Saturday, December 22, 2007

Intelligent Report Stalls Bush March to More War

by Geoff Olson, Vancouver Courier

Published: Friday, December 21, 2007

We've been given an extension on Peace on Earth this season. It turns out--surprise!--that Iran has no WMDs, and no means to make them.

Two weeks ago, the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, an annual summary by 16 separate US intelligence agencies, revealed Tehran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003. The demonologists in the White House panicked with the revelation that their latest devil, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wasn't fibbing. The same can't be said--surprise!--for the chief executive inquisitor, George W. Bush.

According to White House spokesperson Dana Perino, U.S. president Bush was told in August that Iran's nuclear weapons program "may be suspended." Bush was informed "the new information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran's covert nuclear program."

Yet in spite of this briefing several months ago, Bush was talking about "World War III" soon thereafter, with similar apocalyptic rhetoric coming from U.S. vice-president Cheney. Although the NIE is a definite setback for the Bush administration, the recent discovery that Ahmadinejad is less interested in weapons of mass destruction than powering his palace train set has only shifted White House rhetoric. The supposed global threat from Iran is now hedged in a thicket of qualifiers: if, when, could, etc.

The CIA, which was left holding the bag after the neocon's cherry-picking of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq War, appears to have had no interest in a sequel of finger pointing. We may also be seeing some cracks appearing in the governing elite's united front. Undoubtedly some influential figures blinked in their globe-sized game of Risk--especially after Russian president Vladimir Putin told Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei that a U.S. attack on Iran would be regarded as an attack on Russia.

All players, China included (which is now closely allied with Russia), fear the game of brinkmanship in the Mideast could unleash the Law of Unintended Consequences like the Tasmanian Devil on meth. And what exactly is the U.S. problem with Iran, if it's not actually weapons of mass destruction? Could it be coincidence that the three members of the "Axis of Evil," Iraq, Iran and North Korea, have made past moves toward trading in currencies other than the U.S. petrodollar? Without the military enforcement of U.S. funny money as the world reserve currency, the American domestic economy would be more "house of cards" than "house of Saud."

In an online essay, former diplomat Richard Cummings summed up the sad recent history of Iran. He recalled an incident from the past, during lunch with a female friend who was attending the University of Pennsylvania. Cumming's friend happened to be the daughter of then-Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. It was a student hangout, and a waitress recognized her. "Well, I guess you'll be going home to Iraq for summer vacation," the waitress said amiably. "Iran," Rudy said. To which the waitress replied: "Oh well, whatever."

Cummings' recollection of the "whatever" response sets him off on a well-worded rant on Iran's fate. Back in the 1950s, Mohammad Mossadegh, a Jeffersonian Democrat, looked to Washington as his model for Tehran. In a spirit of populist fervour, he nationalized the oil fields out of British Petroleum's domain. The British sued in the World Court and lost, and turned to Uncle Sam to get their oil fields back. Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA station chief in Tehran, got busy, noted Cummings: "Rent-a-Mobs appeared, the CIA paid off the military, and Mossadegh fled in his pajamas." Once Mossadegh was out, the Shah ascended to his Peacock throne, with all dissent violently stifled by paramilitary forces. Iran became one of the world's greatest violators of human rights.

The Law of Unintended Consequences arrived in the form of the scowling fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini, who renationalized the oil fields and gave the green light to the embassy hostage taking. It was the first "emboldening" of Islam, setting the world on the present course of dueling theocracies. All the result of Anglo-American provocation, and the stillbirth of democracy in Iran. And then there was the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, with Britain and the U.S. playing off both sides through military aid.

Cummings' essay, "Iran, Iraq, Whatever," is a sobering lesson about power politics masquerading as goodwill toward men. But with the release of the NIE report, plans for an insane upgrade to the "clash of civilizations" appear to have been shelved, at least for the time being. Peace on Earth is always a work in progress

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Believe Nothing

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."- Buddha

The Centre for Public Integrity in the U.S. released a statement recently that North American society is at it's lowest point of trust in government and companies since the 1930's. How did we get to this point you might ask and what are the events of the day that continue to cause us to spiral down the path of total disillusionment.

First of all we have been lied to by the very people we have entrusted with our well being; the pillars of society, government leaders, employers, ministers, and sports heroes, Here is the rogues gallery of those who have fallen from grace.

Let's begin with the Presidents of the United States. I say Presidents, because this business of lying to it's citizens didn't start with George W. Bush. Bush is in our face now, but let's not forget Bill Clinton's famous statement; "I did not sleep with that woman", to "tricky Dickie Nixon and Watergate, to George Bush Snr. and the Saudis', cover-up after cover up. Deny, Deny , Deny is the message that is most heard around the White House, the corporate world, the husband or wife who is cheating on you, the minister in the church who is having sex with a male prostitute or our sports heroes; from Olympic stars to baseball stars who deny their use of performance enhancing drugs. Deny, Deny, Deny!

Little doubt that morality and truth have been replaced by lying, cheating, and doing whatever it takes to either succeed in business, sports, politics or the pursuit of the American dream . To win at life! And Canada is not immune. This week we were shocked to learn that Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister had taken a bag full of money from a German businessman in exchange for some favours. But are we really shocked. If this had happened in the 1950"s, yes indeed there would be shock. But we are so immune today to the notion that someone did something wrong, that we feel it's almost acceptable. It's called "lobbying".

Even the American congress has decided they can't stop the lobbyists from influencing public officials, so they are in a sense legalizing it by introducing legislation that tells lobbyists they can't have sit down dinners with people of influence in congress, they must stand and only serve appetizers. So it's okay to pay someone off with a "vote" in exchange for that government defence contract, as long you have appies'. That's it, and oh one more thing, you have to say that you are inviting everyone, rather than a specific guest list.

So, is it any wonder that whatever comes out of the candidates mouth for this election, you know that $29 million dollars is buying a lot of votes and favours. Wall Street and the White House are joined at the hip. Even Oprah's star status and bags of money aren't enough to give Obama a makeover, so he becomes a man of the people rather than being owned by the $25 million plus given to him by corporate self interest groups. Make no mistake about it the black family on welfare in Harlem is not on Obama's targetted donor list. The facts: 96 percent of Americans don't contribute to political campaigns at all. The wealthiest elements of the U.S.are sustaining and sponsoring the political process and its actors. What this means is you get a government that is essentially bought and paid for by the powerful interests affected by those decisions. "Sometimes it's like forcing people to drink castor oil. People don't really want to get bad news. But information is power. Until you find out the truth you can't dig yourself out of the mess.- Charles Lewis founder of the Centre for Public Integrity.

And speaking of actors, why does it take an actor like Brad Pitt, driving around on a bicycle in New Orleans to re-build the homes lost by Katrina. Only in America, can you get Larry King the Godfather of Gossip to go to New Orleans to interview Pitt like he's an American hero. With the billions spent on the war in Iraq you would think the congressman representing that district could find a few milllion to help the people who voted for her/him. Oh yes, I forgot they weren't on the guest list for appies'

When a candidate says they have the citizens interest at heart they are smoking weed or actually believing their own lies and the script from their campaign manager. Power does funny things to you. It either makes you corrupt, ruthless, cunning and narcissistic or it grooms you for a higher purpose. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a tremendous good and evil struggle, the continuing insanity of a system that is corrupt and broken and needs to be fixed and exorcised. The only hope I feel is with my 5 year old grandson, who questions everything and believes nothing unless it agrees with his own reason and common sense

And so, we read the headlines in the paper; Major league baseball players lie about using steroids. The list is printed, and everybody denies. George Bush tells everybody that Iran has a nuclear bomb. The U.S. led investigation discovers that they have no bomb. Bush denies, and says "okay, well maybe they will have one day, I still all want you to fear them, and support me if I invade. Bush lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "Okay, maybe I was wrong, but we are there now, so let's win, because you now we Americans hate to lose, whether it's a war or the super bowl. The facts; 3, 500 young lives lost , because George W. wants to win the game before he leaves. And here's more insanity, Bush gets on the radio/tv and tells the American people that this drug thing has tarnished baseball, the American pastime we have all grown to love. Here's a concept George, release a statement saying that you have single handidly destroyed the faith and trust of the office of the President , which we have all held in high esteem since the American revolution.

Your boss tells you that you are a great employee, rewards you for 25 years of service with a watch, and when you hear rumors of a possible takeover of the company he denies this and tells everybody their job is safe. Next year the company is bought by an off shore conglomerate. They announce they are cutting staff for the bottom line and to please their shareholders by saving money. You are given two weeks to empty your desk.

Every day somewhere in the world these things are happening. Telling a lie is now an acceptable form of denial. Telling the truth is more of an exception and treated with a query; "why are you telling me this, is there a motive here, what do you want from me, I don't believe you, you're just saying that,, what do you really mean, is there a method to your madness.".

It's no wonder that we are all a little bit confused, and so when I got this card from a very good friend, I couldn't help but notice the message from the Buddha, and so it made sense to share it, particularly because today is Sunday, a day of contemplation, and prayer. So here is my prayer; that all of you will take this message into your week, and ask only one question of yourselves and everyone you have a business or personal relationship with, when they are done speaking, don't be afraid to ask them this question; "So what part of this is a lie? Your fear is that they might tell you something you don't want to hear- the truth!

If you do nothing more for the rest of your life other than"speak your truth" and ask that fundamental question, you will always know what and who to believe in. I believe in my grandson because he always tells me when he is not telling the truth, he says, "Just kidding Grandpa". Maybe it's time for adults to start kidding instead of lying!

Friday, December 14, 2007


Can Anybody Save the World?

I’ve noticed those full-page ads in The New York Times on Sundays this summer, with the big, bold headline “YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” While I have many friends who believe in that credo, I didn’t think they had the $100,000 to fork over to see their sentiment in newsprint. Actually, the ads were taken out by Starbucks. Being insanely scared of a potential coffee addiction, I’ve probably had a half-dozen cups of joe in my life so I’m no devotee of Starbucks. But I will say I’ve always admired the pluckiness of the firm, whether it’s giving generous benefits to employees or venturing into the lifestyle-and-entertainment genre. Yet this ad gave me a partial scowl. I’m starting to get a little tired of the ubiquity of social responsibility and the marketing machine that’s hitting us over the head with corporate do-goodism.

Are there no more bad guys in the business world? Yeah right, that’ll be the day.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a karmic capitalist at heart, believing a long-term (karmic) approach to business can create positive improvements in the world. But when I recently googled “change the world,” I came across rocker Joan Jett's “Cadillac Story” at the top of the sponsored links. How can an Escalade create positive change in the world? The ad men are up to their old ways.

So we have a good problem: PC pollution (and I don’t mean the personal-computer kind). Every business out there knows it needs to be perceived as Politically Correct. Otherwise it’s at risk of becoming a stock-market dog like Wal-Mart. So Joe and Mary Customer start getting a little confused. Who should they believe? Is that Gap ad campaign featuring the RED merchandise a good thing because it suggests a small portion of proceeds goes to a worthy cause? Or is it a bad thing because it’s a crass attempt to get people to buy things they don’t need, which just adds more crap to the planet?

I don’t have the answer, but I do believe we’re likely to see a big shift in the next five years that will help Joe and Mary see beyond the PC BS.

The No. 1 change we’ll see in the socially responsible business world will be transparency. It’s already happening, as smart companies are opening their books, processes and boardrooms to activists and journalists to show that these companies aren’t just bluffing with their ad campaigns. While the stock-market world has had social indexes like Domini for years, the consuming public hasn’t had any “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval that globally says, “This company walks its talk.” A number of savvy folks are in the process of creating those seals of approval and I welcome them because it will be a nice filter for all the socially responsible advertising clutter we’re starting to see.

In sum, can you truly change the world? No, not by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try. I’m encouraged that the business world has jumped on the bandwagon en masse, but let’s see how long some of those companies stay on the bandwagon when they realize real responsibilities come with looking responsible.

Given the big shift in leadership we’re likely to see in the next 10 years with the retirement of the baby boomers, I’m optimistic that the new crop of business leaders I meet when I speak at business schools is a world away from what I experienced as an MBA student nearly a quarter-century ago. This breed doesn’t just believe we should change the world; it knows the devastating consequences of not revising our collective habits would be devastating.
Chip Conley is founder and CEO of a chain of boutique hotels and author of Peak: How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow (Jossey-Bass, 2007).

Three Cheers for the fourth-sector economy

Last year, Google’s directors took a step that did not get much attention but could take our social/political/economic world to the next level of maturity. They decided that the most important thing to do with the firm’s philanthropic dollars was not to set up a charitable foundation (although they did that also), but to establish another for-profit company dedicated to the good of humanity and nature. They put a billion dollars into, the firm’s philanthropic arm, to be invested in companies that can either make or lose money as long as the common good is advanced. Any profits remain in the company to do more for the common good. is one of the projects supported by It produces plug-in electric vehicles that reduce the need for gasoline because they recharge themselves overnight through the domestic electricity grid. All Google company cars are now RechargeIT cars.
The first corporations founded in America were what I call “common good corporations.” To build a bridge, for example, a town meeting established a separate organization called a “corporation.” The minimum amount that could be loaned to it was very small, so each person in town could buy at least one “share.” The bylaws stated that decisions would be made by a majority of shareholders. In this way, the democratic process of the town meeting was sustained in the corporation. The wealthy bought more shares; the poor bought one share. The corporation was managed by a board of “trustees” responsible for managing the bridge-building corporation for “the common good.” When the tolls paid off all the loans, the corporation ceased to exist.

Today, the highest priority of corporations is the financial interests of a few; decisions are made by one vote per share, not shareholder; and these corporations stay in existence as long as they choose. This is a nearly complete reversal of the priority and structure of the original corporation, contributing no benefit to the social structure.

I believe could supply a visible return on the moral values of the corporate world, and help define what I call a mature fourth sector in society. Currently, the three main sectors are government, for-profit companies and non-profit organizations. The fourth sector consists of businesses that have social agendas. A mature fourth sector would be one in which the highest priority is the common good without limits on how to express it. Mature fourth-sector firms would impose reasonable limits on equity returns, with all excess profits permanently set aside and managed for the common good.

Financial planners tell their clients the goal should be an 8 to 11 percent return on their investments. Companies could cap their returns at 12 percent. One of the initial priorities could be to put any excess capital into common-good investment funds that buy successful companies and convert them into common-good corporations. These firms could establish joint ventures, eventually making it possible to buy multinational corporations. Once one multinational in a market sector is bought by a common-good fund, it will be in the financial interests of shareholders in the remaining firms to sell quickly to the common-good funds, since the last companies in the market sector to sell would receive less for their shares. In this way, all multinationals could eventually become common-good corporations.

Will this be one of the peaceful paths to a global moral order that builds on individual freedom and a free market economy? I hope so. Every time I see companies like come into existence, I am going to step outside my front door and give out a big cheer. I invite you to join me. I look forward to the day when people often hear their neighbours stepping out their front doors and cheering, like I am sure those early American townspeople did when they finished their bridges.
Terry Mollner is president of the Trusteeship Institute in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, a founder of the Calvert Social Investment Fund and a member of the board of Ben & Jerry’s

Democratic Capitalism

Last year, when Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize, millions of people around the world learned of the miracles that banks serving the poor could deliver. It was a well-deserved honour for Yunus, and a great reminder of what microloans and other slight tweaks to “business as usual” can mean to hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised people. Yunus’ Grameen Bank is a marvelous example of the potential of community lending, the third leg of the stool for socially responsible investing. (The others are setting standards for what shares we will buy and entering into dialogue with companies we own.) For large populations around the globe, “the triumph of capitalism” has meant no improvement to personal well-being. Even in wealthy nations, large pockets of poverty are scattered throughout crowded and crumbling inner cities and hard-hit agricultural areas. Around the globe, many people are able and willing to work, but have little opportunity.

Access to capital is an essential component of building healthy communities. But capital is not always available to the poor. Banks are driven by the desire to be ever more profitable. Since a $600 loan and a $6 million loan take about as much effort from the bank, and have a vastly different impact on the bottom line, the bank opts for eliminating smaller customers.
In addition, poor people seeking a loan often appear suspicious or quirky to bankers. For example, let’s look at the case of a mobile-home park where an old couple running the operation wants to retire by selling the land. Between them, the owners of these mobile homes may have enough income to buy the land with a loan to be paid back over a reasonable period of time. But banks don’t lend to new co-operative ventures. They lend to a person or a corporation with good credit. Since no single person living in the mobile-home park can guarantee the payments, there can be no loan.

Community-oriented financial institutions have come about as an answer to this problem. Such institutions may be a bank (or a bank branch) dedicated to making loans that boost the community and alleviate poverty. It may be a credit union, created perhaps by a church or community group, that loans money only to its own members and only for the purpose of building healthier neighbourhoods. It may even be a non-profit group, set up to borrow from caring people and lend to those in need.

Support for these kinds of community-development financial institutions is one of the ways sustainable or socially responsible investing can be approached. At Domini Social Investments, we have a fund that purchases bonds, backing up community institutions that make microcredit loans globally; we purchase insured deposits that support poor populations; we even use activist tools to help the community-development world.

Community-development loans have an important place in socially responsible investment portfolios, allowing investors to participate directly in relieving poverty and—unlike philanthropy—enabling them to keep their money even after using it this way. Most important, such loans offer evidence that finance can be used to alleviate poverty and create universal human dignity. Nowhere is the connection stronger than it is when investors support these grassroots lending organizations, be they microcredit institutions like Grameen Bank in Bangladesh or community-building groups like Latino Community Credit Union or the Self Help Credit Union, both in North Carolina.
Amy Domini is the founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments, and author of several books on ethical investing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Greenwashers make BBB's scam list

Environmental fraudsters join identity thieves, fake health claims, Web ripoffs.

Andrew Duffy, Victoria Times Colonist. Published: Thursday, December 13, 2007

VICTORIA -- The names may change, but the scams remain the same.
That's how Valerie MacLean sums up the annual release of the year's biggest scams and fraudulent practices, this year entitled the Better Business Bureau's Dirty Dozen Scams.

"The scams seem to repeat year after year, but what changes is the method of transmission and how they get to you," said MacLean, executive director of the B.C. Crime Prevention Association. "Take greenwashing and carbon-credit fraud. The interesting thing about that is it's the usual fraudsters capitalizing on current events, and right now anything green is a hot topic...."

In some cases it's as simple as companies falsely claiming their products are green, or air travellers paying a premium to offset carbon usage, although there's often no proof anything is done once the money is paid.

"No one checks into them and where the money is going. Sometimes, it's just an outright money grab," said Mayo McDonough, executive director of the BBB on Vancouver Island.
Greenwashing made the list for the first time at No. 5 behind false health claims, identity theft, home-repair rip-offs and affinity fraud -- in which scammers gain the confidence of a group and gets them to invest en masse.

"We put greenwashing up high on the list this year because it's brand new, but I would say identity theft is the biggest one we hear about," McDonough said. MacLean agrees. "It can come back to haunt you years down the road, and it can take years to restore your credit."
The bogus cheque overpayment scheme came in at No. 6. This scam sees buyers sending fraudulent cheques or money orders for more than a product is worth, and asking the seller to send them the excess cash back.

No. 7, is Internet fraud, where websites and e-mails ask for personal banking information for nefarious purposes, and No. 8 is the well-known Nigerian letter scam where people are asked to send money with the promise of a big payout down the line.

No. 9 is the bogus charity scam where fraudsters create an organization that sounds legitimate but has nothing but greed on its mind. No. 10 is unscrupulous moving companies that use hidden fees or, in some cases, hold your goods hostage until you pay their new bill. And No. 11 is the resort vacation promotion where people are promised exotic packages for free or at low cost only to be hit with a slew of hidden charges and a trip that is anything but first-class.

Finally, No. 12 is debit and credit card skimming, which sees fraudsters stealing your PIN without your knowledge.

MacLean and McDonough say education is key and websites like theirs identify latest scams

Innovation: 5 Things Customer Service Can Learn from SANTA CLAUS

Customer relationships are conversations, and customer service is the new marketing. One very important part of conversation is the spirit in which we approach it. In many ways, children got it right -- they approach every wish as possible. What do you want to be when you grow up? An astronaut!

The other important part of conversation is listening. What would you like Santa to bring you this year? Is the often unspoken question children begin to think about right about now when it gets chilly outside (well, in my part of the world) and signs of the holidays are starting to be everywhere you turn. Children look clearly into your eyes and tell you they are making their list for Santa.

Let’s take a look at five things that customer service can learn from Santa Claus:

1. Santa exists in the minds of those who believe in him. It’s the same for corporations. No matter what you think you are, you're only what your customers believe you to be.

2. Santa knows what kids want. Customers aren't children (usually!). But think about the last conversation with your best client. Was it about something they wanted -- or you?

3. Santa reads your list. More importantly, he checks it twice. What's worse than missing the opportunity to delight your customer? Letting a sloppy mistake ruin it. Accuracy is the star of your marketing team.

4. Santa rewards good behavior. In these days of increasingly compressed budgets, it's certainly easy to justify skipping the little things: sending a valued client a nice holiday gift, rather than the cheapest thing that will hold a logo. These economies are false savings.

5. Santa delivers -- every single time. Check the history books and you'll find Santa has never sent his regrets due to scheduling difficulties or bad flight weather. Find your Rudolph. Being there isn't half the battle. It's everything.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Or there should be, when it comes to customer service. And, just like Christmas, the spirit of customer service excellence really should go on long after the wreath is boxed and you've taken the tree to the curb.

Regardless of which holiday you celebrate this month, may your days be filled with success, and your homes with peace.

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA •