Tuesday, October 30

Famine, Drought, and the Remittances Trap. Afghanistan-Iran as an example

Chain Reactions

The following report from IRIN is the only one I've found that examines how the drying up of remittance payments from Afghan workers in Iran is negatively impacting people in Afghanistan. The report deals only obliquely with how the reverse diaspora has impacted fragile water supplies in drought-stricken regions of Afghanistan. Nor does it discuss how the Afghan diaspora impacted Iran's fragile water supplies in that country's drought-stricken regions. 

Nor does the report critique the industrialized system of remittances, an industry on which many of the world's poorest have come to depend during the past quarter century. IRIN is about humanitarian aid agencies dealing with a crisis at hand: 'mass' emergencies. Their reporting on emergencies leaves it to readers to work out the implications of a crisis and the chain-reaction events that led to or contributed to it.

In this case the chain reactions have been predictably catastrophic. This year more than half a million Afghans who'd worked in Iran for years returned to Afghanistan -- forced out of Iran because of deportations or lack of jobs because of the country's bad financial situation. That's a lot of jobless, poor people to descend on Afghan regions that have been experiencing a severe drought. The returnees were poor because they'd been sending much of their wages home rather than saving them during the years they'd worked in Iran. Meanwhile the recipients had been spending the remittances on necessities including food. 

The Afghan diaspora to Iran was fueled by joblessness in a nation racked by unemployment and war and overseen by a government unable to provide 'social safety nets.' This meant that in Afghanistan it was either find a job or starve because, as with almost all regions of the world subsistence farming -- which could've at least provided many families with enough food -- had long before been greatly eclipsed in the country by commercial farming, even for small-scale farmers. 

And so for Afghans, staving off starvation has meant getting enough money, either through selling crops/livestock or through some other income-producing activity, including working for the Taliban and smuggling illicit drugs, to buy food. 

The only alternative was fleeing to a neighboring country to find work that would pay enough to purchase lodging and food for the worker and to send money back to relatives in Afghanistan. Leading to chain reactions in those countries and in Afghanistan, where the Afghan government became dependent on remittance payments to totter along, meaning inefficient and corrupt governance could totter along. 
Now see where all those chain reactions led:

Why economic turmoil in Iran is causing big problems in Afghanistan
Afghans forced out of Iran or migrating back “for survival” find little assistance to start anew
By Xun Yuan, freelance journalist based in Lebanon
September 11, 2018

(MASHHAD, IRAN) A stumbling economy and a strict system of deportation are forcing Afghans out of Iran in droves, shrinking valuable foreign remittances and deepening the humanitarian crisis across the border in war-torn Afghanistan.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 522,000 Afghans have returned home from neighbouring Iran, according to the International Organisation for Migration. More than half were deported. It’s already the highest number of returns from Iran since 2015.

This is adding to what the UN is calling a “displacement crisis” in Afghanistan, where returnees from Iran and elsewhere are coming home to a conflict that has uprooted more than 220,000 this year, and a severe drought that has withered crops, killed livestock, and pushed at least 275,000 people to leave their homes.

Analysts say spiralling inflation and fiscal mismanagement have weakened Iran’s economy. The threat of renewed US sanctions, after President Donald Trump in May pulled out of a nuclear deal signed in 2015, has also sent Iran’s currency into a tailspin. On the black market, one US dollar is now worth about 140,000 rial, compared with 60,000 in April.

For Afghan migrants living on the margins in Iran, the economic turmoil means there’s less work to be had – and far less money to send home.

In Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, Afghan day labourers used to steady employment say work has become scarce. At 5 am every morning, undocumented Afghans like Amin Khademi gather in a small square in Golshahr, a neighbourhood home to a large Afghan community.

“You are never guaranteed to have work for that day,” Amin told IRIN while he waited for job offers in the square.

At the start of this year he could earn 800,000 rial, about 13 dollars at the time, for a day’s work. But wages have been halved, the money he does make is worth less each day, and often there’s no work at all.

Ali, a 23-year-old university graduate who works illegally in a hotel in Mashhad, has seen his wages shrink as the economy tumbles.

“Before all this I could send back home about $300 per month. But now I would call myself lucky if I managed to save up $100 to send back,” said Ali, who asked that his full name not be used because he feared arrest.

“I don’t even know if it’s worth the trouble,” he said. “Maybe I will go back to Afghanistan soon.”

Declining remittances

With surging deportations and returns from Iran, aid groups in Afghanistan say the loss of income will have serious impacts on Afghan families that are highly dependent on remittances.

According to the World Bank, inflows from Iran last year reached $166 million – 40 percent of total remittances to the country. However, such figures are broadly believed to be undercounted, as many Afghans use informal brokers to transfer money across borders. Previous studies have estimated that Afghans in Iran send home at least $500 million a year, and make up an even larger proportion of overall remittances.

Aid groups say the reduced income is already having “direct and immediate effects” in [Afghan] provinces like Herat, Badghis, and Ghor, which have been hit by severe drought along with roughly two thirds of the country.

As of 9 September the drought has displaced an estimated 275,000 people, mostly in western Afghanistan, according to the UN, which warns that 1.3 million across the country could need some form of humanitarian aid. 
[Pundita note: On October 15 the UN updated the figure to 3 million.]  

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which tracks food security in global hotspots, says dwindling remittances will make it harder for dependent families to cope, especially as winter approaches. It is projecting emergency levels of food insecurity in parts of the country in January 2019, partly due to falling remittances.

Troubled returns

Afghans leaving Iran are returning to a country mired in conflict. War has uprooted more than 2.1 million people since 2012, and each year hundreds of thousands of people have returned or been deported from countries like Iran, Pakistan, and further abroad.

The heads of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and its emergency aid coordination arm, OCHA, called on Thursday for donors to “urgently” boost aid for the “millions of people caught up in Afghanistan’s complex and rapidly evolving displacement crisis”. This year’s sector-wide appeal for Afghanistan is only one-third funded.

While returns surge, aid groups say they have been constricted by shortfalls. From 1 to 15 July, “funding constraints” forced the IOM to partially suspend its work at key Afghan border crossings, including in Nimroz province, through which more than 200,000 Afghans have returned from Iran this year. An IOM official told IRIN that other aid agencies stepped in to maintain “limited service delivery”.
Return of undocumented Afghans from Iran

The number of undocumented Afghans who have been deported or returned from Iran this year has topped the half-million mark.


But help for returnees is minimal at the best of times, particularly for Afghans returning from Iran. Aid agencies offer food, medical aid, and transportation to the majority of undocumented people returning from Pakistan, but funding is only available to help four percent of returnees from Iran, according to the IOM.

Laurence Hart, who heads the IOM in Afghanistan, said this disparity stems from donor perceptions that returnees from Iran are economic migrants rather than people who may need assistance, even though vulnerable groups like unaccompanied children, single women, and suddenly deported families are among those coming back.

“Economic migration implies that people have a choice,” Hart said. “The majority of Afghans don’t necessarily have a choice and are essentially forced to migrate for survival.”

With land and jobs in scarce supply in Afghanistan, many recent returnees say they’re struggling.

After a decade away, Mohammad Mohammadi returned to his home in central Afghanistan’s Bamyan province in May with his wife and four children, who were born in Iran.

“My kids have never been to Afghanistan,” he told IRIN. “Now they’re not in school and I’m worried about their future.”

Of all the people he knows who have returned, he said only one person has managed to find work. “It’s still hard to find a job here in Afghanistan because of the war,” he said.

Eskandar Khavari returned to his home in Herat province in May after 36 years in Iran. He said he left because his earnings had dropped to less than $100 a month – not enough to support his six children.

But he hasn’t found work since coming home, and his kids aren’t in school.

“I have no hope for the future,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

☰ Read more: Afghans in Iran:

Iran has long been a refuge for war-weary Afghans, but Iranian authorities have grown increasingly unwelcoming to the community in recent years.

The country is home to more than one million registered refugees, mainly from Afghanistan. There are also an estimated 1.5 to two million undocumented Afghans in Iran.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says refugees have benefited from “progressive and inclusive” policies that allow access to some forms of work, education, and the healthcare system.

But the larger population of undocumented Afghans has also been targeted in repeated rounds of deportations. Rights groups say Iranian authorities have committed violations against migrants, including physical abuse, splitting up families, and summary deportations. They say authorities have also implemented increasingly complex renewal processes for registered refugees, some of whom have been stripped of refugee status and deported, according to Human Rights Watch.

While an increasing number of people are being pushed out of Iran this year, many Afghans are still looking to make the reverse journey back to Iran. A June 2018 survey by Relief International found that 30 percent of the population in one drought-hit district in Nimroz province, along Afghanistan’s western border with Iran, had abandoned their villages. Migrants told the aid group they planned to head to the border town of Zaranj, or into Iran itself.


Monday, October 29

Hidden in Plain Sight: A dollar a day was pretty good in the local currency

In 2004 an American named John Perkins published a book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which became a runaway bestseller. Public interest in Perkins' lurid account of how he'd earned his living -- by talking third world governments into burdening themselves with massive debt to finance the World Bank's idea of development -- activated the globalist antibodies. 

By the time the U.S. Department of State and the likes of Sebastian Mallaby got finished verbally hammering Mr Perkins he didn't exactly retreat into mysticism, but for some years he's headed a nonprofit, Dream Change Coalition, "which works closely with Amazonian and other indigenous people to help preserve their environments and cultures," with, it seems, emphasis on preserving shamanistic practices.

I've not read the book nor the subsequent ones he authored. So I don't know how much Perkins focused in his writings on a point he made almost in passing during a meandering interview in 2007 that was posted in two parts to YouTube. Part one. Part two

From my notes on some of his remarks in part one, starting at the 33 minute mark on the video:
People in developing world working in factory sweatshops in Asia ... [myth]: People working in sweatshops are better off than if they didn't have those jobs. [Actually] They lived very well in subsistence economies until companies came in and created a local economy that now depends on the dollar.
So in a very few years they went from living subsistence lives and statistically having no money at all, totally impoverished statistically but their lives were quite good, to having to work in sweatshops, dependent on the money. ... Then companies discover they can get work done even cheaper in another country, then the workers don't even have the pittance to live on.
Of course it's not that cut-and-dried. A mashup of factors, at work long before the present era in globalized trade and the global dominance of the U.S. dollar, had already wreaked havoc on subsistence ways of life around the world. However, Perkins' discussion points up a fact that has always been hidden in plain sight: only by the statistical measures of currency are many peoples impoverished. 

Thus calling up the saying, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Moreover, it was certainly possible to live reasonably well on a dollar a day when that dollar was converted into local currencies -- provided the people didn't have to earn their dollar a day in big cities, which most of them did. That's a point UNICEF and Western charitable organizations omitted from their fundraising posters featuring a bedraggled Third World child and emblazoned with the cry, 'This hungry child has to live on a dollar a day.'

Eventually the UN upped the baseline pittance to $2 a day; by the time it got to $5.50 a day, where is stands now, the posters had pretty much disappeared and the World Bank had reshuffled their priorities from hunger to lack of education.

Unfortunately the blasted climate has not cooperated with the World Bank's prescription for human progress. And so today in several parts of the world there is the very real prospect of drought-driven mass starvation. This has stretched the financial resources of (debt-ridden) governments in poorer countries and humanitarian aid agencies to the breaking point.

Here again what has been hidden in plain sight remains hidden as drought news features farmers telling reporters pretty much the same thing: 'My crops failed so I don't have the money to buy food.'

As I've pointed out in recent posts, and as Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej pointed out until he was blue in the face, there is something wrong with that sentence.

Since when is "jobs" an edible crop?

Yet once again a mashup of factors can make it hard to see the obvious, leaving beleaguered government officials to cry for help in creating more jobs so the hungry in their nations can better feed themselves.

It's only when the ball of yarn called "drought" is untangled is the "jobs" solution seen for what it is: a fantasy. On this blog I'm now undertaking the task of looking at the individual skeins. But in one sentence numerous human factors have transformed what are routine weather cycles into droughts that threaten to wreak mass starvation on the human race and crash civilization.

The solution isn't more jobs, any more than it's herding billions of starving rural peoples into cities. The solution is modernized subsistence farming, of the kind developed by King Bhumibol, tailored to individual climates and societies, and which makes allowances for the importance of money in modern societies.

But what if you're still alive when the long run arrives?

Standing against this solution are the kind of people who went after John Perkins for blurting some unpleasant truths and who've called King Bhumibol's solution "archaic."

However, some humanitarian aid organizations are now so desperate they're willing to bite the hands of their largest donors and studiously ignore glares from the International Financial Community. Here and there, like weeds that have somehow escaped applications of Roundup, such organizations are taking actions in line with His Majesty's solution -- and I think even directly inspired by such in several or certain instances.

In any event the solution that seemed archaic to many a mere decade ago is now seen as 'right on time' by organizations that are on the front lines of battling mass starvation.

The problem for the rest of us is that 'right on time' has worked out to the Eleventh Hour for the entire human race -- not just the world's poorest.

Will sanity prevail in large enough measure before the clock strikes midnight? Therein lies the cliffhanger. For now, below is another report on the "stay in place" doctrine I've talked about in recent posts, and which is emerging from humanitarian agencies that have realized it doesn't make sense for millions of people to flee to already overburdened cities if there is a way they can stay in place.  

The doctrine is predicated on teaching the poorest people to feed themselves from what they can raise on their small farming plots, and without their having to attempt what is often the impossible for them: to raise and to sell enough of their crops at a high-enough price to purchase adequate food for themselves and their families, and do this despite weather vagaries.

The report below is from -- wait for it -- none other than the World Bank. The Bank hasn't quite conceded all of His Majesty's points even though they've known for decades about his "Sufficiency Economics." And, given the report, one could argue that the Bank is simply trying to co-opt the issue of subsistence farming by funding gussied-up versions of small-scale commercial farming. But the journey of a thousand miles.....

Livestock and Fish Farming Bring Self-Sufficiency to Rural Afghans
October 28, 2018
Relief Web
  • Thousands of people in rural communities in Nangarhar Province have become self-sufficient farmers and business owners.
  • By supporting poultry and fish farming, the National Horticulture and Livestock Project helps poor families make a living.
  • The project helps farmers improve their production practices and reaches beyond Nangarhar province. The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock currently implements the project in 291 districts spread across 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Against this "stay in place" approach is the many nightmares to have emerged from the economic development model that John Perkins decried. One such nightmare is illustrated in a documentary by RT, posted to YouTube on October 14 and titled, "My Mother Sold Me: Cambodia, where virginity is a commodity," and which traces the efforts of an Australian organization set up by a former police officer to rescue Cambodian girls forced into prostitution.  

To be precise, the location is the city of Phnom Penh. There are many documentaries on the same situation, which exists in all large cities in 'developing' countries. But I would like you to note the commentator's mention that the mother and her family have to survive "on less than a dollar a day."

From now on, whenever you see such a phrase, please recall what you've read in this post. 

For those who try to shrug off the looming disaster for humanity by saying, "In the long run, we're all dead" -- what do they think the coming decade equates to? They should glance through the headlines in Sputnik's 2017 compilation of 21 reports on Europe's Refugee and Migrant Crisis for a small preview of what's on the way


Saturday, October 27

I'm sorry but Toronto's planned Quayside neighborhood looks dystopian to me

Designed so the CCTV cameras can keep an eye on everyone's hands at all times 

The above is one of the illustrations of the 'conceptual' neighborhood featured in Engadget's unsettling October 26 report, Google’s smart city dream is turning into a privacy nightmare. The report stays focused on privacy issues associated with 'smart' cities, but it's the entire layout of Quayside that gives me the creeps. City planners are designing public spaces that are extensions of modern office and factory layouts, which are better suited to robots than people.  

The only good news I see in this trend is that city planners in Canada have a way to go before they catch up with the literal lunacy that China's city planners exhibit.

China is launching a fake, extra-bright moon to cut the cost of city lights

Just one of several artificial moons China is planning to put into orbit to save on lighting their cities. Of course these moonbat city planners have never heard of light pollution and its dangers, much less the circadian cycle and its crucial importance to all species.


"Majority in U.S. Still Say a Third Party Is Needed" Show me where to sign up

Report from Gallup, October 26, 2018:
  • 57% of Americans say a third major political party is needed
  • Majority support for third party for fifth consecutive year
  • Support for a third party highest among independents

H/T New Samizdat, a Russian English-language news aggregator featuring headlines from reports that are off the beaten mainstream media track. And from whence we learn that 42 Percent of Russians Say No Existing Political Party Represents Their Interests — Poll. Which goes to show that Russians are only just a little happier with their political system as Americans are with theirs.


California is now a modern feudal society as its middle class disappears

Also, latest installment of Pacific Watch for the John Batchelor Show, which starts off discussing the large number of jobs that China is siphoning from California.


"The combination of government overreach and ineffective programs creates a brutal dichotomy of very rich and very poor. ... Altogether, the state government has made life for poor and middle class Californians nearly unbearable".

It's long been said that as California goes, so goes the rest of America. That's now very worrisome. 

Ironically but predictably California's feudal lords don't feel safe sitting atop a mountain of disgruntled peasants. See this fascinating long read, Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand. Yes, Stacey Herbert and Max Keiser weren't joking, even though their take on the apocalypse fears was very funny.  

Middle class is disappearing in California as wealth gap grows
BY KRISTIN TATE, Opinion Contributor*
October 24, 2018
The Hill

California made major news this month, reclaiming a valuable economic marker and surpassing Britain as the fifth largest economy in the world. Its growth after the recession has accelerated under President Trump and even turned a modest surplus. However, the Golden State remains one of the most unequal in the nation. It has both billions of dollars in Silicon Valley and rampant homelessness. Its efforts to eliminate poverty instead accentuates it, and its tax system inadvertently aids those who are already wealthy. With the middle class leaving in droves, California society represents a modern feudal system of robber barons and the poor.

Gross domestic product in California is now above $2.7 trillion, which represents just under 14 percent of the entire United States economy. The topline numbers are a bit misleading, as the state represents a similar 12 percent of the national population. California had the fifth largest economy in the world before the recession, falling seven spots by 2012, while growing at an anemic 0.1 percent. The state has long been fortunate to be the center of the booming technology sector. Part of the growth was due to a rapidly expanding real estate sector, which heavily assists wealthy residents. With the mega rich and upper class driving its economy, California leaves the rest of its population behind.

After factoring for costs of living, California is the poorest state in the union. An average of 14 percent of Americans live below the poverty line by census measures. Compare that with the 19 percent of Californians who live below the poverty line and the situation is clear. The census measures factor in housing costs and wellbeing with programs like food stamps and housing assistance. Altogether, the state government has made life for poor and middle class Californians nearly unbearable.

How? California renters pay an average of $1,440 per month, much higher than the national average of $1,010 per month. In 2015, more than 40 percent of Californians spent over 30 percent of their income on housing. Today, 29 percent of them spend over half their earnings on housing. Median home values, at $529,000, are more than double the national median of $239,800. Residents who can afford rent or a mortgage are on the hook for electricity rates burdened by green initiatives and regulation that grew 500 percent faster than the national average from 2011 to 2017.

“Not In My Backyard” development and construction restrictions mean that California cities are much more expensive for the poor, with Los Angeles having the highest proportion of income going towards rent in the nation. The state and its cities use environmental and zoning laws to restrict housing, which often disallows large scale development of apartments. The result? Less access for middle class residents.

From 2011 to 2016, California increased spending on administration at more than double that of teacher pay. Its public employee system disincentivizes government thrift and saddles taxpayers with debt that outstrips the national average. A private sector employee would have to save $2.6 million to receive the same retirement as a California Highway Patrol officer. On top of a burdensome state income tax, California has the highest sales tax in the country along with property tax rates that disproportionately punish the poor and lead to housing problems.

Traditional left wing prescriptions simply have not worked in the state, which an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times dubbed the “poverty capital” of the United States. Housing vouchers increase the cost of living. The number of those with no health insurance in California fell by more than half after the state expanded Medicaid, yet poverty remains near historic highs. California spends the third most per capita on welfare programs, yet its economy continues to fail the poor and middle class.

Despite having just 12 percent of the national population, California represents nearly a third of all Americans on welfare. Federal taxpayers shell out more than half of the $6.7 billion in the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids program. In Texas, 6 percent of families in poverty receive welfare. In California, the figure is 66 percent. Can you guess where the poverty rate is lower? Not California.

The combination of government overreach and ineffective programs creates a brutal dichotomy of very rich and very poor. California is the fourth most unequal state in the union with so many homeless who face diseases like typhus and hepatitis. The number of people living on the streets in California increased by nearly 14 percent to more than 130,000 in 2017. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $70 billion, while San Franciscans have an app that helps them track human feces on the sidewalk.

In many ways, California has long been an example for the rest of the nation. But the middle class conservatism that propelled national figures like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is gone. It has been replaced with virtue signaling and policies by the wealthy that hurt struggling families. Both sides of the coin, from technology executives to families unable to pay rent, vote for Democrats that only make the problem worse.

The robber barons and artificially high real estate values in California brought its economy back to the fifth largest in the world. However, for the average person, Sacramento represents systemic political failure.

* Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.



UN committee refuses to consider Russia's draft resolution to preserve INF Treaty

"Most of the nations that abstained from the vote are active supporters of nuclear disarmament ... Most of those who voted against [the resolution] were supporters of INF preservation."

The excuse from some abstaining numbersome nations is that the resolution would be better addressed by the UN Security Council rather than the General Assembly's "First Committee," the Disarmament and International Security Committee. The excuse doesn't hold water given the crucial importance of the INF Treaty to all the world's nations not just the nuclear powers on the UNSC. What is the rationale informing the excuse?

The AFP reported yesterday:
According to a UN source, the US rejected the Russian draft resolution because it came too late to be compatible with the agenda of the UN Disarmament Commission.
But this is a fantastic excuse, given that President Trump's October 20 announcement about the US withdrawing from the INF Treaty blindsided the United Nations! It came as a complete surprise! Given this, the First Committee had every right and a responsibility to add Russia's draft proposal as an emergency item to their agenda! What was the proposal about?
The draft resolution pulls from a series of resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and aims to reinforce the viability of the treaty ... If passed, the resolution would allow "the continuation of discussions between Russia and the US in order to work through the two countries' concerns about the framework of the agreement."
As to the other excuse:
And Washington criticized Moscow for having shared the resolution with Russian media before UN member states had seen it, according to the same source.
How else did Washington expect Moscow to respond to the horrific surprise that Trump sprang on Russia's citizens and  their government?

Both excuses are specious; as such they're another slap in the face not only to the Russian people but to all peoples everywhere, a slap delivered by a leader of a superpower nation. 

Even more ominously President Trump rationalizes the slap and others as a means to right not just an imbalance in U.S. defense-trade relations but a gross injustice! He's done this by portraying America as a victim -- a victim of the entire world outside American shores taking advantage of the United States!

Does it get more dangerous for the world's peoples, including Americans?    
Yet the U.S. has only one vote at the United Nations. Why did so many other member nations also vote to reject a reasonable proposal on such a crucial issue, or abstain from voting? The following news report from a Russia state media outlet is unable to provide the answer. Neither am I, beyond citing ostrich behavior.  

UN Committee Votes Against Russia’s Resolution on INF Treaty
October 27, 2018 - 3:03

Russia introduced a draft resolution aimed to preserve the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to the UN General Assembly First Committee after the US announced a unilateral withdrawal from the pact.

The First Committee of the UN General Assembly, also known as Disarmament and International Security Committee, declined on Friday to hear Russia's draft resolution in support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Russia proposed the draft resolution to the committee, but the US delegation protested against it. On Friday, the committee voted on whether the resolution draft should be reviewed.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ukraine, France and 50 more countries voted against the draft resolution, while 31 nations supported it, and 54 abstained.

Andrei Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, commented on the vote, saying the reaction of the committee was puzzling.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ukraine, France and 50 more countries voted against the draft resolution, while 31 nations supported it, and 54 abstained.

Andrei Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, commented on the vote, saying the reaction of the committee was puzzling.

Last Saturday, US President Donald Trump announced his country's intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty over Russia's alleged violations of the accord.

"In a span of a year, if the United States withdraws from the treaty and begins to build up its nuclear potential uncontrollably, we will have to face another reality, and the procedural issues we have been locking horns over for two days will look so small and insignificant, and we will regret today's decision," Belousov warned.

Several of the countries that abstained argued the issue would be more addressed more appropriately by the UN Security Council, according to AFP.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would wait for Washington's official clarification on its possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty and only then determine Russia's position on the matter. He added that any action in this area would be met with counteraction, stressing that parity would be maintained under any circumstances.

The INF Treaty was signed by then-leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and then-US President Ronald Reagan in 1987 amid the Cold War. The two sides reached a historic agreement to cut their nuclear arsenals and pledged to destroy all cruise or ground-launched ballistic missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles.


See also:

‘Russia Prepares for War, US Prepares a War’ – Diplomat on INF Treaty Withdrawal; October 27, Sputnik

NATO displays military might to vexed Russia in giant Norway exercises; October 25, AFP

‘Russia will never be our friend, we’ll slap them when needed’ – US envoy to UN; April 6, RT

"Did your eagle eat the olives?" Putin Teases Bolton About US Coat of Arms; October 23, Sputnik

Three Reasons Not to Leave the INF Treaty; October 25, The National Interest

NATO Envoys Reportedly Urge Trump to Keep INF Treaty in 'Last-Ditch Effort'; October 26, Sputnik

Trump Surrenders to John Bolton on Russia and Arms Control; October 26, The American Conservative

Czech President Says US Losing Credibility Amid Plans to Exit From INF Treaty; October 26, Sputnik

Friday, October 26

US repeatedly violated INF Treaty and got away with it on a technicality

From Stephen F. Cohen's analysis of President Donald Trump's threat to withdraw the U.S. from the INF Treaty:
§ Trump gave two reasons for nullifying the INF Treaty: Russia has been violating the agreement by developing a new intermediate-range 'cruise' missile; and China, which was not a party to the treaty, has been developing its own arsenal of such weapons.
There is some truth in both allegations, though none that would have ruled out negotiations to revise, expand, and preserve the treaty. But there was a larger truth that went unmentioned by Trump and by virtually all of the US commentary on his decision.
§ For 20 years, Washington has adopted policies that implicitly, perhaps inexorably, undermined the INF Treaty. In the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton began the eastward expansion of the US-led NATO military alliance to Russia’s borders. In 2002, President George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibited the deployment of missile-defense installations. That prohibition had preserved the certainty of Mutual Assured Destruction in the event of one side launching a first strike, and it kept the nuclear peace since the onset of the nuclear age.

Within a few years, Washington made missile-defense deployment a NATO project and thus its installations accompanied NATO expansion, on land and sea, to Russia’s borders.
Still more, those installments are not only a defensive system. As MIT professor Theodore Postol and others have shown, US-NATO missile-defense installments near Russia now have the [offensive] capacity to launch intermediate-range 'cruise' missiles.
The above passages are from Dr Cohen's October 24 article for The Nation, The Abolition of Nuclear Abolitionism?: "President Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty nullifies a historic precedent." 

For a more extensive analysis, listen to his conversation on October 23 with John Batchelor. For those daytime people among Pundita readers who need to stay awake all night sometime this weekend and don't want to rely on caffeine, you can listen to the second part of their talk, during which Steve spells out with agonizing clarity just what's at stake if the United States pulls out of all agreements/treaties with Russia regarding nuclear weapons, as President Trump has been threatening to do

Believe you me, after one listen you'll be bright eyed and bushy-tailed all weekend.

The first part of the discussion introduces Steve's new book, which is distilled from five years' worth of his weekly conversations with John (during the John Batchelor Showabout defense matters involving Russia, and reviews key events that brought the U.S.-Russia to their present sorry juncture.   

Steve, a Russia scholar and one of the world's foremost experts on Russia, warned years before Trump's presidential candidacy that the U.S. was careening toward a new cold war with Russia. The warning has by now been heeded by other Russia experts and by militaries around the world. But it's a little late in the day given that the new cold war has been turning warm. This happened since President Trump came under the impression that negotiating with the Russians about defense matters is the same as hashing out a real-estate deal.    

Here are some of Steve's comments about the new book, which give John well-deserved credit:
This is a John Batchelor production! The main theme of the book is that the new cold war is more dangerous than was the preceding one. What strikes me is that there’s been almost no real discussion of this and the big structural issues, including the danger of a nuclear war.

Knock-on effect of Afghanistan's severe drought: Spike in Congo Fever cases

"Nearly 20 million people rely on farming for their livelihoods in Afghanistan and agricultural output has fallen an estimated 45 per cent this year."
Congo fever spreads in Afghanistan as displaced farmers move livestock from their drought-ravaged lands
By Ben Farmer, reporting from Islamabad
October 23, 2018
The Telegraph

[See report at The Telegraph website for detailed Congo Fever explainer including treatment, precautions]

Cases of a deadly tick-borne fever are increasing sharply in Afghanistan as a severe drought forces farmers to move infected livestock around the country.

September saw 90 reported cases of Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) with the disease so far killing nearly one in eight of those infected.

The toll has jumped from only 244 cases last year to 455 cases so far in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, with the outbreak a knock-on effect of drought forcing farmers off the land.

CCHF is carried in the blood of livestock, who show no symptoms, and then passed on to humans via ticks or contact with infected blood and fresh meat.

The drought in northern and western Afghanistan is one of the country's worst in decades and has forced an estimated 275,000 people to leave their homes. Farmers are selling off their remaining cattle, goats and sheep, or taking them with them.

CCHF was most prevalent in the same areas before the drought and the migration is now spreading the disease, said Mohammad Sahak of the WHO.

He said: “The provinces in West and North – with high percentages of CCHF infected animals – are affected by drought. People have to move to other parts of the country with their infected animals or sell their animals due to drought in other provinces.

“It means more people and wider geographical areas are exposed to the CCHF infection which will result in more human cases and deaths.”

The latest WHO figures show 56 people have died from CCHF in Afghanistan this year, or 12 per cent of cases. The viral fever has been found in 31 of the country's 34 provinces.

Early symptoms include fever, dizziness and aches and pains, with the condition worsening to nausea vomiting, abdominal pain and rashes caused by internal bleeding. The disease has been known to kill up to 30 per cent of sufferers in some outbreaks and there is no widely available safe vaccine.

Mr Sahak said: “Improved surveillance, now covering public and private health facilities and the community, has helped a lot in rapid detection of the cases and providing timely response.”

Record low snow in Afghanistan over the winter blamed on the La Nina weather cycle in the Pacific, has been followed by rainfall of up to 70 per cent less than normal in some places. Agriculture has collapsed in swathes of the North and West. Water levels are so low wells have run dry.

The ensuing drought has hit more than two million people and caused an estimated 275,000 to leave their homes – more than have been displaced by fighting.

Nearly 20 million people rely on farming for their livelihoods in Afghanistan and agricultural output has fallen an estimated 45 per cent this year.



"Monsanto’s top weedkiller now found in pet food as well as cereal"

Three quotes from the report below:

Worse, 26 of the 28 [breakfast cereal] products tested contained higher levels of the weedkiller than the EWG's "children's health benchmark."

While manufacturers protested that the glyphosate levels were within Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory limits, those limits were set prior to the World Health Organization's 2016 findings linking glyphosate to cancer.

Interestingly, the GMO-free product [tested] revealed glyphosate levels higher than many of the processed feeds, suggesting that merely following organic procedures is not enough to mitigate the invasive effects of agricultural chemicals.

October 26, 2018

[Pundita Note: Monsanto was bought out by Bayer this year. Although Bayer has dropped the Monsanto company name from erstwhile Monsanto products, the most controversial product, glyphosate (sold commercially as "Roundup"), is still referred to as Monsanto's in news reports -- and the name Monsanto continues to be used by environmentalists as a symbol of the worst of modern agribusiness.]

Two new studies show how extensively Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide glyphosate has permeated our food chain. Designated carcinogenic by some health authorities, it was found in over 40 pet foods and breakfast cereals.

Researchers at Cornell University found glyphosate in all 18 of the dog and cat food brands they surveyed, including one product that was certified GMO-free. They stressed that the chemical was present in low concentrations – lower than those typically found in human food, at least – but glyphosate's effect on domestic animals in any concentration is unknown, and studies have found human cells to show negative effects when exposed to levels of glyphosate-based herbicides far below those deemed "safe" by regulators.

They were unable to track the source of the glyphosate, though a correlation with fiber suggested it was coming from plant material. Interestingly, the GMO-free product revealed glyphosate levels higher than many of the processed feeds, suggesting that merely following organic procedures is not enough to mitigate the invasive effects of agricultural chemicals.

A second study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), found glyphosate in every oat-based cereal and food tested. Worse, 26 of the 28 products tested contained higher levels of the weedkiller than the EWG's "children's health benchmark." Products tested included Quaker and General Mills breakfast cereals, oatmeals, and snack bars. The worst offender was Quaker Oatmeal Squares, whose Honey Nut flavor contained nearly 18 times the levels of glyphosate EWG considers acceptable.

The EWG study followed up on a study they published in August that revealed glyphosate in all but two of 45 products made with non-organic oats, and even in a third of the organic oat products. While manufacturers protested that the glyphosate levels were within Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory limits, those limits were set prior to the World Health Organization's 2016 findings linking glyphosate to cancer.

Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally released its own study last month, finding two-thirds of corn and soybean samples contained glyphosate, though the agency conspicuously neglected to test oat or wheat crops.

Last week, a California court upheld a ruling that found Monsanto responsible for groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which he developed shortly after being doused in the company's Roundup in an accident on the job. The ruling opens up the agrichemical giant to thousands more lawsuits from others who have experienced negative health effects from exposure to glyphosate.

[Pundita Note: That wasn't exactly the ruling; luckily for Mr Johnson his brilliant attorney didn't try to prove that Roundup caused his lymphoma. The attorney sought to prove something broader and the jury found in his favor. That indeed opened the way for so many lawsuits against Roundup that Bayer's cash buyout of Monsanto for $60+ billion could turn out to be the worst deal of the century. See my August 12 post below for details of the ruling] 


See also:

Found! A clear explanation of the Monsanto Roundup verdict and its significance; August 12, 2018, Pundita

Monsanto Glyphosate Medical Implications; August 27, 2018, YouTube (RT America channel). Helpful explainer, includes interview with an American attorney. (7:55 minutes)


Thursday, October 25

Impact of foreign military occupation on Afghanistan's water table

Don't let the name of the publication fool you; EARTH magazine, which reports on issues in the geologic sciences, only uses professional science journalists and scientists to author their articles. No environmental activists and New Agers allowed. But given the large impact of human activity on geologic formations, one can expect to find reports at EARTH that intersect with a wide range of issues including environmental ones.

Such is the case with an in-depth report published at EARTH in July 2009 headlined Finding water in the heart of darkness: Afghanistan's ongoing water challenges, written by David B. Williams. Williams outlined the major types of challenges, among these one I haven't found discussed anywhere else on the internet: the impact of the U.S. military occupation on Afghanistan's groundwater resources. The gist is that from 2001 to 2005 the military didn't pay much attention to water issues in Afghanistan. One consequence: 
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pops a well down and pumps out water, which is clean and good." The problem arises when the military pumps water indiscriminately — "without too much thought" about possible adverse effects on a nearby karez, which might be supplying water to local villages ... In a few short weeks, such a well can suck a karez dry. ..."
A karez, which the report describes in detail, is a brilliantly engineered underground water transport system that had been in use in Afghanistan for thousands of years.

Luckily for the Afghans, a U.S. officer deployed to Afghanistan in April 2005 to head up the 71st Medical Detachment for preventive medicine was a geologist by training. Major Christopher Gellasch, a U.S. Army Environmental Science Officer, took one look at the water pumping situation and I think said to the Corps in so many words, 'Are ya'll crazy?'

Gellasch was only deployed to Afghanistan for a year but during that time he managed to impress on his superiors that it was absolutely critical to pay close attention to how the military used water in Afghanistan. Williams detailed some of the positive consequences and by the time he interviewed Gellasch for the EARTH report --
In the eight years that U.S. and coalition forces have been in Afghanistan, many issues have begun to change, Gellasch says. In particular, more advance planning is taking place. Specialists are now able to go in and conduct site assessments to determine what environmental needs should be addressed. These include water and sanitation issues, as well as checking for potential disease vectors such as mosquitoes and sand fleas.
But again, the report was published in July 2009; that was  before President Obama announced the 'surge' in U.S. troops to Afghanistan in October 2009. And Williams doesn't address the water uses of non-U.S. troops in the gigantic ISAF coalition, nor of the coalition's countless camp followers -- the contractors, subcontractors, ngo workers, foreign civilian officials, etc. who had converged on Afghanistan and its water supplies even before the surge.

EARTH did not raise the curtain again on the question of the U.S. military's use of water until July 17, 2017, in a report headlined In a position to lead: How military technology and innovation can ease the world's water challenges. The report makes clear that the military has come a long way in managing its water supplies since 2001, and across --
"... more than 500 installations worldwide, from small Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in Afghanistan and Iraq that resemble remote villages without water treatment or sanitation infrastructure, to large domestic bases that operate like established municipalities with aging infrastructure. No matter the size or location of a particular installation, though, the military needs a lot of water.
Finding solutions to water shortages and other problems is, thus, already an important mission for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). And given its scale and resources, as well as its need for resilient systems, the department is poised to drive innovation in the water sector. DOD’s efforts could have far-reaching benefits beyond the military.
The EARTH report details some of the efforts; although it cautions that "much more can and should be done," it's a generally positive account of the U.S. military's work to make its water use sustainable, as this passage illustrates:
An emphasis on water systems in the deployed environment is also showing up in DOD labs. Air Force and Army research labs have recently unveiled “Forward Operating Base of the Future” concepts to pilot technical solutions to common challenges posed by remote deployment environments — water being chief among them. For example, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center is developing technologies for condensing water out of ambient air and recycling wastewater. If successful, both technologies might transform how FOBs procure water, allowing remote outposts to move away from a dependency on external deliveries and toward self-sufficiency. By adopting new technologies, FOBs can remain effective while lessening requirements for resupply convoys that place soldiers in harm’s way.
But beyond a photo caption, "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a highly efficient wastewater treatment plant at FOB Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan," the 2017 EARTH report does not revisit the water situation in Afghanistan.

And so, given that I've been unable to locate recent detailed reporting on the topic, I must make do with The Diplomat's October 10, 2018 report, Is Water Scarcity a Bigger Threat Than the Taliban in Afghanistan?: "Water scarcity — not war — is a rising cause for displacement in Afghanistan," which in no way addresses the impact of foreign militarization on the country's water table. The report does mention:
The U.S. Geological Survey has stated that the groundwater level has, on average, declined by 1.4 mm between 2004-2012, and 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are facing drought today.
The "on average" isn't helpful to me. Just what is the decline in regions where US/ISAF bases have been located? And what are these declines from 2001 to 2017?  

Yet I fear the questions are breaking a Taboo, that being to discuss the effect of longstanding foreign military basing on the water sources of countries. (Just one of many Taboo topics that have emerged since the turn of the century, thus my sarcastic capitalization of the word.)

I also look warily on this passage in the Diplomat report:
The United Nations in 2006 stated that the water crisis [in Afghanistan] is not due to a physical absence of freshwater, rather the mismanagement and lack of investment in water supplies.
Yes, on paper Afghanistan has plenty of river water, as the Diplomat reporter details, but could we have an assessment of the freshwater supply that is more recent than 2006? Could we also learn the present state of the water table, region by region, in Afghanistan?

And while the Diplomat report is stuffed with interesting facts, they can't add up to a clear picture of Afghanistan's water problems because they don't address the Taboo topic. 

Here I am reminded of the era in China when female patients couldn't be examined by a physician and so had to point to an area on a doll and tell him, 'This is where it hurts.'  So I must perforce skip the examination stage and simply observe that the Pottery Barn Rule does apply in this instance. 

What started out as a small-footprint war mushroomed into an operation that created more problems for Afghans than Pakistani generals could have dreamed of making. This means that no matter what water issues existed in the country before our arrival, Americans have a responsibility to fix Afghanistan's groundwater supply as much as possible. 

And yes, I am aware of the work done by USAID, Germany's government, and the World Bank to address Afghanistan's water problems. Their efforts in this regard are not enough. The foreign militaries still in the country and in particular the American one must take the lead. 

See also:
Millions of starving Afghans flee drought-stricken farms. But STAY IN PLACE has worked where it's been used, October 18, Pundita