across. Now what were you asking me about? 
MW:  The new era must really be here, if I can't get a rise out of you about Iraq.

P:  Michael, a vast nation, a military hyperpower, that can't even feed itself from within its own borders is in serious trouble. So in my view stacked silvopasturing is a defense issue.

I'm not asking anymore for Washington to change. I've taken the view that the Congress and White House are working from a playbook they can't change.  I think it's the same with the political parties.  I'm now looking at a different playbook.  We're all Americans, so we'll all meet on the road again someday. But for me there's no going back, not since I've glimpsed the new era.  You asked where I'm headed. I guess it's there. 
MW:  More sufficiency and less bull shit.

P:  [laughing]  Yeah, something like that.


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