Far removed from Reality


The World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded yesterday at the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.

This time around it was a low-key affair since several powerful countries and leaders did not attend. For instance, President Trump and Prime Minister May did not come due to serious problems that they are currently faced with in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively.

However, many billionaires and world leaders did attend, as participation at the Davos WEF has become an annual pilgrimage for movers and shakers from around the world. The WEF conducts forums in other major countries, but none beats the depth and comprehensiveness of the Davos forum.

There were many key issues affecting humanity that were discussed at this year’s event, such as the alarming negative impact of Climate Change. This is nothing unusual. The point is that most attendees come from elite or political or business backgrounds and are, in general, rich. It would be interesting to measure and report the average net worth of all the invited participants at Davos forum. That should prove that this crowd is far removed from the daily mundane reality of an average (not even a poor) citizen’s life, anywhere in the world.

How can a rather small collection of rich and powerful folks make a critical analysis of problems facing this planet and humanity? How can they “feel” the problems, pains, challenges and issues that a common man or woman needs to tackle in his or her life? Are these people really addressing the “real” issues and coming up with practical solutions to world’s rather intractable problems? Or, are they just networking socially and having fun, either at corporate or government expense? Let us not forget that these elite folks already know each other (mostly and generally) from previous interactions. One obvious objective is to learn from each other – what are the current views of the “elite” and “learned” folks from around the world, have lunches / dinners / cocktails and learn more of each others’ perspectives, etc., There are, of course, multiple panel discussions from which our elite participants will learn even more.

But, what is the concrete action plan to better the life of the average citizen coming out of this most expensive jamboree at an exclusive Swiss resort? Is there something coming out of this event that will affect the life of the common man, is there something that he can even understand?

Such events, are in general, a waste of money, which could be deployed in social projects and alleviate poverty. But that is not the concern of the rich folks who schmooze over caviar and wine. This is the obvious disconnect which exists between such powerful gatherings and life’s realities.

I studied the agenda and the events of WEF held last week. There were many useful and relevant topics covered in the agenda, no doubt. There was significant coverage of environment, climate change and the impact of technology – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc., – these are all very relevant, I should say.

The key question, however, is how will WEF deliberations change the world for the better from a socio-economic point of view. What is the success rate of WEF influencing socio-economic policies of governments around the world which choose to attend the WEF event and actively engage other attendees. My theory is that economics at a theoretical level is of no practical use, unless the main users of economic principles (viz., governments) apply the same in consultation with WEF (not the IMF or the World Bank both of which apply tortuous conditions on countries seeking their financial support). How can some of the useful deliberations at the WEF be successfully applied in large countries such as India, China or Indonesia? What are the resources available to the governments which want to reform their economies? What technologies can be leveraged? What are the practical methods that we can adopt for sustaining the deteriorating environment? And so on, and so forth.

May be these things are already being executed. However, in my research on WEF’s practical applications, I could not find clear cut evidence. I could not put my finger on the specific outcomes which are being followed up by WEF around the world.

If my audience can clarify, I will be happy to post an update to this post. If WEF disagrees with what I have stated, all that is required is a response to this blog post, and I will post the same as a correction to what I have written.

In a nutshell, I would like WEF to understand two things –

1. The utility value of the annual WEF meeting is not grasped by the proletariat, and I have seen no evidence that WEF is making an attempt to communicate as such;

and,

2. The obvious disconnect between the abject reality of peoples’ lives and the economic deliberations at WEF conducted at the apex levels of governments and corporates surely exists, whether acknowledged by WEF or not.

Socialism is emerging even in that most Capitalistic country in the world – I mean the U.S. and its potential ramifications over the next few years have not been understood by the key economic players – whether in governments or corporates. This is also something that WEF needs to address. How about inviting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the WEF 2020 as key note speakers?

Cheers, have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th January 2018

The Make-Believe Yet Real


I have been wanting to write on this topic for quite a while.

I struggled with the title a bit, as I thought it should reflect what I really feel about the specific matter about which I am going to write in this post. How do I communicate about something in a succinct yet penetrating manner? I realized that I have to go a long way in mastering the English language! It has been tough though I might sound simplistic!!

This post is about the City-State of Singapore.

It is sometimes too hard to believe that this bustling city of 5.6M people produces a GDP of USD 330B, translating to USD 57K GDP per capita, placing it as the third richest country in the world. It is managed like a global corporation with efficient allocation of capital and resources, with long-term planning firmly in place, assuring its citizens and residents of long-term economic and political stability. It is hard to grow at more than 3% GDP growth rate for such a highly developed country with physical limitations on geographical size and population (which is not growing).

My point in writing this post is to compare how Singapore manages peace and prosperity in a cogent and planned manner, as compared to cities like Paris or New York or London. I cannot compare it with large countries as Singapore is just a city. When I look at the extensive TV coverage on the yellow-vest protest in Paris, or the multiple people protests in New York that went on last week, it is apparent that the respective governments are not doing a fine job of addressing the issues or grievances of the people who are protesting. Probably they couldn’t care less. There is law and order problem in almost every major city around the world – as we know, there are downtowns and also the seedier parts of town with criminal gangs operating in many cities. There is violence perpetrated every day – you just need to look at the gun-related crimes in the U.S. or even in just one major city in the U.S. to understand how far violence has embedded itself into the psyche of the American society.

I am not trying to say that people cannot protest to convey their views. This is possible in Singapore in a government regulated place which is designated for that purpose. Disrupting the city’s business and economy should not be the way. In cities in India, people protests are often infested with political parties’ radical elements who have their own agenda and also criminals who get a free ride to perpetrate violence in the guise of being part of such “people protests”. There is no way to control such situations. The images of public transport buses burning, public property damaged, private cars destroyed, civil services disrupted, and so on and so forth, have poured in even from such a civilized and cultured country such as France. The massive outpouring of people against the government is a big indication of disconnect between those who govern and those who are governed.

Violent protests causing damage and death have no place in civil society. The best way to bring down an elected government is to precipitate a massive defeat in the next elections – not to dethrone it via the undemocratic method of public violence. Such a thing has happened in many countries – such as Ukraine in 2014 when a popularly elected government was overthrown with the support of Western governments and people protests. [Note: I am not a supporter of Russia – I am mentioning this fact just as an example].

Of course, there are governments which suppress people protests with a heavy hand, causing further damage. They incarcerate people who did nothing but participate in protests for a long time without due process. There are many examples of such happenings around the world.

Governments which do not listen to their electorate will eventually face defeat in the subsequent elections. So, people have to be patient to exercise their franchise in the next elections. While peaceful protests are fine, how will any government ensure peace when they are dealing with some 10,000 or more people at one go in one place in a city? Law enforcement is likely to make errors in judgement.

Coming back to Singapore, the peace and prosperity remain the key tenets of the government and of the people. There is absolute sync between the government and its citizens on certain fundamental principles and frameworks. Citizens may not always agree with the government, and there are plenty of examples of such situations. I would mention the issues of overcrowding of subway system and immigration – there are many more. The government, however, heard the issues, analyzed the causes and addressed the same. It is absolutely critical that countries have “listening” governments.

The government – citizen compact has to be heavily communicated and understood. I agree that bigger countries such as the U.S., China, India and the U.K. have larger issues and more people problems to be tackled. Singapore may not have those kinds of problems and issues. The key difference is the measured approach, cautious thinking, consultations with key affected parties, and communication. As we can witness the current ongoing stalemate in the U.S. government shutdown, hard positions between key branches of government are untenable and unsustainable, because the affected people will eventually hit back. Maturity is needed, and if the elected President and House Speaker cannot even sit down and sort out the issues bedeviling the country, then the hope for a positive resolution drops considerably in the minds of the citizens. In the meanwhile, running of the government suffers, and 800,000 government servants are going without paycheck. Not at all acceptable in a civil society and in a democracy.

I can also cite the example of the U.K. where a “no-deal” Brexit is staring at peoples’ faces with its attendant uncertainty and impending economic chaos. If it were Singapore’s problem, it would have been tackled differently, in a more mature way. There is not much rationale in countering that Singapore would not have such an issue as Brexit. If an “Asian Union” were formed in the same manner as the European Union, then Singapore would be a part of it, and such a situation as Brexit is entirely feasible. A referendum is not a solution, in my opinion. Citizens are good in electing popular governments, but collective policy making cannot be sub-contracted to the whims and fancies of sections of society who could sway the vote which could affect the entire country and its people. This is a debatable argument, and I am not strong in propounding this – I have to work on strengthening the logic and rationale of such an argument. An elected government has been given the task of running the country in the best possible manner, and it has to execute its job keeping the best interests of its citizens, yet be ready to compromise where needed. There is nothing like “my way, or highway”. If that were the case, Malaysia and Singapore would not have enjoyed peaceful co-existence over the past five decades.

Well, I can keep going on. In a nutshell, the large countries of the world need enlightened governments with a broad perspective on public issues and long-term thinking. I know it is easier said than done, as large countries have fractious and finicky electorates and fragmented political parties. But then, we want the best amongst ourselves to govern us, right? It means that successful people in their own fields of endeavour have to be persuaded to participate in the political process and be part of the government execution even if they do not win elections.

Singapore continues to be one of the best managed countries in the world, even without the economic statistics to support it. If that is not the case, how do we explain the fact that foreigners who come here do not really wish to leave a city which has almost zero crime, decent economic opportunities based on merit, good public transport, almost all government services available on a digital mode to its citizens, a good healthcare system (although expensive), etc., though I have to state that the real estate is extremely expensive. It is a long track record which is hard to beat amongst the developed countries of the world.

Yes, it appears to be “make-believe” when you live here, yet it is absolutely real.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th January 2019

The India Puzzle


April 2019 is fast approaching……..

India will complete 5 years of BJP Government rule in the next 3 months, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While the jury is still out on whether the BJP Government delivered on its promises to the electorate (made in 2014), one thing is absolutely crystal clear: the image of India as a nation state has completely transformed in the eyes of the world.

I may or may not agree with policy decisions or actions/inactions of the Government. Every government has its own party driving its policies and actions. Every government has its own compulsions as well as prerogotives. Every government tries to do its best, yet falters occasionally. It could be because of ideological differences or internal squabbles. It happens in every government and every political party.

I am not here to condone any negative fallouts, of course. I believe that Mr Modi could have done better by not keeping his silence during occurrence of violent riots against minority communities. He is the PM for all citizens of India, not just for the Hindus. I agree that Mr Modi is a dynamic, energetic, passionate and committed leader, but in order to be a true world statesman, he needs to step beyond his own party shoes and demonstrate that he is a farsighted and noble leader of all Indian citizens. Some of his principles, such as digital banking for the unbanked millions, are truly world-class. In many ways, he is transforming India.

However, taking a nation as diverse as India on a journey of transformation, requires phenomenal drive towards inclusivity. Of course, we all agree that the Congress Party’s philosophy of dividing India based on minority vote banks is not ethical and is no longer tenable. Minority votes should never be leveraged to short change the majority’s interests.

This does not, however, mean that BJP can just pull along India simply based on their allegiance towards the majority Hindus. As I mentioned before, India is the most diverse nation on earth, and that diversity also comes from its majority – the Hindus are a diverse lot and they cannot be taken for granted. For example, I have my own liberal mindset, and cannot be compelled to follow a single Hindu philosophy or a guru who will guide me to enlightenment. I think for myself, and I believe that is not only my own strength and contribution to the overall society, it is also the way most educated Hindus think.

What does this mean?

It only means one thing: no political party can take the Hindu vote bank for granted. There is no such thing as a “Hindu vote bank”, which will only vote for the BJP, because it is a Hindu party.

Time and again, the Indian electorate, whether rural or urban, has proved that it cannot be taken for granted, and it has a mind of its own, in the true sense of democracy. And, let us not forget, India remains as the single largest functioning democracy in the world, and that is not going to be challenged anytime soon. It will make its own collective choices again in April 2019.

The key is the messaging. I think the Congress Party, much in disarray over the past 4 years, has finally found its mojo, and is gearing up to give a run for the money to the ruling BJP. It is happening and it is going to be a challenging race. BJP can no longer assume that it is simply going to get an absolute majority like it did in a major upset in 2014.

Coming back to the external global image of India, yes, that has been a major accomplishment of the Modi Government. No doubt about it. But, the domestic electorate does not care about that achievement. They are rather upset about the demonetization (which did not produce the expected result of unearthing the much ballyhooed black money), and the imposition of high GST tax rates on consumption. In many ways, the Indian electorate operates on local or national issues, and not on international issues. It is no different from what any other electorate, including the U.S. electorate, does.

So, what is the conclusion?

Where is India headed in its next phase of growth?

Is India going to replace its colonial aggressor as the world’s Fifth largest economy by end of 2019?

What is the right thing to do by the Indian electorate in the 2019 polls?

What is my own suggestion?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

India is an evolving, maturing country, economy and society. I believe it will continue to find its feet, irrespective of the options in front of it. It is an intelligent society. No policy prescription on international or national security matters is going to affect the mind of the electorate.

Think about it. On the other hand, the world itself has a stake in the outcome of the Indian elections, at least based on the fact that the global democracy as a form of government is now predicated on its success in India. India has now become a torch bearer of democracy, and the whole world is watching if it will also keep its 7 decades old commitment to secularism. Either BJP modifies its messaging, or the Congress does it as it has always done. BJP has more of a responsibility to consolidating its successes and steering the country in the right direction.

All the Best to Democracy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th January 2018

How to deal with an Idiot


Nowadays, it has become a routine yet demanding task.

Good, hard working, well meaning folks have to deal with several idiots, sometimes on the same day.

Idiots come in a variety of forms.

Unfortunately, idiots are sometimes very powerful. And, that puts most of us in a rather awkward position. When I say “us”, I mean the “proletariat” or the common man on the street. The general population of any country falls under this definition. In developed countries, most of the common population are at the median level of income – the folks that you see on the roads and in the subway stations rushing to work. This translates to a set of people who are at or above average intelligence level.

When there are many such people on the ground, one thing they consistently try to avoid is dealing with idiots. Idiots occur in all places – our workplaces, shops and restaurants, bus or subway rides, supermarkets, government offices, private offices, clinics, and what not. We know how to deal with most occurrences of idiots in our lives, though new types of idiots challenge us to think more and develop strategies to deal with them.

But what do we do when the idiot sits in the White House of the U.S. Government as President of the U.S. ? The most powerful elected office in the world ?

That is emerging as the crux of the existential problem that people around the world (not just the Americans) are facing today.

On the 8th of November 2018, Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was at 26,191 at close of trading. On the 21st December 2018, the DJIA was at 22,439 at close of trading. In less than 6 weeks, Donald Trump’s confusing twitter messages and erratic actions have resulted in most of this loss of market value. During the same period, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index dropped from 7,530 to 6,333. In a nutshell, the DJIA dropped by 3,752 points or 14.3% and NASDAQ dropped by 1,197 points or 15.9%, wiping off well over two  trillion dollars of investor wealth (I am not able to compute the drop in terms of market value accurately). Please see CNN Coverage on Stock Market – Dow’s Worst Week since 2008

Donald Trump boasted that the stock market had performed outstandingly well under his tenure, but he has been responsible for its destruction over a short period of time between November and December 2018. Further, his erratic behaviour has been the reason for the fluctuations in the market over the past over 6 months as well.

Apart from investor losses, there are many things to fret about the idiotic behavioural characteristics of Donald Trump. I cannot list all of his misdeeds here in this post, but suffice to say that my audience is well educated and well read to have followed his idiosyncratic logic and actions over the past many months. The latest shocker is his abrupt pulling out of U.S. troops from war-torn Syria and also from Afghanistan. Trump has lost most of his experienced cabinet members, the latest being General Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary, who could not take it any more. Please read his resignation letter to get the full import of his resignation – Jim Mattis Resignation Letter in full

And so on and so forth……….the Donald Trump saga plays on in Washington, much to the detriment of U.S. itself – the most affected folks are the U.S. citizens and the U.S. allies; and the U.S. economy is getting damaged due to Trump’s battle with China (on this point, I agree with Trump’s aggressive manoeuvering against China). The Mueller investigation is producing more indictments and more accusations against Trump, and Trump is increasingly getting nervous. And, to cap it all, the mid-term elections in the U.S. delivered the House of Representatives to the Democrats, so it is going to present a bed of thorns to Trump by stopping most of his executive decisions and investigating his tax returns, and what not. Of course, the U.S. Senate is going to be controlled by the Republicans, but they need the support of Democrats to hit the magic number of 60 votes in the Senate to pass big legislation such as the spending bills (Republicans have only 54 seats).

Though I live in Singapore, and have nothing to do with the U.S. Politics, unfortunately I need to know almost everything that is going on, as stupid actions of a sitting President of the U.S. damages the entire world – again rather unfortunately. Nothing much can be done by remote observers, except to write a blog post and actively discuss such stupid actions in social networking sessions. Most news media publish controlled content as no one wants to offend the U.S. – so fake news is becoming the norm on the other side of Trump as well, if you could decipher what I mean!

Though I supported Donald Trump when he was elected President of the U.S. after Barack Obama (I have published couple of posts on his election), over the past 18 months or so, I have become disenchanted with Trump. He needs adult guidance, and people like Jim Mattis provided that guidance to him. But he despises good folks with serious advice, as he has repeatedly demonstrated via the Cabinet exits which have continued non stop. This shows that Trump is not a good “manager” of people and resources. He makes very random statements and commitments (without a shred of advanced thinking) to solicit the support of his strong conservative base; but as the mid-term elections demonstrated, he has lost significant support amongst women and minority voters, both of which he has alienated constantly.

The bad deeds of Donald Trump are countless to list. But I am most concerned about his idiotic and erratic behaviour, which urgently requires the sane and sober counsel of senior Republican politicians. He is not going to get that advice, as now almost everyone knows that honest advice providers are going to be short lived in his administration.

How to deal with the most powerful idiot in the world is the question of the day. If we can resolve this question, the world can get on with its future business. May be Trump requires advice from Singapore Government, as he would not follow any advice from America’s long standing allies in Europe (like Angela Merkel). Or, should we hope for his impeachment on impeachable grounds soon?

Cheers, and have a great Pre-Xmas Weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd December 2018

 

Find Your Original Value Systems


This post is not about “individual” values and value systems that we all originally grew up with, and sometimes abandon on the way of life for whatever reason(s).

This post is more about that moral beacon of the “free” world, the U.S. and how it has been diluting its own original values and value systems over the years for convenience and monetary/business reasons. There are always plenty of reasons why a country would abandon its values, the most critical one being political and / or business expediency. Countries sacrifice their values to make money, or for national security purposes. There are thousands of reasons why such a sacrifice is always portrayed as warranted, especially to the domestic audience.

There are hundreds of instances when the U.S. preached from a high moral ground to other nations, but secretly or sometime openly, pursued national goals which were totally contrary to its founding values. I am not documenting in this single post all the very bad things that the U.S. did in South America, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. There must be plenty of academic research carried out on this topic by its own universities who do not shy away from such research even if it is damaging to the country where they are based, and that is sheer goodness.

In the current state of global affairs, time has come for the U.S. to reassess its seven decades old strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and this is the main thrust of this post. I am not writing this post as the consequence of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder and dismemberment at a Saudi diplomatic facility, which is totally and utterly despicable. Such pre-meditated actions only demonstrate that most of the Middle East region is yet to get out of their revengeful tribal mindset and integrate with the rest of the world. There is nothing special or unique about Saudi Arabia or for that matter, the Middle East as a region. Every region of the world is the same with similar people eking out a living. The governments make the difference.

My view is that Saudi Arabia is not going to change its ways, and the U.S. is going to be forever subservient to Saudi interests, simply because of two things: access to unlimited oil wealth and as a strong counterweight to Iran. For whatever reason, the U.S. continues to hate Iran, and is not going to reconcile with Iran. And, given that Iran is also a very proud nation dating back thousands of years of civilization, it is apparent that scores will be settled one day or the other between the two countries. In such eventuality, Saudi Arabia will be a key ally for the U.S. to count upon, and will take the brunt of any potential war with people and money.

But, in the process, both countries have seriously departed from their respective founding values. Apart from the known case of Khashoggi’s murder, the brutal war on Yemen which has unnecessarily killed thousands of innocent men, women and children, is a direct result of the planned collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Where is the morality? Where is the human conscience? And, where is that useless organization that we are all funding called the United Nations?

The U.S. cannot be complicit in the execution of what can easily be determined as war crimes. It should stay well above such actions, and demonstrate its moral values in any part of the world. No point in arguing against Myanmar government for murdering the Rohingya Muslims on the one hand, but assisting Saudi Arabia to bomb civilian areas of Yemen on the other hand. What kind of value system is this and why are the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the U.S. citizens, not protesting against such egregious violations of human rights?

What applies at home should apply anywhere else as well. The U.S. needs to learn that every human life that it helps to kill in the name of even a “righteous” war (which it is not in the case of Yemen) would cause irreparable and severe damage to its own value systems; and as many believe, would come back to haunt it, like what happened with Vietnam.

We cannot and should not forget our roots – where we came from, what value we were born with, what values we grew up with, what kind of moral and social systems that we have imbibed, etc., Likewise, nations cannot and should not forget their own value systems, in the name of national security or strategic alliances, etc., If those issues are causing concern, there must be ways to tackle the same with the same firm value systems, and demand that every constituent or participant adhere to some basic common values as well. If the U.S. cannot or will not demand such compliance from its strategic partners, then it has no right to demand that other nations should adhere to its values either. There will be no moral high ground from which it can preach its values while destroying the same underneath the ground for its own benefit.

In a nutshell, my concern is that values are fast disappearing from international discourse and diplomacy. Every country is becoming short sighted. Every country stands ready to dilute its values. Every country is willing to sacrifice values in the altar of expediency. And, no country can be pointed out or blamed, since the high priest itself is engaging in similar activities.

Is this wrong? Absolutely.

Is this morally correct? Absolutely not.

Can such things be done in the name of national security? Surely not. There are other ways.

So friends, judge for yourself. Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 December 2018

 

 

The Unstable America


Don’t you think that the all powerful, the only super power country in the world, has slowly spiralled down into some kind of unfathomable instability over the past 21 months?

Don’t you think the world, even the friends of America, are confused, bothered, amused sometimes, but mostly devastated the way things are proceeding apace?

Don’t you think that people around the world are constantly wondering what a new day will bring in terms of unpredictable happenings that could be detrimental to world peace and stability?

Don’t you think that the world-beating technology companies from the famed Silicon Valley are right now scratching their collective heads on how to tackle the U.S. Government and the U.S. Congress?

Don’t you think that governments all over the world are trying to figure out how to get out of the crosshairs of President Trump’s infamous tweet storm on any given day?

Diplomacy, as we know it, is almost dead.

Dictators can heave a sigh of temporary relief.

Authoritarian governments are torn between positive signals emanating from the White House and negative signals spouting from bureaucrats, think tanks, and of course U.S. Congressmen.

Democracies, and allies of the U.S., are in general, bewildered that a country which taught the world the basic norms of diplomatic behaviour, multilateral negotiations, human rights, and a whole series of global moral principles for so long, could deteriorate so fast under the auspices of an unpredictable, maverick leader with absolutely no prior experience in politics or governance.

Trade is the lifeblood of civilizations for thousands of years, which has facilitated interactions amongst peoples of the world. The economic growth of the world depends on trade. President Trump has been trying vigorously to walk out of all existing (NAFTA) or new trade deals (TPP), and his ongoing spat with China on trade has worsened the global economic and investment climate, establishing the linkages between trade and growth.

Equity markets have been facing trouble on account of several factors, however the chief factor has been the trade spat between the #1 and the #2 economies of the world. It did not stop with China, however. President Trump has been warning a series of countries which do trade with the U.S. on the urgent necessity to achieve an equitable balance of trade and open up respective markets to U.S. exporters.

I believe President Trump had been opening several fronts of economic warfare simultaneoulsy, while also facing political troubles at home. The combative new House of Representatives dominated by Democrats is very likely to give serious headache on a number of matters to the President, starting with the Russian investigation handled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Not a wise thing to constantly engage in battles with powerful enemies, but the President continued his tirade at the incoming House anyway.

President Trump’s unqualified support to Saudi Arabia on the Khashoggi murder rankles the world and has significantly managed to annoy Congressmen on both sides of the aisle. The fact that the U.S. will put business ahead of morality and principles well in front of thuggery and murder, has shocked the world.

Notwithstanding all this nonsense, Donald Trump is still the President, but his very latest attack against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals is utterly deplorable. He talked about Obama judges and Trump judges, trying to politicize the Supreme Court and other courts. He called the 9th Circuit a disgrace for the country. This is surely not a wise thing to do at all. Once appointed, neither the President nor the Congress have any say on the functioning of a judge, and unwarranted and unnecessary comments on a Court’s behaviour or judgements are generally considered unacceptable by everyone (except the right wing extremist supporters of the President).

Given all that is going on in the U.S., I am afraid that the fundamental institutional framework well established for nearly a century in the U.S. could come under partisan attack and could become shaky. This will be a very sad development for the U.S., and could have negative repercussions and ramifactions far beyond American shores. Democratic nations should rally around to develop a generic framework to tackle the aftermath of such drastic changes. The European Union decision to continue supporting Iran nuclear deal is one such example – as you all know, Trump walked out of the deal, and imposed severe sanctions on Iran, going against legal logic and plea from various allies who are co-sponsors and signatories of the 2015 deal, brokered by none other than the U.S. itself (John Kerry and Obama).

So, in a nutshell, America has become unstable in thoughts, policies, diplomatic relationships, international behaviour, and execution on deals which have been agreed upon.

What can you do in such circumstances?

Will you continue to support and engage with the U.S.?

Think carefully, and impartially.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th November 2018

Authoritarianism in Democracies


It is rather strange why so many democratically elected leaders of countries feel the urge to play god or superman when it comes to ruling in a majority government.

I believe that a streak of authoritarianism exists in most strong leaders with a strong will and powerful determination to take their nations and people forward. It is not an unnatural tendency, especially when the exercise of real power is possible, and there are a number of other influential people who assume the role of sycophants and sing the praise of the leader all the time.

If the strongman leader is well-intentioned, incorruptible, and not given to the negative influences of sycophancy, then he will be able to make a positive impact on his nation. Even then, he would constantly need the counsel and services of like-minded individuals, which becomes difficult especially in a conflicted country with heavy bureaucracy and multiple priorities. If such advice is not provided or sought, it is anybody’s guess where the country will eventually land, notwithstanding the good intentions of the elected leader.

Democracy is the most challenging form of government in practice today. It is prone to excessive meddling by mostly corrupt politicians, operating in a loosely managed system which can almost be considered as “free wheeling”. Unfortunately, it is currently the best possible scheme of governance available with all its foibles and inconsistencies.

The question then arises: how come a functioning democracy allows the emergence of a strong-willed authoritarian leader, and his/her free functioning despite the oversight functions built into a democratic system of government, and even tends to allow his/her excesses beyond what is permissible under such a system? Despite all the good work and progress that can be achieved by such a leader, the question still remains on “authoritarian excesses beyond what is permissible”, or the use of government machinery and authority to bully the naysayers and the well-meaning critics of the administration, curtail the freedom of the press, instigate lawsuits against dissenters and the media, and trample on civil rights.

There are many examples I can cite in defense of my surmise, the most potent ones being that of the Philippines and the U.S. In the Philippines, an authoritarian yet democratically elected President has totally destroyed civil rights and is pursuing a lawsuit against the most vocal media entity in the country. At last count, atleast 8,000 citizens have been shot down by law enforcement for drug trafficking or drug use, without any recourse to the country’s judicial system. In the U.S., we see the daily drama of a wayward President, who does not seem to care much about the fact that he is successfully dividing the country along race, colour and gender lines. The U.S. Congress has, so far, acquiesced to the whims of the President, and has rarely challenged him. This brings us to the next question.

Why do the other organs of a parliamentary democracy, such as the Parliament / Congress and the Judiciary just watch what is going on in the country, but rarely ever take suo moto actions to stop, challenge or dissuade the strong but erring leader? What prevents these organs from exercising their powers vested in them by the Constitution?

One reason could be that the Congress or the Parliament is run by the same party of which the head of government is also the leader, and the party is worried about the political ramifications of challenging its own leader and the next elections. In democracies, parties always worry about the next election. If there are a few vocal challengers in the party who give trouble to the President, they will eventually be silenced or ignored and replaced. Most political parties have average or weak leaders, so a strong leader who executes election promises and woos the electorate and voter base is always admired by the party, which becomes subservient to the relentless whims of its leader.

The Judiciary, in general, keeps a safe distance from politics and political happenings. This is the case, unless an affected party approaches it with a credible lawsuit against the government. In some cases of extreme injustice, the Court could resort to suo moto cognisance and initiate legal action on behalf of the victim.

While democracy provides for adequate checks and balances against the commitment of excesses by the Executive branch of the government, we have, of late (and in the past), seen real evidence of breakdowns which will eventually affect the fabric of democracy and its institutions.

The situation becomes worse when the “strong” leader delivers economic results and bolsters national security. It becomes extremely difficult to argue with positive results of benefit to the overall population (though not to segments of it). It may be sheer luck, but then it can be argued that specific actions resulted in solid positive economic progress, for instance.

Also, unfortunately, the general population usually prefers strong leaders who have a unique personality and a no-nonsense approach. This is one reason why movie actors went on to become successful in some regions as political leaders, while I would not believe they can deliver in real world what they did as actors in the make-believe world of movies.

Is there a way that democracies can adopt to avoid being caught in such an indefensible situation?

One way is to curb the discretionary powers available to the Executive for arbitrary exercise in favour of some stupid idea, or against an individual / entity who is opposed to the leader or his/her government. Easier systems of appeals to the Parliament which comprises of elected representatives and to the Judiciary will halt the President’s efforts in arbitrary exercise of power. However, nothing will prevent a determined leader in carrying out his mission vigorously with total insolence towards anyone beneath him or even those who are on par with him.

So we do have a serious issue with the democratic system of government. There is no immediate solution. Reprimand or threats of impeachment will not do the job. Aggressive judicial intervention is a real possibility, but not yet tested.

Think about it! Most of us live in democracies by the way!!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th November 2018

Avoidable Deaths in Unnecessary Conflicts


I came across the following “Costs of War” website run by Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University, U.S.

“Costs of War”

It is worthwhile spending some time on the reports published at this site, which have not been covered widely in the international media. The various analyses are revealing data that many of us do not have access to. The overall figure of deaths in the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan related war on terror conducted by the U.S. and its allies is at least over a million, considering the casualties inflicted by diseases and infrastructural deficiencies caused by war in these underdeveloped countries.

I am not delving into the statistics at this site (which I strongly encourage my readers to go through anyway), but more into the human misery caused by wars such as this war on terror. Wars are always the result of misjudgements or forced error-prone judgements by civilian officials in governments who are susceptible to pressures from the military-intelligence nexus thirsting for war anywhere they deem it necessary. We know this from the historical evidence gathered in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which was caused by false information from a U.S. warship sent to the U.S. Defence Secretary and the Iraqi War on Terror based on false data presented to the U.N. Security Council by Colin Powell. Rarely has a serious conflict been caused by real evidence of attack by an enemy from the field (except the World Wars I & II). What powerful countries look for is a justification to launch a war based on any kind of provocation or any kind of false data.

Why do they do such a thing as start an armed struggle which they know would cause unnecessary casualties on either side, or serious civilian collateral damage, even if they know they would win the war? The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, it was defeated and humiliated by the Communist North Vietnam in 1975, though it was already a super power. Did it not learn its lessons from that war? Why send finely trained soldiers into war and lose them for good? Why spend so much of taxpayer money (USD 5.6 T in the war on terror till 2017) which could have been invested within the U.S. for the benefit of the people of the U.S.?

At the end of the day, the purpose is to “teach an unforgettable lesson” to the enemies or terrorists who attacked the U.S. in 2001. Terrorism has not gone away and has not been eliminated as a result of the “war on terror”. What we know for sure is that more than USD 5 T has been spent, more than half a million people are dead for sure, more enemies have been created on the ground in the Middle East, the Syrian & Yemen conflicts are not even counted in the above war on terror, and so on and so forth. If the purpose is to teach a strong lesson to aspiring terrorists, and also to eliminate every existing terrorist, then that purpose has not been accomplished. “Mission Accomplished” by George W Bush was a falsity as the world knew even then.

Targeted elimination of specific terrorists is very challenging and may not be possible at all. While that objective has to be pursued without any doubt, the unnecessary killing of suffering civilians in these countries need to stop. Need to totally stop. Will the Western countries allow such killings in their countries if the reverse scenario had happened, or even otherwise? No, not at all.

Human life has to be respected and human misery needs to be addressed.

Imagine spending USD 5.6 T on eliminating poverty in the world. Imagine eliminating homelessness and providing a healthcare safety net with that kind of money. Imagine so many good things that could have been achieved over the past 17 years with such serious amount of funding, if not for the world, at least for the U.S. How about drastically reducing the U.S. budget deficit with that kind of money?

Well, no easy answers. The military – intelligence – government – industry nexus will continue to serve the needs of war, while providing rationale for starting wars. I would think Asian countries are more circumspect when it comes to starting wars. We have seen standoffs between China & India, China & Vietnam, China & Taiwan, China & Japan, etc., but such conflicts are managed well without ever firing a shot, as Asia understands the potential costs of war which could completely derail the “Asian Century”.

One of the biggest results of the war on terror is continuing human misery and migration (displacement of people). This continues and is proving to be a huge challenge to many Western countries. How do they integrate these migrants (who they really do not want) into their respective societies?.

Overall, the conclusion is simple: the war on terror should have been very specific and very localized to specific regions of countries, instead of establishing a country-wide war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have had specific purposes which should have been accomplished by now (after so many years of conflict). Instead, we see meetings being scheduled between the U.S. and the terrorists they shunned all this while!!!

In the meanwhile, the various war zones operate (almost all in the unlucky Middle East region) and conflicts rage as usual. The Military-Industrial complex is salivating at the potential U.S. – Iran conflict, which will generate huge business for them of the order of USD trillions again, while killing innocent people in hundred of thousands for sure.

Welcome again to the World of Ever-present Conflicts, Unnecessary Wars, and Totally Avoidable Deaths!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th November 2018

 

Does Government own You?


For thousands of years, humans did not have a form of government which took responsibility to manage and defend a nation or territory. Before government came into picture, the rule of law was based on the inalienable rights of an individual to his or her life, liberty and property. You might have read this principle of what is known as “natural rights” during your school years.

Fights and battles happened when one person or his army tried to violate this natural set of rights, and take away the life, liberty or property of one individual. That was not at all acceptable, and it was perfectly fine for the aggrieved individual to wage a fight against the aggressor.

With the advent of a system of government, people came under the government’s governance mechanism. In return for infrastructure, safety and security, the people were ready to pay taxes to cover the costs of governance. In essence, a social “compact” was struck between the society and the government which was elected by the society. The government assumed primacy in all matters pertaining to the state, running of the governmental affairs, dealing with other states, protecting the people, investing in infrastructure, et al.

The influence of the government on the society or any individual in the society is nothing short of phenomenal, whether we are living in a democratic society or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no option to live “outside” of your society or country’s system of governance (after all, we don’t choose our parents or country of birth!). We can carry our thoughts which will never be subject to any external controls, but even our thoughts are subject to controls once explicitly expressed. This is the situation in many countries.

So, the question arises: which part of you the government owns? Whole or some part? The physical part or the mind part? Are we really fully free in any society? Does the government own us? Can the government take away our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and property? Where does the government stop?

And so on and so forth………..can the government dictate to us on what we should be doing? Is it a facilitator or commander of your talent and skills?

Do we have the option to break our social “compact” and return to the nomadic way of life?

Do we subjugate ourselves to the primacy of the government which rules us? Do we totally give up?

Well, of course, we all know that the situation is not so dire in most countries. The government does not intervene in your personal life, unless there is a law and order problem. It really does not care.

Some governments, however, try to own you, commandeer you, and punish you if you commit offences not palatable to them. Taking away a citizen’s life, as we have seen recently appear to be quite extraordinary (I am referring here to the Kashoggi case in Istanbul). While I am stunned by the apparent indifference to the murder of an innocent civilian citizen in a diplomatic facility, let us not forget the foreign intelligence agencies of the top nations of the world routinely carry out targeted assassinations around the world, in countries where they do not have any jurisdiction. Torture, cruelty, killings and threats are all normal practices practiced every day in the name of national security, or if that does not work, in the name of regional security / protection of valuable allies / in the cause of world peace, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, be prepared at any time to be owned by your own government apparatus. And, if your country’s government is very closely connected with the the government(s) of the most powerful nations of the world, then you are in for an even scarier ride if your thoughts are on the wrong side of what these governments think is right. How about sympathizing with the suffering Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis or Rohingyas, just to name a few?

Food for lot of thought, I should say, pun intended!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th October 2018

Laughing Stock


The widely covered and reported saga of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has become a laughing stock for all the world to witness as an example of things which have gone wrong in the U.S. democratic system of governance.

It was apparent from the beginning that the FBI had not conducted a thorough check of the background of Judge Kavanaugh. At least it was clear that the FBI had not dialled back even up to his Yale college days, an investigation of which would have provided grist upon his bad drinking habits and sexual exposition.

While what happened at age 17 or 18 should not be of major concern after 36 years have passed (though disturbing if you had seen the testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing), the key aspect for any public appointment, and more so for a judicial appointment, is integrity, and it was apparent that Judge Kavanaugh lied in his testimony about his drinking problem. Lying is clearly a non-starter in pursuing public office, and apart from this, it was also clear that the Judge was a wild adolescent and then a wild adult during his Yale college days. I cannot recall any other appointment which has caused such a major controversy, partisan split, and serious doubts about the adequacy of the candidate (not his competency).

In India, the Judicial Collegium shortlists and recommends judicial nominees for the government to approve. While there has been a serious disconnect between the Indian Supreme Court and the government on the last such appointment a few months ago, the government had to ultimately yield to the Collegium. There is no public hearing for public service appointments in India.

I am not suggesting that the Indian system of selecting judges is better, but it is important to recognize alternative systems are in place around the world. Not that there is no controversy – we know that the last judicial appointment led to a tough public fight between the Supreme Court and the government, represented by the Law Minister (India’s equivalent of Jeff Sessions).

Of course, the whole world looks up to the example of the U.S. democracy in full action, as it played out in this case in a totally public fashion. Every day, right through all of September, the world witnessed the intense testimonies and the tough questioning of Judge Kavanaugh at the U.S. Senate.

There is one long-standing and widely respected (though now widely adopted) principle in public service life in democratic nations, and that is simply the following: even if there is an iota of doubt about a nominee for high office in the minds of the selectors, as to his/her complete suitability, competency, integrity, and commitment, then that nominee needs to be thoroughly investigated, and in most cases the nomination should be withdrawn for the greater good of the larger public. The loss of faith in the ability of one to discharge public duties and service cannot be sustained if there is a slight doubt on one’s integrity.

The argument that the nominee’s reputation and future are irreversibly damaged by unsubstantiated and unverified allegations, and so these accusations should be dispensed with forthright, is not amenable to a logical and rational interpretation on how nominees should be prepared for a totally open and transparent yet risky interrogation and investigation.

Given what has transpired, especially the emotional outbursts of Judge Kavanaugh against Democratic Senators who questioned him vigorously and his explicit allegiance to President Trump and the ideals of the GOP, it would be rather interesting to carefully watch how Justice Kavanaugh plays out and leverages the conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the months and years to come. Don’t forget the fact that the Supreme Court appointments are for lifetime, and so what happens to the decisions of the Supreme Court now tainted by overt partisanship is no longer anybody’s guess – it will hit Americans in a way they would not have imagined till now.

Well, the idiosyncracies of democracy are well known. Unfortunately, there are significant negatives and inefficiency in the system of checks and balances.

Let us see how this drama unfolds in critical legal policy issues confronting the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018