Far removed from Reality


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and,

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

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

Cheers, have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th January 2018

The India Puzzle


April 2019 is fast approaching……..

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

So, what is the conclusion?

Where is India headed in its next phase of growth?

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

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

What is my own suggestion?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

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

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

All the Best to Democracy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th January 2018

How to deal with an Idiot


Nowadays, it has become a routine yet demanding task.

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

Idiots come in a variety of forms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, and have a great Pre-Xmas Weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd December 2018

 

The Unstable America


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

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

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

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

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

Diplomacy, as we know it, is almost dead.

Dictators can heave a sigh of temporary relief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can you do in such circumstances?

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

Think carefully, and impartially.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th November 2018

Authoritarianism in Democracies


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th November 2018

Laughing Stock


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018

Fauda


“Fauda” in Arabic means “chaos” or “riot”.

I just completed viewing the two Seasons of the Netflix Serial “Fauda”, fascinated by my recent visit to Israel.

Fauda is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Being an Israeli Serial, it shows mostly the Israeli version of tackling terrorism from the eyes of an elite counter terrorism unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. The creators of the show came from that unit. While there seems to be a sincere attempt to depict the normal lives of Palestinians living on the West Bank, it does not come through effectively. The rationale for why Palestinians would even pursue an armed conflict against the much more well-armed Israeli soldiers beats me when the average Palestinian would want to lead as normal a life as an average Israeli.

But then, I am talking from far away. I do not understand the complex history of the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the countless battles that have harmed both sides since 1948 when Israel was established. My visit to Israel clarified some of my queries, especially when I visited the Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv. The story of Israel is indeed fascinating to any foreigner – its emergence from nowhere as a country of around 8.5M today with some world-beating technologies and an incredible intelligence service. In fact, I was more impressed about the Israeli tech startups and the infrastructure they have put in place to nurture these startups at several key locations around this rather small country.

I had mostly positive impressions about Israel all these years, though occasionally I used to be disturbed by the radical statements made by Israeli government ministers and the brutal attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I also did not empathize with the need for Israeli government to build settlements in occupied territories.

However, it is pertinent here to note that Israel has helped countries like India in countless ways – a good example being agriculture. The drip irrigation system developed by Israel has fostered astounding agricultural innovations. Israel has also provided much-needed advanced military equipment to India. Overall, Israel is viewed positively in India, I would say. The government-to-government cooperation is deepening every year.

Given all this background, seeing the Fauda serial on Netflix provided me with the much needed context, though I do not agree with everything that was shown or to be accurate, not shown. I liked the show overall – it was thrilling in many sequences, and weaves almost a real-life kind of story and human emotions into what should strictly be a military operation. I do not know whether it reflects reality – it may not. However, it is good to see the story flow seamlessly in Season I of the Serial which appeared to be more interesting than the Season II. The transformation of the elite unit members to support one special operative in sorting out his personal enmity is not that believable, and I do not think it is feasible to violate orders of the Commander of the unit. The tolerance shown towards the main actor (who is the special operative, Doron) is reflective of the empathy that the hardened special unit members develop over long years of working together.

Israel has had a huge challenge these past 7 decades managing its borders and the security of its citizens. But the cost incurred is prohibitive. Young people are wasted away in tough fighting assignments wherein they are forced to fire at civilians. They develop post traumatic stress syndrome, and find it difficult to lead normal lives. Some of these struggles can be seen in Fauda.

The mutual recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed with harmless banter between senior intelligence officers from both sides. Even when tough action is going to be taken, the Israeli officer meets with the Palestinian officer in his office, and is offered coffee! The culture is almost the same, the ethnicity and the affiliation to the land are the same. It is the armed conflict which is destroying the lives of people on both sides, coupled with unnecessary belligerence on the political side.

Fauda has a very good narrative, and excellent cast of actors, most of them from army background. It “feels” realistic, and shows the struggle in a somewhat oblique manner. It also demonstrates the good intentions of certain good folks on either side. At the end of it, I felt sad at the situation on the ground – I have seen the barricades, the army outposts, the metal detectors, the soldiers, almost everywhere. It appears Israelis are having peaceful coffee in nice cafes, but the insecurity is palpable. I am not surprised that people can get jittery even for the simplest of things. Unfortunate really.

You will enjoy Fauda, if you have not visited Israel; and you will enjoy it much more if you have visited Israel!

Have a good week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 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

 

Two Dictators and their Antics


Singapore was witness to a historic summit between two dictators earlier this week (on the 12th June 2018) in the idyllic small island of Sentosa off the main Singapore island.

One dictator has established himself as a ruthless governor of the pariah state of North Korea (NK or otherwise known as DPRK – Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea). He has been the leader of NK for the past 7 years only, but has amply demonstrated his cruelty by murdering many of his people in the shortest possible time, including his own uncle. His citizens are starving. He has channeled all his slush funds into developing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, and his unstable government has incited fears even in his closest ally, China. I do not understand the relationship between NK and Russia, however. May be technology transfer? In a nutshell, NK is neither democratic nor socialistic – people are just slaves of the Kim family for over 7 decades.

All these things are well documented, with news coverage of NK being incessant over the past 12 to 18 months or so, with the aggressive posturing of its young leader, often against the U.S.

The other dictator I am referring to here is of course, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S. who is unpredictable, unstable, and easily incited into drastic actions. How can he be the so-called “leader of the Free World”?. Under his stewardship, the U.S. is being castigated for a series of diplomatic and trade-related missteps. No one in the U.S. government or even the White House knows what Trump is up to with his early morning tweets setting government policy and heavily criticizing his opponents and the media. He wants his way in everything that matters to him, and appears to be totally devoid of careful counsel. And, that is exactly the way he made the trip to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un.

The meeting was totally unscripted and was deemed to be a “relationship” meeting as Trump continually attempted to downgrade expectations, having built up those expectations to a feverish level in the days leading up to the “dictators’ meting” in Singapore. Kim was wiser, he hardly stated anything publicly, and kept his counsel, and demonstrated a cool head during his Singapore visit without appearing to be unduly excited.

Why should he be? He was, in any case, not giving away anything to Trump. The meeting was hailed as an outstanding success by Trump, though many observers thought it was a complete waste of time having accomplished nothing of substance – no complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization; no stopping of missile launches; no resolution to the thorny issue of abducted Japanese citizens by NK agents; no tight time schedule for anything; no way forward on the big human rights violations by NK against its own citizens; and no, no, no for many other demands.

For Trump, it was a public relations exercise, becoming the first ever sitting President of the U.S. to have met with the leader of NK – ever. He thinks he has figured Kim out and can handle him well. How? All by touch and feel, as Trump claimed in his media interactions? Why would he think and then say that Kim is a “talented” guy? Trump expressed his appreciation of the fact that Kim took over as Chairman in 2011 when he was barely 26 years of age, and brushed aside questions on the very bad human rights record of NK.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time with no solid returns for the stakeholders – South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It was a failure.

It was horrifying to see that the leader of the Free World has now become a close friend of the worst dictator on earth. For a very long time, the U.S. has entertained dictators all over the world, and antagonized democracies. Any one who has followed world history will attest to this fact. The U.S. always hid behind domestic compulsions, national security, and cold war antagonism. In the past one week, Trump has even alienated his closest allies in the G-8 meeting in Canada, and blasted Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a dishonest person and a liar.

So, the world is heading towards a circus play of these two dictators. We have no choice but to play along, as otherwise the world will be headed towards another war – as Trump himself stated during his Singapore trip, he has saved 28M lives! Totally ridiculous, unacceptable and irresponsible.

Singapore spent a lot of money in organizing this summit of the two dictators – upwards of $15M. Many locations, especially the hotels in which the two dictators were staying, and the meeting venue in Sentosa were all in locked-down status. Thousands of police personnel were pressed into duty. For Singapore, it was beneficial as it gained worldwide attention as the venue of the summit, having been friends with both sides over the years. Singapore is a close military ally of the U.S. and it also has other wide-ranging business, trade, economic relations with the U.S. Singapore has also maintained diplomatic relations with NK, though it complied with the U.N. sanctions against the regime.

Chairman Kim Jong Un gained big publicity as well – he was treated as a visiting head of state and acquired legitimacy as a leader in his own right. This would not have happened for a long, long time under the U.N. sanctions scenario (which still apply).

So, in a nutshell, lot of noise and fanfare for a very weak 4 points agreement which has been touted as something huge back in the U.S. by President Trump, and deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prize? Forget it. NK has a long way to go before the world recognizes it on par with South Korea (unless there is a merger).

In any case, visit Singapore and see the Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island – you might like to walk along the same corridor that both the dictators walked on!

Here’s Wishing all Friends a “Selamat Hari Raya or Eid Mubarak”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th 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