Sunday, March 23, 2008

Politics, Business And Development

One of the most important lessons that I have learned in my life is that all systems are only as good as the people who run them. The fault with all systems is the fallibility of human nature. Corruption, mismanagement, incompetence, patronage, nepotism and self interest are the weak link in all systems. It is therefore not a question of systems but who is implementing them and how.

Socialism, capitalism, communism, dictatorships, royalty are all meritorious ideas in their own way, and each if implemented with the common interest at heart, rather than self interest, can enrich nations and peoples. However the opposite is also true. Each can have disastrous consequences when integrity is overtaken by greed, corruption, self ambition and so on.

For any system to succeed, the people who manage it must be honest, qualified, responsible, motivated, and above all accountable for their actions and decisions at all times. This can only be done by putting in place transparent monitoring tools and mechanisms. This is the key to success for any system.

Another thing I have learned is that competition is essential to progress. Without competition there is less incentive to keep improving and less need to be creative. Lack of competition encourages other human weakness such as self satisfaction and laziness and leads to stagnation. I have seen this so often in monopolies but seldom in private companies.

However, what I have seen in private companies is far too much profit being skimmed off the balance sheets to pay unjustified bonus’ and/or dividends to partners and shareholders. Without the workforce both would be paupers. So, I’m definitely in favour of the workforce having a stake in profits. I know of no better way to boost morale, productivity, competitiveness and innovation.

Likewise, whilst I do not believe in monopolies, I do believe the state is foolish to give up control of strategic service industries such as electricity, water and gas supplies, as has Great Britain for example. Like much of Europe we are more and more dependant on Russian supplies and this means we are vulnerable and no longer in control of our own destiny. However, it is extremely important to ensure that these industries are managed with the same professionalism and efficiency as private industries and although this is no easy task, I am sure it is achievable.

State monopolies often depend on political patronage and are extremely vulnerable to changes of government. They therefore tend to be unstable. They are subject to sudden policy and leadership changes depending on the government of the day and are therefore lacking in continuity resulting in inefficiency. They are also in my experience much more bureaucratic by nature than private industries and therefore lack dynamism. The same is true of all state monopolies anywhere in the world.

Lastly, I would like to suggest that developing countries with natural resources maximise their earnings potential by building partnerships with manufactures from the developed world to add value to their produce at origin in order to export them as finished goods. They must fight restrictive trade practises and value added tariffs of trading blocks like the EU by fighting fire with fire. Insist importing countries remove the tariffs on value added goods or lose the raw materials. Sell the raw materials instead to those countries who are prepared to enter into genuine free trade agreements. This is the only way to ensure sustainable and meaningful development.

Why should producer countries have to export commodities in bulk because the EU and other trading blocks impose tariffs on value added imports . It’s their produce. They invested in it, set land aside for it, grew it and nurtured it with their labour. Why therefore should a company in Belgium, Britain, Holland, Germany, France, etc., make all the profit from adding value to their produce while they make none? This is a blatant imbalance and contrary to fair trade practise.

In order to change this it will be necessary to create a new kind of partnership with the importing nations, one in which one encourages them to invest as manufacturing partners to add value at origin. This is necessary because the importing nations have the established markets. Developing countries need their markets but the developed nations need the produce. This should be the basis for a new kind of partnership in which everyone benefits equitably in a manner that reflects the reality on the ground.

Fair trade can only come about when trade is fair and everyone is a winner. Fair trade is about mutually beneficial partnerships not unequal partnerships and this is I believe the way forward for everyone, but it will take great leadership in developing countries to force the hand of the more advanced economies.
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Iraq In Retrospect

As someone who argued strongly in favour of removing Saddam Hussein from power, I now see that his removal has come at an unacceptable cost in innocent Iraqi lives, estimated to be any number between 80,000 – 1,000,000. By contrast, around 4,500 American soldiers and 175 British soldiers have lost their lives. Figures for wounded soldiers are obviously higher but largely kept under wraps.

It was not Saddam Hussein’s WMD that concerned me. It was clear from numerous documentaries that I saw, most of Iraq’s conventional weapons were largely dated and in a state of disrepair. It was also increasingly evident that whatever WMD he might have possessed hardly posed an immediate or deadly threat to anyone. That is not to say that had he remained in power and given time, he would not have become a serious threat. He almost certainly would and that was another reason to remove him from power.

I was in favour of removing Saddam Hussein’s regime on moral grounds but war was a last resort. I believed and still believe that in a globalised world that pretends also, to be civilised, murderous dictatorships are intolerable and must be dealt with by the international community under international law. We cannot call ourselves “civilised” whilst we continue to tolerate the intolerable. That is as they say, a no brainer. I thought much more could have and should have been done to force Saddam Hussein out without recourse to war. However, to achieve this it was vital for the entire international community to stand as one in condemning Saddam Hussein’s regime and to enforce the necessary measures to neutralise him. Self interest and political expediency and/or skulduggery by some of the major players was always going to make this virtually impossible. Seeing the divisions in the international camp served only to embolden Saddam Hussein and make it less likely that he would go quietly.

The UN Charter prohibits interference in the internal affairs of member states by other member states. Thus regimes such as those of Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe, to name but two, are legitimised by the international community when they take their seats in World forums; making us all complicit in their crimes against humanity. This is a morally reprehensible cop out by the international community. The UN Charter and those of other World bodies such as the IMF, World bank, etc., must be amended to allow for the expulsion of rogue governments on a majority vote. Whilst there is no serious penalty for criminal behaviour against their own citizens, rogue regimes will continue to feel they have carte blanche to do what they like in their own countries. Robert Mugabe continues to thumb his nose at the international community and the dreadful suffering of millions of Zimbabweans continues unabated. Is this the behaviour of a civilised World? You make the judgement.

So, in this respect the UN was and is not equipped or tooled to deal effectively with criminal governments. No wonder then that the U.S. and others decided to act unilaterally to remove Saddam Hussein. The UN was and is impotent when it comes to dealing with rogue governments. This impotence is bound to encourage unilateral action in times of international tension and crisis. America and its allies took matters into their own hands because there was a general unwillingness by the rest of the international community to do the right thing, take the bull by the horns and remove a tyrannical criminal from power.

It is not enough on its own to simply freeze the overseas assets of murderous regimes but I will grant that it is useful as part of a package of wide ranging measures which would include a World travel ban on all members of any governments that abuse human rights or break international law. No country no matter how large or powerful can take on all the nations of the planet. Part of the purpose of enacting an array of punitive measures against rogue regimes (including expulsion from the UN, IMF WB, etc.) is to encourage an internal reaction by more moderate elements within the countries in question to take steps to remove the offending persons from power, without recourse to international military action.

In the case of Iraq however and given the inevitable failure of a concerted international effort to remove Saddam Hussein, the UN should have given Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to step down and go into exile within 48 hours, irrespective of whether or not he possessed WMD. In the event of compliance he would be given immunity from prosecution. Failure to comply would result in his forced removal from power by any means necessary and prosecution at the International Court at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Had this come from the UN, rather than the U.S., it might have given him more pause for thought.

I agree that to give immunity to a man like Saddam Hussein does not seem like justice and it is not, but at least it would have saved the lives of at least 80,000 people and quite probably ten times that figure and that was a price worth paying.

All this raises the question though, given the lack of moral backbone and integrity within the UN and its membership, why should we the people have any faith in any political institution that allows millions of people to be murdered, tortured and raped at the hands of their own governments. If that is not criminal, reprehensible and uncivilised, then pigs really can fly and I’m a generous Dutchman. As long as expediency rather than morality reigns supreme, the vast majority of people around the globe will continue to view our political institutions with deep seated suspicion and outright contempt and rightly so.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


The Steven Hawking documentary in two parts on the Theory of Everything was fascinating and dealt with amongst other things, the latest thinking on String Theory. Hawking’s main obstacle to establishing a theory of everything has been explaining the weakness of gravity. M-theory could provide the answers.

However what struck me was his belief that the universe evolved from nothing, rather like a bubble one blows through a hoop from a mixture of soapy water. Now I’m no genius, but I have enormous difficulty with this idea.

If it were possible for something to materialise out of nothing once, then why shouldn’t such a phenomenon occur twice or a billions times? In the history of the Earth there is not a single recorded incident of something materialising from nothing. Not even Jesus was able to do that. He needed water to make wine and one fish and a loaf to feed the five thousand.

Therefore, with the best will in the World and all due respect, I believe Steven Hawking is clutching at straws in this regard.

Nothing can be made from nothing. 0 = 0. I defy anyone to take nothing and make something. I would suggest, it’s never been done and if it has been done then why can’t we do it all the time? Everything we have ever seen has been made from something, including I would suggest, the universe(s).

If that is true, then a state of nothingness never existed.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dangerous Games

The recurring theme of power politics down the ages is that all wars are caused by a handful of unscrupulous, misguided, egotistical, shortsighted leaders who as always, create an agenda (largely out of old habits as well as for their own purposes) into which we the ordinary people are inextricably drawn.

These few people, be it Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe or more recently Putin and Bush and their respective acolytes, gradually through the use of media spin and government propaganda, enslave the minds of ordinary people (Russians, Americans or indeed ordinary peoples anywhere and everywhere) making them believe that the one is a threat to the other.

Before long all Russians are suspicious of all Americans, and visa versa, when in truth all ordinary Russians and Americans really want is to be friends, get along and raise their families in peace and security like everyone else. The Putins and Bushes of this World want nothing more than to demonstrate their power and play with their military toys. They are like kids in the playground trying to prove who is the toughest. Only they are not kids and it is not a school playground. Nor are they playing with toy guns. They are playing with lethal weapons and the real lives of millions of ordinary people. Their truly miniscule imaginations and lack of true wisdom is reflected in their gigantic egos which fills the limited space between their ears.

Instead of using their combined wealth and power to solve the divides between nations, tackle poverty, eradicate disease and build bridges between peoples and cultures, they choose instead to prepare for war by creating unecessary threats and false enemies. This is the evil and blind insanity of many of our respective political leaders.

It's time that we the people of the world called a halt to their dangerous little power games. It's time that we the ordinary people of the world made it crystal clear that we are simply not interested in their playground antics. We want only to live in friendship and peace with each other. I and most of my fellow countrymen and woman have nothing against ordinary Russsians, Americans, Africans, Asians or Arabs but we detest many of their politicians just as much as we detest our own.

Thank you Harry

Harry Patch is 109 years old and is apparently the last living veteran of World War I. The Poet Luareate today read a poem composed for him in his honour. The two war generations were indeed a special breed, the like of which we may never see again. Today's youngsters seem totally unaware of the debt we all owe to Mr. Harry Patch and his contempories and this is a scandalous neglect of our educational and social system.

Today's binge drinking, knife carrying, gun toting yobs don't know they have been born. Good people like Mr. Harry Patch and indeed my parents put their lives on the line for all the following generations and how do we repay them? We deny them dignity and proper health care in their old age. We even deny them respect. We don't deserve the sacrifice they made.

Well, I just want to add my thanks and deepest respect to this wonderful gentleman and all those who fought and died for our freedom. Thank you sir.

Letter from the Kremlin

Office of The President
Red Square


Dear Prime Minister,

It is true that Russia and Britain have had differences in the recent past. I mean that spy camera in the rock trick was frankly amateurish but gave me slight chuckle. Then we had minor misunderstanding regarding Litvinenko. How are the two British policemen who tested positive for that polonium – 210 by the way? Incredible coincidence, no?

How silly Prime Minister to attach responsibility to Kremlin. You know the rules, total deniability. You could never make it stick, maybe in 1800s but now your country is little and Russia is World leader. We have oil and the gas and you have cheap Danish lager and very thirsty, how do you call them? Ah yes, yobbos. Abramovitch , he keep me informed. He very happy as now exclusive importer of cheap Danish lager!

But I digress Prime Minister. We have been watching your control techniques of population. You have learned well from old KGB strategy. As you are finding out it takes time. In Russia we were quicker because we had no elections so no consequences for leadership. We control media so no problem for arresting political oppositions and no how do you say....ah! yes, no worries about ridiculous human rights violations.

In Britain not so easy yet but am impressed by stealth tactics employed by your government to achieve same ends. You have done well to, how do you say, dumb down population and create political apathy. Very important step in process of population control.

Allow you to pass even more control measures with only minor protest from stupid bloggers and like. Soon you can censor them too when you have your people on inside. Easy to remove articles opposing party then but you still have some work to do. I am not happy about criticisms of my leadership and people calling me a megalomaniac and such bad things. I hope you will stop this soon if you want gas from Mother Russia and your oil don’t forget is soon running out.

I have meeting now with my new President Medvedev . That was good trick no, to choose puppet for President? The Russians they love me. Who is the big daddy now?

I will write again soon. We have much to discuss. Keep up the good work Comrade.


Prime Minister (President) Putin