Saturday, 26 July 2008

Nuclear Deal - India Ratifies Parkinson's Law



By Niranjan Ramakrishnan

25 July, 2008

"A nuclear reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions might withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks they do), so building one can result in endless discussions: everyone involved wants to add his touch and show that he is there"

--Parkinson's Law of Triviality (from Parkinson's Law, 1955)

The fellow was standing on his 25th floor balcony contemplating the evening sky, when he heard someone shout, "Hey Banta Singh, your daughter Jeeto has committed suicide!". In his grief he jumped from the balcony. When he passed the 20th floor it occurred to him his daughter was not called Jeeto. As he passed the 15th, he remembered he had no daughters. And as he passed the 10th he recalled his name was not Banta Singh!

--An Indian Joke

When he published it in 1915, Albert Einstein had formulated his Theory of General Relativity entirely in his imagination. It was not until four years later, in 1919, that it would be verified empirically. Few of us can aspire to such a distinction, but wouldn't it have been enough of a thrill to be there at least when the experiment confirmed Einstein's theory?

If you were paying attention, you might have had a similar opportunity recently.

If Einstein's prediction was verified by Sir Arthur Eddington and his colleagues as they viewed the 1919 solar eclipse from faraway Principe in West Africa, the unerring insight the Law of Triviality was to be laid bare in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, a continent away and a half-century later. I can tell my grandchildren I saw it happen!

But let us begin at the beginning.

Earlier this week, the Indian Parliament had a two-day debate on whether the government should pursue the nuclear deal with the United States. The proceedings, shown live, turned out to be gripping television. Whether or not you followed politics, you couldn't help getting caught up in the drama of the Lok Sabha debate, with its stirring speeches, constant interruptions, inspired heckling, a Speaker by turns bemused and amused, himself a fugitive from his party, vainly trying to bring order to his assembly. There were accusations of MP's being kidnapped, charges of open bribery and, a couple of hours before the end, a dramatic display in Parliament of a valise with bundles of 1000 rupee bills (10 million rupees in raw cash) by three oppositon MPs claiming the government side had given them the money to get them to abstain. Many of the speeches were outstanding, some moving, one in particular was rollicking. The pace never flagged. The bar for entertainment in India has been set high, and Bollywood will have to work its heart out to regain its position. Even the President of India reportedly canceled all appointments to sit in front of her TV.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose speech was supposed to conclude the debate (called 'replying to the debate') could not speak amidst the noise and interruption following the rupee bundle demonstration. He had instead to enter his speech into the record and sit down. Then they voted, and what was expected to be a squeak-through victory for Mr. Singh's government turned out to be a 19-vote margin after all. But the governing alliance had been turned inside out. Those who were supporting it had turned opponents. New allies had taken their place.

And though the government had won, it had really won a vote of confidence in its continuation, not specifically the nuclear deal, for there had been little to no discussion of that subject. The Left Parties were opposed to the American connection, the largest opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seemed to have only one grouse, namely that the Congress rather than it had engineered the agreement. As to the government, you could have gathered from its speeches that the nuclear deal was the lone and final key the country had to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But the government could claim that Parliament had approved the nuclear deal (a weaker claim than Bush's saying Congress authorized the Iraq War, but Indians are fast learners), They lost no time in doing so. And the Bush administration, eager to see this move forward, welcomed the victory and urged Godspeed, a sentiment gleefully reciprocated by the enlivened Congress party. The nuclear lobbies in both countries are salivating at the prospect of a radiant path paved with profits. Or perhaps, a path to profits paved with radiation, except the subject never came up.

Those who watched it even marveled at the high level of participation (house full) and the level of the debate, some speaking in English, others in Hindi. It was a proud moment for all Indians, parliamentary democracy at its best (the bags of money notwithstanding), etc. etc. Unlike the staid debates on C-SPAN, one member talking to an empty chamber as the person in the chair tries not to nod off, this was vigorous and enthusiastic.

It was only later, after all the excitement settled down, that you remembered that there wasn't much said about nuclear energy, its need and its dangers, the wisdom of depending on foreign nuclear fuel (why is it any better than depending on foreign oil?) So riveting was the debate that we forgot what it was for.

To my recollection, there was not one sentence spoken by anyone, for or against the government, on the matter of nuclear waste and what India planned to do with it. It is a problem that has not been solved by any country. No one mentioned that nuclear waste stays on for thousands of years.

Very little was said about why other countries are not jumping on nuclear energy. One minister (Pranab Mukherjee, who gave an otherwise sober speech) theorized that neither America or Russia was building nuclear plants because 'they were floating on oil'. America imports 70% of its oil, and Mukherjee is India's foreign minister.

There was virtually no discussion of what role nuclear energy should play in the overall plan. France (and its high reliance on nuclear energy) was mentioned by a few speakers on the government side. The French challenge of dealing with a huge amount of radioactive spent fuel was never mentioned.

There was much talk of 2030 and 2050 -- how much of the country's energy would be nuclear by that time. What's more, the agreement's proponents argued that this was actually their way of avoiding global warming! What was the plan all these years before Bush's visit opened this line of thought? Not asked, not answered.

In all the discussion, the one name that never came up was that of Mahatma Gandhi. When Henry Ford wrote to him asking what possible objection Gandhi could have if he ( Ford) were to entire towns or villages, Gandhi answered Ford with an simple question: Who would control the switch? Through all their mock outrage, sarcasm hot and cold, paternal disdain, that and other essential questions never occurred to India's Parliamentarians during their two-day gabfest. Whatever the truth about their other alleged crimes of bribery and intimidation, it can be truly said that in the matter of nuclear energy and its impact on India, they remain wholly innocent.

As does the country the debate was supposed to educate.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Return Ticket


A licensed host has to ensure his invitees leave the UK in time

Licensed To Invite
  • A new immigration proposal says a person abroad can be invited by a British citizen only if he has the licence to do so.
  • It will be the responsibility of the licensed host to ensure his guests return before their visa expires
  • If the guests don't return, the host will have to pay a hefty fine and even face imprisonment
  • The new law will mostly impact those who aren't rich enough to stay in hotels.
  • Group visas for tourists will continue.


Ever keen to create new classes and categories, the British are now setting up yet another class: Licensed to Invite, to add to the "Sirs" and the "Members of the British Empire" and what not. The new category does not come with a title, but it's surely got a talking point: "Guess what, I've won a licence to invite my brother from India."

As the Home Office put it, "People will have to become licensed to sponsor family members to visit from abroad under the proposed changes to the visa system." A proposal so far, but who will oppose it? Not the Conservative party, for which immigration rules can never be strong enough. Not perhaps the Liberal Democrats either, ahead of an election where every party's nightmare is to be seen as 'soft on immigration'.

The proposal will have to go through Parliament, and that may happen quietly. Under the law, the secretary of state has authority to make rules on immigration. These rules will not require amendments to primary legislation unless, theoretically, the opposition were to demand it. Changes in basic law are usually such that they draw long debates, unlike those in rules, because they come in the nature of nuts and bolts of a law in place. So, Britain looks set to have now an upper strata of licensed hosts.

Not everyone will want that privilege, though. "Sponsors will have a duty to ensure that their visitors leave before their visa runs out," the government proposal says. "If sponsors fail in their duties, they face a ban on bringing anyone else over, penalties of up to £#5,000, or a jail sentence." Arriving, therefore, is the visitor's privilege; his departure the host's duty. And if the visitor does not leave in time, his host could be in jail, the sentence expected to be severe.

"This is completely unfair," says Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). "How can an adult person be responsible for the conduct of another adult person? A host can't become a jailer, he can't be responsible for the movements of someone else."

The move is set to target Indians since they are the largest minority in Britain. More than 1.5 million Indians live in the UK. In 2006, more than 2,12,000 Indian visitors came to London. And between them, the Greater London Authority found, they spent more than Japanese tourists. Britain earns £85 billion from tourists every year.

The new rules will not apply directly to the 'pure' tourist, once the British High Commission in India has determined they are well-heeled enough to leave, and to leave plenty of pounds behind them. For tourists, there will in fact be additional group visas available. But the tourist from India often doubles up as a friend and family visitor, given close links. Thus far, a letter was all that was needed from a host in the UK. Such invitations will now get clouded over by doubt and suspicion—once you become a licence-holding Indian in Britain, that is.

"These days you cannot trust your own husband or wife," says Harish Patel, a Wembley plumber. "How can I trust my family members who live in India, when I've been living here for 30 years? We will have to think hard before sponsoring anybody.Up to now, it was ok. But taking a chance of going to jail, no baba." Adds Preeti Pandya, a landlady, "What will be the fun of having my sisters and their children over if I'm always thinking that if one of them doesn't go back in time, I will go to jail."

Southall, the little Punjab of London The British government, however, doesn't care much for people like Patel, because they don't spend as much as the rich and professionals who stay in hotels—and usually return. Britain is estimated to have a population of 5,00,000 to a million illegal immigrants (or 'undocumented migrants') who arrived in innumerable ways, as family visitors, and then didn't make the trip back. And among these, too, the majority are almost certainly Indians. Other than the India of Tata and Infosys professionals, there exists an India—particularly in Gujarat and Punjab—scrambling for Britain, anyhow securing the most basic jobs. More than 90 per cent of legally settled Indians in Britain are from these two states, and family visits sponsored by the settled can be an inviting means for informal addition to the migrant population.

Border and immigration minister Liam Byrne placed the particular Indian concern behind a language smokescreen. Through a process of consultation on the new rules, he said, "I travelled around the UK listening to people, and led my own delegation of community leaders and businessmen to India to review first hand some of the issues in one of our most important overseas markets." British politicians have long been hard in action, soft on language.

The new rules will seek to block one of the last visible gaps for illegal arrivals. The riskier route of people smuggling, through many countries in many ways, will always be open. But there too, X-rays of arriving crates and containers (with suspected migrants in them) and closer inspection of coastlines and international trains has tightened protective nets. Few can challenge those measures, but the proposed rules on family visits can become legally controversial.

"This kind of move will need to be tested in a court of law, because it is against natural justice," says Rahman. "People will find their ways of migrating. But for that you cannot create a punitive society, and begin to punish people against natural justice." The UK government might well find itself having to defend this move before the European court.

The EU is debating its own unified law on illegal immigrants that would provide for tracing, imprisoning and deporting illegal migrants already there. British courts do protect illegal migrants who have been there long enough, certainly for as long as 14 years, or even 10. But that places illegally settled migrants in another kind of spot—they must legally prove that they are illegal, and for as long as they claim. The crate route offers no entry stamps, and overstayers have often shed their passports, making evidence of continued overstaying difficult. But if you break the law, it still pays to continue to break it for long enough.


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Monday, 21 July 2008

Get ready for Mayawati to replace Manmohan

 A deal-breaker for India
By M K Bhadrakumar

History never ceases to surprise. What began as the "Great Middle East" strategy in the minds of a neo-conservative Connecticut Yankee from Texas may end up in the democratization of India. Yes, paradoxically, the legacy of the George W Bush era for South Asia may turn out to be that the 60-year old democratization process in India took a quantum leap.

In a colonial bungalow on a leafy street in central Delhi on Sunday afternoon, a group of political leaders gathered. What is unfolding is indeed a historical process, and like when forces of history begin to unfold them, old dykes are bound to give away. Indians are holding breath. What lies ahead is how torrential the flow becomes as it gathers speed. Indian politics is never going to be the same again.

Curiously, it all began with the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between the Bush administration and the coalition known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) which rules in Delhi - known somewhat aptly in India as "the deal". Now, the deal is highly likely to unravel, primarily for the reason that transparency was lacking in its negotiation.

The US-India nuclear deal would provide India with access to American civilian nuclear technology in exchange for nuclear-armed India agreeing to oversight by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency.

Given the deal's far-reaching consequences, and considering that such a strategic direction to India's foreign and security policy didn't even figure as part of the so-called Common Minimum Program that formed the basis of the present coalition government in Delhi, the UPA ought to have felt a greater need than ever for public accountability while embarking on such an initiative.

But exactly the contrary happened. An extraordinary veil of secrecy was maintained by the UPA, so much so that the Indian public came to depend on information that trickled in from time to time from US discourses on the Internet. The UPA went back on assurances to the Indian parliament, where the majority opinion consistently voiced reservations over the deal right from the outset, that it wouldn't hustle such an important initiative through.

Instead, the government blatantly resorted to manipulative methods of dissimulation and doublespeak to sidestep parliament. The latest Delhi grapevine is that the government has been bribing members of parliament to come on board the deal and that the going rate of purchase of loyalty is US$6.25 million per member. Surely, that is corruption on an epic scale for even a notoriously corrupt country like India, which Transparency International places at somewhere near the bottom of the pit in the world community.

The Congress party-led UPA faces a no confidence debate in parliament on Tuesday. This follows the withdrawal of support to the government by its left-wing allies in protest against the deal with the US. If the government loses the vote, early elections are likely - they are currently scheduled for May next year - and the deal could be abandoned.

The Bush administration will be watching closely the efficacy of pushing such a controversial deal through against robust opinion in a democratic society. It sets an important precedent. Two crucial tests lie ahead in Central Europe - deployment of the components of the US missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Ukraine's membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - where the majority opinion is manifestly against deal-making with the US, but the Bush administration is pressing ahead regardless.

The brashness with which US officials kept pressing the UPA to conclude the deal has badly exposed the Indian government's claim that it is all about India's energy security. By now, it is fairly well substantiated that the deal which was projected as in India's favor benefits Washington immeasurably.

Business deals to the tune of $100 million are expected to follow by way of selling nuclear reactors to India; there is a pronounced non-proliferation agenda in the deal in so far as Delhi virtually surrenders its right to have nuclear tests and agrees to monitoring of its nuclear program, including fissile material production in perpetuity; the deal envisages that Indian foreign policy will be congruent to US global strategies, especially on acute problem areas such as Iran; the deal enables the US to selectively waive its embargo on dual-use technology to India, which, in turn, enables the American military-industrial complex to enter the huge Indian market as an arms supplier; and places India incrementally as an ally in the US's Asian strategies against Russia and China, or at the very least ensures against a future Russia-China-India entente cordiale.

From the Indian point of view, of course, it is crystal clear that the raison d'etre of the deal is its burning ambition to become a "great power". Clearly, even if India implements the deal in its entirety in a full-throttled way - which seldom happens, given the high rate of waste, inefficiency and corruption - nuclear energy, which presently meets 3% of India's power needs, may account for 7% of estimated needs in a 15-20 year timeframe, though the cost per unit of power production will be significantly higher for nuclear energy. And, indeed, India has far from exhausted its potential to tap other conventional methods of power production, such as coal or hydo-electric power, and is yet to take a serious look at other renewable forms, such as solar or wind energy.

There are acolytes of the deal nonetheless in India. The unabashedly pro-US leadership in India, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sees it as "locking in" India as a strategic partner of the US, with the all-round benefits that it is expected to bring for the country in its passage through the coming decades.

Ideologically speaking, they are convinced that India is a "natural ally" of the US. They envisage that the deal makes the India-US "strategic partnership" virtually irreversible. That is, the deal forms an integral part of a wholesome agenda. For the Indian strategic community, the deal finally opens up the door to US military technology, especially the fascinating US missile defense system, which promises the only means whereby India could hope to neutralize China's strategic capability. Indian strategists visualize that even as Delhi begins to cope with the immense challenge of coming to terms with China's phenomenal rise, it needs US support and protection.

For corporate India, especially a handful of powerful business houses, the deal signifies a gravy train that will run on for decades to come. (The US-India Business Council estimates there could be anywhere up to $ 150 billion worth of business generated by the deal.) Conceivably, for the ruling Congress party, which is highly experienced in government, that makes sound pork-barrel politics of unprecedented proportions.

For the great Indian middle class, which is enamored of everything connected with "Amrika", the deal provides the key to a dream world in which Indians could indulge in consumerism and happily live ever after as Americans do. (Bush's rating is the highest anywhere in the world among the Indian middle class.) Surprisingly, even sections of the Indian intelligentsia, including much of the English-speaking media, suspend all disbelief and root for the deal - some even putting forth such exotic arguments that if Delhi doesn't clinch the deal after Manmohan having given word to Bush, India's international standing will suffer and the world community will not take India seriously. But, then, there has been a pervasive US penetration of Indian media organizations and think-tanks in recent years.

Thus, a sharp polarization is taking place in Indian opinion, spearheaded on the one hand by the government led by Manmohan, a former World Bank official, and a range of opinion that opposes the deal tooth and nail, which includes political parties, the scientific community and sections of the Indian intelligentsia.

This split will surface in the vote in parliament on Tuesday. The opposition has threatened it will vote out the government and thereby scotch the deal. The government is determined that it will do its damndest to see that doesn't happen. It is canvassing the support of even three members of parliament who are serving jail terms on murder charges. It is leaving nothing to chance. The establishment apparatus is working overtime, arm-twisting the reluctant or undecided to fall in line.

The silver lining is that against this unseemly backdrop of wheeling and dealing, a massive realignment of political forces has also ensued, which now seems poised to leap far beyond the deal controversy and profoundly remake India's political landscape. The deal holds the potential of becoming a defining moment in India's political economy. India's left parties, which staunchly oppose the deal, have taken the initiative of reaching out to like-minded political forces. And these forces include an important segment of India's political spectrum representing the dispossessed and humiliated and historically oppressed sections of Hindu society - known as "dalits" and "backward classes" - and alienated Muslims which are numerically large and have lately begun asserting their rights and prerogative for social and political accommodation in India's highly stratified "democratic" system.

The significance of Sunday's gathering in Delhi is that it is for the first time that in such a pronounced way, the forces of radical change in Indian politics are reaching out to each other and creating a critical mass of awakening. All indications are that beyond the deal controversy, a coalition of political forces is emerging. There is bound to be high drama, as the main "dalit" party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) , which hitherto has substantial influence in India's populous northern province (Uttar Pradesh), where it is the ruling party already, is now poised to enter national politics, thanks to an alliance with the left parties. There is already talk that the proposed alliance will be inclined to project the BSP's charismatic leader, Kumari Mayawati, as India's future prime minister.

The very thought of Mayawati wearing the mantle of prime ministership has fired up public imagination. The Indian urban middle class was hitherto cocksure that the country would never allow such an "outrageous" thing to happen. Its favorite ploy has always been to co-opt and assimilate promising dalit leaders by corrupting them.

Ironically, the staunch middle class supporters of the deal have been stunned into silence. Even if "Amrika" is fascinating, even if the strategic cooperation will enable Delhi to stare eyeball-to-eyeball at Beijing, even if it brings such goodies as fanciful weapon systems for the armed forces, even if it provides for mind-boggling levels of kickbacks and political sleaze - still, nonetheless is it worthwhile if it may open the way for a lowly dalit agitator to become India's prime minister? This is the question that has haunted proponents of the deal in the secret attics of their minds for the past 48 hours.

Indians seldom discuss their caste prejudices. They prefer to pretend they are above caste prejudices. Therefore, the present dilemma of the political elite and the ruling class over Mayawati is acute. Her rise cannot be blocked as it will be in perfect accordance with democratic principles. She will only assume power on the basis of a popular mandate in a democratic election. But, still, even then, something militates in the mind of the ruling elite. The heart of the matter is that they loathe and dread the prospect. The rightly apprehend that once the dispossessed sections of Indian society capture political power in Delhi, that could turn out to be the beginning of the end of the 60-year established political order in independent India.

The mainstream political parties - Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party - are extremely nervous that they stand to lose heavily if the forces of radical change gain political ascendancy and encroach into the center stage of Indian politics. In fact, the BSP's passage to power as a national party lies through the graveyards of both the Congress and the BJP.

For India's medium- and long-term development as a modern democratic state, it is imperative that the BSP moves into the mainstream of national politics. Social and political oppression of the dalits is a continuing blight on India's stature as a modern, civilized country. What is democracy worth if people cannot walk the streets on account of their lowly caste or drink water from a village well or can have no access to the due process of law because they have been "untouchables" for millennia?

The sad reality is that Indian democracy has given a wide berth to those hundreds of millions of Indians. Simply put, there hasn't been sufficient enough change through the past 60 years that representative rule ought to have provided.

Ironically, the India-US nuclear deal is becoming the harbinger of change in the country, but for a most unexpected reason. The deal will have served a great purpose if it logically leads to the rise of Mayawati as Manmohan's worthy successor. The political initiative taken by the Indian left to reach out to the BSP is of historical significance. It comes as a wind of change that promises to clear away accumulated debris. The class struggle in Indian conditions cannot be envisaged without addressing the social and political oppression that goes on in the name of caste in Hindu society.

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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

India's Nuclear Deal - What's In It For Us?

Chandan Mitra

16 Jul 2008, 0000 hrs IST,

Does India need a civilian nuclear energy agreement with the US? Is this the best deal we could have got? Why is the Bush administration trying so hard to push India into signing this deal? Has the prime minister gone about it in the best possible way? Are we bartering away our nuclear sovereignty in the process, thereby endangering our goal to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent?

These are some of the key questions that needed to be satisfactorily answered in the context of the ongoing controversy that has snowballed to a point where it threatens the stability of the Manmohan Singh government.

Unfortunately, the political rhetoric that is flying thick and fast for the last one year and more has obfuscated the core issues involved.

Enough has been spoken and written about the need to secure India's energy needs, especially in view of rising oil prices and India's near-total dependence on imports. Sceptics, on the other hand, have argued that even after investing billions of dollars to set up new reactors, nuclear power will contribute just about 7 per cent of the country's energy requirements by 2020.

But even if it is conceded that India needs every extra megawatt of energy that can be generated, whatever the source, the question still remains whether the Indo-US nuclear deal in its present form is the best that we could have bargained for. On balance, it appears that the deal is good for everybody else, apart from India.

First, we will end up putting huge sums into the coffers of foreign manufacturers of nuclear reactors — mainly French, Russian and American. Second, the estimated cost per unit of nuclear energy will be prohibitively high compared to coal, gas and even crude. Can India afford power at such a high cost when alternative sources have not been exhausted? Without getting into the nuclear sovereignty issue, it can be asserted that the additional energy to be generated through uranium-based reactors will be of dubious benefit.

It is often argued that the US administration has been exerting pressure on the Indian establishment because President George W Bush, reeling under unfavourable popularity ratings, wants to exhibit it as his one great foreign policy success. This is utterly fallacious: most Americans have not even heard of this deal, given their proverbial insularity and self-obsession. Further, the Republicans are hardly expected to make this an issue in the November presidential election.

Interestingly, most western powers have been vigorously pushing for the deal, although with greater sophistication than the sledgehammer tactics characteristically employed by Americans. Diplomacy, after all, is not based on altruism. Surely, they are not falling over one another out of love or compassion for India.

Apart from the business potential, the deal is being driven in western capitals by the motive of firmly roping India into the non-proliferation regime. India has an unblemished record here, but there are concerns about the future in view of the volatility of the Asian theatre. Since India cannot officially be admitted into the NPT, the deal has attempted to manoeuvre us into a situation where New Delhi becomes a de facto signatory to the NPT, just as we will be conferred the dubious distinction of being a de facto nuclear weapons state once we sign the deal.

Following the disclosure of the text of the IAEA safeguards agreement, it is abundantly clear that, while international inspection and safeguards shall be imposed permanently on our reactors, the exemptions remain doubtful. It is widely known that for all practical purposes no further testing shall be permitted. The government has repeatedly highlighted the "walk out" clause to claim that India can test whenever it wants and even if the US imposes sanctions, we can still negotiate with other countries in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to maintain uninterrupted uranium imports. This is complete hogwash. Can anybody in his right mind believe that the US will patronisingly oversee the supply of fissile material by other countries even after India conducts another nuclear test?

It would be more honest to admit that the Indo-US nuclear deal is a three-in-one document comprising a civilian energy cooperation agreement with the US, de facto NPT and de facto CTBT. A discussion on the merits and demerits of the deal would be meaningful only if we begin from this premise instead of deluding ourselves into believing that, possessed by a burning desire to help India, the US wants to hand out a "give-give" agreement with us and that nothing will change as far as our military nuclear programme is concerned.

Whichever way you look at the deal, honestly or deceitfully, it is a huge political albatross. Manmohan Singh has been forced to risk his government's fate and enter into a questionable alliance with a party not known for scrupulous adherence to norms of probity in public life. When the prime minister first challenged the Left to pull out last September, it was perhaps the best moment for the Congress to go for an early election buoyed by high growth, manageable inflation and opposition incoherence.

Today, all three factors are ranged unfavourably against the ruling party. Manmohan Singh has never claimed to be a master strategist, but others in his party are known for their political acumen and manipulative skills. However, they got cold feet last year and now the Congress is set to pay a price for their vacillation. In politics, as in other spheres of life, you win only if you dare; defeat is inevitable if you dither and delay.

(The writer is a member of the Rajya Sabha)

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

The more sex we get, the more we want

Christina Patterson: 
Bedroom farce, on stage, page or double-page spread, is, for the most part,numbingly banal

Saturday, 12 July 2008

"Sex," says the 17-year-old narrator of The Catcher in the Rye, "is something I really don't understand." Well, mate, nor do I. I only know (yes, I'm afraid I do know) that the arms of someone you don't even like – who your head, and your friends, tell you is a total shit – can feel like your natural home on this planet.

And that it's perfectly possible – drearily commonplace, in fact – to feel that a fleeting muscular contraction involving neurotransmitters, endorphins and the sure knowledge that you're king or queen of the universe, is well worth swapping for your marriage, your family, and your pride.

Whatever the Victorians, or Ann Widdecombe, or the smug marrieds on both sides of the political spectrum may say, it was ever thus. From Catullus to Chaucer to Shakespeare to those men of God, Donne and Herbert, right through to that bespectacled owl for whom sexual intercourse famously began "too late", poetry has celebrated the lips, and breasts, and buttocks, and charms of women – and men – who are not their wives. As poet and playwright John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester in The Libertine, the ever-versatile Johnny Depp reminded us that the sexual pirates of 17th-century London were just as adventurous as those in the Caribbean. He was starring with John Malkovich, whose sexually voracious Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses will remain, for many of us, a (rather sexily) sinister but enduring image of aristocratic, decadent, pre-revolution France.

Restoration comedy bristles with brittle asides from loose ladies and rich rakes apparently set on triathlons of sexual licentiousness in plots which served as a kind of 17th-century precursor to sudoku. The tradition continued, in drama, and in life. At my mother's local theatre in Guildford the other day, I saw a play by Dion Boucicault, an Irish playwright hailed by Richard Eyre as "a Victorian Andrew Lloyd Webber", and the writer who inspired Oscar Wilde. The play, London Assurance, was written at about the time that the Bront√ęs were dreaming up role models for future prime ministers. Lacking the wit of a Wilde, or the passion of a governess, it was, alas, merely a reminder that bedroom farce, on stage, page or in a double-page spread in a red-top, is, for the most part, numbingly, grindingly banal.

"I married him," announces a Lady Spanker at one point, "for my freedom and he married me for protection." If this was a mild subversion of the historical sexual status quo, but one not that uncommon in Western aristocracies of the past millennium, it was a relatively pithy statement of the kind of pragmatism in affairs of the heart, and genitals, that has generally prevailed. Not always able to match the biblical ideal of a man and woman joined exclusively, and monogamously, for ever and ever and ever, men, and even the odd woman, have made "arrangements". The most common, of course, has been that indispensable marital accessory, a blind eye, but some have been more complicated. H G Wells, Katherine Mansfield and Vera Brittain, according to a new book on literary love lives between the wars, are just some of the writers whose domestic, and extra-marital, lives were constructed to provide maximum freedom and minimum fuss. Not, perhaps, for the lovers squeezed into the tiny gaps in these busy, busy lives, or for the children, but you can't make a nice libertarian omelette without breaking a few little eggs.

In this lovely, liberal world, a world of kings and princes and lords and sometimes poets, cakes were eaten and retained, and laundry that was already scattered around public parks could not be seized and washed. And if your love life was alluded to in the Daily Courant or the London Gazette, who cared? You were red-blooded, goddammit, you were lusty. You had more important things to worry about than a glimpsed tryst with Emma, or Kate or Nell. Publish? Well, why not? As Wellington famously wrote on the blackmail note he returned to his lover, the courtesan Harriette Wilson, "Publish and be damned!"

That, of course, was an ice-age ago, when the market value of a private life was more on a par with poetry and less on a par with a Damien Hirst. Sex, like chocolate, and Kettle Chips,is a kind of drug – and so, unfortunately, is the media coverage of the sex lives of so-called celebs. The more we get, the more we want. It's a terrible shame, but that's the way the chocolate-chip cookie of the zeitgeist crumbles. Your love of a stripy uniform, or a Chelsea strip, or a juicy orange, allied with a nice whip, or garter, or noose, may or may not be an indication of a damaged childhood, an ability to do a job, or a lively sense of humour. And it may or may not matter.

But if you have any claims to fame, or fortune, or public office, and any sex life beyond the constraints of a 1950s-constructed norm, a sense of humour is precisely what you're going to need, in spades. We have, it seems, made our bed – or basement, or sand dune, or desk at the Admiralty Arch – and now, in the full glare of the media, and the internet, and YouTube and, of course, our children, we're just going to have to lie in it.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Nuclear Deal And Democracy



By Suvrat Raju

10 July, 2008

While much has been written about the Indo-US nuclear deal, a central question remains unasked: "Why is the deal important enough to precipitate a crisis in the government?".

The answer that the proponents of the deal provide –- that the deal is essential for energy security –- is, evidently, simple minded. According to figures provided by Anil Kakodkar –- the chairperson of the Department of Atomic Energy –- the deal will increase India's installed energy capacity by 2.5% by 2020 (1). While the Prime Minister may be perspicacious, this stretches the bounds of sagacity; simply put, governments do not risk self sacrifice for small gains in energy production, 12 years in the future. When one compounds this insignificant gain with the considerable uncertainty that the deal will actually clear the American congress before September, the energy security argument becomes completely untenable.

Indeed, the very desperation of the government to pass this deal indicates, more clearly than anything else, that the deal is not just about energy. While it is clear that the deal is about a larger strategic relationship with the US, this begs the question; most aspects of this relationship, including closer military and economic ties seem to be independent of the deal. So, what is the fuss about?

This question is answered candidly in the American strategic discourse. An alliance with the US entails an essential prerequisite: the government should be in a position to fulfill American demands, irrespective of domestic political considerations. Although, this is deeply undemocratic, this makes sense. Imagine the horror of American legislators if they were to help India obtain a seat in the security council only to find the Indian government arguing against American interference in Venezuela!

Incidentally, this doctrine applies to any bilateral relationship involving the US. During the Iraq war, Rumsfeld dismissed France and Germany as belonging to `old' Europe. As Chomsky pointed out (2), the countries of `new' Europe –- like Italy or Spain –- were those that supported Washington in spite of strong domestic opposition.

Viewed from this perspective, India has behaved well in recent years. Ashley Tellis, an influential advisor to the US government, arguing for the deal in a testimony to the US House of representatives approvingly noted at least 10 instances –- including India's vote against Iran, its support for the war in Afghanistan and its endorsement of American positions on climate change, missile defense and chemical weapons -- where the Indian government acted against domestic opposition and long held policies to support the US.(3)

On the other hand, the existence of an independent democratic discourse in India is a matter of great concern for the US. Ashton Carter, a member of the Clinton administration, lamented to the US senate that the fact that India was a democracy meant that "no government in Delhi can ... commit it to a broad set of actions in support of U.S. Interests" before pointing out that India's "... stubborn adherence to independent positions regarding the world order, economic development, and nuclear security" created a serious hazard for Indo-US strategic ties.(4)

These testimonies merely articulate what is public knowledge. Washington expects compliance from its allies. If India is to be a trusted ally it cannot protest loudly against the oppression of Palestinians, organize developing countries in defense of Iran or repudiate iniquitous conditions laid down by the WTO; it must support the US in diplomatic forums and provide logistical support for US military operations in Asia. Furthermore, and this is critical for American policy makers, this support cannot be contingent on the vagaries of Indian politics. Hence, while the Indian elite is quite willing to accede to these demands, it must first convince the US that its house is in order. It must tame the complexities of Indian democracy so that it can deliver on what it promises. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

In this context, the nuclear deal provides a high profile test case. The passage of the deal, although materially insignificant, is an extremely important matter of principle. If domestic political considerations cause the government to balk, that sets a terrible example and leaves India –- in the words of Ronen Sen –- with "zero credibility".(5) The consequent loss of trust that this will engender in Washington will damage ties with the US for years to come.

In any case, Indian ruling classes have been impatient with democratic dissent since it creates difficulties in their attempts to ram through an elite agenda. As Chidambaram put it (6), "Indian ... democracy has often paralyzed decision making ... this approach must change." After the deal was stalled last year, Manmohan Singh wondered whether a "single party state" would be preferable!(7)

India's newly empowered elite now finds that this frustrating political process threatens its global aspirations. This has brought together powerful interests ranging from India Inc. to NRI lobby in an attempt to remove roadblocks to the deal. These forces are strong enough to impel the government to risk its own survival.

The message, conveyed to the G8, was that India is ruled by a government that is willing to make (in the words of Nicholas Burns, the American negotiator for the nuclear deal), "courageous decisions" (8) -- and bulldoze domestic dissent -- if this is demanded by Washington or Brussels!

This is bad news for Indian democracy. The Indian system, despite its tremendous iniquities and imperfections is based on the notion that governments privilege their survival over all else. The idea that a government may imperil its own existence to fulfill commitments made to a foreign government is antithetical to the idea of democracy. The recent baffling actions of the Manmohan Singh government must be understood as a worrying loss of democratic space.


(1)The Hindu, 31 October, 2007 and "Energy for India in the coming decades", Anil Kakodkar,

(2)Znet, 31 October, 2003

(3)Testimony by Ashley J. Tellis before the House Committee on International Relations, November 16, 2005

(4)Ashton Carter, Testimony Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, November 2, 2005.

(5)Rediff, Aug 20, 2007:

(6)Convocation Address, IIM Ahmedabad, March 31, 2007

(7)Inaugural Address to the 4th International Conference on Federalism, November 5, 2007

(8)The Hindu, March 1, 2008

Suvrat Raju is a physicist and an activist. He just completed his PhD at Harvard.

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It's The Oil, Stupid!

By Noam Chomsky

10 July, 2008
Khaleej Times

The deal just taking shape between Iraq's Oil Ministry and four Western oil companies raises critical questions about the nature of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq — questions that should certainly be addressed by presidential candidates and seriously discussed in the United States, and of course in occupied Iraq, where it appears that the population has little if any role in determining the future of their country.

Negotiations are under way for Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners decades ago in the Iraq Petroleum Company, now joined by Chevron and other smaller oil companies — to renew the oil concession they lost to nationalisation during the years when the oil producers took over their own resources. The no-bid contracts, apparently written by the oil corporations with the help of U.S. officials, prevailed over offers from more than 40 other companies, including companies in China, India and Russia.

"There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract," Andrew E. Kramer wrote in The New York Times.

Kramer's reference to "suspicion" is an understatement. Furthermore, it is highly likely that the military occupation has taken the initiative in restoring the hated Iraq Petroleum Company, which, as Seamus Milne writes in the London Guardian, was imposed under British rule to "dine off Iraq's wealth in a famously exploitative deal."

Later reports speak of delays in the bidding. Much is happening in secrecy, and it would be no surprise if new scandals emerge.

The demand could hardly be more intense. Iraq contains perhaps the second largest oil reserves in the world, which are, furthermore, very cheap to extract: no permafrost or tar sands or deep sea drilling. For US planners, it is imperative that Iraq remain under U.S. control, to the extent possible, as an obedient client state that will also house major U.S. military bases, right at the heart of the world's major energy reserves.

That these were the primary goals of the invasion was always clear enough through the haze of successive pretexts: weapons of mass destruction, Saddam's links with Al-Qaeda, democracy promotion and the war against terrorism, which, as predicted, sharply increased as a result of the invasion.

Last November, the guiding concerns were made explicit when President Bush and Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki signed a "Declaration of Principles," ignoring the U.S. Congress and Iraqi parliament, and the populations of the two countries.

The Declaration left open the possibility of an indefinite long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq that would presumably include the huge air bases now being built around the country, and the "embassy" in Baghdad, a city within a city, unlike any embassy in the world. These are not being constructed to be abandoned.

The Declaration also had a remarkably brazen statement about exploiting the resources of Iraq. It said that the economy of Iraq, which means its oil resources, must be open to foreign investment, "especially American investments." That comes close to a pronouncement that we invaded you so that we can control your country and have privileged access to your resources.

The seriousness of this commitment was underscored in January, when President Bush issued a "signing statement" declaring that he would reject any congressional legislation that restricted funding "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."

Extensive resort to "signing statements" to expand executive power is yet another Bush innovation, condemned by the American Bar Association as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers." To no avail.

Not surprisingly, the Declaration aroused immediate objections in Iraq, among others from Iraqi unions, which survive even under the harsh anti-labour laws that Saddam instituted and the occupation preserves.

In Washington propaganda, the spoiler to US domination in Iraq is Iran. U.S. problems in Iraq are blamed on Iran. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sees a simple solution: "foreign forces" and "foreign arms" should be withdrawn from Iraq — Iran's, not ours.

The confrontation over Iran's nuclear programme heightens the tensions. The Bush administration's "regime change" policy toward Iran comes with ominous threats of force (there Bush is joined by both US presidential candidates). The policy also is reported to include terrorism within Iran — again legitimate, for the world rulers. A majority of the American people favours diplomacy and oppose the use of force. But public opinion is largely irrelevant to policy formation, not just in this case.

An irony is that Iraq is turning into a US-Iranian condominium. The Maliki government is the sector of Iraqi society most supported by Iran. The so-called Iraqi army — just another militia — is largely based on the Badr brigade, which was trained in Iran, and fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq war.

Nir Rosen, one of the most astute and knowledgeable correspondents in the region, observes that the main target of the US-Maliki military operations, Moktada Al Sadr, is disliked by Iran as well: He's independent and has popular support, therefore dangerous.

Iran "clearly supported Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government against what they described as 'illegal armed groups' (of Moktada's Mahdi army) in the recent conflict in Basra," Rosen writes, "which is not surprising given that their main proxy in Iraq, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council dominates the Iraqi state and is Maliki's main backer."

"There is no proxy war in Iraq," Rosen concludes, "because the U.S. and Iran share the same proxy."

Teheran is presumably pleased to see the United States institute and sustain a government in Iraq that's receptive to their influence. For the Iraqi people, however, that government continues to be a disaster, very likely with worse to come.

In Foreign Affairs, Steven Simon points out that current US counterinsurgency strategy is "stoking the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism and sectarianism." The outcome might be "a strong, centralised state ruled by a military junta that would resemble" Saddam's regime.

If Washington achieves its goals, then its actions are justified. Reactions are quite different when Vladimir Putin succeeds in pacifying Chechnya, to an extent well beyond what Gen. David Petraeus has achieved in Iraq. But that is THEM, and this is US. Criteria are therefore entirely different.

In the US, the Democrats are silenced now because of the supposed success of the US military surge in Iraq. Their silence reflects the fact that there are no principled criticisms of the war. In this way of regarding the world, if you're achieving your goals, the war and occupation are justified. The sweetheart oil deals come with the territory.

In fact, the whole invasion is a war crime — indeed the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows, in the terms of the Nuremberg judgment. This is among the topics that can't be discussed, in the presidential campaign or elsewhere. Why are we in Iraq? What do we owe Iraqis for destroying their country? The majority of the American people favour US withdrawal from Iraq. Do their voices matter?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

When the going gets tough, economists go very quiet.



They're happy to take the credit in the good times, but the disciples of this false science are hard to find as recession looms


So the Footsie has tumbled again. Forgive me for asking, but where are the economists? As the nation approaches recession, an entire profession seems to have vanished over the horizon, like conmen stuffed with cash, and thousands left destitute behind. They said recessions were over. They told politicians to leave things to them and all would be fine. Yet they failed to spot the sub-prime housing crash, and now look at the mess.
When I studied economics we were told we would be masters of the universe. Ours was not a dismal but a noble science. It had harnessed the verities of maths to those of human behaviour and would go on to conquer politics. Rampant recession would go the way of hyperinflation. Like leprosy and cholera, they were epidemics that modern medicine had rid from our shores.
It did not matter if the economists were welfare Keynesians such as Myrdal, Robinson and Galbraith or free-marketeers such as Marshall, Friedman and the Institute of Economic Affairs. All were "social scientists". They claimed to have cracked the DNA of economic exchange, to have turned the base metal of money into political gold.
We believed them. We believed the Keynesians until we slumped into stagflation. We believed light-regulation capitalists such as Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown, that they could convert boom-bust into an upward sloping plane of glory. We believed the Bank of England when it said that, in its hands, inflation was dead and prosperity eternal. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive - and an economist.
If Britain were now in the grip of bubonic plague, there would be all hell to pay from some profession or other. An "influential" Commons committee would be summoning the chief medical officer and subjecting him to the third degree. Why no national rat strategy? Why no crash inoculation? Why so many planning delays on plague pits?
The espionage pundits were likewise castigated for wrongly leading the nation to war against Iraq, for giving dud professional assessments on fallacious intelligence. The architectural profession has taken the rap (very occasionally) for the grotesque failures of public housing in the 1970s. Climate scientists may yet be damned for the costly lunacy of new energy sources, such as wind turbines and biofuels.
Yet economics is a Teflon profession. A quarter of a century ago 364 practitioners wrote a letter denouncing the policies of the then Thatcher government as having "no basis in economic theory". They were wrong in fact and wrong in judgment. Thatcher's policies laid the groundwork for a strategic shift in the underpinning of British prosperity. There was no inquiry, no hearing, no peep of retraction or remorse.
Since then economists have flooded into government; there were roughly a thousand at the last count. What do they all do? Despite reports of demoralisation in the Treasury, that department remains the home base for public sector management through financial aggregates. During the Blair/Brown era it has held government in thrall.
Economic managers have always claimed credit for the success of Brown's Treasury regime. They have espoused quantifiable outputs, targets and delivery indicators. They invented the celebrity consultant and the maxim that only what measures matters. Above all, the economics profession (and its house journal, the Economist) was ecstatic when Brown delegated monetary control to the Bank of England. This was supposed to isolate the economy from political pressure, subcontracting the regulation of interest rates and markets.
Today we are older and wiser. Controlling the agencies of credit has proved beyond the finest professional minds in the game. Where now are the effortless pundits of the Treasury and the Bank? Where now the gilded ones of Moody's and Standard & Poor's, credit raters to the mightiest in the land? They should have stuck to goose entrails.
Alan Greenspan, former chief of the US Federal Reserve Board and a Brown adviser, is unrepentant. He recently declared that "anticipating the next financial malfunction ... has not proved feasible". There is nothing so unseeing as a wronged economist. The Bank of England's apologias over Northern Rock have been protests that regulation is a mess and government indecisive.
When muck hits fan, economists always blame politicians. They would have some justice if they did not take credit when things go right. I was always uncomfortable at the overselling of economics as a science, when it is rather a branch of psychology, a study of the peculiarities of human nature. Its spurious objectivity, manifest in its ridiculous love affair with maths, induced a "Jupiter complex", a conviction that scientific certainty, applied with enough rigour to any problem, triumphs over all.
Economic management is and always will be about politics, about the clash of needs and demands resolved through the constitutional process. The delegation of interest rates to the Bank of England worked when it ran in parallel with politics, but not any more. Now that reflation seems urgent for recovery, the system is biased against common sense, yet no politician dare tell the Bank to cut rates and risk inflation.
The newest craze is "nudge" economics, from the Americans, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. They put the subject firmly among the behavioural sciences - if not the arts. Human actions are too mysterious and unpredictable to be liable to quantification and modelling. They are responsive to what the academic Paul Ormerod called "butterfly economics". Nudge steers, but does not order or plan.
This requires knowledge of the working of markets, incentives, expectations and panics. But converting micro-economics into macro has always been a dangerous game. Much has been made of the success of Spain's dirigiste banking regulators in putting security before runaway profit. But this was a triumph of politics over economics. Greenspan may laconically remark that "we can never have a perfect model of risk", but we can have alertness to risk and we can have caution.
Economics has long traded on being a science when it is not. In this it is like war. For a third of a century since the 1976 IMF crisis it has enjoyed great influence over British policy. Now it has met its Waterloo and a little humility would be in order. Once again economics must be rescued by that true master of all things, politics.

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Friday, 4 July 2008

Big Oil's Iraq deals are the greatest stick-up in history

The country's invaders should be paying billions in reparations not using the war as a reason to pillage its richest resource

Naomi Klein The Guardian,
Friday July 4, 2008

Once oil passed $140 a barrel, even the most rabidly rightwing media hosts had to prove their populist credibility by devoting a portion of every show to bashing Big Oil. Some have gone so far as to invite me on for a friendly chat about an insidious new phenomenon: "disaster capitalism." It usually goes well - until it doesn't.

For instance, "independent conservative" radio host Jerry Doyle and I were having a perfectly amiable conversation about sleazy insurance companies and inept politicians when this happened: "I think I have a quick way to bring the prices down," Doyle announced. "We've invested $650bn to liberate a nation of 25 million people, shouldn't we just demand that they give us oil? There should be tankers after tankers backed up like a traffic jam getting into the Lincoln Tunnel, the stinkin' Lincoln, at rush-hour with thank-you notes from the Iraqi government ... Why don't we just take the oil? We've invested it liberating a country. I can have the problem solved of gas prices coming down in 10 days, not 10 years."

There were a couple of problems with Doyle's plan, of course. The first was that he was describing the biggest stick-up in world history. The second that he was too late. "We" are already heisting Iraq's oil, or at least are on the brink of doing so.

It started with no-bid service contracts announced for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total (they have yet to be signed but are still on course). Paying multinationals for their technical expertise is not unusual in itself. What is odd is that such contracts almost invariably go to oil service companies - not to the oil majors, whose work is exploring, producing and owning carbon wealth. The contracts only make sense in the context of reports that the oil majors have insisted on the right of first refusal on subsequent contracts handed out to manage and produce Iraq's oilfields. In other words, other companies will be free to bid on those future contracts, but these companies will win.

One week after the no-bid service deals were announced, the world caught its first glimpse of the real prize. After years of backroom arm-twisting, Iraq is officially flinging open six of its major oilfields, accounting for half of its known reserves, to foreign investors. According to Iraq's oil minister, the long-term contracts will be signed within a year. While ostensibly under the control of the Iraq National Oil Company, foreign corporations will keep 75% of the value of the contracts, leaving just 25% for their Iraqi partners.

That kind of ratio is unheard of in oil-rich Arab and Persian states, where achieving majority national control over oil was the defining victory of anti-colonial struggles. According to Greg Muttitt, a London-based oil expert, the assumption up until now was that foreign multinationals would be brought in to develop new fields in Iraq - not to take over those which are already in production and therefore require minimal technical support. "The policy was always to allocate these fields to the Iraq National Oil Company," he told me. "This is a total reversal of that policy, giving the Iraq National Oil Company a mere 25% instead of the planned 100%."

So what makes such lousy deals possible in Iraq, which has already suffered so much? Paradoxically, it is Iraq's suffering - its never-ending crisis - that is the rationale for an arrangement that threatens to drain Iraq's treasury of its main revenue source. The logic goes like this: Iraq's oil industry needs foreign expertise because years of punishing sanctions starved it of new technology, while the invasion and continuing violence degraded it further. And Iraq needs to start producing more oil urgently. Why? Also because of the war. The country is shattered and the billions handed out in no-bid contracts to western firms have failed to rebuild it.

And that's where the new contracts come in: they will raise more money, but Iraq has become such a treacherous place that the oil majors must be induced to take the risk of investing. Thus the invasion of Iraq neatly creates the argument for its subsequent pillage.

Several of the architects of the Iraq war no longer even bother to deny that oil was a major motivator for the invasion. On US National Public Radio's To the Point, Fadhil Chalabi, one of the primary Iraqi advisers to the Bush administration in the lead-up to the invasion, recently described the war as "a strategic move on the part of the United States of America and the UK to have a military presence in the Gulf in order to secure [oil] supplies in the future". Chalabi, who served as Iraq's oil undersecretary of state and met with the oil majors before the invasion, described this as "a primary objective".

Invading countries to seize their natural resources is illegal under the Geneva conventions. That means the huge task of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure - including its oil infrastructure - is the financial responsibility of Iraq's invaders. They should be forced to pay reparations, just as Saddam Hussein's regime paid $9bn to Kuwait in reparations for its 1990 invasion. Instead, Iraq is being forced to sell 75% of its national patrimony to pay the bills for its own illegal invasion and occupation.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Markets won't correct the soaring prices that threaten our economic wellbeing. So governments must.

The world must kick its addiction to oil

Markets won't correct the soaring prices that threaten our economic wellbeing. So governments must

Anatole Kaletsky

At the time of the last energy shock in the 1970s, Sheikh Yamani, the shrewd Saudi Oil Minister, famously told his greedier Opec colleagues that they would encourage replacement of oil by other energy sources and kill the golden goose that had made them wealthy if they kept pushing the oil price too high. “Remember,” he said, “the Stone Age didn't end because the cavemen ran out of stone.”

The last three global recessions - in 1974, 1980 and 1991 - were all triggered by an oil shock and it looks as if Opec is now determined to repeat this experience. How many such shocks will it take before we control our addiction to oil? Cynics will say that all the world's oil will have to run dry before we see any decisive action in the US or China to reduce and ultimately eliminate their oil demand. But a confluence of economics, politics, diplomacy, environmentalism and finance has suddenly been created which may unexpectedly prove the cynics wrong. An oil price of $140, never mind $200 or $300, is simply too economically damaging to be tolerated much longer.

The question is no longer whether oil prices will be left to the market, but whether political interventions that override market forces will improve or worsen the situation.

The usual answer to this question is the latter, which is why Western policymakers have been reluctant to do very much so far to curb the oil price. Such, in fact, is the faith in “oil market fundamentals” expressed, for example, by Gordon Brown and the recent Treasury paper he commissioned on the oil shock that one is drawn to a surprising conclusion: the main reason for inaction in the face of the oil shock may not be the lack of political will to implement difficult decisions, such as higher petrol taxes or government guarantees for nuclear construction, but simply the ideology of market fundamentalism, expressed in such slogans as “the market is always right”.

But the market is not always right. It is usually right, but sometimes it is spectacularly wrong - as in the recent sub-prime saga. To acknowledge that governments must sometimes correct market failures is not to reject the economic lessons of the 1980s but rather to apply a proper understanding of economics.

There are three main reasons why the market cannot be trusted in the case of oil. First, there is the enormous gap between the cost of producing oil in areas where it is abundant and the cost of producing any close substitutes for this oil. Easily accessible oil in places such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria costs only a few dollars a barrel to pump once an oilfield is producing. Even including exploration expenses, the total cost of production of Opec oil is well below $10 a barrel.

However, the cost of any substitute runs to $50 or $60 a barrel, whether the Opec oil is replaced by oil from more hostile environments, such as deep-sea drilling in the Arctic, or by some other energy source such as nuclear or wind power. The gap between cheap Opec oil and any other energy source creates an enormous “rent”, beyond any normal return on capital and costs of production, which either accrues to Opec as profits or to consumers as the benefit they enjoy from an energy source cheaper than any alternative in their own economies.

This rent, currently running at around $2 trillion annually, is at the heart of the perennial struggle between oil-producing and consuming governments. Either Western governments claim most of the rent for themselves by levying high taxes on domestic oil consumers, or Opec governments pocket most of the rent, as they are doing today.

But why shouldn't this rent be distributed “fairly” or “rationally” by market forces? The answer lies in the second “market failure” inherent in the oil business - monopoly power. Because almost all of the world's readily accessible oil is concentrated in a handful of nations, they have been able to achieve almost total monopoly power through Opec. With the supply of oil controlled by a monopoly, there is nothing “efficient” about the level of prices set in the market; and the competition between producers and consumers inevitably becomes an issue of politics, rather than economics.

The rational response of Western governments to this monopoly power is to lower the cost of energy substitutes by accelerating technological advances and increasing economies of scale. This can be done by imposing very high taxes on oil consumption to guarantee high profits for producers of non-oil fuels. At the same time, such taxes can ensure that most of the rent earned from the difference between consumer prices and Opec production costs stays in Western treasuries instead of going to producer governments.

The use of tax policy to capture rents for Western governments would be particularly effective if combined with regulations designed to prevent money being poured into speculative markets for “paper oil” - which brings us to the third reason why price signals are misleading in the market for oil.

The gap between physical trading in oil and the paper markets in oil futures and oil-company shares raises all sorts of financial anomalies. One is the ramping-up of oil prices by institutional investors. Another is the strong incentive for Western oil companies to invest in oil exploration, which is inherently inefficient, when competing with low-cost state-owned producers, instead of investing in new technologies to replace oil, where Western economies have a comparative advantage over Opec.

As a result of these perverse incentives, Western energy executives invariably insist that there is no plausible alternative to oil. For example, Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon, remarked last year that he wasn't interested in biofuel research because “I don't have a lot of technology to add to moonshine”. Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, wrote a few weeks ago that “humankind remains dependent on fossil fuels” because renewable sources now account for only 2 per cent of global energy use. This is hardly surprising, since companies such as BP and Exxon have no special skills in nuclear power, wind turbines or photovoltaics, and they have strong vested interests in political and fiscal support to explore for oil in ever more difficult and hostile regions of the world. But such support cannot be economically justified since Opec will always have an unbeatable comparative advantage in producing oil.

If Western governments play their cards correctly, people such as Mr Tillerson and Mr Hayward will be proved wrong - and ironically Sheikh Yamani will eventually be proved right. The world will wean itself off oil long before the sands of Saudi Arabia run dry.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Could sex save your life?

Making love doesn't just help you feel good. It also burns calories, boosts your immune system – and can even reduce the risk of cancer

By Dan Roberts
Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Boosting self-esteem was one of the 237 reasons people have sex, according to a study conducted last year by researchers from the University of Texas and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. This is no surprise to Julia Cole, author of How to Have Great Sex for the Rest of Your Life. She is convinced that a healthy sex life with a loving partner does wonders for the way you feel about yourself. "After a bout of sex the body releases endorphins, which are known as 'happy chemicals' because they improve mood," she says. "Purely from a physical point of view it's similar to enjoying a good workout or going swimming – but if you're having sex with someone you love it also makes you feel cared for and promotes self-esteem."

The proviso, of course, is that if your sexual experiences are unhappy ones, they will have a similarly negative impact upon your psyche. But assuming the sex is good, it is thought to improve body image, as well as reducing anxiety and the incidence of psychiatric illness, depression and suicide. A 2004 study of men from four different cultures found that sexual satisfaction was directly associated with an increased frequency in sexual intercourse, as well as being inversely related to depression.

During orgasm the body produces oxytocin, which is a hormone linked to a range of positive physical and psychological effects. Chief among these is its beneficial impact on sleep. "There's no doubt that sex is relaxing and so helps tackle insomnia," says Dr David Delvin, a GP and specialist in sexual medicine. "Lots of people use sex, whether with a partner or on their own, as a way of getting to sleep. That's down to the surge in oxytocin during arousal and orgasm, which is a natural sedative."

This view is backed up by a US study carried out in 2000, which found that 32 per cent of the 1,866 female respondents who reported masturbating in the previous three months did so to help them sleep.

One of sex's main health benefits is its positive impact on how we deal with stress. In a study published in the journal Biological Psychology, 24 women and 22 men kept records of their sexual activity. The researchers subjected them to stressful situations, such as public speaking and doing verbal arithmetic. Those who had intercourse had better responses to stressful scenarios than those who had either engaged in other sexual behaviours or abstained altogether.

According to Julia Cole, this could be down to the soothing effect another person's touch has. She says: "A great deal of research has shown that touch has a naturally calming effect on human beings, whether it's linked to sex or not. Of course, being touched by someone you care about will double the calming effect."

Apart from the obviously pleasurable sensation of being touched or stroked, it is thought to have a biochemical effect, reducing the levels of cortisol – the hormone that is secreted when you're under stress.

Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, or IgA, which can protect you from colds and other sorts of infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in the US tested IgA levels in 112 college students who reported the frequency of their sexual activity. Those students in the "frequent" group had higher levels of IgA than those who were either abstinent or had sex less than once a week.

Paula Hall, a psychosexual therapist with Relate, also thinks that the impact of sex on our general wellbeing helps to boost immunity. "All the psychological benefits have an impact on your physical health, such as your immune system," she says. "We know that when you're feeling good about yourself your body fights off illness and disease better – so the healthier we are psychologically and emotionally, the healthier we are physically."

Frequent ejaculations may reduce the risk of prostate cancer for men in later life, according to a study by Australian researchers reported in the British Journal of Urology International. When they followed men diagnosed with prostate cancer and those without it, the researchers found that men who had at least five or more ejaculations weekly during their twenties reduced their risk of getting prostate cancer by a third.

"The evidence is good that men who masturbated regularly in the past are less likely to get prostate cancer," confirms Dr Delvin. "Nobody knows exactly why this is, but it does seem to be pretty cast-iron."

Research also suggests that regular sexual activity could help women to avoid breast cancer. A study conducted in 1989 examined 146 French women and found a higher risk of breast cancer in those women without sexual partner or who had sex less than once a month.

Having sex and orgasms is a key part of improving intimacy and ensuring a healthy long-term relationship – which has been linked to a longer lifespan in a number of studies. It's all down to oxytocin again. "Oxytocin, also called the 'bonding hormone', is released when women give birth, so it is part of the bonding process with their baby," says Julia Cole. "It's also released in people who are in secure or long-term relationships, as well as during sexual contact. This bonding effect is one of the reasons people continue to have a sexual relationship long after they have ceased to be fertile."

This was backed up by a study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh. They evaluated 59 premenopausal women before and after warm contact with their partners ended with hugs. The study found that the more contact the women had, the higher their oxytocin levels were.

And studies in which couples were asked to go without sex for long periods found that their general relationship declined, indicating that sex has a powerful bonding effect for couples. "There's also the slightly more indefinable feeling that you are thought to be attractive and someone your partner wants to be with and touch," adds Cole. "That's very important – often when I see couples who are in trouble they have stopped having sex, and one of them will say their partner no longer thinks of them as attractive."

Sex has been linked with a pain reduction for a wide range of conditions, including lower back pain, migraines, arthritis and premenstrual syndrome symptoms. It's all down to those hormones again. "Sex increases endorphins, the body's natural painkillers," confirms Dr Delvin. "So there is evidence that having sex eases period pain and PMS."

Oxytocin is also linked with pain relief. In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, 48 volunteers who inhaled oxytocin vapour and then had their fingers pricked reduced their sensitivity to pain by half.

In 2001, two studies of orgasms and migraine headaches in a woman and man found that orgasm resulted in pain relief. And an earlier study of 83 women who suffered from migraines reported that orgasm resulted in pain relief for more than half of the group. Although this form of pain relief is less reliable and effective than the use of drug therapies, the effects of orgasm as an analgesic are more rapid.

Sexual activity, like other forms of exercise, burns both calories and fat. Thirty minutes of energetic sex burns 85 calories or more. Although this may not sound like much, it does add up – 42 half-hour sessions will burn 3,570 calories, which is enough to lose a pound. "Sex does burn calories, so it's comparable to moderate exercise like doing the housework or going swimming," says Dr Delvin. And it is, clearly, a great deal more fun.

But there is something of a chicken-and-egg element here, because people who lead more active sex lives tend to exercise more regularly and physical exercise improves sexual health. A 1990 study that followed 78 men over a nine-month period found that with consistent aerobic exercise, participants had an increase in frequency of sexual activity, improvement in performance and an increased ability to reach a "satisfying" orgasm.

One of the most extensive studies into the relationship between sex and mortality was carried out in Caerphilly, South Wales, from 1979 to 1983, with a 10-year follow-up. In the study, 918 men were given a physical examination and asked about their frequency of orgasm. After 10 years it was found that the mortality risk was 50 per cent lower among men who had frequent orgasms – which was defined as two or more per week. The study also found that, even when adjusting for age and other risk factors, frequent intercourse was associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

"There has been a great deal of research into whether people in relationships live longer," adds Paula Hall. "We know that having a strong relationship is a good indicator of longevity – and a healthy sex life is a big part of that."