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Friday, March 27

The American habit of stepping into conflicts that are 1,000 years old

I well remember Hillary Clinton during her confirmation hearing for Secretary State explaining to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that her era at State would be characterized by the American use of "smart power" in the Middle East:
"We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural -- picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation," Clinton said in her opening remarks. "With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy."
Ah, but one is only as smart as one's knowledge base, which is the perennial problem with choosing advisers.  If you, yourself, don't know as much as they about a particular strategic situation, it's easy to pick a screwdriver from the toolbox when you actually need a wrench.  The only fallback for ignorance is to possess a large store of common sense that can be applied to matters of defense and foreign policy.

If both knowledge and sense are lacking, this is how a government can smartly power its way to the verge of World War Three.  

I was sharply reminded of this last night when I listened to John Batchelor talk with Victor Gaetan of the National Catholic Register about the Christian Church's side in the Ukraine crisis.  There is more than one side, it turns out, there being more than one kind of Christianity in the country.

Gaetan did his best to explain the situation in simple terms, but I'm afraid that after five minutes I started feeling a little seasick trying to keep up.  One really has to enjoy learning about the ins and outs of religious history to even have the will to get one's bearings in the situation.

Well, it's complex, as are all disagreements that have been going on for a thousand years or so,  It's just that the Obama Administration and its foreign office overlooked the religious part of the political aspect in Ukraine. Which it turns out is more important than might seem immediately evident.

And so the Obama Administration fell prey to lobbyists and agendists who want to promote a one-dimensional view of Ukraine's relationship with Russia.

Repeat the sentence with "Arab Muslim countries" instead of Ukraine.

So what is to be done with the American habit of wading into situations in foreign countries it understands not at all?  I venture there are too many Grand Master chess players in America's defense/diplo establishment and not enough ping pong players.


"Zionist Saudis?" Heh.

The name-calling in that part of the world is getting more colorful than usual reported Ambassador Dennis Ross to John Batchelor last night, as the melee in the Middle East careens toward Black Friday at Best Buy with bombs and automatic weapons.  Everybody is fighting everybody else, coalitions unimaginable two years ago have formed and reformed with dizzying speed.  

Through all the confusing events leading to the outbreak of the region-wide war, Batchelor has managed to keep accurate score but also handicapped so well that much of what is happening today in the Middle East is old news to his radio audience.

A big chunk of Batchelor's show last night was dedicated to guests' analyses of the current scoreboard. But if you're late to the melee I'd suggest listening to two of his talks in February with strategic analyst Gregory Copley. They're a good crash orientation to the furniture rearrangements that have radically altered the geopolitical map in a matter of months.

Gregory Copley also wears the hats of author, historian, and erstwhile industrialist in addition to his consulting work for the highest levels of governments around the world. He's also founder and Editor-in-Chief of Defense&Foreign Affairs group of publications, founder and Director of GIS (Global Information System), co-founder of ISSA (International Strategic Studies Association), and has competed barefoot in the Marathon des Sables.

I am joking about that last, I hope, although I wouldn't put it past him; he's a tough Aussie. But it's no joke he has the kind of mind well suited to analyzing the free-for-all era of Westphalianism -- as does John Batchelor, by the way.  And of course as does Pundita, which is how I know Copley and Batchelor can chew and walk their way through data maelstroms.  

Ah!  I see from the author bio for one of his books that Copley has written extensively on the role of monarchies in governance.  I must try to learn whether he's studied Thailand King Bhumibol's Sufficiency teachings, which I think if adopted on a wider basis could go a long way to solving the problem of today's societies gobbling their own tails. In the way they're doing in the Middle East, to bring the conversation full circle.

All right; here are links to the two talks, posted on the JBS podcast page:

February 20 - first segment

February 27 - third segment

Be sure to listen to the Feb 20 segment first.  I'd also check out Eli Lake on his visit to Baghdad (he's reporting for Bloomberg View nowadays); second segment in the Feb. 20 block linked above. The intelligence he reported is still vital.


Massive Migrations to Cities Squeeze Out Space for Reservoirs

Foreword by Tony CartalucciThis presentation is taken from Thailand's Government Public Relations Department and describes the King of Thailand's Sufficiency-Economy and his "New Theory" of economics. For free people around the world, they will recognize the concepts and goals as self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and true, genuine sustainable development.
 He goes on to note that the passage from the presentation he's quoting is very long; that it is, and by the way the link to the source document is dead.  But I want to go straight to this part; emphasis in numbers 3 and 4 is mine:  
 "[...]  In the course of his visits to people in the rural areas, His Majesty reckoned that a large number of his subjects were not able to support themselves. He was determined to make them self-sufficient, so that they would be better able to contribute to national development.
On his royal visits to the people in all parts of the country, His Majesty spoke with  farmers and found that they faced chronic water shortages. Pondering over their plight, His Majesty drew the following conclusions:
1. Rice is a sturdy plant. With sufficient water, more yields can be obtained.
2. If rainwater can be stored for crop planting, better harvests can be achieved.
3. The construction of large reservoirs is becoming more and more difficult, because of the expansion of communities and the limited land area.
4. However, if each household has its own pond, the combined stored water can match that of a large reservoir, involving less investment and directly benefiting the local people. The hard-working monarch, who had intimate knowledge of the people's problems and had been advising those in the agricultural sector, who made up the majority of the population, spelled out the "New Theory" in his Sufficiency Economy philosophy.[...]"
That's it; that's the cancer that's metastasizing: they're hollowing out the countrysides in all these nations and shoving the rurals into larger and larger urban areas that are squeezing out the reservoir capacities meant to serve the urbans.

Of course there are additional problems with water storage but King Bhumibol nailed it decades ago.

There's no way this situation can continue.  Sao Paulo is already facing the collapse of its major reservoir.  How many reservoirs did that foreign ngo dig for the Lebanese?  Was it 10? Bah, that'll last them a year or two if the birth rate and the refugee population from Syria keeps swelling.  

It's the same with dams; those things are monsters so only so many can be built.  The only humane, sustainable route for many countries and even regions in the USA  is the one King Bhumibol has recommended.


Maybe a little less promoting of manmade climate change arguments and more organized data on MENA water shortages?

"From 2006-2010, an unprecedented drought (brown areas) spread over much of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Syria was especially vulnerable to its effects. Credit: NASA" -- PhysOrg

After searching 20 minutes last night I was unable to find a weekly drought monitor map for MENA either as a whole or by country that's along the lines of the weekly US Drought Monitor. The little available by way of drought maps for MENA is a complete mess and completely incomplete.  This means I'm still reduced to scraping together bits and pieces of data on a water crisis from news reports or blogs  -- or from the kind of research paper that PhysOrg quoted earlier this month, which sent me through the roof.

Gentlemen. Ladies. Transgenders. Visiting aliens from outer space.  Now hear this. Are you piggybacking "manmade climate change" speculations on water crises because you know that's the only way they can get much attention anymore?  It looks that way to me but for whatever reason, your insistence on putting manmade climate front and center adds a lot of distracting 'noise' to the already hideously complicated water shortage situations.

All right, let's see if I can excavate a few shreds of useful data from the March 2 PhysOrg report titled Did climate change spark the Syrian civil war? Wait a minute. Didn't I already mention the situation with Syria a thousand or so posts ago on the water crises? Well if I did a little review won't hurt:
The recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago. The region has always seen natural weather swings. But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10 percent reduction in wet-season precipitation. 
The study's authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable [to the drought] by other factors, including sheer population growth—from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.
Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton. Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said coauthor Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs who did the economic and social components of the research.
The drought's effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country's gross domestic product, plummeted by a third. In the hard-hit northeast, livestock herds were practically all obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.
As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq. In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.
Like falling dominoes more than a million people then fled the war in Syria that followed in the wake of the uprising.  They fled to Lebanon, further straining already strained water resources there.  And so it goes.    


Stratfor's analysis of India's water shortage issues

A Guardian article I quoted last year claimed that most of India's water for crops came from the monsoon. The Stratfor report makes it clear the claim is untrue or way out of date. Toss the bad data on a big pile of bad data about water shortages the world over.  

Graphics from Stratfor report


Water Use Reform Will Be Difficult for India
January 28, 2015 | 10:00 GMT


Editor's Note:This is the sixth installment of an occasional series on water scarcity issues around the world that Stratfor will be building upon periodically.

Because of its massive river systems and variety of climates, India is not always the first country that comes to mind when considering water stress issues, but the emerging regional powerhouse is still an agrarian society at its core. This already inefficient sector relies on inconsistent monsoons and, in some locations, on groundwater to make up for years with deficits in rainfall. Increasing urbanization and population growth have compounded demands for municipal water and increased agricultural production. By 2030, India is projected to consume nearly 1.5 trillion cubic meters of groundwater annually — more than its estimated 1.1 trillion cubic meters of usable reserves. As New Delhi faces a major challenge in managing this essential resource, India's highly decentralized system will make it difficult for the central government to effectively manage the problem.


The history of the Indian subcontinent has been shaped by water. To the southeast and southwest, India's coastlines front the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, while to the north, the Himalayas separate the country from Eurasia. Inside this self-contained world, a multitude of rivers have produced a variety of powerful city centers as well as the internal divisions that have resulted in India's strong regional identities — identities that centralized powers have always struggled to balance.

Today, one of New Delhi's core geopolitical imperatives is to control the fertile Ganges River Basin, which is key to maintaining the country's agricultural sector. Agriculture accounted for 18 percent of India's gross domestic product in 2012 and employs about half of the country's population. It also accounted for more than 90 percent of total water withdrawals. While India does possess natural renewable water resources that total roughly 1.9 trillion cubic meters, rainfall distribution is naturally erratic and dependent on seasonal monsoons, leaving agricultural production highly susceptible to fluctuations.

The 2014 monsoon season officially concluded at the end of September with cumulative rainfall 12 percent below the long-term average. Increased rainfall near the end of the season meant that more dire predictions from earlier in the year did not come to pass, but many crop production estimates for 2014-2015 are still expected to fall year-on-year.
Water Stress

The Indian agricultural sector's reliance on groundwater irrigation to maintain crop yields, especially in weak monsoon years, has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. Over the past 20 years, 84 percent of added irrigation has come from groundwater sources. Today, 50-70 percent of India’s crops rely on irrigation — an estimated 60-80 percent of which uses groundwater. India's use of these resources is also extremely inefficient. The amount of water it takes to produce one ton of grain in India is 24 percent higher than the global average for both wheat and rice.

Further exacerbating the water scarcity problem is the fact that not all of India’s water supplies are usable; much of the supply has been compromised by pollution or fertilizer use. Inadequate infrastructure prevents the use of some of the annual renewable water resources as well. India’s Ministry of Water Resources estimates that only 1.1 trillion cubic meters of the country's total 1.9 trillion cubic meters of natural renewable water resources are usable. Independent studies put this number at 650 billion to 750 billion cubic meters, less than half of India's total annual renewable amount.

The greatest evidence of groundwater depletion can be seen in India's north, an area that includes the fertile Indus and Ganges basins. New Delhi has made this worse by applying only limited regulation to groundwater extraction and by subsidizing electricity, which, among other things, helps makes pumping water more affordable. At the same time, the municipal sector has come to rely on groundwater to meet more than 80 percent of the urbanized population's growing demand.

India's current water withdrawals add up to between 630 billion and 760 billion cubic meters per year, and this is set to expand. India’s population is increasing at an average annual rate of roughly 1 percent, and urbanization rates are high, at 31 percent in 2010 and projected to rise to 43 percent by 2035. The government is also working to increase access to electricity and maintain food security, both of which will require steady water supplies. 

All of this will contribute to a projected rise in annual water demand to nearly 1.5 trillion cubic meters by 2030 — a number higher than India's existing usable water resources (which the government generously estimates to be around 1.1 trillion cubic meters) can meet. By 2030, most of India’s many river basins could face gaps between supply and demand. At the same time, the nation's per capita annual water supply fell to around 1,500 cubic meters in 2011. This is projected to approach the water scarcity line of 1,000 cubic meters per person by 2050.

At the same time, these declines in groundwater levels could actually increase India's water demands by speeding up the rate of urbanization. As groundwater levels decline, wells become more expensive to drill and operate, meaning that more farmers will not be able to afford to water their crops using groundwater. This has already driven many subsistence farmers off the land and into cities. The urban population will increase pressure to supply municipal water and will strain the agricultural sector as India tries to maintain food security in the face of its growing population.
Constraints on the Center

India's water constraints will continue to worsen, but the change will be long and gradual, stretching out over several decades. The situation could ease if the country shifts its water consumption patterns or if New Delhi changes its water management policies, perhaps by regulating well drilling, implementing new water-efficient irrigation technologies or making improvements to water infrastructure. Such programs, however, will face the barrier of India's regional political fractures, which make central management difficult.

Programs to increase efficiency or improve water management policies, such as the implementation of more efficient irrigation practices, would likely have to be implemented at the state level, resulting in regional (not national) solutions.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite hopes to the contrary, will likely be limited by these same geopolitical constraints. New Delhi might manage to make a slow push for higher efficiency by reducing subsidy schemes, as it has done for phosphate-based fertilizers. The phosphate fertilizer subsidy reduction showcases the difficulty of this approach: Other fertilizers are still subsidized, meaning that the problems of pollution and inefficient use or overuse of fertilizers remain.

Modi is still unwilling or unable to adjust the broader fertilizer subsidy framework that plays a large role in perpetuating poor agricultural practices.

The slow and fractious nature of the reform process means that over the next 20 years New Delhi will continue to cope with increasing water stress. At the present time, India is essentially self-sufficient in agriculture. However, over the next decade, it is likely to become a food importer. Inadequate supply chain infrastructure will impede efficient food distribution. To maintain social stability in the face of this challenge, New Delhi will likely have to sacrifice some economic growth and possibly take on additional debt as its import bills rise.

Other recent Stratfor reports on water (when last I checked, the other day, the Sao Paulo report is still open access at the website; the other, older reports require signing up for free access to reports. 

• Part 1: Yemen's Looming Water Crisis

• Part 2: U.S. Agriculture Wilts During California's Drought

• Part 3: South Africa's Water Needs Will Be Costly

• Part 4: Indonesia's Disjointed Islands Make Water Scarcity a Problem

• Part 5: Mesopotamian Vitality Falls to Turkey

• Part 7: Sao Paulo Drought Could Benefit Brazil

• Part 8: Industrial Expansion Will Strain Mexico's Water Resources

Thursday, March 26

US Drought Monitor March 24 relased today

See Drought Monitor website for detailed discussion including projections

Can King Bhumibol's Sufficiency teachings save societies from economic suicide?

Oh no,  Your Majesty, not another hilltop village today

During 1946-1952, Thailand was recovering from the Second World War causing Thai people to live in difficult conditions. So, the early stage of His Majesty’s development work was focused on urgent problems such as medical, sanitary and social problems. His Majesty saw that if his people were healthy, it will lead to the country’s sustainable development. 
In the second stage, later in 1953, His Majesty began to travel to every region of the country from the north to the south with a great intention to learn about the troubles, hardship and the needs of his people who mostly conducted agricultural activities as a mainstay of living, particularly those living in remote rural areas.
During that time, His Majesty spent over half of each year outside the capital, causing us to follow and frequently spend several days and nights in different parts of the nation. Almost every other day, His Majesty traveled to visit different projects and his people.

The traveling conditions in those days were not as convenient as nowadays especially in remote rural areas with bad road networks. Sometimes the road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and sometimes there were no roads at all so that His Majesty had to walk for hours to reach the destinations.
A Human-Sized Economic Philosophy 

During the years he was spry enough to get around in on foot in the rural regions Bhumibol Adulyadej, ninth monarch of Royal House of Chakri, also called Rama IX, visited every square foot of Thai lands open to him and asked uncounted questions of the people he met with.

I venture his "New Theory" of land and water management to develop from his fact-finding tours was as much a result of his engineering mind and consultations with scientists and engineers as conversations with villagers. But running alongside the technical development challenges, he began to realize that the people he spoke with weren't free because they weren't self-sufficient.  From that point his questions went far beyond discussions about acreage and ponds when he conversed with rural peoples.

The "Sufficiency" philosophy that evolved from this unusual education for a monarch is human-sized.  I'd add "to a remarkable degree" but there is no other modern economics philosophy that is actually geared to humans.  King Bhumibol's is the only one in the running for the prize.

Then one day he felt ready to begin a formal teaching mission, and just in time. From In Thailand, A Return to Sufficiency; Shawn W. Crispin, October 5, 2006, Asia Times Online:
The monarch's self-sufficiency-economy concept gained currency in the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. In a now-famous 1997 speech, Bhumibol called on the Thai population to scale back its reliance on exports and shift toward a more self-sufficient, localized economic system, where 25% of the economy would be geared toward local production for individual needs.
"A careful step backward must be taken; a return to less sophisticated methods must be made with less advanced instruments," the highly respected monarch said.
Bhumibol's back-to-basics message ran counter to the orthodox prescriptions offered by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which called for more, not less, openness to restore economic growth and financial stability. Then, Bhumibol's message presented a direct challenge to the country's traditional pro-globalization stance but resonated deeply with many Thais who had lost their factory jobs and were forced to reintegrate into the lower-earning rural sector.
Some of Thailand's most neo-liberal economic thinkers embraced Bhumibol's philosophy, which they construed broadly to emphasize long-term optimal over short-term maximum production and consumption - as most liberal Western economies are geared.
The King's message helped Thailand weather the economic storms of 1997 without the social unrest seen in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
What Does Sufficient Mean?

But you know how it is when a leader keeps talking common sense.  Pretty soon the respectful listeners start asking, 'Could you elaborate on what you mean by the word "is?"

Where this led in Thailand and elsewhere in response to the king's Sufficiency teachings can be intuited from the note Shawn Crispin appended to his report:
1. "A sufficiency economy is not self-sufficiency. It is a philosophy rather than a theory. But the philosophy can be applied to every level of the economy. Households should avoid overspending, businesses should avoid over-expansion and the government should concentrate on protecting national resources." - Pridiyathorn at a forum held by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok on Tuesday.
 "Pridiyathorn" being then-Bank of Thailand governor Pridiyathorn Devakula.

Because of Thailand's stringent enforcement of lèse majesté, which roughly translates to, "You're in a lot of trouble if you publicly criticize a reigning monarch," there hasn't been much public criticism in Thailand of Sufficiency. This didn't stop economists from fiddling with King Bhumibol's clear points until they sounded like teachings in a secret order.

The king couldn't resist poking a little fun at the economists who requested clarification on what he meant by "sufficient." I don't have the source document handy for that particular speech of his but while these are my made-up numbers the questions went something like this:

Does sufficiency mean 40 percent sufficiency for the entire country, or 25 percent sufficiency for the individual or 23.5 percent for a village -- or 55 percent for a group of villages?  

For Pete's sake, if the idea is to be self-sufficient one first asks, 'What must I produce that's sufficient to keep myself and my family alive?'

Then taking a real jaunt into higher math, one asks how big one's family is.  And so on like that.  How to check the equations?  At the point you're an able to produce an abundance -- what is above sufficiency, which can be traded, sold locally, exported, etc. 

Now does this mean sufficiency excludes ownership of things like color TVs?  No, and neither does it necessarily mean a Back to the Land movement.  If you return to Shawn Crispin's report, King Bhumibol was addressing a situation in 1987 that had already occurred:  job losses in the cities during a severe economic downturn had driven many Thais back to their villages.  But he's said that the sufficiency economy isn't only for people who support themselves through farming or live in rural areas. A passage in Tony Cartalucci's 2011 essay points to this:
Of course in Thailand, agricultural self-sufficiency is coupled with technology to enhance efficiency and improve the quality of life. Even in the city, small independent businesses are adopting the latest technology to improve their production, increase their profits, and even out-compete larger corporations. Computer controlled machining equipment can be found in small workshops crammed into old shop-houses, automatic embroidering machines allow a single woman to fulfill orders for name tags on new school uniforms - rather than both businesses sending off orders to factories owned by a handful of wealthy investors. A multitude of examples can be seen walking around any city block in Thailand's capital of Bangkok.
The remarks are a springboard to a discussion of personal digital fabrication including 3D printing, "Fab Labs," and the ideas of MIT professor Dr Neil Gershenfeld. It was my introduction to Gershenfeld's ideas; that Tony wove these into a discussion of King Bhumibol's Sufficiency philosophy was a tour de force.  By putting the two approaches together he amplified an understanding of both, for which I am grateful.

Self-Sufficiency, A Socialist's Worst Nightmare

Outside Thailand, every time those most heavily invested in keeping up the interdependence of the globalized economic order managed to recover from the trauma of a global financial crisis, they took to sharply criticizing the king's teachings on Sufficiency, or dismissed them as too vague to be workable policy guidance. (This majority opinion finally prompted Wikipedia to re-title its article on the teachings, "Localism in Thailand.")

Without taking a poll I'll venture the latter camp of critics, at least the kind that hang out at global financial institutions such as the IMF and Bank for International Settlements, have no trouble understanding the teachings, But they would view Sufficiency as a grave threat to the interdependence of national economies that keeps the present era of globalization humming along.

The thinking goes this way:  It won't do if a nation can survive gracefully for an extended period with only very limited involvement in the economic world order.  Other nations would start getting the same idea, and pretty soon they'd start going their separate ways. This would lead to anarchy. This would lead to world war. Then we're all headed to hell in a hand basket.  

However, to keep the world hanging together requires socialist government in one form or another at national levels because as Tony Cartalucci shrewdly pointed out in his explanation of King Bhumibol's teachings (The Globalists' Worst Nightmare; July 2011), self-sufficiency isn't socialism.   

Without the dependence that socialism fosters in national populations, it's hard for central banks and governments they serve to manage the market mechanisms that grease the wheels of global economic interdependence.

The catch:  for national socialist government to work well, it must foster centralization of the populations it administers to. By the turn of the century this had created a waking nightmare from which no escape seems possible, as governments the world over sleepwalk to the edge of a precipice.


The chasm was clearly in sight by the time residents of a Texas border town blocked busloads of children that had illegally come across the U.S. border from Mexico. The residents said, truthfully, they didn't have the capacity to deal with the influx.

Many of the children weren't Mexican. Mexico's government, overwhelmed by huge numbers of illegal immigrants from countries deeper in the Americas, was accelerating its old tactic of passing along the problem to U.S. border patrol.

Yet the children sent across the U.S. border by their relatives weren't so much immigrants as refugees -- fleeing a severe drought that had hit a wide swath of Central America and also drug gangs that had taken over the "hollowed out countryside," as I think Nils Gilman called it in his discussion about deviant globalization.

It's becoming the same in many parts of the world.  After emptying countrysides into cities that swelled far beyond their infrastructure capacities, governments don't have the manpower to police the vast deserted spaces left behind. International crime syndicates and terrorist gangs moved into the vacuum, terrorizing the rural peoples still left.

Arvind Kejirwal had seen the situation with his own eyes in rural India when he worked as an engineer for Tata. The Maoist Naxalites had established a reign of terror in the countryside but it was a government, of sorts, the only force around that approximated a governing entity.

The answer he came up with was to restore real decision-making power to India's villages, which the British Raj had co-opted and post-Independence Indian administrations had turned into Potemkin examples of self-governance.

Self-rule is not the whole solution, however. It's really hard to stand up for the right of self-rule when one doesn't have enough to eat and a politician arrives in the village with a truckload of free rice.  

I'll add that this point is so self-evident it's gotten lost in the shuffle of current political debates in the United States. But it's putting the cart before the horse to say the U.S. Constitution defends America's freedoms. There would have been no Constitution, no revolution, if colonial American insurgents had been unable to feed themselves without help from the British Crown.

Self sufficiency is foundational to freedom.  

By the way if American readers think the situation Arvind noted in India doesn't apply to the USA, you haven't learned about the devastation caused by drug gangs who moved into America's national parks and forests to raise marijuana on a large scale. They expanded to every rural region where they knew law enforcement was too small to keep up with them. By 2012 they'd moved into California's Central Valley farming belt in large numbers, touching off crime waves that underfunded and undermanned local authorities were helpless to staunch.

On the heels of the gangsters land grabbers have showed up in several countries. These are big foreign agribusiness concerns that bribe revenue-starved local governments into displacing rural peoples from land that can be farmed. The grabbers are rich enough to bribe the local military or hire an army of mercenaries to shoo away the gangsters.  Yet the foreigners are themselves desperate, scouring the world for regions that still have enough water left to support large scale agriculture to feed water-stressed populations in their home countries.

But where do all those displaced rural people go?  Why into cities, which aren't capable of supporting them.  


Where is this Round Robin of disasters headed?  I think to the disintegration of a mirage.

In his essay Tony Cartalucci singles out the global "elite" as the chief villain.  But it wasn't the global elite that persuaded millions of Americans it was perfectly sane to live far above their means and neither was it socialists. It was blue collar "company stores" that allowed purchases on paycheck credit and later, during America's post-WW2 salad days, white collar employers that could afford to pay fat pensions.

From there it was a hop and skip to Americans buying into the fallacy that a salaried individual could act like a corporation to finance debt.  This led to the biggest mirage in modern times: that the United States is a consumer society. Excuse me; the United States of America is a debtor society.

Economists tell China's government that it must stimulate domestic consumption of manufactured products to survive a downturn in its export model -- be more like the American consumer economy.

What the economists don't say is that to keep buying more and more, Chinese must go into debt and not only stay in debt but also keep increasing their debt.

What else they don't say is that debt-fueled buying skyrockets the number of products made for sale -- and that making the products gulps water and other vital natural resources at a faster and faster rate. So it's not increasing affluence, per se, which is the biggest problem regarding sustainability. It's faux affluence, debt affluence, that's the real killer.         

The economists also don't say that if people believe they can accumulate through debt far and above what is sufficient for their well being, they are destroying their wealth -- whatever abundance they produce -- and ultimately their lives.


Rama IX was a product of a Swiss high school education and a graduate of the University of Lausanne. He was also humble enough to ask his subjects to teach him and to listen carefully when they spoke.  They repaid his respect by giving him an education no amount of money can buy. From this evolved teachings grounded in the bedrock of a common-sense wisdom humanity built up over many millenniums.

Well, you didn't want hill detail

Wednesday, March 25

Sitreps John Batchelor Show UPDATED

Crowded field as always but these are ones that rose to the top for me so far this week; links are to the podcasts at the JBS website podcast page :

Mar 24

Russia-Ukraine and Latest Euro/US Actions Toward Both
Dr Stephen F. Cohen

Update: The interview included discussion of a commentary on Russian-European relations by Walter Schwimmer, a prominent Austrian politician and Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 1999-2004. The commentary is delivered in an interview conducted by Alexey Khlebnikov, Senior Editor at Russia Direct and published at the organization's website on March 19. It's titled, There is no Europe without Russia and no Russia without Europe.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Schwimmer's comments but to understand why, listen to Batchelor's discussion with Cohen.    

Ann Marlowe

Tunisia (3rd segment)
Larry Diamond

Mar 23

Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn


Friday, March 20

Socialism's terrible dilemma: First you raise us out of poverty then you cut off our water

"Behind closed doors, the views are grimmer. In a meeting recorded secretly and leaked to the local news media, Paulo Massato, a senior official at São Paulo’s water utility, said that residents might have to be warned to flee because “there’s not enough water, there won’t be water to bathe, to clean” homes."

“I feel hatred, hatred of the governor and of Sabesp [the water utility controlled by São Paulo State],” said Márcia Oliani, 54, the finance manager of an art gallery who endured six days without water in her apartment. “I’d like to take them out and set fire to them. They completely failed to warn us, and have just continued to lie about this throughout.”

President Dilma Rousseff and her center-left Workers’ Party (PT) have been able to boast that "millions of Brazilians had been lifted from poverty and entered the middle class through social welfare policies like the Bolsa Família, and that improved workers’ rights and increased wages have allowed a new class of Brazilians to become consumers." (Foreign Policy, March 16 )  

However, things have not been going terribly well in recent days for Rouseff and the PT, as you can learn from the Foreign Policy report. But if Brazil's right-wing political parties would really like to sock it to the country's leftists, they might just practice patience for a year or two instead of waving signs at street protests that read, "Less Marx, More Mises."

Brazil's government, and socialist governments throuoghout Latin America and the world over, are about 15 minutes away from being forced to recall that Karl Marx, and all governing approaches that evolved from his ideas, were products of the dawning Industrial Age. That age didn't even have "water crisis" in its vocabulary. The same for electricity and fossil fuel crises.   

So while it sounds good on paper to quickly raise millions of out poverty and make them consumers, if the natural resources base can't support the spike in newly affluent users, this isn't just a problem; this is a crisis and a dilemma that no socialist government is capable of dealing with.

This would be particularly true for large cities in Latin America that were built far from water sources, and built at a time when water crisis hadn't entered the lexicon and the population was a tiny fraction of what it is today.  

Which are these cities? From the comment section in a February 16 New York Times report, Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City, from which I took the quotes that lead off this writing:

Lubomen411  in NY, NY
Why are people surprised that Sao Paulo is suffering from water shortages, or that there is a regional drought in the southeastern portion of Brazil? That area has historically suffered from prolonged droughts, made much worse with the loss of most of the original Atlantic coast forest cover over the past century.
Brazilians, in all their wisdom, decided to build their largest cities in areas far removed from large, navigable rivers. Sao Paulo itself is located in the highlands where a number of rivers have their headwaters. In other words, it is quite distant from any large natural bodies of water. Hence the need for reservoirs and the panic that ensues when these reservoirs start to dry up during a prolonged drought.
Brazilians, like the Americans in California and the Southwest, are deluded in their long-term economic and city planning -- building huge agglomerations of industry and commerce, along with the large requisite populations, in areas that in the long term cannot sustain those very populations. In fact, most very large Latin American cities are in eco-regions that cannot sustain huge, water-intensive populations in the long-term.
If we thought Sao Paulo was in trouble, I can't wait to hear the same travails for Mexico City, Lima, Santiago or Botoga (all huge cities located far, far from reliable sources of water).
Now to be fair they couldn't see around corners when those cities were originally built. And it's not as if cities near reliable water sources aren't also facing trouble. From PsyOrg's February 5 Study reveals scale of water crisis in areas of Pakistan:
The situation may be extreme in Pakistan but Europe is not immune to water shortages. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), eight European countries can be considered water-stressed: Cyprus, Bulgaria, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Italy, United Kingdom, and Germany. [...]
I don't understand why Greece isn't on the list, but the point is that intractable water shortages in water stressed regions will all be arising around the same time.  No surprise there, as capitalists and socialists vie each other in claiming success for raising huge numbers of people and livestock out of poverty.  

But this is a problem for the International Community and development banks and aid donors of all stripes, when everyone is crying, 'Help!' at the same time.

Can von Mises save the day?  Well he's already saving the day in one sense, in that every start-up company on the planet that has "water solutions" in its name is set to make a mint.  

But the solutions are not really to be found in water management.  Societies are going to have to confront the fact that socialist government is a relic of a bygone era, as are the mega-cities that socialist policies turned into hogs of natural resources.    

People can rise out poverty.  A large middle income group is sustainable.  What isn't sustainable is to keep stuffing people in ever greater numbers into infrastructures that consume more critical resources just to keep functioning than all the human spendthrifts could ever do. 

So this onrushing crisis is not about economics. And it's not about climate change.  It's about finding humane ways to disperse large human populations before Nature takes over population management. 

Of course widely dispersed populations make centralized government very hard to carry off without deploying the most authoritarian measures or creating the kind of 'bossism' that allowed China's emperors in the Forbidden City to ride herd on thousands of distant villages.  



Water Crisis in Pakistan: country on track to be "unlivable"

“We hear about these water schemes. But in our village, located 20km from Mithi, we still walk over 40 minutes to the only pond to collect water, and carry it back. When the pond dries, as is happening now, we move. We have been nomads for centuries, and nothing has changed.”

The megacity of Karachi has had a water crisis for years, a steadily worsening one, and Tharparkar, a desert area in southern Sindh Province, was hit with a "humanitarian emergency" last year because of drought.  See the February 12 New York Times report (Starved for Energy, Pakistan Braces for a Water Crisis). For a report specific to Karachi's water woes, see the August 24, 2014 report from the Associated Press, Pakistan's Largest City Thirsts for a Water Supply.  From the Times report:
Agriculture is a cornerstone of the Pakistani economy. The 2,000-mile-long Indus River, which rises in the Himalayas and spans the country, feeds a vast network of irrigation canals that line fields producing wheat, vegetables and cotton, all major sources of foreign currency. In the north, hydroelectric power stations are a cornerstone of the creaking power system.
 A combination of melting glaciers, decreasing rainfall and chronic mismanagement by successive governments has put that water supply in danger, experts say.
In a report published in 2013, the Asian Development Bank described Pakistan as one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, with a water availability of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year — a fivefold drop since independence in 1947, and about the same level as drought-stricken Ethiopia.
One major culprit in Pakistan’s looming water crisis, experts say, is the country’s inadequate water storage facilities. In India, about one-third of the water supply is stored in reservoirs, compared with just 9 percent in Pakistan, Mr. Amir said.
“We built our last dam 46 years ago,” he said. “India has built 4,000 dams, with another 150 in the pipeline.”
Experts say the country’s chaotic policies are hurting its image in the eyes of Western donors who could help alleviate the mounting resource crises.
“The biggest looming crisis is of governance, not water — which could make this country unlivable in the next few years,” said Arshad H. Abbasi, a water and energy expert with the Sustainable Development and Policy Institute, a research group based in Islamabad.
 The explanations given by officials and water experts quoted in the reports don't tell the full story.  From an IRIN News January 29, 2014 report on water improvements in the drought-ridden, desert region of Tharpakar. Watch carefully don't blink: 
Access to water is a key problem for the district of Tharparkar, which comprises an area of 22,000sqkm. More than 1.4 million people and about five million heads of livestock live in the area, where annual rainfall averages can be as low as 9mm, and drought is common. 
“Barely 5 percent of the population has access to a sweet [fresh] water supply. Even the district capital, Mithi, [only] gets sweet water twice in a month. Laying down water supply lines at high cost is also open to question. Most of the population relies on dug wells,” said Ali Akbar, executive director of the NGO Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE), in the town of Chachro in Tharparkar.
While several projects have been carried out by AWARE and other NGOs, Akbar believes these have had only a limited impact.
One reason for this has been fluoride contamination of underground water sources, which has led to grave health problems. But there are other major issues as well, including corruption in schemes set up by the government.
An inquiry into these charges began last year under the government’sNational Accountability Bureau. It is examining the manner in which contracts were awarded to companies to set up reverse osmosis (RO) plants, which turn brackish water into sweet water, and the location of these plants.

Traditional, cost-effective solutions
Also at issue are running costs after projects are constructed. The costs of running RO plants and diesel-operated tube wells installed by the government are high, and Akbar says only about 3-5 percent of communities are managing to pay the expenses.
One solution is to use indigenous water-purification technologies. The NGO Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) has been able to reach around 1,000 villages with water solutions, often using water access and purification methods based on traditional practices, which are designed to be more acceptable to local people.

One such purification technique is ‘mussafa’, which involves using a 1kg-bag of graded sand, treated with silver, as a filter in the clay pots used to store water. The technique, developed by the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, is based on age-old practices.
“We know filtering water through sand will clean it. This method has been used for generations in some places,” said Habib Ali, a resident of a rural area on the outskirts of Mithi.
TRDP has also experimented with solar disinfection, in which water is placed in glass containers under direct sunlight to kill bacteria and reduce water-borne sicknesses.
The organization has also built rainwater collection tanks to serve 15,636 households in some of the most marginalized communities, with minimal running costs.
An eye on sustainability
Other projects being currently undertaken include the use of solar pumps, which can pull water from far below the surface, store it and pipe it into homes.
There's more to the report, including reactions from villagers who have and haven't had the benefit of the water treatment initiatives. As one in the latter group observed:
“We hear about these water schemes. But in our village, located 20km from Mithi, we still walk over 40 minutes to the only pond to collect water, and carry it back. When the pond dries, as is happening now, we move. We have been nomads for centuries, and nothing has changed,” Sassui Bibi told IRIN.
Yet a big question is why the age-old practices of water conservation and purification fell into disuse and had to be reintroduced by scientists and ngos.  

I suspect the question also applies to many regions around the world.


There's Gold in Them Thar Water Crises in China

"CDP, the organisation formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, will be launching the first ever report focused primarily on the corporate use of water in the country this June."

Heck, forget carbon tax schemes; everybody's going to make boatloads of money in China (and everywhere else) solving the water crises.

China's water crisis opens giant market for business
 China's urgent need to address water shortage and pollution issues means that business opportunities are plentiful. Aquatech China, to be held in Shanghai on June 10-12, aims to be a showcase of the best technological solutions.
As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, China is facing a looming water crisis; its factories, farms and more than one billion people need more clean water than its water sources can safely provide. About 60 per cent of the country’s groundwater is polluted, the Chinese government has said, and for the economy to expand at the current rate of 7 per cent a year, there is an urgent need to address this problem.

To shed light on the issue of water usage and treatment in China, CDP, the organisation formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, will be launching the first ever report focused primarily on the corporate use of water in the country this June.
Entitled “The Business Case for Corporate Water Reporting in China”, CDP’s analysis is based on the water management data of 29 companies that have headquarters in mainland China and another 70 companies with facilities located in China.
The report launch, to be held at the Aquatech China 2015 event in Shanghai, will feature a discussion by water sustainability experts from beverage giant Coca-Cola, water management firm Suez and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund Norges Bank on the report’s findings and the case for action by corporations, investors and policy makers.
Lots more in the report at Eco-Business -- oh, and a link to Aquatech's 2015 conference particulars so you can be sure to attend. It's going to be A LOT more crowded this year than last. 


Thursday, March 19

A giant leap forward for 3D printing technology

"By rethinking the whole approach to 3D printing, and the chemistry and physics behind the process, we have developed a new technology that can create parts radically faster than traditional technologies by essentially 'growing' them in a pool of liquid."
-- Joseph M. DeSimone, professor of chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill and of chemical engineering at N.C. State, CEO of Carbon3D and co-inventor of the new technology, which "he revealed at a TED talk on March 16 in the opening session of the conference in Vancouver, British Columbia"
Researchers develop revolutionary 3D printing technology 
March 17, 2015 Phys Org
A 3D printing technology developed by Silicon Valley startup, Carbon3D Inc., enables objects to rise from a liquid media continuously rather than being built layer by layer as they have been for the past 25 years, representing a fundamentally new approach to 3D printing.

The technology, to appear as the cover article in the March 20 print issue of Science, allows ready-to-use products to be made 25 to 100 times faster than other methods [emphasis mine] and creates previously unachievable geometries that open opportunities for innovation not only in health care and medicine, but also in other major industries such as automotive and aviation.
The technology, called CLIP - for Continuous Liquid Interface Production - manipulates light and oxygen to fuse objects in liquid media, creating the first 3D printing process that uses tunable photochemistry instead of the layer-by-layer approach that has defined the technology for decades.
Visit the PsyOrg website for a video on the new method.


California's latest response to drought: still not taking the crisis seriously

"We are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation warrants," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) ... said the new legislation would not be the last drought-relief proposal from the Capitol. “This is just a down payment on our efforts to address the drought," he said. "This is just the first round."

$1 billion in California drought relief may just be the beginning
By Chris Megerian and Melanie Mason
The Los Angeles Times
March 19, 2015, 1:30 PM
Governor Jerry Brown and top lawmakers from both parties announced Thursday a $1-billion plan to deal with California's persistent drought, describing the legislation as a mix of short-term relief and support for long-term water projects.
The bulk of the legislation would fund infrastructure initiatives that might not be completed for years. The proposal includes $272.7 million from the $7.5-billion water bond approved by voters last year for projects such as water recycling and desalination.
An additional $660 million would go to flood-control projects, funded with a bond measure approved by voters a decade ago and scheduled to expire next year.
Asked how spending money on flood prevention would help the drought, the governor warned of "extreme weather events" caused by climate change.

"And with extreme weather events, you get drought. And then all of a sudden, when you’re all focused on drought, you can get massive storms that flood through these channels and overflow and cause havoc," he said.

Leaving Karl Marx Speechless: Internet of Things and the social revolution that can't be stopped

From How to Make Almost Anything, Boston Globe, January 30, 2005: 
Gershenfeld describes the shift from large-scale, expensive machine tools to personal fabrication as analogous to the evolution that began 40 years ago from room-sized mainframes to personal computers. Instead of personalizing the ability to do digital computing, we're now able to digitize and personalize the ability to manufacture our own tools and machines.
Dr Neil A. Gershenfeld is an American professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. He can be considered the prophet of personal digital fabrication (PDF), and it was his classes at MIT, started in 1998, on "How to Make Almost Anything" that led to him to create in collaboration with MIT's Bakhtiar Mikhak the incredible "Fab (fabrication) Labs." These are places with the tools and raw materials that teach people from any walk of life to harness digital technologies to make just about any kind of personal-use gizmo they can think up.   (This gives new meaning to the old 'shop' courses in American grade schools, where boys learned to make things like tables.)  

Yet no one, not Gershenfeld nor anyone else, could imagine how popular those labs would be. But there is footage of boys and girls of elementary school age in Ghana dragging their teachers back to a Fab Lab even though it was way past the children's bedtime.  They didn't want to stop inventing stuff and seeing their ideas take form through their own efforts right before their eyes.  

By 2006 Neil Gershenfeld was still trying to wrap his mind around the implications of the Fab Labs, which by then were scattered around the world.   In a videotaped talk to a TED conference that year the ideas poured from him, almost stumbling over each other, leading him to cut himself off sometimes and at others to speak almost in shorthand.  Before I realized TED had made a very coherent transcript available, I scribbled down parts of the talk during which he conveys the broad outlines of what he knew by then was an epoch-making revolution.  

The caveat is that I did have to interpret the meaning he imputed to the term "social engineering." From everything he said in the talk, I think he simply means formal (organizational) ways of teaching people to integrate the products of technology into their daily lives.       

With no further introduction:       

We are now in the mini-computer era of digital fabrication.  The only problem with that is it breaks everybody's boundaries.  In DC, I go to every agency that wants to talk, you know; in the Bay Area, I go to every organization you can think of -- they all want to talk about it but it breaks their organizational boundaries.  In fact it's illegal for them in many cases to equip ordinary people to create rather than consume technology.  
"And that problem is so severe that the ultimate invention from this community is social engineering.
There's been a sea change in aid from top-down mega projects to bottom-up grassroots microfinance investing. So everybody's got that's what works.  But we still look at technology as top-down mega projects -- computing, communication, energy  [sarcastically]  'If this room full of heroes is just clever enough you can solve the problems [of the rest of humanity].'  
The message coming from the Fab Labs is that the other 5 billion people on the planet aren't just technical sinks.  They're real opportunities to harness the inventive power of the world to locally design and produce solutions to local problems. I [once] thought that was a projection 20 years hence into the future but it's where we are today.  It breaks every organizational boundary we can think of.
The hardest thing at this point is the social engineering and the organizational engineering but it's here today."  
Precisely what is "it?"  Toward the very end he said with precision, "the technology for a market of one."

So at that moment in history, in 2006, PDF was no threat to manufacturing giants. 

However, as we know, the technology for 3D printing has greatly advanced since then and is continuing to advance at breakneck speed.  While the giants can still sleep easy for the next few minutes we are approaching an era that would leave Karl Marx speechless.  Workers of the world unite against -- what? Your own workshop in the basement?

It'll be a future generation that begins to encompass the implications.  But I'm thinking right now of a reality TV show called "Guyana Gold."  It was about two American men who in my opinion were complete rascals. They were part of the gold rush in Guyana, as thousands of adventurers and rascals from around the world converged on the jungles to strike it rich dredging for gold dust. 

From the episodes I watched, the local rascals had fun taking advantage of the foreign amateurs, but moving along the foreigners weren't happy unless they were dredging with humongous imported machines that first of all the amateurs didn't know how to maintain; second, didn't know how to repair; third,  pushed way beyond the manufacturers' stated capacity; and four, these machines, often stories' high, had 10 million parts.

One upshot was an open-air market full of parts from broken down machines that foreigners had abandoned or sold to finance their plane ticket home. This market took up something like two square miles.  But unlike the items in Home Depot none of the parts were labeled.  To shop there you seriously had to know what you were looking for. 

And yet the best moment I saw in the show was when an Indian who was an old hand at the gold digs got the broken part from a monster machine running again by using a length of cotton thread and aerosol spray from an insect repellent can.  I swear this isn't a fish tale.

The point is that the open air market in "Guyana Gold" is the forerunner of the factory of the future -- and the manufacturer's showroom and big box store, all rolled into one.

Instead of towns being built to house workers in a factory that makes a single product, they'll be built around what are essentially junk piles from which the townspeople make whatever manufactured product they need. When the product becomes obsolete it'll be returned to the junk pile, to be melted down, recast, and digitally designed and made into the latest version of the product.

So one can work up a little sympathy for government officials and corporate executives who listened to Neil Gershenfeld and asked, 'But where are the boundaries?'

It's a fair question when one considers the violent revolutions accompanying the dawn of the industrial age, and that everything was changed about societies that developed around traditional mass production.  One social order after another collapsed.  However, the question was asked of Gershenfeld in the earliest years of this century, before governments in regions around the world learned their water supplies were running out.  

Much of the water is poured into building, maintaining, and repairing giant infrastructures to house mass production and mass populations of workers.  The results of the labor then use up mind-boggling amounts of water, not to mention energy, as they are processed, transported across vast distances, distributed across vast distances, and disposed of and recycled -- often at great distances from the disposal site. 

All to obtain a pair of jeans or electronic chachka!     

You want to call that way of life "order?"  It was the best humanity could do, and now we can do better, that's all.   

Of course the social order we evolve from the PDF revolution, the "Internet of Things," won't be the same as the one today.  But to return to the open air market in "Guyana Gold," it's odd to think that a prototype of the future factory is sitting there in one of the least developed regions in the world.  

The factory towns of the Internet of Things will be strikingly reminiscent of the ancient world of villages.  In the old days everybody built their own hut, hand-made everything that went into it and recycled everything to build again.  Welcome to A.D. 2030.


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