The Cruelty of Separations


Governments seem to take pleasure in separating even young children from their parents, with no plan to eventually reunite them. I am referring to the border crossing across the Mexico – U.S. border, wherein thousands of migrants have crossed over into the U.S. territories. These migrants are from various South American countries which are impoverished, plagued by violence, or having other serious problems, pushing their long-suffering citizens out of their respective countries. Many of them seek political asylum, fleeing from political persecution.

While this kind of migration into the U.S. is not unusual from across its southern borders, the Trump Administration’s vigorous opposition to admitting even asylum seekers, and to allowing the migration to continue unabated has stunted the migration. The push towards building Trump’s favourite border wall, the strengthening of border security operations, and other actions have frightened the would-be migrants. Trump constantly attacks the migrants and the migrant convoys as we have seen over the past year or so.

However, what is really cruel is the forced separation of young children from their parents at the border by U.S. border officials. Apparently, there is no proper accounting or tracking of these children, scaring off the parents as to their whereabouts and well-being. The intent seems to be to scare the parents as such examples would completely put off the would-be migrants on the way to the border. The idea behind the separation is to initiate proceedings against the parents for their illegal entry into the U.S., while their children are kept somewhere under foster care.

While Trump has since rescinded this cruel family separation policy in June 2018 under intense public pressure and judicial scrutiny, separations continued for a few months after this official suspension. More than anything else, multiple official agencies of the U.S. government have not been able to account, reconcile and reunite the children with their parents.

This very cruel practice of separating children from even asylum seekers (who should enjoy a higher status than just any illegal migrant seeking better economic status) is very unusual and does not reflect the high-ground moralistic American values. We know that such values have been taken to the laundry by the Trump Administration’s rather inconsistent policies and incoherent policy execution by rather incompetent Cabinet secretaries.

I am reminded of the Nazi Concentration Camps and the herding of children into rickety trains carrying all of them to the camps. Such a comparison is not appropriate, but I am not able to remove the images in my mind from some of the gruesome movies that I saw, after I saw pictures of “cages” in which the separated children were kept at the U.S. border. How can you cage children? Where is the conscience of the border protection people? We of course, know that Trump’s Cabinet members mostly lack conscience. Comparisons are inevitable unfortunately, and it is a huge irony to compare the actions of the U.S. Government with the most cruel government that ever existed on this planet. But then, intentionally separating a migrant family fleeing their own country and thereby causing much more fear and anxiety in that family is a very serious international crime. Further, there might be no possibility of the family reuniting with their children, due entirely to the fault of the U.S. government agencies, for which they need to be prosecuted. In combination, the blame needs to fall squarely on the big shoulders of President Trump, who intentionally aggravated this unnecessary crisis at the border with his poorly conceived zero tolerance policy.

There is no other country in the world which is facing such a huge immigration problem as the U.S. faces today. Most of the migrants are from Central American countries which are impoverished with hardly any economic opportunities for their people. Parents want a better life for their children, and so they undertake the arduous, long journey to the Mexican border with the U.S. Not unusual, but the scale of migration has stepped up over the past couple of years.

Whatever be the reason, it is not proper for a government to separate children from their parents, whether the separation occurs at the border or elsewhere. Parents will be totally desperate and completely anguished when their children are forcibly taken away, and the children will be confused, hungry and messed up totally due to lack of access to their parents. One does not need to learn human psychology and sociology to figure this out. Simple common sense will be adequate.

Things seem to be getting better at the Mexican border with less and less number of separations happening. However, the Trump Administration needs to ensure that each and every child is reunited with his/her parents as mandated by a federal court order. No child should be left alone in foster care or in a federal shelter in a cage.

Governments can be firm and tough, but they cannot be harsh, they cannot be mean, and they cannot be heartless. It is a simple policy which the Trump Administration officials can learn to adopt as they run their government.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th May 2019

The “rogue” nation?


Is the U.S. becoming a “rogue” nation?

Unbelievable, but not out of the ordinary, as the U.S. still remains the only real superpower in the world, and possesses immense capacity to “twist” facts as per its convenience, and to the detriment of everyone else. Most of us would recall how Colin Powell, then Secretary of Defence, “proved” to the U.N. Security Council in 2003 that Iraq possessed WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in a totally false manner, which allowed the U.S. to invade Iraq. The U.S. could pull this off on even a rather suspecting UNSC; it did not matter in the end. The U.S. was anyway preparing to attack Iraq under a false pretext that Saddam Hussein was preparing to unleash WMD on Western nations. It sounded eerily similar to the false pretext (in the form of a fax received from a U.S. warship off the coast of Vietnam) that precipitated the hugely destructive Vietnam war in the Sixties. Over 400,000 lives have been lost in the Iraq war and the U.S. spent some couple of trillion dollars (don’t have the exact number, sorry!).

All this to prove a point, which was false anyway to start with.

Now we are seeing a similar scenario being enacted in preparation to wage a war against Iran. As before, there are war hawks in the U.S. Cabinet who are precipitating the crisis. It is primarily the most hawkish blood-thirsty John Bolton, the National Security Advisor to President Trump, who wants to attack a series of countries – North Korea, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran,………He is ably supported by the bully who is Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Both of them hate the Middle East, except the close allies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the U.A.E.

The phrase “international community” is often used by U.S. Government spokespersons in support of whatever actions being contemplated – however, in the current situation, not even the closest ally of the U.S., viz., the U.K. wants to support military action against Iran. France, Germany, Russia, and China are totally opposed to any kind of military adventure. It is entirely possible that a pre-arranged set of actions will be conceived and executed by the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies, to precipitate military action against Iran.

While Iran is not entirely guilt-free, as of now it appears that it is not engaged in any military ventures against the U.S. or its allies. Till recently, it was keeping its compliance to the joint nuclear deal intact, though the U.S. walked out about a year ago from the deal which was concluded amongst the major powers. The U.S. then imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran (not approved by the UNSC), and issued waivers to countries like China and India so that they could continue to import oil (at a cheaper price) from Iran. Recently, those waivers were withdrawn.

So, here we have the world’s only superpower which does not wish to conform to international treaties and agreements, does not wish to respect the wishes of the UN or even its close Western allies, imposes unilateral sanctions aimed at choking Iran’s economy (it is doing so on North Korea as well), threatens countries which do business with Iran, has moved its mighty ships very close to Iran, and has been issuing threatening statements intended to provoke Iran.

Of course, Israel is quietly enjoying the show. Israel wants to finish off Iran’s nuclear and missile capabilities once and for all, they have made no secrets about it.

Now we are challenged. Who is indeed the “rogue” nation? Is it Iran or the U.S.? Who wants a war? And that too, another Middle Eastern war in a region which is totally fatigued with conflicts over the past couple of decades. Who is going to benefit from such a war with Iran? Who is going to be affected? Why is all this happening when we have other powerful nations and the United Nations? Why is almost every country keeping to their counsel and maintaining radio silence?

The reasons are not too difficult to find.

The U.S. has had an antagonistic relationship with Iran from 1979. It does not matter what Iran does or does not do – successive U.S. administrations have questioned the rationale for the Iranian theocracy as a responsible member of the international community. Except President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry. The joint nuclear deal was the result of their intense focus on finding a solution to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio. They succeeded. But within 3 years, the U.S. walked out of the deal due to the fact that President Trump hated whatever Obama had accomplished.

Of course, Iran played its hand in Yemen, Syria, and several other countries, and has been pitched against Saudi Arabia for regional hegemony. That conflict cannot be resolved.

With a big population of 81M people, and a strong military on the ground, Iran will not be a walk in the garden even for the U.S. which will rely predominantly on airpower and its naval forces. But then, the world will seriously question its rationale for the war when Iran has not committed any egregious act attacking U.S. interests or its allies. Further with its population density, thousands of people will die even during the first week of war. And, to what purpose? Apart from testing its latest ammunition and missiles, and feeding its arms industry, what is that the U.S. is planning to accomplish in a war with Iran?

Nothing.

No regime change which seems to be the sole objective of John Bolton. If there are no U.S. boots on the ground in Iran, how will regime change happen? The U.S. has to invade and occupy Iran in order for it to throw out the theocrats ruling Iran. That is not going to happen. The U.S. will not have the appetite for such an occupation. Neither will the close allies of the U.S. support such a war and an invasion of a sovereign country. The collective international community will rebel against the U.S., whether there are sanctions or no sanctions. The Security Council will veto U.S. resolutions on Iran. The U.S. Congress will vote against the war.

In a nutshell, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are herding President Trump towards an unwanted and hugely destructive war with Iran, and they both need to be stopped in their tracks. Only President Trump can do that, as there is not much wisdom and not any wise men left in the White House, and the U.S. Congress seems to be on the verge of impotency against the constant railings of the Trump Administration which is refusing to cooperate with the Congress on many issues.

So, our bet now is on President Trump!!!

Can you simply believe the irony???

Let us see how he plays this game – his missteps could have a huge negative impact on the world and destroy world peace forever.

Cheers, and have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th May 2019

The Frugal Mechanism


Most people growing up in the Sixties to Nineties in India had what I describe as the “scarcity mindset”. Things started to change from late Nineties, and now young Indians in India present a vastly different mindset.

The “scarcity mindset” refers to the actual scarcity of consumer goods, combined with low incomes which did not even allow consumption of the poor quality consumer items then available in India. I would say that low incomes in a low growth country with immense potential created a generation of folks who scrimped on everything from food to foot wear, and that includes yours truly, of course.

The socialist government of India, run by the Congress Party, was instrumental in ensuring the industrial development of India while not allowing the development of consumer-oriented, open market. Since the economy grew very slowly, and sometimes not at all, the real income generated in the hands of the people was not adequate to provide even the basic necessities of a rather tough life. I always used to wonder why we could not have the items imported from overseas, if we could not produce the same ourselves in India. Why should we bring even chocolates, biscuits, and nuts from abroad? I can understand the need for bringing liquor, but not the rest of the items.

The “scarcity mindset” got strongly embedded in our psyche back then, and unfortunately, it refused to leave our being even after we had moved on in our lives – away from India in many cases, like mine. I used to joke about the “data switch” in my brain, which multiplied the price of everything by the foreign exchange conversion rate, and constantly rattled me. Well, that data switch is now gone for good, but the need to maintain a “scarcity mindset” continues in its logic and approach. This has been the case, even after I could access all those “scarcity” items at ease, even in India now!

The positive outcome is that there is always a questioning approach in my mind, seeking to establish a real value of something that I wish to procure. It could be a TV, or a new refrigerator, or a new pair of shoes. Everything goes through the same tough filter, which has been revised over the past several decades to such an extent that it is very hard for something to easily slip through. This is despite the fact that in Singapore the price of an item could be lower than that of the same item in India (it is true and it is possible), and so could have been easily justifiable. The issue is the basic necessity of an item which is not very urgently required. The “casual” manner in which we spend our discretionary income is strongly discouraged in the “scarcity mindset” environment.

The youngsters of today do not, obviously, understand the rationale or the need for a “scarcity mindset” when there is actually no scarcity of any kind even in India. It is hard for me to educate my children on this aspect of my life, which is still alive in my brain. This feeling got accentuated when a business friend of mine from India mentioned it on his own unprompted, which told me that I am not unique – there are plenty others who have the same feeling and the same challenge of dealing with the youngsters in their families.

I would argue that the “scarcity mindset” is helpful in dealing with downturns in life. I have faced downturns in life, and I could easily pass up things that others would consider essential for their livelihood. I see the “African Voices” segment on CNN and could easily visualise the poverty and lack of food that are prevalent in the African continent. The other day I saw children chasing a truck which was handing out water bottles, not unlike the scenes witnessed in India couple of decades ago, and even now in some parts of the country. These real happenings demonstrate that scarcity does exist, poverty does exist, lack of food plagues children across the world even now, and if only the world could spend 10% of their total defence expenditure on poverty alleviation, the world would become a much better place with less hunger amongst poor children. The world spent approximately USD 1.8T (1,800B) on defence last year.

I am proud that I maintained a frugal mind but not a cheap mind (!). I just do not spend on my own needs, but spend on others in my family of course. Should I get a Mont Blanc wallet or belt? The answer is a strict “No”, as the brand does not distinguish me in any way. It should be the other way around, if at all. Most of my personal items are brandless, except for my fitness watch which is a Fitbit, but Fitbit is not considered the top end of the range for fitness watches – it is every man’s fitness watch, not an Apple or a Garmin watch. Such a mindset does not mean that I would go in for a low quality product. It is just not price, it is avoidance of luxury and rejection of luxury as a mindset.

This approach has helped me throughout my life, and I have no intention of abandoning it, despite prodding from some family members. I question the need for luxury, when its sole purpose is to show off to the rest of the world that you have indeed “arrived”. It is absolutely unnecessary. I consider the only Zegna suit that I bought as an excess of a frivolous mind, influenced by a high class mentor, and have subsequently trained it to focus on suits that can be bought readymade in specialty clothing outlets, for example JC Penney or Nordstrom, while travelling in the U.S., or at outlet malls which provide brand names at 35% of the retail prices downtown.

I would strongly advise the new generation to look at the actual need for an item before spending on it. Make an assessment of the need. Make an estimate of the price that you are willing to pay. Don’t go blindly after a brand in an expensive mall. Look at alternatives. Look at online shopping. In a nutshell, do whatever is necessary to curtail discretionary spending, while investing in planned spending for yourself such as online courses on Blockchain, AI, ML, etc.,

I hear you laughing.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th May 2019

The World of Intolerance


The world is becoming more intolerant. This is a fact, and not fake news!

I am here specifically referring to intolerance within a society, or towards immigrants in a society. This intolerance is a by-product of animosity which has always existed in any society towards minority religions, minority races, and immigrants from economically disadvantaged countries. Immigrants include asylum seekers who are facing religious or racial persecution in their own countries. Immigrants include folks who just want a better life for their children and who are fleeing countries like Venezuela where their own currency is completely worthless. Apart from immigrants, any society has built-in, embedded fault lines. In some societies, these are well managed and duly contained by governmental and social leadership. In some other societies, these fault lines manifest in terms of on and off violence towards other religions or races which fall under the minority category.

The entire world has been witnessing the serious fault lines in the U.S. society, where minority freedoms are under serious threat (there has always been a serious issue in the U.S. when it comes to minority rights) in the vicious atmosphere created by President Trump’s utterances, and the increasingly reckless shootings of unarmed Blacks by the police. I laugh when the U.S. State Department issues their reports on religious and racial freedom issues in other countries – I am not belittling such issues, but how can the U.S. take the high moral ground when its own house is in serious disarray? But then, there is no other nation which issues such reports, and we need to really know the status in the countries that the U.S. is pointing fingers at. It would be better if the U.N. does its job properly, but unfortunately it does not perform the “policing” and “monitoring” activities well when it comes to religious and racial persecution – and if it does, then it always comes very late, by the time most damage is already done. The U.N. also does not have the moral high ground as it listens to the powerful countries which fund its operations more than the poorer countries where most issues are present. The U.N. also does not have the guts to investigate similar issues in the most powerful countries such as the U.S.

When right-wing political parties take power in democratic nations, the problem of intolerance gets accentuated. Why is this so? It is because the right-wingers resent the traditional libertarian left-wing activists, who elegantly combine their elitism with egalitarianism. The right-wingers generally wear their likes and dislikes on their sleeves, and are mostly dominated by religious and racist tendencies leading to non-separation of powers between the state and the religion, even where such separation is mandated as in the U.S. or India. The emergence of right-wing governments in large, diverse countries is a serious cause of concern, though the fight has always got to be at the hustings and not in the streets. The problem with left-wing activists is that they are very quick to take to the streets and their activism could rapidly degenerate into street violence. That should be avoided at all costs, as such violence gives strong rationale for the right-wing governments to take retaliatory action and squelch any revolutionary tendencies.

The feeling of intolerance is insidious, it seeps into the veins – and it is trans-generational. The Black slavery matter is still a huge problem in the U.S. for the past three centuries, and the blatant discrimination of the Blacks in American society is no secret. The scar on the conscience of Whites is so bad that even Congressmen have started talking about reparations to the Black people. Universities are discussing about how to compensate Blacks for all the slavery and atrocities committed by White slave masters. I am no student of American history, and cannot comment further on what should be done, but all of us see the hugely negative media coverage about unarmed Blacks being shot at by mostly White policemen in American cities and counties. Such recurring problems are not prevalent in most other democratic countries, including India.

Why are people so influenced by race and religion?

There is no simple straightforward answer. It is a complex matter with no clear answer. Since “old” and even “middle-aged” folks cannot be changed easily, we have to rely on the education system to properly educate the next generation on such serious matters. Since we cannot depend just on self-policing by the society, the governments of the day have to legislate non-discrimination with violations to be punished vigorously. Law enforcement requires to be seriously educated, surely in the U.S., where guns are pulled out by the police at the drop of the hat and aimed at the head or chest rather than the leg!

All this does not address the emergence of right-wingism, unless the moderates come to the fore and fight the battle. Right-wing politicians prefer brute force in general, and law enforcement gets encouragement by such people; they push through their ideologies and policies in a rather vigorous manner, and create new intolerance in societies where none existed. They inflame passions wherein these were simmering just below the surface. Of course, they will claim that they want to change the country for the better, make it more secure, reclaim its past glory, et al. However, the intolerance quotient will keep raising, and will eventually damage the society at its core, like it has happened in the U.S.

I am not a left-winger. The best way to characterise me is that I am a moderate. But since I am liberal in my thoughts, it comes through as left-wing activism when I write on matters such as these. My preference is to seek a balance in whatever we do both in our personal life as well as social life. Government should be even more balanced, as it is the government for all of the citizens, not just for the people who voted for it to be elected to office.

So, let us carefully think about the imbalances and inequities in the society in which we live in. We are worthless if we cannot collectively address the problems in our society. We are also worthless if we do not grasp the inequalities in other societies and share our thoughts about such problems, as what happens in one society has influence in other societies. We are, at the end of the day, totally interlinked in this new world of social media, right?

Intolerance is insidious and should not be encouraged or tolerated in any society.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th May 2019

The Venezuelan Conundrum


Let me share my conclusion right at the beginning of this post. Given my original reading that foreign military forces should not invade Venezuela and kick out the current President Nicolas Maduro, my current conclusion is surprising. Though the recent elections which Mr Maduro won were considered to be heavily rigged, Venezuela still continues to be a socialist democracy, and my thinking was that it is not appropriate to intervene militarily in a democratic nation just because you do not like the current leadership.

So, what is the rationale for my revised conclusion that it would now be OK for a military overthrow of a democratically elected government?

Well, it is strange, but one cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis that has plunged Venezuela from one of the richest Latin American countries to the poorest country in about a span of two decades. Further, its economy has shrunk by half in the past 5 years. More than 10% of the population has fled from the country. Children are dying of malnutrition and shortage of essential medicines. Venezuela has the distinction of the first country ever to cross a million % inflation. People are not able to sustain their livelihood. Oil exports have fallen dramatically after the imposition of sanctions by the U.S., which was also Venezuela’s biggest oil consumer.

I do not agree that the way to punish a country is via sanctions which are designed to punish the government, but instead punishes the poor citizens. The U.S. has again erred in its judgement on sanctioning Venezuela. The sanctions have worsened an already very bad situation, while the government and the rich folks seem to be sailing along.

Juan Guaido, the self-appointed President, has been unable to secure the support of the military which appears to remain loyal to Nicolas Maduro. Guaido has the support of the U.S., Canada, the EU as well as many other countries.

But Maduro has the support of Cuba, Russia and China.

Venezuela is becoming the next flashpoint in the proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. Looking at what Russia was able to achieve in Syria, it is only natural that the U.S. should be concerned.

So, what is my conclusion?

Nicolas Maduro should go and there should be an interim government installed under the auspices of the United Nations. Russia and the U.S. should not play their hands in the manner in which Venezuela will be run or governed (though it is a tall order, as Juan Guaido has been open about his alignment with the U.S.). The United Nations should take immediate globally supported actions to address the humanitarian crisis, and provide food, medicines and other essential items to the long suffering Venezuelan people.

So, again, how is Maduro going to be dislodged?

That would require military intervention by the U.S., or a joint effort by the UN Security Council. Nicolas Maduro should be let go, instead of bombing him and his leadership – may be Cuba will receive him with honours. Russia should be able to protect its massive oil investments in the country without being dictated to by the incoming Venezuelan government. The sooner this happens, the better it is for Venezuela. Continuing the status quo, punctuated by weak protests organised by the Opposition and lack of support of the military, will only compound the crisis and make it the worst humanitarian disaster in the world itself.

So, this would require cooperation between Russia and the U.S. (China will just follow Russia’s lead), which would not be difficult to secure if both parties negotiate in good faith. The U.S. Congress should be ignored as they are totally against any form of cooperation with Russia. We are not talking about the U.S. here, we are talking about Venezuela and its humanitarian crisis, so let there not be any hurdles in the process of resolution.

This is what I think is the right approach given the ground situation, which remains unsolvable. Nicolas Maduro has to be told by the Russians to leave, and the military generals should be given an opportunity to work for the new government, or else they can go as well. A military intervention could just be a show of force supporting the Russian actions on the ground – no bombing or foreign boots on the ground might be necessary. This is not like Syria – people are not fighting against each other. The current government should just pack up and leave peacefully.

Looks like a big deal. May not happen at all.

But, there might be no other option.

Think about it – Juan Guaido is not going anywhere. Nicolas Maduro, however, can be “persuaded” by the Russians, instead of the U.S. who hate him and his guts. He can then survive an inevitable coup attempt which could occur in the future and the resultant incarceration.

Let us see how this develops in the next couple of weeks. It should be precipitated by intervention, no other choice.

Have a great week ahead, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th May 2019

Globalization is Dead……….almost


For the past two decades or so, “globalization” was a sacrosanct terminology, not just in business but across the entire world. It was revered as the capitalistic solution to solving all the ills of the global economy. Several famous authors have written entire books on this concept of globalization, which have endeared millions of people.

Nothing wrong with the concept itself. In simple terms, “globalization” aims for a borderless world, with supply chains spread all over the world, providing jobs and revenues to countries which had been left out in the blitzkrieg of capitalism. Flow of capital and labour was supposed to follow the opportunities and cost arbitrage. China was the first country to figure out how all this works to their advantage, and over the past quarter century it has built up an incredible economy to rival that of the U.S. and the European Union, leveraging the supply side economics. Of course, it had all the advantages, such as a very low cost labour force, frictionless manufacturing and logistics capabilities, a non-bureaucratic way of governmental functioning, and a fierce commitment towards upgrading the lives of more than a billion people (which other countries lacked in various measures). Would you be surprised to learn that in 1993, the size of the Indian economy was about the same as that of China, but now China’s economy is some 5 times bigger than that of India? I am not, as I am from India, and understand full well that it takes a long while for an elephant to join the economic dance compared to a dragon which is swifter and more agile.

However, now globalization has had its full run, and its impact is waning with the onslaught of economic inequalities – wage disparities are so high that people are not able to sustain their lives while the corporate executives earn 100 times or more. Work as a denominator of productivity should lead to higher wages (not just in the U.S. of course), reduce wage disparities, and generate wealth eventually. Uniform wealth distribution is neither feasible nor possible, but people must have wage growth and more money in their hands to invest. Their nest eggs have to grow as well.

Apart from the inequality factor staring at their faces, Capitalists also have to contend with the new emergence of Socialism, as exemplified by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others in the U.S. These are powerful voices emanating from the U.S. Capitol and cannot be ignored. The youngsters movement is gathering speed, and most young people are disgusted with corporate excesses and greed.

More and more countries are instituting protectionist trade policies, taking the cue from the U.S. At least the economically stronger countries are following this approach, as their domestic markets are big enough to sustain their economies and on the flip side, cannot be ignored by huge market making corporations. For instance, despite eCommerce Retail policies recently promulgated by the Indian government (to support local companies), Amazon and Walmart cannot ignore the size of the Indian consumer market. While protectionism will rear its head (in the same old fashioned ways from yesteryears), the MNCs have to figure out a suitable way to tackle policy issues, and still grow their business, as their growth can only come from outside their home countries (while their biggest share of profits come from their own home countries).

Where does all this lead us to?

Globalization is going to become rather selective – only if there is serious benefit to both parties, instead of 80% benefit to just one party. The manner in which the U.S. has dealt with China in the recent trade war shows that it is entirely possible to leverage sheer buying power to push the other party to come to the table and negotiate. Actions speak definitely louder than words, and the U.S. has demonstrated that by imposing tariffs which have started biting the suppliers’ top market. For a foreseeable future, the U.S., followed by the EU, will continue to be the world’s top two markets for almost anything that China can produce. India is emerging to be the third such top market, but it has someway to go.

Globalization should never have meant “loss of jobs” in the consuming market. While some jobs will be lost, entire industries disappearing was not postulated under the economic and market globalization theory. Free market philosophies failed to forecast that there will be serious impact to the consuming economies while most of the manufacturing jobs shift to the newly producing economies. The resulting trade imbalance was tolerated while economies were growing just about fine, but when the rust belt disappeared and key high tech manufacturing jobs started migrating elsewhere, the U.S. had to take action. Both George W Bush and Barack Obama did not do anything specific to counter this trend and negotiate with China to reduce the trade imbalance. Trump is the first President who ever dared China to respond, forced China to negotiate, and probably he will also be the first President to win a trade war with China.

Globalization and supply chain coordination will now take a “slightly” back seat, as other economic factors such as protectionism, short term labour issues, and socialism take precedence across the world. Leveraging trade prowess is nothing new but is now seen as a bulwark against one-sided globalization. Asian countries have benefited a lot over the past three decades or so, but now they have to redraft their economic, market and trade strategies to align with the emergence of these new forces in world trade, capital flows, labour movements, and the pressing need for political leaders to respond to their electorate on such issues. Economics 101 is now a critical aspect for running an election, and we will see that in the next U.S. Presidential Elections 2020.

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

04 May 2019

Social Media and Privacy


I was dismayed to read the following article from CNBC today. And I am sure you will be as well, if you use any Google service at all. I am sure all of you use one or the other type of Google service, such as Gmail, YouTube, etc.,

Read the article written by Todd Haselton on 25th April 2019 at https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/25/how-to-stop-google-from-storing-your-location-history.html?&qsearchterm=how%20to%20stop%20google

You will be shocked to see the level of detail that Google keeps about you on its servers. Especially if you have turned on the location services, you will be surprised to find out that every movement of yours is being tracked by Google.

Is this the right thing for the user of Google services? The jury is totally out on this issue as we have seen a series of data scandals affecting these famous social media companies. I do not think that users can totally trust them anymore. While Google says that only you can see your data, it takes just one more data breach by yet another fantastic hacker out there.

Even democratic governments the world over are now going after these companies to control privacy, fake news, spread of hate news, and terrorist preachings. Almost anyone can maintain a Facebook page and propagate his hate agenda against the rest of us. Where does it stop?

Previously, such bad guys were running their own websites which were tracked by law enforcement and taken down if they ever crossed the limits. Now we have to depend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google to enforce mechanisms of law enforcement on a voluntary basis, which have not worked out to the satisfaction of governments, individual users, corporate users, and law enforcement officials. The European Union has taken the hardest stand against social media companies especially when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of individual users located in EU countries. Large fines have been imposed (in various cases).

Notwithstanding all the turmoil surrounding them, these companies are still flourishing in the U.S. and globally as well. Look at their stock prices! As individuals, we may not be able to make our protest heard loudly when it comes to our own privacy, as we are not part of any social movement against social media. So, I took the next best action: I followed the recommendation by Todd Haselton in his above article, and deleted all history in various categories such as “Web & App Activity”, “Location History”, “Device Information”, “Voice & Audio Activity”, “YouTube Search History”, “YouTube Watch History”, etc., Just go to https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup
and do the needful for yourself!

I suppose we cannot ignore the possibility of such data being made available to a third party, or sold to a third party, or hacked by external agencies or hackers. This is simple common sense to control data about ourselves. There should be no excuse for not doing this – in fact, now I have started looking at all IT services that I use as an avid web user, specifically focusing on privacy and the kind of data about myself that I am willing to share with these services.

I was not surprised at all when the Sri Lankan Government decided to turn off social media access to its citizens. It was an unprecedented step, but much warranted in the aftermath of the recent terror attack on churches and hotels which killed 253 people last weekend. We cannot cry hoarse on the matter of freedom and liberty, when terrorism is spawned by leveraging access to social media. Governments have to take actions, and sometimes (not always) such actions might infringe on the fundamental rights of social media companies. I am sure the Sri Lankan citizens will understand why their government enforced such a ban on social media. The argument that social media are crucial for communication during disasters is of course valid, and the world has moved on from mobile SMS text messages to WhatsApp and other such effective tools. However, the decision on what to do in any specific situation has to be left to the best judgement of the law enforcement agencies, and not to libertarians and social media companies.

Increasingly, the battle field on social media is shaping up around the world. People do recognise the positive aspects of social media for various purposes, especially communication one-to-one or to a socially connected private community. I use WhatsApp extensively every day – it takes up most of my mobile screen time. I stopped using Facebook couple of years ago (prescient, it appears!), and do not use any of the other social media except LinkedIn for corporate and business use. I got out of even Google Plus services quite some time ago. However, I cannot be complacent – I am investigating all my “touch” points with the web via any kind of app, to see what kind of personal information is “forcibly” or “unconsciously” being shared. Of course, this is my own website on WordPress platform, and I am not censoring it!

On privacy matters, I tend to side more with the EU than with the U.S., except on matters involving crime or violence. Privacy should remain sacrosanct, except when law enforcement seeks access to your personal data with appropriate legal warrants for a justifiable purpose – it cannot be on a fishing expedition. I am against community or sectarian policing – one bad apple is still one bad apple only, and an entire community cannot be blamed, monitored or tracked because that one bad apple is a violent criminal or murderer or a terrorist. It is pertinent to point out in this context that the specific community or sect will do well to identify bad apples in the midst of them, and try to correct their ill-advised ways, and if that does not work, report them to law enforcement. Even tacit silence will be construed as support for the bad apples in their midst, and these bad elements could then feel encouraged.

The U.S. government believes that it can and should access ANYBODY’s personal devices, irrespective of whether that person is a suspected criminal or not. Even ordinary, regular travellers to the U.S. have been subjected to this particularly overbearing exercise of border protection officers. What the government does with the data that they retrieve from those devices is anybody’s guess. This does not happen in any other country, to the best of my knowledge.

Turning “off” social media in very serious situations like a terror attack, as recently happened in Sri Lanka”, is to be supported due to various reasons, the most critical being the spread of intentionally malicious information which could cause panic amongst the general public, and aggravate an already worse situation for the government and law enforcement. I entirely agree that it is the right thing to do under the special circumstances, and I am sure that the Sri Lankan government will turn “on” the social media that it switched off very soon, once investigations are completed.

The inconvenience caused due to such a ban will be best understood by the affected citizens, and should not be misconstrued as censorship.

I think it is high time for social media companies to increase their own self-censorship and prove that they are responsible corporate citizens in the very near future. Otherwise, they will be fined, regulated and controlled by the government(s), and deserted by users such as myself!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th April 2019