Tuesday, November 29, 2005

War is Still a (Profitable) Racket

A sort of continuation of the last posting...

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler served the US Army for more than three decades, and was the recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor.

Perhaps better known now for his book War is a Racket, in which he described how war - any war - is but a tool in the hands of business tomake money...

The full text of book can be accessed at:
[Highly recommended - a must read!!]

The following is the excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933 by him, that gives the gist of his experience as a warrior: http://www.twf.org/News/Y2001/0911-Racket.html

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. . . .

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents...

Apparently, not much has really changed in the world since then. Here are some news items and reports:

  • Rebuilding Iraq Proves to Be A Gold Mine for Middlemen (Wall Street Journal, 16 June 2003)
  • The Privatisation of War (The Guardian, December 10, 2003)
  • Advocates of War Now Profit From Iraq's Reconstruction (Los Angeles Times, 14 July 2004)
  • The Price of Freedom in Iraq and Power in Washington by Ceara Donnelley and William D. Hartung, August 2003 (gives a detailed account of profits have zoomed up for companies such as Boeing, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Halliburton, DynCorp, etc.)
  • A Band of Brothers: The Rebuilding of Iraq [pdf format]
  • List of Articles on War Profiteering from CorpWatch
  • WarProfiteers.com

  • Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    ...On War, State and Deception

  • More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
    (~Woody Allen)

  • After each war there is a little less democracy to save.
    (~Brooks Atkinson)

  • They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.
    (~Eugene V. Debs, 1918)

  • It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error.
    (~Robert Houghwout Jackson, Chief Judge, War-Crimes Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1945)

  • Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.
    (~Donald Rumsfeld)

  • How many does it take to metamorphose wickedness into righteousness? One man must not kill. If he does it is murder. But a state or nation may kill as many as they please, and it is not murder.... Only get enough people to agree to it, and the butchery of myriads of human beings is perfectly innocent. But how many does it take?
    (~Adin Ballou, 1845)

  • All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

  • God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.
    (~Luis Bunuel)

  • War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
    (~General Smedley Butler)

  • In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people...
    (~Leo Tolstoy)

  • The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders...tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.
    (~Herman Goering)

  • Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor - with the cry of grave national emergency.
    (~General Douglas MacArthur)

  • If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
    (~Thomas Pynchon)

  • I guess every generation is doomed to fight its war...suffer the loss of the same old illusions, and learn the same old lessons on its own.
    (~Phillip Caputo)

  • It is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society.
    (~Murray Rothbard)

  • What is absurd and monstrous about war is that men who have no personal quarrel should be trained to murder one another in cold blood.
    (~Aldous Huxley)

  • Almost all war making states borrow extensively, raise taxes, and seize the means of combat- including men--from reluctant citizens...
    (~Charles Tilly)

  • All warfare is based on deception.
    (~Sun Tzu)

  • I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.
    (~George W. Bush)

  • We have guided missiles and misguided men.
    (~Martin Luther King, Jr.)

  • Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.
    (~Sigmund Freud)

  • Saturday, November 12, 2005

    Peter Drucker's "Seventh Learning"

    Peter Drucker - that Grand Old Man of management - died today.

    Needless to say, he will be remembered as the Management Guru, a prolific thinker and writer, and a person, who often anticipated the future...

    Besides his management writings, for me, one of his best pieces was an article "My Life as a Knowledge Worker" (published in Inc magazine, February 01, 1997). This was one of those few of his writing that had nothing to do with management... in which he had narrated seven of his learning experiences over his lifetime.

    ... And among them, the most enlightening one was the "Seventh Learning" which he gained from Joseph Schumpeter,, one of the greates economist of last century...

    one of my favourites, I am reproducing it below:

    Taught by Schumpeter

    One more experience, and then I am through with the story of my personal development. At Christmas 1949, when I had just begun to teach management at New York University, my father, then 73 years old, came to visit us from California. Right after New Year's, on January 3, 1950, he and I went to visit an old friend of his, the famous economist Joseph Schumpeter. My father had already retired, but Schumpeter, then 66 and world famous, was still teaching at Harvard and was very active as the president of the American Economic Association.

    In 1902 my father was a very young civil servant in the Austrian Ministry of Finance, but he also did some teaching in economics at the university. Thus he had come to know Schumpeter, who was then, at age 19, the most brilliant of the young students. Two more-different people are hard to imagine: Schumpeter was flamboyant, arrogant, abrasive, and vain; my father was quiet, the soul of courtesy, and modest to the point of being self-effacing. Still, the two became fast friends and remained fast friends.

    By 1949 Schumpeter had become a very different person. In his last year of teaching at Harvard, he was at the peak of his fame. The two old men had a wonderful time together, reminiscing about the old days. Suddenly, my father asked with a chuckle, "Joseph, do you still talk about what you want to be remembered for?" Schumpeter broke out in loud laughter. For Schumpeter was notorious for having said, when he was 30 or so and had published the first two of his great economics books, that what he really wanted to be remembered for was having been "Europe's greatest lover of beautiful women and Europe's greatest horseman--and perhaps also the world's greatest economist." Schumpeter said, "Yes, this question is still important to me, but I now answer it differently. I want to be remembered as having been the teacher who converted half a dozen brilliant students into first-rate economists."

    He must have seen an amazed look on my father's face, because he continued, "You know, Adolph, I have now reached the age where I know that being remembered for books and theories is not enough. One does not make a difference unless it is a difference in the lives of people." One reason my father had gone to see Schumpeter was that it was known that the economist was very sick and would not live long. Schumpeter died five days after we visited him.

    I have never forgotten that conversation. I learned from it three things: First, one has to ask oneself what one wants to be remembered for. Second, that should change. It should change both with one's own maturity and with changes in the world. Finally, one thing worth being remembered for is the difference one makes in the lives of people.

    I am telling this long story for a simple reason. All the people I know who have managed to remain effective during a long life have learned pretty much the same things I learned. That applies to effective business executives and to scholars, to top-ranking military people and to first-rate physicians, to teachers and to artists. Whenever I work with a person, I try to find out to what the individual attributes his or her success. I am invariably told stories that are remarkably like mine.


    .... thanks, Peter Drucker, for sharing this insight!

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    The Untold/Forgotten History of the Internet

    Whether the Internet is a "medium" or a "terrain" has long been a query for me (with a bias towards the latter... It is an entirely new terrain much to be explored)

    Some years back, I had building a database about the "untold/ forgotten story of internet" (and had forgotten it, myself) - and discovered it in one of the files today...

    These are tit-bits from the history, before the corporate takeover of the internet, beginning 1993 - prior to which "hackers" were the good guys, and "nerds" represented the dark forces of commerce... (see later in this posting)

    When the internet began, there was something (still is!) magical/ unknown/ exciting about this new terrain (and apparently, those who expanded and enlarged it were driven by a drive, that's long long forgotten)... Something to discover, to expand, to enhance the human potential/consciousness/imagination...

    So, here are some interesting tit-bits about the magical/mythical roots of Internet (as a terrain) - specially, since one rarely talks about these - nowadays. They also highlight the basic characteristics - often not appreciated by most who use it - of this terrain/medium called Internet:

  • Marshall McLuhan - the guy who is equated with "Medium is the Message" - wrote in 1968: "Civilization is entirely the product of phonetic literacy and as it dissolves with the electronic revolution, we discover a tribal, integral awareness that manifests in a complete shift in our sensory awareness... (electronic society is) a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again."

  • Mark Pesce, the inventor of VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) was a drop out from MIT, which he found to be a "profoundly dehumanising place" (but then, "if you get thrown out of MIT, that's your first step in your career as a programmer.") In an interview in 1994, he said: "Both cyberspace and magical space are purely manifestation in imagination. Both spaces are constructed by your thoughts and beliefs. Korzybski says that the map is not the territory. Well, in magic, the map is the territory. And the same is true in cyberspace. There's nothing in that space you didn't bring in."

  • In 1989, T M Luhrmann published a survey study on pagan culture in modern society (Persuasions of the Witch's Craft), in which he found that a disproportionately large percentage of those who practiced paganism (in its various forms) were techies from IT field. Based on his interviews, he concluded: "both magic and computer science involve creating a world defined by chosen rules, and playing within their limits."

  • The term "Cyberspace" originate from a book by William Gibson, Neuromancer, published in 1986. Gibson described cyberspace as "consensual hallucination". For Gibson, cyberspace was "the point at which media (flow) together and surround us. It's the ultimate extension of the exclusion of daily life. With cyberspace as I describe it you can literally wrap yourself in media and not have to see what's really going on around you."

  • JRR Tolkein (Lord of the ring) was a cult figure among the counterculture techies of the 60s and 70s. The first comptergame, Dungeons and Dragons, was developed by two students in 1973, the year Tolkein died. Many of imageries and personalities were directly influenced by Tolkein's character, and obviously the plot was similar to Lord of the Rings

    Do these partly explain why magic continues to live with logic in the digital age? and why Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephen King, heavy metal, Hollywood macho and horror, Doom, etc. continue to fascinate? and why tyranny of reality fails to overpower the lores of virtual reality?...

    Behind this magical nature of the internet was also the basic DNA of internet... the activism, the original spirit of "digital culture" (based on the norm of sharing and collaboration) - till it got usurped by the "digital economy" (based on the rule of private property rights and competition)...

    Not many people remember now, that when Paul Baran, back in 1962 designed ARPAnet - the predecessor of Internet - the framework was to create a system for "distributed communication" which had no central control (which is what Internet is - and as recently as 1996 Singapore, Germany and China tried to control use of Internet, without much success).

    Not many people know/remember, either, that long back being a "Hacker" was the way to be. In 1984, Steven Levy had described the "Hacker Ethic" in his book "Hackers, Heros of the Computer Revolution" (full transcript here):

  • Access to computers should be unlimited and total.

  • Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative!

  • All information should be free.

  • Mistrust authority — promote decentralization.

  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race or position.

  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.

  • Computers can change your life for the better.

    Some examples of this "activism":

  • Ted Nelson , who invented "Hypertext" also wrote a book/manifesto titled "Computer Lib" in 1974?

  • the first invention of Steve Job and Wozneik - founders of Apple - was the "blue box" which you could use to make long distance calls at local rates

  • many members of Ken Kesey's "Merry Pranksters" (the guys who used to organise acid-trip festivals in the 60s) were actually techies - such as Stewart Brand (who actully coined the term "personal computer" in an article published in The Esquire in 1972)

    Jim Warren - a pioneer in microcomputing and the recepient of Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award - perhaps summarised the digital age the best:

    "It had its genetic coding in the '60s ... Anti-establishment, antiwar, pro-freedom, anti-discipline attitudes."

  • Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    The Real "Miracle" of Chinese FDI Figures

    In a one of the earlier postings, I had pointed out that the difference between the Chinese and Indian FDI figures is just a matter of how they are calculated.

    This news item, quoting the UNCTAD report shows more such contradictions

    China fudged FDI nos: Unctad

    "China claims FDI of $5.42 bn from US in 2002 while US says $924 mn, a variation of 83%.

    Adding a new twist to the debate over China's awesome FDI figures, a recent Unctad report has said the numbers claimed by the country are far in excess of those reported by investors.

    China claims that it got FDI worth $5.42 billion from the US in 2002. But the US says it has invested a meagre $924 million during the period, Unctad's World Investment Report 2005, says.

    The discrepancy is visible in case of other investors as well. China says Hong Kong invested $17.86 billion in 2002. But Hong Kong says the amount is $15.93 billion. Again, Chinese data show that Japan pumped in $4.19 billion during the year, while Japan claims it invested $2.60 billion a discrepancy of 38 per cent.

    Interestingly, an OECD report titled China: Progress and Policy review points out that FDI flow into China from OECD countries during 1995-2000 was $39.3 billion, while the Chinese commerce ministry shows $77 billion.

    The OECD report states, "MOFCOM (ministry of commerce of the People's Republic of China) FDI statistics are not based on the internationally recognised standards that are generally applied by OECD countries. Consequently, the differences in the statistics compiled by OECD countries on their investment in China and the statistics published by MOFCOM on OECD members investment in China show serious inconsistencies between these sources."

    Citing the instance of China from 2000-2002 with respect to France, Germany, Hong Kong (China), Japan, the US and the UK, the Unctad report points out that bilateral discrepancies between FDI flows reported by home and host countries can be quite large."

    etc. etc.

    Meanwhile, our main-stream media, industrialists, speakers at various seminars organised by CII/Assochem/Ficci/Nascom, etc, big-time consultants (including Mckinsey), B-school profs, policy makers, etc., keep getting tied into knots to find out/prescribe "How India Should Catch-Up with the Chinese FDI "Magic".