Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Money now officially more important than human life according to US government?

The US Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, has made it clear that the US government now values money more than it values health safety.

He did this when he indicated that "an economic motive was behind the government’s delay of nearly three weeks before informing the public about the contamination, as the government anticipated foreign rice importers might reject the product". The "contamination" was of rice for human consumption with experimental genetically modified rice strain known as LL Rice 601, and Mr Johanns said the USDA spent the time preparing tests. This seems to reveal that, till this point, the US government had no system for such testing in place (though many US companies do test).

Till yesterday, 30 August, the US government had not even given the food safety authorities in the European Union details of "the extent of the contamination, origin or timeframe for when this happened". Legally, no biotech rice strains may be imported or sold in the European Union and, last week, the EU tightened requirements on U.S. long grain rice imports to prove the absence of the genetically modified strain.

Presumably, the EU has not had any information either regarding what, if anything, the US government can do about the situation, as that country does not even have any "cohesive government regulation" according to a just-released report issued by the Food and Drug Administration and written by a 20-member committee of farmers, academics, manufacturers and others.

The US government's report both points out and demonstrates that there is little consensus as to how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate genetically engineered crops and animals. Currently, companies selling genetically enhanced crops submit safety data voluntarily to the FDA even though they are not required to do so. The US government claims that the majority do so.

Some committee members argued there should be a mandatory safety review for all such products, pointing out that nearly every other developed country has such a system in place. Naturally, other committee members disagreed – after all, some of them represent precisely the money-related interests referred to at the start of this article.

The committee's members "have different points of view regarding how strongly consumers feel about having information about whether their food is genetically engineered and whether the food should be labelled as such".

The report, titled "Opportunities and Challenges in Agricultural Biotechnology: the Decade Ahead", is available on the USDA website, at: http://www.usda.gov/documents/final_main_report-v6.doc,

There is no evidence on the basis of which it can be asserted that the individuals on the committee opposing such oversight are, or are not, representatives of commercial interests. However, the committee includes representatives of Cargill, Dow Agrisciences, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Monsanto, Procter and Gamble, and Syngenta Corp.

You may be wondering why I am beating the drum regarding genetically modified food. After all, Secretary Johanns stated that based on "available scientific data.... there are no human-health, food-safety or environmental concerns associated with this G.E. rice."

However, scientific data sometimes misses the obvious. It is clear to anyone who has seen a random sample of US citizens that the obesity epidemic in the USA has perhaps something to do with overeating but is in very many cases totally unrelated to overeating. The "obesity" is a result of some sort of physical malfunction, and that this malfunction affects US citizens disproportionately in comparison to citizens of other developed nations.

According to the USDA, 70 percent of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients.

That may or may not have anything to do with the US version of "obesity". But does it not indicate that there is certainly something to investigate here?

If nothing else, the US needs to have some facts regarding what percentage of "obesity" is caused by simple over-eating and what percentage by other known or unknown factors.

Time for Secretary Johanns to stop making the usual reassuring noises and defending money interests, and instead to put a little money behind some targeted research into the relationship between the prevalence of GM products in the USA and accelerating health problems there. Sphere: Related Content

Should farmers have filed a courst case (suit) against Bayer CropScience?

I am interested to see the story titled, "Farmers file suit over biotech rice contamination", which is at:
http://www.brownfieldnetwork.com/gestalt/go.cfm?objectid=5B707E55-0E54-6499-80DCD8CED5CD2871

This naturally raises the question of whether the farmers are right to file a suit against the company.

In my view, till evidence surfaces that Bayer CropScience was in breach of any rules or regulations, the company has no case to answer.

The body that the farmers should be suing is the US government, and the US Department of Agriculture, for creating a framework in which a reasonably responsible company such as Bayer CropScience could have found itself in such a situation.

The problem is not the company, it is the government which allows such testing without adequate safeguards.

There is of course a deeper question regarding the way in which such regulations are set up, and the role of lobbying by commercial companies in the creation of looser regulations than is proper.

But that is a wider and deeper question that could be opened by a suit against the US Government - but will not be opened up by a suit against the company. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Iran Nuclear Intentions Revealed

In an article under the above title published today, Sunday, 27 August 2006, Stewart Stogel argues that Iran's nuclear intentions are military, not civil - on the basis that Iran has only two nuclear power plants close to operation, both of them Russian-built reactors in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf coast. The two are light, not heavy, water reactors, and they produce far less bomb-grade nuclear waste. Now Iran is opening a heavy water plant, so...

However, the above argument is highly simplistic.

As anyone who is acquainted with India's experience of the nuclear sector will affirm, these are at best relative matters of quantity.

The science, technology and facilities involved in "peaceful, civilian" nuclear programmes and "military" nuclear programmes are exactly the same.

The peacefulness or maliciousness lies in the intent. That is not judged best by declarations (India too was making similar declarations!) but by actions. If any country opens its facilities to international inspection, its intentions can be confirmed.

Without international inspection, the intentions can only be guessed to be at least partly malicious.

Stewart Stogel's story is at:
http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2006/8/26/160930.shtml?s=lh Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why India, Inc. needs to stop bleating and to get on with real action

According to Boston Consulting Group's recently-released study, "The New Global Challengers" which looked at 3000 companies from "rapidly developing economies" and selected the top 100 for detailed study, China has 44 companies in this list, while India has only 21.

We might also want to keep in mind that China's income per capita (at just over US$1300) is more than twice that of India (just over US$600).

What is the main reason for this difference in performance? Everyone knows and everyone agrees that it India's lack of investment in social and infrastructual development. Whose fault is that? Clearly, the fault of the Indian elite. We have been far busier indulging ourselves than thinking through and doing what needs to be done.

Our political class has begun to wake up. But when it urges simple and clear steps like a quota system to help the "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes" (SCs and STs) who we have oppressed for thousands of years by means of our religious caste system, what is the response of our business class? Corporate India simply increases the volume of its bleating.

Mr R Seshasayee, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), speaking on 29 July 2006 at the launch of the CII report ,"Affirmative action for social equity in the work place", could only offer excuses such as that the private sector "could not build an egalitarian society on its own" and that the private sector "could at best be part of the solution". Mr Seshayee is a business luminary who I respect greatly because he is one of the few, apart from the Birlas, who has actually recognised the problem and done something about it. Mr J J Irani is another. However, all of them seem to have become victims of group think.

The affirmative actions proposed under the report, said Mr Irani, "will be done without compromising on competitiveness, in a perfectly voluntary manner". There are two phrases here, and both of them strike a false note. First, no one has asked India, Inc. to compromise competitiveness. In fact, affirmative action is entirely about IMPROVING India's competitiveness by increasing the supply of educated and trained people - a shortage of which is increasingly holding back the country as well as industry. Second, there is nothing voluntary about this report - it has come as a result of the extreme pressure that has been applied by the political class on CII and Assocham. If CII and Assocham wanted to do something about the problem voluntarily, what stopped them recognising it and acting on it for the last fifty or hundred years?

In any case, what is apparent is that the private sector is reluctantly prepared to do only the minimum necessary to help India's (and the private sector's own) continuing growth.

So what is the private sector offering to do? Well, for a start, CII and its sister body, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), "will soon formulate a code of conduct for their members to facilitate them take concrete steps". So CII and Assocham think that codes facilitate action?! No wonder India lags China. We still put real action way down the line behind nice-sounding talk.

Even after the codes are formulated, they will not immediately become binding but will "progressively be adopted by their respective members from October, 2006"!

And even after they have begun to be adopted, actions will be initiated only "from 2007".

So what are the mighty actions that the combined power of CII and Assocham will accomplish? Well, they will establish coaching centres in 10 universities for 10,000 students. What will be the budget for setting up these coaching centres? What will these centres coach people to do? How long will be the courses in these centres? How will the effectiveness of the coaching be judged? We haven't been told....

Further, CII and Assocham will attempt to help 100 people from the untouchable and other oppressed classed to start(presumably small) businesses. Did you get that number? Not a million, not a hundred thousand, not ten thousand, not a thousand, but one hundred! Come on CII! Come on Assocham! Are we supposed to take this seriously?

Oh, I forgot about the FIVE scholarships for study abroad and the FIFTY scholarships in the national institutes!

But I am being uncharitable. CII and Assocham have also promised to "work towards greater representation of SCs and STs in their workforce". Do these august bodies not know, or are they simply refusing to recognise, the difference between input and output? Input is the work that might or might not be done. Output is what will be accomplished. What matters is not what work they do "towards greater representation". What matters is whether representation will actually be increased. How will we know whether representation will actually have increased if we don't know what the representation IS at present? So the first step that anyone serious about such matters would have taken would have been to commission a study of how much representation there is at present. Then in a year, or in subsequent years, we would know how much progress has, or has not, been made.

One last matter: by what refined and exalted process of strategic analysis did India's business elite hit upon these as the most important steps for addressing one of our key constraints to growth? Sphere: Related Content

America's GM rice (Continued)

I forgot to say, in my last post on the matter that Bayer had abandoned the weedkiller-resistant strain in 2001 after field experiments between 1998 and 2001 had shown the strain to be less effective than others.

Worryingly, it is not at all clear how that GM rice, which is not okayed for human consumption in either the US or the EU, entered commercial stocks for human consumption.

So it is equally unclear whether other GM rice has, or can, enter stocks for human consumption.

Till there is sufficient light on this mess, my conclusion is to steer clear of rice from the USA. Sphere: Related Content

More trade for India's north-east?

Because of entirely understandable concerns regarding security, India's north-east has not been opened to trade with China.

However, if India really believes its own rhetoric about improved relations with China, then those security concerns should be a thing of the past, and the area should be opened to trade with China.

Since that is not the case, it is clear that the Indian government rhetoric about improved relations with China extends in reality only to very specific contexts that do not, at present, include India's northeast region.

However, there are no such concerns about India's relations with Thailand, so Thailand's move to develop trade relations with this part of India should be warmly welcomed.

My only reservation is that the present Thai initiative is confined to the State of Assam, whereas there are at least as lucrative trade and tourism possibilities in relation to Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya.

As soon as Burma's repressive elite (which calls the country "Myanmar") re-enters the civilised world, there is even more scope for all these states to do business with that country.

The story regarding the Thai initiative is at:

http://news.monstersandcritics.com/india/article_1194775.php/Thailand_keen_to_do_business_in_Indias_northeast Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 25, 2006

Top British Scholars of Islam

There are many lists of top scholars of Islam around, but I have not found one for British scholars of Islam. So here is my list of those that I have found most helpful:

1. Akbar Ahmed

2. Haroon Ahmed

3. Hani Al-Siba'i

4. Ruqaiyyah Waris Masood

5. Thomas McElwain

6. Tariq Modood

7. Abdal-Hakim Murad

8. Farhan Nizami

9. Ziauddin Sardar

10. Patrick Sookhdeo Sphere: Related Content

Why is Iran imposing a total information blackout on its people?

Simple, because the Iranian government has something to fear: the power of truth.

Unless a government has plenty to hide, there is no need for it to go around smashing satellite dishes that its ordinary citizens use to listen to broadcasts from abroad.

If it allowed its own media to operate uncensored, Iranians would not *need* to listen to foreign broadcasters.

See the story at: http://vitalperspective.typepad.com/vital_perspective_clarity/2006/08/total_informati.html Sphere: Related Content

Calling Wafa Sultan the Arab equivalent of Martin Luther King may be excessive

Though it is pretty close to the truth.

Wafa Sultan certainly has MLK's verbal power and passion.

The question is whether the Arab masses are ready to rise as the black population of the USA was ready to rise when MLK called.

See http://eclairci.typepad.com/civilisation_vs_the_middl/ Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why do authorities in supposedly free countries suppress facts?

Before I say anything else, I think I need to reassert two things:

1. Governments are good things, and democratic governments are in the long run the best because they are (or can be) held accountable by their citizens

2. Science and technology are good things and ought to be supported and nurtured, provide they are being led by people with a lively conscience and desire to do good to humanity rather than simply make money or gain greater power to impose their will.

As you and I know, both the assertions above and being challenged by developments in our modern world.

The latest instance has just happened. We are all aware that the safety of GM products is currently not established - and, moreover, that no government or company is investing what needs to be invested in establishing this.

Well, as long ago as January, some GM rice that should never have been approved for commercial planting, was detected to have contaminated normal rice that is for human consumption.

For whatever reason, the company that detected the problem either did not even try, or tried unsuccessfully to alert others to the problem. Bayer became officially aware of the problem only in May but did not notify the US government till the very last day of July. And then it took the US Dept of Agriculture 18 days to inform the public.

This is not the first time that scientific, technological, business and governmental organisations have suppressed the truth- let us recollect Space Shuttle Challenger which blew up before our eyes (and Space Shuttle Columbia which disintegrated before our eyes), and range across DDT and tobacco and breast implants...

So why do companies and governments refuse to recognise the truth about problems in the area of science and technology? Because and because companies are locked into the business of beating other companies to the market and of course in the market - and because governments are locked into the old and out of date business of helping "their" companies succeed against the companies of other countries.

But the brute fact is that the world has moved on. Companies belong less and less to any one country (in terms of shareholders, employees, suppliers or customers), so the world community should simply ban governments from supporting companies based in their countries, whether in terms of research or in terms of tax-breaks or anything else. All countries should be required to undertake a transparent process of tender that is equally open to companies wherever they may be based. The US has gone futhest in this direction but it clearly cannot continue in this direction if the rest of the world does not move too.

However, that is not the reason that companies and government are so reluctant to face the truth about the inadequacies of scientific and technological safety. It is because the entire system for doing so is deficient across the world and needs urgently to be examined on a worldwide basis.

You may also want to see my earlier posts on these subjects, specifically "Did they jump or were they pushed?"

BTW the story regarding the GM rice is "Biotech Firm, Govt. Hid Rice Contamination from Public", and can be viewed at: http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/3575 Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fighting bureaucracy: India vs. Switzerland (Continued)

My Swiss friend tells me that she has been informed that a "letter of recourse" will take 4 to 6 weeks to get a response. A "letter of recourse", readers of previous posts will recollect, is the procedure in Switzerland for redress from inaccurate, inadequate or inappropriate actions by a bureaucrat or by the bureaucracy in general.

By contrast, I read that the Bombay bureaucracy is now responding within 5 days.
See Jamal Mecklai's article posted yesterday, "A beacon for a new India", on his experience with India's Right to Information Act, which is the way one can now fight bureaucracy in India.
http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1048585

Five days! Not bad for anywhere in the world! Sphere: Related Content

Should all Indians back the Indo-US nuclear deal?

For the clearest statement in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal, see
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060820/main3.htm

This argues that, due to changed world conditions, India is breaking out of the "nuclear apartheid" imposed on it by the West and that every Indian should welcome this.

From India's point of view, this is undoubtedly right. But anyone who argues only from the viewpoint of what is good for India is looking at reality with one eye closed. Every Indian has to also open the closed eye and look also at what is good for the world.

If India's admission to the "nuclear club" because of the Indo-US nuclear deal results in the virtual elimination of the NPT (as it will), that will make it much more difficult to tame rogue regimes who want to gain nuclear missiles and bombs, such as Iran and Korea (and in future other countries, some of whom are already signalling their desire and indeed their "right" to do so).

I am not arguing that Indians (or anyone else) should oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal. I am arguing that all of us, round the world, need to give thought to what replaces NPT.

My view on this has already been made clear in my post of 24 June, titled: "Capital punishment versus mass murder in the case of rogue states and rogue groups" Sphere: Related Content

Can government-owned companies outperform private-sector companies?

The answer from India continues to be a resounding "YES!"

In Dun & Bradstreet's latest Survey of India's top 500 Companies, released last week in Mumbai, India's government-owned companies, which are called "Public Sector Undertakings" (PSUs) in India, have "stolen the limelight".

The seven PSUs are: NTPC in the power sector, ONGC in oil and gas, Steel Authority of India in iron and steel, NALCO in non-ferrous metals, GAIL in gas-processing, transmission, & marketing, MMTC in trading, and Shipping Corporation of India in shipping and logistics.

For the full article see: http://www.zeenews.com/znnew/articles.asp?aid=316703&ssid=50&sid=BUS Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Should the Indian government spend money on promoting the HIndi language?

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports from New Delhi on 19 August 2006 a statement from Mr Anand Sharma, the Minister of State for External Affairs, to the effect that Hindi should be included as one of the languages used by the United Nations "as it is spoken by a substantial percentage of the world population".

China has been able to get away with arguing similar rubbish because, even though there is no such language as "Chinese", some Chinese language or other is spoken by substantial minorities in practically every country in south-east Asia, as well as by sizable numbers in many other countries.

The proper Hindi language, regretfully, is spoken almost nowhere outside India - though some variety of Hindi (or more precisely Hindustani or Creole) is spoken in Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, South Africa and Trinidad/Tobago, as well as in Pakistan (where a variety of the language, called Urdu, is written in a different script but is otherwise basically the same language). In any case, I make that a maximum of eight countries - and even within them, there is not one country (including India) where Hindi is the principal language.

Since the primary job of the United Nations is to facilitate interaction not between people in general but between its member-nations (192 of them), India only makes itself look foolish by making such patently absurd requests or demands.

Minister Anand Sharma is also reported to have said that an international Hindi conference will be held in New York early next year as part of efforts to popularise Hindi in the world. Apparently, regional Hindi conferences are held every year in different countries. In 2006, these conferences have been held in Australia, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo. One wonders how much is spent on these activities and what criteria are used to assess their effectiveness.

Nor is it clear whether any analysis has been undertaken to evaluate the benefits of holding such conferences verses those of teaching our own people basic literacy - or computer skills or English or medicine or any number of other essential things.

The more significant matter to consider is why India's elite is pushing Hindi, when the majority of Indians (the Dalits and associated oppressed classes) regard the "standard" languages such as Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati as part of the web of oppression by the upper castes, and work hard at learning English which they regard as the language of liberation.

If the government genuinely wants to liberate the oppressed people of India, of course, it should be pushing neither Hindi nor English, but the regional variants of these languages which are closer to the hearts of the masses (such as Bhojpuri and Bundelkhandi). Dalit-speak is not the same as elite-speak.

However, I welcome the initiative because it will certainly make our foreign policy available to, and encourage debate on it from, a much wider proportion of our populace.

The Ministry's Hindi website is at www.mea.gov.in Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The curious passion for changing brand names

I have wondered for some years now at the curious contemporary passion for changing brand names.

On one hand, companies are happy to put the "value of their brand" on the balance sheet in recognition of the value of the brand name.

On the other hand, they seem to have an increasing passion for throwing away that value by changing their name, thus writing off billions from the balance sheet - not to mention the confusion that causes in the marketplace.

I can only put this down to the gullibility of Company Boards and the abilities of the PR industry. Sphere: Related Content

The market may be king - but it is also an ass

I knew that rents were expensive in south Mumbai (though it will always be "Bombay" to us old-timers!).

However, I am startled to learn from an expatriate there that he pays a rent of more than twice what he would expect to pay for similar accommodation in northern Europe (which is much more expensive than the USA)!

Naturally, the laws of supply and demand dictate all prices, unless governments distort them - but you do wonder how stable that sort of price level is.... Sphere: Related Content

Is India really number one in IT?

According to the recently-released Global Information Technology Report (GITR) for 2005-6, India has only just overtaken China and Russia in the IT stakes. India ranks 40th in the GITR, China 50th and Russia 72nd. See: http://www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/gcp/Global%20Information%20Technology%20Report/index.htm

The GITR's Networked Readiness Index (NRI) covers a total of 115 economies in 2005-2006, to measure the degree of preparation of a nation or community to participate in and benefit from ICT developments. The NRI is composed of three component indexes which assess:
- the environment for ICT offered by a given country or community
- the readiness of the community's key stakeholders (individuals, business and governments), and
- the usage of ICT among these stakeholders.

However, I take comfort from the view of another recent survey, conducted by US-based Internet firm, comScore Networks, that India's online population is growing at the fastest rate in the world.

This story is at: http://www.techtree.com/techtree/jsp/article.jsp?article_id=75245&cat_id=643

If that is so, it can't be long before the world's most populous nation achieves the first rank in the Global Information Technology Report's Networked Readiness Index? Sphere: Related Content

How far should you go to prove that you are ethical?

In a ruling that is unprecedented worldwide, Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission has demanded that Australian pharma companies toughen their code of conduct to stop drug firms trying to influence doctors' prescribing by buying them lavish meals and expensive wines.

Apparently, a huge controversy erupted in Australia in July this year over the practices of drug companies in marketing their products, when one of the top national newspapers, The Australian, revealed that the drug giant Roche had spent $65,000 a year earlier, treating 200 cancer specialists to meals and fine wines at Sydney restaurants. That's an average of Australian$325 each, which does seem a tad excessive - though it is not clear whether this figure was only for food and wine or for travel and associated music as well.

However, the industry body Medicines Australia has decided to appeal against the CCC's decision, on the grounds that it would involve too much work.

I agree. It seems to me much simpler to lay down a more modest yet still quite acceptable upper limit of say Australian$250 per person.

Moreover, I can't see how integrity and high standards, or indeed competition, is affected by the practice of lavishing meals and wine on doctors. In my view, doctors are among the most hard-worked sectors of society, and though they are generally well rewarded monetarily for their work, I can't see what harm is done by drug companies taking them out to an extremely lavish meal each year - specially if their competitors are doing similar things anyway.

I expect that the monetary value of any Australian doctor's time is much more than Australian$325. In other words, the doctors are only getting the value of their time (or less).

Moreover, I don't know if it has occured to the CCC that even cancer specialists can only afford nice meals and wine so many times a year - not only their bankers, but also their general physicians will readily agree.

The MA's appeal will be heard by the three-person Australian Competition Tribunal, a process that could take several months.

Rather a waste of time, don't you think?

The story is at:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20155548-2702,00.html Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Were they pushed - or did they jump?

A story from AP reports that a US federal judge has ruled U-S agriculture officials violated environmental laws in allowing four companies to plant genetically modified corn and sugarcane in Hawaii to produce experimental drugs between 2001 and 2003.

U-S District Judge Michael Seabright ruled that the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service flouted both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act because the officials failed to conduct preliminary environmental reviews before issuing the planting permits.

EarthJustice representing plaintiffs in the cases said the decision is the first federal court ruling involving biofarming.

For related stories see: http://news.google.com/news?ie=utf8&oe=utf8&persist=1&hl=en&client=google&ncl=http://www.forbes.com/business/manufacturing/feeds/ap/2006/08/15/ap2950035.html Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Are Indians now living in a police state?

Even if you are only going about your daily business in India, whether you are an Indian or foreign citizen, you can now be legally detained by the police without an arrest warrant and without permission from the courts.

The technical ruling from India's Supreme Court is that police are not required to have warrants to file First Issue Reports and detain suspects. All that is needed is that someone (presumably politically powerful enough) complains against you or me.

According to the Times of India, this ruling relieves police and prosecutors of the requirement of "prior sanction" from the federal or state governments, or a local prosecutor.

This idiotic ruling by Justices G.P. Mathur and Dalveer Bhandari of India's Supreme court, has at one stroke removed the foundational freedom of movement from all Indians - as well as from all citizens of foreign countries in India.

As I read the judgement, from now on, people in India (whether Indian or foreign) enjoy freedom from detention only at the pleasure of politicians and the police.

If I am wrong, I hope that a suitably qualified person will enlighten me.

If I am right, the matter probably needs to be taken up by the Indian Parliament, or by a suitable international body. Sphere: Related Content

Unusual Chinese robots

A photo gallery, assembled by by Roland Piquepaille, of unusual Chinese robots is at:
http://www.primidi.com/2006/08/14.html

That includes a four-finger robotic hand able to play organ, and robots which can act as waiters in restaurants in Hong Kong or pull rickshaws near Beijing. Piquepaille likes the robot rickshaw puller the most of all these.

A more interesting question is posed by Jason Chen: Which of these is the scariest? http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/robots/chinese-robot-gallery-194102.php

Chen votes for the robot chimpanzee made by the Chinese Academy of Sciences: "Now we won't have to worry about monkeys taking over the world (Planet of the Apes) or robots taking over the world (every other Sci-Fi movie). It'll actually be monkey robots. And we can identify them by their cheap Chinese-made Disney knockoff shirts". Sphere: Related Content

"Peace, peace", they say, and there is no peace

I am relieved that the ceasefire has been declared, and that Israel and Hezbollah have held it so far.

The question is: will the elected and internationally-recognised Siniora government in Lebanon succeed in disarming the Hezbollah and establish effective government control of southern Lebanon (in which case there may indeed be peace), OR will Hezbollah try to capitalize on its perceived political success and continue to try to take greater control of Lebanon?

The only thing that can strengthen the Lebanese government is massive influx of international military aid. If the presence of 15,000 UN troops becomes an excuse for not providing that military assistance to the Lebanese, then it is certain that the Hezbollah will not be disarmend and peace will not continue, because the declared aim of the Hezbollah is to eliminate Israel, and that unrealistic aim is what they will try to continue to pursue if they influence Lebanon even more than they do at present.

A ceasefire (difficult as it has been) is the easy part of the task. If Hezbollah is not disarmed (a key component of the ceasefire agreement) then credibility of the U.N. will not be helped either. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 13, 2006

India's "internal Iraq"

The sectarian fighting going on at present between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds in Iraq, has its parallel in India's north-east, which has seven of India's 29 states, and is surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The largely hilly northeast is linked to the rest of India by only a tiny strip of land that is, at its narrowest point, just 32 km (20 miles) wide - which is of course why the Chinese attacked here in their unprovoked war against India in 1962.

In spite of the strategic, cultural and resource-related importance of the area, India's northeast is little known, even to most Indians.

It is home to not three (as in Iraq itself) but over 200 ethnic and tribal communities - and two dozen groups which are or have been involved in guerrilla warfare in support of their "nationalist" demands.

Nine of these rebel groups, having entered peace talks with the Central government in New Delhi, are at present observing ceasefires. Others are observing ceasefires voluntarily. But some are not. And the question is: how long will this situation continue? Will it deteriorate or get resolved?

The rise of Maoist rebels in the whole of India's east is an additional worrying factor.

Can India, will India, tackle its "internal Iraq"?

I have written on this area since 1977 or so, but for a recent story on this matter, see: http://today.reuters.com/News/CrisesArticle.aspx?storyId=SP266139 Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Welcoming the peace but fearing continued war because of the Hezbollah in Lebanon

Everyone will be relieved to have news that a ceasefire has been agreed for Monday, when Lebanese and UN forces should start moving into Hezbollah-dominated areas of southern Lebanon.

However, the attitude of the Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is worrying.

According to the story on Reuters, he has said that "Hizbollah would abide by the U.N. resolution and cooperate with the U.N. and Lebanese troops, but would carry on confronting any Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil....As long as there is Israeli military movement, Israeli field aggression and Israeli soldiers occupying our land ... it is our natural right to confront them, fight them and defend our land, our homes, and ourselves," Nasrallah said.

In other words, Nasrallah still does not recognise that confronting any foreign forces is not the job of the Hezbollah but of the Lebanese army.

And he also wants the Israelis to move out *before* will order a stop to the violence from his side: "his fighters would abide by it once Israeli forces also adhered to it".

Sadly, this game of who should stop first and who should move out first is unlikely to produce peace.

I continue to fear that violence will continue, though as I said in my last post on the subject, I very much hope that I am wrong. Sphere: Related Content

I was also wrong about "India: 1"

Apparently, I was too hasty in awarding a goal to India in my recent "India vs. Switzerland" bureaucracy match.

I am told that India's Central Cabinet is now busy blunting the edge of the Right to Information Act (also commonly called the "Right to Know" Act).

The Cabinet has done this by approving an Amendment to the Act, designed to prevent the right to access "file notings" - that is, the notes and comments made on the files by bureaucrats.

The Cabinet is proposing to place the Amendment before the next session of the Indian Parliament.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has created an on-line petition against the Amendment, which can be viewed and signed at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/save_rti/

I urge you to sign it. Sphere: Related Content

Call for liberalisation of Indian primary and secondary education repeated by Mr Narayana Murthy of Infosys

Software icon Mr Narayana Murthy has repeated his call for the liberalisation of Indian primary and secondary education. He said this in the context of arguing that economic liberalisation has not touched the poor and makes no sense unless it addresses their basic needs

For the story, see
http://inhome.rediff.com/money/2006/aug/12murthy.htm

He is reported to have said: "One of the strangest things that I have not understood (and) which I have asked many ministers in the Centre including the Prime Minister - I have received no answer - why we delicensed our industrial sector in 1991. But even today our primary and secondary education is not delicensed".

My reflections:

Why liberalise only primary and secondary education? Why not tertiary education as well?

Why not start Public Interest Litigation on the issue?

Or why not ask under the Right to Information Act the following questions:

- Has the government ever considered removing bureaucratic controls on schools?

- If so, what were the arguments for and against?

- Would the Courts please direct the Government to liberalise education immediately? Sphere: Related Content

What are the chances that UN resolution 1701 will end the Israel-Lebanese-Hezbollah conflict?

The UN Security Council's unanimous adoption of Resolution 1701 yesterday calls for a "cessation of hostilities" in the war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia that has killed some one thousand Lebanese and a hundred and twenty three Israelis, and displaced more than 1 million people, in addition to the destruction of Lebanon's only international airport, as well as all its major roads, bridges and power stations, effectively cutting Lebanon off from the rest of the world.

The resolution imposes an arms embargo on the delivery of weapons or military equipment to "any entity or individual" in Lebanon excluding the Lebanese army and UN troops. However, the timing for the end of hostilities has not yet been agreed by Lebanon (making Lebanon as guilty as Israel for delaying the end to the fighting).

Resolution 1701 also authorises the deployment of 15,000 foreign troops authorised to "take all necessary action" needed to keep the peace - and this must give us hope, though it is doubtful whether foreign troops will be as dedicated at keeping the peace in a country which is not their own, as will either the Israelis or the Hezbollah in pursuing their respective aims.

Though the UN troops will apparently be joined by 15,000 Lebanese troops which Lebanon plans to send to its south, it is unlikely that these 30k together will be able to match a not-yet-disarmed Hezbollah, if that party is determined to disrupt the peace.

Which is the nub of the matter. The whole crisis was unleashed by Hezbollah's kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and, as far as I can see, Hezbollah has not said anything at all in relation to the current negotiations at the UN.

In theory, the text of the resolution is absolutely clear about the disarming of Hezbollah; in Clause OP8, the text "Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:
• full respect for the Blue Line by both parties,
• security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area,
• full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state."

However, in the absence of Hezbollah accepting this clear and absolute requirement for disarming, I therefore doubt if peace will actually result at all from this UN resolution and the actions that follow from it - or, if peace does result, I doubt that such a peace will last long.

On the other hand, if Hezbollah does agree to be disarmed, Lebanon will have a proper government (and not merely a lame government) after a very long time - and therefore real prospects for peace - which is after all the purpose for which the Olmert government was originally, but only a short while ago, elected by the Israelis. A purpose tragically interrupted by very deliberate Hezbollah actions. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 11, 2006

Comedy and Spirituality

Charisma and spirituality often go together (usually to the detriment of the kind of spirituality on offer)

But, in my experience, comedy and spirituality come together extremely rarely.

However, they come together seamlessly and triumphantly in the book, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask)" by Eric Metaxas.

I gather that the book has been so successful that a sequel is scheduled for May 2007.

BTW, Eric seems to be quite charismatic too. In more senses than one. Do visit his website: http://www.ericmetaxas.com

And buy the book, yes buy the book - its a splittingly funny read - and, who knows, in the middle of the laughter, there may come a ray of light - even, perhaps, some charisma.... Sphere: Related Content
My colleague Noel Purcell, the Group General Manager for Stakeholder Communications at Westpac Banking Corporation (which is now ranked number one in Australia and the UK for corporate responsibility) presented a paper titled "The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Corporate Responsibility" at the 7th National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development, held in Brisbane, Australia, on 15-16 May 2006.

He has kindly given me permission to publish his paper, so here it is:


"What more appropriate time to be debating the good, the bad and the ugly of corporate responsibility. With public trust in corporations at an all time low and
cynicism at an all time high, it’s common to hear people say that the interests of corporations can never be reconciled with the public interest. And it is not uncommon to hear that the whole notion of corporate responsibility is just disingenuous blather. In fact, with so many interpretations, corporate social
responsibility as a term is almost without common meaning. And as an inadequately defined and understood concept it tends to be divisive. So let’s move on from the confusing and divisive language and get back to the real question. The question that has been asked ever since the father of capitalism Adam Smith wrote his Inquiry into the Origins and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776:

�� Is it possible for corporations to maximize profit and at the same time serve the public interest by contributing to human, social and environmental capital?

�� Is it desirable?

�� Is it foolish to try?

Or to put it another way, will the unfettered pursuit of corporate profit, without adequate attention to the public welfare, ultimately set crippling and unnecessary limits on capitalism, making it less creative, less dynamic, and less sustainable, as Peter Drucker has argued?

What is not always understood is that Smith in fact described a system based on ‘enlightened self interest’, and not one based on personal advantage at the ultimate expense of the common good.

In his earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, Smith had underpinned his ‘capitalist’ system with the virtues of justice, fairness and honesty. Smith saw neither selfishness nor greed as virtues and regarded the spheres of human conduct - economic, social, moral, and political - as interwoven and mutually dependent.

So how did we end up in a world where corporate behaviours are so widely seen to be at odds with that envisaged by the father of capitalism?

Much of the answer can be traced back to the nineteenth century and the influence of Social Darwinism - a philosophy whose essence is that human societies work best when the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ is exercised with the minimum constraint.

Following this philosophy, a ‘laissez faire’ libertarian form of capitalism soon dominated, built on the belief that the market works best if unfettered by regulation or externally imposed obligations.

Called ‘brute capitalism’ by Steve Young, the Executive Director of the Caux Round Table, its popularity dipped somewhat with the socially unpleasant consequences of
depression and war.

But it made a resounding recovery in the last few decades. The problem with brute capitalism, however, is that in the end narrow self-interest and personal advantage inevitably get elevated to the status of core values. And as a result public trust in corporations goes out the window.

I think the following tongue in cheek story, built on the recent Enron scandal, provides a vivid example of how the public sees ‘brute capitalism’. It goes like this:
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank.
You then execute a debt-equity swap with an associated public offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights for six cows are then transferred through an intermediary to a Cayman Island company, secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report then declares that the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more, which of course triggers the multi-million dollar executive performance
bonuses.

Yes this is an exaggeration, although some of the revelations of greed and deceit in recent corporate scandals do beggar belief. Exaggeration it might be, but public markets do appear increasingly less capitalist, at least in the sense that owners
are no longer proprietors.

Owners today operate more as ‘detached punters’, many with their interests delegated to their superannuation, investment and insurance funds. But when the funds themselves have little expectation of really being able to directly influence the operation of companies, the prevailing behaviour is to play the market - moving in and out quickly, with less and less focus on longterm holdings and long-term value.

Not surprisingly, this has impacted senior management behaviour and how they’re seen. For example, as a result of corporate scandals and alleged excesses, they’re increasingly being accused of viewing themselves as the object and beneficiaries of the bets, rather than seen as the proprietors of lasting enterprises.

One certainly should start worrying when the Economist magazine itself features an article titled ‘Pigs, pay and power’, claiming that executive pay lay at the heart of
capitalism’s troubles.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

A moral form of capitalism is possible, where the interests of the firm are reconciled with the public interest.

Good companies are out there today demonstrating that they can embody and express concern for the public welfare without sacrificing profitability.

Doing the right thing by society, which may be little more than doing no harm, and doing the right thing by the firm can be mutually re-enforcing goals.

At its core, moral capitalism simply means not trampling on the interests of others in the pursuit of corporate interests. It involves corporations being concerned with the principles of right and wrong and conforming to standards of behaviour and character based on those principles. Or to use corporate-speak, widening the concept of corporate value in ways that align the strategic needs of the owners of
the capital with those of the relevant stakeholders on which the ongoing viability of the business depends.

The way forward involves corporations accepting accountability for the externalities of their business activities that impact the public and stakeholder interests.
And to recognise that in doing so, they will take risk out of their business, enhance their ‘social licence to operate’ and reputational capital, and thereby add to shareholder value.

In other words, businesses must find a point of equilibrium in blending self-interest with principles and values that accord with the public good. A point that ensures the primary and legal obligation of the business to operate profitably is not compromised, but enhanced.

This means practicing ‘enlightened self-interest’, or as Adam Smith would have put it, ‘self-interest considered upon the whole’.

What is clear is that if we want our capitalist system to be a more sustainable one, and a more efficient one, and certainly one which is more uniformly admired, then corporations must marry their own self-interests to a sympathetic regard
for the well-being of others.

Encouragingly there is a growing view in equity and investment markets that this is the right strategy.

So in summary, there is no question that companies can do good and do well at the same time.

The message is that the pursuit of excellence in business does not require companies to forget their moral sense.

In fact if we are to sustain the prosperity of our companies and our society, business leaders are going to have to move beyond the walls of their institutions and truly learn to create community."

End Sphere: Related Content

China now only a year behind Japan in robotics?

China has now also created a robot, "Mis Rong Cheng", with voice-recognition and human-interaction capabilities, only a year or so after Japan did so (see my articles and Blog entries on the subject of robotics.

The Chinese robot too looks like a woman, is 168-cm tall, weighs 60-kg, and is programmed to speak and respond to between 500 to 1,000 commands in Mandarin, as well as in Sichuanese because the intention is to send her to the Sichuan Science Museum in Chengdu to act as a receptionist and tour guide.

I must say that the Chinese robot (which I have seen only in photos and video sequences) does not look quite as human, let alone as attractive, as the Japanese - which, by the way, remains the most advanced robot in the world. That's Honda's "Asimo", who can walk at a speed of one mile per hour and climb up and down stairs as well.

However, "Asimo" does cost roughly one million U.S. dollars, whereas Chinese "Miss Rong Cheng" cost only 37,500 U.S. dollars.

Japan, watch out!

The score in robotics seems to me, at present, to be:

India: 0
USA: 1
Europe: 2
China: 3
Korea: 3
Japan: 5.

The story on the Chinese robot is at: http://today.reuters.com/tv/videoChannel.aspx?storyId=ae0675d066e796842059950247ac1c9bc0fdf0de Sphere: Related Content

I was wrong: you can fight Swiss bureaucrats

In a post yesterday, titled: "India 1: Switzerland 0 - or, Fighting corruption is possible, but how do you fight Swiss bureaucrats?", I argued that India was now better than Switzerland in terms of being able to take on bureaucrats.

A Swiss colleague tells me that I am wrong, that it is quite possible to fight Swiss bureaucrats. Apparently, all that one needs to do is to write a "letter of recourse" to the Department. If that fails, one can write a similar letter to the next level up and so on. In 3 or 4 such letters, you are at the level of the Supreme Court of Switzerland.

I am advising the Swiss lady to write her "letter of recourse".

Watch this space. Sphere: Related Content

Signs of the Times

In a piece titled SIGNS OF THE TIMES, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman refer to two recent books:

1. Vital Signs 2006-2007, published by the Washington, D.C.-based WorldWatch Institute, which contends that "the health of the global economy and the stability of nations will be shaped by our ability to address the huge imbalances in natural resource systems"; and

2. The Least Developed Countries Report 2006, issued by the United Nations
Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which argues that while there
have been relatively higher rates of economic growth in the Least
Developed Countries (LDCs, a UN-designated group of the world's poorest
50 countries), it is "not translating into poverty reduction and
improved human well-being."

In the article, Mokhiber and Weissman quote fascinating factoids from the books such as the following:

1. Global oil consumption in 2004 was 3.7 billion tons, about eight
times more than in 1950. Coal consumption was two-and-a-half times more
than 1950, and natural gas more than 15 times greater.

2. 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded on Earth. Atmospheric
concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 379.6 parts per million for 2005.

3. Thanks largely to Hurricane Katrina, weather-related disasters caused
more than $200 billion in damage, nearly double the previous record.
Three of the 10 strongest hurricanes ever recorded occurred in 2005.

4. Global production of photovoltaic cells -- which generate
electricity from sunlight -- increased 45 percent in 2005, with current
levels six times the amount produced in 2000.


Mokhiber and Weissman conclude: "Overall, however, there's no way to look at the data in these two books and conclude anything but that the current way of doing things is not working".

The full story is at: http://www.corporatepredators.org Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ayn Rand idiocy

As a book on Ayn Rand is about to be published in India, my attention has been drawn to the following quote by her:

"Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries."

This is typical of the sort of nonsense that she was so good at: elegant style giving superficial plausibility to content that seems persuasive at first sight but does not hold up to scrutiny.

If Rand's statement were true, then no tradition of dissenting writing could ever have existed, from John Bunyan through Alexander Solzhenitzyn to dissenters in contemporary China such as Yu Jie.

It is also a fact that economic freedom can exist without political freedom - Communist China has been and is one outstanding example, Russia is another. In history, the longest-lasting example was probably India, where the intellectual and political bondage of the caste system guaranteed a free market to people of my caste (vaishyas or banias) with the result that millions of people were oppressed politically and economically for centuries (millennia?)

However, the liberating truth is that free minds usually precede and are the necessary condition for free markets as well as free polities.

"Free minds" do not of course come free - they are the result of tough intellectual labour combined with the willingness to pay the price of taking unfashionable, unpopular and disliked positions in public. Sphere: Related Content

The future of Sikhism

The future of Sikhism would appear to be bleak - at least in India - where Punjab (the home area for Sikhs) has the lower ration of women to men in the country - only 798 girls for every thousand boys under the age of six.

BTW the average ration in India is 927:1000 -- still well below the worldwide average of 1 050 female babies.

The worldwide average is of course depressed by the widespread abortion of female foetuses and female infanticide all over the world (perhaps some medical authority can inform me of what the "natural" ratio of females to males should be among humans?)

A recent story on this subject is at: http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=280347&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__international_news/ Sphere: Related Content

India 1: Switzerland 0 - or, Fighting corruption is possible, but how do you fight Swiss bureaucrats?

Moments after posting my previous blog on how to fight corruption in India, I hear a very interesting case in relation to Swiss bureaucracy.

Before I retail the story, I should mention that Switzerland is one of the cleanest and least corrupt countries in the world.

So what I am about to relate has nothing to do with corruption, only to do with irresponsible bureaucracy.

Here is the story.

An Indian friend of mine is married to a Swiss lady. They often have relatives and friends as their guests (as I do).

One relative applied to come for 3 months. Unusually, he was given a visa for only 2 weeks. (This has never happened to me, so I don't know why the visa was given for a shorter period than applied for. I don't even know if it is legal to give a visa for a shorter period than applied for).

At the end of the fortnight, this guest returned to India.

A year later, he applied to visit them again. This time, the visa was entirely denied, on the grounds that his documents were false!

The Swiss lady rang the consulate concerned, but was told that the decision was final and that there was nothing she could do.

Do note that the only documents concerned are: an Indian passport, a letter of invitation from a Swiss resident, and bank documents from the Swiss resident providing that he/she can support the invitee for the duration of the stay.

So the bureaucrats were either impugning the Indian passport or the letter of invitation from a Swiss national or the documents from a Swiss bank!

I don't know if the Indian relative can take the Swiss officials to court in India for maligning him. If he can, is it worth his while and his money to go to court?

I don't know if the Indian government can take the Swiss government to an international court for implying that its passport is not valid (if that is what was being implied, since I can't imagine that the Swiss Consulate would argue that the Swiss letter of invitation or Swiss bank documents were false - specially as the Swiss lady rang them and spoke to them in Swiss German!)

I don't know if the Swiss lady can take the officials to court for being incompetent (if the relatives documents were false, they should not have let the Indian relative into Switzerland the first time - so they were clearly incompetent in that case. And if his documents were not false the last time around, the officials are clearly being incompetent in denying the visa now).

Switzerland is not corrupt. No bribe would move the officials concerned.

But it is clearly possible for a clean but unaccountable bureaucracy to be even more oppressive than a corrupt Indian system: even if it were worth the Swiss lady's time and money to take the bureaucrats to court, she cannot do so (as far as I know).

My conclusion: the Indian system is now better than the Swiss system. Sphere: Related Content

how to fight corruption

We all know the theory. At bottom it is a matter of a change in values and culture.

But such a change can be helped or hindered by legislation and by agencies dedicated to such change.

In India, corruption is dropping dramatically because of the "Right to Know" legislation, combined with the actions of NGOs committed to helping the poor fight the traditional millennia-old oppression of the poor (usually the depressed and "untouchable", but nowadays also those who are merely economically disadvantaged).

A readable account appears at: http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1161162006

Of course, the law alone does not help. It is quite easy to imagine corrupt NGOs. Fortunately, the market operates with NGOs. If one NGO were to become corrupt, the people would soon cotton on to the fact that other NGOs are not and go to those. Theoretically, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that all NGOs would become bribe-seekers. But then the poor would be able to take help from any individual, because it is not NGOs alone who can enable the poor to utilise the law.

So what is needed to break the bondage of corruption in any particular case is: the law plus one individual or organisation.

Now that there is a "Right to Know" law, the only thing keeping corruption in place is the lack of NGOs and motivated individuals.

It will be fascinating to see how long it takes to eradicate corruption completely from India. Which will be a useful indicator of how many motivated NGOs and individuals there are in India. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Global Financial Integrity Program

You may be interested to hear that this new program, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), has been established within the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., USA.

Here is the basic information, from the announcement sent out by Raymond W. Baker, author of the book, Capitalism’s Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System (published by John Wiley & Sons, 2005):

"The purpose of GFI is to promote substantially heightened accountability and legality in international financial flows. This is a necessary step in the fight against global crime, terrorism, poverty, and failed states and in the achievement of global prosperity and security.

Using research-based advocacy, GFI will focus on several areas:

1) Changing U.S. law to bar all types of illicit money derived abroad from legally entering the United States. At the present time, the United States bars only a few categories of illicit money arriving from beyond its borders, namely the proceeds of drugs, corruption, crimes of violence, bank fraud, and certain treaty violations. Not barred are the proceeds of racketeering, handling stolen property, counterfeiting, contraband, alien smuggling, trafficking in women, slave trading, environmental crimes, and more. GFI will advocate closing these loopholes.

2) Examining all illicit cross-border financial flows. Capitalism’s Achilles Heel presents an estimate of $1 trillion annually in illicit money moving across borders, half of which—$500 billion a year—shifts illegally out of developing and transitional economies into western accounts. GFI will press the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to produce their own estimates, encompassing all financial flows, legal and illegal, into and out of poorer countries.

3) Eliminating other elements of the global dirty-money system. Since the 1960s, an entire integrated global financial structure has been created to shift illicit funds across borders. This structure includes some 70 tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, several million disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake charitable foundations, and sophisticated money-laundering techniques. GFI will tackle, in particular, the secrecy elements of this structure, urging greater financial transparency.

4) Curtailing abusive transfer pricing. By far the greater portion of illicit international financial flows stems from falsified pricing in international exports and imports, done for the purposes of evading taxes and relocating profits across borders. This process has become normalized in global trade. GFI will draw attention to the scope of this problem and work with the World Trade Organization and other institutions toward achieving accuracy and transparency in the pricing of global trade.

5) Advocating enhanced corporate social responsibility. GFI will work with other NGOs, international organizations, the United Nations, and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development to put the issues of global financial integrity on the agenda of corporate social responsibility programs.

6) Strengthening the global financial system. In the fight against terrorism, drugs, racketeering, poverty, and failed states, the global financial system must do a better job of ensuring integrity in all aspects of its operations. GFI will work on constituency building with other NGOs and organizations toward these ends.

Illegal cross-border financial flows are the biggest loophole in the global free-market system and the most damaging economic condition hurting the poor in developing and transitional economies. GFI will engage governments, institutions, and partners in efforts to address these pivotal concerns." Sphere: Related Content

Leaving Church

A review of Barbara Brown Taylor's latest book, Leaving Church, is published at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2006/003/20.41.html

The reviewer, fellow Episcopalian priest, Garret Keizer, draws in George Herbert, John Bunyan, Mitford and others in considering BBT's book.

Keizer mentions that Francine du Plessix Gray, in her biography of Simone Weil, retails several mystical experiences that altered Weil's life. For example, she witnessed a religious procession in a Portuguese fishing village and concluded that "Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves". Keizer goes on to raise what is, in his view, "the most difficult question related to Leaving Church: Is middle-class Christianity even possible?.... In his Confessions of an Original Sinner (1990), the historian John Lukacs writes: "One cannot be deeply bourgeois and deeply Christian at the same time." Taylor's memoir has led me to think on that statement, perhaps harder than I ever have before. Are many of us predestined, sooner or later, to be "leaving church"? And if so, is that because our enjoyment of "the good life" is too far removed from "a religion of slaves," or because North American Christianity itself no longer professes such a religion, having become instead a trade show of pathologies and fussy preferences, which any sane person with a will to survive must eventually flee?"

I have long hoped that many if not most North American Christians will flee "North American Christianity" and instead become followers of Jesus the Lord.

According to the latest sociological research, if even 2% do so, it will not only change "North American Christianity" but will also thereby have some chance of saving North America from the plagues that are already beginning to beset it. Sphere: Related Content

Is an unholy alliance of regulators and telecos holding the world to ransom?

Given the amount of competition in every sector, it appears unlikely that any cartel can have survived.

But OPLAN believes that there is a worldwide cartel of telecoms companies which is effectively preventing technological progress - and that such tech progress would be of immense benefit to customers.

See www.oplan.org Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Minimum-Wage Debate in the USA (and Tax Rebates for the Rich)

Last Friday, the House passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per but allied it with a permanently reduction of the estate tax: "In essence, House leadership decided it was fine to help an estimated 14.9 million workers making less than $7.25 per hour increase their average annual income by $1,200 to $4,400, as long as 8,200 wealthy people receive an average estate tax reduction of $1.4 million (in 2011). Minimum wage workers earning as low as $10,700 per year are given a raise, but only if a few individuals with estates worth more than $3.5 million benefit as well."

One or two of those figures don't feel intuitively right, but as I am going to leave for an important matter in 5 minutes, I don't have time to check that out.

However, as Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill this week, you might wish to check out the story at: http://www.sojo.net
search for "Minimum wage double-cross in Congress" Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The struggle within the political and military wings of Hamas

For an independent assessment of the struggle between the political and military wings of the Palestinian faction, Hamas, see the story released today, titled "Intelligence Brief: The Struggle within Hamas", on http://www.pinr.com Sphere: Related Content

On David Pawson

Before any comments from me about Pawson make sense, I have to provide a bit of biography.

I become an atheist at the age of eight (when my father died), and realised the stupidity of being an atheist when I was 14 (it is very simple to see that if there is no God and if the universe is the result of accident, then neither the universe nor any individual life can have any final meaning. So any possibility of meaning is necessarily connected with the possibility that God exists (which led me therefore to search for Him but eventually led to His finding me - but that is another story, for another time).

After having given up atheism, I was never very inclined to take the Theory of evolution seriously, though I have dug around the subject quite a bit and can find no shred of evidence for evolution from one species to another (though there is plenty of evidence for species adapting to their surroundings - so the theory is an excellent explanation for adaptation, but that is rather different from what the Theory claims).

I mention all this only because the final nail in the coffin of the Theory of evolution was a talk by David Pawson. He isn't a scientist, though plenty of scientists don't accept the Theory either (see: www.dissentfromdarwin.org). What he was doing was discussing in quite a lot of detail the first chapters of the Book of Genesis (the first book in the Bible). What he said made eminent sense - though you don't have to believe that if you are to disbelieve the Theory.

So why am I writing about all that today? Becauase I had hardly heard of David Pawson since then, till I ran into a book by him at a bookshop and purchased it, on the strength of my warm memory of his talk from some 40 years ago.

Well, I have just finished reading the book and it is warm, funny, unpretentious, and challenging. For example, when he complained to God about some people starting damaging rumours about him, God told him that what these people were saying was not as bad as the truth about him. That is the incident from which comes the title of his book, Not As Bad As The Truth (Hodder, UK, just published, paperback, ISBN: 0.340.86427-3; price: £8.99)

Though it is difficult to agree with everything that anyone writes, this is Pawson's autobiography, and it is difficult to disagree with anyone's experience!

BTW, when Pawson complained, God did not only answer in the way I mention above (which caused Pawson as well as his wife, to burst out laughing) but God also told Pawson that, though He knows the whole truth about Pawson, He still loves Pawson.

A truth that we all need to hear, if only we are willing to accept it and be transformed by it. Sphere: Related Content