Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

London and Freedom of Speech


I do not agree with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in his rather aggressive approach towards entertaining the visit of President Donald Trump of the U.S.

President Trump is a guest of the U.K. Government, whether the Mayor likes it or not. He has done everything in his power to deter the visit and make it very inhospitable for President Trump when he came calling last week.

London is amongst the top 3 cities of the world, along with Paris and New York, that is the most visited in the world. It is the financial and commercial capital of the U.K., and ranks either #2 or sometimes #1 in the finance circles as the most capitalistic city with a tremendous presence of the world’s top banking and financial institutions. It may, however, not continue to be in that exalted position for long with the onset of “Brexit”.

Never mind its position as a top city in the world; the least the city can do is to welcome any guest – and, in this case the leader of the U.S. with which the U.K. claims a rather “special” relationship. You may detest him, you may not like his anti-immigration stance, you may hate his vituperative outlook on Europe and its problems, but nevertheless you do not want to antagonize him. If there is a war with Russia, you need the U.S. to be on your side. It depends on whether the President likes you or not, unfortunately, given that he also does not like NATO.

Mayor Khan could have done better. He did the right thing by allowing the public to protest against President Trump, and let the blimp fly over central London as an insulting symbol of the President. But, in his official position as Mayor of London, he should have welcomed the President whether he likes him or not. The Mayor let his visceral hate of the President overtake his common sense. And, common sense is very critical in governance and law enforcement.

In life, it is not possible to only meet with people that you like, whether in social life, corporate life, or elsewhere. The maturity of a person is measured by his or her ability to transcend personal likes and dislikes, and connect with the “other” side of the equation in an equanimous manner. Irrational outbursts against a philosophy which is anathema to a person of power, influence and persuasion should be avoided by that person. After all, the world has multiple sides on any issue, and one cannot just argue forever that his or her side is always right. What about the 30% of the people who may disagree with the 51% majority in that case? Democratic processes as per law can and should be allowed in any democratic country to play out, but the governance mechanism cannot be held to account by majority view on any issue if it is not part of an electoral process. If that be the case, the judiciary of any country can be swayed by what appears to be a majority opinion (based on polls), and could make a judgement call which is not necessarily in conformity with the law.

The same case with Mayor Khan – he should have used his head more than his heart when it comes to policy making and receiving guests. As expected, President Trump shunned London and heavily criticized Mr Khan on crime statistics, which unfortunately for the mayor, appears to be true. London briefly overtook New York on murder statistics earlier this year. The increase in public attacks of innocent victims cannot be dismissed as the mayor did, blaming inadequate policing due to cuts in budget. That is a blatant excuse for non-performance and lack of governance. The Conservative Party has no guts to fight against Mr Khan due to his popularity, another misconceived capitulation.

In simplistic terms, Mayor Khan has failed in governing London successfully, and his escapism on governance does not go down well with the thinkers in the electorate. Mothers are afraid to send their children out into the city. Hospitals are overwhelmed with treating victims of attacks on the streets. Law enforcement is weak. The mayor should be having his hands full dealing with all these issues, rather than spending time criticizing President Trump.

I am not a big supporter of the president, but I believe it is important to welcome guests invited by your own government and show them around depicting the success story of your city, and dispel incorrect notions. It is as simple as that, rather than shunning the visitor who has wrong impression of you.

This post is not aimed at defaming Mayor Khan – only his inaction in welcoming the President of the U.S. It cannot just be his own “choice” – it is for all of London to welcome a guest.

So, at the end, President Trump did not spend any time in the city of London – he avoided it completely. That’s a slap in the face of London, and that’s not a good sign.

Can’t we have a mature discussion between two dissenting adults?

On the other hand, Mayor Khan was singled out by President Trump on terrorism, while there were many other cities in Europe and the U.S. itself which were under terrorist attack. May be there is something there which is irking the president – one would never know. It is not a secret that the president likes Boris Johnson, however!

Have a good week ahead, folks

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2018

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

A Reckless Mind-Altering President


Democracy is a demon.

How else can we describe the current sorry state of affairs in the U.S., which in turn is causing consternation all around the world?

At the outset, it is difficult to challenge the “simpleton” logic employed by Donald Trump.

  • Is it wrong to make an attempt to control illegal immigration?
  • Is it wrong to separate young children from their parents who are illegal immigrants?
  • Is it wrong to challenge China for its trade policies which have caused a huge lopsided trade deficit with the U.S.?
  • Is it wrong to arm twist the European Union on defence spending for their own protection?
  • Is it wrong to select a conservative Supreme Court Justice who shares common opinions with the President?
  • Is it wrong to impose customs tariffs on imported goods which affect American industries and cause unemployment?
  • Is it wrong to attempt to control legal immigration and disallow spouses of temporary legal corporate employees from working?
  • Is it right for American manufacturers to shift production to low-cost countries like what Harley Davidson has done?
  • Is it wrong to attack the “fake” media when it has been proven that there are instances when the real media reported fake news?
  • Is it wrong to attack long-standing American allies on trade, immigration and defence spending?
  • Is it right to exit from the U.N. Human Rights Council?
  • Is it right to throw away an international agreement with Iran which was signed by the previous Presidential administration?
  • Is it right to schmooze with President Putin of Russia when there is significant evidence that Russia had interfered with American Presidential Elections in 2016?
  • And so on, and so forth………..

Prima facie, it appears that the President is doing all the things that he committed to do while campaigning for the President job, and it also appears that he is right to carry out his commitments to the American people who elected him President, right?

Right. That’s for him.

Right. That’s for the vocal electorate in Middle America who voted for him.

Right. That’s for the coterie of his cabinet members who are not allowed to have their own unique opinion which could be different from those of the President.

Wrong. That’s for the rest of us.

But does he care? Absolutely not.

President Trump is convinced that he is doing the “right” thing for America and the American people. It is his unshakeable belief.

What he does not understand, or does not wish to understand, is that the U.S. is currently the #1 Nation impacting global policies in all facets of human life. Almost. When the U.S. is in such a unique and vaunted position, it is absolutely necessary for it to take the global impact into consideration, notwithstanding the fact that it could sometimes appear to be a philanthropic action, or cause temporary negative impact on the U.S. itself. Unfortunately, no other nation has been able to rise to the level of the U.S. over the past 70 odd years or so. American Presidents cannot be reckless and clueless about rules governing international law, trade, immigration, security, and diplomacy.

While what President Trump does to his people is his own business, Americans are now sufficiently global in their thinking that they should see through if their leader is violating global compacts and policies. Fortunately for President Trump, the U.S. economy has been doing well, and unemployment rate is falling. But, this is a time-sensitive phenomenon, and it only takes a couple of months before things start to unravel, as his trade policies are sure to cause trouble.

Global diplomacy is not about just getting to know each other, shaking hands and indulging in small talk. There is a huge amount of work which goes in, preparing for a global summit meeting. President Trump is now realizing that fact with reference to North Korea.

President Trump indulges in propagating fake news himself at his election rallies. There is only one single truth on every matter, and factual inaccuracies are mounting in his talk at his rallies where wild crowds of supporters cheer him on. He goes back to the White House with increased drive to continue his policies. His twitter feed has become a series of utterances against his “enemies”.

Overall, here is a President who self-indulges himself, berates constantly against his opponents, derides the Special Counsel investigation on Russian interference in U.S. elections, stumbles on conflicts of interests, communicates his racist tendencies, and his bad views on women in general. When a global leader of stature meets President Trump, what do you think will be going on in the mind of that global leader?

It is not hard to guess.

So, President Trump needs to get back to the basics of governance which are probably taught in a U.S. university of repute such as Georgetown in Washington DC itself, or consult past Presidents who could provide him some serious counselling. He needs to kick out sycophants from his Cabinet. He needs to listen to some seasoned leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany. He needs to understand that running the U.S. government and managing global affairs is totally unlike running a corporation. And, he needs to kill his twitter handle. His digital skills have ruined policy making.

In a nutshell, President Trump can recover from his governance lows by actively seeking counselling assistance. All of us need counselling or mentoring at some stage in our lives, and it is nothing to smirk or laugh about. So, here we are – President Trump will hopefully read this blog post of mine and adopt my sage advice rendered to him without any prejudice by a global citizen who thinks globally.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th July 2018

 

Soul of America


The U.S.A. is by far, the most preferred country for immigrants, beating the next 9 countries on the list of preferred countries for immigration as per a recent survey.

For decades, and even for more than couple of centuries, America has been welcoming new immigrants to its shores. Both immigrants and America have benefited from this continuous immigration from all over the world. America has become a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, the closest example in Europe being the U.K. America has also been providing opportunities to create new wealth for all its people, and especially to talented immigrants, and examples of such cases abound and far too numerous to be captured in any article like this. America has become richer, diverse, more capable, and more dominant in the world due to immigration. Immigrants have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, more than 60% of PhD students in U.S. are foreigners, and more than 40% of students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are foreigners as well. There is no doubt about these facts which have been validated by data from many surveys.

For America to take a strong stand on an anti-immigration political platform compounded by some serious heavy-handed law enforcement actions separating immigrant parents from their children in the most recent episode along the border with Mexico, is rather unusual and challenging its soul itself. The administration of President Trump has pushed the limits on putting a complete stop to all kinds of illegal immigration, with or without the support of its own Republican Party, and with or without the support of the U.S. Congress.

Let us for a moment go back to the soul and heart of America. Americans have always been welcoming immigrants, and have built a meritocracy based on peoples’ talents rather than on their skin colour or religion. This is the reason why America’s technological, political, social and military dominance is complete with no challengers in sight, though it can be argued that China and Russia are bent on challenging the U.S. hegemony of late. However, the U.S. is by far superior in all facets of human endeavour, and while there are pockets of dominance all around the world, the U.S. offers the most complete package to potential immigrants who, if they are talented and skilled, would be on par with the local U.S. citizens. Such adaptability and flexibility in building an equitable society has paid off for America in the long run, and is a model for countries like Singapore which is also focused on building a multi-skilled, competent and knowledge-based society.

Given this background, the vicious action of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents can only be considered cruel and far beneath the status of a generous, accepting and welcoming society that is the U.S. It is no wonder that President Trump came under huge pressure from his own party to stop the family separation, and he did that with an executive order that he issued with far less clarity than it should have exhibited. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction.

As we say, it is a torture to carry the guilt on a society’s heart and soul – examples again demonstrate the power of guilt. In Australia, the governments in the past have separated aboriginal children from their native parents and transferred these children to white foster parents. A similar thing happened in Canada. Many countries have inflicted cruelty on children – especially in Europe and Africa.

The U.S. need not and should not acquire and carry that guilt on its heart and soul. It is despicable, and completely out of character for a nation like the U.S.

Illegal immigration should be reduced but handled with care and compassion. People flee their countries mostly on economic grounds or political persecution. The U.S. is the most advanced country which is equipped to handle such immigrants, and is also the most capable in absorbing select immigrants – only the U.S. Congress has to enact legislation codifying the criteria that can be applied to such immigration.

Most European countries are trying to stop immigration. It has been a hot-button issue for elections in several countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and France. There is no perfect solution, especially when there is no common denominator on big factors such as language or religion which affect social and cultural integration of the immigrants into the respective societies. Such issues are less divisive in the U.S. as it has become a well-accepted melting pot of people from all over the world, working with each other and depending on each others’ services.

So, at the end of the day, the U.S. remains as the most preferred nation for potential immigrants from all over the world – even from other developed countries!

It is critical for the Executive and U.S. Congress to sit together and resolve matters pertaining to immigration policy. It is very critical for the future progress of the U.S. and cannot be ignored. The continued success and technological progress of the U.S. are based on immigrants continuing to flow into the U.S., of course on a controlled basis.

Kudos to America for being the most generous nation on planet earth!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd June 2018

The fallacy of elections


Just this week we saw how democratic election results can be hijacked by instruments of democracy – I am referring here to the State Elections in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. As most people know, Bangalore is the famed capital city of the Karnataka State which is responsible for the IT revolution which propelled India as the world’s leading software services power.

This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time that such hijacks take place in the democratic process. By and large, India has proved that democracy does work as a system of government over the past seven decades, except for a brief two-year period when it was itself hijacked with the imposition of “emergency” in 1975 -77. Well, there are many lacunae in any system of government, and democracy is no exception. It has its own share of problems in implementation, but that is for another blog post!

The federally appointed Governor of Karnataka State invited the Opposition BJP Party to form the government, instead of inviting the ruling Congress Party which had formed an alliance with another party, the JDS. The number of legislators in this alliance was 117, as against the 104 in BJP. In the normal procedure, the Governor would have invited the biggest alliance which can then win a trust vote in the State Assembly.

However, the Governor invited the single largest party (the BJP) and gave it 15 days to prove its majority in the State Assembly, which is only possible if BJP is able to snare at least 8 legislators from Congress/JDS alliance. And, how will that happen? Just think about it. India has already passed the Anti-Defection Law, which means it would be hard for legislators or parliamentarians to cross the aisle and join the other party. It is also not moral to do so, having been elected under the auspices of the party under whose symbol the legislator(s) won the election.

In other State Elections in India, the respective Governors had invited the biggest alliance to form the government, not the single largest party. That suited BJP (the party which rules India at the federal level) in couple of States. However, in the case of Karnataka, they tried to change that rule which a Governor should follow once he or she receives the letters of commitment from the legislators.

So, what happened?

In a tense 3 days of drama, played out in the Supreme Court of India and in Bangalore, the BJP lost out against the alliance of Congress/JDS. I am not in favour of either party, but I am concerned when the powers that be plays out the political game with utter disregard towards established precedents under their own rule. The Supreme Court played a central and decisive role in the whole episode and determined what way things should go in Karnataka State Assembly – it gave just 24 hours to the BJP Chief Minister (who had been invited by the State Governor to form the government) to face a trust vote in the Assembly. So, left with no time to indulge in horse-trading both sides brought their safely guarded legislators to the Assembly for the trust vote. Facing the loss of the trust vote, the BJP Chief Minister resigned.

The whole drama could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had intervened and ensured that proper procedures are followed. The fight should be at the hustings, not at the assembly after the elections were completed. Exposing the respective parties’ machinations to the common man and to the world at large, and going to the Supreme Court which was forced to intervene are not good examples of running the world’s largest democracy.

This proves that at the end of the day, all politicians are the same in India. Some are articulate, polished, well-behaved, and most are corrupt and bend rules in their favour. However, when it comes to winning elections, they let lose anarchy and throw principles to the wind. Similar things happen in other nations as well in varying degrees. However, India cannot risk its strong democratic institutions and the three well delineated arms of governance – the Executive, the Parliament/Legislature, and the Judiciary. These are self-balancing to a large extent, and each one is expected to check on the abuse of power by any other arm, and eventually balance the overall system of governance.

What the Karnataka Elections proved is simple – the will of the people have to be respected and cannot be manipulated in the way that one party wants. The alternative would be to call for re-elections at a great cost, annoying the voters; or, to bring down the government once it has been formed by legislative techniques and defections. However, it has been proven time and again that the voters exercise their power at the hustings to elect their representatives and have the ultimate power to dislodge parties which do not perform to their expectations.

Viva La Democracy, or to put it precisely “vive la démocratie!”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th May 2018

 

Great Truths


Courtesy: My Classmate

  1. In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a Congress.

— John Adams

2. If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

— Mark Twain 

3. Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But then I repeat myself.

— Mark Twain

4. I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.

— Winston Churchill 

5. A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

— George Bernard Shaw
6. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to payoff with your money.

— G. Gordon Liddy 

7. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

— James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

8. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

— Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University 

9. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

— P.J. O’Rourke, Civil Libertarian

10. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

— Frederic Bastiat, French economist(1801-1850)

11. Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

— Ronald Reagan(1986) 

12. I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.

— Will Rogers

13. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free!

— P.J. O’Rourke 

14. In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.

— Voltaire(1764)

15. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!

— Pericles (430B.C.) 

16. No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

— Mark Twain(1866)

17. Talk is cheap………….except when Congress does it.

–Anonymous 

18. The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.

— Ronald Reagan

19. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

— Winston Churchill 

20. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.

— Mark Twain

21. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

— Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903) 

22. There is no distinctly Native American criminal class…………save Congress.

— Mark Twain

23. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

— Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995) 

24. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.

— Thomas Jefferson

25. We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.

–Aesop 

FIVE BEST SENTENCES

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealth out of prosperity.

2.What one person receives without working for…another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work, because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!

Courtesy: My Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th May 2018

 

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

The worsening traffic nightmare


India has always faced ever mounting infrastructure issues as its economy has expanded year after year over the past decade and a half. The country has consistently under-invested in infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, seaports, logistics), exactly opposite of how China’s infrastructure has been built ahead of its economic growth demands. Well, as they say the elephant takes time to get its house in order, while the dragon whizzes past at a tremendous, almost unbelievable speed even compared to Western standards.

So we have an India which is bursting at its seams, unable to cater to ever increasing domestic demands for all kinds of services. More than 115M Indians took a flight in March 2018, which is almost 10% of India’s population. This is a fantastic growth of nearly 24% Year-on-Year. But it exerts enormous pressure on airport infrastructure and capacity management. This has always been the issue in India. Almost everything is under planned, with the result being overcrowding and inability to manage demand with limited supply.

The only positive thing is that there is a sprinkling of brand new airport buildings and roads all over the country, and seaports are being upgraded. My guess is that it will take not less than another two decades before India catches up with China in terms of the country’s infrastructure – it could be faster as people would demand the same – there is after all a breaking point when things are likely to go haywire.

I experienced the road traffic jams in two Indian cities earlier this week – Bangalore (Bengaluru is the new name) and Chennai. I have not been to Bangalore for quite a while, so I was surprised with the traffic situation. Traffic in arterial roads was moving at snail’s pace, and it took more than two hours to reach Electronic City from the Airport. I should say that the Bangalore Airport was good (though not comparable to Mumbai or Delhi Airports) but it has been located some 50 to 60 KMs away from the city. I was also quite taken aback when the taxi swerved into several side roads (away from the highway) in order to cut the time of travel, but that ruse did not work out. Why can’t the city planners work out a straight toll-based expressway like in most global cities? Why should all visitors suffer just to get to the city, taking a good two hours and sometimes more? Why should the route to Electronic City cut across the key roads of the city instead of being connected to the Airport via an entry to the expressway, and so on and so forth………..there are no answers from our Bangalore colleagues however. Everyone is wondering, I guess, like we were! I later discovered that there is a helicopter service from the airport to Electronic City, but it was too late. Not only that, I found that the cost of the chopper was not very much higher than that of the taxi service, but it would cut the time taken to just 15 minutes.

I believe the charm of a city is robbed by traffic chaos and mismanagement. Bangalore was a beautiful garden city admired by many but inhabited by ex-army folks, retirees, and public sector employees. The IT revolution has of course benefited the city’s economy greatly, no doubt about it. It has however damaged the ecosystem of the city and its surroundings. People from all over India (and many international people) have made Bangalore their home.

Coming to Chennai, I should say it fares better than Bangalore in terms of traffic management. I was however, not happy with the deterioration that I witnessed just over the past six months – there has been a strongly felt absence of road works and enhanced traffic routing all across the city. While it takes only 30 to 40 minutes to reach the centre of the city from the Chennai Airport, one has to navigate it like a city road, as there is no expressway to the city. The road is jammed with auto-rickshaws, cars, heavy vehicles and the like, making the vehicular movement rather slow. Traffic light violations are rampant, and the notion of “might is right” is slowly encroaching on road traffic in Chennai (I think it is an export from Delhi road culture).

I also found that it took longer to get a call taxi this time in Chennai. I was using the popular OLA app for getting auto-rickshaws for shorter rides (less than 5 KMs) and cars for longer rides. I had to plan in an additional 15 – 20 minutes to get an auto-rickshaw and at least 30 minutes for a car due to the bad traffic conditions on heavily congested roads. It took me 40 minutes to get a taxi at 6:30 PM on a Saturday to go to the airport.

Overall, I find that India’s development comes at a heavy cost of lost productivity, with traffic situation being only one of the factors. People are irritated on the roads, and small accidents are not uncommon in city roads, often leading to fights and stoppage of smooth traffic flow. Traffic violations are on the rise. Wi-Fi is becoming a much sought after service on taxis to kill time. Transportation is a most basic requirement of people and it is the responsibility of the government to provide ease and flexibility in transportation. It is going to cost India more than a trillion dollars to get its infrastructure in place, and that will take not less than twenty years in my opinion.

Cheers, and enjoy India’s traffic in a pleasant manner, and without getting into road rage,

Vijay Srinivasan
21st April 2018
Chennai International Airport

The Mechanism


Institutionalized corruption has been the bane of good governance in most developing countries. Even in developed countries corruption masquerades as expensive lobbying, with quid pro quo for almost all favours done by the powers that be. Unfortunately, corruption is instinctively embedded in human psyche – the premise is that almost everyone has a price, like everything has a price, and provided that price is paid, that everyone is available to provide a service. It sounds obnoxious and bothersome to say the least, but it is a practical reality most of us have encountered in our lives. There is no denying it, it is very rare for a person not to have experienced or seen it.

When corruption is institutionalized in the system, like it is feeding upon itself in embedded circles, then we have a very serious and dangerous problem to handle and fix. When public money (basically taxpayers’ money) is siphoned off by government-owned companies through the well-oiled system of awarding contracts at inflated prices to chosen contractors, who then reward the politicians and ministers who appoint directors on the board of these companies via a money laundering scheme, then corruption is well entrenched. It is not possible to eradicate the scourge of corruption irrespective of change in governments or officials. The law enforcement becomes part of the system as it comes under the Justice Ministry, which is just another government machinery to ensure that the above-described system stays in place.

“The Mechanism” is a Netflix serial which just started running – it is about the systemic corruption in Brazil, which is still playing out in real life. You might have seen that the ex-President Lula da Silva has been arrested and sentenced to years in jail, and his successor Dilma Rousseff is also facing corruption charges. I have been seeing the serial for the past couple of weeks, and it has got my full attention. I can visualize how the same system would work out in other countries that I know of.

What surprised me in the serial is the passionate commitment of the law enforcement officers and their loyalty to each other as they fight the corrupt villains together sometimes, and on a disjointed basis on other times. It is funny to see how the lead officer fights off the prosecutor during a press conference. At the end of the day, it is all about human emotion, and how that plays out while the almost real story spins out of control. The Mechanism also shows how important it is to have an impartial judge who carefully evaluates the evidence before signing off the search and seizure or arrest warrants. When someone cannot be bought, then the story turns in favour of ultimate justice.

Many of us have experienced the most simple variety of corruption – like the official at the property registration office demanding a cut before registering the sale or purchase of property, or the driving license official asking for a price, etc., Many of us have only “read” about institutional corruption – how public funds that otherwise could be usefully deployed to pay for much needed infrastructure or citizen services, are tapped by unscrupulous public companies and politicians which keep developing nations poor for ever. This is a sad story playing out in most countries. There are only a very few lucky countries which do not have this plague afflicting their system of governance.

I was never that much interested in Brazil, but The Mechanism brought Brazil right front and centre – a fascinating country indeed. It is the 8th largest economy in the world with more than 207M population, and a GDP per capita of over USD 10K. It is the largest economy in South America and prior to 2012, it was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, meriting its inclusion in the McKinsey BRIC group of countries.

Large countries do have large problems, and Brazil has not been an exception.

Corruption has roiled the country out of shape over the past several years, damaging the presidencies of multiple presidents. It is always surprising to find that the pressure to maintain the status quo is just phenomenal – as we see in The Mechanism, the previous Attorney General (called the “wizard” in the serial) tries to negotiate a deal with the incumbent Attorney General on behalf of the 13 corrupt contractors who, he maintains, are crucial for the survival of the Brazilian economy! And, when that pressure builds up all the way to the President of the country (as is shown in the serial as well), then one can imagine the enormous stress that can be applied on honest law enforcement officials and judges.

The serial is not over, and I have not seen all the episodes. But is easy to figure out the impact of corruption in the Brazilian society, as the water utility company which comes to fix a broken pipe in the serial demonstrates the corrosive influence of systemic corruption by passing off the work to a small time contractor who will then feed back the bribe to the company officials.

I have not seen serials on corruption – this is probably the first one. The creator of the series has done an amazing job (his name is Jose Padilha), and the key actors have performed exceedingly well, though personal animosities do take an overarching role disturbing the main theme of the serial. But let me forgive that distraction and focus on the positives of the serial!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

08 April 2018