Monday, June 26, 2006

John Edwards: Just one more Democratic hopeful for U.S. President?

A highly-readable article by Bob Herbert extols "The vision of Edwards" in The New York Times a couple of days ago (22 June 2006): (this requires registration, which is free for the first 14 days)

Herbert says, "However one feels about his proposals, it's worth paying attention to the fact that John Edwards is asking Americans to step up and meet important commitments".

Edwards questions whether the minimum wage in the US is adequate, what to do about 37 million Americans living in poverty (by US standards), how to get housing for a million working class folk, whether unions should be encouraged again, withdrawing at least 40,000 troops from Iraq immediately with further steady reductions "so that the Iraqis can take control over their own lives", and how to avoid sacrificing individual liberties and civil rights in the struggle against terrorism by Al Qaeda and other such groups.

As Herbert suggests in his article, whether one agrees or disagrees with Edwards' point of view on such topics is not as important as the fact that a US Presidential hopeful should begin to speak about tough issues such as these.

However, as a British passport holder of Indian origin working in Switzerland, it appears to me that there are some even more key issues to which Edwards and other Presidential hopefuls need to pay attention:

- reforms in the US election and wider political system in order to make it more democratic and accountable to the people of the United States;

- the effects of NAFTA, and the right shape for any agreement at the Doha Round of the WTO talks;

- what to do about the declining US dollar (which involves restructuring the entire US approach, over the last several decades, among other things to savings, credit, consumption, fiat money, and taxation; and

- how to create a level playing field that reduces global environmental degradation and climate chaos, and builds more egalitarian, prosperous, healthy, and politically free societies around the globe.

That is a truly amibitious agenda. But that is the minimum that needs to be tackled by anyone who aspires to be a world-class statesman today rather than a mere American politician.

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Is there a relationship between executive performance on the one hand, and corporate earnings or rises/falls in share prices on the other?

Let's put the question this was: Is there really any relationship between executive performance on the one hand, and corporate earnings or rises/falls in share prices on the other?

Well, those who determine executive pay seems to be coming around to the view (rightly or wrongly) that top executives are good for many things but that their compensation should not be directly related to either corporate earnings or rises/falls in share prices. What other conclusion to draw is difficult to see from the following figures released by The Corporate Library, an independent corporate governance watchdog ( the earnings of U.S. corporate bosses increased by 11 percent in 2005, versus 30 percent the previous year, despite record profit growth among U.S. companies in 2005.

The Economist's view of this was that the drop in pay inflation was mainly due to renewed struggles between shareholders and executives. A growing number of major shareholders (often large hedge-fund managers under pressure to boost their returns) are actively fighting executives for greater control over companies. Executive pay excesses are a symptom of weak corporate-governance, argue shareholder activists. U.S. bosses already face widespread public criticism, the greater threat of legal suits and more red tape resulting from Sarbanes-Oxley. However, they need to steel themselves for further changes, warns The Economist. The SEC has proposed new rules requiring the fullest possible disclosure of executive compensation. Yet instead of weakening companies, as some fear, more transparency and shareholder democracy may even boost their performance, concludes the magazine.

I remain sceptical, because it has always seemed to me that most of the success of companies is dependent on factors that are entirely extraneous to the business (such as which country the company is based in, at what point in history, since economic power is always related to economic openness and the terms on which the openness is obtained depend on a complex mix of military, technical, legal and political arrangements). Even in these days of internationalisation and globalisation, and even in the case of the most globalised industry (financial services), stock price has a positive or negative premium depending on country of headquarters which, among other things, dictates the principal currency in which earnings are calculated – which is itself dictated by the country of headquarters.

Further, the success of a company is dependent on which sector of the economy one operates in (e.g. utilities, retail, financial services or whatever) and the relative amount of money being put in or pulled out of that sector by global investors and traders.

Still further, the success of a company is dependent on comparative size (for example, the top 3 companies in any particular sector of the financial services industry (e.g. FX Trading), as a rule of thumb, earn something like 50% of the entire earnings of the sector).

Next, earnings by size of company are dependent on further complex factors – e.g. from WWII onwards, taxation, economies of scale, economies of scope, the power of a brand and other such matters favoured greater size; by contrast, it now seems that other factors (vastly improved availability and price-to-performance ratio of technology, availability of money and of expertise for hire) make it entirely possible for niche companies even to outdo the largest companies in terms of profitability.

However, as I have argued elsewhere, middle-sized companies are finding (and will find it increasingly) difficult to compete for revenue let alone for profitability with large companies on the one hand, and niche companies on the other hand.

I have also argued elsewhere that, barring the exercise of political will (which really means the exercise of political pressure by individuals and by non-political groups on politicians) we will see the rise of what I have called mega-corporations that span not merely today's nations (as is already somewhat and increasingly the case) but will also span today's industrial divisions, reversing today's "back to the core" or "back to the knitting" philosophy.

By the way, the piece that inspired the above reflections can be found under the title: "Battling for corporate America" in The Economist (11 March 2006). You need to search for the title, in the archive, to retrieve the article. Subscription is required.

Alternatively, a brief version of the story can be found on: http://www

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Marketing, safety and labelling of transgenic or GM (genetically-modified) food

One great advantage of a free press is that good material can emerge in obscure places.

For example, here are a couple of quotes from an article published a few weeks ago in the Grand Forks Herald (yes, I too had to look it up: Grand Forks is in North Dakota - an unlikely source for the following statements on genetically-modified food, don't you think?):

"In America, no comprehensive, systematic approach for determining the safety of transgenic foods (exists). Instead, American consumers are being “assured” by so-called experts that no widespread health problems have resulted from the transgenic foods now available. This evidence, by anecdote, is supposed to imply safety, and yet, our lessons involving tobacco and DDT, to cite only a few examples, demonstrate that what we don't know indeed can harm us.

"If you're so convinced of the safety and benefits of transgenic foods, then why not push for these foods to be labeled as such? Certainly, the confidence you've expressed in “the market” will prove you right. Or, could it be that consumer ignorance, or apathy, is what you're betting on to save biotech wheat?".

The full article is at:

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Capital punishment versus mass murder in the case of rogue states and rogue groups

My proposal for dealing with the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea and other at present possibly unknown rogue states and rogue groups has met with a polite silence.

However, at a recent conference where I raised the proposal again, a distinguished lady came up to me privately afterwards and said that she agreed with everything I had said, except the provision of the death penalty (she does not believe in it and in fact campaigns against it).

As I have already indicated, I do not put forward the possibility of the death penalty for individuals, let alone for families, lightly.

But it seems to me odd that this lady (and many others) seem to hate the killing of individuals convicted of murder but do not seem to mind the prospect of nuclear disaster for millions.

Anyone who has read accounts of what the residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima suffered from the use of the rather primitive atom bombs there, will be aware that a modern nuclear bomb would have catastrophic effects not just immediately but for several generations to come.

Given the incentives for developing such weapons, as well as the disincentives for refusing to co-operate with rogue states or rogue groups that do and would continue to want to develop such weapons, I do not see how it is possible to ban development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, if the penalty for violating the ban is not the extremely reprehensible punishment proposed.

Does any of my readers have any explanation for why people such as this lady feel so strongly against the death penalty even for people who would want to develop internationally-forbidden weapons specifically for the purpose of threatening and potentially murdering millions of people?

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Attitudes to the National Anthem - the Swiss, the British, the Indian (and others?)

Having been born and brought up in India, and having lived in the U.K. for some 19 years, I can assure my readers that almost every citizen of both countries knows the respective national anthem and can at least pretend to sing it (words and music).

I do not know how it is with citizens of other countries. But I was astonished to discover, recently, that very few Swiss people know either the words or the music of their national anthem!

Is there any explanation for what seems to me a curious phenomenon?

Or does this phenomenon exist also in very many other countries? Are there really any other countries in which citizens do not know their own national anthem?

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A complaint regarding my post on the Danish Cartoons and representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

My attention has just been drawn to a blog by someone who takes me to task regarding my blog on the subject of the (in)famous Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)).

The complainant's point is that "Prabhu Guptara ... does not point out that while images of Mohammed are not forbidden by the Qu’ran, and there are images of Mohammed in some Muslim temples and Islamic art, they are nevertheless explicitly forbidden by particular sects of Islam based on other legal writings which comprise the hadith, Islamic theology."

This is commonplace confusion of language: no one part can speak for the whole, if other parts disagree, when there is no designated speaker for the whole.

What I mean is that, as with Hindus, no one can claim to speak for "Muslims" as a whole (or "Islam" as a whole) because the totality contains many contradictory schools or points of view regarding all kinds of things - in this case regarding the Hadith and representation in general, as well as regarding specifically representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Let me clarify this by taking the case of Christianity. The Pope, for example, cannot speak for all Christians because he does not represent all christians, nor is his authority recognised by them all. However, the Pope can speak for all Roman Catholics because he is the head of that church. He can certainly delegate his authority to one or more spokesmen who are under his authority, but he cannot "raise" his authority beyond the Roman Church to include, for example, Episcopalians or Pentecostals or Lutherans or Calvinists or Baptists or Presbyterians or Amish or Hutterites or Mennonites or other Christians....

Similarly, a particular Ayatollah can speak for himself or his group but he cannot speak for the whole of Islam.

So it is totally false to say that "Islam forbids the representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)". It is totally right to say that this or that sub-division of Islam forbids it.

In fact, many sub-divisions of Islam refuse to recognise others as Islamic at all. So it is difficult to say where the boundaries of Islam start and where they end (as is the case with Hindus).

I would submit that Buddhists and Christians (for example) are relatively clearly definable because, in the case of Buddhism, the individuals or groups concerned must somehow (in however misconceived a way) derive their authority, teachings and practices from the Buddha himself. In the case of Christianity, there are historically four parts: the Eastern Orthodox Churches which are the oldest organised part, then the Roman Catholics, then the Protestants, and finally the Anglicans (or Episcopalians as they are called in north America). All of them recognise each other, and dialogue with each other, as Christians. This is contrast to Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other such groups, who sometimes present themselves as Christians but are not recognised by the others as Christians because these groups elevate the authority of their own "prophets" above that of Jesus - e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses accept the authority of Judge Rutherford, the Christian Scientists of Mary Baker Eddy, the Mormons of Joseph Smith....

In any case, I return to my point that, just as the Pope cannot speak for all Christians, so no religious leader or school can speak for "all Muslims" or "Islam as a whole". Sunnis do not and cannot speak for Shias, and so on.

What unites Islam is the Koran. And this does not forbid representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

However, at the end of this long discussion, I would invite the complainant to re-read my original post. She will find that she and I do not disagree at all, for what she said was almost exactly the same as I said: "The Koran does NOT forbid representations of the Prophet (PBUH), though some schools of thought among Muslims do so."

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Jeff MacKenzie's response to my broadcast on NPR

Responses continue to come in to my broadcast on National Public Radio (USA). Here is one that has just arrived (though I don't disagree with all the views expressed, needless to say!)

Mr. Guptara,

I was very impressed by your interview with Krista Tippit and your lecture that was reprinted on her website.

I am particularly glad to learn that the Swiss who have bankrolled much of the world's mischief have taken steps to clean up their act. I have a few other thoughts along those lines:

*Humans don't seem to cooperate in large groups very well. Even armies have to be drilled and beaten into shape before they are cohesive. To expect the world to act in a cooperative manner among nations is therefore unlikely. A more realistic number would be groups of between 5 and 100 or so--about the number that used to cooperate in barn raising or fighting a housefire in the days before contractors and fire departments. If we could somehow globalize a small group network we might have something...

*Usury is really about managing the flow of capital efficiently, and more money becomes available if someone can make money making it available. That said, the entire system has apparently morphed into a transaction culture that values the transaction itself more than the goods exchanged. This is nowhere more evident than in the vast derivatives market which at hundreds of trillions of dollars dwarfs the entire worlds gnp. I'm not an economist, but it feels like any system that by increasing its complexity moves too far from it's source of energy is doomed to collapse.

*I agree that without hunanitarian values a money oriented system is indeed cancerous, and this is perpetuated by the immortal nature of shareholder value. Perhaps if shares could be restructured so that each share would have three components: one to directly enrich the shareholder, one to directly enrich a public trust to ensure equal access to all wealth creating opportunity, and one to be held in trust for future generations who would decide in the future how to apply it.

*Wealth and power are all about psychology. For instance, who is more powerful, Hitler or the first German who decided to take him seriously? Who has more influence over humanity, a CEO whose takeover bid throws people out of work, or the mother of that CEO, who had ultimat power over him for the first six years (at least) of his life--the formative years--and shaped his whole life's direction? In order to effect change, we must start at the roots is what I'm saying.

If we are ever to thwart humanity's mad, consumptive rush to oblivion, we must address the inner human and coincidentally, the herdbeast impulse that exists in all of us.

Thank you for putting up with my idle dithering. I thoroughly enjoyed your interview and hope I can hear more in the future.


Jeff MacKenzie

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The "Protestant Work Ethic" versus the "POST-Protestant Work Ethic"

Much nonsense is nowadays talked, about the "Protestant work ethic". Every ill is laid at the foot of this ethic - from stress, through overwork and burn-out, to the environmental disasters that are apparently going to affect our entire world.

In these days when spin-doctors rule and people are brought up on the blatant lie that "perception is reality", it may yet be worth distinguishing between "the Protestant work ethic" and the "POST-Protestant work ethic".

The first ("the Protestant work ethic") tried to rescue the world from the complete absence of a work ethic. That absence was the reason for the traditional growth rate of around 3 or 3.5% a year which marked all traditional societies (and still marks traditional societies) around the world. Without a work ethic, no individual, family, group, society or nation can make substantial material progress for long.

What was specific to the "Protestant work ethic" was hard work balanced, as a result of trust in God, with play and rest (for example on Sundays and holidays). In this ethic there was an emphasis on family and friendships, and on living within one's means so that one could use the rest for hospitality and philanthropy within an overall context of environmental responsibility. For those inclined to doubt this description of the "Protestant Work Ethic", I invite attention to the still-existing life of the Amish, the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Methodists, and so on. If you persist in doubt regarding whether, in particular, the Calvinists had the sort of work ethic I describe, here is what John Calvin himself wrote: "We possess the things which God has committed to our hands on condition that, being content with the frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence, but endeavour to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated." That quote is from his 16th century commentary on the book of Genesis. Or, again: "Those who long for God's blessing rather than worldy prosperity, will not rely on their own cleverness. They will not be greedy for wealth and honour, but will ask God to give them just what he wants for them in life".

By contrast, after the end of the Second World War, the "POST-Protestant Work Ethic" has come to dominate the West as a result of the decline of Protestantism following the attacks of the global elite on the Bible and on Jesus the Lord. It is this "POST-Protestant work ethic" which works 24-hours a day, seven days a week, at the expense of family and health and the environment and everything else. This is entirely natural, as "POST-Protestants" do not trust in God for their future, and can have little other motivation than greed, fear - and/or the lust for power which masks their greed and fear.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How America helped the Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, to evade arrest

Some years ago, I made a public statement about the USA, to the effect that "no country would be covered with glory when all the facts about the Nazis and World War II were public"

Well, the facts are beginning to emerge now, starting with the following report regarding newly declassified intelligence archives which reveal that the CIA was told by West German intelligence in 1958 about Eichmann's whereabouts in Argentina. Eichmann is known to have organized the "final solution" --the deportation of Jews to ghettos and death camps – in an attempt to rid Germany of its Jewish population during World War II. The CIA and West German intelligence did nothing about Eichmann in order not to jeopardize Hans Globke, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's national security adviser, who had been a high ranking Nazi.,1518,420028,00.html


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