Monday, April 13

Secret of the Ages

PART I: The Bad Dream
Whereupon I try to recollect the news of the past week

Time's Up

See Al Jazeera's lengthy April 10 report on Narendra Modi's battle with the globalized Climate Change Establishment. The score as of this weekend:  Greenpeace 0, Modi 2.  On April 9 the Indian government suspended Greenpeace India's organizational activities for six months and froze the group's bank account.  

Modi knows or has reason to believe that Greenpeace and others of the same ilk are using the rhetoric of human rights and climate change to help Leftist/Congress Party factions attack the BJP and in the process are using India's poor as a battering ram. Whatever its motives Greenpeace seriously underestimated a man who's taken on the international human rights cadres before -- and won. Greenpeace India should have known that, but if international money was in the mix, it can have a way of making sensible people take leave of their senses.        

Yet the apocalyptic clash reminds me of an old British comedy skit:  Just as the Italian peasants are about to harvest, Nazi tanks roar through, flattening all the crops.  Next scene:  Just as the peasants are about to harvest again, Allied tanks roar through in hot pursuit of the Nazis, flattening all the crops.

At least the Italian peasants had water to plant more crops.  Looming over Modi's amazing marathon race to make India rich are the terrifying implications of Antonio Nobre's theory of drought stemming from the "flying rivers" phenomenon:

What if all the settled science about the drivers of India's monsoon are wrong? What if the most powerful drivers of recent droughts and weak monsoons have nothing to do with greenhouse gases -- and little to do with El Nino?  What if the major driver is as simple as the moisture arising from tree leaves?   What if Mumbai is going the way of São Paulo?

Here's a fast way to test the flying rivers theory of drought:  Cut down what's left of India's forests and see what happens the next year.  If the monsoon doesn't show and doesn't show the next year, by gum Nobre could be onto something.  

A more cautious approach would be to tell India's coal magnates, "You can dig only if you don't cut down trees until we figure out whether the monsoon has anything to do with tree leaves" and go straight to solar power in the 44 percent of India that's not yet electrified.

But where's the fun in watching villagers putting solar panels on their roofs?  Besides, next they'd be wanting their own Argonaut Villager water purification gizmo and asking for a 3D printer.  The bright side is they could print their own guns and shoot the Naxalites which the Indian government maintains are no longer a problem.

An Indian reader of this blog, Rahul, who hails from Delhi, shrewdly pointed out recently that Arvind Kejriwal's political party has been long on demanding water rights for Delhi's poor but short on practical actions to alleviate the poors' water crisis there.  

Which is to say these apocalyptic political battles are being fought with no seeming awareness of the specter looming over the Indian subcontinent -- even though, as Rahul also noted: 

Modi is from a very arid state and managed to push strong agricultural growth by promoting efficient irrigation. IMHO, he is pursuing the right policy mix of slow subsidies removal, build-up of rural infrastructure and farmer education. Much better that he gets gets re-elected and things improve slowly than for the demagogues to come back in 2019.    
Ah, but this is no longer only about efficient irrigation and there might be no time for slow improvement.   From Why Brazil's megadrought is a Wall Street failure, April 10, The Guardian:
It’s hard to overestimate the appalling environmental and economic crisis that’s brewing in Brazil right now. The country is in the grip of a crippling megadrought – the result of pollution, deforestation and climate change – that deeply threatens its economy, society and environment. And the damage may be permanent: São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and industrial center, has begun rationing water and is discussing whether or not it will need to depopulate in the near future.
Where, pray tell, are the depopulated to be populated to if the drought striking Brazil is the new normal? And more to the point, it might not be pollution or 'climate change,' of the kind associated with greenhouse gases that's the culprit. For that reason I'm suggesting that the settled science about the drivers of the Indian monsoon should be reexamined in light of the flying rivers phenomenon and attendant hypothesis, which I would say was elevated to a theory last year.

Yet as early as 2009 the Brazilian climate scientist Antonio Nobre cut through all the settled science -- including theories about greenhouse gases, the El Nino/El Nina oscillation, etc. -- and said that if the vast clouds of moisture generated by tree leaves vanished, then devastating droughts would follow in the regions over which these flying rivers traditionally sailed.

Thus, Nobre joined the small club of scientists who live to see their predictions borne out, and in the most spectacular fashion. Now the world's climatologists must go back to the drawing board and recalculate in light of the flying rivers -- a time-consuming process that will include much data collection and math.

The problem is that time has already run out for Brazil's economic powerhouse. After just one failed annual appearance of the Amazon's flying rivers a devastating drought struck across Central America and parts of South America that included São Paulo.

Again, was the disappearance of the flying rivers the only driver of the drought?  Such questions still await answer -- again, a time-consuming process.  But now governments are in the position of having to make key development decisions by playing Russian Roulette.

And there is no longer the wiggle room provided by the outlandishly complicated Carbon Footprint hypotheses and the fuzzy meaning of Climate.  The flying rivers theory is the essence of simplicity: Cut down X number of leaf-bearing trees in your neck of the woods, and you can kiss goodbye to the annual rains in your little corner of the world have a nice day.

It doesn't get simpler than that. Yet the Climate Change crowd are diehards. The Guardian report, written by Amy Larkin, also notes:

In India – the world’s fastest-growing economy and the darling of Wall Street – one out of six deaths each year is caused by air pollution. Factor in water and pesticide issues, and the death toll creeps higher. (I guess all that economic growth will help pay for all those health care costs.)
Just as in China, India’s wealthy people are moving their kids away from the big cities and centers of pollution. But clean air and water ought to be human rights, not luxuries reserved for the rich.
Where does Ms Larkin think these rich Chinese and Indians are going to move to, if Nobre's theory holds up across the board -- worldwide? How many desperate rich people from all over the world can Zurich hold?   She's mad at Wall Street's indifference to climate change issues. Forget Wall Street; it'll be running for its life soon enough along with the rest of us. Human rights?  There are no rights in a race like this.    
On Saturday Kenya's government gave the United Nations three months to relocate all the Somali refugees it's been sheltering, the number having doubled since 2011 to 600,000. By relocate they mean they want the refugee camps removed from Kenya and placed in Somalia -- behind a border wall the Kenyans are building. If the UNHCR, which responded to reporters that it knew nothing about the, uh, request, doesn't comply, the Kenyan military said it will remove the refugees.  


1.  Kenyans are fed up.
2.  The UNHCR is dreaming if it thinks it's going to shunt all Africa's basket cases to Kenya. 

As to why the agency would want to do that -- I would suspect it's because they know the government is starting to develop the small ocean of water found under its drought-stricken land in 2013, The water will be enough to last Kenyans 70 years, but that's only with very careful management.

Just to make sure nobody thinks they're joking, Kenya's government also rolled up the remittance outlets that allow Somalis around the world to send money to the refugee camps, which are hotbeds of terrorist plotting and money raising. The International Aid Community is having conniptions about Kenya's action: how are all the aid workers at the camps going to get their pay without the remittance outlets?

Remittances and Alphabet Soups

Yet Kenya's government is not breaking ground.  From Karen Attiah's meanly titled, The global squeeze on Somalia just got worse, thanks to Kenya April 10 blog for the Washington Post:

The world’s chokehold on Somalia’s key financial lifeline is getting even tighter.
As of February, many banks in the United States have largely stopped servicing the accounts used by money transfer operators to help Somalis in the country send money to their families and networks back in Somalia, often for basic needs such as food, medicine and school fees. The country, which has been ravaged by civil war, famine and lacks a central banking system, heavily relies on these remittances.
Some organizations estimate that remittances represent 25 percent to 45 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Somalia, which barely has a functioning government, is also plagued by the Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabab. Consequently, the threat of heavy fines for failure to comply with U.S. anti-terrorism regulations has many banks choosing to flee the market altogether.
Unfortunately, more banks in other countries are doing the same. Westpac, the last bank in Australia to handle remittances to Somalia announced at the end of March that it was shutting down servicing these accounts. The United Kingdom has also restricted these transfers.
Global remittances to Somalia are estimated at $1.3 billion, dwarfing the co mbined amount of global humanitarian aid and foreign direct investment to Somalia.
But it is Kenya’s surprise decision this week to shut down Somali money transfer businesses that adds an even more devastating blow.
In the aftermath of al-Shabab’s attack in Garissa that killed 147, the Kenyan government announced the closure of 13 of these such businesses, including Dahabshiil, a globally well known money transfer firm that has been operating in the country for more than 20 years. These closures came without any evidence of wrong doing by these firms, or any due process. Kenya is also host to more than 450,000 Somali refugees, many of whom also depend on these funds for support. [...]
The refugee number seems to be outdated; again, the reported number I saw most frequenly this weekend was 600,000+ but moving along what planet is Karen Attiah phoning in from? 

The international remittances industry that rose up in the early part of this century is "the alphabet soup of terrorist groups" spelled backward.

It's also "the alphabet soup of international aid ngos" spelled backward.

It's also "the alphabet soup of failed and failing states in this century" spelled backward.

These ngos, nations on the edge, and terrorist groups have proliferated like rabbits since remittances got industrialized on a global basis. I seem to recall warning about the downsides of the industry a few months after I started this blog. Yes, I now remember it was my first rant.

Western governments are studiously blind to the connection between diaspora remittances, narco states, terrorism, and the plight of the world's poorest. The US State Department (and the Bush administration) crowed about an initiative under the US-Mexico partnership, which makes it cheaper for poor Mexican immigrants working in this country to send remittances back home. Why don't they just line up Mexico's poor and shoot them? Oh but that's right, Pundita forgot! If you shoot them, you can't bleed them dry.
The 2003 TIME article I linked to above on the industrialization of remittances focuses exclusively on financial institutions, which were only half the story. They couldn't have gotten very far in their financial expansions without support from the U.S. government and the World Bank, which was under tremendous pressure from Hu Jinato and Tony Blair to grease the remittances wheels. (Blair as part as his Save Africa push). When Vicente Fox added his voice to the pack, Bush finally caved.

But nobody stopped to think at the time that by making remittances payments a significant part of a nation's GDP, this very effectively removes the greatest impetus for critically needed government reforms in the nation.  Sort of like giving a junkie just enough dope to keep him hooked.

What happened in Somalia was one inevitable consequence.

A question that haunts me about the remittances industry is whether the skyrocketing number of foreigner-instigated land grabs around the world in this century -- the ones carried out individuals or small groups or private citizens for investment purposes  -- are somehow connected with it, or just a byproduct of globalized banking in general. But there's so little in the press about the foreigner-instigated land grabs the situation is a ball of yarn that defies untangling at this time.


However, if Kenya's present government continues to hang tough don't be surprised to see it receive the Syria treatment. Saying "No" to the International Human Rights Community is increasingly risky business for a government, as Vladimir Putin could testify. Bashar Al-Assad went from having his wife featured in Vogue magazine to being the world's Number One Bogeyman in no time flat. As to how that's worked out --

The girls are bombing raid survivors.    

Let me see, what else from last week?  I think that's all I can take for today.

PART II:  Leaving the Bad Dream

No wait! Wait. Thailand's Water Festival was also this weekend; the festival marks the start of the country's traditional New Year and is believed to wash away bad luck.  That reminds me.

      Enter the Demi-God 

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, circa 1970

He and the American Paul Glover are the only people I know about who walked across much of their nation to personally inspect the land and learn firsthand about the problems of its peoples.

Glover walked from Boston to San Diego. His Majesty visited every village in Thailand -- many so removed from roads he had to walk miles across rough terrain to reach them. 

I find it interesting that a commoner and a monarch, separated by vast geographical and cultural distances developed remarkably similar doctrines of self-sufficiency.

His Majesty's camera was always strung around his neck during the walks, as it is in the above photograph. When it started to rain he put a plastic bag over his shoulders to protect the camera and the notebook in his jacket pocket and kept walking.  A sheaf of maps for each region he visited was always in his hand.  He wore dark glasses when it was sunny; he's completely blind in the right eye -- car accident in his youth.  

Is he truly a demi-god, as Thai tradition says? Sure.  

Do I think self-sufficiency is our bulwark against the worst?  For the answer study the photograph of King Bhumibol. Don't get fancy; just note what's in front of your eyes.

You see a man trodding carefully on uneven ground and watching where his feet land. 

There you are. Secret of the ages.      

And if you know the man is a one-eyed king the message point really sinks in because that's a  metaphorical way of talking about the human race.  If you also know he's considered a demi-god the importance of watching one's steps is very profound.

Self-sufficiency is only one part of King Bhumibol's sufficiency teachings.  The rest is to learn what is sufficient and no more to accomplish something, instead of gilding the lily a thousand times over.   Before this genuinely towering feat can be accomplished, however, one must gain an idea of what is only sufficient to accomplish something.  Easier said than done, but it starts with learning to walk on uneven ground without tripping over one's own feet.  Then thinking really hard about what sufficiency means.

And so in contrast to chatter about the complexities of geopolitics and theories of smart power, and strategic balancing, and strategic pivots and this, that, and the other military doctrine, we see a one-eyed king on a purposeful journey. A king with his one eye on the progress of his feet. A king who survived 10 coups over the course of his reign -- that is, the 10 we know about. 

One of his critics (speaking at a safe distance from Thailand's lèse majesté laws) snapped, "Of course he survived 10 coups!  He arranged all of them."    

[laughing] Oh but that would make him a god, not a demi-god!

[the stage goes dark]

Pundita:  Chet.  

[crashing sounds from backstage]  

Pundita:  It's first the curtain, then the lights.  [muttering] This is what the Council on Foreign Relations loans me for an intern.


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