Category: History

Dialling back two centuries


For anyone looking from outside the U.S. at the events unfolding in the U.S., pitting the “alt-right” against the “alt-left” movements, it is just unbelievable – that the leader of the free world is having such serious problems pertaining to racism. This is after almost six decades of work trying to eliminate racial segregation in the southern part of the U.S. I am no student of history, so I do not wish to analyse American history and derive conclusions from the past. My understanding is that the U.S. sincerely tried to fix the race problem under various government administrations. The results are not perfect, and that is not surprising at all. These are never perfect. Look at scores of other large countries, and the problem persists in one way or the other.

When there is a divisive problem (like the bringing down of Confederacy Statues in Charlottesville, Virginia), then the underlying racial sensitivities come out to the top of peoples’ sensibilities and overtake with emotional force which is rarely seen in our daily lives. And, when there is a President who apparently supports one or the other factions, or try to stay neutral in an ambiguous manner, then that position lends support to the faction which thinks that the President supports their cause. And, when the administration is made up of people who espouse right-wing ideology (mostly), then their silence on critical and dangerous matters like what happened last weekend, further accentuates the issues on hand.

There are many more important matters for the U.S. Government to attend to, rather than waste time on things like the violent fight which erupted in Charlottesville, and similar fights expected in other rallies pertaining to this “statues” matter. Racism should be dead and gone in the 21st Century, but apparently it is refusing to die. Not just in the U.S., but unfortunately the U.S. still sets the benchmark on most things, so the world expects the U.S. to handle such things with a firm hand and squelch the hunger for people to make divisions amongst themselves with violence at the fore.

There are a number of articles which have been published on the matter of racism in the past one week in international newspapers. The clear conclusion is that the President of the U.S. is on the wrong track with his rather inept handling of the Charlottesville incident wherein one poor woman died and many people were injured. To avoid such situations in future, clear and categorical message needs to go out from the President and the Department of Justice that violence will not be permitted, display of weapons will not be allowed in rallies, fighting between two sets of protesters will be banned, and the government has the right to implement its policies without court intervention when the matter pertains to public safety and security. In the U.S., courts intervene in matters such as this rally, and the judge made a wrong decision (please read for yourself on this aspect). Law Enforcement and the City Council failed to put up a stronger argument.

Banning of leftist and rightist organizations is not the solution to avoid problems such as these – they should be given clear and strong messages that the government will prosecute offenders without fear or favour, without any allegiance to any ideology whether the President supports or not. This has not been done in the U.S. – rather surprising! I had written earlier about the lack of “liberalism” in University Campuses where opposing ideologies from conservatives are not allowed, which is also ridiculous. Sometimes, it does appear that “both” sides commit sins, but in the case of Charlottesville it is the alt-right which appears to be at fault.

In a free country, different options are available to the people. There will be moderate approaches, milder leftist views, and then there is the possibility of aggressive leftist movement. In the U.S., the “anti-fascist” of “antifa” movement is an aggressive version of the “alt-left” movement, which is not shy to take up physical cudgels against the weapon carrying “alt-right” activists. All this leads to dangerous development in societies leading to potential of violence.

In a nutshell, the U.S. is going back to old times of racism and racial segregation, and lumping of all immigrants as undesirables. This is not good for the U.S. and not at all good for the world. The U.S. is an immigrant nation, and its success has been based on this simple fact.

Why can’t the President of the U.S. see this fact for himself? And, make amends for the disastrous press conference he gave last week. The U.S. is at a turning point now, with this development. The world is waiting for a logical resolution.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th August 2017

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The emergence of a global power (again)


You can easily guess, right?

I am going to write about……….

Cannot guess? Of course, you can.

My brackets in the title line should give you a hint.

No, it is not about India. May be that will take another 5 years or so.

It is about………RUSSIA. Yes, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is again emerging as a global power that needs to be respected and feared about.

It is not about ancient Russian history or the enormity of the Russian geography (it is the single biggest country by geographical size). It is not about Russians, per se. The Russian population is shrinking. It is not about their nuclear power. It is not about their army. It is not about Russian energy industry (the biggest oil producer in the world, neck to neck with Saudi Arabia). It is not about Russian technology.

It is about one single man who has brought Russian pride to the fore. It is Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.

An inscrutable man, Putin exudes power. He is far more potent than any other politician in power today in the world scene. He is surely more powerful than President Donald Trump of the U.S. He can get things done in Kremlin, that Trump cannot get done in Washington DC today. He is extremely powerful, he is not easily understood, he is not easily accessible, he has over 80% approval rating amongst the Russian public, as against less than 40% for Trump in the U.S.

The inability of other countries (including the U.S.) to make a reasonable guess on what is next on Putin’s Agenda, ensures that his aura remains intact. Putin is investing in his country’s defences, investing in modernising his nuclear forces, enhancing his cyber warfare technology, improving his energy productivity, mining the Arctic Ocean, and doing a number of other things in a concerted manner which should worry the Western nations, especially the European countries. It is critical to note that he is doing everything very fast.

Is there any benefit in provoking the Russian bear?

Not at all. While there is no need to be paranoid about what Putin will do (it is as difficult to guess that as guessing what Trump will do next), it is also very important not to unnecessarily provoke Russia. That is exactly what NATO is doing. It is reasonable for Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland to be mortally afraid of Putin, but that is no reason to bring advanced missiles and tanks to the borders of Russia. Putin has no use for these countries – he just wanted Crimea back (which was donated to Ukraine).

What are these guys smoking (I mean the NATO leadership and the U.S.).? It takes hardly any time for Russia to smoke out many of these countries. It is better to build a strong relationship with Russia on a sustainable basis, invite Russia to participate in NATO deliberations, and coordinate military activities with Russia, rather than to needle it. Russia unambiguously portrayed its capabilities in Crimea and most recently in Syria.

Does NATO want to take a calculated risk? It is not advisable to do so.

Russia has the advantage of surprise element built into all its planning. It has moved its active divisions to its western borders in response to NATO military exercises. It has moved its advanced S-400 missile batteries to Kaliningrad, the location of which is strategic and dangerous to NATO countries. It has its military waiting on the eastern borders of Ukraine. It is surely not happy with Ukraine, Poland and Latvia.

What are the options open to NATO?

Nothing much, except to destroy all of Europe with an all-out war with Russia, which could easily turn nuclear. Russia apparently does not have a nuclear non-first-use policy. And, neither does the U.K. which has Trident nuclear submarines trained on Russia. A nuclear holocaust in Europe would be unthinkable, but that does not mean Russia will not activate its strategic nuclear forces in response to aggressive and provocative actions by NATO. Loading nuclear missiles with active nuclear warheads appears out of line in today’s world, but not impossible given the tensions. While a nuclear war may never happen again, it is best that all nations avoid unnecessary provocation.

So, in a nutshell, NATO needs to sit back and think carefully, and should not get prodded by the U.S. and the U.K. It should use more sober heads in plotting a collaborative strategy. Putin may not be the worst of Russian presidents yet. He may be more reasonable than others in Kremlin. The West is not even in a position to predict who will be the next Russian president!!!

The European people should push the European Parliament and NATO to take a step back in the confrontation with Russia. THINK! Before ACTING RASHLY!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

The Korean Crisis


North Korea has long been a problem child of the world.

Now, it has also become very dangerous consequent to its acquisition of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Its vociferous claims that it will destroy the U.S., Japan and South Korea, have not gone unnoticed, and are increasingly being taken seriously while in the past such claims have been dismissed all too easily.

Any war on the Korean Peninsula is sure to kill thousands, if not millions of people, and devastate Asian economies. South Korea is a major global manufacturer, critical to the world’s supply chain in several key industries. Japan is not far from the Korean Peninsula, and there is bound to be huge impact on the Japanese economy as a result of any Korean conflict. And what about China which shares a border with Korea? Any war would have huge repercussions on China as a whole.

Is a war inevitable? It appears so if one reads/sees the world media. The war “noise” is increasing on a daily basis, both from the U.S. and North Korea. It is a fact that all Asian countries are dreading the prospect of an imminent war. It does not appear that President Donald Trump really cares about the impact of a Korean war on Asian countries and the global economy as such. Being unpredictable has been a success symbol for him, and he is more than a match in this aspect as compared to Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Looks like in Trump, Kim Jong-un has found a tough, unpredictable, and surprising foe.

Notwithstanding all of the above, war is never inevitable. War, of course, should be avoided at all costs. War is really not an option in today’s modern, peaceful world. Sounds fancy, isn’t it?

It does, but I still believe that a genuine attempt has to be made, without any pre-conditions attached, to make peace with North Korea. This can only be made if all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council jointly agree on a peace pursuit, and appoint an emissary to negotiate peace terms with North Korea. In return for a permanent suspension of all nuclear and ballistic missile testing, North Korea should receive monitored humanitarian assistance, equal treatment as a full member of the United Nations, trade benefits, removal of all sanctions, and recognition as a state on an equal footing with South Korea in all matters. All war games on either side will be suspended permanently. The Korean Armistice will be converted into a full peace treaty between North and South Koreas.

Looks impossible, right? But I believe not enough has been done on good faith from both sides for a very long time. It is critical to gain trust, and that is not possible when there are ballistic missile tests on one side, and war games on the other side of the 38th Parallel which divides the two Koreas. Sabre-rattling is not a good idea in a scenario of heightened tensions.

While the above positive situation could come about eventually, it is unlikely in the current context of who blinks first. I am afraid that President Trump might pull the trigger if the North explodes a nuclear device, and attack the test location with Tomahawk missiles like what he did with Syria recently. If that happens, then all bets are off. War will break out as Kim Jong-un will not accept the insult and the attack on his country, and will order his forces to attack the South with all its might. An all-out war on the Korean Peninsula will destroy most Asian economies and kill thousands of civilians, and could bring Japan and China into the war.

Such a situation is definitely not good for Asia and not good for the world.

Sober counsel needs to urgently prevail on both sides, and South Korea needs to aggressively push the U.S. not to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. Japan needs to be more sober as well, not wanting to create an unnecessary war in its proximity. And, the U.S. needs to listen to its close allies and not make decisions on its own.

War mongering should stop urgently. Asia is now clearly on the brink of war, just as Middle East has always been.

Think! and, Think Again!! Peoples’ lives matter.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th April 2017

 

The Travails of Europe


There is a lot of news coverage on the visit of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to the White House. Highly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it failed to deliver the goods for both sides. You can read the media, but my assessment is that Merkel did not do well to convince Trump that it is better to collaborate on world trade, rather than fight. She lost on the refugees’ matter, the need for the European Union as a policy integrator for all of Europe, the critical importance of NATO, et al. But that was to be expected when she was dealing with an obstructionist, anti-global, anti-immigration, anti-other developed countries, kind of President which is what Trump is, after all.

However, Merkel does realize the very important and critical trans-atlantic alliance that the EU and NATO have with the U.S. – not just a trade or economic partnership, but also a strong military alliance. With the impending exit of Britain from the EU, Germany becomes the only large and strong country of Europe pitted against the existing and future challenges facing Europe, and if there is one strong person that can steer Germany at this juncture of critical importance, it can be none other than Merkel. For sure, she is going to have troubles with not just Trump, but with the entire U.S. Government administration. There are people in the administration who would like to challenge Germany and the EU on trade and military matters pertaining to the funding of NATO for instance. There are folks in the administration who are not at all happy with the trade surplus that Germany is running with the U.S. which is close to USD 50B. America wants to export more to Germany and wants to tax the German cars which are getting imported into the U.S. from Mexico for example.

It is going to be very challenging to find some common ground.

In the meanwhile, Merkel has to deal with a host of other big issues in Europe, such as Brexit, Russia, Turkey, Syrian immigration challenges, etc., etc., She probably has the hardest job in all of Europe atleast amongst the Presidents/Prime Ministers of the various European countries. She realizes the strategic role that the new world order has imposed on Germany, quite the contrary from where Germany rose in the first half of the twentieth century, which ended in disaster and rubble. For Germany to have built one of the most robust democracies and economies in the world over the past five decades or so, is a reflection of the strength of the German people and their strong affection towards democratic institutions and free market principles. Merkel is not going to give up the hard won democracy which has formed the bedrock of Germany. Given her background as a “refugee” from East Germany, she realizes the very important responsibility for Germany to extend its arms with open and welcoming attitude towards Syrians fleeing their country.

I do not, for one, believe, she will give up these very strong principles, to improve her relationship with the U.S. For her, there are no contradictions here – both are important, but the first principles are critically more important than any one country. Europe is going to have to face its problems on its own, with all the messy politcs in various nations which are going for elections, but then the EU has survived the vagaries of politics and global challenges over the past so many decades. And, Merkel can only strengthen the EU to even further heights before she leaves her Chancellorship.

Let us wish Europe and the EU all the best under the stable, steady and strong leadership of Angela Merkel.

Cheers.

Vijay Srinivasan

18th March 2017

The stark failure of the U.N. in Aleppo


Who is to be blamed for the total failure to safeguard civilian lives in Aleppo?

Syrian Government, Russia, the U.S., or the U.N.?

Systematic murder of thousands of civilians by indiscriminate bombing has continued non-stop for the past several weeks, and apparently the Syrian Government Armed Forces seem to be gaining solid ground against the rebels and the ISIS. This is after almost six long years of conflict.

Aleppo is a serious example of an exodus in operation – thousands of ordinary citizens are fleeing the city in the face of continuous bombardment of all targets – none spared. Is this the right way of waging a war? Is the annihilation of a country’s own citizens the right way to win a war against government rebels?

Serious questions with no answers.

Again, the futility of the U.N. as an institution of peace has been brought into serious question – the U.N. has not only become completely powerless, it has demonstrated its total uselessness. Most of the world’s countries fund the U.N. operations and their extravagant way of conducting business around the world. But when it comes to stopping wars, they come through as an impotent organization. The U.N. or event the UNSC cannot stand up to the big powers of the world.

What is happening in Aleppo now could potentially amount to the biggest civilian massacre the world has ever seen after the Second World War. War crimes are being committed in Aleppo, and the U.N. looks on impotently with just statements. The U.S. has lost its position in the Syrian conflict to Russia which has taken over the situation completely and is controlling everything which is happening now. One has to take note of the fact that governments and militaries are generally heartless when they are seeing and smelling victory. In this case, the Syrian forces are seeing victory against the rebel forces after a very long time and they are not going to give up their chance of winning the final battle against the rebels.

The world does not believe that these rebels are the same as the ISIS forces. But then, who cares? The U.N. has no power and no strategy to intervene and stop the bloodshed. The Russians are playing games with the Americans while consolidating their gains in Syria. This has long term implications for America’s Middle East strategy. The pity is that most of the other allies of America have not significantly contributed towards the defeat of ISIS forces in Syria, and America has been fighting its own war.

If only America and Russia have collaborated from the beginning, things could have been vastly different. The critical focus area should have been to avoid bloodshed, but that was not to be. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have already died in the Syrian conflict, and now another 250,000 civilians in Aleppo are in mortal danger.

What is the world doing? What can it do?

We all carry on our own business every day in the most normal manner possible. Have we registered our protest with the U.N. through our countries or via the social media?

What are we doing to stop the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in a mass war crime? Are we even spending 5 minutes of our time everyday to think about these folks?

We can do far better as educated, well to do people who matter somehow, somewhere in this small world of ours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th December 2016

 

Man as the Maker


I guess the title sounds kind of deterministic or a sort of prognosis for things to come.

I thought a lot writing about this subject due to its sensitivity and the abject lack of sensitivity on the part of religious opponents who might see this as an affront to their religious choices and their theories that there can be no “maker” other than god. Religions are a part of the fabric of human life on this earth, and they have had an outsized influence on the development and behaviour of human species. However, most religious dogmas were the creation of man, and their continued sustenance demonstrates their hold on humanity, despite evidence that such dogmas resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the past few centuries and especially in the 20th century. Those religious dogmas have no scientific basis.

This is not a blog post which will argue the benefits or otherwise of following a religious faith or the practicing of non-religious faiths such as agnosticism or atheism. This post is more about the most crucial development in science today which allows man to play god, the creator of human beings of any characteristic, outside of the normal process of conception and delivery. If Man can play the role of the Creator, then can it be said that “Creationism” as a philosophy of the arrival of human species on earth could have been right in some way? If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is correct, how can Man play god and create a new human or animal species?

I am sure the answer is based on Science. But I got this question into my head and could not get it out of my head for a while. Scientific Research has advanced to such a stage that today, man can create any kind of species (almost, not yet fully!) in a test tube in the labaratory environment. Science is not going to stop its inevitable march towards discovering new things all the time, and Scientists are pursuing the causes of things in this world based on evidence and research. Science is not going to go away and proclaim that all things in this world are a result of some godly intervention to make them happen, which is the Creationism Theory. Or, justify in some research-oriented manner, that god is an “intelligent designer” of all things on this planet, and these things are complex and could not have come into existence without a proper cause.

Man is on a non-stop quest on scientific matters. At the same time, religious conservatives are on a non-stop quest on establishing Creationism as the essential cause of all things we see around us. Both aspects are amazing, but it is clear which one is on the right direction.

If Man can create a human being from a test-tube, and shape its genes and chromosomes, and that can result in a particular species which has certain pre-identified characteristics, what does it mean? Are we all at an inflection point? Are we going to witness the usurping of all things godly by Man who seems to be assuming great powers to make things as he deems fit? Does this sound like the “Maker”?

Well, it is abundantly clear that man’s quest for scientific discoveries is going to lead him to more surprises and more influences than he can manage. He will ultimately gain full and complete access to the technique of making a man. Then, can he be considered as a “He”, meaning god with a capital “G”? Would Man then have arrived at a point when he can demonstrate that capability to all and sundry? Would he be excommunicated by the religious gurus we will have by then? Will people believe in this Man? What will happen?

Nobody knows.

It is only funny that Man has come full circle around. He originally offered the Theory of Evolution to justify how man evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees. Now he discovered Creationism of his own type, based on scientific methodologies. How will the original religious Creationists take this kind of intervention by Man?

Not too kindly, I guess. This is their turf!!!

Religions still dominate our culture. And it is surprising that even in the U.S. wherein scientific discoveries are at the maximum level (including the creation of new species), there are enough number of ultra-religious folks who simply do not believe in any of this science, and push their own ideas on how human species came about – from the one and only god. The British seem to be more sobre. Even Archbishops in the U.K. seem to believe in the Theory of Evolution while not disputing the influence of god.

OK, now it is time to meet Man the Maker of new destinies. This would mean that we indulge in scientific studies ourselves, and discover for ourselves the possibilities at almost the outer realm of science. It is critical not to make judgement calls, and analyze what Man is discovering without actually jumping into it. Take time to analyze and determine for yourself. Check the evidence. Talk to others. Don’t indoctrinate anyone. Let everyone find our for himself or herself.

It is an interesting thought process to follow, and I am not yet done with this line of thinking. There is more to come along these lines. In the meantime, think for yourself, and don’t get indoctrinated by dogmas.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016