Monday, March 31, 2014

BJP, Congress or Aam Admi?

As any writer who is not independently wealthy I write for hire. Not as a journalist but as an expert consultant.

My specialty for many years has been international cooperation for development, a field at once richly satisfying -- because it is about hope and aspiration -- and deeply disheartening in the venal cynicism of its theorists.

Consider, for instance, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted as an afterthought by the summit-level meeting of the UN General Assembly at the cusp of the 21st Century.

Advertised as measurable targets for “development,” they were actually little more than a diversion, drawing attention away from such grim realities as the global black market that sucks out ten times more from poor countries than they get as "aid." 

“Halve poverty levels by 2015” was the lead MDG.

It did not say how that should be done, or at what cost.

In China, which has made the most rapid progress in reducing poverty, it was done by massive foreign investments that made the country the “workshop of the world.”

But the costs have been terrible.

A team of Chinese scientists reported earlier this year that air pollution in the country had become so bad that it was blocking out the sun and reducing plant growth. They compared it to “nuclear winter,” when the debris thrown into the atmosphere by atomic bombs is projected to make photosynthesis impossible.

And that’s not the worst of it.

China’s progress has been built on sand.

When the financial crisis of 2008 and the “Great Recession” that followed in Europe and North America threatened to collapse its export driven economy, Beijing spent half a trillion dollars to prop up growth.

Most of the money went to build infrastructure.

They built highways, bridges and tunnels with few users, a pricey super-fast railway and huge airports with little air traffic.

Most of all, they built housing. There is now an apartment for every family in China. But most are unoccupied, for they are priced too high and are in areas where there is no economic activity to support an urban population.

All across China now there are not only millions of unoccupied buildings, there are entire ghost cities.

Even that is not the worst of it.

China’s booming “development” created a crony capitalism that allied predatory wheeler-dealers with the Communist power structure. They took land forcibly from poor farmers, forcing millions to become migrant workers in factories thousands of miles away from their homes.

There are now over 200 million migrant workers living on slave wages in urban areas. While the workers languish in poverty, Party flacks and their business cronies grew enormously rich.

China's growing army of millionaires and billionaires are estimated to keep much of their wealth in other countries and some 80 per cent are reported to have established foreign residency rights.

Narendra Modi is a votary of this model of “development,” and it has enamored Indian Big Business.

It has blinded business leaders to his violent communal record, bully-boy rhetoric and capacity to corrupt and misuse the Intelligence and Police services. One of them hailed him as "King of kings" at a recent conclave that was an unmitigated abomination in a democracy.

Quite obviously, no Indian in her right mind should vote for the Modi-led BJP.

Congress is a better choice in that it is not openly communal and is more aware of the poor and middle class. But in seeking to woo Big Business away from Modi, will it offer – has it offered – the same kind of crony capitalism?

Despite the rhetoric of its election platform, there is little reason to believe that the Congress has a view of development much different from Modi's. Its much touted Land Bill will raise the cost of appropriating land, but will do no justice to the farmer.

Expropriating land to benefit the rich will very quickly begin to destabilize the balance of castes in rural areas that is the bedrock of Indian political stability. It will feed and expand the insurrections that now ravage tribal areas. The country could quite easily slip into the state of general civil war that preceded colonial rule.

Is there a way to avoid this prospect?

Yes, but to see the way the Indian political elite must heed the first teaching of the Hitopadesa and let fall the veil of greed that now prevents them from seeing the true wealth of the country, its people.

“Development” does not mean highways and dams and skyscrapers, and flashy dressers calling each other “Dude;” it means that everyone in the country is fed, educated and profitably employed.

Can we have that without industrialization and Big Business?

Yes. In fact, the technology of the Information Age is making Big Business obsolete.

The capacity to identify and cater to niche markets through the World Wide Web has the potential to make small scale artisanal production competitive with mass produced goods. That will destroy the primary reason for the mass market and giant corporations.

The nature of industrial production is also undergoing fundamental change. The combination of off-grid renewable energy and 3-D printing has revolutionary implications.

It means we can have top quality industrial products made in remote rural areas. When the best educational services and cultural products are also available online in rural areas, the pressures now causing rapid urbanization will disappear. As rural development accelerates, population growth will decelerate very rapidly, and that will change all other economic projections.

We are facing a future when there will be no reason for massive energy and raw materials supplies to be concentrated at points of production. There will be nothing to drive predatory exploitation of natural resources. The corporations of the future will be flat networks of entrepreneurs, each grounded in his/her own community and meeting real human needs.

The rather confused vision of rural development set out in Arvind Kejriwal’s book Swaraj could help bring such a future to life – if the Aam Admi Party can convince the Indian voter that it is capable of governing.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flight 370 a Grim Omen for India

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 on 9 March should be seen as a grim omen for India.

It portends a 9/11 type attack using the missing Boeing 777 that could precipitate war with Pakistan.

A single chilling fact precludes any possibility that the aircraft was lost innocuously at sea: as it veered off its set course and headed towards India, the aircraft reportedly climbed to 45,000 feet – 2000 feet beyond the maximum for a Boeing 777 – then dropped rapidly to 12,000 feet.

Such a descent occurs when there has been a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure.

The climb to 45,000 feet is also significant if we consider that at that altitude, sudden depressurization will render passengers brain dead in 15 seconds.

At that hour of night – past 01:30 – most of the passengers were probably asleep and of those who were awake few could have grabbed an emergency oxygen mask in time.

We know from the series of satellite "handshakes" by the Boeing's Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), that it continued flying west for five to six hours. 

That is enough time to reach as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia, overflying areas infested with drug dealing terrorists who certainly had the wherewithal to make a one-mile landing strip.

Given the brutality of the hijacking, it is highly likely that the aircraft is now in the possession of terrorists in that general area, being readied for use.

So why is the search for the missing plane focused on the remote southern Indian Ocean?

Because American and Chinese satellites reported debris in the area, and the British company that runs the surveillance system INMARSAT, said that it had registered a number of pings from an unidentified aircraft in that area.

There is no other evidence. Even if some floating seat cushions turn up in the area, it is most likely to have been planted on 24 May, when a fierce storm supposedly stopped all search operations for 24 hours.

The fact that the search was refocused on the basis of such skimpy evidence indicates a willingness of major Powers to turn a blind eye on reality; it should put Indian air defence authorities on high alert for misinformation from usually reliable sources. 

This is not being paranoid.

The world is in the midst of a complex power struggle in which treacheries abound. 

At a time when all the major developed countries are still reeling from the “Great Recession,” and China is on the verge of economic collapse, India is the only national market that can generate the rapid increase in demand necessary to avoid a prolonged global downturn. Control of it is a rich prize.

However, getting a government in New Delhi entirely devoted to foreign interests will require extraordinary circumstances, such as would result from a massive airborne terrorist attack that precipitated war with Pakistan.

(The bizarre essay prophesying an India-Pakistan war published by the Brookings Institution suddenly makes sense! So does Ashutosh Varshney’s book on India’s “improbable democracy:” it establishes his credential as an expert on the planned chaos.)

Another factor that makes me think a major terror attack is in the works is the increasing difficulty Britain faces in laundering the $60 billion proceeds of the illicit drug trade out of Afghanistan. International pressure to close down its “tax haven” money laundering system has made it imperative that the money be invested in the region, which means India.

Such large-scale investment will be possible only if Britain has the kind of political control in India that it asserts in Pakistan through the ISI.

A beginning has been made in that direction by promoting in India the same kind of endemic sectarian violence that bedevils Pakistan: communal incidents this year are up 30 per cent over 2012.

However, that is not enough. Even with the largest electoral war chest localized communal incidents cannot be used to manipulate Indian voters on the scale necessary to bring in a proxy government. Ergo, a terrorist attack that could provoke war, give new life to all kinds of moribund insurrections, and allow a bully-boy proxy to emerge as a national saviour.

There is little doubt who that will be.

The relentless reporting in the country’s British proxy mass media of a “Modi wave,” the personality cult now in the works, and the jettisoning of senior BJP leaders of integrity and stature, all point to a scenario in which the “khoon ke saudagar” can spout on about Hindu power and a 54-inch chest while bringing back foreign rule to India.

Do I think this will happen?

No. There are too many honest sensible Indians to allow it.

Also, I do not think it is in the cards at the end of the Kali Yuga.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What the Crimean Crisis Means for India

All the commentary in India about the crisis over the Crimea has been from foreign viewpoints, and the resulting Russia versus the United States debate ignores our very firm interests in the matter.

To see what they are, it is necessary to be aware of the historical currents that have shaped modern realities.

Perhaps the most important of them is the rise of the United States to global power after World War II and the Ismay-Churchill coup of 1946 that subverted American democracy. It put in place an unconstitutional “permanent government” in Washington that allowed the American military and Intelligence establishments to serve under British strategic command to create the unified “West of the Cold War.

Those realities have been eroding steadily since the end of the Cold War, and have crumbled rapidly since fracking technology freed the United States from the policy constraints imposed by dependence on Saudi Arabian oil. Washington is now engaged in a complex struggle to maintain its global dominance in an increasingly multipolar world. That has involved:

1. Creating the “financial crisis” of 2008-2009 to render the international order fluid and ready for change;

2. Pushing the British to end the various global corruptions (massive money laundering, manipulating LIBOR, rigging currency exchange rates), that have sustained its power since the end of Empire;

3. The “pivot to Asia” to counter rising Chinese power;

4. End of long-standing support for tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and promoting the “Arab Spring;”

5. Continuing pressure on the remnants of the Soviet power structure reconstituted within the Russian Federation by ex-KGB operative Vladimir Putin.

India has chosen to tread very carefully through this multi-front battlefield to take creative advantage of the new opportunities it has opened up. Among the highlights:

1. India recovered quickly from the financial crisis of 2008-2009 with its economy fueled by the massive deficit spending in the US, Europe and China. Along with all other developing countries, it continued to grow at historically unprecedented rates while the industrialized countries sank into the “Great Recession.”

2. New Delhi’s effort to have British communications giant Vodafone pay taxes on assets acquired through the global black market has been a silent but stout refusal to cooperate with that reality. The silence acknowledges the enormous black money holdings of the country’s elite.

3. While engaging in strategic dialogue and partnership with the United States on Asian affairs, India has also warmed its relations with a China newly keen to win friends and influence people.

4. As the “Arab Spring” turned to winter, India has taken no sides, conscious on the one hand, that nearly a third of its $70 billion in foreign remittances come from the Middle East, and on the other hand, aware that its own political system is vulnerable to remote controlled uprisings. It has welcomed some of the changes the United States has forced on the Arab world, especially the Saudi retreat from blatant support of terrorism and its medieval outlook on human rights.

5. On the crisis in the Crimea, PM Manmohan Singh’s call for restraint by all sides is not lame fence sitting but a cri de coeur in a situation that has the potential to spin rapidly out of control. In fact, American strategists might be pushing for that to happen. Sanctions on Russia and its expulsion from the G-8 coinciding with the long feared bursting of the Chinese real estate and debt bubbles will mean there can be no coordinated international effort to contain the contagion of economic chaos. Three-quarters of all South-South exports are to Asia, and China is the largest trading partner of all of Africa, Brazil (which accounts for 3/5th of the South American economy) and India. If the Chinese economy comes in for a hard landing, the rapid growth of the South in the last decade will be history.The prospect of an Asian Century will have to be put off.

Of course, it is very possible that the United States will step in and rescue Africa. Washington is hosting its very first conclave of the continent’s leaders this summer, and a number of indicators point to a massive rise in investment in Africa.

China and India might also be thrown lifebelts, but at the cost of kowtowing to American economic prescriptions.

Whether India will do so will depend very much on the election results on 16 May. And I do not mean that a firm fascist hand at the economic tiller in New Delhi will help matters; on the contrary, it might devastate the country.

More on that in the next post.