Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

(This is a reprint of a piece I wrote for the Free Press Journal dated Oct.14,1997. Close Encounters of the Extreme Kind/Morning Cup-benny thomas)

‘If you are a peanut vendor in Mumbai, you are likely to die young,’ This cynical remark made by one as I rode the train this morning keep coming back to me even as I took my life in my hands to negotite the stretch between the Churchgate and Eros. My encounter with death is ever present given my careless attitude to disregard traffic rules at times. Even as I settled on the parapet near the Gateway, I could not help thinking about unnecessary risks that one takes every moment. Odds are more or less the same for all given the ground realities of a metropolis bedeviled with all sorts of problems. Of course we are part of the problem. If it were not so there would be no police force. From the spate of deaths which we read in the news these days  we know for sure crime does not pay either for the extroverts or the introverts. If one thinks custody deaths occur more among the introverts and deaths by  encounter are incidental among those who love open spaces one is dead wrong! No wonder the Division Bench in Mumbai has called the Commissioner of Police for the policy regarding encounter deaths.

The police force to be fair to them has a policy to keep track of the enemies of the people which makes them people friendly. Friend or foe? It is always nice to know where you belong. Unfortunately for all concerned the lines of division keep blurring all the time. The custodians of law who are people friendly must become friendly to politicians whose power is kept up by the money power of the criminals who are the enemies to people. It is within this vicious circle that we move about on daily grind. How often we rub shoulders with criminals as we strap hang or eat out. Unless we find a fly in our soup we don’t bother the waiter. No more do we bother a policeman unless we find a hand in our pocket instead of a wallet. If we can’t tell a crook from the good no more can a cop especially if his finger is hooked over the trigger. That unfortunate peanut vendor must have looked menacing to the custodian of law, with the heaps of peanut unsold at the end of the day hiding something deadly. In the killing fields Mumbai has become even a peanut could make him jumpy. Death is what he can expect if he does not kill first. With such a mind set I remember what Lin Yutang, a Chinese scholar had to say of his countrymen. In My Country  and My People he writes that the Chinese will never make a first-rate zoologist because on seeing anything that moves all that he could think of would be, how best it could be dressed for the table. Mumbai Police suffers similarly on the similar lines.


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In the City of God St. Augustine narrates an anecdote,( which in all probability was drawn from Cicero-de republica)), where Alexander the Great confronts a pirate. When that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.’ Augustine’s argument is that, in fact, the existence of justice is the only qualitative difference between legitimate and illegitimate coercive power: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”

Isn’t this anecdote relevant even these days?

Have you noticed how law is weighted in favor of majority than small in numbers? Let me give an example: the President of a nation with his superior numbers may invade a country and in the ensuing war the casualties mount. Is he hauled before the law of the land and tried as a warmonger? On the other hand a man gets into a brawl after drinking one too many and kills one. Do you think he shall escape the law because of he was drunk? The President whose rhetorics led to a war situation and after so many provocations ratcheting between the two states, shall become all the more laudable despite the deaths of some 20, 000 deaths. He may even win a second term for the many advantages of war being added to the Treasury of the State. He may retire with the aura of a statesman. Not so with the individual who killed another one in a drunken stupor. Certainly he shall be squeezed dry in the rigmarole of legalities that face him and its trauma haunt him for the rest of his life.

Now we see similar situation in the world of finance. One of the few things not in dispute in the criminal case against Abacus Federal Savings Bank is that it began with a mortgage closing on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, for a two-family home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.

On May 31 of 2012, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced criminal charges against the bank and 19 former employees, some facing up to 25 years in prison. “Mortgage fraud became institutionalized at Abacus Bank,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said at a news conference. Abacus, like many banks, had sold its loans to Fannie Mae (FNMA), taking the proceeds and lending them back out to earn more interest. The huge government-backed company in turn bundled those mortgages into securities it sold to investors. Abacus lied about applicants, Vance charged, because otherwise its loans wouldn’t have met Fannie Mae’s income requirements, and the bank depended on Fannie’s money for a significant chunk of its profit.(bloomberg businessweek of Jan 31,2013/drake bennet)

But why was that bank prosecuted and why was Goldman Sachs or Chase not prosecuted? Legal authorities consider it not feasible to go after companies of a certain size, while Abacus is a small fry and easier to succeed if they threw the book at them. While it may be more satisfying to go after the bigger companies, to quote a SEC commissioner who talked about “shot selection,” like in basketball, bureaucracies go for the baskets with the greatest chance of scoring.

It’s not just about poor people. The agencies hesitate before they decide to proceed against a well-heeled, well-defended company [against which] they’re going to have to fight for years and years and years just to get the case in court.

This situation isn’t anything new. It goes back to the Clinton years: Clinton signs on to welfare reform, Clinton and the Democrats begin to court the financial services sector and begin to adopt deregulatory policies.

So now you have political consensus in both parties on both issues; both have the same approach to poverty, to people at the bottom, and they have the same approach to enforcement. And so what begins as deregulation of Wall Street concludes, ultimately, in potentially non-enforcement of crime; and what begins as being “tougher” on welfare cheats in the ’90s, and being tougher on the whole process of giving out benefits, devolves into something pretty close to the criminalization of poverty itself … And that’s just something that happens naturally when you have a political consensus, which is what we have now.

Holder, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton years, outlined what was actually sort of a “get tough on crime” document. He gave prosecutors all these tools to go after big corporations. But, at the bottom [of the memo], he outlined this policy called “collateral consequences,” which was — all it really said was, if you’re a prosecutor and you’re going after a big corporation that employs a lot of people, and you’re worried about innocent victims, you can seek other remedies. Instead of criminally prosecuting, you can do a deferred prosecution agreement, a non-prosecution agreement or, especially, you can levy fines.

When he wrote that, it was nearly a decade before the too-big-to-fail era, but when he came back to office [as Obama’s attorney general], this idea, which initially had been completely ignored becomes the law of the land now, insofar as these systemically important institutions are concerned.

Consequently the agencies think about collateral consequences before they go against companies like HSBC and UBS because they’re worried about what the impact might be on the world economy.

What’s interesting about it is that this idea suddenly matches this thing that happened with our economy where we have the collapse of the economy in 2008, [and] instead of breaking up these bad companies, we merged them together and made them bigger and more dangerous. Now they’re even more unprosecutable than before, now this collateral consequences idea is even more applicable. And that’s the reality we live in now; it’s just this world where if you can commit an offense within the auspices of a company like that, the resolution won’t be a criminal resolution, it will be something else.(‘It’s total moral surrender’/Matt Talibbi from his book The Divide/interview with Salon/Elias Isquith)


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The laws of nature have their natural claim on all. We may defy the gravity of our Earth in order to fly outward bound. Use the gravity of the planets like Venus or Jupiter to escape on an intergalactic flight. We use the higher gravity of these planets as though we are catapulted expending less fuel to achieve our object. Yet there is one law that holds its own rule: we shall not go past the speed of light.
Only way to break that rule for a Christian seems to be to use his imagination. Imagination sets you instantaneously right in the presence of God. St. Paul speaks of God ‘dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man can see..'(1 Ti 6:16). Here it becomes clear as to its nature. Imagination is of a different medium than what we call as physical or material.
At the basic level we are atoms, molecules. When we die (or at the dissolution of material form) there is no dissolution or death as such to our atoms. In one of my earlier posts I had mentioned while explaining the law of entropy we are timeless. In the manner a complex form as an apple or a human body, it must turn from its organized state to simple and loose state of atoms. It denotes a period of time. An atom can never separate into its fundamental particles. Thus we may safely say at fundamental level of atoms we are all timeless. Imagination is squarely rooted in this timeless state.
Imagination therefore would imply a faculty that the physical state at its upper end cannot build by itself. Instead it is drawn from this extreme state of timelessness.
It is soul’s time travel.
Each of us exercises this mode of travel. It runs on faith. When we are young and full of vigor we don’t have to think of our body. Our trust is implicit that we may walk or jump or do what you will. It is just the same, faith. We exercise faith our body is adequate to discharge its functions. Or it may be at a higher plane we sharpen our mental faculties as a HG Wells or Jules Verne could, to defy what is not yet present. With imagination faith of a carnal body and mind adds a dimension to the limits of time-space.
God is omnipresent and omnipotent. Imagination is therefore unnecessary to the divine Will. Not so for a Christian. With imagination our souls can seek His presence and our prayers are also heard. Law of Light Years may have their rule but for our soul no such rule makes sense.

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Dream within Another Dream ©

Vishnu the Arbiter of Cosmic Order was once taking ease on a lotus and he was sure he would keep himself light as a breath so as not to be a burden.
He dozed off and was disturbed by a bumble bee. He created a lotus just as the one he was resting and shooed it to drink from the new. He dozed off but he was once again woken up. The same bumble bee and the bee was in no mood to palaver. Vishnu became irritated and said, ‘go to the blazes.’ The bumble bee just ended in smoke.
Well Lord Vishnu slept soundly and after eons of time he was called to determine a case between a bumble bee and the lotus. His jaw dropped to see that the bumble bee was none another than the one he had incinerated. He turned around to see the other plaintiff. The lotus that he had created out of thin air was there. And looking rather peeved.
As Keeper of the comic order he had no choice but to get on with the case. He asked the Bumble Bee to produce his witness. Who takes the witness stand but Lord Shiva? The Lord of Destruction said it was true that it was his third eye that did the deed.
Visnu looked sternly and asked , ‘ who passed the order to kill the bee?’
Lord Shiva said, ‘You gave the order milord! In a dream!’ The god of Destruction upon cross examination explained that Lord Vishnu was part of his dream.
It was the turn of the lotus to bring forth his complaint. The plant said that the ashes of the bumble bee made him defiled for eternity.
But Lord Vishnu reasoned that the lotus could not have a reason for complaining since it was he who created out of nothing.
‘You are wrong,’ Lord Brahma said, ‘ you were in my dream and it was I created the plant because you insisted on it. ’
Transmigration of souls would make every blade of grass, rock, bumble bee or man as a dream within dream of another. It can go on ad infinitum.

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A Double Edged Sword

In Hindu trinity Vishnu is the Order maintaining a balance between Brahma and Siva. Whenever Brahma created a new world Siva the destroyer found some thing that upset him. He opened in anger his third eye to destroy it to cinders. It was the task of Vishnu to bring order out of Chaos.
Vishnu the upholder of Law thought the law could be written down so Brahmins anywhere on the earth could be guided to lead orderly lives.
Vishnu loved to hear Brahmins recite their hymns in Sanskrit and interpret laws.
One day the three gods were idling away.
Brahma heard a commotion. On the earth Brahmins were demanding preeminence in all things He heard on say,’ Only Brahmins can interpret law on the earth’. Brahma the creator was confused,’ Did I create it for only a particular set? I hate cliques.’
Siva heard him and said,’Say the word I will send my fire.’
Vishnu held his finger to his mouth. The two gods instantly kept silence. Vishnu listened closely to something that was going on below and said,’I must investigate.’ He changed himself into the form of an indigent Brahmin and went to Cherala. In the kingdom of Venadu where Mahabali ruled the kingdom people were making merry. What excited the curiosity of Vishnu was that the people were not Brahmins and yet they were as happy as gods.
Vishnu sidled up to one and asked if the people had laws. He asked what he meant by that. Vishnu the lawgiver was so shocked. He didn’t know if people could be happy without laws.
‘If you have quarrels how do you settle the dispute?’
‘We talk things face to face.’
Vishnu asked,’Without Law coming in between?’
‘Law is unnecessary since we take our Venerable king as our example’.
Vishnu was impressed. Vishnu in the same disguise went up the steps of the palace. King Mahabali and his consort were taking the air after lunch.
Seeing the guest the king came forward to receive him. He himself poured water for his feet and said,’please sit on the bench; it must have been quite a walk in the hot sun.’
The king effortlessly attended to his comfort while the queen called her attendants make ready for his food.
While the Brahmin was served the king and the queen sat near him and they plied him with food encouraging him to take his fill. Vishnu could not believe that a king who was not a Brahmin and yet could be as noble as gods.
‘This cannot be’ Vishnu said to himself.’These people have no laws;nor do they pray or sing hymns and pester the gods for anything.
The Brahmin said he was a stranger and he was amazed to hear they were all equal. The king nodded,’Yes we are all equal.’
‘No difference between man and woman?
King Mahabali answered,’Being man or woman can’t be helped. But in our conduct we seek only the good for both’.
Vishnu was so disappointed that there were those wo thought differently than he.
He pretended that he had no place to lay his head. ‘Grant me a boon O lord?’ The king asked him to speak up. The Brahmin asked the extent of land covered by three strides as his resting place..
The king smiled and said,’O Noble Brahmin, you ask too little.’
‘This will suffice.’
The king asked him to suit himself. The Brahmin took the first step and it covered the sky and the next spanned the water. And the third step covered the earth and down went King Mahabali under the gods foot. When Vishnu had ended his measure the kingdom of Venadu was gone and also everything on the earth.
Lord Vishnu brought back the Brahmins and said,’I can deal with people who appreciate laws.’
Moral: More than the fine print find out who is framing the laws and the purpose. There is more to it than meets the eye.

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Law and Justice do not always connect as in a direct line. I can cite parallels from cosmology and from moral philosophy. It is an anomaly theory.
Cause and Effect conform to it. Take prayer for example. Suppose I prayed God for a certain favor and did a number of good works to please Him and suppose I succeed would it mean God interfered with the divine will? It is often that in the interplay of several events that my prayers are answered or better still something else happened in my life more in tune with my present needs. Cause of my prayer and effect of it are linked in a roundabout manner. Still in effect it is as if God did answer my prayer. Now let us go onto cosmic matters. The Big Bang releases tremendous energy and there is an inflationary theory to explain this disproportionate amount of energy. Where these had come from? No one knows. We are not here discussing cosmic matters but about simple element of justice.
These days I have been hearing about Osama not getting due process of law.
First of all let me say Osama bin Laden was a lawless man.
Law can only work where humanity is enshrined in man’s hearts. Law- abiding citizens wherever they may be, shall appreciate it since they know if law is denied to them by some agencies they do have a recourse to justice in a court of law. Tariff war between nations can be sorted out in an International Court just as war crimes or any other do have a common platform to be heard. Law is accepted as the ultimate arbiter. We are not living in a lawless world but in a world where law is upheld. It reigns supreme well for most parts of the world. But we also have a number of lawless regions. Somali pirates for instance operate with impunity from a lawless region. Similarly are lawless regions from where terrorists can strike at will. It is this lawlessness and utter disregard to human values that have made Al-Qaeda succeed for a time. (There are groups like Taliban whose peculiar notions of law are drawn from barbaric times where women are stoned etc.,) These have no locus standi in any progressive modern society. In short lawless men either imposes their own law arbitrarily or law of the nations is entirely flouted. Osama caused death of thousands and thousands. These victims of all genders,age and faiths were denied due process law. If this be the case why should he be given a fair trial? Which court of law is appropriate when the victims belonged to nations all across the globe?
Suppose Osama was taken alive and was in American custody these terrorist groups would have hijacked some thousands of innocents from various places and held them to ransom. Why put more innocent lives needlessly to peril? Justice was meted out to a lawless man who never showed iota of humanity in his lifetime. Law and Justice need not always meet. If there were an extentuating circumstance or an anomaly it was here.

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The fellow who by sweat  and tears in the end reaches a key position to steal the company wholesale. He goes to Lichestein and dreads the day the kingdom changes its  tax haven status.  Whileone who never did a day’s honest work floats a pyramid scheme and makes off with it to a rogue nation. He gets instantly a celebrity status. His loot by a special Presidential decree is  free from any taint.

Moral: Thieves stick together  and even their law knows which side is more crooked than the other.



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