The downward spiral of Europe


In many ways, Europe provides a better Western alternative and stronger living narrative than the U.S., due to several positive factors. Some of these factors are:

    Respect for non-discriminatory rule of law
    Respect for much-needed human rights
    Respect for privacy
    Abhorrence towards gun violence
    Deep-rooted cultural sophistication and refinement
    Respect for human values
    Respect for law and order
    Ease of labour and capital mobility across the European Union
    Respect for other religions, notwithstanding the strong dominance and influence of Christianity

There are many other positives, too many to list here. However, there are several detracting factors as well, not the least of which are whole countries such as Poland and Hungary, which are deviating from time-tested EU value systems and integrity.

The inability of Europe to handle the influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa is clearly a serious cause of concern. There is no unified EU response to the problem at the borders. Hungary does not wish to take in any immigrants. Germany is on a pause, after taking in the most number of immigrants. There are two things that the EU needs to develop – an integrated, unified approach to the immigrants problem, and a systematic approach towards integrating the immigrants into the EU way of life, while protecting religious matters.

This blog post is not about the immigration problem faced by the EU. This is more about how Europe has allowed itself to be played as a pawn between the U.S. and Russia, and how the U.K. is also playing on its weaknesses.

Europe has got to be friends with Russia always, as it is in the same continent and shares thousands of miles of border, both on land and sea. There is no way a NATO Alliance can wage a war on Russia without accomplishing a total and complete annihilation of all of Europe. I do not understand how the EU politicians can miss this geographical proximity and necessity of living together peacefully at all times.

An aggressive flexing of muscles by the U.S. should not be the sole reason for the EU to antagonize Russia. The U.K. is a stooge of the U.S., and will always be subservient to U.S. interests. France is mostly independent-minded, but it chooses to join the U.S. in attacks in the Middle East to test its gleaming new weaponry.

Only Germany stands guard as the protector of EU values and integrity (smaller nations like The Netherlands and Belgium also represent these values). Greece and Italy are on the fringes. The erstwhile Eastern European nations are still not that economically strong.

It is strange that the country which originated Nazism is now playing the role of the most important country in all of Europe, with an economy even bigger than that of the U.K. or France. My views on Germany changed substantially during the regime of Dr Angela Merkel as the German Chancellor. She is the best that could have happened, not only to Germany, but also to Europe as a whole. After she leaves government, we do not know where Germany will trend towards – more right wing, I guess. That may not be a good outcome for Europe.

The downward spiral of Europe has already started over the past couple of years, accentuated by constant friction with both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, who are sandwiching and sacrificing Europe’s strategic interests with their own brand of extremism. Compounded by the omnipresent immigration challenges, and many other almost insurmountable problems like the stupid Brexit, Europe is teetering towards strategic instability. In another decade or so, Europe will mainly be of interest only to foreign tourists, at this rate. Unemployment is mounting, racial segregation is a problem in countries like France, some immigrants are creating law and order problems, terrorism is nipping Europe at the fringes, Hungary is closing its borders, and Poland is denouncing its judiciary.

The EU was always a wonderful idea which is probably the only successful union of countries in the world, with so many common approaches. It would be a pity if it unravels due to lack of a common approach driven by a committed leadership, as exemplified by Dr Merkel, who successfully stood up to both Trump and Putin.

I still believe there is a very good chance to sustain the EU for the long term. It would necessitate dropping of the “soft-hearted” approach towards larger super powers, dominated by insecurity and fear. It would require the EU to spend more than 2% of its collective GDP on its own defence and security, which means they have to spend more than USD 400B every year, which the EU countries have been loath to spend. But there is no choice. NATO Alliance may not even exist in the next decade or so.

If bold actions are not taken for collective defence and security, and for warning member states who do not subscribe to EU values with ejection from the EU, then Europe’s downward spiral cannot be arrested. It will continue unimpeded. And that will not be good news for Russia (which has to sell its natural gas to Europe) and the U.S. (for which Europe is the single largest market).

Well, have a good week ahead folks, and enjoy the Tamil New Year today!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th April 2019

The Race towards a Colder War


It appears that the world is being forced towards a rather cold (or colder) war by two inevitable super power adversaries – the U.S. and Russia.

In the past Cold War era, many people around the world used to think that the U.S. stood for all that was good in this world, and the erstwhile Soviet Union stood for all that was evil, a notion popularized by President Ronald Reagan, who is credited with bringing the cold war to an end (logically).

In the present era, that understanding is not as clear cut to anyone – many people now think that there is some good on both sides, and also a lot of evil on BOTH sides! This is not that surprising, given the respective actions taken by President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

The world, in fact, is surely sliding towards the onset of a tough new cold war, in which the adversaries are failing to engage with each other in a honest fashion. The allies of the U.S. are questioning the very fundamentals of their NATO Alliance. Russia, on the other hand, is focused on enhancing its nuclear and missile capabilities and quietly testing deadly new weapons. It is also disrupting the Middle East peace by closely aligning with the Syrian President, and discretely supporting Iran. The U.S. is making a series of strategic mistakes, like alienating the Afghan President, creating an enemy out of the Turkish President by aligning closely with the Kurds, withdrawing troops from Syria, supporting Saudi Arabia in its bombing of Yemen, and recognizing Israel’s efforts to fully annex Golan Heights (which belings to Syria) and parts of the West Bank, which should belong to Palestine.

So, what do we make out of all this mess?

Antagonism and militarism are emerging as major tools of state policy on both sides – I mean, the U.S. and Russia. Such tendencies will lead to instability in foreign policy decisions and uncertainty for the rest of the world, especially in Europe. Sanctioning adversaries, and even allies who may not agree with U.S. policies, is never a good idea. Trying to kill the International Criminal Court is not a good example for the U.S. National Security administration. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are bad folks who are acting more like mafia dons. I cannot say the same thing of Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. If you are TV news savvy, you know what I mean.

In a nutshell, Russia and the U.S. are racing towards the induction of a cold war phase II, which promises to be even colder and deadlier than the phase I cold war which ended in 1989. There is not much talk going on, even after Russia retaliated against the U.S. walking out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, which formed the bedrock of European nuclear security and non-proliferation efforts. It is very dangerous when two super powers refuse to talk to each other. Nuclear deterrence may no longer prove effective in such a situation of constantly worsening ties and an atmosphere poisoned by mistrust. A strategic miscalculation or even a simple mistake could easily happen.

So is the world staring at nuclear armageddon?

No, not yet.

If sober heads on either side could solve the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and the end of the cold war phase I in 1989, then surely there is a distinct possibility that similar things could happen again now. The Presidents on either side need wise and sober counsel – they are lacking the same – surely on the U.S. side.

Imagine the potentially positive outcomes if the two dissenting sides can sit together, talk and solve even intractable problems under no threat to either side. With 90% of the nuclear warheads and nuclear capable missiles, these two super powers hold the key to world peace. They both know for sure that a nuclear war can never be won.

Hope they will realize the futile nature of their current status of diplomatic ties, and start engaging in a positive sense very soon. The U.S. Congress should facilitate this effort, instead of stopping all reconciliation.

Have a great weekend, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th April 2019

Schmoozing with no Outcome


You guessed it right this time?!!!

Yes, this post is about North Korea slipping away from the embrace of Donald Trump. It is apparent that Chairman Kim Jong Un was not taken in by the second charm offensive launched by Trump. He kept smiling during his second meeting with Trump, answered couple of press questions, and then just walked away, ensuring that Trump flew back to Washington without any deal. That was really hitting below the belt. Trump had hoped he could close a deal which could have accomplished what no other U.S. President had been able to achieve, thereby positioning him for a joint Nobel Peace Price along with Chairman Kim.

Looked entirely possible, given that Trump chose to have a direct dialogue with Chairman Kim, giving a honour which no head of North Korea ever received from a U.S. President. At the outset, it appeared that Chairman Kim reciprocated in good measure. But it was impractical and futile for Trump to demand a completely unilateral elimination of all nuclear warheads, nuclear facilities, nuclear-capable missiles, et al. Chairman Kim realized that the U.S. has not changed a wee bit in its negotiating strategy and approach. They will demand a complete and unilateral compliance, verify that all actions are irreversible, and keep demanding more while the sanction related suffering will continue unabated for North Korean people. It is rare when both sides of the equation balance perfectly in international relations, and when the most powerful nation on earth is involved, the equation will never balance. North Korea can quickly go down from a nuclear weapon state to a total underdog, begging for return favours when everything nuclear is destroyed in their country. No wonder Chairman Kim saw through all of this and came to the conclusion that it may not be worth the effort, work and honour.

Schmoozing with dictators is problematic at best, and destructive at worst. But when both sides have dictatorial leadership, then the outcome could be explosive. It could even lead to unexpected peace. However, as we saw in this potential history-making meetings between Trump and Kim, there was not much “meat”, there was no alignment in starting positions of the negotiation, there was also no congruence on the final outcomes. In any such broad-based negotiation, a number of entities would be involved from both sides, to ensure clarity and lay out the landscape with potential options to go for. There will be give and take, with concessions from either side. Any “hard” ideological position is doomed for failure. And that is exactly what happened with the intricate involvement of Mike Pompeo, a hardliner. Trump listens to him (one of the very people he has ears for). Chairman Kim is not a guy who can be dealt with in a hardline fashion – he appears to be proud of his pedigree and his nation and his accomplishments in the nuclear and missile space.

So Trump did not get his deal – at least in the way he and Pompeo wanted, and returned empty-handed with no clear commitment or way forward. He had hoped also to gain a huge boost for his re-election campaign with the North Korea deal firmly in the bag – but it was not to be.

All this demonstrates that diplomacy does not offer short cuts, or short term fixes. It requires concentrated preparation and strategy planning. It covers various scenarios and outcomes. Unconventional approaches like what Trump undertook are really challenging for everyone engaged as the adhoc nature of such approaches can produce unexpected and totally unpredictable outcomes like what happened at the summit in Vietnam.

Where does the peace process go from here?

No one knows!

Trump cannot will Kim into nuclear compliance, and he knows that. His attempts have so far been futile, and utterly useless from the perspective of getting North Korea to comply to U.S. wishes. In fact, more nuclear and missile work seems to have been restarted in North Korea. Trump cannot just wish away this intractable problem. Personal rapport with Kim is not going to get him any positive result.

Where does this situation leave Chairman Kim?

He is seeking support from both Russia and China, his traditional allies. He is on his long journey now to Moscow to meet with President Putin. Where does that leave Trump?

In a hole, I guess.

No Nobel Peace Prize, no re-election boost. Schmoozing does have its limits, and I am surprised that a guy who wrote “The Art of the Deal”, is now left high and dry in a situation from which he will find it difficult to extricate. Neither can he attack North Korea militarily, as that would not be compatible with his peace-driven strategy.

Look at how both elected and unelected leaders can ram themselves by placing unsustainable expectations on the potential outcomes from what they both thought were peace overtures. Also expecting a rapid result and resolution of a problem which is some 7 decades old is totally unrealistic, and the whole world knew it. We are not living in a fools’ paradise, right?

So there goes another golden chance for Trump to make a name for himself as a trailblazer in the arcane world of international diplomacy.

Look for more such debacles as he fights multiple battles against an established system of diplomacy and governance around the world.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th April 2019

The Corruptibility of the Rich and Famous


There is a certain community of almost “untouchable” rich and famous people/families in almost all countries.

What do I mean by “untouchable”?

These folks are so powerful that the usual rules that apply to all people in a society do not apply to them (mostly). They cannot be easily arrested for any crimes, which otherwise would lead to automatic arrests when any commoner is involved. “Special” treatment will be accorded to this rich and famous people, just by making a phone call to a government official or a minister. We have seen this on so many occasions in countries such as India and also elsewhere. Police dare not arrest these people, and if they do arrest, they will be forced to release them very soon. Rarely ever a rich and famous person spends time overnight sleeping on the cold floor of a police jail.

Societies are constructed on a fundamental, underlying system of a give and take philosophy, with a built-in deference to certain groups of people, such as priests, political masters, and of course people who generate wealth. Wealth signifies achievement and fame determines untouchability. Since corruption is one of the building blocks of the give and take philosophy, favours can easily be reciprocated by money, which, in itself, could be ill-gotten wealth. So, the rich and famous can walk out with their heads held high, while the commoners and poor folks do not get any special treatment in comparison. It is not that any group of people should indeed get special treatment, it is the inherent injustice that is embedded in the system of governance and administration.

Let us also not overlook the fact that many Western societies are afflicted by similar occurrences. The difference is that deployment of powerful lawyers and tweaking of political funding could achieve results similar to what we see in Third World countries. So, we cannot just blame the emerging or developing nations, but also the developed nations which are also affected by such scenarios producing results which are not dissimilar in terms of the escape of the rich and famous from serious punishment as compared to that meted out to commoners.

How can this injustice be addressed?

Only a systemic approach based on equal access to a justice administration system can address this inequality. Power and money politics are the bane of any democratic society, leading to the inevitable corruptibility of the society as a whole. If I know that I can get away from being charge-sheeted by just giving some pre-specified money, why would I follow the rules? Humans are inherently corruptible from day #1 of origin, as we all know!

There is no easy answer.

Only if primary level education can instil the notion of equality and justice in the minds of very young students firmly, can we expect to see a change in the next generation. Plus, governments should educate law and order administration to render appropriate action irrespective of the status of the perpetrator of the specific crime. It is easier said than done, of course. It is rather easy to be taken in by the fame of a big actor, as happens so often in India. Many justice systems are also susceptible to manipulation of evidence against the interests of victims, when a rich and famous person is the perpetrator.

Money is very powerful as we know!!!

As we saw in the recently exposed higher education admissions scandal involving well-known celebrities in the U.S., the rich and powerful do not apologize and atone for their sins quickly even when all the evidence is against them. They have the money and the stamina to wage a court battle against the government with their highly paid lawyers. They do not understand, or want to understand, that their bribery has costed admissions for candidates more deserving than their children. The bad effect on society and setting bad examples for their own children, do not bother them at all. Their emptiness astounds me.

In a nutshell, the rich and famous wish to maintain their superiority over us, the normal citizens, come what may. There are, and there will be, exceptions, of course. There will be some who would truly repent their sins and seek forgiveness, and thereby, reduced sentence!

Well, think about this obnoxious behaviour of the rich and famous, and you will understand why millennials are rising up against greed and capitalism.

Cheers, and have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th April 2019

Your Religion should not define “You”


When we meet someone for the first time, we do not want to be influenced by an overt display of religion on that person. We would like that person to come through on his own terms, on his own values, on his own approach towards the meeting, and on his own persona. We do not wish to be influenced either by the name of that person, his title at his employer, or his wealth. Neither do we wish to be influenced by that person’s religion.

Ofcourse, this is just a wishlist (!). Mostly we will be influenced, for sure. The most impact comes from a public display of religious symbols, dress or even demeanour.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, notwithstanding any positive or negative opinions or feelings that these might cause in the mind of the onlookers. It is perfectly fine to wear what you want and display what you want to display in a free society.

But that is not my point.

While it is the right of people to do what they want to do, so is the right of other people to form opinions which they cannot be forced to disclose. Perceptions matter in this world, as I can share from my worldly experiences. As I assess a new person that I meet, I invariably tend to formulate a composite picture of him or her in my mind, and try later to independently obtain feedback to validate or invalidate my perceptions.

Is this a wrong approach? Not at all. In fact, there is no other way. The alternative is to let myself be pre-disposed to positive or negative feedback on that person even before I actually meet him or her. I generally try to avoid such a pre-disposition, as it is not fair to the person. I have to formulate my own opinion on my own instead of letting myself to be influenced by someone else, who knows the person I am going to meet.

The simple point in this analysis is the simple derivation that I always subscribe to: you do not wish to be assessed by what you wear or what you profess to be your religion. Your religious beliefs should not impact the conversation that you are going to have with a new person. It works both ways.

I strongly believe that your religion should not define or enslave you, atleast when it comes to your public persona. You can of course challenge the unpalatable definition of yourself when it is accompanied by visible religious portrayal. However, if that is the case, then you need to project that the conversation, or a business proposal, or a specific action that is the outcome of the meeting is not dependent on the other party’s acknowledgement of your religious principles.

After all, every person has his own religion, or sometimes no religion to wear on his shoulders. All parties have to be clear that there could never be any kind of special treatment for any religion. There is also no special treatment to be accorded as a result of religious displays, nothing special can be expected.

In a nutshell, a person is defined by what others perceive based on how that person behaves, speaks and interacts. Since we can assume nothing, it would be better not to expect special treatment of any kind, apart from the usual respect that needs to be accorded.

People who have followed my blog know that I am neutral on religion, and consistently refuse to be influenced by religious practices. I have argued in several posts that I am on my own with my own thoughts and independence. I have my views and never leverage those views to cause harm to anyone or any institution.

I do not want to be defined by my own religion. I am born as a Hindu, but that does not mean that I would let just Hinduism define me. It is fine to be influenced positively by religion – as I had written recently, I have subscribed to both Hinduism and Christianity, though I disagree with a number of their tenets. I think for myself and I define myself. I try to directly influence every conversation that I have, either with a known friend or a newcomer to my circuit. Many foreigners that I meet up with do not even know that I am a Hindu as I do not discuss religion beyond my blog!

All in all, I do not want to influence anyone or win favours based on my religion or its purported superiority. I do not seek friendship based on association with a religion. I do not portray religious symbols on me and I avoid wearing traditional garb which might give away my religious inclination.

I am not suggesting that everyone follow what I am doing. I want my audience to know that neutrality in religious matters, especially in the context of our fractious world, is better appreciated by strangers. It lets us focus on the business matters on the table. It provides a positive, neutral environment. It allows growth of non-prejudiced partnerships and ecosystem.

That’s all. I am not against any religion or religious fervour, bit I am not going to judge an individual based on it. I create my own mental picture and assess for myself, removing aspects that would corrupt my perception.

I think it is only fair for everyone involved.

Have a great week ahead folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st March 2019

The Third World War


The Third World War could be coming in the 21st Century battle for world dominanace.

You guessed it probably wrong.

It will not be between Russia and the Western Allies. Russia is economically weak, with a declining population. Just launching new weaponry and relying on oil money alone are not adequate strengths to fight a determined West – these could, at best, act as deterrents for the West to launch a preemptive attack on Russia, that’s all.

The real 3rd World War would not involve all of the West. It would be between the #1 military and economic superpower, the U.S., and the #2 superpower, China. There are many reasons why this war is inevitable. Apart from the Trade War that is currently playing on, the U.S. is deeply worried about the gradual, and sometimes, rapid buildup of the China military might which is visible on the land, the high seas, and increasingly in air and space. The U.S. is also deeply bothered about the increasing capability of China to penetrate cyber defences of the U.S., and is trying to push its allies not to sign up with Huawei for 5G technology roll-out, which it thinks will compromise Western security efforts.

Most critically, the U.S. is worried about the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative of China, which has started to win Western supporters. Last week, Italy signed on for this scheme. The rest of Europe is also apparently tilting towards OBOR, going by the strongly positive reception accorded to President Xi Ping in European capitals last week. This initiative is akin to the soft power enjoyed by the U.S. over the past several decades, which no other nation has been able to replicate.

China also feels seriously wronged by various Western invasions and the Japanese war and occupation. It wants to assert its historical pre-eminence, which is one reason it has laid claim to all of South China Sea. Most Asian countries have been falling in line with China’s soft (and sometimes hard) push towards adoption of OBOR, with the exception of India and Australia. The U.S. will never sign up, of course.

Due to all of the above factors, and several more, the trust level between these two superpowers has been dropping over the past couple of years. The sudden and unexpected emergence of a U.S. President in Donald Trump, who could challenge China in an open and brazen manner, has upset China no end. China has struggled to grapple with this grave matter, with no resolution in sight. Obviously it cannot fight with its biggest customer in the world. Its inability to squash the U.S. in this Trade War has seriously dented its position and confidence, from which it is trying hard to recover. All the past U.S. Presidents have been playing along with China in its own game, without causing much trouble despite brief skirmishes on policy matters. Trump is the first President who boldly demanded China change its policies and behaviour, with an enforcement mechanism to ensure that it sticks to its promises. And, his cabinet team is working hard to deliver on Trump’s expectations.

China is never going to give up on its ambitions. The huge challenge for the rest of the world is the one posed by China: how to allow the inevitable yet peaceful rise of China on the world stage, while acknowledging its superior position in both economic and military affairs. China is going to fight with all its might when it senses a danger posed to its ambitions. We have seen that time and again.

China also realizes that taking on the U.S. on its own, despite its economic power, is currently unrealistic. It also knows that even friendly Asian countries will not support its fight against the U.S. After all, the U.S. is the biggest client for most large trading nations. There is no way that these countries are going to be persuaded to join in a trade war fight against their biggest customer.

Military issues, on the other hand, are completely different. China has been flexing its military muscle regularly, exposing its power to nations which keep opposing its rise on the world stage. It is building its second aircraft carrier, enhancing the accuracy of its ICBMs and nuclear weapons, building a modern submarine fleet, and launching a new fighter jet. It may not have the breadth and depth of the U.S. military, but China keeps improving and constantly enhancing its military capabilities.

So, within the next couple of years, a sea skirmish is surely possible. But more importantly, China might attack Taiwan which it calls a breakaway renegade province. Under a U.S. law enacted in the Seventies, the U.S. is supposed to protect Taiwan from foreign aggression. While no one knows how this will play out, it is entirely possible that President Xi Zinping could gather sufficient courage to launch a limited attack. Such an action is not inconceivable, especially if the party insisting on complete independence is returned to power again in the next elections in Taiwan.

Such an attack could potentially launch the world into uncharted waters. A Third World War could then start. It will be difficult to identify who will support China against the U.S. May be Russia, but then Russia will never jump into an actual war. So this may not be a “world” war, but one fought between the #1 and the #2 superpowers on the Taiwan issue.

Once a war is on its way, no telling where it will go and how it will end. Wiser and cooler heads will prevail way before the war actually starts. Hopefully the conflict will be averted, but no one knows.

I think it is entirely possible given the pressures on both sides of the equation.

We have to worry about such an eventuality. Geopolitical considerations might avert the war, but then there is the highly emotive factor of China’s pride. Don’t you think it is critical to assess this big thing at our backyard?

Cheers, and have some good wine on a Saturday evening while thinking about conflicts and wars,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th March 2019

Theresa May’s Chaotic Nation


As every week passes, the U.K. is teetering towards the edge of a dangerous precipice. We are seeing this getting played out on TV almost every day, and wondering what is it that intelligent, educated folks in the most civilized and developed region of the world could not resolve to their mutual satisfaction.

As is to be expected, the U.K. thinks that it always has a “superior” edge compared to any other nation or bloc in the world, and it is not just “any other” country. It is special and used to rule a world when the Sun never set on the British Empire! Is it surprising to find out that the British Government is cocky as ever, and is now run by an indefatigable tough and unforgiving woman who just cannot be beaten in the political game?

However, the European Union (EU) does not subscribe to the above general view that the British are a superior country and could dictate terms even when they want to leave the EU. There has been a general hardening of views on this matter amongst the more poweful members of the EU such as Germany and France. The Brussels folks have been giving a tough time to Theresa May every time she had come calling – always seeking more concessions, to get out of the hole she has created for herself in the U.K. Parliament. To be fair, it is her own Conservative Party which has risen against her autocracy in the Brexit affair, and already defeated her in two Parliamentary votes. What is her credibility in the eyes of the EU politicians and bureaucrats, when she is repeatedly getting booted out by her own party men and women?

Now this has taken more than 32 months and the end is still not in sight. Apart from the Parliament, the Cabinet, businesses, banks and citizens of the U.K. are wondering where all this is going to end up. Businesses are already departing from the U.K. and economic growth is stalling. The British Pound is under pressure. No body knows with any level of certainty how things will work out, and this instability is affecting business decision-making and steering away investments by global corporations. There is no sense of direction or guidance from the government side. People have been left to fend for themselves ultimately, and this fiasco has led them to question the very basis and wisdom of Brexit.

The underlying fundamental issue for Britain in Brexit is all about sovereignty. British people do not wish to subjugate themselves under the rules perpetuated by the EU, they do not want European elections to impact Britain, they do not like the EU’s privacy laws and tax regulations, and what not. I do not yet understand, if that be the case, how come the mighty Britain was under EU rule for the past 47 years? Why did it subject itself to such a free-wheeling, liberal rule in the first place?

Obviously, it was because of the huge economic benefits. Apart from labour mobility, trade in goods was to the advantage of Britain. Even now, Britain’s share of the EU imports is over 44%. The British have always enjoyed trade advantages over the rest of the world and they have effectively leveraged it when dealing within the EU arrangement for the past nearly half century.

Of course, if now Brexit happens, the EU will not only collect the fine due as a result of the divorce from Britain, but also impose trade restrictions which would place Britain on par with other non-EU countries which will be disliked totally by British government. But then you cannot have the cake and eat it too, right?

The Irish backstop has caused huge disconnect in the British psyche. As far as the EU is concerned, the South and North parts of Ireland are separate and distinct. The Republic of Ireland stays within the EU as it is – so there may be EU Customs checks between the two Irelands, which cannot be done as per the Nineties agreement resolving the violent Irish dispute, whereby the border between the two parts of Ireland is supposed to be fully open (I may not be accurate on this topic).

So Brexit could challenge the way the British think about Ireland.

All told, it is a totally confusing and demoralizing time for the British people, who are already suffering from very high taxes and wreaking infrastructure. With the tough immigration stance taken by the government, it is likely that foreign university candidates would reduce their focus on the U.K. Large banks are already planning for a no Brexit deal kind of situation. There will be no new manufacturing investments coming to the U.K. anymore, as the goods produced cannot be exported to the EU without import taxes. It looks like impending gloom everywhere, but then the British are known to negotiate their way out of rather tight spots in the past.

So we can expect something before the new deadline of 22nd May imposed by the EU. Theresa May is likely to lose the third vote in the Parliament on Brexit, so the 12th April dateline will, most likely, be not achieved.

It is amazing to note that, in typical political fashion, it has taken nearly 3 years for the U.K. to get out of the EU in a bad way – what does this say about British skills in getting all that they want, while shortchanging every other partner?

The EU politicians are hedging their bets as well. My suspicion is that they need Britain to stay on in the EU, if only they could manage that outcome with increased sops – but then, not all the 27 EU members will play ball, and such a concessionary approach will also set a bad precedence for the EU in case some other EU nation wants to leave the Union.

Big, unraveling story with not so much of a happy ending for either side is to be played out in the coming days and weeks.

Enjoy the Brexit show.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th March 2019

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