NPF: BIRD SHIT, VOL. 2

(No, it's not Friday, but presumably everyone is done with or in the process of being done with this week)

So I've really kept you on the edge of your collective seat with that cliffhanger about guano, right? You're thinking nothing could possibly be more fascinating than the Guano Islands Act of 1856 and you keep waiting to be proven wrong. Get ready.

Last time we noted that guano experienced a meteoric rise from useless animal waste to valuable industrial commodity to totally depleted resource in a relatively short period of time. Many of the small islands on which it was found were essentially scraped clean by the latter part of the 20th Century and, just as a reminder, the landscape that gets left behind by guano mining is…bleak:

topside-landscape01
Looks promising

If you live on a very small island with no valuable resources and suddenly it is revealed that your island is literally made of something rich countries want, you can imagine how little restraint would be practiced in harvesting and selling it. Once it is all gone, though, you're back where you started, only worse. You have no valuable resources and now you live in an unremediated, totally cashed former strip mine. Hopefully your nation invested what it earned from resource extraction wisely, right?

That brings us to Nauru.

Leaving aside European microstates, Nauru is the smallest country on Earth. It is barely 8 square miles. Total. For comparison, Philadelphia is 134 square miles in size. Oh, and it's incredibly remote and lacking in infrastructure, so the usual "At least we have tourism!" corollary of the South Pacific does not apply. You're thousands of miles from anything, barren, impoverished, and 1/20th the size of Philadelphia's city limits; what do you do to ensure the economic future of your 10,000 citizens when a fairly large but one-time-only windfall comes your way?

If you're the government of the Nauru you establish the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust to make that money last. You also make sure that no one who has any concept of what "investing" entails is in any way involved, and those involved conceive of investing in the way a tycoon in 1920s comic books might. During the 1980s the Trust managed to lose nearly every penny the island earned by selling itself to the petrochemical industry through a string of almost comically bad investments. It financed a 1993 West End flop "Leonardo the Musical," about the painting of the Mona Lisa. It was one of the biggest financial disasters in the history of UK theater. It spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars (AUD) to build Nauru House, a skyscraper in Melbourne, Australia. Eventually it was sold to real estate developers for about half of what was outstanding on the loans the Trust undertook to run it. Partially to encourage tourists to come to the island and partially to allow Nauru's elite to get off the godforsaken rock as often as possible, Air Nauru, the government-run airline, purchased a spankin' new Boeing 737. The tourists never came, as tourists do not generally enjoy going to the middle of nowhere to see nothing and stay in unelectrified concrete block houses. The plane was repossessed by debt collectors in 2004 in what I can only imagine was an awesome job for some Australian Repo Man. Media accounts pitifully underscored the situation by describing the 737 as the island's "only link with the outside world" and Air Nauru's only plane.

At this point Nauru, a poor and indebted nation, did what poor and indebted individuals often do. It turned to the gray economy. Or, you know, crime. Basically crime. It started an "economic citizenship" program of the type that were common prior to 9/11, in which a passport and citizenship were sold to any individual willing to pay $25,000 to the failing government. When that was shut down by the U.S. and Australia, Nauru became a money laundering hub for Russian and East Asian organized crime. That didn't last long, but this time Australia offered Nauru an appealing alternative: it could take millions of dirty Australian dollars to build a prison for asylum seekers. Aussies were alarmed in the 2000s by the number of (NON-WHITE ASIAN) asylum seekers attempting to enter the country, and housing them on Australian soil was considered an unacceptable option. A third nation desperate for cash and reasonably proximate to Australia presented the idea solution. Amnesty describes the detention camp as "a human rights catastrophe, a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions." About a month ago, Nauru decided to simply open the camp and let the detainees wander around the barren island as they please, which has improved conditions.

Just kidding, the detainees are getting raped a lot.

The end of the Guano Economy didn't treat anyone especially well, but nobody can claim that it treated them worse than it did Nauru. It might be the actual worst place on Earth right now, excepting Fresno.

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22 Responses to “NPF: BIRD SHIT, VOL. 2”

  1. Nick Says:

    I actually have been waiting for the guano followup. It was a lot darker at the end than I anticipated.

  2. waldoh Says:

    As an Australian, besides being super depressed about being a participant in this matter, being forced to watch as my country sank to the levels of Guantanamo, I was mightily amazed and quite grateful that someone outside Australia picked up on it.

    Despite being so far from anywhere really dangerous, because everyone else in the world was screaming 'security', the conservative party has for many years utilised fear and loathing as an election tool. When PM John Howard ratified Bush's war on Iraq, it set the tone for for his future statements when he said " We'll decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come".

    Successive PM's ratified this 'policy' culminating in the recently dismissed ex PM Tony Abbott, who's bellicosity, secretiveness and win-at-all costs' attitude escalated the grotesqueness to deafening.

    It is a distressing thought especially at this time of year, that the so many dispossessed people, not only on Nauru but around the world, are at the mercy of Nations that are governed by incompetent fools.

    And if Bernie Sanders doesn't win….no, that's too depressing to even contemplate.

    The Season's joy and happiness to you and your readers and best wishes for the New Year.

  3. Tim H. Says:

    Wow, they lived on a shit-splattered rock, then found a way to go downhill from there…

  4. CassiusStarbuckle Says:

    "Between 1994 and 1996, the Nauru House went under a facelift to replace the former pebble-concrete facade of the building with new, matte-gray aluminium siding."
    -Wikipedia

    Architectural anhedonia.

  5. svnski Says:

    Seconding Waldo. Was going to add more, but now I'm too sad…

    Enjoy the festive season Ed, you magnificant bastard you.

  6. Jimcat Says:

    "And if Bernie Sanders doesn't win….no, that's too depressing to even contemplate."

    Well, you'd better start contemplating it. As popular as he is among the sort of people who follow Gin and Tacos, the consensus among serious political analysts is that he has no chance of making it to the White House.

  7. Dave Dell Says:

    To paraphrase a line from the best book about golf ever written (Dead Solid Perfect by Dan Jenkins):

    Humans, what we don't fuck up we'll shit on.

  8. Skipper Says:

    @Jimcat. "Serious political analysts" — in other words, bullshit flingers.

    The latest poll I saw said that Bernie would beat any of the current GOP candidates handily. But you're right. When the media doesn't want someone to win, they will make sure they don't.

    I'm sure you remember that in 2003, in the middle of December, Howard Dean was the acknowledged "unbeatable front runner." By the Iowa caucuses, following a savage assault by the media and "serious political analysts," he was considered "unelectable."

  9. Greg Says:

    "…excepting Bakersfield." Fixed that typo.

  10. Tim H. Says:

    Skipper, pardon the Douglas Adams reference, but I'd say Bernie's problem is, he's not a lizard. The media reaction is not unlike the first "Bodysnatchers" remake…

  11. Steve Says:

    I was born in Fresno. I don't think it was a typo.

  12. Jimcat Says:

    @skipper: I volunteered for the Dean campaign before the Iowa primaries. That's the source of my realistic outlook.

  13. Jesse B Says:

    Having spent time in both, and only being a generation removed from the vicinity between them, it's a tough call, but I think Bakersfield is the worse of the two… Unless you especially love meth and a certain country sound. Fresno at least has grapes and isn't effectively a desert. I believe Bakersfield also has the worst air quality in California outside of Los Angeles. Gotta love them feedlots and inversion layers.

  14. paintedjaguar Says:

    So here's a similar but (somewhat) happier story about the Marshall Islands, which may soon be uninhabitable due to global warming.

    http://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-long/landlocked-islanders

    These lucky islanders once had a bunch of atomic bombs dropped on them by the US, as a result of which they also have a trust fund…

    (it's a good article)

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    Oy.
    First, bats shit on you.

    Then countries and corporations take your batshit, while giving you shitty money for your batshit.

    Then, your country makes shitty investments, and the banks shit all over you.

    Then collection agencies take any good shit that might be left, leaving you with no shit – bat, or otherwise.

    Man, talk about shit-outta-luck!

    This whole story is batshit crazy! *

    *Sorry, but someone had to say it.

  16. JDM Says:

    Curious as to how much they had, at their peak it was about a billion Australian dollars, meaning A$100 grand per citizen.

  17. doug Says:

    Well, I guess no regular reader is surprised at a dark ending to a tale from you. And this one did not disappoint.

    Merry fucking Christmas anyway!

  18. Mark Says:

    If Bernie Sanders is elected president our future will be no brighter than this miniature island country Mr. Ed describes.

  19. moderateindy Says:

    How can you say that about Fresno………………..I mean you did live in Peoria.

  20. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Sanders is a shrill, self-righteous Johnny One Note about income inequality. The fact that he's unelectable speaks well for democracy.

  21. mothra Says:

    Hmmm….I think Obama may have just found the solution to his Gitmo dilemma. I am sure no right wing congresshole would object to paying Nauru to take those detainees off our hands and disappear them forever.

  22. waldoh Says:

    "the consensus among serious political analysts is that he has no chance of making it to the White House."

    Thank fuck for that, especially 'serious'.

    Sanders is a shrill, self-righteous Johnny One Note about income inequality. The fact that he's unelectable speaks well for democracy.

    Hmmm, Coddled Chump trolls patrolling Gin & Tacos.

    If Bernie Sanders is elected president our future will be no brighter than this miniature island country Mr. Ed describes.

    If Bernie Sanders isn't elected President, America will descend further chaos, dragging the rest of the world with Her. The only redeeming feature of the whole affair will be the schadenfreude watching wingnuts ferociously gibbering nonsense while blaming any 'Liberal fascist' they can tag.