Saturday, 29 September 2007

Thanks a million, Ayn Rand, for setting the greedy free

The trickle-down theory beloved of Greenspan and his ilk is less a philosophy than a handy excuse for avarice

Naomi Klein
Saturday September 29, 2007
The Guardian

The tall graduate student, visiting the US from Sweden, would not be satisfied with a quip. He wanted answers. "They cannot only be driven by greed and power. They must be driven by something higher. What?" Don't knock power and greed, I tried to suggest - they have built empires. But he wanted more. "What about a belief that they are building a better world?"

Since I began touring with my book The Shock Doctrine, I have had a number of exchanges like this, revolving around the same basic question: when hard-right political leaders and their advisers apply brutal economic shock therapy, do they honestly believe the trickle-down effects will build equitable societies - or are they just deliberately creating the conditions for yet another corporate feeding frenzy? Put bluntly: has the world been transformed over the past three decades by lofty ideology or by lowly greed?

A definitive answer would require reading the minds of men such as Dick Cheney and Paul Bremer, so I tend to dodge. The ideology in question holds that self-interest is the engine that drives society to its greatest heights. Isn't pursuing their own self-interest (and that of their campaign donors) compatible with that philosophy? That's the beauty: they don't have to choose. Unfortunately, this rarely satisfies graduate students looking for deeper meaning. Thankfully, I now have a new escape hatch: quoting Alan Greenspan.

His autobiography, The Age of Turbulence, has been marketed as a mystery solved. The man who bit his tongue for 18 years as head of the Federal Reserve was finally going to tell the world what he believed. And Greenspan has delivered, using his book and the surrounding publicity as a platform for his "libertarian Republican" ideology, chiding George Bush for abandoning the crusade for small government and revealing that he became a policy-maker because he thought he could advance his radical ideology more effectively "as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer" on the margins. Yet the most interesting aspect of Greenspan's story is what it reveals about the ambiguous role of ideas in the free-market crusade. Given that Greenspan is perhaps the world's most powerful living free-market ideologue, it is significant that his commitment to ideology seems rather thin and perfunctory - less zealous belief, more convenient cover story.

Much of the debate around Greenspan's legacy has revolved around the matter of hypocrisy, of a man preaching laissez faire who repeatedly intervened in the market to save the wealthiest players. The economy that is Greenspan's legacy hardly fits the definition of a libertarian market, but looks very much like another phenomenon described in his book: "When a government's leaders routinely seek out private-sector individuals or businesses and, in exchange for political support, bestow favours on them, the society is said to be in the grip of 'crony capitalism'."

He was talking about Indonesia under Suharto, but my mind went straight to Iraq under Halliburton. Greenspan is currently warning the world about a dangerous looming backlash against capitalism. Apparently, this has nothing at all to do with the policies of negligent deregulation that were his trademark. Nothing to do with stagnant wages due to free trade and weakened unions, nor with pensions lost to Enron or the dotcom crash, nor homes seized in the subprime mortgage crisis. According to Greenspan, rampant inequality is caused by lousy high schools (which also have nothing to do with his ideology's war on the public sphere). I debated with Greenspan on the US radio show Democracy Now! recently and was stunned that this man who preaches the doctrine of personal responsibility refuses to take any at all.

Yet ideological contradictions are only relevant if Greenspan really is a true believer. I'm not convinced. Greenspan writes that as a student he had no interest in big ideas. Unlike his classmates in thrall to Keynesianism, with its promise of building a better world, Greenspan was simply good at maths. He started doing research for powerful corporations; it was profitable, but Greenspan made no claims to a higher social contribution. Then he discovered Ayn Rand. "What she did ... was to make me think why capitalism is not only efficient and practical, but also moral," he said in 1974.

Rand's ideas about the "utopia of greed" allowed Greenspan to keep doing what he was doing but infused his corporate service with a powerful new sense of mission: making money wasn't just good for him, it was good for society as a whole. Of course, the flip side of this is the cruel disregard for those left behind. "Undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfilment," Greenspan wrote as a zealous new convert. "Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should." Was it this mindset that served him well as he supported shock therapy in Russia (72 million impoverished) and east Asia after the 1997 economic crisis (24 million pushed into unemployment)?

Rand has played this role of greed-enabler for countless disciples. According to the New York Times, Atlas Shrugged - Rand's novel that ends with the hero tracing a dollar sign in the air like a benediction - stands as "one of the most influential business books ever written". Since Rand is simply pulped-up Adam Smith, her influence on men such as Greenspan suggests an interesting possibility. Perhaps the true purpose of the entire literature of trickle-down theory is to liberate entrepreneurs to pursue their narrowest advantage while claiming global altruistic motives - not so much an economic philosophy as an elaborate, retroactive rationale.

What Greenspan teaches us is that trickle-down isn't really an ideology after all. It's more like the friend we call after some embarrassing excess who will tell us, "Don't beat yourself up: You deserve it."

Friday, 28 September 2007

How The Bush Administration’s Iraqi Oil Grab Went Awry

By Dilip Hiro

27 September, 2007
Dissident Voice

Here is the sentence in The Age of Turbulence, the 531-page memoir of former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, that caused so much turbulence in Washington last week: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Honest and accurate, it had the resonance of the Bill Clinton’s election campaign mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.” But, finding himself the target of a White House attack — an administration spokesman labeled his comment, “Georgetown cocktail party analysis” — Greenspan backtracked under cover of verbose elaboration. None of this, however, made an iota of difference to the facts on the ground.

Here is a prosecutor’s brief for the position that “the Iraq War is largely about oil”:

The primary evidence indicating that the Bush administration coveted Iraqi oil from the start comes from two diverse but impeccably reliable sources: Paul O’Neill, the Treasury Secretary (2001-2003) under President George W. Bush; and Falah Al Jibury, a well-connected Iraqi-American oil consultant, who had acted as President Ronald Reagan’s “back channel” to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88. The secondary evidence is from the material that can be found in such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

According to O’Neill’s memoirs, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill, written by journalist Ron Suskind and published in 2004, the top item on the agenda of the National Security Council’s first meeting after Bush entered the Oval Office was Iraq. That was January 30, 2001, more than seven months before the 9/11 attacks. The next National Security Council (NSC) meeting on February 1st was devoted exclusively to Iraq.

Advocating “going after Saddam” during the January 30 meeting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, according to O’Neill, “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with U.S. interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond. It would demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about.” He then discussed post-Saddam Iraq — the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, and the reconstruction of the country’s economy. (Suskind, p. 85)

Among the relevant documents later sent to NSC members, including O’Neill, was one prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It had already mapped Iraq’s oil fields and exploration areas, and listed American corporations likely to be interested in participating in Iraq’s petroleum industry.

Another DIA document in the package, entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts,” listed companies from 30 countries — France, Germany, Russia, and Britain, among others — their specialties and bidding histories. The attached maps pinpointed “super-giant oil field,” “other oil field,” and “earmarked for production sharing,” and divided the basically undeveloped but oil-rich southwest of Iraq into nine blocks, indicating promising areas for future exploration. (Suskind., p. 96)

According to high flying, oil insider Falah Al Jibury, the Bush administration began making plans for Iraq’s oil industry “within weeks” of Bush taking office in January 2001. In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight program, which aired on March 17, 2005, he referred to his participation in secret meetings in California, Washington, and the Middle East, where, among other things, he interviewed possible successors to Saddam Hussein.

By January 2003, a plan for Iraqi oil crafted by the State Department and oil majors emerged under the guidance of Amy Myers Jaffe of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. It recommended maintaining the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company, whose origins dated back to 1961 — but open it up to foreign investment after an initial period in which U.S.-approved Iraqi managers would supervise the rehabilitation of the war-damaged oil infrastructure. The existence of this group would come to light in a report by the Wall Street Journal on March 3, 2003.

Unknown to the architects of this scheme, according to the same BBC Newsnight report, the Pentagon’s planners, apparently influenced by powerful neocons in and out of the administration, had devised their own super-secret plan. It involved the sale of all Iraqi oil fields to private companies with a view to increasing output well above the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for Iraq in order to weaken, and then destroy, OPEC.

Secondary Evidence

On October 11, 2002 the New York Times reported that the Pentagon already had plans to occupy and control Iraq’s oilfields. The next day the Economist described how Americans in the know had dubbed the waterway demarcating the southern borders of Iraq and Iran “Klondike on the Shatt al Arab,” while Ahmed Chalabi, head of the U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress and a neocon favorite, had already delivered this message: “American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil — if he gets to run the show.”

On October 30, Oil and Gas International revealed that the Bush administration wanted a working group of 12 to 20 people to (a) recommend ways to rehabilitate the Iraqi oil industry “in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible U.S. military occupation government,” (b) consider Iraq’s continued membership of OPEC, and (c) consider whether to honor contracts Saddam Hussein had granted to non-American oil companies.

By late October 2002, columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times would later reveal, Halliburton, the energy services company previously headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, had prepared a confidential 500-page document on how to handle Iraq’s oil industry after an invasion and occupation of Iraq. This was, commented Dowd, “a plan [Halliburton] wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.).” She also pointed out that a Times‘ request for a copy of the plan evinced a distinct lack of response from the Pentagon.

In public, of course, the Bush administration built its case for an invasion of Iraq without referring to that country’s oil or the fact that it had the third largest reserves of petroleum in the world. But what happened out of sight was another matter. At a secret NSC briefing for the President on February 24, 2003, entitled, “Planning for the Iraqi Petroleum Infrastructure,” a State Department economist, Pamela Quanrud, told Bush that it would cost $7-8 billion to rebuild the oil infrastructure, if Saddam decided to blow up his country’s oil wells, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his 2004 book, Plan of Attack (pp. 322-323). Quanrud was evidently a member of the State Department group chaired by Amy Myers Jaffe.

When the Anglo-American troops invaded on March 20, 2003, they expected to see oil wells ablaze. Saddam Hussein proved them wrong. Being a staunch nationalist, he evidently did not want to go down in history as the man who damaged Iraq’s most precious natural resource.

On entering Baghdad on April 9th, the American troops stood by as looters burned and ransacked public buildings, including government ministries — except for the Oil Ministry, which they guarded diligently. Within the next few days, at a secret meeting in London, the Pentagon’s scheme of the sale of all Iraqi oil fields got a go-ahead in principle.

The Bush administration’s assertions that oil was not a prime reason for invading Iraq did not fool Iraqis though. A July 2003 poll of Baghdad residents — who represented a quarter of the Iraqi national population — by the London Spectator showed that while 23% believed the reason for the Anglo-American war on Iraq was “to liberate us from dictatorship,” twice as many responded, “to get oil”. (Cited in Dilip Hiro, Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After, p. 398.)

As Iraq’s principal occupier, the Bush White House made no secret of its plans to quickly dismantle that country’s strong public sector. When the first American proconsul, retired General Jay Garner, focused on holding local elections rather than privatizing the country’s economic structure, he was promptly sacked.

Hurdles to Oil Privatization Prove Impassable

Garner’s successor, L. Paul Bremer III, found himself dealing with Philip Carroll — former Chief Executive Officer of the American operations of (Anglo-Dutch) Royal Dutch Shell in Houston — appointed by Washington as the Iraqi oil industry’s supreme boss. Carroll decided not to tinker with the industry’s ownership and told Bremer so. “There was to be no privatization of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved,” Carroll said in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight program on March 17, 2005.

This was, however, but a partial explanation for why Bremer excluded the oil industry when issuing Order 39 in September 2003 privatizing nearly 200 Iraqi public sector companies and opening them up to 100% foreign ownership. The Bush White House had also realized by then that denationalizing the oil industry would be a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions which bar an occupying power from altering the fundamental structure of the occupied territory’s economy.

There was, as well, the vexatious problem of sorting out the 30 major oil development contracts Saddam’s regime had signed with companies based in Canada, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam. The key unresolved issue was whether these firms had signed contracts with the government of Saddam Hussein, which no longer existed, or with the Republic of Iraq which remained intact.

Perhaps more important was the stand taken by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in the country and a figure whom the occupying Americans were keen not to alienate. He made no secret of his disapproval of the wholesale privatization of Iraq’s major companies. As for the minerals — oil being the most precious — Sistani declared that they belonged to the “community,” meaning the state. As a religious decree issued by a grand ayatollah, his statement carried immense weight.

Even more effective was the violent reaction of the industry’s employees to the rumors of privatization. In his Newsnight interview Jibury said, “We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines built on the premise that privatization is coming.”

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, much equipment was looted from pipelines, pumping stations, and other oil facilities. By August 2003, four months after American troops entered Baghdad, oil output had only inched up to 1.2 million barrels per day, about two-fifths of the pre-invasion level. The forecasts (or dreams) of American planners’ that oil production would jump to 6 million barrels per day by 2010 and easily fund the occupation and reconstruction of the country, were now seen for what they were — part of the hype disseminated privately by American neocons to sell the idea of invading Iraq to the public.

With the insurgency taking off, attacks on oil pipelines and pumping stations averaged two a week during the second half of 2003. The pipeline connecting a major northern oil field near Kirkuk — with an export capacity of 550,000-700,000 barrels per day — to the Turkish port of Ceyhan became inoperative. Soon, the only oil being exported was from fields in the less disturbed, predominately Shiite south of Iraq.

In September 2003, President Bush approached Congress for $2.1 billion to safeguard and rehabilitate Iraq’s oil facilities. The resulting Task Force Shield project undertook to protect 340 key installations and 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of oil pipeline. It was not until the spring of 2004 that output again reached the pre-war average of 2.5 million barrels per day — and that did not hold. Soon enough, production fell again. Iraqi refineries were, by now, producing only two-fifths of the 24 million liters of gasoline needed by the country daily, and so there were often days-long lines at service stations.

Addressing the 26th Oil and Money conference in London on September 21, 2005, Issam Chalabi, who had been an Iraqi oil minister in the late 1980s, referred to the crippling lack of security and the lack of clear laws to manage the industry, and doubted if Iraq could return to the 1979 peak of 3.5 million barrels per day before 2009, if then.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government found itself dependent on oil revenues for 90% of its income, a record at a time when corruption in its ministries had become rampant. On January 30, 2005, Stuart W. Bowen, the special inspector general appointed by the U.S. occupation authority, reported that almost $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue, disbursed to the ministries, had gone missing. A subsequent Congressional inspection team reported in May 2006 that Task Force Shield had failed to meet its goals due to “lack of clear management structure and poor accountability”, and added that there were “indications of potential fraud” which were being reviewed by the Inspector General.

The endorsement of the new Iraqi constitution by referendum in October 2005 finally killed the prospect of full-scale oil privatization. Article 109 of that document stated clearly that hydrocarbons were “national Iraqi property”. That is, oil and gas would remain in the public sector.

In March 2006, three years after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the country’s petroleum exports were 30% to 40% below pre-invasion levels.

Bush Pushes for Iraq’s Flawed Draft Hydrocarbon Law

In February 2007, in line with the constitution, the draft hydrocarbon law the Iraqi government presented to parliament kept oil and gas in the state sector. It also stipulated recreating a single Iraqi National Oil Company that would be charged with doling out oil income to the provinces on a per-capita basis. The Bush administration latched onto that provision to hype the 43-article Iraqi bill as a key to reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites — since the Sunni areas of Iraq lack hydrocarbons — and so included it (as did Congress) in its list of “benchmarks” the Iraqi government had to meet.

Overlooked by Washington was the way that particular article, after mentioning revenue-sharing, stated that a separate Federal Revenue Law would be necessary to settle the matter of distribution — the first draft of which was only published four months later in June.

Far more than revenue sharing and reconciliation, though, what really interested the Bush White House were the mouthwatering incentives for foreign firms to invest in Iraq’s hydrocarbon industry contained in the draft law. They promised to provide ample opportunities to America’s Oil Majors to reap handsome profits in an oil-rich Iraq whose vast western desert had yet to be explored fully for hydrocarbons. So Bush pressured the Iraqi government to get the necessary law passed before the parliament’s vacation in August — to no avail.

The Bush administration’s failure to achieve its short-term objectives does not detract from the overarching fact — established by the copious evidence marshaled in this article — that gaining privileged access to Iraqi oil for American companies was a primary objective of the Pentagon’s invasion of Iraq.

Dilip Hiro is the author of Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and, most recently, Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources , both published by Nation Books.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Terry Jenner on Leg Spin

Part One and Two

'A good spinner needs a ten-year apprenticeship'

Nagraj Gollapudi

September 27, 2007

Terry Jenner played nine Tests for Australia in the 1970s but it is as a coach, and specifically as Shane Warne's mentor and the man Warne turned to in a crisis, that he is better known. Jenner said that his CV wouldn't be complete without a trip to India, the spiritual home of spin bowling, and this September he finally made it when he was invited by the MAC Spin Foundation to train youngsters in Chennai. Jenner spoke at length to Cricinfo on the art and craft of spin bowling in general and legspin in particular. What follows is the first in a two-part interview.

"Most of the time the art of the spin bowler is to get the batsman to look to drive you. That's where your wickets come"

How has the role of spin changed over the decades you've watched cricket?

The limited-overs game has made the major change to spin bowling. When I started playing, for example, you used to break partnerships in the first couple of the days of the match and then on the last couple of days you were expected to play more of a major role. But in recent years, with the entry of Shane Warne, who came on on the first day of the Test and completely dominated on good pitches, it has sort of changed the specs that way.

But the difficulty I'm reading at the moment is that captains and coaches seem to be of the opinion that spin bowlers are there either to rest the pace bowlers or to just keep it tight; they are not allowed to risk runs to gain rewards. That's the biggest change.

In the 1960s, when I first started, you were allowed to get hit around the park a bit, as long as you managed to get wickets - it was based more on your strike-rate than how many runs you went for. So limited-overs cricket has influenced bowlers to bowl a negative line and not the attacking line, and I don't know with the advent of Twenty20 how we'll advance. We will never go back, unfortunately, to the likes of Warne and the wrist-spinners before him who went for runs but the quality was more.

What are the challenges of being a spinner in modern cricket?

The huge challenge is just getting to bowl at club level through to first-class level. When you get to the first-class level they tend to you allow you to bowl, but once you get to bowl, instead of allowing you to be a free spirit, you are restricted to men around the bat - push it through, don't let the batsman play the stroke, don't free their arms up ... all those modern thoughts on how the spinner should bowl.

Do spinners spin the ball less these days?

The capacity to spin is still there, but to spin it you actually have to flight it up, and if you flight it up there's always that risk of over-pitching and the batsman getting you on the full, and therefore the risk of runs being scored. So if you consider the general mentality of a spinner trying to bowl dot balls and bowl defensive lines, then you can't spin it.

I'll give you an example of an offspin bowler bowling at middle and leg. How far does he want to spin it? If he needs to spin it, he needs to bowl a foot outside the off stump and spin it back, but if he has to bowl a defensive line then he sacrifices the spin, otherwise he'll be just bowling down the leg side.

It's impossible for you to try and take a wicket every ball, but when you're really young that's what you do - you just try and spin it as hard as you can and take the consequences, and that usually means you don't get to bowl many overs. The art of improving is when you learn how to get into your overs, get out of your overs, and use the middle deliveries to attack

Legspinners bowling at leg stump or just outside - there's been so few over the years capable of spinning the ball from just outside leg past off, yet that's the line they tend to bowl. So I don't think they spin it any less; the capacity to spin is still wonderful. I still see little kids spinning the ball a long way. I take the little kids over to watch the big kids bowl and I say, "Have a look: the big kids are all running in off big, long runs, jumping high in the air and firing it down there, and more importantly going straight." And I say to the little kids, "They once were like you. And one of you who hangs on to the spin all the way through is the one that's gonna go forward."

Great spinners have always bowled at the batsman and not to the batsman. But the trend these days is that spinners are becoming increasingly defensive.

First of all they play him [the young spinner] out of his age group. Earlier the idea of finding a good, young talent, when people identified one, was that they didn't move him up and play him in the higher grade or in the higher age group. There was no different age-group cricket around back then, and if you were a youngster you went into the seniors and you played in the bottom grade and then you played there for a few years while you learned the craft and then they moved you to the next grade. So you kept going till you came out the other end and that could've been anywhere around age 19, 20, 21 or whatever. Now the expectation is that by the time you are 16 or 17 you are supposed to be mastering this craft.

It's a long apprenticeship. If you find a good 10- or 11-year-old, he needs to have a ten-year apprenticeship at least. There's a rule of thumb here that says that if the best there's ever been, which is Shane Warne - and there is every reason to believe he is - sort of started to strike his best at 23-24, what makes you think we can find 18- or 19-year-olds to do it today? I mean, he [Warne] has only been out of the game for half an hour and yet we're already expecting kids to step up to the plate much, much before they are ready.

It's a game of patience with spin bowlers and developing them. It's so important that we are patient in helping them, understanding their need for patience, at the same time understanding from outside the fence - as coach, captain etc. We need to understand them and allow them to be scored off, allow them to learn how to defend themselves, allow them to understand that there are times when you do need to defend. But most of the time the art of the spin bowler is to get the batsman to look to drive you. That's where your wickets come, that's where you spin it most.

Warne said you never imposed yourself as a coach.

With Warne, when I first met him he bowled me a legbreak which spun nearly two feet-plus, and I was just in awe. All I wanted to do was try and help that young man become the best he could be, just to help him understand his gift, understand what he had, and to that end I never tried to change him. That's what he meant by me never imposing myself. We established a good relationship based on the basics of bowling and his basics were always pretty good. Over the years whenever he wandered away from them, we worked it back to them. There were lot of times over his career where, having a bowled a lot of overs, some bad habits had come in. It was not a case of standing over him. I was just making him aware of where he was at the moment and how he could be back to where he was when he was spinning them and curving them. His trust was the most important gift that he gave me, and it's an important thing for a coach to understand not to breach that trust. That trust isn't about secrets, it's about the trust of the information you give him, that it won't harm him, and that was our relationship.

I don't think of myself as an authority on spin bowling. I see myself as a coach who's developed a solid learning by watching and working with the best that's been, and a lot of other developing spinners. So I'm in a terrific business-class seat because I get to see a lot of this stuff and learn from it, and of course I've spoken to Richie Benaud quite a lot over the years.

Shane would speak to Abdul Qadir and he would feed back to me what Abdul Qadir said. Most people relate your knowledge to how many wickets you took and I don't think that's relevant. I think it's your capacity to learn and deliver, to communicate that what you've learned back to people.

From the outside it seems like there is a problem of over-coaching these days.
There are so many coaches now. We have specialist coaches, general coaches, we've got sports science and psychology. Coaching has changed.

Shane, in his retirement speech, referred to me as his technical coach (by which he meant technique), as Dr Phil [the psychologist on the Oprah Winfrey Show]. That means when he wanted someone to talk to, I was the bouncing board. He said the most uplifting thing ever said about me: that whenever he rang me, when he hung the phone up he always felt better for having made the call.

"Think high, spin up" was the first mantra you shared with Warne. What does it mean?

When I first met Shane his arm was quite low, and back then, given I had no genuine experience of coaching spin, I asked Richie Benaud and made him aware of this young Shane Warne fellow and asked him about the shoulder being low. Richie said, "As long as he spins it up from the hand, it'll be fine." But later, when we tried to introduce variations, we talked about the topspinner and I said to Shane, "You're gonna have to get your shoulder up to get that topspinner to spin over the top, otherwise it spins down low and it won't produce any shape." So when he got back to his mark the trigger in his mind was "think high, spin up", and when he did that he spun up over the ball and developed the topspinner. Quite often even in the case of the legbreak it was "think high, spin up" because his arm tended to get low, especially after his shoulder operation.

Can you explain the risk-for-reward theory that you teach youngsters about?

This is part of learning the art and craft. It's impossible for you to try and take a wicket every ball, but when you're really young that's what you do - you just try and spin it as hard as you can and take the consequences, and that usually means you don't get to bowl many overs. The art of improving is when you learn how to get into your overs, get out of your overs, and use the middle deliveries in an over to attack. I called them the risk and reward balls in an over. In other words, you do risk runs off those deliveries but you can also gain rewards.

There's been no one in the time that I've been around who could theoretically bowl six wicket-taking balls an over other than SK Warne. The likes of [Anil] Kumble ... he's trying to keep the lines tight and keep you at home, keep you at home while he works on you, but he's not trying to get you out every ball, he's working a plan.

The thing about excellent or great bowlers is that they rarely go for a four or a six off the last delivery. That is the point I make to kids, explaining how a mug like me used to continually go for a four or six off the last ball of the over while trying to get a wicket so I could stay on. And when you do that, that's the last thing your captain remembers, that's the last thing your team-mates remember, it's the last thing the selectors remember. So to that end you are better off bowling a quicker ball in line with the stumps which limits the batsman's opportunities to attack. So what I'm saying is, there's always a time when you need to defend, but you've got to know how to attack and that's why you need such a long apprenticeship.

Warne said the most uplifting thing ever said about me: that whenever he rang me, when he hung the phone up he always felt better for having made the call. Richie Benaud writes in his book that his dad told him to keep it simple and concentrate on perfecting the stock ball. Benaud says that you shouldn't even think about learning the flipper before you have mastered the legbreak, top spinner and wrong'un. Do you agree?

I totally agree with what Richie said. If you don't have a stock ball, what is the variation? You know what I'm saying? There are five different deliveries a legbreak bowler can bowl, but Warne said on more than one occasion that because of natural variation you can bowl six different legbreaks in an over; what's important is the line and length that you are bowling that encourages the batsman to get out of his comfort zone or intimidates him, and that's the key to it all. Richie spun his legbreak a small amount by comparison with Warne but because of that his use of the slider and the flipper were mostly effective because he bowled middle- and middle-and-off lines, whereas Warne was leg stump, outside leg stump.

Richie's a wise man and in the days he played there were eight-ball overs here in Australia. If you went for four an over, you were considered to be a pretty handy bowler. If you go for four an over now, it's expensive - that's because it's six-ball overs. But Richie was a great example of somebody who knew his strengths and worked on whatever weaknesses he might've had. He knew he wasn't a massive spinner of the ball, therefore his line and length had to be impeccable, and he worked around that.

In fact, in his autobiography Warne writes, "What matters is not always how many deliveries you possess, but how many the batsmen thinks you have."

That's the mystery of spin, isn't it? I remember, every Test series Warnie would come out with a mystery ball or something like that, but the truth is there are only so many balls that you can really bowl - you can't look like you're bowling a legbreak and bowl an offbreak.

Sonny Ramdhin was very difficult to read as he bowled with his sleeves down back in the 1950s; he had an unique grip and unique way of releasing the ball, as does Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan]. What they do with their wrists, it's very difficult to pick between the offbreak and the legbreak. Generally a legbreak bowler has to locate his wrist in a position to enhance the spin in the direction he wants the ball to go, which means the batsman should be able to see the relocation of the wrist.


In part two of his interview on the art of spin bowling, Terry Jenner looks at the damage caused to young spinners by the curbs placed on their attacking instincts. He also surveys the current slow-bowling landscape and appraises the leading practitioners around.

"Most spin bowlers have enormous attacking instinct, which gets suppressed by various captains and coaches" Nagraj Gollapudi

Bishan Bedi once said that a lot of bowling is done in the mind. Would you say that spin bowling requires the most mental energy of all the cricketing arts?

The thing about that is Bishan Bedi - who has, what, 260-odd Test wickets? - bowled against some of the very best players ever to go around the game. He had at his fingertips the control of spin and pace. Now, when you've got that, when you've developed that ability, then it's just about when to use them, how to use them, so therefore it becomes a matter of the brain. You can't have the brain dominating your game when you haven't got the capacity to bowl a legbreak or an offbreak where you want it to land. So that's why you have to practise those stock deliveries until it becomes just natural for you - almost like you can land them where you want them to land blindfolded, and then it just becomes mind over matter. Then the brain does take over.

There's nothing better than watching a quality spin bowler of any yolk - left-hand, right-hand - working on a quality batsman who knows he needs to break the bowler's rhythm or he might lose his wicket. That contest is a battle of minds then, because the quality batsman's got the technique and the quality bowler's got the capacity to bowl the balls where he wants to, within reason. So Bishan is exactly right.

What came naturally to someone like Bedi was flight. How important is flight in spin bowling?
When I was very young someone said to me, "You never beat a batsman off the pitch unless you first beat him in the air." Some people think that's an old-fashioned way of bowling. Once, at a conference in England, at Telford, Bishan said "Spin is in the air and break is off the pitch", which supported exactly what that guy told me 40 years ago. On top of that Bedi said stumping was his favourite dismissal because you had beaten the batsman in the air and then off the pitch. You wouldn't get too many coaches out there today who would endorse that remark because they don't necessarily understand what spin really is.

When you appraised the trainees in Chennai [at the MAC Spin Foundation], you said if they can separate the one-day cricket shown on TV and the one-day cricket played at school level, then there is a chance a good spinner will come along.

What I was telling them was: when you bowl a ball that's fairly flat and short of a length and the batsman goes back and pushes it to the off side, the whole team claps because no run was scored off it. Then you come in and toss the next one up and the batsman drives it to cover and it's still no run, but no one applauds it; they breathe a sigh of relief. That's the lack of understanding we have within teams about the role of the spin bowler. You should be applauding when he has invited the batsman to drive because that's what courage is, that's where the skill is, that's where the spin is, and that's where the wickets come. Bowling short of a length, that's the role of a medium pacer, part-timer. Most spin bowlers have enormous attacking instinct which gets suppressed by various captains, coaches and ideological thoughts in clubs and teams.

You talked at the beginning of the interview about the importance of being patient with a spinner. But isn't it true that the spinner gets another chance even if he gets hit, but the batsman never does?

I don't think you can compare them that way. If the spinner gets hit, he gets taken off. If he goes for 10 or 12 off an over, they take him off. Batsmen have got lots of things in their favour.

What I mean by patience is that to develop the craft takes a lot of overs, lots of balls in the nets, lots of target bowling. And you don't always get a bowl. Even if you are doing all this week-in, week-out, you don't always get to bowl, so you need to be patient. And then one day you walk into the ground and finally they toss you the ball. It is very easy to behave in a hungry, desperate manner because you think, "At last, I've got the ball." And you forget all the good things you do and suddenly try to get a wicket every ball because it's your only hope of getting into the game and staying on. The result is, you don't actually stay on and you don't get more games. So the patience, which is what you learn as you go along, can only come about if the spinner is allowed to develop at his pace instead of us pushing him up the rung because we think we've found one at last.

How much of a role does attitude play?

Attitude is an interesting thing. Depends on how you refer to it - whether it's attitude to bowling, attitude to being hit, attitude to the game itself.

 When Warne was asked what a legspin bowler needs more than anything else, he said, "Love". What he meant was love and understanding. They need someone to put their arm around them and say, "Mate, its okay, tomorrow is another day." Because you get thumped, mate. When you are trying to spin the ball from the back of your hand and land it in an area that's a very small target, that takes a lot of skill, and it also requires the patience to develop that skill. That's what I mean by patience, and the patience also needs to be with the coach, the captain, and whoever else is working with this young person, and the parents, who need to understand that he is not going to develop overnight.

And pushing him up the grade before he is ready isn't necessarily a great reward for him because that puts pressure on him all the time. Any person who plays under pressure all the time, ultimately the majority of them break. That's not what you want, you want them to come through feeling sure, scoring lots of wins, feeling good about themselves, recognising their role in the team, and having their team-mates recognise their role.

I don't think people - coaches, selectors - let the spin bowler know what his role actually is. He gets in the team and suddenly he gets to bowl and is told, "Here's the field, bowl to this", and in his mind he can't bowl.

Could you talk about contemporary spinners - Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Daniel Vettori, Monty Panesar, and Muttiah Muralitharan of course?

Of all the spinners today, the one I admire most of all is Vettori. He has come to Australia on two or three occasions and on each occasion he has troubled the Australian batsmen. He is a man who doesn't spin it a lot but he has an amazing ability to change the pace, to force the batsman into thinking he can drive it, but suddenly they have to check their stroke. And that's skill. If you haven't got lots of spin, then you've got to have the subtlety of change of pace.

And, of course, there is Kumble. I always marvel at the fact that he has worked his career around mainly containment and at the same time bowled enough wicket-taking balls to get to 566 wickets. That's a skill in itself. He is such a humble person as well and I admire him.

I marvel a little bit at Murali's wrist because it is very clever what he does with that, but to the naked eye I can't tell what is 15 degrees and what's not. I've just got to accept the word above us. All I know is that it would be very difficult to coach someone else to bowl like Murali. So we've got to put him in a significant list of one-offs - I hate to use the word "freak" - that probably won't be repeated.

I don't see enough of Harbhajan Singh - he is in and out of the Indian side. What I will say is that when I do see him bowl, I love the position of the seam. He has a beautiful seam position.

"Daniel Vettori doesn't spin it a lot, but he has an amazing ability to change the pace, to force the batsman into thinking he can drive it" © AFP

I love the way Stuart MacGill spins the ball. He is quite fearless in his capacity to spin the ball.

I love the energy that young [Piyush] Chawla displays in his bowling. The enthusiasm and the rawness, if you like. This is what I mean when I talk about pushing the boundaries. He is 18, playing limited-overs cricket, and at the moment he is bowling leggies and wrong'uns and I think that's terrific. But I hope the time doesn't come when he no longer has to spin the ball. When he tries to hold his place against Harbhajan Singh, for example. To do that he has to fire them in much quicker. He is already around the 80kph mark, which is quite healthy for a 18-year-old boy, but he still spins it at that pace, so it's fine. But ultimately if he is encouraged to bowl at a speed at which he doesn't spin the ball, that would be the sad part.

That's why I say this, there are lots of spinners around but it's the young, developing spinners who are probably suffering from all the stuff from television that encourages defence as a means to being successful as a spinner.

Monty is an outstanding prospect. You've got to look at how a guy can improve. He has done very, very well but how can he improve? He has got to have a change-up, a change of pace. At the moment, if you look at the speed gun in any given over from Monty, it's 56.2mph on average every ball. So he bowls the same ball; his line, his length, everything is impeccable, but then when it's time to knock over a tail, a couple of times he has been caught short because he has not been able to vary his pace. I think Monty is such an intelligent bowler and person that he will be in the nets working on that to try and make sure he can invite the lower order to have a go at him and not just try and bowl them out. That probably is his area of concern; the rest of it is outstanding.

What would you say are the attributes of a good spinner?
Courage, skill, patience, unpredictability, and spin. You get bits and pieces of all those, but if you have got spin then there is always a chance you can develop the other areas. For all the brilliant things that people saw Warne do, his greatest strength was the size of the heart, and that you couldn't see.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Scandal In The Palace

Scandal In The Palace

Judges in India are divine beings. And if you're an ex-CJI, your sins are above mortal reproach.


Scandals can be fun. Especially those that knock preachers from their pulpits and flick halos off saintly heads. But some scandals can be corrosive and more damaging for the scandalised than the scandalee. Right now we're in the midst of one such.

At its epicentre is Y.K. Sabharwal, former Chief Justice of India, who until recently headed the most powerful institution in this country—the Supreme Court. When there's a scandal about a former chief justice and his tenure in office, it's a little difficult to surgically excise the man and spare the institution. But then commenting adversely on the institution can lead you straight to a prison cell as some of us have learned to our cost. It's like having to take the wolf and the chicken and the sack of grain across the river, one by one. The river's high and the boat's leaking. Wish me luck.

The higher judiciary, the Supreme Court in particular, doesn't just uphold the law, it micromanages our lives. Its judgements range through matters great and small. It decides what's good for the environment and what isn't, whether dams should be built, rivers linked, mountains moved, forests felled. It decides what our cities should look like and who has the right to live in them. It decides whether slums should be cleared, streets widened, shops sealed, whether strikes should be allowed, industries should be shut down, relocated or privatised. It decides what goes into school textbooks, what sort of fuel should be used in public transport and schedules of fines for traffic offences. It decides what colour the lights on judges' cars should be (red) and whether they should blink or not (they should). It has become the premier arbiter of public policy in this country that likes to market itself as the World's Largest Democracy.

Ironically, judicial activism first rode in on a tide of popular discontent with politicians and their venal ways. Around 1980, the courts opened their doors to ordinary citizens and people's movements seeking justice for underprivileged and marginalised people. This was the beginning of the era of Public Interest Litigation, a brief window of hope and real expectation. While Public Interest Litigation gave people access to courts, it also did the opposite. It gave courts access to people and to issues that had been outside the judiciary's sphere of influence so far. So it could be argued that it was Public Interest Litigation that made the courts as powerful as they are. Over the last 15 years or so, through a series of significant judgements, the judiciary has dramatically enhanced the scope of its own authority.

Investigate Sabharwal L-R: Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan at a press meet

Today, as neo-liberalism sinks its teeth deeper into our lives and imagination, as millions of people are being pauperised and dispossessed in order to keep India's Tryst with Destiny (the unHindu 10% rate of growth), the State has to resort to elaborate methods to contain growing unrest. One of its techniques is to invoke what the middle and upper classes fondly call the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law is a precept that is distinct and can often be far removed from the principle of justice. The Rule of Law is a phrase that derives its meaning from the context in which it operates. It depends on what the laws are and who they're designed to protect. For instance, from the early '90s, we have seen the systematic dismantling of laws that protect workers' rights and the fundamental rights of ordinary people (the right to shelter/health/education/water).International financial institutions like the imf, the World Bank and the adb demand these not just as a precondition, but as a condition, set down in black and white, before they agree to sanction loans. (The polite term for it is structural adjustment. ) What does the Rule of Law mean in a situation like this? Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, puts it beautifully: "The Rule of Law does not do away with unequal distribution of wealth and power, but reinforces that inequality with the authority of law. It allocates wealth and poverty in such indirect and complicated ways as to leave the victim bewildered."

Papa’s the best judge: Justice Sabharwal’s sons were running their businesses out of his ‘official’ Motilal Nehru Marg house

As it becomes more and more complicated for elected governments to be seen to be making unpopular decisions (decisions, for example, that displace millions of people from their villages, from their cities, from their jobs), it has increasingly fallen to the courts to make these decisions, to uphold the Rule of Law.

The expansion of judicial powers has not been accompanied by an increase in its accountability. Far from it. The judiciary has managed to foil every attempt to put in place any system of checks and balances that other institutions in democracies are usually bound by. It has opposed the suggestion by the Committee for Judicial Accountability that an independent disciplinary body be created to look into matters of judicial misconduct. It has decreed that an fir cannot be registered against a sitting judge without the consent of the chief justice (which has never ever been given). It has so far successfully insulated itself against the Right to Information Act. The most effective weapon in its arsenal is, of course, the Contempt of Court Act which makes it a criminal offence to do or say anything that "scandalises" or "lowers the authority" of the court. Though the act is framed in arcane language more suited to medieval ideas of feminine modesty, it actually arms the judiciary with formidable, arbitrary powers to silence its critics and to imprison anyone who asks uncomfortable questions. Small wonder then that the media pulls up short when it comes to reporting issues of judicial corruption and uncovering the scandals that must rock through our courtrooms on a daily basis. There are not many journalists who are willing to risk a long criminal trial and a prison sentence.

Until recently, under the Law of Contempt, even truth was not considered a valid defence. So suppose, for instance, we had prima facie evidence that a judge has assaulted or raped someone, or accepted a bribe in return for a favourable judgement, it would be a criminal offence to make the evidence public because that would "scandalise or tend to scandalise" or "lower or tend to lower" the authority of the court.

Yes, things have changed, but only a little. Last year, Parliament amended the Contempt of Court Act so that truth becomes a valid defence in a contempt of court charge. But in most cases (such as in the case of the shall we say "affair") in order to prove something it would have to be investigated. But obviously when you ask for an investigation you have to state your case, and when you state your case you will be imputing dishonourable motives to a judge for which you can be convicted for contempt. So: Nothing can be proved unless it is investigated and nothing can be investigated unless it has been proved.

The only practical option that's on offer is for us to think Pure Thoughts.For example:

a. Judges in India are divine beings.

b. Decency, wholesomeness, morality, transparency and integrity are encrypted in their DNA.

c. This is proved by the fact that no judge in the history of our Republic has ever been impeached or disciplined in any way.


d. Jai Judiciary, Jai Hind.

It all becomes a bit puzzling when ex-chief justices like Justice S.P. Bharucha go about making public statements about widespread corruption in the judiciary. Perhaps we should wear ear plugs on these occasions or chant a mantra.

It may hurt our pride and curb our free spirits to admit it, but the fact is that we live in a sort of judicial dictatorship. And now there's a scandal in the Palace.

Last year (2006) was a hard year for people in Delhi. The Supreme Court passed a series of orders that changed the face of the city, a city that has over the years expanded organically, extra-legally, haphazardly. A division bench headed by Y.K. Sabharwal, chief justice at the time, ordered the sealing of thousands of shops, houses and commercial complexes that housed what the court called 'illegal' businesses that had been functioning, in some cases for decades, out of residential areas in violation of the old master plan. It's true that, according to the designated land-use in the old master plan, these businesses were non-conforming. But the municipal authorities in charge of implementing the plan had developed only about a quarter of the commercial areas they were supposed to. So they looked away while people made their own arrangements (and put their lives' savings into them.) Then suddenly Delhi became the capital city of the new emerging Superpower. It had to be dressed up to look the part. The easiest way was to invoke the Rule of Law.

The sealing affected the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. The city burned. There were protests, there was rioting. The Rapid Action Force was called in. Dismayed by the seething rage and despair of the people, the Delhi government beseeched the court to reconsider its decision. It submitted a new 2021 Master Plan which allowed mixed land-use and commercial activity in several areas that had until now been designated 'residential'. Justice Sabharwal remained unmoved. The bench he headed ordered the sealing to continue.

Vasant Kunj Mall: When Rule of Law winked and looked away

Around the same time, another bench of the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of Nangla Macchi and other jhuggi colonies, which left hundreds of thousands homeless, living on top of the debris of their broken homes, in the scorching summer sun. Yet another bench ordered the removal of all "unlicensed" vendors from the city's streets. Even as Delhi was being purged of its poor, a new kind of city was springing up around us. A glittering city of air-conditioned corporate malls and multiplexes where mncs showcased their newest products. The better-off amongst those whose shops and offices had been sealed queued up for space in these malls. Prices shot up. The mall business boomed, it was the newest game in town. Some of these malls, mini-cities in themselves, were also illegal constructions and did not have the requisite permissions.But here the Supreme Court viewed their misdemeanours through a different lens. The Rule of Law winked and went off for a tea break. In its judgement on the writ petition against the Vasant Kunj Mall dated October 17, 2006 (in which it allowed the construction of the mall to go right ahead), Justices Arijit Pasayat and S.H. Kapadia said:

"Had such parties inkling of an idea that such clearances were not obtained by DDA, they would not have invested such huge sums of money.

The stand that wherever constructions have been made unauthorisedly demolition is the only option cannot apply to the present cases, more particularly, when they unlike, where some private individuals or private limited companies or firms being allotted to have made contraventions, are corporate bodies and institutions and the question of their having indulged in any malpractices in getting the approval or sanction does not arise."

It's a bit complicated, I know. A friend and I sat down and translated it into ordinary English. Basically,

a. Even though in this present case the construction may be unauthorised and may not have the proper clearances, huge amounts of money have been invested and demolition is not the only option.

b. Unlike private individuals or private limited companies who have been allotted land and may have flouted the law, these allottees are corporate bodies and institutions and there is no question of their having indulged in any malpractice in order to get sanctions or approval.

The question of corporate bodies having indulged in malpractice in getting approval or sanction does not arise. So says the Indian Supreme Court. What should we say to those shrill hysterical people protesting out there on the streets, accusing the court of being an outpost of the New Corporate Empire? Shall we shout them down? Shall we say 'Enron zindabad'? 'Bechtel, Halliburton zindabad'? 'Tata, Birla, Mittals, Reliance, Vedanta, Alcan zindabad'? 'Coca-Cola aage badho, hum tumhaare saath hain'?

This then was the ideological climate in the Supreme Court at the time the Sabharwal "affair" took place. It's important to make it clear that Justice Sabharwal's orders were not substantially different or ideologically at loggerheads with the orders of other judges who have not been touched by scandal and whose personal integrity is not in question. But the ideological bias of a judge is quite a different matter from the personal motivations and conflict of interest that could have informed Justice Sabharwal's orders. That is the substance of this story.

In his final statement to the media before he retired in January 2007, Justice Sabharwal said that the decision to implement the sealing in Delhi was the most difficult decision he had made during his tenure as chief justice. Perhaps it was. Tough Love can't be easy.

In May 2007, the Delhi edition of the evening paper Mid Day published detailed investigative stories (and a cartoon) alleging serious judicial misconduct on the part of Justice Sabharwal. The articles are available on the internet. The charges Mid Day made have subsequently been corroborated by the Committee for Judicial Accountability, an organisation that counts senior lawyers, retired judges, professors, journalists and activists as its patrons. The charges in brief are:

1.That Y.K. Sabharwal's sons Chetan and Nitin had three companies: Pawan Impex, Sabs Exports and Sug Exports whose registered offices were initially at their family home in 3/81, Punjabi Bagh, and were then shifted to their father's official residence at 6, Motilal Nehru Marg.

2. That while he was a judge in the Supreme Court but before he became chief justice, he called for and dealt with the sealing of commercial properties case in Delhi. (This was impropriety. Only the chief justice is empowered to call for cases that are pending before a different bench.) .

3. That at exactly this time, Justice Sabharwal's sons went into partnership with two major mall and commercial complex developers, Purshottam Bagheria (of the fashionable Square 1 Mall fame) and Kabul Chawla of Business Park Town Planners (BPTP) Ltd. That as a result of Justice Sabharwal's sealing orders, people were forced to move their shops and businesses to malls and commercial complexes, which pushed up prices, thereby benefiting Justice Sabharwal's sons and their partners financially and materially.

4. That the Union Bank gave a Rs 28 crore loan to Pawan Impex on collateral security which turned out to be non-existent. (Justice Sabharwal says his sons' companies had credit facilities of up to Rs 75 crore.)

5. That because of obvious conflict of interest, he should have recused himself from hearing the sealing case (instead of doing the opposite—calling the case to himself.)

6. That a number of industrial and commercial plots of land in Noida were allotted to his sons' companies at throwaway prices by the Mulayam Singh/ Amar Singh government while Justice Sabharwal was the sitting judge on the case of the Amar Singh phone tapes (in which he issued an order restricting their publication.)

7. That his sons bought a house in Maharani Bagh for Rs 15.46 crore. The source of this money is unexplained. In the deeds they have put down their father's name as Yogesh Kumar (uncharacteristic coyness for boys who don't mind running their businesses out of their judge father's official residence.)

All these charges are backed by what looks like watertight, unimpeachable documentation. Registration deeds, documents from the Union ministry of company affairs, certificates of incorporation of the various companies, published lists of shareholders, notices declaring increased share capital in Nitin and Chetan's companies, notices from the Income Tax department and a CD of recorded phone conversations between the investigating journalist and the judge himself.

These documents seem to indicate that while Delhi burned, while thousands of shops and businesses were sealed and their owners and employees deprived of their livelihood, Justice Sabharwal's sons and their partners were raking in the bucks. They read like an instruction manual for how the New India works.

When the story became public, another retired chief justice, J.S. Verma, appeared on India Tonight, Karan Thapar's interview show on CNBC.He brought all the prudence and caution of a former judge to bear on what he said: "...if it is true, this is the height of impropriety...every one who holds any public office is ultimately accountable in democracy to the people, therefore, the people have right to know how they are functioning, and higher is the office that you hold, greater is the accountability...." Justice Verma went on to say that if the facts were correct, it would constitute a clear case of conflict of interest and that Justice Sabharwal's orders on the sealing case must be set aside and the case heard all over again.

This is the heart of the matter. This is what makes this scandal such a corrosive one. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been devastated. If it is true that the judgement that caused this stands vitiated, then amends must be made.

Sealing fates: Is it Enron zindabad, to hell with the poor?

But are the facts correct?

Scandals about powerful and well-known people can be, and often are, malicious, motivated and untrue. God knows that judges make mortal enemies—after all, in each case they adjudicate there is a winner and a loser. There's little doubt that Justice Y.K. Sabharwal would have made his fair share of enemies. If I were him, and if I really had nothing to hide, I would actually welcome an investigation. In fact, I would beg the chief justice to set up a commission of inquiry. I would make it a point to go after those who had fabricated evidence against me and made all these outrageous allegations.

What I certainly wouldn't do is to make things worse by writing an ineffective, sappy defence of myself which doesn't address the allegations and doesn't convince anyone (Times of India, September 2, 2007).

Equally, if I were the sitting chief justice or anybody else who claims to be genuinely interested in 'upholding the dignity' of the court (fortunately this is not my line of work), I would know that to shovel the dirt under the carpet at this late stage, or to try and silence or intimidate the whistle-blowers, is counter-productive. It wouldn't take me very long to work out that if I didn't order an inquiry and order it quickly, what started out as a scandal about a particular individual could quickly burgeon into a scandal about the entire judiciary.

But, of course, not everybody sees it that way.

Days after Mid Day went public with its allegations, the Delhi high court issued suo motu notice charging the editor, the resident editor, the publisher and the cartoonist of Mid Day with Contempt of Court. Three months later, on September 11, 2007, it passed an order holding them guilty of criminal Contempt of Court. They have been summoned for sentencing on September 21.

What was Mid Day's crime? An unusual display of courage? The high court order makes absolutely no comment on the factual accuracy of the allegations that Mid Day levelled against Justice Sabharwal. Instead, in an extraordinary, almost yogic manoeuvre, it makes out that the real targets of the Mid Day article were the judges sitting with Justice Sabharwal on the division bench, judges who are still in service (and therefore imputing motives to them constitutes Criminal Contempt): "We find the manner in which the entire incidence has been projected appears as if the Supreme Court permitted itself to be led into fulfilling an ulterior motive of one of its members.The nature of the revelations and the context in which they appear, though purporting to single out former Chief Justice of India, tarnishes the image of the Supreme Court. It tends to erode the confidence of the general public in the institution itself. The Supreme Court sits in divisions and every order is of a bench. By imputing motive to its presiding member automatically sends a signal that the other members were dummies or were party to fulfil the ulterior design."

Nowhere in the Mid Day articles has any other judge been so much as mentioned. So the journalists are in the dock for an imagined insult. What this means is that if there are several judges sitting on a bench and you have proof that one of them has given an opinion or an order based on corrupt considerations or is judging a case in which he or she has a clear conflict of interest, it's not enough. You don't have a case unless you can prove that all of them are corrupt or that all of them have a conflict of interest and all of them have left a trail of evidence in their wake. Actually, even this is not enough. You must also be able to state your case without casting any aspersions whatsoever on the court. (Purely for the sake of argument: What if two judges on a bench decide to take turns to be corrupt? What would we do then?)

So now we're saddled with a whole new school of thought on Contempt of Court: Fevered interpretations of imagined insults against unnamed judges. Phew! We're in La-la Land.

In most other countries, the definition of Criminal Contempt of Court is limited to anything that threatens to be a clear and present danger to the administration of justice. This business of "scandalising" and "lowering the authority" of the court is an absurd, dangerous form of censorship and an insult to our collective intelligence.

The journalists who broke the story in Mid Day have done an important and courageous thing. Some newspapers acting in solidarity have followed up the story. A number of people have come together and made a public statement further bolstering that support. There is an online petition asking for a criminal investigation. If either the government or the courts do not order a credible investigation into the scandal, then a group of senior lawyers and former judges will hold a public tribunal and examine the evidence that is placed before them. It's all happening. The lid is off, and about time too.

A must watch video on America


America Is No More

By Paul Craig Roberts
19 September, 2007

Naïve Americans who think they live in a free society should watch this video filmed by students at a John Kerry speech September 17, Constitution Day, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
At the conclusion of Kerry's speech, Andrew Meyer, a 21-year old journalism student was selected by Senator Kerry to ask a question. Meyer held up a copy of BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast's book, Armed Madhouse, and asked if Kerry was aware that Palast's investigations determined that Kerry had actually won the election. Why, Meyer asked, had Kerry conceded the election so quickly when there were so many obvious examples of vote fraud? Why, Meyer, went on to ask, was Kerry refusing to consider Bush's impeachment when Bush was about to initiate another act of military aggression, this time against Iran?
At this point the public's protectors—the police—decided that Meyer had said too much. They grabbed Meyer and began dragging him off. Meyer said repeatedly, "I have done nothing wrong," which under our laws he had not. He threatened no one and assaulted no one.
But the police decided that Meyer, an American citizen, had no right to free speech and no constitutional protection. They threw him to the floor and tasered him right in front of Senator Kerry and the large student audience, who captured on video the unquestionable act of police brutality. Meyer was carted off and jailed on a phony charge of "disrupting a public event."
The question we should all ask is why did a United States Senator just stand there while Gestapo goons violated the constitutional rights of a student participating in a public event, brutalized him in full view of everyone, and then took him off to jail on phony charges?
Kerry's meekness not only in the face of electoral fraud, not only in the face of Bush's wars that are crimes under the Nuremberg standard, but also in the face of police goons trampling the constitutional rights of American citizens makes it completely clear that he was not fit to be president, and he is not fit to be a US senator.
Usually when police violate constitutional rights and commit acts of police brutality they do it when they believe no one is watching, not in front of a large audience. Clearly, the police have become more audacious in their abuse of rights and citizens. What explains the new fearlessness of police to violate rights and brutalize citizens without cause?
The answer is that police, most of whom have authoritarian personalities, have seen that constitutional rights are no longer protected. President Bush does not protect our constitutional rights. Neither does Vice President Cheney, nor the Attorney General, nor the US Congress. Just as Kerry allowed Meyer's rights to be tasered out of him, Congress has enabled Bush to strip people, including American citizens, of constitutional protection and incarcerate them without presenting evidence.
How long before Kerry himself or some other senator will be dragged from his podium and tasered?
The Bush Republicans with complicit Democrats have essentially brought government accountability to an end in the US. The US government has 80,000 people, including ordinary American citizens, on its "no-fly list." No one knows why they are on the list, and no one on the list can find out how to get off it. An unaccountable act by the Bush administration put them there.
Airport Security harasses and abuses people who do not fit any known definition of terrorist. Nalini Ghuman, a British-born citizen and music professor at Mills College in California was met on her return from a trip to England by armed guards at the airplane door and escorted away. A Gestapo goon squad tore up her US visa, defaced her British passport, body searched her, and told her she could leave immediately for England or be sent to a detention center.
Professor Ghuman, an Oxford University graduate with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, says she feels like the character in Kafka's book, The Trial. "I don't know why it's happened, what I'm accused of. There's no opportunity to defend myself. One is just completely powerless." Over one year later there is still no answer.
The Bush Republicans and their Democratic toadies have, in the name of "security," made all of us powerless. While Senator John Kerry and his Democratic colleagues stand silently, the Bush administration has stolen our country from us and turned us into subjects.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.

Get free emoticon packs and customisation from Windows Live. Pimp My Live!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The Marie Antoinettes of Maharashtra

by P. Sainath; The Hindu; September 18, 2007

The remarks of Shankersinh Vaghela and Vilasrao Deshmukh on Maharashtra farmers capture the elite mindset. Those doing badly are in trouble because of their own laziness. Killing themselves in large numbers only proves how lazy they are.

In the good old days, a Minister or Governor getting out of something he had said simply denied it. “I was misquoted.” Or it was “a total fabrication.” Television complicates things. Cures for foot-in-the mouth-disease get messy when you’ve goofed up on camera. The ruling etiquette now is: “My words were taken out of context.” Only, we are seldom told what that “context” is.

And so it was in Maharashtra this week. First, Union Textiles Minister Shankersinh Vaghela appeared to be fighting the coming Gujarat elections in Maharashtra. That too, at a meeting of the Cotton Brokers’ Association in Akola district. He extolled the farmers of his home State and batted for Gujarati pride. Which is fine. His own people, both farmers and non-farmers, are very hard-working. But then he added that the problem with farmers in Maharashtra was that they “just sit around and don’t go to their farms.” He wanted them to learn about hard work from his own State. “You must emulate the farmers of Gujarat. Come there and see for yourselves,” he said.

That these homilies were delivered in Vidharbha — a region seeing countless farm suicides — was bad enough. But there was more to follow. The guardian of the destinies of 100 million people in Maharashtra took the mike and rubbed it in. “There is some truth in what he has hinted … we must keep it in mind,” said Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

And then — in a shot at humour — “Our farmers here, too, are ‘innovative.’ They sprinkle water on cotton, add stones to it, to increase the weight of their yield when they bring it to market.” And still more: “A farmer here is also innovative in increasing his cotton sowing area on paper, to seek government aid. Vidharbha farmers don’t lag behind in innovation.”

The Chief Minister has since said his words were taken out of context. Which sort of obliges him to explain — what was the context? Did he say such things at all, in any context? His response to a channel that carried his speech: “Nothing was said in Akola that was insulting to the farmers. Using specific parts of the speech, the opposition is now making a mountain out of a molehill. The speech has been used in such a way that it appears to be insulting the farmers. Being a farmer myself I know of the hardships faced by them. Implementing programmes for their benefit is primary for me.” Which “specific parts?” Obviously, the Chief Minister said things he would like to distance himself from. But it is very difficult to do that when those “specific parts” are on camera and are repeatedly being telecast. The subsequent exercise seems to result more in damage expansion than damage control.

The fallout has been most damaging. It was barely a month ago that Mr. Deshmukh’s own party in the State gave in a report to its Central leadership, slamming his failures on the farm front. In Vidharbha region, his own party workers see this speech as a blunder that will cost them dearly. And party leaders in Delhi seem quite annoyed.

Meanwhile, a seed industry lobby has just advanced claims of stunning success for the Vidharbha farmer with Bt cotton. Yet this presents the leaders with a dilemma. The timing of the industry’s claims is odd. It comes when the State is struggling to polish its image on the Vidharbha front. The claim is that the farmer in the region actually earned thousands of crores of rupees more last year. For one thing: how did “lazy” farmers end up doing so well? For another, that was the same year in which the State government’s own survey declared that over three fourths of farm households there were in distress. Of course, the State survey studied 17.64 lakh farm households or millions of people. The industry’s ‘sample’ was less than 350 farmers in the region.

More vital, though, is how the whole drama captures the elite mindset. Those doing badly are in trouble because of their own laziness. If they were hard-working, there would be no problem. Killing themselves in large numbers only proves how lazy they are. Most top leaders of the State have not visited a single distressed farm household of their own accord through all this period of crisis. The same leaders always have time for Bollywood functions. Maharashtra’s top bosses met families of suicide victims — most reluctantly — for the first time in 2006. That’s because they had to tag along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his trip to Vidharbha last year.

It’s curious how Maharashtra, with its “lazy” farmers, led the country for three or more decades in cotton and sugar production before running into trouble. According to this government, the last season saw a gigantic “bumper crop” of almost 350 lakh quintals of cotton. And now industry says the next crop will exceed even that by 100 lakh quintals. Not bad for a bunch of lazy farmers fighting floods, pest, rising input costs, falling prices, chikangunya and their own government.

Well over 90 per cent of the State’s cotton is produced in rain-fed regions. For farmers in Vidharbha to produce the quality they do with no irrigation is a huge achievement. More so when the State itself is plugging inputs like Bt seed that demand more and more water. This hardly squares with their being lazy.

Above all, the farmers of the region the two leaders were mocking have had to contend with a government that came to power on a promise of Rs. 2700 per quintal of cotton — then betrayed that promise at once. So who is the cheat? The mythical little guy wetting his cotton to make it heavier? Or a government whose ruthless gutting of a poll promise destroyed so many lives? Or was the Congress party’s manifesto quoted “out of context?”

Yet all this is like a re-run of a very bad movie. It is what the elite like to believe of the poor. In 2003-04, as reports on the Andhra Pradesh suicides grew in number, many well-read persons in Maharashtra asked in wide-eyed innocence: “what is it with these Andhra Pradesh farmers? What’s wrong with them? How come we don’t have those suicides here in Maharashtra?”

Three years on, we all know better. But Mr. Vaghela, apparently, does not. He also overlooked the “advantage” that Gujarat enjoys in two respects. It has the biggest “parallel” or chor Bt seed industry. Some farmers claim that the ‘desi’ Bt coming out of Gujarat works better than Monsanto’s product. So many cotton growers in Gujarat don’t pay the gigantic royalties per bag that they would to the multinational were they forced to use its brand. In Maharashtra, a government agency is the distributor for the most expensive Bt seed of the MNC. That’s why farmers in Vidharbha in fact try to buy the Gujarati version. Some even respectfully call it “non-royalty Bt.”

Farmers in Gujarat also have up to 40 per cent irrigation, in one estimate. Which dwarfs Vidharbha’s three per cent. There is another “advantage” no less risky. All the States going through the crisis have seen cycles of large-scale, new generation chemical use. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Vidharbha went into those cycles before Gujarat did. (And they too saw initial gains.) The rest, we know, is history. And Mr. Vaghela, at least, ought to learn from it. There are huge problems ahead.

Whether Mr. Deshmukh will learn is another question altogether. There have been two years in which Vidharbha could have been turned around quite a bit. But the laziness that came in the way was not that of the farmer. The laziness in forgetting what your manifesto promised was also not that of the farmer. Nor is the laziness involved in going to the region many times without visiting the affected households. Something real leaders ought to do.

Mr. Deshmukh’s own government has made one major contribution. It carried out the largest survey ever of its kind on farm households in the region. Its own survey says close to 75 per cent of farm households — or nearly seven million people — there are in distress. In just six districts. It confirms that people were and are working harder and harder to earn less and less. That some two million people are in what the survey calls “maximum distress.”

Brushing aside your own findings and holding forth on the failings of the farmers invites public outrage. And that outrage has come, leading to the “clarifications.” The causes of farm distress have been documented many times over both in Vidharbha and in other regions. To push the kind of reasons Mr. Vaghela and Mr. Deshmukh have advanced is to emulate the French Queen at the time of the 1789 Revolution who wanted to know why, if the hungry masses did not have bread, they could not eat cake instead. Current wisdom is that she never really said this. (Perhaps, like Mr. Deshmukh’s, her words were “taken out of context.”) Either way, Marie Antoinette would have felt at home in Maharashtra. Here we destroy the masses, not royalty.

A Deafening Silence On Report Of One Million Iraqis Killed

By Patrick Martin

17 September, 2007

When those responsible for the American war in Iraq face a public reckoning for their colossal crimes, the weekend of September 15-16, 2007 will be an important piece of evidence against them. On Friday, September 14 there were brief press reports of a scientific survey by the British polling organization ORB, which resulted in an estimate of 1.2 million violent deaths in Iraq since the US invasion.

This staggering figure demonstrates two political facts: 1) the American war in Iraq has produced a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions, with a death total already higher than that in Rwanda in 1994; 2) those arguing against a US withdrawal on the grounds that this would lead to civil war, even genocide, are deliberately concealing the fact that such a bloodbath is already taking place, with the US military in control.

The reaction to the ORB report in the US political and media establishment was virtual silence. After scattered newspaper reports Friday, there was no coverage on the Friday evening television newscasts or on the cable television news stations. There was no comment from the Bush White House, the Pentagon, or the State Department, and not a single Republican or Democratic presidential candidate or congressional leader made an issue of it. On the Sunday morning talk shows on all four broadcast networks the subject was not raised.

This was not because those involved were unaware of the study, which received wide circulation on the Internet and was prominently reported in the British daily press. Nor was there any serious challenge to the validity of the study’s findings.

Opinion Research Business (ORB), founded by the former head of British operations for the Gallup polling organization, is a well-established commercial polling firm. It gave a detailed technical description of the methods used to make a scientific random sample.

Six months ago, by contrast, an ORB survey in Iraq was hailed by the White House because some of its findings could be given a positive spin in administration propaganda. That survey, conducted in February and made public March 18 in the Sunday Times of London, found that only 27 percent of Iraqis believed their country was in a state of civil war and that a majority supported the Maliki government and the US military “surge,” and believed life was getting better in their country.

That survey also reported figures on violence that largely dovetail with those of the survey conducted in August and reported last Friday, including 79 percent of Baghdad residents experiencing either a violent death or kidnapping in their immediate family or workplace. But its findings of Iraqi political opinions—not the figures on deaths—were given headline treatment in the US press, with articles in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and other national media outlets.

White House press spokesman Tony Snow cited the ORB poll at a March 23 news briefing, when he used its findings to rebut the results of a poll of Iraqis by ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the German ARD network and USA Today newspaper. Asked about the ABC poll’s finding that Iraqis were more pessimistic about the future, Snow declared, “there was also a British poll at the same time that had almost diametrically opposed results.” He added that the British poll had “twice the sample” of the ABC poll, and should therefore be considered more authoritative.

The March ORB poll was widely hailed in the far-right media, including Fox News Network. The right-wing magazine National Review declared, “Supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom will be buoyed by a new poll of Iraqis showing high levels of support for the Baghdad security plan and the elected government implementing it.”

The latest ORB poll, focusing on the enormous death toll produced by the US invasion, has received no such positive reception at the White House. There is, of course, ample reason for such hostility. The figures reported by ORB undermine Bush administration claims that its goal in Iraq is to “liberate” the Iraqi people from tyranny and terrorism, or to defend “freedom and democracy.”

The real motivation for the war was spelled out by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan in a newly published book of memoirs, in which he wrote, “Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I’m saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Equally significant is the silence from congressional Democrats and the Democratic presidential candidates, all of whom claim to be opposed to the Iraq war. This antiwar posturing, however, has nothing in common with genuine compassion for the plight of the Iraqi people or principled opposition to the predatory interests of American imperialism in the oil-rich country.

The Democrats oppose the Bush administration’s conduct of the war, not because it has been a bloody and criminal operation, but because it has been mismanaged and unsuccessful in accomplishing the goal of plundering Iraq’s oil resources and strengthening the strategic position of US imperialism in the Middle East.

The Democrats do not want to highlight the massive scale of the bloodbath in Iraq, as suggested by the ORB survey, because they share political responsibility for the war, from the vote to authorize the use of force in October 2002, to the repeated congressional passage of bills to fund the war, at a total cost of more than $600 billion. In any war crimes trial over the near-genocide in Iraq, leading Democrats would take their place in the dock, second only to the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld war cabal.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program Sunday, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, denounced suggestions that congressional Democrats would allow the United States to be defeated in Iraq. He criticized the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on the ground that it had weakened US national security interests, particularly in relation to Iran.

“We’re not talking about abandoning Iraq,” Kerry said. “We’re talking about changing the mission and adjusting the mission so that the bulkier combat troops are withdrawn, ultimately, within a year, but that you are continuing to provide the basic backstop support necessary to finish the training, so they stand up on their own, and you are continuing to chase Al Qaeda.”

Kerry made it clear that he advocated a more aggressive, not less aggressive, policy in the Middle East. “We need to get out of Iraq in order to be stronger to deal with Iran,” he said, “in order to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas, to regain our credibility in the region. And I believe, very deeply, they understand power.”

When “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert pressed Kerry on the refusal of the Democrats to force the White House to stop the war by cutting off funding, Kerry evaded the question, claiming—falsely—that such action would require 67 votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto. The supposed 67-vote hurdle is an obstacle deliberately conjured up by the congressional Democrats, in order to play their double game of publicly posturing as opponents of the war while allowing the Bush administration to continue waging it.

Kerry continued: “I will fund the troops to protect the national security interests of America, to accomplish a mission that increases our national security and protects the troops themselves. We are not proposing failure...”

What does the pursuit of “success” mean in the context of the reports of 1.2 million violent deaths in Iraq since the US invasion and occupation? It means the devastation of that country will continue until the American and international working class intervenes to put an end to it.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Financial management is the new witchcraft.

The Northern Rock crisis, and the City's excesses, expose the dangers in our remaining ignorant of market complexities
Max Hastings
Monday September 17, 2007

It has been an unfamiliar delight to wake up the past few mornings knowing that I am neither a shareholder nor depositor in Northern Rock. In the usual course of events, whenever a company goes pear-shaped my pension fund proves to be involved. Friends often ring me to ask which businesses I have shares in, to be sure to avoid them.

Yet, however pleasing it is to see City folk sweat, it is obvious that schadenfreude would be misplaced. We are all going to feel pain somewhere from the chaos in the financial markets. The feel-good factor, which has proved vastly more important than any government personality or policy in sustaining Labour in power, will be imperilled. Politics could be transformed if hard times hit the high street and housing market.

Present events seem unlikely to signal the collapse of capitalism or even a major recession, but it must surely mean a reality check on the follies of recent years, in which tycoons and ticket collectors alike have splurged far more money than they could sensibly afford on buying companies or, at the humbler end of the scale, plasma TV screens so large that newsreaders' warts show through their makeup.

A wise City editor cherishes the maxim, "Don't invest in things you don't understand". How many of those inside the soaring towers east of Temple Bar have known what they have been betting their ranches on lately, never mind the rest of us out in no man's land? Of course there are some very clever people steering the world's financial institutions. But the evidence suggests that there are also some frighteningly stupid ones.

Incomprehension makes us the City's prisoners. We know what vacuum cleaner manufacturers do, and waiters and lawyers and doctors and even ministers. We are told that the activities of the City of London now account for a frighteningly large proportion of national economic activity.

But as to what those activities are, who can tell? I have met lots of investment bankers, hedge fund managers, currency dealers. But I would struggle to describe on one side of a sheet of paper how they spend their days, beyond peering at screens. I bet you would, too.

Financial management is the new witchcraft, an art that makes many of its practitioners absurdly rich, commands the grudging respect of millions, but relies upon skills and secrets that remain opaque to all outside the Magic Circle.

Few of those who preside over the cauldrons possess social or cultural graces. In the company of City folk, I often recall some lines from Anthony Powell's novel A Buyer's Market, describing the tycoon Sir Magnus Donners at a lunch party: "On the lips of a lesser man his words would have suggested processes of thought of a banality so painful - of such profound and arid depths, in which neither humour, nor imagination, nor, indeed, any form of human understanding could be thought to play the smallest part - that I almost supposed him to be speaking ironically, or teasing his guests by acting the part of a bore in a drawing-room comedy."

Here I must search my soul, pondering how large a part is played by envy in determining the sceptical view we outsiders take of the multimillion bonus league. Of course the worm is there. In the next generation, the only social division likely to matter in Britain will be between those taking huge sums home from the City, and those earning relatively paltry amounts outside it.

A decision at the outset of one's career to become a doctor or journalist or civil servant comes close to ensuring that one can never hope to share an upper-middle class lifestyle that will be the almost exclusive prerogative of entrepreneurs, bankers, management consultants and inheritors of wealth. This has always been true in some degree, but in future there will be a near-apartheid distinction.

Whatever the outcome of current turbulence, moving money will continue to be a vastly more profitable activity than almost anything else in Britain, save playing football. Many of us can live with this state of affairs, containing our resentment, as long as those in charge appear to know what they are doing. When, however, as in the past few weeks, we see idiot lending policies generating frightening turmoil, it is impossible not to feel pretty sore towards those in charge of spell-making.

Mrs Thatcher was an ardent advocate of personal financial empowerment. She sought to enable us all to be responsible for our own affairs, to exercise discretion over our pensions and so on. Yet few people are capable of using such discretion wisely. My own pension fund statements might as well be written in Arabic for all they mean to me, except I can grasp the brute fact that my pot somehow shrank in the early months of this year, long before the summer upheavals. It is now worth only fractionally more than it was in 2001, before the then market collapse. Management fees take a fat bite every year, of course, heedless of whether the investments have prospered or not.

I expect no personal sympathy, because I am in a happy financial position compared with most of the rest of the country. But it seems reasonable to ask: if I, supposedly well able to look after myself, find it hard to make my pension fund work decently, how on earth can millions succeed, who lack my opportunities to raise hell?

The challenge for the City of London is to convince the public that, even if its workers are extravagantly rewarded for their services, what they do benefits the rest of us; that their activities are not exclusively self-serving. This will become much harder if the turmoil of recent weeks, driven by stunning banking incompetence, feeds through into the real world and starts hurting peoples' pockets, as it seems likely to do.

A hubris, a madness, has overtaken the financial world in the past two or three years, causing some of its chief practitioners to delude themselves that the old rules of prudence had gone out of the window. A vast pool of easy money has been pursuing a much smaller supply of sensible investments. Businesses have overpaid for most properties they have bought, because that was the only way to get the deals. Banks have bought a load of stuff now seen to be worthless.

This recklessness has, of course, been matched in City private lives, where Krug, yachts, Porsches and racehorses are at premiums. The big-hitters have been indifferent about how many millions, or indeed tens of millions, they paid for a country house which they wanted.

It seems premature to speculate that all this conspicuous consumption is now at an end. Neither we nor the Bank of England have any idea how bad the housing debt crisis is going to get, or what its knock-on effects will be. Most people outside the City would love to see humbled the high-rollers who have so conspicuously failed in their responsibilities. The trouble is, if this happens it seems likely that the rest of us will catch colds at least as discomforting as those afflicting the fat cats.