|Wednesday, February 9, 2000,
first, Gen Musharraf
AS DECADE OF FAILURES
|Urgency of power sector reforms
IF power was not sold at a discount, it is estimated that the State Electricity Boards (SEBs) would have had sufficient funds to annually add 10,000 MW capacity as also provide for the necessary expansion of the transmission network. Sounds too good to be true.
the movies with Clinton
February 9, 1925
Credentials first, Gen Musharraf
THERE is hardly anything reassuring in what Pakistans military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, has said in his blow-hot, blow-cold interview telecast by Doordarshan on Monday. The only worthwhile point he has made in his wide-ranging discussion on Indo-Pak relations is his direct offer to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. A meeting between the military ruler and the Indian Prime Minister will be welcome in principle, provided the agenda is well set and intentions on the Pakistani side are honourable. Islamabads sole obsession is Kashmir, and it has thrust upon this country three wars and unleashed terrorism from across the border. It has never cared to create the right conditions to defuse tension to establish its credentials as a well-meaning neighbour. Whatever little peace build-up was done during the Nawaz Sharif regime has been destroyed by the military ruler. He has been adopting belligerent postures and has, in the process, fouled up the atmosphere. General Musharraf has only to search his heart and he will find a ready list of the series of misdeeds which include Pakistans involvement in the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane. His denial of Islamabads role will not wash off his sins which have made South Block look at the military rulers every move with suspicion, and understandably so.
India has always expressed its willingness to have a dialogue with Pakistan within the framework of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. First of all, General Musharraf will have to clearly spell out whether these two documents have any sanctity in his scheme of things. Establishing normalcy is not one-way traffic. The process needs a multi-dimensional approach encompassing other equally pressing problems of terrorism and ISI activities beyond Kashmir.
Kashmir can only be part of a dialogue. It cannot form the one-item agenda for discussion between Islamabad and New Delhi. It is also necessary for General Musharraf to remember that whipping up an Islamic fundamentalist hysteria on Kashmir will not be acceptable to secular India. The Pakistani rulers have been taking their people for a ride for over 50 years, despite knowing it fully well that they cannot reverse the process of history either through a full-fledged war or a proxy war. What is required is a desire on the part of the Pakistani military establishment to learn to live with India as a good neighbour and let the benefits of friendship flow directly to the people. It is a pity that Pakistani rulers have exploited the Kashmir issue to keep themselves in usurped power.
Musharraf has gone a step ahead and has held out the
threat of using nuclear weapons if at all India
escalates (the situation) on the Line of Control in
Kashmir. Perhaps, the General is too naive to know
what he is talking about. The use of nuclear weapons can
only be self-destructive for Islamabad. The sooner the
military ruler realises this, the better for his country.
Instead of indulging in hostile acts, including trying to
sabotage Indias economy through an organised fake
currency racket, he would do well to come clean on the
various facets of bilateral ties and state his
priorities. The ball is in his court. Before a meaningful
dialogue is initiated, General Musharraf will have to
establish his bona fides of being serious about defusing
tension between the two countries.
Dual membership row again
IN 1979 the Janata Party, which had swept to power with astonishing electoral support, split mainly on a curious issue: dual membership. The late Madhu Limaye, a man of strong convictions, objected to a few Ministers in the Morarji Desai government continuing to be members of the RSS. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, Mr L.K. Advani and the junior Ministers refused to sever their life-long link with the mother organisation of the Sangh Parivar, risking a break with the Janata and political wilderness for the next two decades. Once again the RSS membership has come to occupy the political centre-stage, although the debate now relates to the organisation and government servants and not Ministers. As then, so now, both top BJP leaders have supported the Gujarat governments decision to permit its employees to join and attend shakhas. There is one more common factor: the presence of Mr George Fernandes in the Cabinet. This is rather important. He is one politician who can come up with an idea, drum up support with his famed maniacal energy and act, all in double quick time before others can even grasp the basics. It is pure speculation to talk of a re-run of the 1979 script, though the UP Chief Minister has deepened the debate by toeing the Gujarat line. The alliance partners in the state are keen to distance themselves from the pro-RSS agenda of the BJP fearing the loss of the Muslim and dalit vote. If Ms Mayawatis initial denunciation is any indication, the alliance will come under pressure after the byelection to one Lok Sabha and eight Assembly seats. The last week of February is the time to watch both in Lucknow, and Delhi.
Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have fully supported the Gujarat action and have contended that the RSS is a social and cultural organisation and that there is no legal bar on government servants joining it. This is debatable. The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules specifically bar anyone from associating himself with the RSS and the Jamaat-e-Islami. And this should apply to state government employees also. Again, the RSS may not be a cultural organisation in the sense in which people generally understand the term. Actually, it stands to protect Hindu culture, just as some of its newer front outfits are doing by opposing the film Water. The expansion of the RSS and hence the BJP (and its earlier avataar) has been notable in those states which witnessed serious communal clashes in the sixties and early seventies. This may not be a cause-and-effect chain but a mere coincidence, however, it explains the unease about the organisation. Both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani justify their clean chit by describing it as a non-political organisation. But two facts weaken if not rebut their stand. The RSS provides the BJP with an army of volunteers during elections, who all additionally vote for the party. RSS pracharaks routinely man key BJP posts in Delhi and now in the PMO. The argument can be made to stand on its head. Will the BJP-led government adopt the same indulgent attitude if the Muslim League were to float a social and cultural organisation, a latter-day Khudai Khidmatgar and demand permission for government servants to join it? Of course it will not, and even some of its double-speaking leaders will shy away from the question. Mr Advani says there is no protest from any ally. A private television channel has repeatedly shown clips of Mr Digvijay Singh of the Samata and Mr Yarramnaidu of the Telugu Desam objecting to the Gujarat order and hence the top BJP leaders contention. What is particularly regrettable is that the Prime Minister has gone whole hog in defending the order. This has caused a small dent in his evolving liberal, and hence non-partisan, image. It is actually a double blow after his equivocal response to the attack on Christian tribals in the same Gujarat.
IT may be premature to welcome the decision of the Centre to scale down the level of VIP security currently available to a large number of undeserving politicians and bureaucrats. The decision would deserve a loud round of applause only after it is actually implemented. The bitter truth is that in most cases security at State expense has become a symbol of the importance or the status of those surrounded by a posse of gunmen. During her brief stay in Chandigarh Ms Kiran Bedi removed from the list the names of a large number of individuals who were provided security because of their proximity to important functionaries in the administration. Even before she could pack her bags and move back to Delhi most of the deleted names were back on the list. Compared to Chandigarh the politicians in the Central list have far more nuisance value and it is unlikely that they would allow the Union Home Ministry to scale down the level of the security already available to them for no valid reason. If they were to describe the decision as politically motivated, and not based on revised threat perception, most of the mud would certainly stick because the list of of the names of those who are to be deprived of NSG protection is a straight give away. Mr Bhajan Lal leads the pack of senior Congress leaders who would now be provided Z category security. Mr Mulayam Singh and Ms Mayawati too would have to do with much less security than is available to them at present. But the politician who is most likely to raise the slogan of political vendetta is Mr Kalyan Singh, once an important member of the Sangh Parivar and the blue-eyed boy of senior BJP leaders.
Be that as it may, the
most important part of the decision announced by Union
Home Secretary Kamal Pande is buried under seemingly
irrelevant details. The operative part of the new policy
is the decision to abolish the word VIP from official
jargon. Mr Pande said that henceforth the nomenclature
for VIP security would be personal
security because the expression proposed to be
discarded laid more emphasis on VIP than on
security. The Tribune can take some credit
for helping the Centre in adopting the new line of
political correctness reflected in the decision to give
up the usage of an expression encouraged by the British
to show their superiority over ordinary Indians. The
editorial captioned Promoting VIPism
published on November 22 had categorically stated that
the days of VIPism in the country are numbered. It
is a negation of a fundamental principle of democratic
functioning. Increased awareness of the rights of
we, the people of India, as was evident in
the television coverage of the general elections, should
play a major role in removing the thorn of VIPism from
the body of democracy. Indeed no one can be more
important in a democratic polity than the so-called
ordinary citizen. Habits die hard, and it may take some
time for the despicable expression, lifted straight from
the countrys colonial past, to actually go out of
circulation. The media can and should expedite the
process by removing from its lexicon the officially
discarded expression for describing State functionaries.
As far as scaling down security for designated categories
of individuals is concerned the government has still a
lot of ground to cover. Today it has decided to replace
VIP security with a more matter-of-fact
expression personal security. However, the
agenda for tomorrow should be to reduce the system of
providing security at State expense to the barest
minimum level. A political analyst hit the nail on
the head when he said that if we end VIP security,
we will also promote political morality. These VIPs today
think they can cultivate enemies because they are
protected. If this protection is withdrawn, they will be
forced to cultivate good relations all around.
1990s AS DECADE OF FAILURES
THE worst apprehensions of a small section of the academia, the bureaucracy and the media regarding the effects of the recent fiscal and other policies have woefully materialised. It has been crystal clear to many that the main economic policy thrust of the 1990s, the fiscal stabilisation and structural adjustment programme, was going to be a major mishap for the teeming millions of India the poor. Its chief elements marketisation, privatisation and globalisation had nothing either in intent, theory or practice which could lighten up the dull and dreary existence of the poor. It contained precious little to increase secure and productive work and earning opportunities, to enhance the production of food and other goods needed by the masses, to maintain the price line of essential commodities and enhance the supply and effective delivery of essential social services to the rural and urban poor.
In fact, given our resource constraints and limited supplies, the emphasis had to be on increasing the wherewithal required by the underprivileged classes. And, by the same logic, on preventing the allocation and diversion of our limited resources for pandering to the whims and fancies and the insatiable appetite forever by a tiny minority of resident (non)Indians. It is an elementary logic that in a poverty-stricken, resource-constrained highly inequitous society like Indias, the fiscal and other related macro-economic policies pursued without reallocation and redistribution for fostering growth as such can only magnify the initial load of misallocation, miseries and maldevelopment. The growth of a diseased embryo cannot produce a healthy child and a robust adult. This is precisely what has happened with ferocious speed during the nineties.
What can an average person expect the coming unfolding of the fiscal pandoras box to bring for her/him? Dreaming is by no means a crime or a luxury. Though it is far from true to say that entertaining high hopes costs nothing, can at least this much be expected that the policy-makers, actual or front men, take note of their own tall promise to the electorate? The whole approach based on the single-minded pursuit of economic growth has turned out to be a nightmare for the poor masses because higher growth has intensified their deprivation. It directly benefits only those who can save, borrow, invest and avail themselves of scarce high-income job opportunities.
Thus by definition over 40 million registered unemployed persons, 100 million small and marginal farmers, 75 million landless farm workers, nearly 10 million artisans and almost two-thirds of the urban population subsisting in slums having little meaningful control over and access to material, financial, technical and administrative resources cannot hope to benefit from the elimination of what has been over-dramatised as the quota-permit-licence raj.
This is in no way a priori, idle speculation. The official statistics show that the number of people below the poverty line has increased during the 1990s from 29.1 crore to over 40.63 crore a net addition of over 11 crore people to the ranks of food-insecure, malnourished, half-hungry poor persons. Showering fiscal bounties of nearly incalculable magnitude on the super rich, the budgetary policies have to take their share of the balance for this unwholesome trend.
Without going into many unpalatable truths of the social scenario, it may be pointed out that the fountainhead of the policies of the 1990s, the World Bank, has at long last come to admit in its current World Development Report that the process of trickle-down just does not work. A member of the Indian Planning Commission quickly echoes: Whichever definition of poverty or employment one adopts, no macro-policy based on market-led growth will be successful in dealing with either poverty or employment in India. Very often, development in India under market-led growth benefits those who are qualified enough and socially well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities of capital-intensive and labour-displacing global technologies.
Without devoting more space to the fiasco of the policies of the failed decade of 1990s, which gloomily followed the lost decade of 1980s, and with little real political grounds for hoping for a pro-poor budget, one can nonetheless articulate some salient ideas which can impart to the coming budget some real, non-cosmetic people-friendly, attributes.
As for the expenditure budget, its capability to bring a small dose of cheer to the lives of the common citizen cannot be overemphasised. The fiscal crisis being experienced demands the pruning of wasteful, unnecessary and ostentatious expenditure on administrative services by going in for a drastic regime of austerity. The luxuries and frivolities enjoyed by the representatives of the people should not be world class when the constituents barely lead a sub-human existence. These perks should, for a start, have at least a 25 per cent reduction this very year. Huge tax arrears and unrealised loans from banks and public financial institutions amounting to about Rs 50,000 crore and the illegal flight the capital stashed abroad estimated to be at least Rs 60,000 crore should obviously attract the framers of a people-friendly budget.
A sum of Rs 50,000 crore mobilised from these blocked sources can provide the resources needed for a nationwide employment guarantee scheme, giving the minimum statutory wages to all the adults reporting in at least a group of seven for manual work on rural socio-economic infrastructure and community assets projects chosen and implemented by the panchayats. The positive spread effects of this programme would inject, of course, with coordination and marginal supplementary inputs, strong impulses for people-friendly decentralised and diversified development rooted in the local creative cultural traditions. Both rural and organised industries would receive a demand-side fillip as poverty removal is a sound and sustainable business as well.
The next area deserving the attention of the Finance Minister is housing giving a big boost to Plan funds for rural housing based on the free grant of house-sites to the poor and disbursal of long-term, zero-interest loans in terms of the locally available and other essential building materials for low-cost, eco-friendly houses. This can be complemented by a 25 per cent reduction in the backlog of adult illiteracy during 2000-2001. All the unemployed youth having passed the Senior Secondary Certificate examination should be offered opportunities for universalising free, primary education made relevant to the local communities. A cess for this purpose on luxury housing, gems and jewellery, motor cars, air-conditioners, colour TVs, five-star accommodation, etc, can be imposed.
Applying the principle of let the polluters pay, a stiff turnover tax on the turnover of cigarette companies and a 5 per cent surcharge on the profits of demerit goods like tobacco, alcoholic beverages, etc, should be earmarked for an exclusive promotional health and preventive medical care programme for the rural poor and urban slum dwellers.
Without a hard crackdown on black incomes and wealth and the pattern of production based on it, the great majority of honest labouring masses cannot even cross the threshold of democracy and a bare minimum level of living. After decades of pampering, cajoling and coaxing the number two economy, now the time is surely ripe for a crackdown with a set of foolproof coercive measures to unearth black wealth and penalise its holders. That would mark the beginning of a clean, proactive, people-friendly fiscal policy and regime. Equity and social justice constitute not just a good political economy; they are the stuff and substance of sound public finance and democratic governance.
Urgency of power sector reforms
IF power was not sold at a discount, it is estimated that the State Electricity Boards (SEBs) would have had sufficient funds to annually add 10,000 MW capacity as also provide for the necessary expansion of the transmission network. Sounds too good to be true.
Irrational tariff structure, poor operational performance, overstaffing and huge transmission and distribution losses, which has become a euphemism for power pilferage, account for severe erosion in the financial viability of the SEBs. The culture of cross-subsidisation across the so-called haves and havenots, the primacy given to socio-political considerations over everything else, coupled with the unwillingness and inability of the powers that be to come to grips with the simmering crises, have almost disabled the reform process initiated in the early nineties.
The situation has come to such a pass that the SEBs just cannot meet their day-to-day expenditure, leave alone muster the resources required for capacity addition. The success of Indias economic reforms will be dependent, in a large measure, on the availability of power, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. At present, shortages in peak power capacity and energy are estimated at 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. The industrial sector which accounts for 34 per cent of total power consumption, followed by 33 per cent in the agricultural sector, has already taken to captive generation in a big way.
Massive rural electrification and the governments policy to heavily subsidise the agricultural sector, which contributes a measly 5 per cent to the total sales revenue of the SEBs, have sounded the death knell of the SEBs, which are responsible for the efficient and economic development of the power sector in their respective States and Union Territories.
Given their debt-based capital structure, and the poor resource position of the State governments, the SEBs have been increasingly resorting to borrowing from the market or the financial institutions, thereby adding to their interest burden, and the resultant increase in the cost of power generation and supply. The Electricity Act, 1948, mandates the SEBs to earn a minimum rate of return of 3 per cent on their net fixed assets in service after providing for depreciation and interest charges. Pitiably, the average rate of return stood at 17.7 per cent in 1997-98. Little wonder, the World Bank refused to lend to the SEBs.
In 1991, the government allowed private sector participation in power generation. But the independent power producers (IPPs) were allowed to sell power only to the SEBs. Given the perpetual sickness of the SEBs, the IPPs were apprehensive of their bills being paid by the sole off-taker of power, and wanted the State governments to give guarantee and the Central government to give counter-guarantee. The counter-guarantee route being fraught with grave financial risks was later abandoned in favour of certain workable alternatives like linking power generation with distribution, permitting direct supply by IPPs to high tension consumers, opening of an escrow account among others. All said and done, for want of clarity in government policy and a transparent mechanism, less than 1400 MW capacity has so far been operated in the private sector. It has been reported that a foreign company which entered the power market of China and India at the same time has so far commissioned two projects and constructed another three in China whereas it is yet to get financial closure of its first project in India.
Equally important is the adequacy of the transmission and distribution system. The present T&D system is utterly inadequate to cater to the even existing level of power generation. The problem will be aggravated with further addition of the generation capacity. At present the eastern region is energy-surplus, but the power-deficit Andhra Pradesh cannot be served from the eastern region for want of appropriate transmission links. It is estimated that the requirement of the new generation capacity can be reduced by 7000 MW by the end of the Tenth Plan provided adequate inter-regional transmission links are put in place.
Multilateral agencies have rightly been emphasising on some sort of privatisation of the distribution system, which remains the virtual monopoly of the SEBs. Some headway has been made but much more remains to be done. The Noida Power Company, which represents Indias latest experiment in the privatisation of electricity distribution, brought down system losses from 29 per cent to 7 per cent.
Restructuring of the SEBs is long overdue. Unless the financial health of the SEBs improves, the IPP projects would not take off on the expected lines. It is regrettable that Haryana has held back the implementation of reform measures for electoral reasons. Let not the government of UP follow suit. The Confederation of Indian Industry feels that reforms and restructuring are to the advantage of industry as well as the general consumer.
Electricity is on the Concurrent List in the Constitution, whereby both the Central and State governments have a role to play in decision making and implementation. A well-thought-out strategy is required to restructure the SEBs in a time-bound manner. Power sector reforms in other countries Britain, New Zealand, etc have been a runaway success. The UKs CEGB was divided into four public limited companies in March 1990. Eight years on, labour productivity has doubled, new entrants account for over half of the newly added capacity,the nuclear output has increased by 28 per cent without any capacity addition, the per unit cost of fossil fuel and nuclear fuel has fallen by 45 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, in real terms, besides a drastic reduction in the emission of toxic gases.
A conjugal coup
WE are familiar with political coups in our neighbourhood countries, but now and then, theres a conjugal coup right in our own street or lane, and the unfolding comedy soon becomes the song of the day. Why, if kings and potentates, Presidents and Prime Ministers can be toppled in a matter of hours after being long and firmly in the saddle, its easier to understand the dynamics of domestic upheavals when a suffering spouse one fine morning hoists the flag of revolt right on the gate, and the protagonists are seen in reverse roles. A wife under siege since the nuptials, and resigned to her fate, having been daily abused or sat upon, or a husband reduced to tears and helplessness and sullen silence after years of struggle, thus viewed, would certainly be a sight for the Peeping Toms, if not for the busy-bodies and street gossips. For every domestic drama of this kind involves the neighbours, each in his or her own way. The story of Adam and Eve inside the fort of marriage is too common, and yet too close to lose its eternal charm. Even if a squabbling couple is known to have settled for a troubled truce, one never knows how the milk of discord can suddenly overflow the simmering kettle in the kitchen, and take one by bewildered surprise. Domestic diplomacy may not succeed when the chips are really down.
The scene in our lane and I cannot vouch for its truth except as a report reaching my ears from an excited neighbourhoodis, then, a story that swings between fact and fiction, and could become a textbook fable, or in changed contexts, a burlesque fit for the TV screen. I can, in this connection recall a black-and-white film in which the oppressed henpecked husband (Om Parkash, the veteran comedian in the stellar role) one day jumps out of his skin, as it were, when subjected to the daily round of needlings and verbal assaults, and taking up a broom in hand, spits on his palms, rolls up his sleeves, and is seen chasing his wife all over the place. Clearly, the cup of his patience, as they say, had suddenly cracked. Or, if we change the trope, the proverbial last straw on the camels back obviously had drawn the harassed husband to the brink. And after that chase, the bewildered and chastened shrew begins to bleat like a lamb!
Well, the tale of the Mehtas in the lane (the names not the thing; you may call them Gills or Gulatis or anyway) is one such farce, if you like. A much married, well-regarded couple in their early forties, they had, one winter morning when the first rays of the sun were streaking in, come out in the front lawns in varying stages of undress, to create what a town wag, called kitchen comedy, the husband with a broom and a wooden walen or roller and the wife, chappals in hand, and on the run! You may now use your own imagination of fun and frolic to savour the full story......
Perhaps, the full story never reached the eager neighbourly ears, for the inner truth came out in bits and pieces from the Mehtas charwoman who had had clearly a ring-side view of the race drama inside the sprawling house. And believe me, she was no mean gossip or vendor of words, her recital being dramatic, juicy and musical. As the details emerged upside down, it appears the coup came about almost in a flash. That unhappy morning when Mr Mehta was feeling restive, his cup of Tata-tea and the days paper being nowhere in sight, the mighty, portly wife suddenly made a catastrophic announcement: no cup of tea and no daily paper henceforth. These were not only an unnecessary indulgence and an extravagance, but also an index of Mr Mehtas congenital laziness, wasteful vices and addiction! Thats how she thundered, or words to that effect. Poor Mr Mehta, paralysed for some moments, then rose to his full height of 6.2 feet, his eyes blazing, and his face glowing in anger. That, as the charwoman, smacking her lips, affirmed, was the moment of moments, a spectacle for the gods of matrimony to see! An empire had vanished into the thin air, and a contrite, crest-fallen Mrs Mehta was seen begging for life. Thus had ended the petty-coat government, and the coup become a roaring reality.
At the movies with Clinton
WASHINGTON D.C. He was an only child until he was 30, and both parents worked. But you could go to the movies for a dime, he remembers, and he went to a lot of them.
I saw every movie that came my way when I was a child, President Clinton says, and they fired my imagination.. they inspired me. I think its interesting that Im 53 years old and my favourite movie is High Noon, a movie I saw when I was six.
It is one thing to describe yourself as a movie buff. It is another thing to belong to that small club whose members consider the movies a necessity of life. Clinton has often said the best perk in his job is the White House screening room. My guess is, if there wasnt one hed sneak out to the multiplex.
I had the opportunity to talk at length with the President about the movies, in an interview that will play this weekend in my TV show. I expected him to mention High Noon and Casablanca, and he did but what about his strongly held opinions about Fight Club, American Beauty and Three Kings? Or his favourite recent film, The Harmonists, about a German singing group during the rise of the Third Reich? Its a wonderful film, but would you expect the President to have heard of it? This is a man who could talk about the movies for a living.
Hell be 54 when he leaves office, and looking for work. Theres speculation in Hollywood that he might succeed Jack Valets as head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). He sidestepped my question about that (I dont know...Id enjoy doing anything that allowed me to see every new movie that came along.... but Ive never given it any thought). Still, his proposal for an overhauled movie and TV ratings system, given in last weeks State of the Union Address, indicates he may have given it some thought, and Clinton is sound on the key international issue facing the MPAA: charges that Hollywood is swamping local film markets. He echoes the Valenti lines: I dont think they should deprive their people of making the choice of coming to American movies.
Of the films hes seen recently, David O. Rossells Three Kings is a favourite, perhaps not least because it obliquely criticises the Gulf war policies of President George Bush. It stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube in the story of three soldiers who take advantage of a ceasefire to try to steal Saddam Husseins horde of stolen Kuwaiti gold.
I loved it, Clinton said, because it accomplished all these different things. Its a great cheap-thrills movie. Clooneys unbelievable the screen loves him, and all the other guys are good. Its a tragedy as well as a comedy. And then they do all that high-tech stuff showing you how bullet wounds affect the body.
Hes referring to a special-effects scene where the camera seems to follow a bullet right into a body.
And, he added, they tell the very sad story that our country has to come to terms with of how we falsely raised the hopes of Shiites in the south of Iraq. And what has been done to them since then, Draining those swamps, changing their lives after thousands of years. Its an atrocity, what Saddam Hussein did to them.
The moviegoer turns into the politician halfway through that analysis. But, of course, Three Kings was that rarity, an action comedy with a political conscience.
Clinton also found David Finchers Fight Club, last summers anti-consumerism movie with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton quite good. The film began with an attack on prosperity, which its heroes found so empty that they founded secret clubs where they could seek meaning in their lives by beating each other up.
Norton and Pitt played their roles really well, Clinton said. And Helena Bonham Carter was a very compelling figure in it. But it was a little too nihilist for him, he said. Its simply not true that the material advances weve had are inherently had or empty. They give you the power to define your life more. And I dont mean just for rich people, I mean people that have a decent, middle-class life. Its not all there is to life, but it creates the possibility of fashioning a life that has integrity and meaning.
I wonder, I said, why suburbia is always such a punching bag in the movies. I mentioned American Beauty, a front-runner for Oscar nominations on February 15.
I think in a funny way its like Fight Club, the President said. Its like, theres got to be more to life than this. OK, so weve got this nice little neat, suburban lifestyle and were comfortable and now what? It was also a disturbing movie, but I thought it was an amazing film. Kevin Spacey was amazing, Annette Bening was great, the kids were just great.
I asked him what movie had affected him deeply, either recently or in his whole lifetime.
Thats hard for me to say because Im such an ardent moviegoer. I try to see everything. But.... the story of the five German singers and the piano player.
I loved that movie. It was profoundly moving to me. The idea that these three Jews and three Catholics in pre-Nazi Germany had this jazz group with this very tightly written harmony. That they model it off an American group they hear of, they became the rage of Europe, they come to the United States, and they have to decide whether to stay together. The Nazis say they cant sing anymore, because they cant allow Jews and Catholics to sing together. God, it was a moving thing. The sort of earnestness and almost naive joy or what they did, as against the darkness of the systematic evil that ran up against them.
Out time was about up. As Clinton stood, he mentioned that Life is Beautiful was another of his recent favourites. Then he smiled remembering an encounter with the irrepressible Roberto Benigni in Italy last year.
He ran across the room and hurled himself into my arms, the President said.
What did the Secret Service do?
He grinned. They didnt know what to do. What could they do? It was Benigns, you know?
THE question whether or not foreign capital should be allowed to develop Indian industries is being considered by the Government. The Bengal merchants have stated that encouragement should be given for inviting Indian capital, as far as possible, but no obstruction should be placed on the entry of foreign capital to India.
Before arriving at any conclusion on this important matter, evidence should be taken showing what harm the free importation of foreign capital has done in the past and is likely to be the future, and whether Indian capital could be adequately organised to meet the demands of industries.
In either case, it has been pointed out that the stability of the currency and exchange is necessary. Foreign capitalists would, it is stated, demand certain political guarantees and control of industrial interests for their own profit which may not be to the advantage of India to concede.
If foreign capital is
absolutely necessary, it is for the Government to borrow
on its own account and transfer it to particular
industries on reasonable conditions. All these
suggestions have to be carefully considered before any
definite decision is arrived at.
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