Category: Human Life

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

 

Chemical Attack


The Syrian armed forces and government crossed many red lines last week when they attacked a rebel-held provincial town with chemical weapons. I agree with the almost immediate response taken by Donald Trump, retaliating against the airbase which launched the attack planes and almost completely destroying it with Tomahawk missiles from some 1,000 miles away. The U.S. blew away the airbase while President Trump was having his talks and dinner with the visiting Chinese President Xi, giving yet another strong message about the invincibility and decisiveness of American control of airspace around war zones.

More than anything else, President Assad of Syria has been a cruel dictator, officially killing over 400,000 of his own citizens and sending away millions of Syrians as refugees to other countries, mainly to Europe. How can he justify mass killings of Syrians – families, women and children – whether they are held hostage by the rebels fighting his government or not. And, how can Russia justify any more support to President Assad?

President Obama missed a wonderful opportunity to eliminate President Assad way back in 2013, when the red line was crossed on chemical weapons deployment by Syrian armed forces. Most of the middle eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, were aghast that the U.S. would pardon off such a cruel dictator and not strike him militarily. That was a terrible mistake by Obama, and he would regret it forever.

Look at what happened – Russia supported Syrian Government, and strengthened its armed forces, which went on to decimate the rebel forces. The allied forces were more focused on ISIS, not on the continuous attacks carried out by Syrian armed forces against the rebels. Russia pounded both the rebels and the ISIS. At the end, the U.S. and allies ended up strengthening a dictator that they all along detested and wanted him gone.

President Putin of Russia should now sit up and think carefully about Russian support for President Assad. If he had not wanted the U.S. to attack the airbase, he could have told the Americans that he would protect the airbase with his S-400 missiles, or could have easily warned the Americans that Russian forces are at the airbase which therefore should not be attacked. He did not apparently take any action, and thereby corroborated the necessity of the U.S. missile attack, though Putin later said that the attacks were wrong.

Where is the world headed? We have a weak United Nations, and an ineffective UN Security Council, where the Permanent Ambassadors from the Big 5 nations talk tough but fail to reach consensus on any major issue of global interest, almost fighting with each other. How can the world trust these folks?

In any case, the chemical attack on poor people by Syrian government forces is unconscionable and unpardonable, and should be condemned whole-heartedly by the world. There are many quiet nations which keep their own counsel, but they will come to regret their inactions sometime or the other.

Just take time to see the pictures from the chemical attack. Horrible, horrible. On this one thing, I totally and fully agree with President Trump and his quick military action. How he will carry through further needs to be seen, but sometimes gut feel does produce results. President Assad should now know how an American attack feels, and how helpless he would be if President Trump chooses to attack his palace. What will the Russians do then?

It is critical for world leaders to condemn this reckless and horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians. President Assad needs to take total responsibility – he cannot lay the blame at the doorsteps of rebels. All chemical weapons were shipped out of Syria by Russia as per the agreement reached with President Obama, but apparently that does not seem to be the case.

At the end of the day, the world revolves on perception, and Syrian Government has done nothing to dispel any suspicion or perception about its hand in the attacks. And Russia is increasingly being viewed as a co-conspirator. This is not good for Russia.

Hopefully, rationale will prevail now, and President Assad will stop using chemical weapons like the deadly Sarin nerve gas. However, further actions must be taken against the Syrian government by world community. Russia should watch out as it also needs world support despite it being a super power.

Let us not kill our own people, or any people. The world needs peace for economic prosperity and growth.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th April 2017

 

Largest Humanitarian Crisis since 1945


I don’t know how many people read about this report by the U.N. which was presented to the Security Council last week.

Starvation. Famine. Deaths. Irreversible losses in economic development. 20M people affected. Scary headlines, covered in almost all major news media. But does anyone care?

Most countries are currently in the process of getting their national budgets approved by their respective parliaments. During the year starting 1st April 2017, more than a trillion dollars will be spent just by the top 20 countries in the world, just only on defence – military expenditures and investments. The U.S. alone will spend nearly 600B dollars on its defences, dwarfing every other nation on the earth.

How much money flows to impoverished countries on the planet? Far less than a trillion dollars every year. The U.N. Humanitarian Chief, Stephen O’Brien says that he needs USD 4.4B by July 2017 if significant positive impact needs to be made to save people from disaster and death. Is that too much? It is not even 1% of a trillion dollars, and here we are talking about children dying because of lack of nutrition, food, water and shelter.

This is a very precarious situation, not just for the four affected countries (Yemen, South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria and Somalia), but is likely to spread across Africa if urgent actions are not taken. The U.N. should be ashamed for not pushing the envelope on this matter to all its member countries and demand that immediate financial assistance be rushed to the affected countries. Yemen is plagued by a non-stop war which is utterly destroying that country and its people, and the U.N. has failed to stop the war. Things are going from very bad to really worse, and should the rest of the world take urgent notice? It should, and take expeditious actions to avoid the onset of famine and deaths (especially among children).

Intervention is key to not just halting the war in Yemen and South Sudan, but also to stopping the famine from taking root. Other countries have to intervene and stop the people from self-destruction and warring.

If children under the age of 5 are malnourished or severely impacted by famine, then the results will be disastrous for their future. The world cannot afford to let this situation continue.

Saudi Arabia should stop bombing Yemen which has caused untold misery amongst the people of Yemen. While there is not much news coverage on the Yemen situation, it can be culled out by concerted searches which would reveal the scope of the disaster confronting the poor Yemeni people who have been bombed out of shape by Saudi Arabia with military aid from the U.S. and the U.K. This is not a positive situation, and over the past two years, Yemen has gone from really bad to really worse. And continuing military actions have to completely stop with full access to the U.N. Humanitarian teams to provide urgent relief to the people.

The latest U.N. report covers only 4 countries, but makes for a very sorry reading. Can the world devote resources to avert famine and malnourishment in the affected countries – can each nation dedicate at least 0.1% of their national budgets to Africa? Can the U.N. Security Council act fast? Can the U.S. step in and show its magnanimity? Can Europe do something? Can China and India do something positive to alleviate the sufferings of these folks? We are talking about the poor people of Africa, who are already totally impoverished and with no access to food or water.

Come on, we just cannot sit there quietly and read the news papers and the internet and watch the cable TV channels. We got to do something impactful. Let us write to our respective governments. How about contributing just USD 10 every month to the U.N. Humanitarian Emergency Relief Fund? Let me go and check on that.

OK here it is –

https://donate.unhcr.org/int-en/south-sudan/?gclid=CLfu3fey0NICFYiBvQodxowF3w

Look up for yourself. Your money will go directly to the emergency relief fund. There is no politician here!

Cheers, and No Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th March 2017

Non-interference


I felt very bad when I read about two bad things going on in neighbouring countries.

One was the long-standing problem of atrocities committed on the Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, which lies to the south of the border with Bangladesh. While accusations against the Myanmar security forces need to be investigated, there is evidence of forced evictions of villagers and around 70,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh. The UN Human Rights Council has been approached by various institutions for establishing a commission of inquiry.

The other problem is the killings perpetrated by the Philippines security forces on drug traffickers, drug users and unfortunate bystanders including children as reported by CNN. I was shocked to see the report on children being killed in cold blood, and the pictures were brutal. Is this how a legally elected government treats its citizens? Where is the judiciary and where is justice?

On both these situations, the ASEAN governments have maintained silence as they have always done over the past five decades – when it comes to pointing out human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, these governments keep their views to themselves. They have always argued that economy is more important than politics, but we are not talking about politics here. Common citizens are being murdered on the streets by security forces, and such atrocities are a thing of the past in most countries. ASEAN boasts of a growing economic union of over USD 2.4T in GDP, and generally the nations in this union are on a growth path. But that cannot come at the expense of human rights, which are constitutionally granted to citizens in the democratic countries at least.

Ethnic cleansing and extrajudicial killings should have been stopped immediately. Wiser counsel should have been firmly and strongly delivered by the UN and ASEAN. But apparently, this did not happen. ASEAN believes in total non-interference in the affairs of its member states. This is the old, failed policy of the bigger non-aligned movement, in which India and Indonesia were big partners. If a close neighbour cannot even comment, afraid of being knocked out of the potential economic growth of the offending nation, then that is not a strong marriage. I doubt if ASEAN will ever rise to the occasion and provide firm counsel to offending partner countries on the nature of the advanced economic and social union that should be their collective objective. The European Union is a successful model (notwithstanding the stupid “Brexit” by the U.K.), and has withstood the test of time while persevering not just for a common currency and regulations, but achieving uniformity in foreign policies, laws and immigration, etc., Turkey is having trouble joining the EU because its policies are not compatible with the wider EU policies of co-existence.

I strongly believe it should be each citizen’s responsibility to raise his or her voice against atrocities and killings committed anywhere, especially in the neighbourhood. Without peace and tranquillity, economic cooperation and development cannot happen. It is not right that we turn a blind eye and continue operating as though nothing bad is happening in our neighbourhood. What kind of social living is that?

While a country cannot interfere in another country’s affairs, countries which have chosen to co-exist in a trading bloc or social partnership for collective advancement, should have the right to publicly highlight issues of concern instead of keeping such issues hush-hush.

We should be deeply sorry about the state of affairs, and should represent our views to our respective governments. That would be a true democracy and a responsible one, which cares for not just the livelihood of its citizens but lives of citizens and neighbours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th March 2017

Winter in Wartime


This is an amazing Second World War Movie from Holland.

I continue to be fascinated by the heroism of young men (in this case a very young 13 year old boy) depicted in real life against the German Nazis. Whenever I happen to chance upon a good wartime movie, I have grabbed it and watched it non-stop. There is no other way to experience the worst catastrophe which befell the twentieth century.

“Winter in Wartime” is one such movie. Powerfully directed by Dutch director Martin Koolhoven and acted fabulously by Martijn Lakemeier as the young boy, the movie shows how such a young person matures during difficult war times faster than he would during normal times. I loved the acting by Martijn, who has delivered a phenomenal performance – I almost thought that the movie is for “real” and the happenings are true-to-life in all aspects of movie direction.

When Martijn’s father was dragged by the Nazis and shot dead by them in the town square, Martijn is shown running towards the place at a great speed, and the emotions and the anguish that he depicts on his face are something that the movie viewers will instantaneously perceive. I almost wept when Martijn just arrives at the town square and the bullets from the heartless Nazis hit his father’s chest and he falls down dead. The agony of a child is unbearable and I should commend the director for this fabulous piece of cinematography.

But, I think – why and how could Germans be so bad, vengeful, reckless and heartless? How can they be so ungodly? What made them into sheer animals who could take others’ lives – even those who were not fighting against them? After all, Holland was occupied territory and the Nazis were just governing the same ensuring that any resistance could be foiled. How can a nation like Germany allow its soldiers to murder (not kill in a battlefield) not only the innocent citizens of its own country, but of other occupied countries?

Nazis showed no respect for human life.

And, I also wonder what converts people into turncoats? In the movie, “uncle Ben” is shown as a good person, a guy who works for the underground resistance, but ultimately turns out to be a Nazi collaborator who could have potentially stopped the murder of Martijn’s dad by the Nazis. If extreme situations under war time can apply extreme pressures upon the human soul, may be it becomes weak and not able to take the pressure, and agrees to give up one’s own family and friends. I cannot believe that this can be the case, but apparently such situations have happened in Nazi occupied countries. People save their skin (for the moment), acting as informers on their own family and friends. How ridiculous can that be?

The movie also shows that how Europe has suffered during the wars, and how scars remain even to this day. The movie was released in 2008, a full 63 years after the end of the Second World War, but still resonated with Europeans, especially with the Dutch.

The war’s harsh realities hit Martijn quite hard and he also discovers that he should not be trusting everyone around him. The induction of the bad qualities of adulthood at the age of 13 are clearly demonstrated in the direction and acting. While I keep thinking about bigger issues involving the inhuman actions of the Nazis, and trying to “feel” what the indefensible people those days must have felt, the movie still manages to leave an indelible impression on me of a young boy whose normal growth into adulthood was accelerated by the war in a very unusual manner causing deep scars in him.

Do we “feel” the impact of this historical scar caused by Nazis and Nazi Germany? Can we ever even get close to the happenings of Second World War which caused so much untold sufferings to normal human beings at the hand of a cruel dictator and a country without a soul? Only people who suffered those days can tell. We are only seeing the movies and writing about the same.

I hope such a situation never arises again on this planet.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd January 2017

Robots will change humanity


Europe, more than any other continent, has progressive attitudes towards the advancements of science and technology and their impact on humanity. Europeans generally have a more balanced attitude towards most things which affect their lives, given that they are one of the most impacted peoples of this world due to the two world wars and untold miseries caused by various religious wars. Such atrocities over the past several centuries have improved the capabilities of Europeans to deal with the future in a manner which shows their inbuilt humanitarian streak. Not so with the rest of the world, which mostly accepts the blatant intrusion of technology into their daily lives without much of questioning the real value and its impact on humankind.

So, I was not surprised when I read the recent proposals on robots presented to the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee last week, which are wide-ranging, insightful and thought-provoking. It is of course, not going to be easy to pass the law which tries to regulate the operation of robots and protect the wages of people whose jobs could be threatened by an influx of robots. However, the comprehensiveness of the proposals dazzled me, and made me think. This is how exactly a parliament should function – take up issues of importance to the people early on, and formulate a comprehensive framework to deal with the issues ahead of anyone else, which means European Parliamentarians do their job in a manner which is far more advanced than any other continent or nation on earth. To even think that robots are going to become an important part of humanity in the near future (though it is slowly happening) is amazing, given that the report was prepared by a Member of the European Parliament. Such advanced thinking by lawmakers is what differentiates Europe from the rest of the world, including the U.S. and other developed countries.

My own view on robots taking over the jobs (at least the “repetitive” jobs) of thousands of workers (including workers in information technology industry) is rather socialistic: while robots can be used for painting cars in an automotive plant, or to retrieve spent fuel from a nuclear plant, or to defuse bombs and similar unsafe operations, to use a robot to reduce operational costs in a regular industry would be counter-productive. Companies will start adoption of robots to replace their IT departments, or Finance departments (not 100% but say a 50% adoption rate is not unthinkable). Countries which produce a million educated people a month like India are not going to take kindly to even global companies trying to improve their bottomlines by adopting robots which do not try to form a trade union and listen to instructions, rather than arguing back. Robots may be needed in countries like Japan for providing care to elderly folks who cannot afford to hire a local (human) caregiver. In fact, the world needs to create millions of jobs for its current population which is looking for jobs. How can we argue in favour of robots, except to agree to deploy them in hazardous environments?

It is very interesting to read the report that has been presented to the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament which has even attempted to designate very advanced robots as “electronic persons”, potentially with legal rights and liabilities. Companies using robots might even be asked to pay taxes and social security for the robots they deploy in their workforce. People whose jobs are challenged by robots need to be protected in some way, and Europe appears to be heading towards a minimum income for every citizen. The report contemplates implementation of an insurance scheme for robots to pay for claims by humans affected by accidents created by robots – like in driverless cars, for example. The report requires registration of robots of the advanced type with the robotics and artificial intelligence agency that it is suggesting should be set up by the European Commission.

Amazing thinking, I should say. Has any other country legislated, or even thought about doing something with the burgeoning population of robots?

We should start thinking of the day when robots will have emotions and self-awareness, which is not far away. Technology is progressing non-stop, however that should not stop us from thinking not only of benefiting from such robotic intelligence but also to ensure that humanity is not wiped out of the planet earth by robots one day.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th January 2017