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Monday, September 14, 2015

Report on the Work of the UN

The annual Report on the Work of the Organization (A/70/1) is one of the rare UN documents that gets media attention. 

That is because it is submitted to the opening session of the General Assembly every year and its Introduction reflects the Secretary-General’s primary political concerns. 

The Report itself is a distillation of many departmental submissions and traditionally it has been a committee-designed horse, its ill fitted parts of varying worth and integrity.

The Introduction to the 2015 Report is remarkable for several reasons. 

At the top of my list is that it makes no mention of a major change in UN policy announced sotto voce in the penultimate section of the Report itself: “The United Nations advocates a rebalancing of the international policy on drugs, to increase the focus on public health, human rights, prevention, treatment and care, and economic, social and cultural measures.” 

That is the closest the UN has ever come to calling for an end to the prohibitionist approach to psychoactive drugs which has for over a century failed in its main purpose while rewarding organized crime with sky-high profits. It is certain to raise expectations that the 2016 General Assembly special session on drugs will rewrite international drug policy.

The Introduction is notable also for completely ignoring drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime, the triune that funds terrorism and most contemporary conflicts. 

Some of its statements are also outrageously false. Looking back over the UN’s seven decades it says “we have much to be proud of” because the “world has avoided global conflict on the scale seen twice in the first half of the twentieth century” and numerous “smaller wars were averted or brought to an earlier end.”

The truth is that well over 100 million people have died in the conflicts of the last 70 years, far more than in the two declared “World Wars.” Many societies have been torn apart by war and many hundreds of millions of lives ruined. Those grim realities have been generally invisible because international mass media pay little attention to the poor countries that have borne the terrible toll.

The claim that the UN has prevented and ended wars is ludicrous when even a cursory review can reveal the consistent impotence of the Security Council in the face of prolonged and widespread carnage. The cause of that failure is no mystery: the Council’s permanent members have been the primary beneficiaries of war; they provide almost all the world’s weaponry and reap enormous economic and political advantages from instigating proxy conflicts.

Another dishonest claim in the Introduction is that the past year has seen “significant progress” towards the interconnected goals of ending poverty, bringing climate change under control, and agreeing on “shared approaches to funding and implementing a new development agenda.” In fact, the UN’s endless talk on those issues has resulted in nothing but arid, hollow texts.

The authors of the Introduction are also inexplicably confused when it comes to telling about the “enormous strides” the UN has made in “building the long-term foundations of peace.” 

On the one hand they ascribe undeserved credit to the Organization for raising “millions out of extreme poverty” and empowering women, both national processes, with a marginal UN role.

On the other hand, they make only one passing reference to the UN’s undisputed and major success in advancing human rights and international law. 

The 70th anniversary is surely an occasion to celebrate that despite the many tyrannical regimes in its membership the Organization has created and codified more international law than in all previous history. It has been the primary designer, architect and advocate of a body of law that now extends from the abyssal depths of the sea to outer space and covers every individual on earth with the mantle of universal human rights and protections.

Strangely too, the report makes no mention at all of another major UN achievement, the creation of an integrated statistical framework that makes global problems visible. Without it the world would be incapable of policy and strategy in every vital area.

On contemporary problems, the Introduction is frank: “age-old problems persist,” and new ones are proliferating. “Inequalities are growing in all societies,” the “poorest of the poor” are being left farther behind, and there are shockingly violent crimes of violence against women and girls, especially as “a tool of war.” Climate change has “only begun to show the potential severity of its impacts.” Overall, problems have become more complex in an “increasingly fast-paced and interconnected world where opportunities “abound” but “risks are greater and more contagious.”

The description of the world situation in 2015 is vivid:

“During the past year, more people were displaced than at any time since the Second World War. Desperate migrants risked everything to flee from hunger, persecution and violence, only to meet with death, discrimination and greater desperation along the way. Conflict and crisis engulfed millions of people in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gaza, Libya, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen. Millions faced the brutal tactics of violent extremists such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and Da‘esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while many foreign fighters found the message of such groups alluring enough to join their cause. Environmental degradation, pollution and resource depletion continued almost unabated around the globe. There was little progress on the long-stalled disarmament agenda. Countless people died of curable diseases, went to bed hungry, buried children who might have been saved with basic health care, and in many other ways suffered avoidable, unacceptable levels of deprivation, fear and hopelessness.”

The section on Disarmament notes both the quick UN action to neutralize Syria’s chemical weapons and the 19-year lassitude of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD), the world’s only multilateral negotiating forum on arms issues.

Finally, the Report takes no note of the tireless and powerful role of civil society in international affairs. Without the largely volunteer-driven agendas of civil society organizations the UN's State-centred processes would lose an essential humanizing element; it would be impossible for the Organization to hold out the hope that the idealism in the Preamble to its Charter will eventually come to life in global governance. 

The authors of the Report could have made all those points easily by quoting from a statement made last March in the CD by the 100-year old Women’s International League for Peace and Freedomx. Some excerpts:

“For the last few years, my organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, has been permitted to deliver a statement to the Conference on Disarmament to mark International Women’s Day. For years before that, our statement was read out to the CD by the sitting president. This is the only time of year that any voice from civil society is allowed inside the CD chamber. And this may be the last time our voice is heard here.

“Dear colleagues, … let me explain to you what it is like being the only civil society organization that still pays attention to the CD. Last week, for the high-level segment, I had to make a detour on my way to the gallery, because security wouldn’t let me through – I would have been too close to the chamber in which about 20 minutes later a high level dignitary would be speaking.

“Even after any regular plenary session, I have to wait outside the Council Chamber for someone from the Secretariat to hand me the statements that you delivered, because I am not allowed into the room. This practice, by the way, was never an official decision. In 2004, it was decided that civil society was allowed on the floor, before and after the meeting. That changed without an official decision ever being put on the record.

“These are but a few of the indignities that civil society experiences at the CD. We do not experience them at other disarmament forums—not at First Committee, not at meetings of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, not at meetings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“So, you can imagine our delight when Ambassador Lomónaco tabled the draft decision to increase our access to and engagement with the CD. And I assume you can imagine our disappointment, to put it mildly, when you started discussing that draft decision. Aside from the sexist, degrading remark about “topless ladies throwing bottles of mayonnaise,” the level of disrespect to civil society and disconnection from the outside world demonstrated by the debate over this proposal was astounding.

“Many of you have expressed your appreciation for our work over and over again. And we do enjoy working with you towards our collective goals. But at the moment that it mattered, some of you put process over progress. Member states that pride themselves to be open, democratic societies said they needed more time, had some more questions, wanted some changes, and in the end could not agree ...

“We in WILPF have thus decided that it’s finally time to cease our engagement with this body. While the debate over the proposal to amend the CD’s engagement with civil society was important in terms of timing, it is not the key reason that we have come to this decision. 

"This is a body that has firmly established that it operates in a vacuum. That it is disconnected from the outside world. That it has lost perspective of the bigger picture of human suffering and global injustice. … We can no longer invest effort into such a body.”

Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Alternative Post-2015 Agenda

As noted in my last post, the draft of the post 2015 agenda that governments have agreed upon is the disastrous product of a dysfunctional UN. To show what a meaningful agenda could be, I’ve drafted the text below. If governments go ahead with their agreed text I invite civil society organizations to consider adapting and adopting the following.


We live at a time when the growth of global connectivity has ushered in a range of new political, economic and social realities and opened up unprecedented potentials for sustainable human development.

Within the next 15 years we can realistically look forward to ending poverty and war, the most formidable obstacles to sustainable development.

In the process we can eliminate also the interrelated scourges of drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime which at present exact a huge cost in lives and treasure from the poorest countries of the world.

To realize these objectives there are two fundamental requirements.

One is the full partnership of men and women and nations large and small in repairing a world devastated by the poisonous processes of the industrial age.

The other is the fundamental reform of the United Nations system of agencies.

Progress towards these ends will be framed by the values set forth in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Within that framework we recognize that nations have a sovereign right to determine their own course of development.


We endorse the Goals set out below and will take action to achieve them within our nations and in sub-regional, regional and global frameworks. We urge international agencies to prioritize South-South and Triangular modalities of cooperation wherever possible. In listing the Goals below, we set out the rationale that will guide policies and programmes and note (in italics) the action that we will take.

1. Eliminate Poverty: The extreme poverty afflicting nearly a billion people who live on less than $1:25 a day is caused by systemic factors rooted in the colonial era and sustained by current socioeconomic arrangements, especially those noted below under other Goals. We expect that as those are addressed, the problem of extreme poverty will be greatly ameliorated. To accelerate the process, we will frame specific policies and field well-funded programs to end hunger, extend good quality education to all children and ensure that the poor have access to health care.

2. Promote Social Inclusion: Poverty is not just economic; everywhere, it is associated with forms of social exclusion and discrimination. Many who are not poor also suffer exclusion and discrimination on the basis of their gender, age and sexual preference. To counter this, we will formulate appropriate laws and policies, initiate media campaigns targeting discrimination and make social inclusion a high priority in housing, education and access to the Internet and the worldwide web.

3. Combat Organized Crime: Most of the violence visited on societies around the world is the work of criminals organized around a nexus of economic interests, especially drug trafficking. They are empowered by existing financial and legal arrangements at the global level that must be changed if we are to root out all forms of organized crime ranging from sexual exploitation of children and women to trade in counterfeit goods and environmental crimes. To that end, we pledge to:

  • Revoke the existing prohibitionist conventions on the manufacture, trade and use of so called “illicit drugs,” and replace them with one that will promote a medical and social approach to addiction and abuse. This will be done at the Special Session of the General Assembly that will convene in 2016 to deal comprehensively with the issue of “illicit drugs.” 
  • Declare illegal all “shell companies” that allow criminals to hide behind corporate identities, and subsequently, seize the assets of all entities whose beneficial ownership is not verified. To this end, the Sixth Committee of the current session of the General Assembly will inscribe a new item on its agenda and come to an agreement within a year.
  • Decree that banks caught laundering money will automatically lose their license to do business and that the individuals involved will be subject to mandatory prison sentences. 

4. Build Peace and Security: The action under 3 a, b and c above will eliminate organized crime as a major threat to international peace and security but state-sponsored terrorism and proxy wars for control of resources or strategic space will continue. To address those sources of violence a twin-pronged approach will be necessary. On the one hand, we must make a concerted effort to end the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and stop the illicit trafficking in arms. On the other hand, the defensive responses of victimized societies must change. Instead of relying on heavily militarized police and secretive agencies that conduct massively intrusive surveillance of their own citizens, the first line of defense should be community-level organizations working with lightly armed local police organizations. To these ends, we resolve to:

  • Work with corporations manufacturing weapons to create a clear, transparent and global registry of small arms and light weapons
  • End the illicit trade in weapons by putting brokers out of business and into prison. 
  • Explore and promote community-level networks supporting local police to ensure security.

5. Change Production/Consumption Patterns: Existing patterns of production and consumption are rooted in the realities of the industrial era that are now fading under the influence of the technologies of the Information Age. The Internet and the Worldwide Web now allow small and medium corporations to identify and sell to niche markets, in effect destroying the mass markets essential for the survival of giant corporations. The rapid evolution of 3-D printing is making it possible for the highest quality of industrial production on a very small scale, in effect, setting at naught the single greatest advantage of mega corporations. As networks of small producers emerge to maximize their efficiencies, the mega corporations with their top-down decision-making structures and concentrated production/service centers will become increasingly inefficient dinosaurs. This will inevitably affect patterns of trade and urbanization, especially as cheap off-grid renewable sources of energy become plentiful. In sum, these trends will change all the wasteful production and consumption patterns of the last few centuries. To accelerate the process, we will:

  • Review all policies based on industrial era assumptions of production and consumption, especially of fossil fuels.
  • Promote the evolution of 3-D printing to meet the requirements of small and remote communities.
  • Set in place educational systems capable of providing the highest quality of instruction in the remotest rural locations.
  • Encourage entrepreneurs to meet the cultural needs of remote or widely dispersed rural populations
  • Consider how best to adapt our nations to the reversal of long standing trends towards urbanization.

6. Reduce Social Inequalities: Growing inequalities within societies has been one of the most unsustainable of trends over the last decade, accentuating injustices that have been a characteristic of all civilizations. The most obvious difference between the haves and the have-nots, and historically the most irreducible, has been access to high quality housing. However, as the connectivity of the Information Age has made crowd-funding a new economic reality, that great divide can now be closed. A crowd-funded housing sector can not only eliminate the issue of homeless populations, it can, in the process, rapidly expand employment, build infrastructure and drive economic growth. To make this possible a range of monetary and environmental issues will have to be ironed out. We will initiate a global research effort to illuminate and address those issues with an eye to providing housing for all by 2030.

7. Reform the United Nations System: The system of international agencies set in place at the end of World War II 70 years ago continues to function with little change in its modalities. It adopts hundreds of resolutions every year phrased in arcane diplomatic jargon addressed mainly to governments. No one knows what actually happens to the resolutions, for there is no systematic feedback on their implementation To rectify this state of affairs, we will move to hook the operations of the UN System into the networked world of the 21st century. That will entail crisply action-oriented resolutions circulated on all public, expert and organizational networks worldwide, eliciting feedback and responses in a fluid interactive process.

In sum, the achievement of these goals will lead towards the long-standing UN goal of general and complete disarmament, anchoring sustainable development to deepening peace and security. It will result in a world transformed by 2030.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Verbose, Hollow Post-2015 Agenda

I have just finished reading the agreed draft of the "development agenda" the United Nations will put before world leaders next month.

It has every characteristic of what UN insiders call a “Second Committee text;” that is to say, without vision, guided entirely by precedent, and wholly unrealistic.

Usually negotiated by Second and Third Secretaries too low on the diplomatic totem pole to dare go beyond their written briefs, such texts are classic MEGOs (Mine Eyes Glazeth Over).

Words lose all meaning in Second Committee negotiations and exist only as pointers to previously agreed texts.

For instance, the Preamble to the document claims it is “a plan of action” that “also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.”

The only “action” proposed in the text comes at the back end of its 29 dense pages and involves something dear to every Second Secretary’s heart, further committee meetings.

In this case, a great number of them, for the document will launch “a Technology Facilitation Mechanism” that will service “a multi-stakeholder collaboration between Member States, civil society, private sector, scientific community, United Nations entities and other stakeholders.”

How will that work?

A “United Nations Interagency Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI)” will “promote coordination, coherence, and cooperation … enhancing synergy and efficiency, in particular to enhance capacity-building initiatives.”

It will work with 10 UN appointed representatives from civil society, the private sector and the scientific community to operationalize an on-line clearing-house platform on STI initiatives, mechanisms and programmes “within and beyond the UN” and prepare for an annual two-day meeting of a “Multistakeholder Forum.”

And how does the document “also” seek “to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom”?

The matter is a complete mystery, for none of the 17 references to “peace” in the 91-paragraph Declaration says anything about issues normally related to “universal peace in larger freedom.”

In fact, every reference is narrowly phrased to avoid giving offence to those profiting from gargantuan military expenditures, the proliferation of ever more devilish arms, terrorism and proxy wars.

There is a promise to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence,” but the text studiously avoids mentioning drug trafficking (the single largest money-maker for global organized crime), terrorists and proxy wars.

Nor is there any mention of money laundering, which siphons off trillions of dollars from poor countries.

The text does say governments will “combat” all forms of organized crime by 2030 but is silent on what is to be done.

There are three references to terrorism. The first says it is endangering development. The second notes the need to “strengthen support and meet the special needs of people living … in areas affected by terrorism.” The third calls for strengthening “relevant national institutions … to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.”

The “relevant” institutions are those currently engaged in massively intrusive surveillance, indiscriminate violations of human rights and torture. They are the antithesis of sustainable development.

Another grand goal is to facilitate “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.”

How is that to be done?

There is not the vaguest indication.

The rotund pomposity of the text descends into the ridiculous when it claims to be guided not only by the UN Charter, full respect for international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration, the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the Declaration on the Right to Development, “the outcomes of all major UN conferences and summits which have laid a solid foundation for sustainable development,” the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the World Summit on Sustainable Development; the World Summit for Social Development, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action; and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+ 20).”

The text further reaffirms “the follow-up to these conferences, including the outcomes of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States; the Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries; and the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.” 

It pauses for breath before reaffirming also “all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including, inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, as set out in principle 7 thereof.”

To make all this more entertaining, the text asserts that the “challenges and commitments contained in these major conferences and summits are interrelated and call for integrated solutions. To address them effectively, a new approach is needed.”

What “new approach” it does not say, but this follows immediately thereafter: “Sustainable development recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and fostering social inclusion are linked to each other and are interdependent."

Perhaps the Second Secretaries see that as a “new approach.”

If the General Assembly adopts this document at the summit level it will signal the organization’s terminal incapacity. 

I suggest that a committee of ambassadors and special envoys from capitals be convened immediately to shape an intellectually respectable new text.

If that does not happen, Civil Society organizations should put out their own document commenting on the official one and indicating what needs to be done.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

UN's Faux Development Agenda

The United Nations seems to be headed for a summit session of the General Assembly in September that will agree on a meaningless global development agenda.

The draft of the document now being discussed in New York makes high minded declarations about "principles" and "commitment" but ignores such key issues as money laundering and drug trafficking that bedevil economic growth in poor countries.

Produced  after lengthy "consultations" by the Ambassadors of Ireland and Kenya, it does not mention drug trafficking at all. Governments only promise to "strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol."

Money laundering is noted obliquely in the pledge by governments that by 2030 they will "significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows ... and combat all forms of organized crime."

There are four anodyne references to terrorism:

1. Governments say they will "take further effective measures and actions, in conformity with international law, to remove obstacles and constraints, strengthen support and meet the special needs of people living in areas affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and in areas affected by terrorism."

2. They will "Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.

The third and fourth mention of terrorism repeat those formulations word for word in other sections of the draft.

If any of this makes a difference to the lives of the billion people living on less than $1.25 a day it will be convincing proof that miracles do happen.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Debate on Brit Reparations for Colonialism

The Oxford Union/Social media debate on whether the British owe reparations to their former colonies is notable for the alarming display of Indian ignorance of basic facts and interesting in its timing. Items:

1. The British did not rule India for 200 years (as the Oxford debaters, including Shashi Tharoor, said repeatedly). Consider the following time-frame:

  • 1757 The sham “Battle of Plassey” (won by bribery) began the colonial era 
  • 1848 Punjab fell to the British. In 91 intervening years the British did not “rule India;” they took territories in the name of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi and subjected them to rapacious exploitation. They built the railways and telegraph to loot more efficiently. 
  • 1857 Less than a decade after the fall of the Punjab a great national uprising almost unseated the British. In its aftermath Queen Victoria declared herself “Empress of India” and promised to be the people’s “ma-baap” but on the ground vengeful massacres continued for serveral years. The two decades after the uprising saw the worst famines in the country’s history, amidst which the British exported record quantities of food; they also convened a “Great Durbar” and feasted amidst the dying millions.
  • 1885 To try and contain Indian fury, the Agriculture Member of the Viceroy’s Council propelled the founding of the Indian National Congress but the nationalists soon took it over. British “rule” would last just 62 years after that, with the bureaucrats in Delhi in steady political retreat most of the time. 

That timeline shows not only that the British did not rule in any legitimate sense of the word, they also did not control the whole or even most of the country for anywhere near 200 years.

2. The British did not unify India: The British themselves recognized the reality of Indian political unity by remaining Mughal tax collectors for most of their time in India. The country was also united more fundamentally by culture and world view; that was why Gandhi’s political message resonated nationally and mobilized the people. Contrary to its claim to have unified the country is the vicious British record in creating a vicious and unprecedented religious divide.

3. Pre-British India had a range of industries: Social media scoffers at the concept of “deindustrialization” have asked what industries India had other than textiles. India had a wide range of other productive capacities. The highest valued was diamond processing, a uniquely Indian industry through most of history because no other country mined the gems until the 16th Century (when a source was discovered in Brazil). Also widely renowned was the Indian ship building industry. Arab ships were built entirely in India. The country also led in metal work of many kinds, including of course, gold jewelry. The steel pillar near Qutb Minar in Delhi exemplifies the high quality India achieved in a field critically important in making weapons. Tipu Sultan’s use of rocketry against the British also demonstrated an unmatched mastery of other advanced technologies.

4. Toll of British “man-made famines”: Shashi Tharoor said 29 million Indians had perished in British created famines. Going by figures reported by British administrators themselves, the total is over 100 million. Indian estimates go much higher. This phenomenon should not be seen as an accidental by-product of looting. As in North America and Australasia, genocide was British policy.

The Matter of Timing

Shashi Tharoor has been a British spear-carrier for most of his career, so his performance in the Oxford debate needs some explanation. What led him to become so vocal a critic? I would like to think he’s been reading my blog, but having seen him in action for nearly five decades, that explanation is a non-starter. He has a self-serving political aim in mind.

What could it be?

Well, if we’re looking for clues, Sushma Swaraj’s current problems might be a good place to start. They originated in leaks from Britain and have led to calls for her replacement as Foreign Minister. The Times of India reported earlier this week that she had removed the label“Foreign Minister” from her Twitter account.

The Oxford debate was held in May, just about the time when Sushma Swaraj’s problems were surfacing. Shashi did not make public the tape of his speech at Oxford in May or shortly thereafter, when I presume he had it. And now, just as it goes viral, he stirs up a hornets nest in the Congress by criticizing Sonia Gandhi’s tactics in parliament.

Am I being over-imaginative, or does it seem as if he’s preparing to jump ship and bid for the Foreign Minister’s job?

“Not so fast!” you say: “what of the unfortunate Sunanda Pushkar matter?”

Ah yes. Point well taken. But then, a few million pounds distributed in the right quarters might lift that albatross from his political neck.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to Crowd-Fund Greece Out of its Crisis

Greece can pay all its debts in a few months and get back to healthy economic growth immediately if its “socialist” leaders open their eyes to the new capitalism of the Information Age.

As I have been arguing for several years, the corrupt, inefficient corporate capitalism of the industrial era is dying and its successor is waiting in the wings, ready to take the world into the economy of the free market that Adam Smith wrote about in the 18th Century.

What should Greece do?

First, its leaders should use the latest multi-billion dollar bailout not to inflict more pain on their people but to plan how the Greek economy can capitalize crowd funding.

What does that mean?

It means taking advantage of the innovative funding opportunities opened up by the Internet and Worldwide Web.


By creating a global Internet-based lottery with all-expense paid trips to Greece as prizes.

The number of tickets sold for each prize should cover the expenses of all those actively involved in providing a pleasant experience for the tourist, from waiters and guides to hotels and airlines.

An additional number of tickets should be sold to pay off the Greek national debt and fund any programme the government wants.

As some 22.5 million tourists pay to enjoy a Greek vacation every year – most of them Europeans – we can expect that with the whole world bidding the available lottery tickets would be quickly sold out.

Suppose the government sold just 10,000 $1 lottery tickets for each prize, it would generate a total income of 225,000,000,000, which is about the same as the country's 2013 GDP.

The 10,000 figure is of course, ridiculously low; 100,000 tickets could easily be sold globally for each prize.

Such a funding system would have the Greek economy humming instantly and create a very healthy level of employment.

The government could also take several other steps to reform the economic system.

The biggest step should be to end income tax.

It would not only send levels of consumer spending and saving into the stratosphere, there would be an immediate end to the haemorrhage of money into the international black market.

From my napkin calculations, Greece should be able to pay off its national debt with ease and look to the welfare of its citizens without worrying about funding.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TOI Puff-Piece on the Intelligence Bureau

Those in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) responsible for the 21 June Times of India puff piece should be quietly put out to pasture and the article's anonymous author should be selling classified ads; they are an embarrassment to their respective trades.

It is the job of the IB to keep its internal affairs hidden from view, not advertise details such as its current strength, recruitment patterns and training methods.

From the journalist’s perspective, the IB as currently constituted is a cancer on Indian democracy; even if it had a constitutional framework and was accountable to parliament and judiciary it would require close and continuous scrutiny.

Quite apart from these fundamental criticisms, the piece is misleading and muddle-headed.

The IB was not “established in 1887 to keep an eye on Russian troops” threatening India. It was part of the apparatus of oppression the British built from the times of the East India Company, a genesis that explains why the agency has been traditionally clueless about how to collect and analyse foreign intelligence.

Its traditional modus operandi of entrapment and torture was somewhat modernized after Madanlal Dhingra murdered India Office functionary Curzon Wyllie in London in 1909; but the new MI 5 and MI 6 continued to be focused mainly on Indian affairs.

In London, the police found that Dhingra’s hostel, India House, was a hive of revolutionary activity where Vinayak Damodar Savarkar held sway and visitors included Irish, German and Russian activists (including Lenin).

Within a year they had Savarkar in custody and shipped him off to exile in the Andamans, where they broke him with torture and used him to create the Hindutva brand in Indian politics.

In India, spymaster John Arnold-Wallinger at the Indian political intelligence office took charge of the service that would make a hit-man of the young Lieutenant Hastings Lionel Ismay, the man who as Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff would plot Partition and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. (Before coming out with Mountbatten, he was Secretary of the War Cabinet under Churchill, with whom he arranged for the demise of Franklin Roosevelt and launch of the Cold War.)

That is the tap root of independent India’s Intelligence Bureau.

After independence there was no effort to reorient the service politically and its leaders continued to have close relations with their former British supervisors.

Their primary function continued to be domestic political intelligence, focused not on threats to the State but on the interests of the Delhi sarkar.

Given that background, one would expect a high level of guile and skill in IB operatives, but those I came across in my six years in India seemed to have neither.

Initially they seemed fixated on the idea that I was a spy using high-tech American broadcast equipment, which they evidently thought was hidden in my bicycle (the cheapest Hero bought from the nearest bike shop)/umbrella/shoes/dark glasses/cap/keys.

The bicycle seemed to hold pride of place in their imagination.

Within a week of buying it the bicycle's glossy black paint had tiny scrapes all over, and its wire carrier basket had a piece removed from it.

At one point a guy decked out like Gunga Din came up and asked why the bicycle was called The Ranger. Several others asked about the Re.100 light fixed to the handlebar.

When they found nothing, interest did not flag. Attention turned to flattening my tires. I could never tell whether that was just to inconvenience me or to reduce what they imagined was my information gathering circuits through the streets of Pondicherry and Goa.

Within a year both tires looked as if they had crossed the Kalahari. One burst with a loud pop on a smooth street. The other herniated its inner tube and had to be replaced. 

IB examinations of my shoes sometimes had dramatic results. A pair of virtually indestructible Woodlands had the soles cut away and reattached with glue; they fell away from my feet in Pondicherry market, luckily near a pavement vendor of sandals.

The IB went to great lengths to prevent me assembling a spy network. My phone regularly flashed a sign warning of “Active incoming call diverts.” When I tried to call people, I would get a variety of strange messages, including “Call not permitted.”

People with whom I had instant rapport at first meeting would avoid further contact; I took that to be a sign they had been warned away. My closest relatives were called upon to inform on me: one admitted to it rather shame faced. In Goa, a “Blogger’s Group” became so obvious an IB stalking horse, I wondered if it had any genuine members.

The efforts at surveillance were occasionally amusing. One sleuth was disguised as an incredibly cruddy-looking “homeless man” who I felt sorry for and gave to generously until I noticed that instead of a bad smell he exuded aftershave. The owner of a kirana store near his hangout smirked when I asked what he thought of the man. “Sarkar ka admi” he said. Another watcher was a beggar woman with child. Shortly after I gave her some food, she was in line behind me at a ritzy pastry shop.

All this would be funny if not for the fact that I could never tell when IB Jekyll would switch to IB Hyde. There was no predicting when I would find myself bleeding on the pavement knocked down by a motorcycle or hospitalized by a near fatal asthma attack.  

My experience must be interpreted in one of two ways: either the IB is too dense to see the integrity of my personal and intellectual character, or else its leaders are themselves not true to their salt.

I don’t think the IB brass are dumb. 

As I found in selling my tax-free bonds before exiting India, they are corrupt.

I don't think there is any way to reform this monster.