Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Confidential Information

The following are my five highest grossing blog posts. Please note that these are page views and not number of visits:

ALL TIME HIGH
    Shame on UNICEF & Aamir Khan                              Oct 22, 2016        32,636
    Shame on UNICEF & Aamir Khan II                          Oct 26, 2016          9,704
    Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route      Jun 17, 2016          6,947
    Hydro-Power Madness                                                 Dec 6, 2016           4,797
    Wangdue Phodrang Dzong On Fire                              Jun 24, 2012          4,109

HIGHEST THIS MONTH
    An Uncommon Civil Servant                                       Apr 21, 2017          2,190
    India is Now a Net Exporter of Electricity                   Mar 30, 2017         1,790
    Perfect Bowls for Particulates!                                     Mar 28, 2017            373
    New Zealand Steals Bhutan’s Thunder                        Mar 17, 2017             264
    Shingkhar-Gorgan Road, Yet Again                             Apr 14, 2017             229

HIGHEST THIS WEEK

    An Uncommon Civil Servant                                       Apr 21, 2017           2,190
    Perfect Bowls for Particulates!                                     Mar 28, 2017               98
    Some Intriguing News                                                  Apr 18, 2017               90
    India is Now a Net Exporter of Electricity                   Mar 30, 2017               44
    New Zealand Steals Bhutan’s Thunder                         Mar 17, 2017               41 


TEN HIGHEST PAGEVIEWS BY COUNTRIES
    Bhutan                190,135
    United States      107,382
    India                     24,278
    Russia                   15,389
    Australia               11,594
    China                    10,934
    France                     9,358
    Ukraine                   6,270
    Thailand                  4,942
    Germany                 4,383

 
 

My first blog post was on 5th November, 2009.

Friday, April 21, 2017

An Uncommon Civil Servant

Few months back, I was invited to speak to a group of youngsters who were training to be tourist guides. I began my talk by telling them how smart they were - in deciding to train as guides. I told them that Bhutan’s and, therefore, their future is intrinsically linked to tourism, which is good because the tourism industry is the only bankable industry in Bhutan that has the potential to grow unabated. I offered the view that they should not mistake guiding tourists as a routine job - but as the initial steps to acquiring a useful profession. That guiding is merely a stepping-stone to bigger things in life. After all, there are a few billion tourists out there rearing to come and see what all this hoopla about the land of GNH was about.

Along the way, I also fervently pleaded with them to resist the absurd temptation to mimic the American twang and drawl, including sporting the punk’s hairdo and painting their hair pink and blue. After all the Americans come here to see and feel Bhutan and the Bhutanese - not to meet up with a poor example of themselves.

But the most important point I made to them was this:

“Of one thing I am very glad - that you did not opt for the civil service because in my view the best way to irretrievably ruin yourself for life, is to join the civil service."

For seventeen long years I too belonged to that breed of people who are neither civil, nor servants. But fortunately for me, all of those years were spent in the corporate world where the work culture is totally different from that of the civil servants. Thus, I emerged out of the system unscathed and still smelling like roses. My long held view, both inside as well as out of it, has been that the civil servants are everywhere else but! When you most need them they are either taking part in the departmental archery match, or at the crematorium keeping vigil over a dead body, or at the hospital visiting a distant uncles’ sick daughter, or rushing off to pick up or drop off their children. And the rare times you can get them to grudgingly do their job, they behave as if they are doing you a favor.

But today I had an experience that is nothing short of a bolt from the blue - I am totally flummoxed!

I am publishing this small handbook on the wild birds of Bhutan. As per rule I need an official Certificate of Registration from the BICMA, as well as an ISBN # from the CBS & GNH. So I wrote out my application, attached all the necessary supporting documents and drove over to the BICMA office in Olakha to submit my request. I was ushered into the office of the Licensing and Compliance Division where I was introduced to Ms. Younten Dolma, Assistant Communications Officer.  She went through the papers and told me that everything was in order and that my submission would be put up to the contents committee. She said that it would be a few days but that she would get back to me ASAP.

Next day (today) - at about 11.45AM, she called me to say that my Individual Publishing License as well as the Certificate of Registration were ready for collection. I was hugely impressed! Is it possible that a government department and its committee actually cleared my papers within a day of submission? Preposterous! Anyway, I went down to the lady’s office to find that she had the papers all signed and ready to be handed to me. She said the total fee amounted to Nu.1,500.00. She said I could give her the money and that she would deposit the money with the Accounts and bring back the money Receipt for me. Another shocker! - the officer did not ask me to go to the Accounts and pay the money and show her the Receipt - she actually volunteered to do the leg work on my behalf!

She came back to tell me that the Accountant was not at her desk. I said; “fine, you can give me the change and I will take the licenses and go.”

She said; “that is the thing --- I don't have the change and no one else in the office has it either."

I said; “OK no worry --- I can come back for it."

She said; “But one thing I can do - I can transfer it into your account."

“How?"

“I can MBoB it”.

“From your personal account?"

“Yes. Please give me your bank account #"

So I gave her my account number. Within seconds she showed me the confirmation of the transfer of the sum of Nu.500.00 into my account.

Have you ever experienced this level of service any time in your dealings with the civil service, ever in your life? What do you call this category of extremely uncommon officer?

A public servant as well as a civil servant! And a SERVICE HERO. My Hero!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Some Intriguing News

"Soon, Bengal to export 1,000 MW power to Nepal, Bhutan". 

That is the headline appearing at the "millenniumpost":

http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/soon-bengal-to-export-1000mw-power-to-nepal-bhutan-237189

The first few para of the article reads:

The Bengal government will soon export 1,000 Mega Watt (MW) electricity to various neighbouring countries including Nepal and Bhutan. Meanwhile, the capacity of the export of electricity to Bangladesh will also be increased.

State Power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay said that his department has set a target to export 1,000 MW electricity to neighbouring countries including Bangladesh. The minister is hopeful that the target will soon be achieved by his department as the state government has constructed various power generation units while many others are under construction.

"We have a target to export electricity to neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bhutan with the development of infrastructure across the state. In the initial level, we are planning to export around 1,000 Megawatt electricity to our neighbouring countries as per their requirements," Chattopadhyay said.

So what is happening? Is this for real?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road, Yet Again

Something fishy has to be going on about this illegal Shingkhar-Gorgan road. I thought that we had buried the issue - but it has reared its ugly head once again. The Kuensel has reported on it yet again, in their 13th April issue. The story filed by reporter Tempa Wangdi makes it clear beyond any doubt that there is more to the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road, than meets the eye.

Is it possible that the road is being pursued – not for the economic betterment of the people of Lhuentse as is claimed, but because of some private interest? Is some private interest behind this relentless push to do the road, even while being fully aware that it is illegal, meaningless and environmentally destructive?

The Kuensel has been candid in reporting the views of the National Environment Commission (NEC) on this issue:

1.  That the NEC will not consider environmental clearance for the road’s construction - until the
     government first sorts out the legality of the road. This means that the construction of the
     Shingkhar-Gorgan road is illegal.

2.  The DoR has falsely claimed that only 18 kilometers of the 37.28 km of Shingkhar-Gorgan
      would pass through the core zone area of Phrumsengla National Park. However, the NEC is clear
      that the road not only passes through the core area of Phrumsengla National Park but
      the entire 37.28 KMs falls in the core zone of the park.

3.  The NEC also pointed out: “In the EIA report, most of the baseline information submitted is

     secondary and sourced outside the project area……”. This clearly means that the DoR has
     tried to hoodwink the NEC by submitting an EIA report assessed (if at all) from an area
     that was clearly not the project area. This has got to be criminal - and a case for the ACC.

Why is a government agency trying to deliberately submit false reports in order that they can do the road?

What desperation drives the Department of Roads and the Ministry of Works & Human Settlement to lie so blatantly to a regulatory authority?

One other thing: the government says that the construction of this illegal road will shorten distance by 100 KMs. What they fail to tell is whether shortening distance will translate into savings in travel time. Also they are very quite on the fact that the road will pass through a geographical area that is unstable and perilous, and that at one point the road has to pass through an altitude that has never been attained before.

Singma-La Pass: If the Shingkhar-Gorgan road gets built, it has to pass through this high pass which is at 4,033M - nearly 253M higher than Thrumshing-La Pass. Singma-La is 153M higher than today's highest road point - Chele-La Pass.

What kind of environmental champions break laws to vandalize the environment? How far can we go with our “Bhutan for Life” when it is clear that we clandestinely scheme and plan to imperil life within the most protected areas?

We have to be careful what we do - if not the world will soon discover that our claims to being a carbon negative country, a land of happiness etc. is nothing more than the drum beats of the charlatans.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Achievers Who Came Along In My Life: II

“Congratulations, Yeshey! It was all due to your guidance and service to TWS that resulted in the great success of Mr. Kaestner’s visit. I really believe that we achieve great things for our country in small steps like these - winning one heart at a time and you made a great contribution to this one!”

This is how an official of the Royal Government of Bhutan wrote to me - to thank me for my part in the success of Mr. Kaestner’s Bhutan visit, during October of 2009. The retired US diplomat Mr. Peter G. Kaestner was then posted at the US Embassy, New Delhi.

Among the world birding community, he is an achiever and a luminary. Mr. Peter G. Kaestner is acknowledged as one of the world’s TOP TEN BIRDERS.

Peter G Kaestner, one of world's top 10 birders at 8,666 life birds

The International Ornithologists’ Union places the total number of known bird species at 10,500. Ofcourse this number does not stay static - while some bird species regularly go extinct, new ones are constantly discovered. Of this many known species, as on last count (as per his mail to me dated 21st March, 2017) Mr. Peter G. Kaestner has recorded 8,666 life birds - a staggering more than 82% of the world’s entire bird species!

Bhutan is listed among the world’s top 10 birding destinations. And this is where Mr. Kaestner got two of his life birds: the extremely rare White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) - in Lekeythang, Punakha on 28th October, 2009, and the Fulvous Parrotbill (Suthora fulvifrons) - in Dochula, the next day.

Having guided Mr. Kaestner for two days, the following was my trip report to the government:

-----------------------------
Hi All,

I am happy to let you know that Mr. Peter Kaestner was fortunate enough to sight his life bird – White-bellied Heron on the evening of 28th October, 2009 - the same evening we travelled to Punakha. The original plan was that we would stop over at Dochula and look for his other life bird – Fulvous Parrotbill. However, I changed the plan and decided that we will leave that for the return trip – since the White-bellied Heron was more important for Peter than the Parrotbill.

Upon reaching Punakha past 4.30PM, we decided to go straight to look for the bird and leave the check-in into the hotel for later in the late evening. That was a good decision. Twenty minutes on the road to Puna Phochhu, the bird flew in and landed by the river bank at Lekeythang.

The most beautiful part of the close to half an hour of wonderful viewing of the bird was that Peter actually saw the bird take a huge fish – a
Snow Trout (Yuel-Nya) and swallow it whole. The fish was so big that it got stuck in the slender neck of the bird and despite the bird trying to shake it down, it remained stuck there. I know that the fish will eventually die and then the bird will be able to shake it in – but we decided we had enough and left the bird in the middle of the small rush – still trying to shake the fish down.

Next day he sighted is other life bird - Fulvous Parrotbill, at Dochula.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Achievers Who Came Along In My Life

Life is a long, continuous journey, most often lived in long periods of confusion, followed by realization and finally ending in regret & repentance.

There are many who see merit in renouncing everything in life, so that they can pursue knowledge and wisdom. And yet, for all their troubles, they have not been able to rescue the world or the humanity, from the brink of disaster.

Then there are those who travel to distant pilgrimage sites - in pursuit of higher purposes and higher Gods, while the abodes of their resident Gods are in shambles and in need of urgent repair and renewal. This lot will spend millions to go to Dorjeden, Tshopema, Boudha, Varanasi etc. but will not cast a morsel for the nourishment of the poor and the hungry who line up the streets outside their fortified homes. For these passionate believers in God, charity begins at the feet of the ornately adorned Buddha and Guru statues. No wonder the Buddha is depicted with a curious smirk on his face. The man knows!

Others spend a lifetime amassing wealth and fortune. They cheat, they plunder, they lie through their teeth – they have no time for the sunset or to tickle a baby. They are so taken up making money and hoarding them in chests and bank lockers, that they fail to notice the look of contempt and abhorrence in the faces of their friends and neighbors. Too late they realize that they had become slaves of that one thing that they had all their lives tried to master - MONEY. They were too greedy to spend their wealth to give themselves pleasure - let alone for those of others. And now their time in this world is up and it is time for them to be gagged and bundled and put on the funeral pyre, to be turned to ashes. What a waste.

Then there are those of us who live life one day at a time. We do not hoard for tomorrow - because today is more certain than tomorrow. Our bank accounts may be nearing negative balance - but we have piles and piles of credit - of goodwill and appreciation, of gratefulness and gratitude - overflowing in the hearts of those to whom we gave freely and without condition.

Life is made up of moments and encounters. One remarkable encounter I had was with late Captain Charles E. Brady Jr., NASA astronaut who passed away on 23rd July, 2006.

Autographed photo of Space Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-78

 Captain Charles E. Brady Jr., NASA astronaut

He was a crew member on the Space Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-78 during June-July, 1996. That mission was the longest shuttle mission at that time. It lasted 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds.

I hosted him during his Ham Radio trip to Bhutan. I was hugely impressed by him. Perhaps it was due to his time in the infinite space - or he was naturally so. He had a Buddha-like calm and serenity about him. It was so soothing to be around him - life suddenly became even paced and unrushed - as if it held no meaning.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Curious Numbers

Our government and public officials are putting out alarming numbers, surrounding our hydro-power projects.

The Kuensel says Bhutan earned Nu.13.03 billion from export of electricity, during the year 2016.

As opposed to that, Lyonpo Leki, Economic Affairs Minister says that the combined loss from the two PHEPE projects amount to a whopping Nu. 38.00 billion, for every year the projects are delayed.

The revenue loss from these two projects is almost three times the revenue we earned from export of electricity. So the question I asked in my last post is still valid:

How much more loss do we need?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

India is Now a Net Exporter of Electricity

The supposedly power hungry India is now a net exporter of electricity, according to a report released by their Ministry of Power. Even more surprising, they exported 213 million units more electricity than they imported from Bhutan.
As I said in one of my earlier posts, India’s import of electricity from Bhutan is inconsequential - we account for less than nothing. Our export of electricity to India is nothing more than a pesky cud lodged in the cavity of India’s gargantuan jaw.

Finally I hope that the Bhutanese people will come to accept what has always been the truth - that India has NEVER been dependent on Bhutan, for their electricity needs.

We are now in a precarious situation: India is already self sufficient in electricity and may no longer need our electricity at exorbitant Cost+ rates. On the other hand, our PHEP I & II, according to our Economic Affairs Minister, is losing Nu.21.00 and Nu.17.00 billion each, for every year the projects are delayed. Even worst, the PHPE I may have to be scrapped altogether, once the Norwegian experts submit their investigation report.

So, we still want to do Chamkhar Chhu?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Perfect Bowls for Particulates!

Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue, Haa and Bumthang – all of these towns and cities are natural bowls in which high levels of particulates remain trapped and suspended. Unlike in the plains where the pollution is dispersed by wind activity, high mountains that box in our valleys do not permit air circulation – preventing both vertical and horizontal mixing of polluted air with that of clean air in the upper atmosphere.

Thimphu valley:  enveloped by trapped and suspended particulates; as seen from Phajoding

During the winter months, temperature inversions trap tiny particles of smoke and exhaust from cars, trucks, bukharis, and anything else that burn fuel - whether fossil or otherwise. This keeps the pollution close to the ground - right where the precious Drukpas are breathing.

When we begin to have pollution problems in our valleys, remember the problem will be 20-30 times worst than those in the plains.

Now is the time to act - to ensure that we cause the least bit of pollution. If we do not act responsibly now, in less than 10 years, we will lose what we have.

 Thimphu's breathtaking pristine atmosphere early this year (2017)

 Scenes such as above will be a thing of the past.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

World Bank: Water will become the most sought-after natural resource

Already, 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe, clean drinking water.

A report released by the UNICEF yesterday says that approximately 1 in 4 children worldwide will live in regions with extremely scarce water resource by 2040.

Based on current trends, studies indicate that demand for water will increase 50% by the year 2030 - for industry, energy, farming and to quench the thirsts of additional one billion people.

According to the World Bank, water will become the most sought-after natural resource over which wars are bound to be fought.

The 2017 edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report, entitled "Wastewater: The Untapped Resource" says;

"Noteworthy is that about 50 per cent of the people facing this level of water scarcity live in China and India".

 If all these seem bleak and foreboding, consider this:

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR WATER!

It is clear beyond doubt that WATER is going to be the most critical natural resource of the future. We need to do everything we can to protect and safeguard it, for our own future and for those of our children.


The as yet unshackled Chamkharchhu flowing through the Jakar valley. The government has recently announced that this beautiful river too will be subjected to hydro-power bondage.

We have to stop looking at our rivers only as energy source for driving hydro-power turbines. Our rivers are obviously destined for great things in the future. Water in its natural form could one day represent the single largest revenue generator for our country.

But first, we have to stop pawning off our rivers as collaterals for hydro-power projects. It is insane to do so. It is already very clear where our hydro-power projects are leading us. We all know how it works – when we cannot repay the loan, the collateral gets seized. You lose control over it.

We need to be realistic and educated. We are working on the assumption that India is an infinite market for our electricity. We are so wrong! India is already almost self sufficient in electricity. Take a look at the following to understand how India is making progress in generation of electricity.


Mr. John H. Gerstle, C.E., MNIF, a consultant who worked on our “Development of Guidelines for Hydropower Planning and Impact Assessment”, in the 90’s wrote to me as follows:

In my work with RGOB, I strongly encouraged the early determination of those rivers and river basins to be designated for hydropower development, and those to be preserved for environmental, social, cultural, tourism, recreational and other objectives.

Similarly, it was recommended that hydropower development be concentrated in a small number of river basins, to limit the extent of the impacts and the expense of new infrastructure development required for projects far away from each other. It was expected that such a concentration of hydropower development along some rivers would enable other rivers to be conserved and protected.

These recommendations were made in the reports of the first Bhutan Hydropower System Master Plan so that the consideration could be done at an early stage, before significant investments and commitments would make such decisions more difficult.


There is much wisdom here. We cannot subject all of our rivers to eternal bondage - let us leave one or two of them free of hydro-power dams. We are not making any money from our hydro-power projects - so the question to ask would be:

How much more debt do we need?

Friday, March 17, 2017

New Zealand Steals Bhutan’s Thunder

In a world first, New Zealand recently accorded a river the status of a living entity. This Whanganui river in New Zealand is now protected under law, from all harm and abuse, in any form, same as that of a human being.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being

New Zealand is a country that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its 2015 Annual Report ranked the lowest environmental performer, among its 35 member states. And yet, they have done what no other country in the world has so far done - given a river the respect and recognition it deserves.

By contrast, Bhutan, despite being the land of GNH, a champion of environmental conservation, a recipient of the Champion of Earth Award and the J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership, and a self professed carbon negative country, has failed to protect even a single river from being shackled, for economic enslavement. Despite disasters such as PHEP I & II staring right into our faces, Bhutan still pursues hydro-power projects with the single minded determination of a fanatical lunatic.

Recently the Kuensel announced that we are now undertaking DPRs for a series of hydro-power projects to be started on the as yet unshackled Chamkhar Chhu. And this despite our plea that the river that forms the mighty Drangme Chhu river system, should be left undammed and free-flowing, for the benefit of our future generations.

 Chamkhar Chhu that flows from the base of Bhutan's highest peak - Gangkhar Puensum

Chamkhar Chhu glistening in the morning sun as it makes it journey to the south. The river originates at the base of the world's highest unclimbed peak - Mt. Gangkhar Puensum (7,570 Mtrs.)

People fail to understand, or they are deliberately ignoring the disastrous implications, both environmental and financial, of damming all of our rivers for hydro-power projects. As far as I can conceive, doing so will be very expensive for the country and the future generations of Bhutan. In fact it will be annihilating!

To explain in plain simple language, it is like taking a huge loan to do a project - say hydro-power. As we go along, the project encounters problems such as mismanagement, corruption, miscalculations, geological surprises, shear zones and shifting tectonic plates. The project cost spirals out of control. Interest mounts and the project completion date is deferred time and again. Over time the project is simply undoable. But by then we are straddled with huge loans that we are unable to service.

What do we do? Our interest on the loan keeps compounding - the pay back period of the loan is readjusted to extend into the next millennia …. The loan’s collateral - our rivers - remain shackled and bound, and we, its masters, are powerless to do with it what we want to do, until the loans are repaid in full!

Our enslavement, and that of the rivers, is complete and total!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Journey of Self Destruction

Bhutan’s most dependable factories of debt – the Punatsangchhu Hydro Electric Projects-I & II – are once again in the news. In their latest issue, TheBhutanese newspaper reports that the estimated completion dates of these two disasters have been further pushed back to 2019 and 2022.

It is simply appalling – the level of absurdity of the project authorities and the governments of Bhutan and India. I think it is clear that these projects will not happen – not even in 2040 – at least not the PHEP-I! The project authority’s attempts at besting nature is quite laughable, and futile at best.

But something encouraging that TheBhutanese reports is that the authorities have finally agreed to seek a second opinion - from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. This is encouraging news. This is what I had written on February 19, 2015:

Thus, while we must ensure that WAPCOS is barred from future involvement in our hydro power projects based on their terrible record so far, we should now look at engaging consultants from third countries to investigate if the geological make of the Punatsangchhu areas is suitable for large hydro power projects. Through the engagement of better qualified consultants, we should ascertain whether it is wise to continue with the projects - or scrap it, to prevent further losses.

I am now encouraged to believe that the PHEP-I will finally be scrapped.

My New Year Wish during February, 2015 was as follows:

I WISH that the two governments of Bhutan and India would get together and take the only sensible decision they can - a decision to abandon the Punatsangchu Hydropower Projects.

Last year too, I wished the same:

First on the list of my wishes for the year is the reiteration of my last year’s wish: closure of the Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project-I. As bizarre and fantastic as it may sound, I believe that this is the only way out to avoid irredeemable loss - both environmental as well as financial. The fallout from the failure of this dam is simply inconceivable. Such an eventuality could be the cause of the end of Bhutan’s hydro-power dreams.

The cost of one of these projects is in excess of the country’s entire annual GDP. And from all indications, they are going to fail. Bhutan cannot afford this. What this generation is doing is highly irresponsible – we are sealing the fates of our future generations. In our pursuit of a pipe dream, we are assigning our children to a life of economic bondage.

As I said in my last post on the subject, this is not about environmental conservation – it is about the fear of economic enslavement. However, we will do well to remember that we go hoarse claiming that we are a country of phenomenal eco-systems with immense bio-diversity. After all the claim that we so proudly make, the following is what we will leave behind for our children.

High tension power lines already scar Bhutan's beautiful landscape. Our future generations will have to live with this ugliness.

And yet, I would like to look at this catastrophic failure, with hope and optimism. I would like to believe that those who can make a difference will draw lessons from this failure – and bear in mind that our hydro-power aspirations are nothing but a journey in self destruction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Strident President Donald Trump

This past month I have been regularly watching the CNN news channel. I love the Trump-bashing that goes on in there, in true democratic spirit – reinforcing beyond doubt that USA is indeed the land of the free.

Until now I believed that President Donald Trump was a lot smarter person, in spite of his outlandish campaign rhetoric that he has been dishing out. As I wrote in my earlier post on him, I truly believed that once he became President, he would surprise us all by NOT fulfilling most of his campaign pledges.

It now appears that I may be completely wrong.

This morning when I put on the TV, I did so at the precise moment when President Donald Trump declared:

“We have to start winning wars again"

He is going to declare wars and he is going to win them! --- and to enable him to do that, he is proposing a defense budget of US$603 billion. This sum is more than the sum total spent by the rest of the world’s top 7 countries with the biggest defense budgets:

China                  215.0
Saudi Arabia         87.2
Russia                   66.4
UK                        55.5
India                      51.3
France                   50.9
Japan                     40.9

TOTAL :     US$ 567.0 billion 

Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

The lunacy does not stop there: since he had promised big tax cuts during the campaign, there is no way be is going to be able to wage wars and win them, through increased tax collection. So he proposes what he thinks is the next best thing – he proposes to finance his war mongering through budget cuts in such meaningful areas as foreign aid, healthcare and EPA.



Thirty-five years back (1981) President elect Ronald Reagan, another Republican, was the oldest President of America – at 69 years of age. Donald Trump at 70 now qualifies as the oldest elected US President.



President Reagan too was a great believer in military might. He spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build up American military might, so much so that at one point he told the Pentagon, “Defense is not a budget item. You spend what you need”.

President Reagan was so hell bent on military supremacy that in 1983, he announced the futuristic Strategic Defense Initiative – a hugely expensive Star Wars like missile defense system. There was one good outcome from all that posturing – it forced the USSR to embark on its own military build up, which many believe, ultimately contributed to its bankruptcy and the fall of Communism.

And yet, for all that, during his entire Presidency, Ronald Reason waged only one miserably absurd war – that of the invasion of Grenada, in October of 1983. However, the invasion of the tiny island defended by less than 1,000 militia did not bring any long term, or even short term, honor for the President or the world’s most powerful military power. In fact, in due course, the United Nations General Assembly voted 108:9 – to condemn the invasion as an unwarranted act of international aggression.

President Reagan was a staunch protagonist of  “Peace through strength”. He believed that he could maintain world peace through sheer military might. He was my hero because I believe in that. By contrast, President Trump wants to “Make America Great Again” by waging wars and winning them. I do not believe in that and thus I am not his fan.

The great economic powerhouse that is America gives out less than 1% of its budget in aiding needy foreign nations. Of that, in 2014, US$5.9 billion was spent in financing the purchase of weapons of war.

Instead of curtailing foreign aid and reduce funding for EPA’s programs, America will do well to increase them. I am told that President Trump is stridently against environmental protection because he believes that the claim that the environment is in a depleted state is whole lot of hogwash. But he would do well to listen to others and open his eyes and mind to the state of the environment. He cannot be oblivious to the weather related disasters that the great America has witnessed in recent times.

I think that for America and President Donald Trump, it would be cheaper to win hearts rather than wars. Along the way they will garner respect, esteem and goodwill.

America is a nation of immigrants – its greatness can be attributed to the contributions made by the immigrants – right from its formative years to the present. As on last count, the DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) estimated that there were close to 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in America. One has to wonder why the US government did not act, even while the DHS was obviously keeping tract of all the unauthorized aliens. Donald Trump has to consider why the earlier administrations turned a blind eye to the issue, even while they were fully aware. To go blistering against them, as if it were a recent and sudden phenomena, is to invite problems and complications that he cannot even comprehend.

The way to making “America Great Once Again” cannot be through alienation of friends and supporters and partners and neighbors. America cannot survive in isolation - no one can.

"America First" is a gallant aspiration that deserves support, but the manner in which President Trump hopes to accomplish it for America is untenable - he cannot hope to achieve it by trampling on the aspirations of others. If President Trump believes that building the Mexican wall will advance his aspirations for achieving "America First", do it by all means but do not require Mexico to pay for its construction. You want it, you foot the bill.

President Donald Trump has to remember that even the lowly rat catcher is an integral and legitimate member of the human society.

President Donald Trump has to look to history – not a very ancient one at that – and draw lessons from it. For all its military might, for all its pile of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles, atomic and hydrogen bombs, and with a combined military personnel of 1,385,116 – all that it took was one dedicated and determined lunatic to bring the mighty America to its knees and alter the very course of its history forever. 9/11 is proof that US$603 billion military spending is no guarantee that a foolproof defense system can be built.

If wars are to be fought and won, I think they have to be won in the minds of men, and not on battlefields. Subjugating nations and peoples through military aggression is too primeval.

How America behaves impacts us all. I urge President Donald Trump to have consideration for those of us who do not have the wherewithal to wage, or win, wars.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Langdhurbi: Take 2

The remote village of Langdhurbi in Zhemgang District is 7 hours walk from the nearest road head. Far removed from the razzal-dazzle of modernity that is fast changing the social and cultural landscape of urban Bhutan, the simple folks in this pigeonhole of a village live out their lives devoid of dreams. They are incapable of dreams for, they know not what to dream for. All their lives they have been wrapped within the bounds of their cocoon – living a way of life that is a slice right out of the medieval times. This lot has not seen electricity, television or a motor vehicle in their lives – until Rotary Club of Thimphu decided to change that for some of the children from this village.

In July of last year, the Rotary Club of Thimphu transported 20 young children from this impoverished village and brought them to Thimphu for a week. For the first time these children took a bus ride, saw motor road, vehicles, electricity, animated movies and experienced for the first time the throbbing, pulsating waywardness of modern times and way of life. This trip was designed to show these children what stuffs of dreams were made of – what to aspire for and what possibilities existed for them. And, for the really smart among them, the trip would have given them cause for rejoice – in the revelation that the life they have in their village is far more meaningful, healthy, harmonious and sustainable, than that offered by the urban centers where every new medical breakthrough has seen increased number of new and strange diseases, every new scientific invention has seen the world inching closer to annihilation, and every new smart electronic device turning human beings into less smart beings and more forgetful and disjointed.

Among those 20 young kids, there was this really talented singer and artist – named Sonam Dorji, aged 11 years. He had such a wonderful voice and more amazingly he loved singing Zhundra – classical songs. So, this year during the winter holidays we brought him back to Thimphu once again and got him to be coached in singing and drawing. He attended classes at the iBEST and M-Studio who were generous to teach him without charging him a fee. In between he took singing classes from such luminaries as Lhamo Dukpa and Namkha Lhamo, Bhutan’s most accomplished Zhungdra divas.


Sonam Dorji under the tutelage of Bhutan's foremost Zhungdra singer - Namkha Lhamo

Sonam Dorji is back to his village in Langdhurbi and continues his studies at the local community school. What the future holds for him is anybody’s guess. The talent that is latent in him is something I wish I could help him unleash but I do not have the means to do so. And I suspect I am the poorer for leading him to the stars but not being able to help him touch them.

As I prod along on the path of life that must inevitably end in nothingness, I think of this extremely talented boy languishing in abject helplessness in some remote wilderness. If he were a little bit luckier --- if I were a little bit more economically able, he could have one day serenaded the best of the best. But that is not how the story will be written – for all his talent, he is destined to be lost in the sands of oblivion – one potential shining star whose luminosity will not see the light of day.

Sonam Dorji’s trip to Thimphu this year was sponsored by Hotel Jumolhari and writer Chador Wangmo provided food and accommodation for the boy and his aunt who escorted him. Hotel Druk was generous to provide one end-of-session dinner for the boy and his tutors.