Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet – Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin with Chronis Polychroniou

The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political ...

This is a book of two halves. The disappointing half, unfortunately, is the contribution of Noam Chomsky. Ranting, railing and rabble rousing – when he is not just regurgitating the works of eminent climatologists that is – Chomsky’s contribution is more a propaganda for his left leaning thinking than a discourse on saving the Planet by employing rational means. The much acclaimed thinker once again exhibits his laughably inadequate and puerile views on India’s internal affairs concerning Kashmir by equating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP with ‘Hindutva’ extremism.

Whatever Chomsky derails, Robert Pollin redeems. An American economist, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), Pollin provides an impeccably measured view of what he terms the Global Green New Deal – an ambitious target to mitigate if not downright obliterate the perils of Climate Change.

As Pollin informs his readers, in its Fourth Assessment Report issued in 2007, the IPCC proclaimed that if the global average mean temperature was to be stabilized at 2.0 Degrees Centigrade above the pre-industrial average, annual CO2 emissions needed to fall, roughly speaking, between, 4 and 13 billion metric tons by 2050. But as Pollin proceeds to illustrate the premier organisation for protecting our Planet began oscillating in its assessment when, in its Fifth Assessment Report released in 2014, the IPCC reduced the range of necessary emission reductions at 36 – 76 percent (from an earlier 60 – 88 percent), to achieve the same 2.0 Degree Centigrade stabilization point. If this makes your head reel, then digest this: in 2018, the IPCC shifted goal posts yet again, this time reverting to a more urgent and alarmist position!

To a great extent, the trajectory that climate policies take in the modern world, are driven by the philosophy of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, in a departure from orthodox Economics, represents the nexus between governments and giant corporations where the former allows the latter to pursue the profit element with gay abandon. In the event, the profits of the corporations are adversely impacted or impaired, the governments step in with generous largesse in the form of bail outs.

Then there is also the scourge of what Pollin terms, ‘Industrial Agriculture.’ The use of Industrial Agriculture, according to the International Labour Organisation, contributes to, “soil degradation (the loss of organic matter as a result of over exploitation and mismanagement), Desertification and freshwater scarcity (through inadequate crop and land management), biodiversity loss, pest resistance and water pollution (resulting from change in land use eutrophication [i.e. over enrichment of water with minerals and nutrients, which induces excessive growth of algae], run-off and improper nutrient management.”

As Pollin highlights, Industrial Agriculture also results in four major inter-related channels:

  1. Deforestation;
  2. The use of land for cattle farming, consuming far more of the available earth’s surface than any other purpose, including growing crops for food;
  3. Heavy reliance on natural gas based nitrogen fertilizers along with synthetic pesticides and herbicides to increase land productivity; and
  4. The huge amounts of food that is grown but wasted

So is there any way to break this inextricable linkage between Capitalism and Corporation that would ensure preservation of the environment? Pollin proposes a New Green Deal that would ensure a zero carbon emission by 2050. In 2019, Credit Suisse had estimated that the total value of global financial assets was $317 trillion. Investments into clean energy to attain a zero carbon emission scenario by 2050 would involve a sum of $2.4 trillion dollars to be invested over a period of time beginning 2021. This represents 0.7% of the total value of the global financial wealth.

At the heart of Pollin’s Green New Deal lies four large scale funding sources to encourage and support public investments in clean energy. The four sources are:

  • A Carbon Tax, wherein 75% of the revenues derived from its levy are rebated back to the public. The remaining 25% would be channeled into clean energy investment projects;
  • A transfer of funds earmarked for the military/defense budgets across the world in general, but the United States, in particular;
  • A Green Bond lending programme under the aegis of both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank; and
  • The elimination of all existing fossil fuel subsidies and the channeling of 25% of those funds into clean energy investments

Although bold in their sweep and innovative in their wake, it is easy to see objections being raised for these plans. Proposal number two above, involving the diversion of budgets earmarked for defense, to clean energy investments, would more than just stir a hornet’s nest. With China ultra-aggressively challenging America’s economic and military hegemony, and actively pursuing a modernization plan of its maritime arsenal especially in the South China Sea, it is predictable as to what the Trump administration’s reaction would be to such a proposal. More so, considering the fact that this is a Government that has almost succeeded in expunging the world ‘climate change’ from all its official correspondence, cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and dragged USA out of the Paris Climate Change Conference.

“Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet” is at once a highly absorbing as well as an informative work. Robert Pollin brings to bear his enviable experience and conflates the principles of economics with that of the environment. This concoction, is, putting it mildly, delectable. The calm, rational and logical postulations of Pollin serves as a perfect antidote to an unending torrent of diatribe that is ‘Chomsky Speak.’

Overall this is one book that makes the reader not just think about the future that the coming generation will inherit but also about the inevitable role which each one of us has an opportunity to exercise in influencing the direction that such a future would assume.

(Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet – Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin with Chronis Polychroniou a Verso Books endeavour in the USA will be published on 22nd September, 2020)

Angrynomics – Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth

Angrynomics | Columbia University Press

In a concise albeit compelling new book, imaginatively titled, “Angrynomics”, Eric Lonergan, a macro hedge fund manager, economist, and writer, joins forces with Mark Blyth, William R. Rhodes Professor of International Economics at Brown University, to dwell about a form of anger, a moral outrage even, that has currently enveloped the world brining about in its wake, changes and trajectories that are both undesirable and welcome.

The book is written in a unique manner. The primary essence of the work is captured and retold in the form of a measured, informed and nuanced deliberation between the authors themselves. They engage in a ‘Platoesque’ dialogue, bouncing off ideas, planting seeds of doubts, upending received wisdom, and all the while leading the reader towards a set of novel and ingenious ‘prescriptions.’

The duo at the beginning of their work distinguish between two types of anger, public and private. Public anger is a collective form of expressing an extreme emotion in response to an act that is perceived to be against the common good. For example, as the authors illustrate, the chagrin of the Icelanders when they found out after the infamous “Panama Papers” leak that their political elites were siphoning off money in caches to tax havens, provided a perfect example of a spontaneous exhibition of public anger. Private anger on the other hand, is one that is synonymous with shame. People who are privately angry are more in need of counselling than retribution. Stressed parents being a classic case in point.

Where the book gets very interesting is when the authors posit a more serious and venomous variant of anger – tribal rage. When public anger casts aside its moral outrage in a positive form and begins forming exclusive ranks and groups, it takes on a more dangerous and devious shape. Mostly seen in sports in the form of fanatical fan support, tribal rage manifests itself in the maniacal railings of fans, at times against their own teams, when the squad’s performance does not match the various expectations. But the biggest fall out of a tribal rage is its remorseless and deliberate exploitation by politicians of various divides, hues and colour to further their own interests, push their party’s ideologies and peddle otherwise unacceptable policies. The election of the maverick Donald Trump to the highest office in the most powerful nation of the world is a monumental testimony to the channeling of tribal rage to fuel personal aspirations. While the genuine woes of a neglected Rust Belt represented public anger and an honest moral outrage, Trump, in promising to alleviate the grievances of those affected, also pulled out a very dangerous tactic by foisting unverified and unwarranted blame on immigrants. This induced a wave of tribal rage across the country unleashing a false perception that immigration had a linear bearing on other economic and social distresses such as job losses, recession and a spurt in crime. Similar was the case with Cameron’s referendum and a tumultuous Brexit.

The authors bring the reader’s attention to the various ‘triggers’ that induce moral anger. First proposed by Martha Nussbaum, who in turn, relied on the works of the psychologist Carol Travis, moral anger is an outcome of perceptions such as ‘insults’, ‘slights’, ‘condescension’, ‘being treated as if I were of no account’ etc. These are exactly some of the myriad feelings which the common man experienced when subsequent to the Financial Recession of 2008, unscrupulous bankers and too-big-to-fail financial institutions were bailed out by Governments, whilst the ordinary citizen who was far removed from the scheming contrivances of Wall Street, was left holding the bag. “Not many people know the intricacies of the banking sector, but they do know when they are being ripped off. Whether it was the Tea Party movement in the US; outraged at capitalism for the people and socialism for banks, Los Indignatios in Spain protesting austerity cuts, or in the UK with Brexit, the crisis provoked a politics of anger that is now transforming politics everywhere.”

Personally, my favourite part of the book refers to the portion where Lonergan and Blyth employ an analogy of capitalism being like a computer that crashes from time to time and requires rebooting. The authors identify three versions of capitalism 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Without spoiling the pleasure of a fellow reader, I would let him/her be regaled by the authors themselves on the potentials and pitfalls of each version of the Capitalism Model. But as a juicy tidbit, the three versions in chronological order take the form of the postulations put forward by Karl Polanyi, John Maynard Keynes and Michal Kaleckirespectively.

With the world currently being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lure of a vaccine still quite some time away, the micro and macro stressors that incite public anger and resentment are only bound to increase. The resonance of such an increase would be felt uniformly across the globe. For example, with the concept of social distancing more or less being a permanent facet in the lexicon of employment, the need for automation would only increase exponentially. Similarly, the gig economy would face a future that is uncertain, if downright, perilous. So are there measures that may be instituted to ameliorate the real uncertainties plaguing a majority of the global populace?

The authors, before concluding their book, offer a couple of innovative and out of the box suggestions for transferring cash directly into the hands of the deprived. The first of these “helicopter money” mechanisms involves the Government taking advantage of zero to negative interest rates. The authors propose the establishment of National Wealth Funds to tackle global inequality. Governments can issue a certain percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in long term bonds at zero real interest rates. Hence after a few years, the real value of the debt would remain unchanged. If the relevant proceeds are invested in a diversified basket of global equities, the value of the assets would more than double in real terms over the same period. These proceeds may then be distributed in the form of individual trust funds to 80% of the households owning the fewest assets.

Another solution could be to extract a data dividend from the technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook. Notwithstanding the issues of intrusion of privacy, these entities may be made to fork out a fee every time the data of a user is extracted and used. The payments can either be made in the form of a one-off royalty or a data license can be granted for 30 – 40 years on the same model as those that are currently being done for digital spectrum auctions. But what about those who do not use the internet? The authors do not address the issues that may arise as a result of cross subsidization and cream skimming.

“Angrynomics” is a very essential and relevant work especially considering the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in. It provides a very justifiable template for the public angst that is influencing global politics and also lays down a platform for utilizing such angst to achieve measures that are in the general interests of humanity.

Beyond NJ9842: The Siachen Saga – Nitin Gokhale

Swaran Singh reviews Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga - The Hindu

Letter No. A/35501/XM03 dated 31 Mar 1984, and issued by the Indian Army Headquarters listed out what on paper seems pretty prosaic and fundamental objectives – “Tasks in General: Secure the Siachen glacier. Tasks in particular: Secure Bilafond La, Sia La, Siachen, Lolofond and Teram Sehar glacier. Patrol up to Indira Col. Prevent Pakistan sponsored infiltration in the area.” – unless one happens to grasp the geographical dimensions of the places mentioned in the letter.

That is exactly what Nitin Gokhale attempts to do, and comes up triumph. In his supremely well-crafted book “The Siachen Saga”, Mr. Gokhale regales his readers with the exemplary acts of courage and sacrifice executed by the Indian Army on some of the most desolate and inhospitable terrains on Planet Earth. The staid letter issued by the Army HQ signaled the beginning of “Operation Meghdoot”, which is now in its fourth successful decade. The tri colour proudly flutters at a near impossible height of 22,000 ft., maniacally protected and gently nurtured by a band of heroes, whose achievements dwarf most of what any Armed forces have been able to accomplish in a similar landscape.

The Siachen saga, began with a cartographical act of tomfoolery. As Mr. Gokhale illustrates with a mixture of humour and incredulity, a rafting expedition facilitated by Col Narinder ‘Bull’ Kumar, led to one of India’s most famous intrepid military mountaineers obtain possession of “maps that indicated ‘cartographic aggression’ by Pakistan on the Siachen glacier and the quiet alteration to the map of the Karakoram Range of mountains!” The cartographical manipulation smelt of stinking fish especially when the Col observed that the ceasefire line (commonly referred to as the Line of Control or LoC) that ended at map grid reference NJ 9842 now surprisingly had an extension up to the Karakoram Pass (north-east of NJ9842), instead of going northwards along the natural ridgeline. This clearly signaled an intent on the part of Pakistan to covertly occupy the heights of Siachen thereby rendering it an unrivaled advantage over its neighbour across the border.

Subsequent to a few ostensibly innocuous mountaineering missions bearing even more innocuous names such as Ibex I & II, Polar Bear I & II, the Indian Army finally launched Operation Meghdoot, thereby catching their Pakistani counterparts completely and conclusively off guard. As Mr. Gokhale illustrates, the loss of Siachen is a permanent rankle and an eyesore in the annals of Pakistani Military history, and multiple incursions, both suicidal and surreptitious have been attempted by the Pakistani Army at futile attempts of redemption.

The highlight of Mr. Gokhale’ s book is his interaction with the past, and present heroes of Siachen who have commanded posts at unimaginable heights and braved conditions unthinkable. This chronicling lends a degree pf perspective to the reader that is at once, profound, poignant and pertinent. For example, the litany of physical woes that a soldier is forced to endure at such rarefied heights range from the serious to the fatal. The ailments accosting a soldier include acute mountain sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO), High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO), snow blindness, sunburns, hypothermia, chill blains and frost bite. But as Mr. Gokhale explains, over the years the medical infrastructure, along with the logistical chains has been bolstered in an impeccable fashion. However, as one would fathom from a reading of the book, things were not always on the side of the soldier. Even worse than the vagaries of the weather were an all permeating red tapism.

The nauseating stench of bureaucracy is laid bare in its intransigent detail by Mr. Gokhale. Until the appointment of the irreverent, irascible and dynamic George Fernandes as the Minister of Defense, the troops in Siachen had to bank on the mercies of a stoic bunch of politicians and civil service personnel, who snugly ensconced within the confines of New Delhi, had no grasp whatsoever of the plight of their Army men in the Glacier. A request for the basic mode of transportation such as snow scooters was met with objections ranging from the sublime to the silly. “It first questioned the veracity of the breakdown rates, then the quality of training imparted to users, then the cost-effectiveness of the machines against porters and finally, the need to have them altogether. On one occasion, when a few snow scooters were sanctioned after some years of denial, the troops on the glacier asked that special prayers of thanks be offered to the regimental deity. The story may be apocryphal, but it shows how gallant soldiers are reduced to seeking divine intervention against insensitive official processes.”

Mr. Fernandes, popularly known as the “Siachen Minister” for his propensity to visit the Glacier (more than three dozen times), ended the bureaucratic rigmarole using an ingenious method. A method that sent a shiver running down the spine of the concerned irresponsible bureaucrat. Any one engaged or indulging in the act of procrastination would be ‘banished’ to the Glacier for a week!

Mr. Gokhale illustrates the beautiful symmetry and symbiosis between the Army and the Air Force that has allowed India to maintain its unmatched supremacy in the Siachen Glacier since Operation Meghdoot. Assisting the Army in ensuring that there is an unending stream of supplies, is a group of helicopters whose sorties are looked forward to by unbridled delight and glee by the soldiers. To paraphrase Mr. Gokhale,” The mainstay is the single engine Cheetah (successor of the Chetak helicopter), now manufactured at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) facility in Bangalore. Originally produced in 1962 in France as Aerospatiale SA 319 Alouette III (known in India as Chetak), its upgraded version, the SA 315 B Lama began licensed production at HAL in 1971. This helicopter came to be known as Cheetah which is the mainstay of 114 HU since 1984! Although it has the ability to operate at the extreme flight envelope limit of 23,000 feet routinely, a single engine helicopter is fraught with risk in normal circumstances. In Ladakh and especially on the Siachen Glacier, the risks multiply manifold.” No wonder Leh is deemed to be the “Mecca” of helicopter flying.

Mr. Gokhale also reveals hair raising details of hand to hand combats engaged in by the Indian Army with buccaneering Pakistani invaders and capturing of various isolated posts. He also informs his readers about the convention employed by the Armed Forces in according names to the posts. The posts are named, “mostly after soldiers who ventured into the unknown and established Indian presence. So you have several posts—Ajay, Bhim-Sonam, Amar, to cite just a few—named after daring warriors) into a formidable locality.”

But many of the deeds of gallantry performed astonishingly in such a rarefied atmosphere is more often than not confined and consigned to the folklore of the Armed Forces. This is a travesty of the highest order and one that ought to be remedied post haste. It is here that the stellar efforts of the likes of Mr. Gokale will greatly aid and abet in disseminating these acts of unparalleled bravery into the mainstream. These are acts because of which India finds herself, safe, secure and sound. A classic example is the Param Vir Chakra (the nation’s epochal recognition in bravery) bestowed upon Naib Subedar Bana Singh courtesy a death defying operation termed Operation Rajib in honour of a fallen comrade. “Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal in India, for conspicuous bravery and leadership under most adverse conditions. “Operation Rajiv” overall, resulted in the award of one MVC (for Subedar Sansar Singh), seven Vir Chakras and one Sena Medal, besides the PVC. The CO and the Commander were awarded UYSMs. 8 JAK LI and 102 Infantry Brigade had reason to be proud; very proud indeed, for their stupendous skill at arms in the toughest high altitude terrain the world has ever known so far.”

“The Siachen Saga” contains many such riveting, reinvigorating and reverberating tales of unselfish courage, uninhibited sacrifice and unparalleled demonstration of responding to calls way beyond one’s duty. This is what makes the Indian Army one of the most vaunted, revered, respected and feared in the world. More than anything else this is what makes a nation of a billion clock an incalculable debt of gratitude towards its brave hearts. A debt that can never ever be repaid.

But for the time being, the least we can do is celebrate with gay abandon the feats of these gladiators of the mountains, acknowledge their achievements and shed a tear of unbridled euphoria. If there is anything whiter than the snow even it is the conscience of these soldiers and if there is anything purer than the air at such dizzying heights, it is the unsullied soul of the man clad in high altitude gear, holding a weapon close to his chest and trying to fight off not just sleep but a temperature that is MINUS 60 DEGREES! Just so that we can sleep undisturbed.

“The Siachen Saga” is Mr. Gokhale’ s monumental and most welcome tribute to the Indian Armed Forces and must be made mandatory reading at all schools and Universities.

JAI HIND!!!

A Fleeting Disappearance but never gone

Chittappa

There could be detected a mischievous gleam in his eye when he described how Erapalli Prasanna deceived a vaunted Australian batting line up. You could also feel his pain when he described how Simpson and Lawry collared the Indian attack. When he spoke about cricket, you listened. The man knew his stuff. He better. For he was a nippy left armer who took 6 wickets for just 1 run in a Universities game. T.V.Viswanathan might not be Curtly Ambrose but his 6 for 1 for me is no less than Curtly’s feat of 7 for 1 at Perth. Even though I was deprived of viewing the former since the event took place even before I was born. Perhaps now we know the source of the Ambrose inspiration!

Today after an indefatigable battle with the insidious beast that is cancer, my Uncle T.V. Viswanathan breathed his last. But not before showing his finger to the disease. That was his character. Adversity just made him stronger. He just did not possess a weak bone in his constitution. Cancer might have got him, but only by resorting to means insidious and unfair.

My memories of Chittappa (the Tamil vernacular for uncle) revolve around cricket, cigarettes and culinary delights. A connoisseur of the game, he distinguished himself as a player. A left arm medium fast bowler (a rarity in itself in India), he devoured 6 hapless batsmen in a University game played in Chennai while conceding just one run. But considering the fact that it was the 1960s where a professional career meant a degree in either Engineering or Medicine, and sans either money or muscle one had no hopes of purveying one’s chosen ambitions, Chittappa had to relinquish his hopes of being a fast bowler and instead concentrate on an engineering degree as his future.

However, the cricketing bug never left the man. A fanatic of the game, he read its every nuance and perfected its last intricacy. From Shane Warne’s flipper to Andy Roberts’ Yorker to G.R.Viswanath’s delectable wristwork, cricket ran in his DNA. Every Indian victory for him was a euphoria and every defeat, an elegy. The man exuded passion. A passion that was raw, unhinged and inveterate.

Chittappa was also my surreptitious nicotine source. Even though I was in Bangalore and Chittappa in Chennai, the vagaries of his  profession ensured that he was in the town of Bidadi most of the time. Which meant, a trip to Bangalore on weekends. These were the days I looked forward with an anticipation that was unbridled. Over copious swigs of Old Monk Rum (Chittappa knew class) and Wills cigarettes, Chittappa used to regale me with seminal games to which he was a witness at Chepauk. Chittappa was also a chef par excellence. In so far as gastronomic delights went, he could pull not just rabbits but elephants out of his formidable hat! Vegetable Nilgriri Kurma was his one specialty that sent me into raptures of delight! Monumental testimony to his culinary prowess was one instance whereby he cooked scrumptious Mutton Biriyani and got it by bus in a cooker! Yes you read that right a bloody cooker!

Chittappa was, rather is, for I can never concede that he is no longer in flesh and blood, a father figure to me. A man, whose needs were so limited so as to make the word frugal sound affluent. Selfless to the core, he was never tainted by the lure of either fame or fortune. He took unbridled delight in making people around him feel happy and contended. I for one, never knew what he desired, for he never expressed his wants.

IMG-20200516-WA0075-1

Yes, he wanted to come and spend some time with me and my parents in Kuala Lumpur. After coaxing, coercing and cajoling him for 8 years, he finally got his passport done. But the bloody bastard of a disease got him before he could get his air tickets. Moreover, the raging pandemic that is COVID-19 put paid to my dreams of hosting Chittappa and being regaled by his explanations of outswingers gone wrong and inswingers beguiling batsmen.

He lead a life that was pure, simple and fundamental. He was almost elemental in his material possessions. He never blamed anyone nor wallowed in self-pity. He knew neither mirth nor materialism.

Today he is gone. Just like that. Like a candle in the wind. A gentle rustle that does not even invoke reactions. But he is not gone. He never will be. He cannot. He has no conceivable right to. He cannot bid goodbye unless and until we order him to. And none of us will. So long as we are living, breathing and existing, Chittappa has to give us company. He does not possess a right to refuse. In cricket speak, he does not have the liberty of a DRS. There is no umpire’s call. He has to be here. He cannot abdicate us and leave us in the lurch. There are still bottles of Old Monks to finish, plethora of chickens to make biriyani from and thousands of leg breaks to scalp hapless batsmen.

Chittappa, I just cannot believe that you left us all and decided to go. Maybe you deemed this was the most appropriate time and maybe you felt the game of cricket could offer you nothing more. But you are wrong. You will continue to be with us so long as we are alive and well. Even though I am in no hurry to meet you and demand an explanation, be assured that when the time comes your grilling will put to shame the ones that are the sole prerogative of the CBI  & RAW!

Till such time sleep well Chittappa and words cannot describe the gratitude that I nurse towards you. If I can be even a fraction of a man that you were, my life would be one well lived. Every time hereon in I happen to nurse a bottle of Scotch, it would be in honour of your legacy, memory and life. I will never ever mourn you but celebrate you. Celebration of a life that is pure, poignant, passionate and profound.

Love You dearest Chittappa! Sleep well. Till such time we meet again. By the way when you meet Harold Larwood just ask him whether Sir Don Bradman was the greatest batsman he had ever bowled to.

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the end of a stable Pacific – Robert Kaplan

Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable ...

Robert Kaplan, an American writer, was rated by the Foreign Policy Magazine in both 2011 and 2012 as one of the world’s “top 100 global thinkers.” A prolific author, his books include “Revenge of Geography” and “The Coming Anarchy.” Kaplan was also on the Defense Policy Board in 2009.

In “Asia’s Cauldron”, Kaplan lays out in a measured and intimidatingly clinical manner the subtle albeit overwhelming undercurrents (no pun intended) characterising one of the most commercially important and relevant maritime mass of our times. The South China Sea is not just the nerve centre of trade and commerce but also a roiling cauldron where nine littoral states lay various claim to various stretches of land and water. Ranging from the outrageous to the outlandish these disputes have the potential to trigger a catastrophe in the form of a full blown naval warfare, in the event things transcend a mere impasse. However, and fortunately, this possibility at the time of this writing is extremely remote. In just under two hundred pages, Kaplan provides a lucid and arresting overview regarding the issues, the players, their tactics that characterize the theatre that is the South China Sea. At the core stand two economic and military behemoths, China and the United States of America. While one is a hegemon not just looking to recapture lost glory, but to attain global dominion in the process, facing it is a weary superpower acting as a moral and mechanical deterrent, trying to reign in the hegemon’s ambitions if not totally putting paid to its hopes. At the periphery lie scattered nation states with their own agendas and aspirations. It does not take more than putting two and two together to arrive at the conclusion that while the hegemon is China, the balancing power is the United States of America. Sandwiched between these two powers are Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The importance of the South China Sea may be grasped from the fact that more than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through it. In the words of Kaplan, this phenomenon has transformed South China Sea into “the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans — the mass of connective tissue where global sea routes coalesce,”

Kaplan informs his readers that while China in spite of investing in state of the art sleek submarines & other defense armaments that are varying in their degrees of sophistication and impact, they would certainly attempt what Kaplan terms as ““Finlandizing” Southeast Asia. Similar to what Finland was forced to do in the wake of the former Soviet pressure exerted during the Cold War, the littoral states while maintaining   nominal independence will deign to the diktats of China in so far as foreign policies are concerned. To quote Kaplan, “War in the South China Sea remains a possibility against which all regional powers must always be on guard … China now demands a regional order that it, as the dominant indigenous power, will do the most to maintain. Because Chinese naval power is rising, the situation is in serious flux.”

Kaplan, after setting the context to his contention, goes on to dissect the bargaining powers and pain points of each country vis-à-vis China. While the Chapter on Vietnam makes for some engrossing read in so far as the country poses the most formidable – if not intractable – defense against a burgeoning China, having shared a bitter sweet relationship with China that ranges over many centuries, the Chapters on Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia go more than a bit off tangent. These chapters are more a discussion about the leaders that made their nations than their future over resources and independence in the South China Sea. While the former premier of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew comes for some glowing tributes, the most influential leader in the vicinity of his neighourhood, Mahathir Mohammed attracts an ambivalent opinion making him look like a benevolent dictator. “Lee and Mahathir may have governed in the spirit of Aristotle, with their mixed regimes that prepared the way to democratic rule”

In so far as Taiwan is concerned there is an astringent rebuke of the criticism leveled against Chiang Kai Shek by individuals such as Army Lieutenant Joseph Stilwell. Kaplan relies on two revisionist biographies of Chiang Kai-Shek to defend the character and moves of the man: “Chiang Kai-Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation” by Jonathan Fenby, former editor of the London Observer and the Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and “The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the struggle for Modern China” by Jay Taylor, former China Desk Officer at the US State Department, and later research associate at the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. While these make for some absorbing and revealing reading, the reader cannot but wonder at their significance to the topic on hand.

Kaplan also warns about the diminishing if not the waning interest of the United States towards other geographies in direct contradistinction to its fixation with the Middle East. The two Gulf Wars, and an Iranian policy gone awry have contributed to this shift in priorities. However, with a rapidly ascending China, the United States can ill afford to compromise its interest and stake in the South China Sea. For doing so would result in not just compromising the interests of many nations, but threatening their very future itself.

Kaplan also brings to bear the view of a horde of political analysts and military experts to give teeth to his analysis. A name that keeps springing repeatedly is John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago political scientist. Others of reckoning include Yale historian Jonathan Spence, Cambridge University Historian Piers Brendon, President of the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessmentsin Washington, Andrew F. Krepinevich etc.

Asia’s Cauldron is a mesmerizing book written by an expert who is in his elements. Forceful, thought provoking and enduring, this book is a must read for every student, political maven, strategic decision maker and all others possessing a keen interest in the affairs of the South China Sea.

The Narrows – Michael Connelly

9781407229904: The Narrows - AbeBooks - Michael Connelly: 1407229907

Detective Rachel Walling of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is woken up from her sleep in the dead of the night. The caller is her protégé Cherie Dei. The mentor has been rudely jolted out of her sleep because “he is back.” Robert Backus or Bob, was at one point in time one of the Agency’s most talented albeit eccentric talents. Suffering from an extraordinary degree of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Backus would delay meetings because he had to repeatedly wash his hands. His lunch unfailingly was a grilled cheese sandwich day in and day out. A wad of Juicy Fruit gum would be chewed in perpetuity. Now he was back. The only issue with a former agent coming back being the world has still not devised a method to raise people from the dead. Backus was shot by Agent Walling after he turned out to be a serial killer masquerading as an FBI Agent. But the chameleon was not detected until more than half a dozen agents had been murdered in cold blood. Now the cold blooded killer was back in the form of Rachel’s nemesis with a body count that posed a brazen challenge not only to the agency in general but to Rachel in particular.

Detective Harry Bosch a retired cop who was once working homicides with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is now a private detective. Bosch is paid a visit by Graciela McCaleb, the widow of his former partner Terry McCaleb. Graciela informs Bosch that Terry did not die on his boat from a suspected heart attack as was received wisdom. He was in fact murdered. The evidence lay in the fact that the medications he used to take regularly to keep his transplanted heart in working condition were tampered with. Graciela requests Bosch to investigate the circumstances of her husband’s mysterious death.

Bosch and Walling are drawn together in their respective endeavours to solve different riddles. Connecting them both is the dangerous and murky character of Backus, also known as The Poet. Would the duo succeed in their efforts to pin down the murderers or will they both fall prey to the wily orchestration of their enemies. Michael Connelly, as is his wont is in his elements working the nitty gritties in “The Narrows.” Unexpected twists and surprising turns punctuate this racy edge of the seat thriller. Bosch is the atypical, unruffled, unwavering detective who has been wronged by his own folks. He finds an able ally in Rachel who after an embarrassing romantic stint with a reporter has been relegated to man the desk in a territory where there is more grime than glamour or gang wars. For both Rachel and Bosch, the appearance of The Poet provides an opportunity for redemption. A chance to wrest back respect and regard if not their personal moments of glory. However, with the marauding killer seemingly ahead of them by more than just one step at a time, the investigators have their hands full.

The Narrows – A rousing read!

Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer – Stephanie Capparell and Margot Morrell

Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic ...

The famed British explorer Ernest Shackleton now joins the burgeoning ranks of leadership models as Margot Morrell, a financial representative with Fidelity Investments and Stephanie Capparell, a Wall Street Journal writer resurrect the Antarctic hero with encomiums and paeans.

For the unsuspecting, Shackleton is the very stuff of legends. An indefatigable man of the sea, he pulled off what arguably has to be the greatest ever polar escapes. When his ill-fated ship, Endurance was first hemmed in by unrelenting blocks of ice before ultimately breaking up in front of the crew, Shackleton not only ensured that the morale of his men remained intact, but also promised them that he would lead each man to safety. And he more than made good his word. Pulling off what can only be termed an extraordinary feat of human resilience and endurance, he along with a handful of his crew sailed in the boat James Caird to the nearest whaling station located many miles away from where the crew was stranded. Not bothering about either his physical state or mental fatigue, Shackleton proceeded to borrow a ship, coming back to the rescue of his thankful men.

Reconstructing Shackleton’s diary entries, interviewing management, business as well as scientific experts and bringing on their own experience, Ms. Morrell ad Capparell come out with a guide/checklist based on ‘Shackletonian’ values and principles. The fact that Ms. Morrell has studied Shackleton for a decade and a half must not have hurt either.

The authors also supplement their own words of wisdom with the views of a select few business leaders such as include the insights of a handful of modern-day leaders, including James Cramer, of TheStreet.com. As explained by the authors subsequent to the loss of the Endurance, the twenty-seven members of the crew were forced to camp inside makeshift tents on tenuous, shifting blocks of ice. It was during this crucial time that Shackleton brought all of his wit, wisdom and determination to bear. Making the men responsible for their ow fates and ensuring that they grasped the enormity of the tasks on hand, he also put into motion a concrete rescue mission that involved amongst other aspects, the men keeping themselves fit and in good humour. He never allowed the spirits of even a single man to either wither, wane or waver.

Keeping his men engaged in various forms of activities from playing the banjo to celebrating Christmas, Shackleton was the epitome of hope and optimism. Using psychological tactics that would have made even Freud proud, Shackleton ensured that nay sayers and prophets of doom were always in the near vicinity and proximity of the leader himself. This tactic not only ensured that the skeptics slowly turned around to embrace Shackleton’s views, but also there was no transmission of negative feelings and /or acrimony.

Shackleton never indulged in petty politics or blame games. The buck always stopped with him and he assumed total responsibility over the well-being and action of his crew. And as

To quote Nancy F. Koehn a historian and professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School who reviewed the book in the New York Times. “As soon as I first read about Shackleton, I was struck by how critical a leader’s personal commitment to his or her mission is,” said Lynne Greene, global president of the beauty brands Clinique, Origins and Ojon, part of the Estée Lauder Companies.

Shackleton also identified, evaluated and approved his crew with great meticulousness and caution. “Science or seamanship weighs little against the kind of chaps they were,” he is famously said to have remarked. Hence a person with a sense of humour secured his place on the endurance as did another who made it on time to an interview on a weekend in battering rain after having had to change multiple trains.

Every Chapter in Shackleton’s way is succeeded by a real life story where the protagonist based his success on the Shackleton Way. For example, Astronaut James Lovell of the disastrous Apollo 13 flight states, “I think Shackleton took the same attitude we took on Apollo 13: You have to look forward as long as there is a chance,” Harvard Business School graduate Luke O’Neill who christened his nonprofit school network Shackleton Schools told the Wall Street Journal “Never give up, don’t be afraid to lead, follow your gut and remember, it’s about people.”

Shackleton’s Way – a fitting tribute to a towering leader.