The Shattering of Peace


It is now 14 years since our family visited New Zealand. We loved that country, its fine people, its air and water purity, its clean roads and rivers and mountains. We drove all the way from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island, a distance of over 3,000 KMs in just about 2 weeks. It was a fabulous family vacation, and even today if we take a vote at home about where we want to go for the next vacation, it is unanimous – New Zealand! Though we do not always follow that vote as we go to other places for different experiences!!

We had a great time travelling around New Zealand, interacting with its great people, drinking some fantastic wines, and enjoying the volcanoes as well as the fast rivers and forests and mountains. Outstanding experience!

So, I was so sad when I learnt about the White terrorist from Australia wreaking unimaginable havoc on a peaceful country (he could have done that anywhere, but choosing New Zealand was an abominable decision) and murdering 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch (we had been to Christchurch during our holidays), on a Friday. As we know, Friday is a holy day for Muslims and they go to mosques for lunch time prayers.

While I do not wish to taint this murderous attack as a religious one (Christian Crusaders attacking Muslims) or a racist one (Whites against immigrant Browns), it is inevitable. There is no point in hiding the fact that White supremacy is on the rise around the Western nations of the world (given a positive push by the Honourable President Donald Trump of the U.S.), and could soon emerge as the chief contender for global terrorism trained against immigrants and Muslims specifically, as opposed to ISIS. Both are very bad for the world; while ISIS can only be defeated militarily, White supremacy is better controlled by nation states and their enlightened leadership.

A fantastic example of leadership was on display over the past one week, and that is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She demonstrated total empathy with the survivors and the victims’ families, and came through as a leader who would also make fast and rapid changes to her country’s gun laws in the aftermath of this disaster, without listening to special interest gun lobbies and wasting time. She was seriously wounded at heart that this attack could happen in her peace-loving and immigrant-welcoming country, and the whole country (including the immigrants and all the Muslim community) rallied around her leadership. They could sense and feel that she was in their midst, truly suffering the consequences of this attack on her “own” society.

I admired her mingling around and sympathizing with the plight of the survivors in a headscarf (similar to a hijab, worn by Muslim women), as a mark of respect and empathy towards them. Thousands of ordinary folks came out in support of the Muslim community around the mosque yesterday (Friday) during prayer time with silence observed, and hands entwined. And, the Prime Minister was there in attendance!

All this shows that a predominantly White country could do positive things towards immigrant victims and survivors who are not White, with the sheer willpower and commitment of the country’s leadership. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet, the Parliament and also the gun owners and gun shops came around in support of the new ban against assault rifles which was quickly implemented. Will this ever happen in the U.S., especially under Trump’s watch? Trump or no Trump, it is not going to happen in the U.S. Thousands of Americans are shot and killed using military-style weapons (which should have no place in a society) every year, including children and innocent bystanders, and the government does nothing except uttering vanities and both parties getting into a fist fight on TV shows in a totally partisan manner.

So, the peace is finally shattered in New Zealand. I am not sure that a country of just 3M people can recover from such a murderous attack. I would argue that apart from banning weapons of mass destruction like assault rifles with high capacity magazines, NZ should also carefully examine who comes in from Australia and other countries wherein White supremacy is firmly in place (though the supremacists might never win a public election). Imagine the reaction if a Muslim terrorist had killed 50 Church goers on a Sunday. The beauty of NZ is that it demonstrated that there is no difference between two such murder attacks. NZ will not go with one or the other – both attacks would eliminate peaceful folks who just turned up for worship and prayers. How would Trump react if it was the latter occurrence – all hell would have broken loose.

In a nutshell, there is no escape from close police monitoring, immigration checks, and gun control – all developed countries are learning that these factors play a very big role as we have seen in the Netherlands, France, the U.K., and Germany. Law enforcement needs to take an aggressive and serious view of individual freedom which transgresses into the larger good of the society. Individualism and religious conflicts cannot be excuses for murdering innocent civilians who play no part in such conflicts, and are after all, normal citizens going after their lives like any of us do.

I wish to salute Prime Minister Ardern for her resolute defiance and sombreness in the face of this attack on her country. Her empathy with a small immigrant community in her nation has captivated the hearts of all positive people around the world.

Hope NZ recovers from this disaster with a lot of healing. My best wishes to Kiwis of all colours,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd March 2019

The Healthcare Challenge


The biggest challenge any society faces today is how to keep its seniors productive and engaged, hoping to utilize their knowledge, expertise and experience while they still can work and contribute. This is especially true of economies such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and several other developed nations where rates of birth have been on the decline for decades.

The key factor in ensuring that the seniors continue to work (at least part time) and contribute to society, is achieving a competitively priced (I would argue low cost) healthcare. The proportion of budget allocation for healthcare is on the increase in developed countries, but it is still lower than the budget allocation for national security/defence. A big share of the healthcare allocation should go towards the older generation, as they have worked hard in building the society to where it is today, and it should be any government’s priority to fund their healthcare costs.

Good healthcare provision need not necessarily be very expensive, as often portrayed in the media. Private healthcare has become purely a for-profit business and is often associated with high cost since it purportedly offers higher quality as compared to public hospitals. Not so, in my opinion. I have seen good quality healthcare of comparable levels, in both private and public hospitals, at least in Singapore. The impression that people have is that private hospitals should be providing high quality due to better resources, doctors and equipment – this is not necessarily true. Most of us operate on referrals from friends. Even general practitioners are puzzled if you tell them you prefer a public hospital, as they know you could avail of private healthcare either due to corporate coverage or your own personal private insurance coverage. Why not spend more money, if you can knowing that it does not come from your pocket?

However, if the “greed” factor can be managed appropriately, there is a distinct possibility that private healthcare providers can provide decent quality at reasonable or fair prices, though higher than public healthcare costs. There are good examples of private healthcare providers who are viewed as reasonable in almost all developed countries.

In my opinion, the issue on the table is two-fold: reasonable healthcare coverage for all citizens (like what Singapore provides) via an insurance scheme tied to provident fund, and the willingness of private providers to fall in line with market demands, rather than stay isolated with an exalted brand image associated with very high costs.

For seniors, the challenge of healthcare is multi-faceted: apart from health ailments often associated with advancing age, they also have to contend with lack of a sense of well-being and potential isolation from society. Folks who have just turned 58 have a long possibility of continued contribution to society in many, many ways. How can they deliver on that promise, and how can a government encourage them to do so in a very proactive manner?

Providing healthcare on demand is the key. Seniors should get priority in accessing healthcare at a lower cost, which would strongly encourage them to continue serving the society which is taking care of their needs. People in Western societies continue to work well past 65, and age discrimination has not stopped them from operating in service industries wherein unemployement is rather low. Similarly, at the high end of the wage spectrum, there is a strong need for mature guidance from senior executives who have left active corporate jobs.

The other big issue with seniors is the emergence of previously unheard of diseases which affect their functionality, such as dementia and Parkinsons’ – these can be avoided or delayed by continued active work engagement which instils a strong sense of purpose. Helping younger generation and mentoring them are strong reasons why older folks would like to continue serving, albeit at lower time commitments.

So, in an overall sense, the healthcare challenge is looming large for seniors in all societies, and they can help themselves by continuing their engagement from where they left off, while trying to ensure that they keep well from a healthcare perspective. Keeping fit is not an easy task for any age group. It assumes big importance for the older generation due to various ailments which could be kept at bay by an appropriate fitness regimen and addressing healthcare issues in a timely manner. Governments should support the seniors aggressively, especially the ones just leaving their jobs for good. Both physical and mental health issues need to be addressed in this effort.

The return on investment from such efforts will add significantly to the GDP growth rate. Smaller countries will benefit more and faster due to efficiency of policy executions.

It is critical to bring the healthcare providers in line with society’s expectations, instead of letting them run riot – healthcare is not a “normal” or “regular” business. This also applies to pharmaceutical companies and other innumerable support providers in the healthcare industry. We have seen egregious examples of super greed by pharma companies in the U.S. which are rather very bad examples of how such companies try to extort unhealthy profits from consumers, insurance companies and hospitals.

In a nutshell, seniors can be productive for economies to grow, and they are asking for better quality healthcare at lower costs. Societies need to support them.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th March 2019

Inequality Accentuated


The latest scandal to plague that acclaimed paragon of justice, equality, liberty and virtue which is the United States is absolutely stunning. For we are talking here about the status of higher education, on which parents around the U.S. and the world have laid their trust on to facilitate a high quality, fair, and meritocratic education for their wards.

And it is damning to know that it is by a simple incident that the whole racket came to light – I will let you folks read up, but the FBI discovered the scam when an investor from Los Angeles revealed it to them, probably to get a reduced sentence for his securities fraud that he perpetrated on thousands of investors in his company’s stock.

This only demonstrates that sheer wealth and greed could easily blind the rich people, whose only ambition is to seek more wealth and unequal access for their children in an unfair world. The rich folks who benefitted in this higher education scam did not care about the losses that otherwise qualified candidates endured simply because the rich took away what should rightfully have gone to them in the first place.

The more shocking thing is that world beating universities such as Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, and other such universities could have been taken for a ride by their own admissions committees and athletic coaches. It would be very hard for them to claim innocence as these criminals who perpetrated the crimes belonged and worked for the universities. I am sure they would argue that they have been led down the garden path by coaches and admissions officers who probably colluded to get admissions for totally unqualified candidates and fake athletes who should have been thoroughly vetted.

This scandal, in which over 50 rich people have been implicated, is likely to lead to a class action suit by aggrieved and qualified candidates and their parents. The U.S. government is taking the right actions, and thank God, there is no interference by President Trump or his infamous Education Secretary, so far. Such happenings would have led to political action to shield the rich and famous and powerful parents from criminal action in third-world countries, for sure. To the credit of the FBI, they pursued the scandal over many months before culpability was clearly established and arrests could be made.

I am waiting to see if Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Wall Street would defend these criminal parents. Not likely, but the other rich parents who have not yet been caught should be planning for escape from the clutches of whistle blowers and the FBI. And, there must be many such rich folks. They better be scared. Such scandals should not be allowed to taint the storied reputations of leading universities – I hope the universities acknowledge their lack of oversight and assume the blame for what has happened. That is the only honourable thing to do. A very long wait to do so would surely lead to emergence of a bad reputation for these universities (there must be other universities who are not yet caught in similar situations). The affirmative actions by the admissions committee has not only led to admissions for deserving Black/Hispanic/Asian candidates, but has also led to admissions for fake athletes who are sons/daughters of very rich parents and many of them with fake SAT scores. The SAT tests are going to be tainted as well, as the College Board allowed tests to be taken by purported candidates who did not actually take the test by themselves – they were helped by guides to change their test responses, or they allowed an expert test-taker to take the test on their behalf.

It hurts as my son just took the SAT test, before this scandal broke.

Well, the world is unjustly unfair. Universities were supposed to be fair and equitable, but that does not seem to be the case anymore. As my wife commented, such things should have been happening for a long time in various ways, but this is the first time people got caught. She also feels that this is not the end of the story, and the rich will continue in whatever way possible to execute similar actions, simply because they can afford to do so. Even if they are not paying a fixer to get admission for their wards, they can always spend lots of money in legitimate test preparation, which is denied to candidates with lesser means of course. Most test takers prepare on their own with test aids and tools, not spend hard-earned money of their parents to blow on test preparation agencies.

I am disillusioned to say the least. This was (and is) not the case when I took the Joint Entrance Exam for getting admission to the prestigeous Indian Institutes of Management (the IIMs) some three decades ago. It was extremely difficult to prepare and take these exams, there was lot of sweat to say the least. During my time, almost 100,000 candidates took the exam for just 600 or 700 seats in the three IIMs. Imagine if that exam were fixed by unscrupulous fixers and rich parents!

Well, the U.S. is having more than its share of troubles, of late. One thing I am totally impressed about is that the U.S. government does not interfere in the administration of justice. I do not know if the judges are impartial given that they are appointed by either one of the political parties (their respective governments) with widely differing ideologies. However, the execution of the process of investigation is commendable – there is absolute respect for the independence of investigators without undue interference even from their own bosses. We do not have such independence in many, many countries around the world.

Have a great weekend, folks, and think about the status of higher education and the scandal that is taking the world by storm,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th March 2019

Why the rich shun taxes


Anyone who has followed the World Economic Forum debates would have surely chanced upon the illuminating one in which Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman heavily criticised the rich for not paying their share of taxes.

The traditional view of economics and politics has been that the rich would want to be taxed less, as they believe that they could directly contribute to nation-building in a more productive and efficient manner, instead of letting governments fritter away the increased taxes in an irresponsible and inefficient manner. After all, is it not true that business entrepreneurs are more adept in building functioning businesses and creating more jobs with the increased money that is available to them by way of reduced taxation?

Sounds good and appropriate?

May be not.

Our societies (in almost all countries) are characterised by income inequalities and non-inclusive growth benefitting few rather than the many. Inclusive growth remains a dream for many nations which aspire to equitable income distribution and growth benefits for all. Is it wise to just leave this most important objective of governments and societies to the whims and fancies of the richest people of the world? Of course, there have been good examples of the very rich people like Bill Gates, but there are also many, many bad or poor examples of rich folks who do not invest their less-taxed money on much-needed job creation or philanthropy.

Achieving a reasonable level of income equality is a very essential pre-requisite for national economic development. Such equality will then extend to education and healthcare for the citizens. As we know intuitively, any society will develop in a holistic manner if we address education, healthcare, infrastructure and systemic issues plaguing the society leading to crime and inner-city violence, etc., So, equitable income distribution is an absolute must for a society to develop faster without its attendant ills, and put it firmly on a path to economic and social growth.

But then, the rich do not want to pay more taxes. As the U.S. just demonstrated, the U.S. Congress successfully passed the tax reform bill which essentially reduced the tax rates for the wealthy (Republicans favour less taxes and less role for government in nation-building as core fundamental principles of their Party). When the wealthiest nation in the world is not playing ball to raise taxes on its most wealthy citizens, it means that the rest of the world is going to be disillusioned, thinking probably that they are on the wrong trajectory, based on what some academics state in their opinion pieces. Then the world would lose its battle against income inequality.

I quote here from the World Economic Forum 2019 event transcripts (I could not resist it!): “The ratio between executive pay and that of an average worker has grown from 30:1 in 1978 to 312:1 today. The top income tax rates in 1970 worldwide was 62%; that has been negotiated down to less than 38% in rich countries, and 28% in developing countries. In many countries, high tax rates on the rich have been abolished, while $170 billion every year is taken to tax havens.”

I am sure it is clear to my readers where the developed world is headed: less and less taxes for their wealthy (as their governments probably do not need the increased tax collections that are absolutely possible and needed for reducing their own countries’ income inequalities and providing for their homeless people sleeping on the streets). This is not a good thing even for the developed world.

What about developing countries? Many developing countries are unfortunately characterised by heavy levels of corruption, money laundering, stashing of illegal money, public bribing to win elections illegitimately, and weak systems of judiciary to counter the encroachment by the executive and the self-serving legislatures. This has become a never ending downward spiral of less and less money being devoted to national development and eliminating poverty. Of course, we can argue that pulling poor people above the line of poverty is a more urgent need in these countries than accomplishing income equality or reducing income inequality. But then, the poverty lines are set so low that it would take many generations before the poor folks could reach any semblance of equality in the society, while at the same time not having equal access to education and healthcare.

It is important for governments to realise that they cannot forsake the development of their countries by surrendering to blackmail by their rich people to take the business elsewhere, like what many tech companies did in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. Under pressure from President Trump’s administration, companies like Apple have finally agreed to bring their money back from low tax jurisdictions to the U.S. and invest in job creation in the U.S. [sorry folks, I have to give credit where it is absolutely due, and in this particular case, President Trump did the right thing to exert pressure that was much needed to make tech companies behave – after all, they should show some patriotism, not just driven by economic greed caused by low taxes elsewhere].

It is not at all surprising that the rich do not wish to pay more taxes, and are, in fact, working to persuade their governments to reduce not just their income taxes but even their inheritance taxes. They mostly think they are smarter (and most of them are) than the rest of us. They think that they are capable of strongly influencing their politicians and governments. They think that they can invest the extra money left in their hands in ways wiser than what their own governments can do.

Well, well, now you get the overall picture – where the society is and where the rich at the top are. Don’t get me wrong – it is not illegal to be rich, but it is unconscionable not to be willing to pay fair share of taxes or avoid and evade taxes altogether. What happened to the people in the middle and bottom of the pyramid who helped the rich man’s enterprise to get to where it is today? Without them, can anything of value be produced in any industry or business? Did they get their due share of incomes? Did the rich even bother to find out if these folks got their fair access to education for their children, healthcare for their families, and so on and so forth. Did the governments bother at all? As long as democratically elected governments are subservient to purely economic interests, the situation on the ground is unlikely to change, and income inequalities will continue to persist.

Good to think about during a Sunday………..

Have a great week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th March 2019

Moral Decadence


It is a well known fact that most of the rich countries have committed huge sins and transgressed the moral boundaries of ethical living on this planet. Numerous examples of trampling on the rights of other countries and people can be cited in evidence.

Most European countries, the chief among these being the U.K. and France apart from Denmark and Germany have colonized distant nations and subjugated the people of those countries in horrible manner through several centuries. I am not leaving Japan off the hook – the Japanese committed innumerable sins across Asia which included killings and raping innocent folks. The list of sins committed by developed countries is very long, and that would include even the U.S. which has been responsible for countless deaths and disappearances caused by their invasions and regime change policy.

The focus of this blog post is not on these countries or their past sins. It is on the continuing sad story of the Blacks in the U.S. who are being tortured both by law enforcement and the common people due to the colour of their skin, which implies only one thing – deeply ingrained racism, and the very strong feeling that the Blacks are no better than slaves. This is abominable, and the racist feeling seems to be widespread across the U.S., going by almost weekly reporting of incidents whose subjects are Blacks going about their lives in the most innocuous manner possible. If a White person does the same simple thing – such as clearing trash in his own backyard, or waiting to swim in his own condominium’s swimming pool, or just taking a walk along a tree-lines boulevard, etc., no one would even bother to look. But if a Black person were to do any of these daily chores of life, it is absolutely reasonable for a police officer to stop the person and ask for his ID or engage in aggressive questioning. The evidence is mounting every day about such seemingly harmless occurrences, which are shot using phone cameras of bystandes and instantly posted on social media.

Were such things happening in the past?

Absolutely.

The difference now is the instantaneous publicity that is available via social media. And that makes such happenings come through as extremely ugly and damaging to the reputation of law enforcement.

What does it show when such things continue to happen? What does it say about the society in which Americans live? What does it say about the government which runs the country? What does it say about the police?

Only one thing – a precipitous decline of moral values, a huge drop in the perspective of Whites about Black people in general, lack of religiosity in the outlook, lack of influence of the Church or the Synagogue as the case may be, and so on. The moral decadence is stunning. I am not talking here about lack of morals such as indulging in mindless violence or prostitution. What I am talking about is the value of any human being on this planet which cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and cannot be considered as higher or lower than any other human being. White cannot have a value higher than that of the Black, and that assertion applies to Brown and Yellow as well. All colours need to be equal at all times.

Americans and the U.S. government cannot dismiss these law enforcement problems as unusual or rare occurrences – these are surely neither unusual nor rare in today’s America.

It is easy for the Whites and the Browns and the Yellows to attribute the cause of inner city violence to the Blacks. Violence in the U.S. exists all across the colour spectrum and across all sections of the society. One cannot affirm Blacks only to be the chief cause of violence.

Given the poor state of ensuring moral equivalence of human beings in the U.S., the country can hardly claim to be the beacon of freedom and justice for the free world. The “free” world does not exist for the Blacks in the U.S. – they are getting shot at by the police for doing their daily chores. Many Black lives have been taken away over the past year due to arbitrary and excessive use of force and total lack of reasoned judgement on the part of the police. You might have seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Across the U.S., well-meaning Whites are very concerned about such atrocious human rights violations, when the U.S. government is screaming hoarse on such violations elsewhere in other countries.

But then, other countries do not care anymore.

Why?

They can clearly see for themselves that the U.S. is one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations against its own citizens.

So, why bother to change bad behaviour?

No need, let us continue violating the rights of our poor vulnerable citizens – even the mightiest nation in the world does it – isn’t it?

Such is the strong influence of the most powerful nation on earth which purports to be the most honourable country with respect for freedom and justice and democracy, with a Constitution which enshrines individual rights of citizens.

Would you want to chase your dreams in a country with moral decadence as the core principle in differentiating its own citizens? Think carefully. The Blacks have to get Dr Martin Luther King’s dream back in their heads and fight for their freedom which they are increasingly in danger of losing.

Participate in the CNN #MyFreedomDay on the 14th March against modern day slavery.

Cheera folks, have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th March 2019

The pro-life argument


On this one thing of life and death, I am proud to be termed as a “conservative”.

I know that I am liberal (in U.S. terminology I am “left of centre” or left-wing liberal – which I do not agree with as I believe I am a centrist on most issues) in my views (both political and social), as opposed to right-wing conservative views. Being a liberal or a conservative comes from personal experiences and an understanding of what is good for the society as a whole, not just for oneself. It takes some analysis of the environment, politics, and society. It is not easy to “assume” a pole position because that is how the world sees your position. Irrespective of what the world thinks of you, you do have an absolute independent right to think what you want and position yourself in philosophical terms as a thinker in your own right. Who can challenge that?

So, let us now analyze one thing on which I side with the so-called conservatives. We do not have this kind of discussion in Singapore or India, but unfortunately the world gets influenced by what happens in the U.S. on most things. Though both India and Singapore are more conservative on social issues than the U.S., I have not seen such matters discussed in public or court of law, thereby prudently avoiding social disputes which could be rather disruptive.

However, in the so-called first-world great power of the U.S. there are many things being discussed which depicts a society in constant conflict with itself, such as racism against blacks, hatred towards immigrants, vindictiveness against people who hold opposing views, and amongst many such issues, abortion.

Abortion is an extremely sensitive topic in the U.S. My readers would be aware of the landmark Roe vs Wade judgement of 1973 by the Supreme Court of the U.S. I am not going to delve into it, except to say that ruling legalized abortion rights of women. If you have been following U.S. politics of late, you would have witnessed the U.S. Congress members questioning judicial appointees if they support the above judgement. In general (though not always), the Democrats support the abortion rights of women, and the Republicans do not support. President Trump has indicated that he is pro-life, which is another way of saying that once conceived, women lose the right to a legal abortion.

As I said earlier, we do not discuss abortion in our part of the world. However, I felt compelled to write about this topic as it applies to the U.S., as I read about “late-term” abortion laws enacted by some states in the U.S. I personally believe that once you hear and record the foetal (fetal) heartbeats, then any abortion amounts to taking the life of the foetus away from this world without its consent. I am not going to be liked by the abortion proponents in the U.S., as this subject matter is close to the heart of the left-wing liberals as opposed to the right-wing conservatives. I do not wish to colour this matter as a religious topic on which the Church, for example, would have a say. That is not the case (though the Catholic Church opposes abortion, to be sure). In my mind, what matters is the decision-making power of the individual woman who has conceived, and is staring at the possibility of abortion.

This is a hot topic in the U.S. as you can imagine, especially in the light of the change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court towards the addition of more conservative judges by President Trump over the past couple of years. Both Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavenaugh are ambiguous on the Roe vs Wade judgement which is acting as precedence for the Supreme Court – given a strong case, they could tilt the court towards an anti-abortion judgement. The liberals are mortally scared of that possibility.

Notwithstanding that possibility, my contention is simple: does a human have the right to take away the life of an unborn (or going to be born) human, once it is unambiguously proved that the would be new-born is having heartbeats, and breathing like any other human? do we misconstrue this issue as the “inviolable right of a woman over her body” rather than a life & death matter, which needs to be investigated further? This is not about legal precedence or religious opinion. It is about making the right decision when that decision involves a new life. How can we compartmentalize this issue as women’s constitutional right only? What about the rights of the unborn baby?

There are ongoing multiple challenges to Roe vs Wade in various state courts in the U.S., such as in Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, etc., While these challenges would be vehemently opposed by organizations such as Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, various womens’ and medical associations, the point is that this is not about securing or re-securing a constitutional right, this is not about liberals vs conservatives, and this is not about the Democrats vs the Republicans.

This issue is much larger.

I am not going to conclude on this matter here with my own prescription to solve the problem, I am just positioning the same in my own light, as I felt strongly about foetal heartbeats occurring in general six weeks into a pregnancy. So, now we are faced with a huge human challenge, which only humans can address and resolve. Not the politicians, not the courts, not any religion. May be Roe vs Wade will go unchallenged. May be women will continue to enjoy their constitutional right to aborting their foetuses anytime irrespective of the heartbeats. But one thing is for sure, Americans need more education on this topic than what has been offered to them in schools.

I know that abortion is a very sensitive topic – an extremely touchy subject to most women. I am not against their legal rights. I am just wondering if we have missed the pro-life argument posed by a heart-beating foetus, if it had a chance to present its case in a court of law?

Some critical thing to think about, right?

Of course, I welcome brickbats and strong retaliation from my women readers. As a generally neutral centrist, I welcome their feedback – positive or very negative, no problem with that. If I have to change my views, then there has to be an extremely strong rebuttal, for sure.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead, folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd February 2019


The elusive Nobel Peace Prize


Former U.S. President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, as we all know – he probably deserved it, though I am not able to pinpoint one single accomplishment which would have motivated the Awards Committee to select him. Though President Obama is not my favourite, he obviously deserved the award for his peace-making efforts around the world and for his push towards nuclear non-proliferation.

It is very obvious that the current U.S. President Donald Trump never liked that Nobel Prize going to Obama, and is probably of the strong view that if there is any U.S. President who deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, it can only be him. He thinks he has eliminated the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat by schmoozing with Chairman Kim Jong Un, building a personal rapport with him, walking around the summit hotel venues, wasting U.S. taxpayer money, and giving rambling press conferences at the end of his rather useless summits. He did one with Chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June 2018 with huge fanfare, and he has just “un”finished another one in Hanoi, Vietnam earlier this week.

And, he expects the Nobel Awards Committee to take note of his peace overtures towards North Korea, and probably award him the 2019 Noble Peace Prize for his huge, earth-shattering peace accomplishment. Does anyone, just anyone (excluding his Republican Party supporters) believe him? Why would the august committee of Nobel Prize foundation even recognize him?

    President Trump has the distinction of singularly destroying the credibility of the U.S. Presidency and the U.S. Congress and other government institutions
    He is the first President ever who has abused and misused Twitter to communicate not only his views on sensitive foreign policy matters, but also use it to attack his political opponents and detractors
    He is the first President to single out sitting Judges and attack them for judicial decisions which went against him
    He continues to rubbish the FBI, the CIA, the Dept of Justice, and the Office of the Special Counsel
    He actively schmoozes with dictators such as Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Putin, President Duterte, Crown Prince MBS, and so on and so forth – his explanations and justifications of why he does what he does are just laughable and his actions will eventually destroy the global standing and credibility of the U.S.
    He thinks he is larger than life, due primarily to his ability to “make” deals – he has tried to make deals only with dictators and murderous regimes, and even there, he has failed miserably. What happened to his “The Art of the Deal” credentials?
    He is totally unable and unwilling to make deals with democratically elected leaders, who are subject to the same democratic constraints that he is subjected to, which he totally ignores for his own personal interests

It is absolutely clear to one and all, that President Trump is a show-man from the world of real estate and casinos. He is gambling and acting only on his instinct – and this is a real low for U.S. diplomacy. When history is written, I am sure that his gullible approach to global diplomacy, his mistreatment of the closest allies, his mafia style “shell out the bucks or else” approach, his denigration of global institutions and also the U.S. democratic framework – all this and more will be covered in depth, as such a disastrous experiment cannot be repeated.

While there are very bad examples of how past U.S. Presidents indulged in regime changes around the world (the South American misadventures of CIA led to thousands of killings and disappearances) against the influx of Communism and Socialistic ideology, President Trump has taken a different approach towards destruction of democracy – he is doing irreparable damage not only around the world but more so within the U.S. itself. He has been responsible for re-emergence of racism which is despicable. People act on Presidential cues, and we see the results as unimaginable acts of racism against the Blacks across the U.S.

Well, if the Nobel Prize Committee chooses President Trump for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize because he achieved all of the above, while stopping the nuclear weapon testing by North Korea, then let us celebrate the demise of prudence and democracy around the world. Let us join the beautiful Dictators’ Club and help rationalize anti-democratic forces. When Michael Cohen said in his Congressional Testimony earlier this week that President Trump won’t go away quietly if he loses the next Presidential Elections, did I get goose bumps? You tell me.

Have a great weekend, folks,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd March 2019

Enjoying Public Transport


I am still driving my socialist car as though it were a Porsche or at least like a BMW or Mercedes Benz. There is no harm in that because almost all cars on the road behave in the same way in a traffic-clogged city, irrespective of the specifications of the car – whether high-end sports car or mid-range socialist car, right?

In Singapore, most cars behave in a specific manner, due to very tough law enforcement mechanism and severe punishments meted out in a consistent way. So it does not matter what car you drive.

Of late, I have started using public transport systems which are of high quality in Singapore, as most of you know. Whenever there seems to be high parking charges imposed (especially in the CBD, or Central Business District area), I tend to reconsider my options, weighing convenience against cost effectiveness. Most times, convenience wins hands down, but there are days and occasions when using public transport makes eminent sense. For example, I use public bus to reach my gym on weekdays as the parking is expensive and bus costs less than one-third of the parking cost, whereas during weekends, driving is a better option as the parking cost is similar to the bus cost, and the car allows me to buy a few things and bring back to home. Driving into CBD during weekdays is definitely not a good idea as apart from the exorbitant parking rates, there is an ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) charge to enter the CBD which varies depending on the time of the day.

Recently, I used a combination of bus and MRT subway system, which facilitated reaching the heart of the CBD in less than 40 min at a low cost. Then I started wondering – why do people still want to stick to their cars instead of enjoying the air-conditioned travel comfort in public transport. Apart from the comfort and timeliness, the other thing is the lack of traffic congestion on the MRT except, of course, of the commuters themselves who clog the stations in big numbers right through the day, more so during the peak hours.

One thing that I really enjoyed is watching the commuters and their behaviour without being obtrusive. 90% of the folks were totally fixated on their smartphones, many watching TV serials or videos, others reading news, etc., There was hardly any conversations going on, except amongst school going children and teenagers who mostly giggled about something. I expected at least some love birds, but I hardly saw anyone. This experience told me that Singaporean public transport commuters do not use the “public” opportunity to seek out potential new partners or business associates. They appear to be living a solo life in their own respective glass bubble, with hardly any interaction with other strangers. In fact, I noticed some couples did not even engage in any talk, but once they settled in, almost immediately whipped out their respective smartphones and started doing their own thing.

I noticed that government education on public orderliness has percolated and embedded itself in the psyche of people so much, that they always form a neat queue on either side of the opening doors of the MRT coaches, and try not to get pushed in as happens in Hong Kong or Mumbai.

Well, what I can say is that you save enough money in a five day week to have more than couple of meals if you use public transport as compared to driving and parking your own car. Though I sometimes wish to give up my car for good, the convenience factor nags me – I have to walk only 5 minutes to the bus stop right outside my condo, but have to walk some 12 minutes to the nearest MRT station. I have to wait for the bus, or use the several bus apps to plan the departure from my home to sync with specific bus arrival. And so on, and so forth. I was thinking today that such precise timings and definitions would have hardly mattered in India, for example, but in a developed country, our sensitivity goes up! We become extremely time conscious and want to plan our journey to the very last minute!!

However, in a nutshell, I have started enjoying at least the little bit of public transport that I am using. I wish the bus driver when I board the bus, and mostly the drivers respond with a big smile, as it is very apparent that no commuter bothers about the driver. Drivers of public transport in Singapore are not used to greetings coming from passengers, it appears! Everytime I get into a taxi, I greet the driver with his name as the app shows his name, and almost everytime I get warmth back. For me it is not unusual way of operating, but for the driver it is an unusual experience, a pleasant one to be greeted from out of the blue. Many a time, a suitably warmed up driver is a better alternative as he or she engages in small talk afterward which is a good experience.

So, here I go – for my next ride using public transport, which for me involves a fair bit of sociology reading as well, apart from getting to my destination on time!

Cheers, and have a great week ahead folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th February 2019

The Disappearing Bond


There are many “bonds” disappearing as the world progresses in step with modernity.

One significant bond which is slowly but surely starting to fade is the religious fixation that we in our generation have or used to have. The millennials are mostly disconnected with religious rituals, though there are many exceptions. When I refer to millennials, I am referring to the global mindset of youngsters throughout the developed world, which is fast getting influenced by socialism and anti-capitalistic tendencies. Part of this mindset, comprised of a rebellious approach, is also raising uncomfortable questions about the influence of religion(s) when most religions are plagued by scandals, or seen as instigator of terrorism and violence against fellow human beings.

Is this surprising? Not at all. It is rather to be expected, as we as adult seniors, have not taken actions against rogue religious priests who have engaged in activities not compatible with their status as “god’s men” in this world.

Let me first cover Hinduism, which is the most pacifist religion the world ever invented, practiced by over a billion people (one out of every seven people on the planet). While it has much to be commended and adopted, there have been a million instances when it has gone against the downtrodden (I am referring here to the “untouchables” of India who were banished from entering temples for hundreds of years). The more recent aspect is the penetration of corrupted men masquerading as priests who have caused untold grief and violence, including sexual harassment. Several of these fake priests have been caught and indicted in the recent past by India’s Courts of Law. Unfortunately, the foundation of the religion itself gets shaken in the eyes of everyone, but more so in the eyes of the millennials who treat such folks with utter contempt and seek their excommunication and imprisonment for crimes committed by them against humanity. I am still a practicing Hindu, though not very religious, so I think I have every right to join the millennials in their contempt for illicit, corrupt and criminal activities done by the so-called Hindu priests (a select few, I should add).

The only other religion which has influenced me is Christianity, due to my schooling which spanned over 12 years (including Kindergarten), all in Jesuit schools. As my readers already know, Indian Hindu parents mostly preferred the academic rigour and disciplinary approach of Jesuit schools for the early education of their children, and my parents were no different. So, I was influenced in positive ways of life (not in a religious manner though) by mostly Christian teachers, while maintaining my Hinduism connection all those years. And, I think I have benefited vastly from the education that I had during my primary and secondary school, which not only emphasized academics but also placed immense value on ethics and character-building.

So, I was shocked (not for the first time, I have to say, as I had been watching this space for the past couple of years already) to see the Pope handing down punishments to his most important senior clerics as a long-delayed justice to sexual harassment victims traumatized over the past many decades. It has happened in many countries – Brazil, the U.S., Australia, and so on. It is criminal if the person ordained in the faith of God uses his enormous leverage over unsuspecting teenagers in such a bad and unpardonable way, leading to a lifetime of trauma for those poor folks. The drama of a conclave on such harassment and molestation is right now playing out in the Vatican, as part of a special conference called by the Pope to address the plague of sexual abuse, and I hope he does not condone cover ups which have been going on around the world shielding priests from Church actions against them.

So, is it any wonder that religious influence is waning? I am not making any observations on other religions, as I do not have an exposure or experience with those religions. My experience is with Hinduism and Christianity, and I have to reiterate that my above comments have nothing to do with the core philosophies of these exalted and great religions as such. My contempt is more based on the fact that the religious interlocutors assigned to manage the relationship between God and Man/Woman, let the people down in an abominable manner, in ways which are simply not pardonable. Though forgiveness remains one of the main tenets of both religions, I would not forgive such criminals even in the normal world, why would I forgive them in their “religious world” wherein such things should never have been contemplated to start with.

So, the bond is disappearing. The number of practicing Christians is dropping in a big way, and the Pope would have concerns about it. The actions that he takes as part of the above conference should be strong and should not shield the senior clerics. His leadership should make the difference. What he does or does not do will also influence other religions and how people view the Church and other religions in this new context.

It is hard to reinstate a bond which has altogether disappeared, and we all should keep that in our minds as we join efforts to address the issues on the table. Nevertheless, as I had written in an earlier blog post (see under “religion” category), people do not need intermediaries to deal with when it comes to managing their relationship with God or even to coordinate their spiritual endeavours, and this has remained my view for many years. I am not going to worship a human being as the official representative of God in this world.

Cheers, and have a wonderful weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd February 2019

The “all-screen” Addiction


I am not a TV watcher or movie goer.

I rarely go for movies (on the average once in six months) in a theatre, or watch soap operas. I occasionally see CNN or CNBC or BBC on the home TV, more because I like the anchor or the presenter rather than the content of the news. Most news that I consume is via iPhone apps anyway, so I am more or less current on global affairs anyway.

However, after the advent of NetFlix which I have subscribed to (on behalf of the family of course), there have been some change in my behavioural pattern. I liked a few of the original NetFlix serials and a few movies. Initially, I used to see once per week. Later, it became twice and thrice a week, as I could not resist the urge to know more about the next episode of a particular serial. While movies can be had in one sitting of mostly less than 2 hours, serials can drive you towards serious addiction, as multiple episodes would generally be available for viewing at one go – which means you can sit through some 3 to 4 episodes, each spanning some 45 minutes. And, you are never happy and “complete” as there are many more episodes of the same serial still pending for your viewing and ultimate pleasure.

I must have seen at least 10 serials over the past 6 months or so – some of these are not finished, still continuing and I have not completed the viewing though multiple unviewed episodes are available for my viewing. I have more or less stopped seeing NetFlix movies, as my general rating is not more than 3.0 out of 5.0 for most of the movies. But serials have been good and absorbing, though I felt that several of these were unnecessarily dragging on without closure – similar to the Tamil language TV serials in multiple TV channels in Tamil Nadu (and elsewhere in India).

I think, by now, I have developed an addiction for NetFlix serials. What this means is simple – if I have nothing else to do, I tend toward NetFlix viewing, there seems to be not much else to do. This is wrong, and this is how bad addictions start (all addictions are bad). I have to shake myself off NetFlix, but sometimes I feel that I am paying for it, so I have to at least see some – get some viewing on NetFlix as my “share” of the overall family viewing experience and cost amortization. This is an useless argument, as we all know. Like cigarette or drug use, it is hard to drop TV addiction once you start liking and enjoying it. We do nothing while seeing TV or NetFlix – we are dumbos avidly lapping up the dishes served on the screen. Is this a good thing? No, not at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if clinics/hospitals/ashrams start NetFlix de-addiction programs and charge people a bomb for it, as most folks are getting sucked into NetFlix – especially in countries like India where the pricing is very low. In many countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, etc., mobile data consumption has shot up in a huge manner due to video viewing on mobiles by people of all demographics, especially millennials.

I am also addicted to YouTube – I see Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers every morning (my time) on my iPhone, and also see other stand-up comedians like Russell Peters, Rowan Atkinson, Hasan Minhaj, et al………again, I could not resist this simple temptation – after all it is some 30 minutes during my early morning hours. But then, I have created a pattern now which I believe might turn out to be harmful in the long run. Looks like I cannot live without YouTube, NetFlix, WhatsApp, and so many other apps.

On top of all this going on (not just in my case, but for most people I know), my son subscribed to Amazon’s PrimeVideo at the ridiculous price of SGD 2.99 per month – that is INR 150 per month! Much lower than NetFlix price of SGD 13.98 per month. Apart from the equivalent of NetFlix, Amazon Prime has other benefits such as a 2-hour delivery of items ordered, etc., and a free-month of PrimeVideo. I dilly-dallied for some time, but eventually approved the subscription. This means that my addiction problems are now doubled instantaneously. I thought of chucking out NetFlix, but after using PrimeVideo I decided it would be better to keep NetFlix going – as I found it to be a far better option. I still managed to see two movies on PrimeVideo before calling it a day, though my family thinks it is a better option!

Now you see my problem? Dealing with this addiction is going to be a bigger challenge than the usual corporate issues or inter-personal matters. Addiction is slated to be the biggest challenge for most millennials, but I am no millennial. My experience proves that addiction can happen at any age or any time and anywhere. In fact, I pulled out my iPhone on a high-speed train in China recently, connected it to the train WiFi and started seeing NetFlix serials! Come on, not a good way to spend time – you should be doing emails or creating a business plan while on such a nice transportation system. I am thinking constantly of how to go back to pre-NetFlix days when I was not disturbed by the feasibility of such on-demand movies and serials. I think I should. What do you think? Are you having this addiction? How are you dealing with it? Do you think such an addiction is bad? How will our children view us when we are constantly engaged on viewing a movie or serial on a laptop or on mobile phone, or even on the home TV? Feels like those days when TV was dominant…………..and grabbed all the family time.

Let me come up with a de-addiction plan. In the meanwhile, here’s wishing you a wonderful week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th February 2019