Sunday, December 26, 2004

War Continues in Vietnam

Five killed by Vietnam War shell
CNN, Saturday, December 25, 2004 Posted: 6:38 AM EST (1138 GMT)

HANOI, Vietnam (Reuters ) -- Four children aged between nine and 14 and a 20-year old man were killed in southern Vietnam when a war-time mortar shell they were playing with exploded, state media reported on Saturday.

The five were killed instantly on Tuesday in a field where they were tending a herd of cows in the southern province of Binh Thuan, the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reported.

Since the U.S.-led Vietnam War ended, nearly 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed by leftover ordnance.
------- seems ironical that they were killed in a war which "got over" more than a decade before they were even born!!!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Collapse of Dollar Economy??

Is the US$ - and the global dollar economy - heading for a collapse?

[This is continuation of a theme, on which I had twice written earlier: once, in April '03 about how the Iraq Invasion was/is a last ditch attempt to save US$[1], and then again, when a whole issue of Alternative Perspective in Feb'04[2] was devoted to this topic]

Even if the idea seems far-fetched, it is worth a serious thought.

Most such speculations focus only on the US Current Account Deficit, which has grown to disproportionate dimensions. It is true that US consumes more than it produces, imports more than it exports. Financing this deficit would require an inflow of $2.6bn/day... that, incidentally, is 80% of world's daily savings!!!...

In contrast, since lst year or so, US is able to attract only $1.7bn/day back into economy (Visit the U.S. National Debt Clock[3])

Perhaps a greater cause for worry should be the increasing cumulative US National Debt, which now is more than $7.5trillion, i.e., statistically, an average American child is born with $25,000 debt. 40% of this is foreign debt.

Interestingly, the US government's response to this impending economic disaster has been to keep increasing the permissible debt-limit.... This year in October, when US reached the $7.4trillion debt-limit set by the senate/congress, it just raised the limit to $8.2trillion. At the present rate of debt-accumulation, this is just postponing the debt-bubble to burst by just another 470 days... Given the present promises of the "foreign policy" - preemptive strike, regime change, "democratisation" of Middle-East, war on terror, etc. - this will keep on increasing.

Moreover, if one looks at the "hidden debt" - US Government's future commitments - the numbers are staggering. In 2008, when the 78mn baby-boomers start retiring, US will need more than $50 trillions to pay for the medicare, pension, social security, etc.!!!

It is not surprising that Stephen Roach (Chief economist of Morgan Stanely) predicts that America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic "armageddon."[4]

So why is America, consciously and deliberately, continuing to slide down this path?

In my understanding, there are two mindsets/hope/assumptions behind taking these risks:

  • One can take economic risks, and bet on the future, because the anticipated future inflows - hopefully coming from "democratisation of middle east", cheap oil, new world order, PNAC, etc. - will offset the present trends (the only other economic entity which did this kind of accounting - i.e., counting its "pro forma" earnings to boost its present balance sheet - in the recent past, was Enron!!!)

  • We are in it together. Since so many economies are locked in to US economy, if US falls, so will the world economy... And that is true. So there is a chance that other economies will try helping US survive, so that they can also survive.... After all, countries like China and Japan, the central banks of most developed and developing countries, etc., with their huge investments in dollar assets and dollar-reserves, will necessarily do their best to keep dollar afloat... historically, this is similar to the "white man's burden" felt by the gentry in London in the beginning of 20th century: if we don't consume as much as we do, "poor natives" will die of hunger!!!

    However, given the required inflows, these assumptions do not seem viable in the long run (or perhaps, even in the short run).

    Apart from the simple economic reality that there is not enough surplus money in the world to continue supporting US debt, there are two other emerging reasons, which contradict these assumptions:

    1. Crisis of Credibility & Legitimacy

    US, admittedly, has been a debt-based economy since long. During last couple of decades, the deficit had kept on accumulating, but the US economy has continued to grow.

    So what has changed now, that the rest of the world not continue to provide debt to US?

    One simple reason why this may not happen, is because globally, US has been losing its credibility as a moderate, peace-loving nation - not only in the Muslim world[5], but even among its traditional European allies[6].

    One reason for this loss of US legitimacy and moral supremacy has been its unilateral dismissal of multilateral mechanisms and treaties (see the list)[7]

    In their recent article in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec, 2004), The Sources of American Legitimacy[8], Robert W. Tucker (Professor Emeritus of American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins University) & David C. Hendrickson (Robert J. Fox Distinguished Service Professor at Colorado College) observed:

    "The 18 months since the launching of the second Iraq war have brought home, even to its advocates, that the United States has a serious legitimacy problem. The pattern of the first Iraq war, in which an overwhelming victory set aside the reservations of most skeptics, has failed to emerge in the aftermath of the second. If anything, skepticism has deepened. The United States' approval ratings have plunged, especially in Europe-the cooperation of which Washington needs for a broad array of purposes-and in the Muslim world, where the United States must win over "hearts and minds" if it is to lessen the appeal of terrorism. In both areas, confidence in the propriety and purposes of U.S. power has dropped precipitously and shows little sign of recovery.... Legitimacy arises from the conviction that state action proceeds within the ambit of law, in two senses: first, that action issues from rightful authority, that is, from the political institution authorized to take it; and second, that it does not violate a legal or moral norm."

    The fallout of losing moral legitimacy on economic was summed up by the economist James Galbraith a couple of days back (, Dec 6, 2004):[9]

    "For decades, the Western World tolerated the "exorbitant privilege" of a dollar-reserve economy because the United States was the indispensable power, providing reliable security against communism and insurrection without intolerable violence or oppression, thus conditions under which many countries on this side of the Iron Curtain grew and prospered. Those rationales evaporated 15 years ago, and the "Global War on Terror" is not a persuasive replacement. Thus, what was once a grudging bargain with the world's stabilizing hegemon country is now widely seen as a lingering subsidy for a predator state."

    Similarly, another article by Joseph Quinlan (Chief Market Strategist at Banc of America), Behind the Sinking Dollar: America’s Image as a "Rogue Nation? (The Globalist, Dec 7, 2004)[10] notes:

    "...the dollar’s decline mirrors America’s plunging approval rating with the rest of the world. Concerns over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the Kyoto agreement, the U.S. relationships with international institutions and its allies, U.S. visa restrictions and burdensome custom procedures all could have converged to taint America’s global image."

    And one lends money only if one trusts the person's intentions, integrity and repaying capacity.

    2. The Rise of an Alternative Currency - Euro!!!

    Some of the reasons why, inspite of its "weak fundamentals", US$ has remained a global currency-of-choice, are/were:

  • About 80% foreign exchange transactions are conducted in US$.
  • Approximately half the world exports are done using US$.
  • To conduct international trade, countries and banks keep US$ in their reserves.
  • Currently, US$ accounts for 68% of all global exchange reserves.
  • All IMF loans are given in US$, and the debt servicing can be done only in US$ (which incidentally is not surprising, since US Treasury holds 51% stakes in IMF)

  • But perhaps the most importnt reason for the strength of US$ was the petro-dollar. By agreement with OPEC, all global oil trade has been done in US$. Since oil is needed by all economies, the necessity of buying US$ remained intact.

    However, since 1999, Euro has emerged as a strong contender for this spot. Starting weak at $0.85, over the last 4-5 years, it has been gaining strength over US$ to the current exchange rate of $1.33... And even though a strong Euro would hurt the European exports, and the European central banks would try to correct the situation), the global trade is gradually - and often imperceptibly - shifting to Euro. Consider, for instance:

  • In January, 2002, China announced its intention to diversify its portfolio of reserve currencies to increase the proportion of Euros in the kitty. This was a significant development, since China is not only one of the largest single market and exporter, but also holds $208bn - the second largest after Japan - in forex reserves in US$. While the forex currency portfoilio is a state secret in China, according to BNP Paribas, the Central Bank for Euro, this could have led to the share of US$ in China's forex portfolio from around 80% in 1998 to less than 50%.
  • Between, 2001 and 2003, Canada increased the Euro proportion in its forex reserves from 23% to 42%, while reducing the US$ from 75% to 55%.
  • In August 2002, Iran converted more than half of its forex reserves from US$ to Euro. Switching to oil payment in Euro would be just the next step. With 12,000 million tonnes of oil reserves, Iran has the 5th largest oil reserves in the world.
  • In January, 2003, Russian Central Bank announced that it had increased its Euro holdings in forex from 5% to 10%, while reducing the dollar's share from 90% to 75%. It made sense also, since 42% of Russia's imports come from Europe.
  • by mid-2002, many central banks in Taiwan, HongKong, and East European countries, had also started increasing their Euro holdings, while going slow on buying US$. Following the trend, in March 2003, Bank Indonesia was also considering shifting its forex from US$ to Euro.
  • The other country in the "Axis of Evil" - North Korea - also stopped dealing in US$ from December, 2002

    And Most importantly, during the last three years, OPEC is also shifting to Euro. According to a report by Bank of International Settlement, "At the end of June 2004, OPEC members' Euro denominated deposits reached 44 billion Euro nearly doubled compared to 23.5 billion Euro held in the third quarter of 2001... By comparison, OPEC dollar denominated deposits stood at $132.1 billion, down from $145.3 billion in the third quarter of 2001."[11]

    So do all these trends portend the end of global dollar economy?


  • Tuesday, December 07, 2004

    "Why They Hate Us": Pentagon Report

    The following is not written by a Jihadi, or anyone from the liberal left. It is quoted from a 122-page Pentagon Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (click to download - pdf document). The report was submitted in September this year, but was made public only in the end of November, after the US Presidential elections were over:

  • "Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.

  • Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World - but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.

  • Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.

  • Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack - to broad public support.

  • What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.

  • Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic - namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is - for Americans - really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves."

  • Monday, November 08, 2004

    The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism

    It was Benito Mussolini who once stated: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."

    Given the current state of affairs, understanding the defining features of Fascism becomes even more important. One person, Dr. Lawrence Britt. Britt, a political scientist, studied the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). He found the regimes all had 14 things in common, and he calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. The article is titled 'Fascism Anyone?', and appears in Free Inquiry's Spring 2003 issue on page 20.

    1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

    2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

    3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

    4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

    5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homo-sexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

    6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

    7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

    8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

    9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

    10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

    11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

    12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

    13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

    14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

    Sunday, October 31, 2004

    American Multiple Unilateralism

    This table/ list is an interesting commentary on a nation, which wages war to establish peace, bypasses UN to uphold its "resolution", and unilaterally enforces the multi-lateral agreements on other nations, which it has unilaterally rejected itself:

    Convention on Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
    Signed July 17, 1980, never ratified
    The US remains one of a handful of countries, including Iran and Sudan, not to ratify CEDAW. Although Bush has called the treaty "generally favorable," the treaty faces resistance from US conservatives.

    Convention on the Rights of the Child
    Signed Feb. 16, 1995, never ratified At the UN
    Only the United States and Somalia, which has no functional government, have not ratified the Convention. Conservatives who favor the death penalty for minors strongly oppose the treaty.

    International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
    Signed Oct. 5, 1977, never ratified
    The US maintains that economic, social and cultural rights are "aspirational," not inalienable or enforceable. 142 countries have already ratified the Covenant.

    UN Framework Convention on Climate Control (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol
    Ratified UNFCCC Oct. 15, 1992; Signed Kyoto Protocol Nov. 12, 1998, never ratified
    Although President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, mandating a reduction in carbon emissions to below 1990 levels by 2012, a 2001 State Department memo rejected the protocol on the basis that it would harm the US economy and exempt developing countries from reduction requirements. Of industrialized states, only the US, Australia and Israel haven't ratified the protocol. The US did ratify the UNFCCC, but has not complied.

    Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
    Signed Sep. 24, 1996, never ratified
    The US Senate voted in 1999 to reject ratification of the test ban treaty. Taking another step away from the agreement, the White House released the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in early 2002 hinting at a return to testing and reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in a first-strike attack. The NPR also states that arms reductions can be reversed.

    Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty
    Signed and ratified Summer 1972
    US unilateral withdrawal Dec. 13, 2001 The US became the first major power to unilaterally withdraw from a nuclear arms control treaty. Citing "terror threats," the Bush administration will pursue an enormously costly missile defense program, even though its scientific feasibility remains dubious.

    Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and Draft Proposal
    Signed April 10, 1972, ratified March 23, 1975, rejected Draft Proposal in June, 2001
    After the BWC was drafted in 1972, its 144 state parties agreed that the convention's enforcement mechanisms were inadequate. An "Ad Hoc Group" formed in 1994 to negotiate changes. When the group presented its draft proposal in 2001, the US rejected it and refused to return to negotiations, effectively derailing the treaty.

    Chemical Weapons Convention
    Signed Jan. 13, 1993, ratified Apr. 25, 1997
    The US ratified the Convention, but set extensive limitations on how it could be applied in the US, essentially gutting its provisions. The US specifies that material cannot be transferred outside the country for testing, limits which facilities can be tested, and gives the president the right to refuse inspection on the grounds of "national security."

    Mine Ban Treaty
    Never signed
    The US remains the only member of NATO besides Turkey, and the only state in the Western Hemisphere besides Cuba, not to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. The US used anti-personnel land mines in the first Gulf War, and claims that land mines are essential to protect US soldiers in heavily armed places like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

    Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC)
    Signed Dec. 31, 2000, unsigned June 6, 2002 In 2002
    the US made the unprecedented move to "unsign" the treaty establishing the ICC. Since then, the US has systematically undermined the ICC by signing bilateral agreements with states to exempt US military and government personnel from the court's jurisdiction.

    Monday, October 25, 2004

    Unilteral Nation Building: Lessons from Histroy

    While much is being publicised about how Iraq, with the help of International Community will be the next example of Nation-Building (and will emerge as a vibrant democracy in the middle-east), the history sees to indicate otherise.

    This policy brief from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace throws up some dissonant facts about American Record on Nation Building:

  • During the last century, US has made around 200 military interventions around the world.

  • Based on 3 criteria, viz.,
    1. declared goal of "regime change" or "saving a regime",
    2. deployment and long-term commitment of large number of ground troops, and
    3. deep involvement in the political process through use of American military and civilian processes),

    only 16/200 would qualify as efforts towards "Nation Building"

  • Of these 16, in only 4 democracy could survive 10 years after the departure of US forces.

  • Of the 4 successful transitions to democracy, 2 nations (Panama and Granada were really small, with a population of >3mn and 0.1mn, respectively)

  • The other 2 much quoted examples of successful Nation Building - Germany and Japan - had many similar characteristics (which contrast with the situation in Iraq):
    1. both of these countries were homogenous societies with no dominant conflicting interest groups,
    2. had previous experience of constitutionalism, and
    3. the popular (and soemtime elite) interests were aligned to those of the US.

  • Not a single US-supported Surrogate Regime could make a transition to democracy in the post-conflict period.

    ... the full report/ Policy brief is available at:

  • Saturday, October 23, 2004

    Empire Creates Its Own History

    For most of us (individuals, organisations, states): History unfolds, we pick up the cues of its direction, and align ourselves to leverage on this unfolding...

    But there can also be another - more experimental and faith-based - view of History, viz., not of history-as-unfolding, but as history-to be-made (or history-as-an-experimental-creation)...

    ...this excerpt from Ron Suskind's article in New York Times, Without a Doubt (Oct 17, 2004) is a good example of this perspective:

    "In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like... I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend...

    "The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community", which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.""

    What also gives credence to this view - to the view that there is a set of people who firmly believe that one can experiment with history, and thus, change the nature of reality, is the history of a think-tank - Project for New American Century[1] -which was formed in 1997. The 25 signitories of its "Statement of Principles[1]" included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Jeb Bush (and Zalmay Khalilzad - the present US Ambassador to Afghanistan, and the erstwhile Unicol director)

    One of the reports by this think-tank, Rebuilding America's Defenses (Sept, 2000)[2] - a year before 9/11, and in many ways, reminescent of Hitler's Mein Kampf - is remarkably prophetic of History to come:

    Re: 9/11:
    "Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."

    Re: Iraq War:
    "Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

    Re: "Axis of Evil":
    "The current American peace will be short-lived if the United States becomes vulnerable to rogue powers with small, inexpensive arsenals of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads or other weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself. The blessings of the American peace, purchased at fearful cost and a century of effort, should not be so trivially squandered"

    the coincidences go on....

    ... perhaps, it will be history-as-unfolding, which will determine if this history-as-an-experiment turned out to be successful...


    Wednesday, October 20, 2004

    Globally Competitive Socialist Welfare States

    World Economic Forum released the Global Competitiveness Report [download pdf summary] last week.

    The report which rankscovers 120+ countries ranked the following as the top 10 globally competitive countries:

    1. Finland
    2. USA
    3. Sweden
    4. Taiwan
    5. Denmark
    6. Norway
    7. Singapore
    8. Switzerland
    9. Japan
    10. Iceland
    What is interesting about this ranking is that 5 of these countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland) are the Scandinavian/Nordic countries, and can be broadly described as Socialist Welfare States. These countries have been in this league since last 3-4 years, and also feature in the top slot on HDI - Human Development Index).

    Of course, in the recent times, the "Socialist Welfare" Economic Model has become somewhat unfashionable in the metropolitan conversations of business-leaders/ strategy-makers (except as a target for bashing). But in its basic meaning, Socialism - i.e., people's control over the means of production - is worth a thought and consideration. And these
    FAQs on the Scandenavian Model[1] describe why and how this economic model works.

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Iraq Pays for "War Damages"

    According to an article in The Guardian, on October 21 2004, United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) - a body of UN, which had recently described the Iraq invasion as "illegal" - will collect $200mn as "War Reparation" from the Iraqis, and will distribute it to some of the richest countries and corporation.

    Since last April, Iraq has paid $1.8bn as "damages for war" to UNCC,, which has distributed it among:
    - UK ($37mn),
    - USA ($32.8mn),
    - Halliburton ($18m),
    - Bechtel ($7m),
    - Mobil ($2.3m),
    - Shell ($1.6m),
    - Nestlé ($2.6m),
    - Pepsi ($3.8m),
    - Philip Morris ($1.3m),
    - Sheraton ($11m),
    - Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and
    - Toys R Us ($189,449)...
    among others...


    Thursday, October 07, 2004

    No WMDs as justification for War

    MIAMI Oct. 7, 2004 — Vice President Dick Cheney asserted on Thursday that a report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, who found no evidence that Iraq produced weapons of mass destruction after 1991, justifies rather than undermines President Bush's decision to go to war....

    [at one level this news item is ironically hilarious... at the other, it is a tragic commentry on people who have died, lost homes and loved ones, committed suicide - and all for nothing!!!]

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    Imploding Iraq: Email as News

    This personal mail has been doing rounds on the net, and now Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi also confirmed that his was written by her.

    What I found interesting in the mail - was not so much the content - which is pretty well-known, but the fact that a personal mail can be a news item.

    For those who don't know that Iraq has become a quagmire, the complete text is available on this blog; here are a few excerpts:

    "Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest.... I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't..

    ...In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

    ...Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

    Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

    What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war.

    In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone.... Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

    A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men... melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped... there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards... This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

    ...The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day.... I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to...

    America's last hope for a quick exit?... The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date-- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

    As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe [that]... after two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

    Oil dreams?... Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer...

    Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

    I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

    Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

    ...The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations...

    I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

    Friday, September 24, 2004

    Paranoid Survives?

    Thursday, September 23, 2004
    San Francisco Chronicle

    "The bearded musician once called Cat Stevens -- who was plucked from a United Airlines jet in Bangor, Maine, on Tuesday by federal officials because he's on the Department of Homeland Security's "no-fly'' list -- has nothing to do with terrorists, his brother said Wednesday.

    "His only work, his only mind-set, is humanitarian causes,'' David Gordon, the singer's brother and manager, told the Associated Press. "He just wants to be an ambassador for peace.''

    The former pop star, who changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1977 after converting to Islam, was flying from London to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday when the plane was diverted to Bangor. He was detained and "denied admission to the United States on national security grounds,'' said Homeland Security Department spokesman Dennis Murphy. Government officials said the musician has given money to groups suspected of ties to terrorism.

    ....Before he converted to Islam, changed his name and spurned the music business, Stevens was one of the most successful pop performers of the 1970s. He made a string of hit records whose sweetly naive folk-rock sensibility helped usher in the era of the introspective singer-songwriter. Songs like "Tea for the Tillerman,'' "Morning Has Broken'' and "Peace Train'' topped the charts and made Stevens rich. He sold more than 25 million albums.

    But after becoming a Muslim, he sold off material possessions, including his Ovation acoustic guitar (he was the guy who put Ovation on the map) and quit recording for nearly two decades. He dedicated himself to establishing Muslim schools and other charities in England.

    ....Islam began making mostly spoken-word, Muslim-themed records in 1995 and performed in Sarajevo in 1997. A major Muslim voice in Britain, he widely condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, writing on his official Web site that "no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action.''

    He contributed some of the royalties from the sale of a boxed set of his music to the September 11 Fund, and last year re-recorded his 1971 hit "Peace Train'' -- his first English-language music disc in 25 years -- for a star- studded CD to benefit children in war-torn Iraq."

    Thursday, September 23, 2004

    Blogs and Mainstream Media

    Wednesday September 22, 2004
    The Guardian

    CBS's admission that its story of George Bush's special treatment when with the Texas air national guard was deeply flawed is being seen as a key victory for the new "blogging" community of the internet against old media.

    ...the retraction would not have happened when it did but for the efforts of an army of bloggers - writers of online journals - in exposing the documents as fraudulent, including some who authoritatively questioned the authenticity of the documents almost as they were released.

    CBS was doubly at fault. It failed to appreciate the force of the thousands of voluntary fact-checkers out there on the web (let alone trying to harness their power in advance), while also failing to interview bloggers after the event as part of an ongoing story.

    Newspapers often claim superiority because their stories go through a time-established filtration plant - professional writers, skilled subeditors, revise subs and expensive lawyers. This compares with the web's more anarchic processes, where brews of unfiltered stories, some highly speculative, are put into circulation, and cream sometimes rises to the top.

    In fact, bloggers are often people very expert in their own fields who attract other experts when issues in their domain are newsworthy. Stories in old media can be fact-checked instantaneously and the journalists and their newspapers held to account.

    ....There is no doubt that the tectonic plates of journalism are moving. There is awesome potential in the internet as a gatherer, distributor and checker of news - not least through instant delivery channels such as mobile phones. This does not mean old media will die. But it will have to adapt quickly to what has so far been an asymmetrical relationship.

    Blogs have battened off newspapers and many newspapers, including the Guardian, have launched their own blogs. But most newspapers, let alone TV stations, have not embraced the blogging revolution as an essential part of the future rather than an irritant in the background. The CBS saga may prove to be the wake-up call they needed.

    Monday, September 20, 2004

    Next Destination: Iran

    A couple of days after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - and Mohamed ElBaradei - made the statement that they have found no sign of nuclear-related activity at a site in Iran called Parchin that several U.S. officials said may be linked to secret atom bomb research, UN passed a resolution asking Iran to stop Uranium enrichment, and the US says that ""the clock is ticking"...

    ... It seems that the clock is ticking... we don't know for whom...

    ...of course, a couple of years later - much too late - UN may realise again, as in the case of Iraq, that this war was also illegal!!!

    Friday, September 17, 2004

    The Ultimate Privatization

    The website of this organisation reads:

    "CCA has approximately 66,000 beds in 65 facilities, including 38 owned facilities, under contract for management in 20 states and the District of Columbia."

    NO! this is not a healthcare corporation!

    CCA (Correction Corporation of America) is the largest privately-run prison system in USA (and perhaps also in the world).

    A news item in the NewStandard reports:

    Private Prison Operator Expects Business to Grow

    Sep 14 - Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison firm in the country, said severe overcrowding in the United States federal prison system is likely to help fatten the bottom line of corporate prison operators. Federal prisons are running at more than 130 percent of capacity, the company told investors. The majority of people incarcerated are male and between the ages of 18 and 24. With the overall population of this demographic increasing, the company assumes more people will be thrown into prison, also helping business.

    "Successfully exploiting these opportunities should result in strong earnings and cash flow growth," CCA bragged to investors, according to the Associated Press.

    The company said the Bush administration's post-9/11 immigration policy of mass roundups and increased police presence in urban areas over the last four years has led to higher incarceration rates. That, combined with the historic trend of increased incarceration, will likely promote increased use of private prisons in the US. CCA also noted that the national turn toward private prisons has been greatly helped by the Bush administration, which has reduced the construction of prisons in favor of contracting private companies and local governments.

    Ken Kopczynski, who works with the Private Corrections Institute Inc., a group that opposes private prisons, told the AP, "These people are making money off the hope we keep locking people up and there's more crime, which is a sorry state of affairs to say something like that."

    Since 1975, the lockup rate has climbed to 400 out of every 100,000 citizens, compared with 100 out of 100,000 in the 50 years prior.

    In fact, prisons seem to be good for economy and business. Excerpts from anther article:

    "...other states, such as California, Tennessee, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and Iowa, which have incorporated prisoners into the labor force, placing artificial downward pressure on wages. Thousands of state and federal prisoners are currently generating more than $1 billion per year in sales for private businesses, often competing directly with the private sector labor force. The Correctional Industries Association predicts that by the year 2000, 30 percent of America's inmate population will labor to create nearly $9 billion in sales for private business interests.

    Oregon has even started advertising its prison labor force and factories, claiming that businesses who utilize incarcerated workers would otherwise go overseas for cheap labor (thanks, GATT and NAFTA!). In 1995, an overwhelming majority of Oregon voters passed a constitutional amendment that will put 100 percent of its state inmates to work.

    And they'll be making a lot more than license plates and road signs. One product of Oregon's inmate factories are uniforms for McDonald's. Tennessee inmates stitch together jeans for Kmart and JC Penney, as well as $80 wooden rocking ponies for Eddie Bauer. Mattresses and furniture are perennial favorites in prison factories, and Ohio inmates even produced car parts for Honda, until the United Auto Workers intervened. Prisoners have been employed doing data entry, assembling computer circuit boards and even taking credit card ticket orders for TWA.

    ....Although prison manufacturing facilities do offer short-term benefits at a time when budgets are strained to the breaking point, the system is ripe for exploitation and abuse by government and corporate entities seeking to cut financial corners.

    ....So why do they do it? In California, prisoners who refuse to work are moved to discliplinary housing and lose canteen priveleges, as well as "good time" credit that slices hard time off their sentences."

    Sunday, September 12, 2004

    The Accidental Terrorist

    Yesterday in my other blog, I had mentioned why the War on Terror canot be won - because terror is a tactics, and not the enemy.

    Today I found this interesting news article in The Guardian, which provides a proof for the above thesis:

    Early one morning this week, when the police have yet to set up too many checkpoints, Abu Mujahed will strap a mortar underneath a car, drive to a friend's in central Baghdad and bury the weapon in his garden. In the evening he will return with the rest of his group, sleep for a few hours and then take the weapon from its hiding place. He will calculate the range using the American military's own maps and satellite pictures - bought in a bazaar - and fire a few rounds at a military base or the US Embassy or at the Iraqi Prime Minister's office. Then Abu Mujahed will shower, change and, by 10am, be at his desk in one of the major ministries.

    Last week he sat in a Baghdad hotel speaking to The Observer. A chubby man in his thirties with a shaven head, a brown sports shirt, slacks and a belt with a cheap fake-branded buckle, he... talked for more than three hours and revealed:

    · How his resistance group, comprising self-taught Sunni Muslim Iraqis, is almost completely independent, choosing targets and timings themselves, but occasionally receiving broad strategic directions from a religious 'sheikh' most of them have never met.

    · How it is funded by Iraqis in Europe, including the UK, and from wealthy sympathisers in Saudi Arabia.

    · How it has rejected any alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated 'foreign fighters' and Shia militia.

    · How it receives intelligence from 'friends' within the coalition forces.

    · How it runs a counter-intelligence operation that has resulted in the execution of two suspected spies in recent weeks.

    · How it is learning increasingly sophisticated techniques and plans to detonate big bombs in Baghdad soon.

    ...Intelligence experts in Iraq talk of three main types of insurgent. There is the Mahdi Army of Shia Muslims who follow the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and have led recent resistance to coalition forces in northern Baghdad, the central shrine city of Najaf, and Basra, the southern port under British control. There is also 'al-Qaeda' - non-Iraqi militants who have come to Iraq to wage jihad. And finally the 'former regime loyalists', who are said to want the return of Saddam Hussein or, if that is impossible, his Baath party.

    Abu Mujahed, worryingly for the analysts, fits into none of these easy categories....

    Friday, September 10, 2004

    Governments as "Enrons"

    Apparently, Creative Accounting is not limited to just the corporates - even the governments do it, as this article shows:

    "A new report from the Congressional Budget Office explains that the deficit is a virtually meaningless measure of the government’s indebtedness. The main reason for this is that the federal government uses cash accounting rather than accrual accounting. What this means is that the government can acquire massive debts far into the future with virtual impunity. The government can also, in effect, cosign for loans and provide insurance that could potentially cost taxpayers hundreds of billion of dollars without it ever showing up in the budget until a check has to be written.

    By the CBO’s reckoning, the federal government’s true debt last year was $8.5 trillion — more than twice the debt held by the public, which we generally think of as the national debt. That figure came to $4 trillion, only slightly more than the $3.9 trillion in future benefits owed to government employees and veterans.

    But even the $8.5 trillion figure is much too low because it excludes the really big debts that are owed for Social Security and Medicare. Since these obligations extend far into the future, the only way they can realistically be quantified is by using a statistical method called present value. This takes account of the fact that $1 fifty years from now is worth much less than $1 today. Future debts need to be discounted to put them into today’s dollars.

    Even with discounting, however, the figures are massive. The CBO estimates the unfunded liability for Social Security at $7.2 trillion. But this is virtually nothing next to the $37.6 trillion cost of Medicare. In short, we would need to have about $45 trillion in the bank today earning interest in order to pay all the promises that have been made for future Social Security and Medicare benefits — over and above the future taxes and premiums that will be collected to fund these programs....

    ...Writing in the Nebraska Law Review last year, George Washington University law professor Cheryl Block compared bookkeeping by the federal government to bookkeeping by businesses involved in corporate scandals. She found little difference. Congress, she wrote, “has been guilty of using accounting devices remarkably similar to those used by Enron, WorldCom and others to ‘cook the books’ and to mislead the public with regard to government finances.”

    A friend later pointed out that even in India, we have a similar accounting system, though there is a move to change it

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004

    B-Schools' Role in Creating Enrons

    This report is mentioned at the end of this page:

    Business Schools share the blame for Enronitis
    (Financial Times, July 18th, 2003)

    Sumantra Ghoshal, professor of strategy and international management at London Business School, writes that despite the post-Enron rush to teach business ethics and corporate social responsibility to MBA students, business schools "need to own up to their own role in creating Enronitis."

    Ghoshal notes that agency theory, created by Michael Jensen at Harvard, taught MBA students that managers could not be trusted to maximize shareholder value and therefore managers' and shareholders' interests had to be aligned through incentives such as stock options.

    At Berkeley and Stanford, students were taught transaction cost economics, developed by Oliver Williamson, which argues that the only reason companies exist is because managers can exercise authority to ensure all employees do what they are told. As a result, managers must ensure that staff are tightly monitored and controlled while creating individual performance incentives.

    Michael Porter has argued that to be profitable, a company must actively compete not only with its competitors but also with its suppliers, customers, regulators and employees, striving to restrict or distort competition, "bad though this may be for society."

    Ghoshal concludes that "by incorporating negative and highly pessimistic assumptions about people and institutions, pseudo-scientific theories of management have done much to reinforce, if not create, pathological behavior on the part of managers and companies. It is time the academics who propose these theories and the business school and universities that employ them acknowledged the consequences."

    Sunday, August 29, 2004

    Corporation as a Psychopath

    This quote from the last post: "But the corporate world's dirty little secret may well be that psychopaths thrive because companies actively seek them out..."

    It reminded me of Joel Bakan's book, The Corporation: The Pathalogical Pursuit of Profit and Power, now also a movie

    If corporation are analysed on the symptoms of DSM-IV, they would have the personality of a psychopath:

    If you don't agree with this diagnosis, then Watch and Listen to This

    Friday, August 27, 2004

    Corporate Executive as a Psychopath

    STOCKHOLM - Is your boss a charming, well-educated and polished leader intent on climbing the career ladder? If so, he could be a psychopath, psychologists gathered in Stockholm said.

    Recent research has shown that not all psychopaths are violent killers - many of them hold normal jobs, with some rising to the highest levels of executive management.

    But their charisma and ambition are often mistaken for leadership traits rather than psychopathic ones, industrial-organisation psychologist Paul Babiak of the United States told the EuroScience Open Forum in Stockholm.

    "Psychopaths tend to be charming, have a grandiose sense of self, and they like money, power and sex. They have strong verbal skills and can manipulate by telling a good story. Because they can talk big, you think they have vision and can lead an organisation, but a psychopath will mislead," Babiak said.

    He warned that the number of psychopaths in corporations will probably increase in coming years, as they thrive in the dynamic and rapidly-changing organisations of today's business market where they can advance quickly.

    "Psychopaths don't like to work in bureaucratic organisations," he said, noting that they are "thrill-seekers who like to play the game".

    Babiak said a psychopath typically shows no signs of remorse, or feels other emotions the way mentally stable people do.

    "So while a psychopath would have no qualms about closing down a plant, a true leader would feel bad about putting all those people out of work," he said.

    But the corporate world's dirty little secret may well be that psychopaths thrive because companies actively seek them out: The focus on short-term results in today's "quarterly capitalism" requires ruthless leaders not afraid to take hard quick decisions without looking back.

    Babiak conceded that a psychopath may indeed be good for a company in the short-term, but will invariably become a problem later.

    "Psychopaths can spin a good tale, but they can't do the day-to-day work. They leech off other workers," he said.

    Professor Erich Bartel of the Frankfurt Business School of Finance and Management agreed.

    "In the short-term the company will maximize its profit but in the long-term it will be unable to because it will lose out on human capital," he said.

    Babiak said psychopaths were found in all professions.

    In his work as a consultant for US companies, Babiak said he had come across eight psychopaths among some 100 employees, and all but one have moved up in their organisations.

    Thursday, August 26, 2004

    Bush-Bashing in Election Times

    These are more sophisticated digs than the ones which happen in India, and some are quite funny:

    See more on this site...

    Inciting War as an Electoral Strategy

    It seems we are going to have another war - this time between US and North Korea - and scheduled at the critical time just before the US presidential elections.

    There is a small paragraph in this news item in International Herald Tribune:

    "North Korean nervousness is expected to rise in late October, when warships from the United States, Japan and other allied nations are to conduct joint exercises in the Sea of Japan.

    The maneuvers will be held under the banner of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a program designed to block illicit cargoes from an unnamed country.

    Previous training has taken place in locations distant from North Korea, like the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia."

    Now that the setting is set, all that would be needed is a Gulf of Tonkin kind of hoax - which led to the Vietnam War - to justify a war on North Korea...

    ...and one does not change the president, when the country is fighting a war, would you?...

    Monday, August 23, 2004

    Media - TV & internet - and the Molding of Our Beliefs

    This is from a recent interview with John Parry Barlow, the Founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the author of the classic article "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace"

    (we)..."now have two distinct ways of gathering information beyond what you yourself can experience. One of them is less a medium than an environment -- the Internet -- with a huge multiplicity of points of view, lots of different ways to find out what’s going on in the world. Lots of people are tuned to that, and a million points of view have bloomed. It creates a cacophony of viewpoints that doesn’t have any political coherence at all, a beautiful melee, but it doesn’t have the capacity to create large blocs of belief.

    The other medium, TV, has a much smaller share of viewers than at any time in the past, but those viewers get all their information there. They get turned into a very uniform belief block. TV in America created the most coherent reality distortion field that I’ve ever seen. Therein is the problem: People who vote watch TV, and they are hallucinating like a sonofabitch. Basically, what we have in this country is government by hallucinating mob.

    Sunday, August 22, 2004

    The Future of Oil

    You can read the story by clicking on the title above, or just let these Pictures say their own stories:

    Saturday, August 21, 2004

    Politics, US Elections and Olympics

    PATRAS, Greece -- Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir scored a goal here on Wednesday night, setting off a rousing celebration among the 1,500 Iraqi soccer supporters at Pampeloponnisiako Stadium....

    Afterward, Sadir had a message for U.S. president George W. Bush, who is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements.

    In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes."

    "Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," Sadir told through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. "He can find another way to advertise himself."

    Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes."

    ...But they also find it offensive that Bush is using Iraq for his own gain when they do not support his administration's actions. "My problems are not with the American people," says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad. "They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

    At a speech in Beaverton, Ore., last Friday, Bush attached himself to the Iraqi soccer team after its opening-game upset of Portugal. "The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it's fantastic, isn't it?" Bush said. "It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted."

    Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf lies in ruins.

    "I want the violence and the war to go away from the city," says Sadir, 21. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away."

    Manajid, 22, who nearly scored his own goal with a driven header on Wednesday, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance.

    "I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?" Manajid says. "Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq."...

    Wednesday, August 11, 2004

    Athens Olympics: Business Takes Over!!!

    This perhaps would set a new trend of sponsors controlling the lives of people...

    Since Coca-Cola and McDonald happen to be the sponsors of Olymics, under the Clean Venue Policythe spectators cannot carry Pepsi or other competing products in the Olympics!!!

    The news item reads:

    "Strict regulations published by Athens 2004 last week dictate that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.

    ...sports fans... with a soft drink other than one made by Coca-Cola will be told to leave the banned refreshment at the gates or be shut out.

    Staff will also be on the lookout for T-shirts, hats and bags displaying the unwelcome logos of non-sponsors. Stewards have been trained to detect people who may be wearing merchandise from the sponsors' rivals in the hope of catching the eyes of TV audiences."

    Monday, August 09, 2004

    Why Sudan? - the coincidence

    I had written about this sudden interest about Sudan a few days back.

    and then I came across this article by Karen Kwiatkowski at - which says something similar:

    By this time, we have all learned a lot about the current Bush administration, its predecessors and sadly, its successors. Let’s review.

  • Oil is important to Washington.
  • Leverage of oil production and policies is important to Houston and New York, and Washington.
  • Illusions of national financial security must be maintained, at all cost.
    Holy worship of the Federal Reserve and cultish market obsession with the mental and physical health of Alan Greenspan is "a good thing."
  • Propaganda works even better in the information age than before it. Before TV and Internet, people tended to believe their own eyes and trust their own experience. Today, we consume without assessment massive amounts of "government" and other misinformation.
  • Americans like to be good guys, doing "good things."

    ... do read this article....

  • Sunday, August 08, 2004

    New Bushism

    George W Bush is known for his "Bushisms", but this one will perhaps go down in history as a prophetic quote:

    "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful,
    and so are we.
    They never stop thinking about new ways
    to harm our country and our people,
    and neither do we."

    President Bush, at a signing ceremony Aug. 5, 2004 for a $417 billion defense bill

    Friday, August 06, 2004

    The 1st WMD: 59 Years back...

    "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians."
    - President Truman, August 6th, 1945

    Tuesday, August 03, 2004

    Sudan: From Oil to Turm-Oil

    Suddenly, the Civilised World has become aware - and gung-ho - about the "Genocide", "Ethnic Cleansing" and "Humanitarian Crisis" in Sudan. The UN resolution (by US, UK, EU, etc.) warns the Sudanese Govt to resolve a crisis, simmering since 1956, in 30 day!!!... Otherwise, it will have to face... er, well,... it will be invaded/ liberated/ intervened...

    This sudden humanitarian interest in Sudan, specially after the Sudanese government reached some kind of peace with the rebels only in April this year, is understandable. One only has to read the Sudan Country Analysis Brief of the Energy Information Administration to comprehend the benevolent motives:

    "With the completion of a major oil export pipeline in July 1999, Sudanese crude oil production and exports have risen rapidly over the past few years. Sudan's estimated oil reserves have doubled since 2001, with crude production reaching an estimated 345,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in June 2004. Energy Minister Awad al-Jaz said in May 2004 that he expected crude production to reach 500,000 bbl/d in 2005."

    Given that:

    • Iraq oil policy turned out to be disaster
    • Russian Yuko is closing down (which accounted for 2% of world's refined oil capacity)
    • Oil prices have gone beyond $44/barrel
    • China continues to consume more and more oil is natural that the locust must find a new field...

    Sunday, August 01, 2004

    The "Other" Indians Hostages in Iraq

    Over 5000 Indians in US troops' custody in Iraq

    Saturday, 31 July , 2004 "Sify" -- Jalandhar: Even as the fate of three Indians abducted in Iraq hang on balance, two truck drivers who were detained and later freed by militants in the war-ravaged country in May, on Friday said that over 5000 Indians were in 'the custody of the US troops' in the gulf country and some of them were killed in attacks on the western forces.

    "Over 5000 Indian truck drivers and labourers are still in the custody of the American army and some of them have been killed in attacks by Iraqi people on the vehicles carrying US Army's personnel and war equipment," Lakhwinder Singh and Harnke Singh of Bhangala village told reporters in Jalandhar.

    Families of the Indians killed in Iraq were not even informed about the death of their kins, they alleged... "Since the American Army has taken vehicles of Kuwaiti transporters on lease, they forcibly take drivers to Iraq and if anybody shows restrain, they beat him up mercilessly," they alleged. "Even the American army has kept Indian labourers hostages in their camps and do not allow them to leave the premises."

    Sunday, July 25, 2004

    Harsud: Development through Drowning

    India News > Harsud (Madhya Pradesh), July 10 (IANS) :

    On the brink of falling down the precipice of history as waters from the Narmada dam wait to submerge it, this ghost town without any residents is also bustling with activity as never before.

    Trucks are taking away trees, doors and bricks and scrap dealers have descended on the town as it gets systematically dismantled with most residents having left already.

    And as business activity reaches a crescendo, the river Kalimachak is slowly moving towards the town waiting to devour it with its waters -- just as a python slowly slithers towards its prey,

    It is a matter of a few days before the tributary of the Narmada, on which a hugely controversial dam has been built, submerges this town in southwest Madhya Pradesh.

    Kalimachak is only a kilometre away - the day heavy rains hit the area, the waters of the river will swell its banks inundating this town.

    But till then, this town, which most of the 6,000 families have deserted, will keep buzzing.

    Hundreds of scrap and trash dealers from neighbouring cities have descended on the city to make money so long as the waters stay away.

    Most of the 22,000-odd people of the town have left carrying only necessary household items and intending to sell the rest.

    "Nearly 200 scrap dealers are working day and night in Harsud as people are selling things they do not need in their day-to-day life," said Anwar Khan, who has come here from neighbouring Indore.

    Khan had visited his sister in Harsud a week ago and set up shop realising that money was waiting to be made.

    "Each scrap dealer has brought with him several people who are busy fetching trash from houses in barrows round-the-clock," Khan said.

    Nearly all the houses have been dismantled, either totally or partially, leaving Harsud looking like a bombed out town. And house owners are busy selling old bricks, doors and windows.

    "The poor and those dealing in construction material are buying from them. Poor people cannot buy fresh bricks or doors and windows. The others want to sell them at a higher price," said Amir Ali, a native of Harsud.

    Truck owners have also landed in the town because people need to carry away trash or building material.

    "Trucks with various goods are leaving Harsud every day," said Amar Agarwal, a truck owner who has opened an office in the town.

    "With the government declaring that people are free to take the trees falling under from the submergence area, more trucks will be needed," said Agarwal.

    "The sorry part is that except human beings, everything is on sale in Harsud," said Manorama Agarwal, deputy chairperson of Harsud's local council.

    Friday, July 23, 2004

    Coalition of the Leaving

    According to this Washington Post article, the "coalition of the willing" is transforming itself into the "coalition of the leaving":

    • with four countries already gone, another four due to leave by September and others now making known their intention to wind down or depart before the political transition is complete next year
    • Norway quietly pulled out its 155 military engineers this month, leaving behind only about 15 personnel
    • New Zealand intends to pull out its 60 engineers by September
    • Thailand plans to withdraw its more than 450 troops in September
    • Several participating countries sent fewer than 100 troops. In other cases, forces diminished significantly over time. Moldova's contingent is the smallest -- down to 12 from 42. Singapore has quietly reduced its presence from 191 to 33

    In any case, as this table shows, the so-called 32-nations coalition actually consisted of perfunctory presence by all but two countries (USA and UK)

    Thursday, July 22, 2004

    Images of "Liberation"

    The Guardian Reports:

    "The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison was first exposed not by a digital photograph but by a letter. In December 2003, a woman prisoner inside the jail west of Baghdad managed to smuggle out a note. Its contents were so shocking that, at first, Amal Kadham Swadi and the other Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying to gain access to the US jail found them hard to believe.

    The note claimed that US guards had been raping women detainees, who were, and are, in a small minority at Abu Ghraib. Several of the women were now pregnant, it added. The women had been forced to strip naked in front of men, it said. The note urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women further shame.

    Late last year, Swadi, one of seven female lawyers now representing women detainees in Abu Ghraib, began to piece together a picture of systemic abuse and torture perpetrated by US guards against Iraqi women held in detention without charge. This was not only true of Abu Ghraib, she discovered, but was, as she put it, "happening all across Iraq".

    In November last year, Swadi visited a woman detainee at a US military base at al-Kharkh, a former police compound in Baghdad. "She was the only woman who would talk about her case. She was crying. She told us she had been raped," Swadi says. "Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, 'We have daughters and husbands. For God's sake don't tell anyone about this.'"

    Astonishingly, the secret inquiry launched by the US military in January, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed that the letter smuggled out of Abu Ghraib by a woman known only as "Noor" was entirely and devastatingly accurate. While most of the focus since the scandal broke three weeks ago has been on the abuse of men, and on their sexual humilation in front of US women soldiers, there is now incontrovertible proof that women detainees - who form a small but unknown proportion of the 40,000 people in US custody since last year's invasion - have also been abused. Nobody appears to know how many. But among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there are, according to Taguba's report, images of a US military policeman "having sex" with an Iraqi woman..."

    Wednesday, July 14, 2004

    ...A New "Free" Iraq - 2

    Freedom - specially, one which is "imposed" - has a cost!!!
    Engines of Industry Sputtering in Iraq
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A14

    BAGHDAD -- Once a month for the past year, Essam Awada, 28, went to work to pick up his pay. The genial warehouse foreman would sit around with the other guys at the water tank factory, tell a few Saddam jokes, and they would get their money and go home. But now, he said, he doesn't bother. A neighbor brings him his pay.

    "They told us not to even come in. There's no work," Awada said, shrugging.

    A friend, Mohammad Armut, is an aircraft engineer. He used to work on the Iraqi military's Russian fighters. But there are no more military planes, no civilian airline and no work for him. Armut, like other workers, got a raise when the Americans took over. He gets a check every month for doing nothing....

    ...Fifteen months after the U.S. occupation began, with its ambitious goals of converting Iraq into a free-market model for the Middle East, the wheels of Iraq's daily economy are barely turning.

    Little reconstruction is evident. Bombed or looted buildings remain vacant shells. Factories remain still, idled by lack of electricity, the absence of a market and a shortage of raw materials, equipment parts and motivation. U.S. plans to privatize Iraq's antiquated government-run industries fell flat. Iraqi officials say their American supervisors came, surveyed the problems and left.

    "The Americans came in thinking it would be a picnic," said Hachim Hasani, the new minister of industry and minerals. "They were misled."...

    ...The problem, he said, is that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority arbitrarily doubled salaries to reduce unrest when it took over in April 2003. That huge increase in operating costs makes the company's wool blankets, tents and clothing much more expensive than imports.

    "We can't sell our products on the local market. Our prices are too high," Barrak said. "It's good to have better salaries for our workers. People need to feed their families. But it's a disaster for the company."

    With the product piling up unsold in warehouses, "we will pay out so much, the company will become zero," he said....

    Wednesday, July 07, 2004

    Finally.. A New "Free" Iraq - 1

    "U.S. officials in charge of the Development Fund for Iraq drained all but $900 million from the $20 billion fund by late June in what one watchdog group has called an '11th-hour splurge.'

    "An international monitoring board is planning an audit of money from the development fund that was spent on contracts for Iraq's reconstruction that were approved without competitive bidding.

    "The fund, made up largely of Iraqi oil revenue, is intended to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq. Critics have charged that U.S. officials have failed to account properly for money spent so far.

    "In a report this week, the General Accounting Office said 'contracts worth billions of dollars in Iraqi funds have not been independently reviewed.' It also questioned what control over U.S.-approved contracts would now exist with the handover of formal sovereignty to Iraqis."

    Sunday, July 04, 2004

    Abu Ghraib happens in USA also

    Sometime back when we were having a discussion in II forum on the Iraq prison abuse, I had shared these two clips, which showed that similar things have been happening in US prisons as well (and I am sure, in most prisons around the world):

    1. CNN movie on Prison Abuse in a Texas Prison
    2. A CBS News item which has a link to a clip showing physical abuse an Indian prisoner

    Today, I came across this article by Anne-Marie Cusac, who has been writing about prison abuses in US prions. There are the quotes from her recent articles article:

    "When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

    "When I heard that dogs had been used to intimidate and bite at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib, I thought of the training video shown at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas.

    "When I learned that the male inmates at Abu Ghraib were forced to wear women's underwear, I thought of the Maricopa County jails in Phoenix, Arizona.

    "And when I saw the photos of the naked bodies restrained in grotesque and clearly uncomfortable positions, I thought of the Utah prison system.

    "Donald Rumsfeld said of the abuse when he visited Abu Ghraib on May 13, 'It doesn't represent American values.'

    "But the images from Iraq looked all too American to me."

    My take has been that there is a "culture of prison" , which overshadows all other norms, laws and rules - and perhaps also is common world over, irrespective of whether the prison in American, Indian, Japanese, British... or of the erstwhile, Nazi Germany!!!

    Wednesday, June 30, 2004

    Primitive Processes on the Internet

    In continuation to the previous posting, an article by Prof Robert M Young, Professor of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Sheffield, makes two insightful points:

    1. "One of the most striking features of email forums... is that people can experience almost no impediment to expressing themselves — for good or ill. They can say something which they would be very unlikely to say on the phone or write in a letter, largely, I think, because it all feels as if it its happening in the head. You do not even have the other person’s voice cues; no piece of paper, envelope, stamp or trip to the post is required. Cyberspace has a fantasy quality. As a result, people say the most intimate thing and the most horrid things with considerable ease....

    ...It is also the case that one is in a private space and alone while writing, inside the head. No other face or voice is in the room. It can seem like reflecting, with no external consequences. People are usually unaware as they compose email postings that messages are archived by the recipient or automatically by the forum. There is no sense of a permanent record. It can all seem like passing thoughts, of no long-term consequence. A computer file does not feel like a permanent record. Even though it can be printed out its reality is experienced as virtual."


    2. "...where people can be whomsoever they like. They change their genders, their degree of assertiveness, their sexual predilections at will. Anything goes... On the net it is easy to split into idealised and denigrated part-object relations... People are also much more generous and helpful on the net in scholarly matters than I have found them to be in the rest of life. On the other hand, people can project violently and utterly denigrate another or a whole forum and have tantrums...

    ...I think cues are important here. The coinage of email communications is the written word, usually composed quickly, often in haste. The keyboard is one’s palate. There is no eye contact; there are no nuances of intonation, no instantaneous chance to measure and correct misunderstandings, as there are in the feedback loops of face-to-face conversation or even a phonecall. There is no necessary space for reflection."

    In context of the forum I was refering to, this makes a lot of sense.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2004

    Group-Think in Online Chat Groups

    Internet is a great democratic medium. But I stumbled on an interesting "real"(/virtual)-life event - a particular online discussion forum - during last few days. Searching for an explanantion about what was happening in this forum (what would look to be a case of collective pathology), led to some interesting resources about what can happen in an Online Community.

    Gordon Graham in his book, The Internet: A Philosophical Inquiry [see summary], makes an interesting observation about the online groups, and their "pure confluences of interest".

    Graham says that the internet is a medium which enables people to seek out exclusively kindred spirits and to avoid ever being exposed to views which are contrary to their own. He claims that... "the self-made philosopher with a grand but completely vacuous 'theory of everything' will sooner or later find a coterie of people whose knowledge and critical acumen is even less, but who are willing to be impressed."

    The Symptoms of Group Think are:

    1) Illusion of Invulnerability
    2) Belief in Inherent Morality of Group
    3) Collective Rationalization
    4) Stereotypes of Out-Groups
    5) Self-Censorship
    6) Illusion of Unanimity
    7) Direct Pressure on Dissenters
    8) Self-Appointed Mind-Guards

    Give the nature of the self-selection in most online chat groups, these symptoms are quite likely to emerge.

    Saturday, June 19, 2004

    Planting WMDs, So That We can Find Them

    It fits to logic that you can find something, only if it has been kept there. This was one of the missing links - noone thought of keeping the WMDs in Iraq for the coalition to find!!!

    So now, US seems to be doing it for itself - so that the WMDs can finally be found in Iraq.

    U.S. Trucks Carrying Radioactive Materials Intercepted In Iraq-Kuwait Border

    TEHRAN (MNA) -– The UAE-based daily Al-Khaleej reported on Monday that Kuwaiti tariff officials have intercepted a truck loaded with radioactive materials in the Iraq-Kuwait border.

    The daily quoted informed sources as saying that the radioactive control team from Kuwait’s Health Ministry discovered that one of the trucks belonging to the U.S.-led coalition forces was carrying heavy radioactive materials trucks. The trucks were headed for Iraq.

    The daily said that such materials could only enter a country when there is permission from related bodies while the materials were secretly being carried to Iraq.

    Security forces stressed that no contamination had been caused by the material.

    The MNA reported for the first time the coalition forces’ suspicious transfer of WMD parts from Kuwait to Southern Iraq by trucks.

    The possible presence of WMD in Iraq and its likely nuclear programs were the main U.S. pretext for attacking the country.

    However, their failure to find weapons of mass destruction in the country and the continuing turmoil in Iraq questioned the legitimacy of the U.S. war against Iraq and their presence in the country.

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Bushido: The Way of the Armchair Warrior

    [brilliant piece of satire]

    "Knowledge is not important. The armchair warrior strives to attain a state beyond knowledge, a state of deep, non-knowing connection to the universe: in particular, to that portion of the universe which is rich, powerful, or related to him by blood.

    The unenlightened speak of “failures of intelligence.” But the armchair warrior knows that “intelligence”—the effort of the mind to observe facts, apply reason, and reach conclusions about what is true and what ought to be done—is a delusion, making the mind turn in circles like an ass hitched to a mill. The armchair warrior feels in his hara, or gut, what ought to be done. He is like a warhorse that races into battle, pulling behind him the chariot of logic and evidence. When the people see the magnificent heedlessness of his charge, they cannot help but be carried along.

    The warrior spirit resides in the hara. It is this spirit, and not any deed, that is the mark of the true warrior. Thus, a man who has avoided military service may be a greater and braver warrior than a man who has served his country in battle, sustained grave wounds, performed “heroic” deeds, and been honored with clanking, showy medals pinned to his garment.

    Because human beings are prone to illusion, the sounds and sights of battle—the groans of the wounded, the maimed bodies of one’s comrades—may remain in the mind for many years, like a cloud that confuses judgment. Hence, a man who has fought on the battlefield and has later risen to high office may be fearful of leading his people to war. Such weakness does not afflict the armchair warrior, who at all times is firm in his resolve.

    The armchair warrior does not fear death, especially not the death of other people.

    The unenlightened mind is easily swayed by pictures. Since it fails to grasp that life and death are illusions, the sight of the flag-draped remains of those slain by the enemy may make it susceptible to weakness and feelings of pity. Therefore, the armchair warrior does not let the people see such images, except in settings that can be properly controlled, such as his own campaign advertisements.

    Luxury is the enemy of Bushido. It saps the strength of the people and makes them weak and complacent. Therefore, the armchair warrior strives to take wealth away from the poor and the middle classes and give it to the wealthy, who are already so weakened that they are beyond help.

    So-called wise men complain that the armchair warrior is producing “deficits,” emptying the coffers of the state and sinking it ever deeper into indebtedness to usurers and foreign moneylenders. In their “wisdom,” these so-called wise men are like the scholar who came to speak with Nan-in. Pretending to ask a question, the scholar flaunted his learning for ten minutes while Nan-in, attending politely, brewed a pot of tea. When the master filled the scholar’s cup, he kept pouring until the tea overflowed the cup, ran onto the table, and dripped to the floor, forming a great puddle.

    The scholar, astonished, asked the meaning of Nan-in’s action. “The mind is like this cup,” said Nan-in. “If you do not empty yourself, how can you expect to be filled?” The coffers of the state, too, are like the cup. If they are not frequently emptied, how can they be filled? Thus, the warrior takes it upon himself to empty the coffers of the state into the pockets of his friends, his relations, and other members of his class. Knowing well the corrupting power of luxury, he distributes these treasures with reluctance. They are accepted with equal reluctance. Yet not one among his fellows shirks his duty.

    The goal of life is awareness; the goal of awareness is freedom. If the people of a foreign land do not wish to be free, it is the duty of the armchair warrior to force them.

    The warrior strengthens his resolve and that of his followers by chanting sutras, mantras, or other strings of words, such as weaponsofmassdestruction or linkstoalqaeda or bringingdemocracytotheworld. It is not important that these words bear any relation to reality or even that they have any definite meaning. All that matters is that they be chanted repeatedly and with great urgency.

    The Chinese word for “crisis” combines the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” For the armchair warrior, the significance of this is clear. Every crisis is an opportunity, and the lack of crisis poses a grave danger. In crisis, the people turn to the warrior for guidance. Hence, if a crisis has not occurred, the warrior creates one. If a crisis is subsiding, the warrior inflames it. The seventy-third hexagram of the I Ching is interpreted as follows: “Two towers fall. When smoke fills the people’s eyes, they can be led anywhere.”

    Once, a group of travellers were on a perilous journey, in the course of which they had to cross a river. Unluckily, their guide forgot the location of the bridge, so the party had to ford the river, which, at the place they then found themselves, was shallow but very wide. After several minutes of wading through the icy water, the travellers began to grumble, “This guide is worthless! Let us abandon him and find another!” Sensing the discontent of his charges, the guide cleverly led them into a deeper part of the river, where the current was stronger and the footing more treacherous. “Help us!” the travellers cried. “Esteemed guide, do not abandon us!”

    The unenlightened believe it to be the height of felicity to have no enemies. The armchair warrior knows, however, that only a steady supply of enemies can assure him the loyalty of his friends. When so-called wise men warn him that in rashly slaughtering his enemies he is merely manufacturing more of them, he smiles."