Number 363

The power to tax is…not a general, unlimited power, granting Congress plenary authority, contrary to the specific enumeration of powers in Article I, the explicit recognition of individual and state sovereignty in the Bill of Rights, and the matrix of checks and balances built into the Constitution.

The Tramp Abroad Points With Concern

This should give all thoughtful folks pause:

Under Obama, U.S. personal freedom ranking slips below France

Americans’ assessments of their personal freedom have significantly declined [17 %] under President Obama, according to a new study from the Legatum Institute in London, and the United States now ranks below 20 other countries on this measure. The research shows that citizens of countries including France, Uruguay, and Costa Rica now feel that they enjoy more personal freedom than Americans.

As the Washington Examiner reported this morning, representatives of the Legatum Institute are in the U.S. this week to promote the sixth edition of their Prosperity Index. The index aims to measure aspects of prosperity that typical gross domestic product measurements don’t include, such as entrepreneurship and opportunity, education, and social capital.

Inspect the source of the above quote.

Nature And Avarice In Thailand

Those of you in Southeast Asia might want to look at this video starting at 2:44. A big storm is headed your way, and while it will weaken as it approaches you, some parts of your region might experience flooding.

Of course. Disastrous flooding is a tradition in SE Asia. Perhaps someday someone in power there will notice that rain can always be expected, and that it usually does bad things to good people. Since next to nothing consequential ever gets done about that, one can conclude that the good people are not the people in power.

Consider, for example, the metropolitan Bangkok area. It is a low-lying region through which a gigantic river flows into the Gulf of Thailand. It is “protected” from flooding by what are called “the monkey cheeks”: those are large areas upriver into which flood stage water can be diverted. Unfortunately those areas include farmland. Past Thai regimes have decided that valuable crops must be sacrificed in order to protect Bangkok. Of course that impoverishes people who are not economically secure in the best of times. The scheme works only fairly well; when it fails partially, the city downstream still suffers.

Unfortunately the narrative gets grimmer. Bangkok is subsiding, and that is largely if not entirely due to a large number of illegal wells that are extracting potable water from the aquifer. Further, over time, royal decrees setting aside green areas within the city limits have been disobeyed. Then the many numerous canals running through the city have been dramatically reduced in number — filled in and paved over. All this makes it much more difficult for the city to cope with a rise in the level of the Chao Phraya river. In fact both floods and air pollution have been enhanced by the unwise (well, stupid) construction.

To elucidate: those illegal wells are doing palpable harm, as a stroll in downtown Bangkok will make clear to the observant tourist. The sidewalks are literally shrinking away from many buildings; the stairs leading up to the Sky Train (the municipal elevated railway) have had to be repaired as they remained in place and the city shriveled beneath them. Yes, that means the construction of high-rise buildings in Bangkok must begin with huge pilings driven very deep into the muddy ground, lest the structures sink or even lean as the years go by.

How could all this happen? Corruption.

The illegal wells will not be closed down because they are maintained by members of a politically and economically influential elite. The municipal authorities cannot exert regulatory power over people who are well-connected. That fact of life also explains how the royal decree creating “permanent” green areas came to be ignored: the shadowy elites made fortunes developing real estate that should never have been available to them. Development also doomed many of the canals, which used to serve as a gigantic reservoir for the flood-stage river.

Due to the elites’ attempt to centralize the Thai nation in Bangkok, the city expanded, elevating property values in the surrounding region. That made it increasingly difficult to cut new canals from the river north of the city into the Gulf.

Bangkok has thus become both a cause and an example of modern Thailand’s agony. First, its growth has fostered problems common to all overpopulated and therefore less than congenial urban sprawls, and second, as the political and economic importance of the city increased, the significance and welfare of much of the rest of the nation suffered. While Bangkok occasionally has too much water (flooding) and occasionally runs short of enough water for the municipal supply of potable water, many agricultural regions are beset by a general shortage of water that means they can produce only a single crop of rice a year. The consequent decrease in rural economic status exacerbates the deplorable prejudicial attitude of the ruling elites toward the the “upcountry” provinces. It’s another instance of virtually universal urban snobbery; the hauteur reminds of the “flyover country” epithet employed in the USA.

The visitor to Bangkok might not notice the bigotry of the Central Thais, but the fact is, those from the North and especially the Northeast are condescendingly tolerated, if not openly mocked. The language spoken in the Northeast is fundamentally distinct from Central Thai, and the cultural differences go beyond linguistic disconnects. Like the ethnic Chinese, the provincials live by traditions the Bangkok elites do not consider fully and commendably Thai.

The gap between Bangkok and in particular the northern/northeastern regions of Thailand should not be trivialized. In fact Thailand has been nervously — and occasionally violently — edging toward literal political partition.

One relatively recent result of this cultural/economic antagonism was the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon and populist amateur politician. He is by nature a viciously cruel opportunist who has exploited the alienation of the rural population, hoodwinking the severely disadvantaged Northerners and Northeasterners into voting for him. Once he became prime minister, he abused his office, co-opting and protecting the politically connected criminal gangs (during his five years as the nation’s political leader, not even a single prosecution for corruption was initiated — in a nation that is notoriously crooked). After ordering the national police to commit summary executions rather than make arrests, he blatantly violated Thai constitutional law by selling his telecommunications company to Singapore’s government. He remains today a major player in politics, though as a fugitive from justice he lives overseas. This newsletter expects he will be back in power some day — barring disease or assassination. His partisans are numerous enough to win any national election.

(Parenthetical comment: elections have been delayed by the military coup. Exactly why the generals took over remains a controversial subject, though it is commonly assumed that they had enough of Thaksin’s sister, who, while prime minister, evidently either got bad advice from her brother or deluded herself into thinking that she was intelligent enough to act on her own initiative. Eventually the military will stand aside and there will be elections. By that time, Thaksin might no longer be a player.)

To return to the original topic: disastrous flooding occurs somewhere in Thailand every year, but the same area is seldom devastated in three sequential rainy seasons. The government always reports its countermeasures proudly, of course, and when Thais explain the problem to visitors, a high degree of “spin” characterizes accounts of vaunted projects. Unwarranted optimism is the rule, and the true causes of the episodic disasters are never mentioned.

One can live in Thailand a long time and wonder aloud why effective countermeasures are never taken against flooding without ever being told how business, government, and crime cooperate. Too, long-term guests are not likely to hear about those hundreds of illegal wells in Bangkok. Like Thai bigotry and toleration of governmental criminality, a lot of things do not get mentioned. The silent resignation of the oppressed is both a defense mechanism and an inducement for institutionalized criminality. As one Western-educated Thai noted, “Nobody says anything about (a rich thug who’s a Thai parliamentarian), because he will kill you.”

The future is impossible to predict, but as long as the Thai power structure ignores just governance and simple human decency, one can only hope that somehow the Thai people will be spared further suffering.

Links

Was Einstein correct? Is general relativity a valid description of the behavior of energy, light, and mass? The answer to both questions just might be that old Albert made some mistakes. Here’s where he appears to have erred. Of course the story might change as more is learned. — Yes, the video is a bit hard to understand, but summed up, it makes this telling point: if your theory predicts an easily-observed phenomenon that does not occur, you have some explaining to do.

“We have wasted a century on both (particle physics and cosmology).” That’s a bold claim! Do investigate the iconoclasm.

Face facts, Pilgrims: no animal other than Homo sapiens could invent complex mechanical devices and then do things this stunningly stupid with them. This is strong evidence for devolution.

Predictable “wingnut” responses to the insanity in Missouri. Everything related to the world-class SNAFU reeks. Everything.

Call up this video and watch from one minute, twenty-eight seconds (1:28) on, and learn something very important about polar ice and the IPCC. Your friends who believe in anthropogenic global warming never got any of this information, of course, and it won’t be worth your effort to convey it to them. Faith always trumps science — which felony it often commits by exploiting misbegotten guilt.

Related: the Gore-Hansen cult claims disastrous warming is caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide. Refuting that nonsense calls for a fastidious resort to science. Unfortunately good science is technical, complex, and often downright hard to understand. That makes life difficult for folks who depend on facts. For example, in order to demonstrate the truth about climate, one must point to papers like this. That gives the hoaxers have a distinct advantage in the debate over anthropogenic global warming. First they generate bogus research (such as Mann’s fabulous hockey stick), then dream up deceitful slogans and talking points, and ultimately exploit the public by fostering unwarranted guilt. Do not be shamed by charlatans! Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but essential plant food; the California redwoods — and farmers everywhere — thank you for it.

Yet more climate-related stuff: what actually determines how hot and cold the weather gets? Here’s a report of a recent study, complete with nifty graphs, that will be diligently ignored by the news media.

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