Friday, 30 September 2011

Journalist opens a Public Register of income. I wish all others follow.

A register of journalists' interests would help readers to spot astroturfing

Pieces paid for by lobby groups would become apparent if, like me, other writers opened a public registry of their interests
  • MPs expenses
    Expenses submitted by David Heathcoat-Amory MP for horse manure.
    Journalists are good are dishing it out, less good at taking it. We demand from others standards we would never dream of applying to ourselves. Tabloid newsrooms fuelled by cocaine excoriate celebrity drug-takers. Hacks who have made a lifetime's study of abusing expense accounts lambast MPs for fiddling theirs. Columnists demand accountability, but demonstrate none themselves. Should we be surprised that the public place us somewhere on the narrow spectrum between derivatives traders and sewer rats?

    No one will be shocked to discover hypocrisy among hacks, but there's also a more substantial issue here. A good deal of reporting looks almost indistinguishable from corporate press releases. Often that's because it is corporate press releases, mindlessly recycled by overstretched staff: a process Nick Davies has christened churnalism. Or it could be because the reporters work for people who see themselves, as Max Hastings said of his employer Conrad Black, as "members of the rich men's trade union", whose mission is to defend the proprietorial class to which they belong.

    But there are sometimes other influences at play, which are even less visible to the public. From time to time a payola scandal surfaces, in which journalists are shown to have received money from people whose interests they write or talk about. For example, two columnists in the US, Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara, were exposed for taking undisclosed payments from the disgraced corporate lobbyist Jack Abramoff. On top of the payments he received from the newspapers he worked for, Bandow was given $2,000 for every column he wrote which favoured Abramoff's clients.

    Armstrong Williams, a TV host, secretly signed a $240,000 contract with George W Bush's Department of Education to promote Bush's education bill and ensure that the education secretary was offered slots on his programme. In the UK, a leaked email revealed that Professor Roger Scruton, a columnist for the Financial Times and a contributor to other newspapers, was being paid £4,500 a month by Japan Tobacco International to write on "major topics of current concern" to the industry.

    These revelations were accidental. For all we know, such deals could be commonplace. While journalists are not subject to the accountability they demand of others, their powerful position – helping to shape public opinion – is wide open to abuse.

    The question of who pays for public advocacy has become an obsession of mine. I've seen how groups purporting to be spontaneous gatherings of grassroots activists, fighting the regulation of tobacco or demanding that governments should take no action on climate change, have in fact been created and paid for by corporations: a practice known as astroturfing. I've asked the bodies which call themselves free-market thinktanks, yet spend much of their time promoting corporate talking-points, to tell me who funds them. All but one have refused.

    But if I'm to subject other people to this scrutiny, I should also be prepared to expose myself to it. So I have done something which might be foolhardy, but which I feel is necessary: I've opened a registry of my interests on my website, in which I will detail all the payments, gifts and hospitality (except from family and friends) I receive, as well as the investments I've made. I hope it will encourage other journalists to do the same. In fact I urge you, their readers, to demand it of them.

    Like many British people, I feel embarrassed talking about money, and publishing the amounts I receive from the Guardian and other employers makes me feel naked. I fear I will be attacked by some people for earning so much and mocked by others for earning so little. Even so, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why it didn't occur to me to do this before.

    A voluntary register is a small step towards transparency. What I would really like to see is a mandatory list of journalists' financial interests, similar to the House of Commons registry. I believe that everyone who steps into public life should be obliged to show who is paying them, and how much. Publishing this register could be one of the duties of whatever replaces the discredited Press Complaints Commission.

    Journalists would still wield influence without responsibility. That's written into the job description. But at least we would then have some idea of whether it's the organ-grinder talking or his monkey.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Should government reward 'good' businesses?

By Robert Peston on the BBC
A happier, more cohesive society would be filled with businesses that offer rich and fulfilling employment, don't pollute, don't impose big risks on taxpayers, pay taxes that more than cover their net drain on social resources, train the younger generation for life in an uncertain economic world, and so on.

It's a lovely ideal that the market hasn't delivered, because the market doesn't always reward those businesses that do good things, or penalise businesses that do bad things.

To put it in highfalutin' economic terms, there are plenty of externalities generated by companies: these are the various impacts that companies have on society and the economy that aren't captured by the pricing mechanism.

That is one reason why we have government, to deal with those externalities. Right now, for example, the current government is amending the tax system to impose bigger penalties on large emitters of carbon dioxide. And it has already imposed a special levy on banks, because of its view that the financial risks taken by banks impose a potential cost on taxpayers, for which the banks have not been paying.

These judgements about the good and bad that companies do are never simple to make or uncontroversial. Think about the threats that heavy energy users and banks have been making about jobs going abroad if the special tax burdens they face aren't lifted.

In recent times, governments have tended to penalise negative externalities - like pollution - while ignoring positive externalities. And the reason is largely to do with history: providing state rewards for businesses that are deemed to be good is felt to be uncomfortably close to the failed industrial policies of the 1960s and 1970s of picking so-called winners.

So should government play a more active role in rewarding the good that companies do, while also imposing new penalties on a wider number of bad effects?

The Labour leader appears to think so. Here is an extract from the official briefing notes for the speech he is to make later today at his party's annual conference:

"Ed Miliband will call for radical changes in the way businesses are rewarded to create a something for something deal in our economy.

"He will challenge the idea that all businesses are the same and will call for rewards and incentives linked to the long-term value they create and the wealth they build.

"He will say businesses which secure governments contracts will be required to offer young people apprenticeships. And he will open up the prospect of major reforms to the tax and regulation system to create incentives for companies that make a wider contribution to the economy, e.g. through long-term investment or building skills."

In concrete terms, what he means is "Rolls-Royce good, Southern Cross bad".

He wants to support companies that win large export orders, collaborate with universities to develop valuable intellectual property and provide highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Britain (like Rolls). And he wants to penalise those that place big financial bets, where the winnings (if any) are restricted to a few well-heeled owners, and losses fall on innocent bystanders.

Which is all very well, except that it is hard to create general rules that define all the good businesses and all the bad businesses in a fair and accurate way.

For example, even if a Labour government wished to discriminate against businesses owned by private equity, on the basis that it believed they were more likely to invest too little in training and R&D, that would not necessarily have spared the residents of Southern Cross's care homes from heartache and anxiety - because it was listed on the stock market at the time that it collapsed.

What is more, not all private equity businesses take the kind of extreme financial risks that Southern Cross took when it was owned by private equity. And if your bugbear happens to be another species of debt-financed institution, the hedge funds, don't forget that some of them have been more effective than regulators at spotting dangerous bubbles in markets.

Also, judgements about the merits of businesses and business leaders are subject to change. So for example I understand that in an early version of his speech, Ed Miliband was going to say that it was wrong of the last Labour government to reward Sir Fred Goodwin - widely seen as responsible for the calamitous near-failure of Royal Bank of Scotland - with a knighthood (he may yet say this).

But this is to forget that until Royal Bank of Scotland became obsessed with growing bigger and bigger from 2005 or so and onwards, Goodwin was widely seen as one of the more talented British business leaders - who had overseen a highly effective and long overdue modernisation of NatWest's systems and network.

Which is why Mr Miliband will - I am sure - resist the temptation to argue that ministers should reward or punish companies, with special grants or exceptional taxes, on a case by case basis.

That would almost certainly be the road to industrial desertification and corruption.

Does that mean there is nothing government can do to encourage sustainable long term wealth creation?

Well, there is evidence that the tax rewards accruing to debt finance have encouraged banks, property companies, hedge funds and private-equity businesses to take dangerous risks, while discouraging long-term investment as opposed to short-term asset trading, and also shrinking tax revenues paid by the corporate and financial sectors.

This was an argument that George Osborne, the chancellor, took seriously in opposition, but seems to have subsequently discarded - although the Independent Commission on Banking recently flagged up the tax advantages of so-called leverage or borrowing as a contributor to the lethal explosion in the growth of banks' balance sheets relative to their capital resources.

So finding a way to enhance the rewards of equity-financed investment, and reduce the rewards of debt-financed investment, could go some way to reducing the most toxic of externalities afflicting our economy - namely an urge to borrow that has foisted record debts on the British economy and hobbled its ability to grow.

Difference between Westerners and Asians


Key:     Blue --> Westerners       Red --> Asians

(1) Opinion

Westerners: Talk to the point

Asians: Talk around the circle, especially if opinions are different

(2) Way of Life

Westerners: individualism, think of himself or herself.

Asians: enjoy gathering with family and friends, solving their problems, and know each others' business.

(3) Punctuality

Westerners: on time.

Asians: in time.

(4) Contacts

Westerners: Contact to related person only
Asians: Contact everyone everywhere, business very successful.

(5) Anger

Show that I am angry.
Asians: I am angry, but still smiling... (Beware!)

(6) Queue when Waiting

Westerners: Queuing in an orderly manner
Asians: Queuing?! What's that?

(7) Sundays on the Road

Westerners: Enjoy weekend relaxing peacefully.

Asians: Enjoy weekend in crowded places, like going to the mall.

(8) Party

Westerners: Only gather with their own group.

Asians: All focus on the one activity that is hosted by the CEO.

(9) In the restaurant

Westerners: Talk softly and gently in the restaurant.

Asians: Talk and laugh loudly like they own the restaurant.

(10) Traveling

Westerners: Love sightseeing and enjoy the scenery.

Asians: Taking picture is the most important, scenery is just for the background.

(11) Handling of Problems

Westerners: Take any steps to solve the problems.

Asians: Try to avoid conflicts, and if can, don't leave any trail.

(12) Three meals a day

Westerners: Good meal for once a day is sufficed.

Asians: At least 3 good meals a day.

(13) Transportation

Westerners: Before drove cars, now cycling for environmental protection.

Asians: Before no money and rode a bike, now got money and drive a car.

(14) Elderly in day-to-day life

Westerners: When old, there is snoopy for companionship.

Asians: When old, guarantee will not be lonely, as long as willing to babysit grand kids.

(15) Moods and Weather

Westerners: The logic is
: rain is pain.
Asians: More rain, more prosperity.

(16) The Boss

Westerners: The boss is part of the team.

Asians: The boss is a fierce god.

(17) What's Trendy

Westerners: Eat healthy Asian cuisine.

Asians: Eat expensive Western cuisine.

(18) The Child

Westerners: The kid is going to be independent and make his/her own living.

Asians: Slog whole life for the kids, the center of your life.



The trader who lifted the lid on what the City really thinks

One man reveals how economic disaster would let him and his colleagues profit 

By Tom Peck
Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The world may be teetering again on the precipice of economic disaster but those with any investment in the popularity of Alessio Rastani, a hitherto unknown "independent trader", had a worse day than most after his memorable appearance on television yesterday morning.

"I have a confession, I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession, I dream of another moment like this," he told dumbstruck BBC News presenter Martine Croxall, when asked if the proposed eurozone bailout would work.

The interviewer thanked the trader for his candour but told him that "jaws had dropped" around the BBC newsroom while they listened to his answers shortly after 11am.

"I'm a trader," he said. "We don't really care whether they're going to fix the economy, our job is to make money from it.

"The 1930s depression wasn't just about a market crash," he added. "There were some people who were prepared to make money from that crash. I think anyone can do that. It's an opportunity."

The three-minute clip quickly spread online, provoking outrage. In the interview, Mr Rastani went on to advise "everyone watching this" that, "This economic crisis is like a cancer, if you just wait and wait hoping it is going to go away, just like a cancer it is going to grow and it will be too late."

He said it was "wishful thinking" to believe that governments could prevent another recession.

On his Twitter profile Mr Rastani describes himself as an "experienced Stock Market and Forex trader" who is "dedicated to helping others succeed".

Some were as quick to praise him as others were to damn him. Comments on his Facebook page included: "Great interview" and "talk about the truth," while others described Mr Rastani as a hero.

The current crisis bears considerable similarity to that which engulfed the world in 2008, though thus far it lacks the talismanic hate figure generously provided in the form of the former RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin. The slick-haired, pink-tied and American-accented Mr Rastani may yet fill the void.

Quite how much he personally stands to gain should the financial world collapse again is unclear. The profile on his website, Leadingtrader. com, would suggest he is more reliant on "professional speaking" than his wizardry in the money markets to keep in him in hair gel. But after his performance yesterday it may just be that, like the eurozone, that particular sideline is beyond salvation.

"My belief is that anyone who wants to improve their income and achieve success in life, cannot afford to ignore learning how to trade," he says.

"Based on Alessio's sound advice, I pulled my money out of the markets just before the 2008 stock market crash. He saved me a fortune, not to mention my pension!" claims a client named as Maurice E.

Though Twitter users were quick to pick up on Mr Rastani's outburst, his dire forecast went mysteriously unnoticed by the wider financial markets. Shares in French and German banks rose by as much as 10 per cent, as traders analysed a proposed three trillion euro (£2.6 trillion) rescue package for the single currency.

AQA - Exam board to penalise private school pupils

By Richard Garner, Education Editor in The Independent
Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A controversial plan to rank all A-level students according to the schools they attend – which would allow universities to discriminate against pupils from private schools – is unveiled today by Britain's biggest exam board.

The radical proposal would allow universities to offer places to students from disadvantaged homes who showed potential but had performed less well in exams than their peers at better schools.

The plan by the exam board AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) provoked a storm of argument among academics and independent schools. There were immediate fears that candidates will be penalised simply because they achieve good A-level results at a good school. Independent schools are also alarmed that the approach could discriminate against disadvantaged pupils to whom they have offered scholarships.
Dr Tim Hands, headmaster of Magdalen College, Oxford, and co-chairman of the Independent Schools' Universities Committee, said: "It is extraordinary. It takes no account of home background or the amount of tutoring a pupil could have."

Professor Alan Smithers, head of the Centre for Education and Employment Studies at the University of Buckingham, added: "There must be concerns about the ranking the candidates are awarded. The possibility for errors is enormous." The plan is contained in a paper prepared for discussion by Dr Neil Stringer, senior research associate at the AQA Centre for Education Research and Policy, and being circulated at the party conferences for debate this month.

It advocates the drawing up of a national system for ranking both candidates’ achievements and the educational context in which they were taught.

Pupils at weak schools would get bonus points; those at elite schools could be penalised in comparison.
Dr Stringer cites the example of St George’s Medical School in London in support of his argument. It offers places to students with lower A-level grades (BBC rather than AAB) providing that their performance is 60 per cent better than the average for their school.

“St George’s reports that students from poorly performing schools who are accepted into medical school with lower grades do just as well as their peers with higher grades,” he adds.

“This strongly suggests that students admitted through the adjusted criteria scheme learned enough at A-level and are able enough learners to compete successfully with students who achieved higher A-level grades under more favourable.”

Under the blueprint he has devised, students would be awarded an exam score based on their best three A-level grades and then placed into different performance bands. They would then be given the ranking for their school.

Dr Stringer says the system could either be offered to universities individually – or drawn up centrally by an existing agency like Ucas, which is currently reviewing its A-level system.

The AQA believes it can be an an alternative to allowing students to apply to university after they have got their results – rather than be awarded places on predicted grades. This plan, under active consideration from ministers and said by some to be fairer towards disadvantaged students, has failed so far to get off the ground largely because of opposition from universities.

Professor Smithers added: “I would hope that any university worth its salt would look at the candidates’ achievement and inform their own view as to their potential.”

Dr Hands added: “Cambridge University, which features at the top of many a global league table, has recently published research that shows prior schooling is of insignificant effect with regard to degree outcome.

“The proposer of this scheme might like to bear this in mind.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents the majority of state secondary school heads, described it as “a step too far”. He said it should not detract from the need to provide all pupils with a good education in a good school.

Lee Elliott Major, of the education charity the Sutton Trust, which campaigns to get more disadvantaged young people into leading universities, said: “We support the use of so called contextual information when judging students’ potential and achievement.”

However, he added that the “bigger challenges” were in getting “more children with the grades at school to make university a realistic prospect and encouraging pupils to actually apply when they have the grades”.
Dr Stringer stresses in his paper: “The proposed system would not encourage or require universities to relinquish control of their admissions systems. It is not an issue of allocating students to universities on the basis of their respective rankings: admissions tutors would be free to make decisions.”

The AQA said the scheme could be considered as an alternative to Post Qualification Application – allowing students to apply to university after getting their results.

That, argued Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, would lead to a shorter teaching year if exams were brought forward.

“We have real concerns about the effect this could have on the performance of some students,” he added.
“So our Centre for Education Research and Policy have devised a different way to tackle the issue that doesn’t disadvantage any student and allows all applicants – from whatever their school type or background – to compete fairly for university places.”

* Meanwhile, plans to mark GCSE students on their spelling and punctuation and scrap most resits were published by Ofqual, the exam standards watchdog, yesterday.

It has launched a consultation on the proposals which would see teenagers – from 2012 – having to sit all their exams in the summer at the end of two-year courses rather than sit modules throughout the course.

They would also only be allowed to resit English and maths.

The reforms were first announced by Education secretary Michael Gove earlier this summer.

How the new system would work

Under the new system, a pupil at a weak school who got a lower grade than a rival pupil at a good school could still be given more university entrance points, writes Richard Garner.

The blueprint would work like this. James goes to a low-performing comprehensive in a disadvantaged area. He manages to get an exam score of 36 out of 40. However, he is entitled to bonus points as a result of his school's low ranking (it scores minus three in the rankings).

Adam, on the other hand, goes to a top performing independent school with no pupils on free school meals and got 38 for his exams. But he faces being penalised on his school's ranking (the school is given a "plus three" ranking).

It would, of course, be up to the individual university to decide what to do with this information but one way of using it will be to add three points to James's exam score because of the background he comes from and deduct three points from Adam. On that basis, the place would go to James.

The argument in the paper is that there are still vastly more points awarded for exam performance than education context and it is unlikely that any university would be as crude as to deduct the maximum ranking points from Adam and give the maximum three extra to James.

However, what is likely is that both Adam and James would be longlisted - something that would not have happened to James without the ranking system. Then James's potential would outweigh Adam's performance.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Global finance has dysfunction at its heart

Sound fiscal policy alone won't solve this debt crisis. We need structural reform of the entire financial system

  • The world economy is in turmoil again. We have seen two weeks of near-universal falls in major stock markets, prompted by the spread of the eurozone crisis to Spain and Italy, the phony fiscal crisis in the US manufactured by the Republicans, and the economic slowdown around the world. The first ever downgrading of the US debt by Standard & Poor's last weekend has certainly added to the drama of the unfolding events.

    The debate focuses on how budget deficits should be controlled, with the dominant view saying that they need to be cut quickly and mainly through reduction in welfare spending, while its critics argue for further short-term fiscal stimuli and longer-term deficit reduction relying more on tax increases.

    While this debate is crucial, it should not distract us from the urgent need to reform our financial system, whose dysfunctionality lies at the heart of this crisis. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of the rating agencies, whose incompetence and cynicism have become evident following the 2008 crisis, if not before. Despite this, we have done nothing about them, and as a result we are facing absurdities today – European periphery countries have to radically rewrite social contracts at the dictates of these agencies, rather than through democratic debates, while the downgrading of US treasuries has increased the demands for them as "safe haven" products.

    Was this inevitable? Hardly. We could have created a public rating agency (a UN agency funded by member states?) that does not charge for its service and thus can be more objective, thereby providing an effective competition to the current oligopoly of Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch. If the regulators had decided to become less reliant on their ratings in assessing the soundness of financial institutions, we would have weakened their undue influence. For the prevention of future financial crises we should have demanded greater transparency from the rating agencies – while changing their fee structure, in which they are paid by those firms that want to have their financial products rated. But these options weren't seriously contemplated.

    Another example of financial reforms whose neglect comes back to haunt us is the introduction of internationally agreed rules on sovereign bankruptcy. In resolving the European sovereign debt crises, one of the greatest obstacles has been the refusal by bondholders to bear any burden of adjustments, talking as if such a proposal goes against the basic rules of capitalism. However, the principle that the creditor, as well as the debtor, pays for the consequences of an unsuccessful loan is already in full operation at another level in all capitalist economies.

    When companies go bankrupt, creditors also have to take a hit – by providing debt standstill, writing off some debts, extending their maturities, or reducing the interest rates charged. The proposal to introduce the same principle to deal with sovereign bankruptcy has been around at least since the days of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. However, this issue was tossed aside because the rich country governments, under the influence of their financial lobbies, would not have it.

    There are other financial reforms whose absence has not yet come back to haunt us in a major way but will do so in the future. The most important of these is the regulation of complex financial products. Despite the widespread agreement that these are what have made the current crisis so large and intractable, we have done practically nothing to regulate them. The usual refrain is that these products are too complicated to regulate. But then why not simply ban products whose safety cannot be convincingly demonstrated, as we do with drugs?

    Nothing has been done to regulate tax havens, which not only depriven governments of tax revenues but also make financial regulations more difficult. Once again, we could have eliminated or significantly weakened tax havens by simply declaring that all transactions with companies registered in countries/territories that do not meet the minimum regulatory standards are illegal.

    And what have we done to change the perverse incentive structure in the financial industry, which has encouraged excessive risk-taking? Practically nothing, except for a feeble bonus tax in the UK.
    A correct fiscal policy by itself cannot tackle the structural problems that have brought about the current crisis. It can only create the space in which we make the real reforms, especially financial reform. Without such a reform we will not overcome this crisis satisfactorily nor avoid similar, and possibly even bigger, crises in the future.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A President who is helpless in the face of Middle East reality

Robert Fisk in The Independent:

Obama's UN speech insists Israelis and Palestinians are equal parties to conflict
Friday, 23 September 2011

Today should be Mahmoud Abbas's finest hour. Even The New York Times has discovered that "a grey man of grey suits and sensible shoes, may be slowly emerging from his shadow".

But this is nonsense. The colourless leader of the Palestinian Authority, who wrote a 600-page book on his people's conflict with Israel without once mentioning the word "occupation", should have no trouble this evening in besting Barack Hussein Obama's pathetic, humiliating UN speech on Wednesday in which he handed US policy in the Middle East over to Israel's gimmick government.

For the American President who called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, an end to the theft of Arab land in the West Bank – Israeli "settlements" is what he used to call it – and a Palestinian state by 2011, Obama's performance was pathetic.

As usual, Hanan Ashrawi, the only eloquent Palestinian voice in New York this week, got it right. "I couldn't believe what I heard," she told Haaretz, that finest of Israeli newspapers. "It sounded as though the Palestinians were the ones occupying Israel. There wasn't one word of empathy for the Palestinians. He spoke only of the Israelis' troubles..." Too true. And as usual, the sanest Israeli journalists, in their outspoken condemnation of Obama, proved that the princes of American journalists were cowards. "The limp, unimaginative speech that US President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations... reflects how helpless the American President is in the face of Middle East realities," Yael Sternhell wrote.

And as the days go by, and we discover whether the Palestinians respond to Obama's grovelling performance with a third intifada or with a shrug of weary recognition that this is how things always were, the facts will continue to prove that the US administration remains a tool of Israel when it comes to Israel's refusal to give the Palestinians a state.

How come, let's ask, that the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, flew from Tel Aviv to New York for the statehood debate on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's own aircraft? How come Netanyahu was too busy chatting to the Colombian President to listen to Obama's speech? He only glanced through the Palestinian bit of the text when he was live-time, face to face with the American President. This wasn't "chutzpah". This was insult, pure and simple.

And Obama deserved it. After praising the Arab Spring/Summer/ Autumn, whatever – yet again running through the individual acts of courage of Arab Tunisians and Egyptians as if he had been behind the Arab Awakening all along, the man dared to give the Palestinians 10 minutes of his time, slapping them in the face for daring to demand statehood from the UN. Obama even – and this was the funniest part of his preposterous address to the UN – suggested that the Palestinians and Israelis were two equal "parties" to the conflict.

A Martian listening to this speech would think, as Ms Ashrawi suggested, that the Palestinians were occupying Israel rather than the other way round. No mention of Israeli occupation, no mention of refugees, or the right of return or of the theft of Arab Palestinian land by the Israeli government against all international law. But plenty of laments for the besieged people of Israel, rockets fired at their houses, suicide bombs – Palestinian sins, of course, but no reference to the carnage of Gaza, the massive death toll of Palestinians – and even the historical persecution of the Jewish people and the Holocaust.

That persecution is a fact of history. So is the evil of the Holocaust. But THE PALESTINIANS DID NOT COMMIT THESE ACTS. It was the Europeans – whose help in denying Palestinian statehood Obama is now seeking – who committed this crime of crimes. So we were then back to the "equal parties", as if the Israeli occupiers and the occupied Palestinians were on a level playing ground.

Madeleine Albright used to adopt this awful lie. "It's up to the parties themselves," she would say, washing her hands, Pilate-like, of the whole business the moment Israel threatened to call out its supporters in America. Heaven knows if Mahmoud Abbas can produce a 1940 speech at the UN today. But at least we all know who the appeaser is.

Monday, 19 September 2011

We know that to understand politics and the peddling of influence we must follow the money. So it’s remarkable that the question of who funds the thinktanks has so seldom been asked.

Nadine Dorries won’t answer it. Lord Lawson won’t answer it. Michael Gove won’t answer it. But it’s a simple question, and if they don’t know it’s because they don’t want to. Where does the money come from? All are connected to groups whose purpose is to change the direction of public life. None will reveal who funds them.

When she attempted to restrict abortion counselling, Nadine Dorries MP was supported by a group called Right to Know. When other MPs asked her who funds it, she claimed she didn’t know(1,2). Lord Lawson is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which casts doubt on climate science. It demands “openness and transparency” from scientists(3). Yet he refuses to say who pays, on the grounds that the donors “do not wish to be publicly engaged in controversy.”(4) Michael Gove was chairman of Policy Exchange, an influential conservative thinktank. When I asked who funded Policy Exchange when he ran it, his office told me “he doesn’t have that information and he won’t be able to help you.”(5)

We know that to understand politics and the peddling of influence we must follow the money. So it’s remarkable that the question of who funds the thinktanks has so seldom been asked.

There are dozens of groups in the UK which call themselves free market or conservative thinktanks, but they have a remarkably consistent agenda. They tend to oppose the laws which protect us from banks and corporations; to demand the privatisation of state assets; to argue that the rich should pay less tax; and to pour scorn on global warming. What the thinktanks call free market economics looks more like a programme for corporate power.

Some of them have a turnover of several million pounds a year, but in most cases that’s about all we know. In the US, groups claiming to be free market thinktanks have been exposed as sophisticated corporate lobbying outfits, acting in concert to promote the views of the people who fund them. In previous columns, I’ve shown how such groups, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, built and directed the Tea Party movement(6,7).

The Kochs and the oil company Exxon have also funded a swarm of thinktanks which, by coincidence, all spontaneously decided that manmade climate change is a myth(8,9). A study in the journal Environmental Politics found that such groups, funded by economic elites and working through the media, have been “central to the reversal of US support for environmental protection, both domestically and internationally.”(10)

Jeff Judson, who has worked for 26 years as a corporate lobbyist in the US, has explained why thinktanks are more effective than other public relations agencies. They are, he says, “the source of many of the ideas and facts that appear in countless editorials, news articles, and syndicated columns.”(11) They have “considerable influence and close personal relationships with elected officials”. They “support and encourage one another, echo and amplify their messages, and can pull together … coalitions on the most important public policy issues.” Crucially, they are “virtually immune to retribution … the identity of donors to think tanks is protected from involuntary disclosure.”(12)

The harder you stare at them, the more they look like lobby groups working for big business without disclosing their interests. Yet throughout the media they are treated as independent sources of expertise. The BBC is particularly culpable. Even when the corporate funding of its contributors has been exposed by human rights or environmental groups, it still allows them to masquerade as unbiased commentators, without disclosing their interests.

For the sake of democracy, we should know who funds the organisations which call themselves thinktanks. To this end I contacted 15 groups. Eleven of them could be described as free market or conservative; four as progressive. I asked them all a simple question: “Could you give me the names of your major donors and the amount they contributed in the last financial year?”. I gave their answers a score out of five for transparency and accountability.

Three of the groups I contacted – Right to Know, the International Policy Network and Nurses for Reform – did not answer my calls or emails. Six others refused to give me any useful information. They are the Institute of Economic Affairs, Policy Exchange, the Adam Smith Institute, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the Christian Medical Fellowship. They produced similar excuses, mostly concerning the need to protect the privacy of their donors. My view is that if you pay for influence, you should be accountable for it. Nul points.

Civitas did fractionally better, scoring 1. Its website names a small number of the donors to its schools(13), but it would not reveal the amount they had given or the identity of anyone else. The only rightwing thinktank that did well was Reform, which sent me a list of its biggest corporate donors: Lloyds (£50k), Novo Nordisk (£48k), Sky (£42k), General Electric (£41k) and Danone (£40k). Reform lists its other corporate sponsors in its annual review(14), and earns 4 points. If they can do it, why can’t the others?

The progressives were more accountable. Among them, Demos did least well. It sent me a list of its sponsors, but refused to reveal how much they gave. It scores 2.5. The Institute for Public Policy Research listed its donors and, after some stumbling, was able to identify the biggest of them: the European Union (a grant of E800,000) and the Esmee Fairburn Foundation(£86k). It scores 3.5. The New Economics Foundation sent me a list of all its donors and the amount each gave over the past year, earning 4 points. The biggest funders are the Network for Social Change (£173k), the department of health (£124k) and the Aim Foundation (£100k). Compass had already published a full list in its annual report(15). The biggest source by far is the Communication Workers’ Union, which gave it £78k in 2009. Compass gets 5 out of 5.

The picture we see, with the striking exception of Reform, is of secrecy among the rightwing groups, creating a powerful impression that they have something to hide. Shockingly, this absence of accountability – and the influence-peddling it doubtless obscures – does not affect their charitable status.

The funding of these groups should not be a matter of voluntary disclosure. As someone remarked in February 2010, “secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics … it’s time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country and forced our politics to come clean about who is buying power and influence.”(16) Who was this leftwing firebrand? One David Cameron.

I charge that the groups which call themselves free market thinktanks are nothing of the kind. They are public relations agencies, secretly lobbying for the corporations and multi-millionaires who finance them. If they wish to refute this claim, they should disclose their funding. Until then, whenever you hear the term free market thinktank, think of a tank, crushing democracy, driven by big business.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The biblical foundation for a celibate priesthood is flimsy, and now cracks are beginning to show in the Catholic church's ban on marriage for those in holy orders

The troubled history of priests, sex and the church may be at a turning point

  • In a new autobiography published this week, Father Edward Daly, former bishop of Derry and the handkerchief-waving priest of the famous Bloody Sunday photograph, has called for an end to the celibacy rule for Catholic priests. Pointing to the severe decline in numbers of serving clergy (while the worldwide Catholic population has almost doubled since 1970, the number of priests has remained virtually static), Daly believes crisis could be averted by allowing priests to marry. Many see clerical celibacy as fundamental to the church, but in fact it is a religious tradition rather than a strict scriptural prohibition, and it has been far from universally observed throughout its history.

    The biblical foundation for a celibate priesthood is flimsy. While Saint Paul recommended celibacy, he thought anyone who cannot "contain themselves" should marry, "for it is better to marry than to be burnt" (1 Corinthians 7:9). Further, the Gospels spoke of apostles who were married, with no hindrance to their ministry. But the model of Christ's own celibacy (emulated by the priest acting "in persona Christi") marked it out as a higher calling, and ultimately an unmarried priest would be more committed to his religious duties, his celibacy giving him the "power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment" (1 Corinthians 7:35).

    The first official attempt to impose celibacy on those in holy orders was made at the Council of Elvira (c 306), and efforts to enforce it followed throughout the middle ages. But how it played out in practice varied enormously, and stories of married clergy and fornicating popes abounded. Pope John XII was accused by a 10th-century synod of having "fornicated with the widow of Rainier, with Stephana his father's concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece, and he made the sacred palace into a whorehouse".

    Unperturbed by such examples, the First and Second Lateran Councils in the 12th century decreed that clerical marriages were invalid, but Thomas Aquinas asserted a century later that this was not the decree of God, but merely church law, reversible by papal or conciliar authority. Indeed, in the middle ages the prohibition of marriage had less to do with spiritual concerns than the conservation of church property. Married priests meant legitimate heirs and the loss of church assets through inheritances – something that couldn't be countenanced.

    The 16th-century Council of Trent confirmed the celibacy rule (just as the Church of England was abolishing it), but it was only in the 20th century that priestly celibacy, along with all matters of sexual morality, became an obsession for the church hierarchy. Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, reaffirming the fundamental value of celibacy as allowing "a closer and more complete relationship with the mystery of Christ and the Church for the good of all mankind".

    Yet the encyclical also permitted the possibility of married clergy from other Christian traditions being ordained as Catholic priests, and cracks began to show in the edifice. Although Pope Benedict rejected the idea of married priests in 2006, he has since taken up Paul VI's baton by allowing defecting married Anglican ministers to enter the church.

    The absolute prohibition on married Catholic priests has gone, and with suggestions (of debatable credibility) of a link between the church's child abuse crisis and celibacy, last year's plaintive call for the abolition of the rule from Italian women romantically involved with priests, and the proliferation of groups advocating a married priesthood, a new chapter in the troubled history of priests, sex and the church may be opening.

Why the Pope must face justice at The Hague

We survivors of clergy sex abuse have brought our evidence to the ICC so that the Vatican might finally account for its cover-up
  • Members of SNAP, including Barbara Blaine, protest at the ICC in The Hague about clergy sex abuse
    Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), including Barbara Blaine (third from right), at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, 13 September 2011. Photograph: Rob Keeris/AP

    When it comes to holding the Catholic Church accountable for sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, all roads lead to Rome. That is what my organisation, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), concluded after years of seeking justice in other venues and being turned away.

    On 13 September, we travelled to the Hague to file an 84-page complaint and over 20,000 pages of supporting materials with the International Criminal Court, documenting our charge that the Pope and Vatican officials have tolerated and enabled the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world.

    Holding childhood photographs that tell a wrenching story of innocence and faith betrayed, and joined by our attorneys from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, we stood up and demanded the justice that has so long been denied. The New York Times called the filing "the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests".

    No doubt, many people of faith are shocked that we would accuse a world church leader of crimes against humanity – a man considered by many to be infallible. But the man who is infallible must also be accountable.

    By the Vatican's own account, "only" about 1.5-5% of Catholic clergy have been involved in sexual violence against children. With a reported 410,593 priests worldwide as of 2009, that means the number of offending priests would range from 6,158 to 20,529. Considering that many offenders have multiple victims, the number of children at risk is likely in the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands.

    We believe the thousands of pages of evidence we filed this week will substantiate our allegations that an operation has been put in place not only to hide the widespread sexual violence by priests in all parts of the world, but also to obstruct investigation, remove suspects out of criminal jurisdictions and do everything possible to silence victims, discredit whistleblowers, intimidate witnesses, stonewall prosecutors and keep a tighter lid than ever on clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. The result of this systematic effort is that, despite a flood of well-publicised cases, many thousands of children remain vulnerable to abuse.

    While many pedophile priests have been suspended in recent years, few have been criminally charged and even fewer defrocked. Worse, no one who ignored, concealed or enabled these predators has suffered any consequences. At the head of this hierarchy of denial and secrecy is the Pope, who has served as an enabler of these men. We believe the Vatican must face investigation to determine whether these incidences have been knowingly concealed and clergymen deliberately protected when their crimes have come to light.

    I know this story well, because I was sexually abused by a parish priest, from my time in junior high school until graduation. Because of the shame and trauma, several years passed before I was able to tell anyone. By that time, it was too late to file criminal charges. Church officials refused to restrict that priest's access to children or take action against him for several more years, despite other victims coming forward.

    Indeed, powerful factors prevent all but the most assertive, healthy and lucky victims from seeking justice. Many others succumb to drugs, anorexia, depression or suicide when the pain of innocence betrayed becomes too much to bear. A recent investigation in Australia revealed a case in which 26 among the numerous victims of a particular priest had committed suicide.

    For the safety of children and the prevention of yet more heinous wrongdoing, the International Criminal Court may be the only real hope. What other institution could possibly bring prosecutorial scrutiny to bear on the largest private institution on the planet?

    Our journey for justice has been a long one, and it's not over yet. But we know where it must end: with justice at The Hague.

Learning From China: Why The Existing Economic Model Will Fail

By Lester Brown
16 September, 2011
Earth Policy Institute

For almost as long as I can remember we have been saying that the United States, with 5 percent of the world’s people, consumes a third or more of the earth’s resources. That was true. It is no longer true. Today China consumes more basic resources than the United States does.

Among the key commodities such as grain, meat, oil, coal, and steel, China consumes more of each than the United States except for oil, where the United States still has a wide (though narrowing) lead. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.
These numbers reflect national consumption, but what would happen if consumption per person in China were to catch up to that of the United States? If we assume conservatively that China’s economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent, then in 2035 income per person in China will reach the current U.S. level.
If we also assume that the Chinese will spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then we can translate their income into consumption. If, for example, each person in China consumes paper at the current American rate, then in 2035 China’s 1.38 billion people will use four fifths as much paper as is produced worldwide today. There go the world’s forests.
If Chinese grain consumption per person in 2035 were to equal the current U.S. level, China would need 1.5 billion tons of grain, nearly 70 percent of the 2.2 billion tons the world’s farmers now harvest each year.
If we assume that in 2035 there are three cars for every four people in China, as there now are in the United States, China will have 1.1 billion cars. The entire world currently has just over one billion. To provide the needed roads, highways, and parking lots, China would have to pave an area equivalent to more than two thirds the land it currently has in rice.
By 2035 China would need 85 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 86 million barrels a day and may never produce much more than that. There go the world’s oil reserves.
What China is teaching us is that the western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy—will not work for the world. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2035 is projected to have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.” And in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same grain, oil, and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy—one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. But can we muster the political will to translate this potential into reality?

Lester Brown is an United States environmentalist, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. BBC Radio commentator Peter Day calls him "one of the great pioneer environmentalists."
Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute

Friday, 16 September 2011


By Brendan P O'Reilly

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

"At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP."
- Paul Hawken

There is a dangerous lie that permeates the media, government and general discourse of nearly every single nation on Earth.

That lie is the Development Deception. This myth is based on three concepts. First is the distinction between the developed nations (North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan), and the Developing Nations (everywhere else).

The second idea is that "developing" countries can become "developed" through improved education, stable governance, and opening their markets to trade and investment. The third leg of this Deception is that such a transformation is not only possible, but also desirable.

The metric used to distinguish "developed" nations from "developing" nations is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Poor nations aspire to reach a certain economic level to become so-called "developed nations". The Myth of Development has four fundamental inter-related flaws. The first one is the problem of the Gray Area.

The gap between "developed" and "developing" countries is presented as a simple black-and-white dichotomy. I often hear from my Chinese students say, "China is a developing country. America is a developed country. We want to become a developed country."

Fair enough. But which country has high-speed trains? Which country has a higher unemployment rate? How can the government of a "developed" country owe trillions of dollars to a "developing" country?

Obviously many nations in Asia and Africa, and Latin America have very serious structural problems, which could be alleviated through stable government and educational reform. Very poor countries should aspire to create social and economic institutions that allow their people to live with dignity. Nevertheless the rise of new economic powers such as Brazil, India, and (especially) China, coupled with the massive financial difficulties faced by Europe, Japan, and the United States, call into question the utility of the developed/developing dichotomy.

The second problem with the Myth of Development is philosophical. The very term "development" implies a steady linear progression from poverty and ignorance to wealth, literacy, and general happiness. This viewpoint is Western in origin, and alien to many of the world’s cultures.

The idea of the inexorable march of progress has roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview of time (God creates the world, the world exists, the world ends), and has been largely co-opted by modern science. We are told to believe that progress is inevitable, that the quality of life for each new generation will be better than the life of their parents. Never mind the fact that humanity has created weapons that empower a handful of political leaders to destroy civilization itself.

Never mind obesity is now challenging starvation as a cause of premature death. Of course, the advances made in the last century in curing diseases, increasing literacy rates, and fighting hunger must be lauded. However, to blindly value "progress" above all else threatens our very survival as a species.

The third problem with the Development Deception stems from definitions. As mentioned previously, GDP per capita is the standard the yardstick for measuring development. This assessment ignores serious social difficulties faced by the so-called developed nations.

For example, a third of the adult population of the United States of America, the archetype "developed" nation, suffer from obesity, with another third classified as overweight. The United States of America also has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate of any nation on Earth.

Meanwhile Japan, the paragon of "development" in Asia, has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, leading to a rapidly aging population. This trend, unless dramatically reversed, will exacerbate Japan’s social, economic, and political crisis, as more retirees put enormous strain on the working population. Japan’s population is set to shrink by roughly thirty million over the next four decades (Citation here). Are these worthy goals for the so-called "developing" nations to aspire to?

The fourth and final problem with the Myth of Development is a terminal defect. Citizens in countries such as China and India are encouraged to join the middle class and live "Western" lifestyles. As benign as it sounds, this goal is completely impossible. Simply put, there are not enough natural resources on this planet to sustain such an increase in consumption.

According to World Bank figures, in 2008 Americans, on average, used 87,216 kilowatt hours of electricity. The average Chinese used 18,608 kilowatt hours, and the average Indian 6,280. All three countries depend primarily on coal for electricity. To bridge the gap between these levels of resource utilization of would entail environmental catastrophe and global shortages on an unimaginable scale. Coal is just one example - one could also look at oil, lumber, or meat consumption. Indeed, many of the fundamental challenges facing the world economic system - such as rising food and fuel costs - are directly related to economic development.

The Development Deception is perpetuated by international corporations and national governments. Resource mining, production, and overconsumption are the basis for the current globalized economic system. Human beings are classified as "consumers", because overconsumption entails short-term profit.

Rich nations leverage their "developed" status to influence poorer nations, while the governments of these poor nations use the promise of development to maintain political power. None of this propaganda changes the fact that it is grossly misleading for the nations who over-consume the Earth’s finite resources to be considered developed.

Advocates of The Development Myth may point to science as a savior. We are constantly told that new inventions will allow for more efficient use of resources, or allow for sustainable consumption patterns. This argument provides only false hope. We cannot speculate our way out of environmental pollution and a collapsing natural resource base. Unless and until new "green" technology actually exists and is utilized, science is actually exacerbating ecological disaster.

Recently, the Human Development Index (HDI) has been promoted as a more "human-centered" alternative to GDP as a metric for measuring development. HDI uses data on life expectancy, literacy, number of years in school, and GDP to determine the development status of a country. Although this presents a useful alterative, the continued use of GDP as a basis for measuring development is HDI’s fundamental flaw. Unsustainable consumption of finite resources cannot reasonably be classified as "development".

What is the viable alternative to the Development Myth? Bhutan has advocated Gross National Happiness as an alternative goal to increasing GDP per capita. Citizens are asked about their Subjective Well Being in order to establish Gross National Happiness. Obviously this measurement is difficult to define and numerate, and ignores problems such as illiteracy and extreme poverty. However, it does point in the right direction.

Development needs to be redefined in order to account for human physical and emotional well-being as well as environmental sustainability. Otherwise it is only a lie, and a dangerous one at that. To seek economic advance at the expense of human interests and future generations is a recipe for global disaster.

When extreme wealth is challenging extreme poverty as the bane of human existence, a revolution of values is needed. We as a species must advance values of conservation, and teach people to live within the means of the productive capacity of our planet. No longer can the scramble for nonrenewable resources be viewed as a zero-sum game. Human beings need to develop solidarity on a global scale. Citizens of wealthy nations must learn to live with less.

The most important development is that of the individual. Social and spiritual harmony is the antidote to the Development Deception, for all traditions encourage compassion and warn of the destructive power of greed. To quote LaoZi (as translated by D C Lau):
There is no crime greater than having too many desires;
There is no disaster greater than not being content;
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous.
Hence in being content, one will always have enough.
Brendan P O'Reilly is a China-based writer and educator from Seattle. He is author of The Transcendent Harmony.

Monday, 12 September 2011

'The Press Decides Which Revolutions To Report'- Arundhati Roy

The celebrated dissenter on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, mass uprisings in the Arab world, the Anna Hazare movement, her old comrades-in arm like Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan, Maoism, writing and much else.

Rajesh Joshi: The 10th anniversary of September the 11th attacks on the US is upon us. What do you think has changed in the world, or hasn’t changed, in these years?
Arundhati Roy: Plenty has changed. The numbers of wars that are being fought has been expanded and the rhetoric that allows those wars —that are essentially a battle for resources —is now disguised in the rhetoric of the war on terror, and has become more acceptable in some ways and yet more transparent in other ways.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing that has happened is that increasingly we are seeing that these wars can’t be won. They can be initiated. But they can’t be won. Like the war in Vietnam was not won. The war in Iraq has not been won. The war in Afghanistan has not been won. The war on Libya will not be won. There is this initial pattern where you claim victory and then these occupation forces get mired in a kind of slow war of attrition. That’s also partially responsible for the global economy slowly coming apart.

The other difficulty is that the more the weapons of conventional warfare become nuclear —and all this kind of air bombing and so on —the more it becomes clear to people who are fighting occupations that you can’t win a conventional war. So, ironically the accumulation of conventional weaponry is leading to different kinds of terrorism and suicide bombings and a sort of desperate resort to extremely violent resistances. Violent, ideologically as well, because you have to really motivate people to want to go and blow themselves up. So, [it's a ] very, very dangerous time.

You have been very critical of the war on terror, especially the US policy. Would you have preferred a Saddam Hussain or a Taliban regime in Afghanistan?

Well, it does look as if the Taliban regime is going to return in Afghanistan in some form or shape. And obviously, people like Saddam Hussain were first created and put in place and supported and funded and armed by the US. This process is something that a country that seeks hegemonic power can put in the despots it wants, topple them when it wants and then get mired in these kinds of battles where eventually it’s having to desperately scramble to get some foothold of a some face-saving measure in, say, Afghanistan. So, eventually, you are not ever going to get rid of despots or dictators or Taliban. The Taliban was also created by them. That kind of ideology was almost handed out as a kind of weaponry by them at the time they were fighting the Soviets which nobody really mentions. They just talk about Pakistan having had those camps but those camps were actually funded by the CIA and by Saudi Arabia, which is now one of the greatest despotic regimes wholly embraced by the US.

How do you look at the mass uprisings across the Arab world? Do you think it’s a positive development?

Obviously there are very positive things about it but the jury is still out on them, in terms of what happened in Egypt for instance. Hosni Mubarak was in power for 40 years. We knew that three months before the uprising in Tahrir Square, the papers were reporting that he was on his death bed. Then this uprising happened. And then you had such enthusiastic reporting by the western press about the uprising — the press decides which revolutions to report and which not to report and therein lies politics. You had similar huge uprisings, let’s say in Kashmir which was more or less blacked out and yet you had this being reported very enthusiastically but at the end of it you had headlines which said: 'Egypt Free, Army Takes Over'.

And today there are ten thousand people being tried in military tribunals. There is probably the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood happening now; it’s a negotiated emergence. I would say that it would be a successful uprising and a real democracy if they manage to completely stop the Egyptian role in the siege of Gaza. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

There are lots of manipulations going on. In India, as well as in these places, there is also the use of people’s power. People are angry. People are genuinely furious. People who have lived under these despotic regimes are desperate. But just moving the big blocks a little bit allows an eruption to take place. Is that eruption really going to end up in a genuine democracy or is that anger going to be channelised into something else?... We are still waiting.

Aren’t you happy that dictatorships are falling like a pack of cards?

I would be happy if they were not going to be replaced by military regimes. I would be happy if I was sure that whatever takes its place isn’t going to be another manipulation... I would be happy. But at this moment in Egypt, people are being picked and tried in military tribunals just the way they were under Hosni Mubarak. Of course, I am happy but why should you be celebrating something unless what you are celebrating is the right thing?

You have been supporting people’s movements everywhere but you are very critical of the Anna Hazare movement. Common people participated in the movement, after all.

I don’t support all people’s movements. I certainly didn’t support the Ram Janambhumi movement which was one of the largest people's movement in this country – the movement to topple the Babri masjid and build a temple there. I think all kinds of fascism could describe itself as people’s movements and I don’t support fascism. I am not an indiscriminate supporter of people’s movements. In this particular case, I think it’s very important to read what was going on and what was going on was not simple. We are at a stage where huge corruption scandals mostly involving mining corporations and telecom companies and so on have been exposed for their links to the government, links to the media, for looting billions of dollars and there is no accountability, neither from the government nor from the corporations. And there is a huge amount of popular anger against them.

The reason I am very suspicious about what is happening here is that I feel that this anger from the top to the bottom is channelised into a people’s movement and that anger which was a very amorphous anger was being used to push through this very specific piece of legislation which I don’t think anybody— including a lot of the people who were pushing it— has read. And if you read that bill, it is not only legally ludicrous but the people who call themselves Team Anna themselves said that people were angry and we provided them the medicine. The Team Anna are themselves saying that the people didn’t read the bill but they said ‘give us some medicine for the sickness’, but they didn’t read what it said on the label of the medicine bottle. Very, very few people have read it. And that medicine is far more dangerous than the illness itself. That’s why I am worried. Then it became this moral movement which started to use the old symbols of religious fascism that all of us have seen, that started to exclude the minorities.

Some of your comrades-in arm like Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan are part of that movement. How can you say that the movement has streaks of fascism? Do you doubt Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhushan’s integrity or is it their understanding?

It’s not a question of doubting their integrity. I doubt their (Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar’s) understanding for sure on the Lokpal bill — I am not doubting their integrity. Neither of them has brought in the politics they spent their life time doing; they left it outside at the doorstep. I just want somebody to have a proper conversation about that bill that they were insisting be passed without discussion through Parliament by the 30th of August. If you look at the bill, it’s so terrifying. Firstly, it’s so un-worked out. It asks for ten people of integrity —and proper class —to be running a bureaucracy that would contain about 30,000 officers. There is no comment on where those officers are coming from, who they are; there is no idea of what you mean by corruption in a society like ours. Sure there is corruption — from poor people having to bribe government officers to get their ration bills to corporates paying and getting rivers and mountains to mine for free.
But corruption is a value system, which has to be pinned to a legal system. And I keep saying that there are huge numbers, millions of Indians, who live untitled and unidentified outside this legal system. Supposing you live in Delhi. You have huge number of slums, illegal hawkers, squatters' settlements. Suddenly some middle class community can say, ‘I live in Jorbagh there is a slum there, it’s illegal. The politicians are keeping them there because they get votes; the municipalities are allowing them because they get bribes. Get them out of here. These are illegal people’. What’s the meaning of corruption has not been debated. Forget the fact that they are asking for a bill where these ten people are at the top and there is an additional bureaucracy of 30,000 who will be given a huge amount of money by the government and they have the right to prosecute, to sentence, to tap phones, to dismiss, to suspend and to enquire into the activities of everybody from the PM to the judiciary downwards. They are just setting up a parallel hierarchy! What’s happening is that the middle class which has benefited from these policies of privatisation and globalisation has become impatient with democracy.

If globalisation and privatisation is not the answer, according to you, then what is?

I think that the only way that we can begin to move to a place where people have some rights is by learning how to become an opposition which demands accountability. What the Jan Lokpal bill does is to set up another Super Cop. I am saying that the beginning of moving towards a society that we would like to live in is to force accountability. And that is only when people begin to stand by those who are fighting for their rights and demand that something happens. Not when they look away and say: that’s not my problem that people are being killed in Dantewada. I am a middle-class person and I believe that I should benefit. If we live in a democracy and you believe that everybody does have certain minimum rights, then you’ve got to be able to open your eyes to it. That’s what I try and do in whatever way I could by standing by those resistance movements that are questioning everything from big dams to mining to all these things—who are refusing to give up their lands, who are standing up to the biggest powers, whether it’s the army or the corporations and all of that.

You are a fierce critic of the Manmohan Singh government’s economic policies but India’s development has been praised by President Barack Obama of the US and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Many would say you are using your celebrity status as a Booker Prize winner author to criticise the path that India has taken after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

Booker Prize and all that is meaningless. There are plenty of famous people who can use their fame to sell shoes or coca cola. Nobody can use their fame meaninglessly. For me, I am a writer; I am somebody who sees the world in a particular way. And I keep saying that these words like ‘India’s development’ have become meaningless because who is India? When you say 'India' are you talking about the few hundred billionaires or are you talking about the 830 million people who live on less than 20 rupees a day? Surely, some people in India have developed very fast beyond their wildest dreams but they have done that by standing on the shoulders and the bodies of large number of other Indians. I keep saying when you have ten people in a room and one person become a billionaire and two people are doing really well and the rest of seven are starving and someone says, 'Hey, there are seven people are starving in this room', and you say, 'Why are you being negative? People have developed!' It doesn’t matter who I am, what I won, what I didn’t win. If I am saying something that is relevant it will have a place in this world. If I am being stupid, if I am being negative, if I am being meaningless, I won’t have a place in this world. So, there is no point in personalising things because it doesn’t really help.

Is Maoism the answer?
Of course it’s not the answer. However, as I keep saying what I believe is the answer is the diversity of resistance and the Maoists are at one end — the very militant end of the diversity. And they fight deep in the forests which are being filled with paramilitary and police and surely in that tribal village where no television camera ever reaches, where no Gandhian hunger strike is ever going to make the news, there is only the possibility of an armed resistance. Outside, that armed resistance will be crushed in a minute. The Maoists have not had any success outside. You need to look at other kind of resistance outside. The resistance movements often confuse the necessity for tactical differences with ideological differences. But the fact is that one of the things I think is wonderful in India is that there is a huge bandwidth of resistance movements who are being very effective and who are insisting on their rights and who are winning some battles. When you come back to this business of corruption, I would like to say that you have hundreds of secret memorandums of understanding (MoUs) between the governments and private corporations, which will result in a kind of social engineering across central India — forests, mountains, rivers — all of it given away to corporations. Millions of people are fighting for their rights. Nobody stood there and said can you declare those MoUs.

What does the state do? It has to defend itself.

Implicit in that statement is that the state is the enemy of the people and it has to defend itself. And if you see what’s happening in the world, increasingly that’s true that states and their armies are turning upon what traditionally were their own peoples. Wars are not always being fought between countries; they are also being fought by the state against their own people — a kind of vertical colonisation as opposed to a horizontal one.

Do you love to mess with power?

I do believe that the only way to keep power accountable is to always question it, to always mess with it in some way or the other.

Some people would say it’s very convenient of you to criticise things from a safe corner. What do you think your role is going to be in the future? Are you going to be a writer or have you every thought of joining politics?

It’s not a serious question, I am afraid. What I do is politics. What I write is politics. Traditionally this is what writers have done. So to separate commentary from writing, from politics, minimises politics, minimises writing, and minimises commentary. This has historically been the role of writers. I could surely go and wear a khadi sari and sit in the forest and become a martyr but that’s not what I plan to do. I have no problem being who I am, writing what I have because I am not playing for sainthood here. I am not playing for popularity. I am not asking to be hailed as a leader of the masses. I am a writer who has a particular set of views and I use whatever skills I have, I deploy whatever skills I have, whatever means I have to write about them, not always on my own behalf but from the heart of the resistance.

In an interview to Financial Times you once said, and I quote: “I feel like I’ve done a very interesting journey over the last 11 years, but now I’m ready to do something different. Two years ago, I told myself, ‘no more, enough of this’, and I was working on some fiction. Then this huge uprising happened in Kashmir.” Some would say your activism is just another career move — I’ve done this and now let’s move on and do something more exciting?

It’s not about more exciting things, it’s about writing again. If I am a writer and I have written in a certain way, then suddenly you feel like, for example The God of Small Things is a very political book but then there became another phase of very urgent and immediate politics and it became non-fiction. But I think fiction is a deeper, more subversive kind of politics. Like if you read The God of Small Things, dealing with issues of caste for example. It’s not about the government or the state versus the people; it’s about the absolute malaise within your own society. Fiction is a much better way of dealing with it. You can’t allow yourself to just be bogged down doing the same thing, thinking the same ways or using the same techniques of writing. It’s always a challenge. And it can never be that I will stop being a political person. Of course, I think that everybody, even a fashion model, is political. It’s the kind of politics you choose is what you choose to do. There is no escaping that. This idea that politics is only going out and standing for elections or addressing rallies is a very superficial thing.

Rajesh Joshi works with BBC Hindi Service where this interview was first broadcast in Hindi