The “Wellbeing” National Budget


How do you measure the success of a nation state?

From 1930’s, the single most popular measure has been the GDP, or the Gross Domestic Product, which purports to measure the economic output of a country. It is widely used as an economic growth parameter, and a continuously growing country is supposed to create wealth for its citizens. This has generally been true, and the economically prosperous countries also have some of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

But do economic measures such as GDP and GNP truly reflect the state of “wellbeing” of a country’s citizens? Do these measures accurately portray poverty levels, education standards, homelessness, mental health and healthcare status of citizens? Does every citizen benefit from the national economic growth of his or her country? Do citizens feel happy, or constantly complain about rising costs which affect their daily livelihood? Do citizens think that enough of the national budget is being allocated for education, healthcare and eliminating the scourge of poverty? What is the extent of inequality in a developed country – is it low enough to be ignored? Do citizens feel safe and secure?

The simple and rather simplistic answer is a NO.

There are very few nations which focus on the above non-economic measures to ensure that their citizens are well taken care of. The Nordic countries such as Finland come to mind. Education is completely free, and kids get free lunch at school. We cannot dismiss the Finnish model as a “nanny” state, which it is not. Norway, Sweden, Denmark all have higher status as “happiness” producing countries in the minds of their citizens. Unfortunately, there is no Asian country in the top 10 happiest countries – Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong do not make the cut. Bhutan is a happy country, being the first in the world to have a Gross National Happiness index, but did not make it to the global top 10 ranking in the 2018 report. According to the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations, New Zealand comes in at the 8th place, which is already great.

Now, New Zealand has become the first country in the world to actually publish a “wellbeing” National Budget. The focus is on a set of “wellbeing” priorities which will be adopted by all the ministries. According to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the indomitable Jacinda Ardern, it is more critical to measure the health, satisfaction and safety of the citizens, than to just constantly fixate on GDP growth as a wellbeing measure.

I totally agree.

Though I cannot understand one thing: why do the Kiwis feel that their country is not a happy one? Why are they having one of the highest suicide rates in all of OECD (the league of economically developed Western countries)? Why is domestic violence so high in New Zealand, and yet the United Nations chose to place NZ in its 8th global rank on the world happiness report?

Nevertheless, this initiative to build the entire national budget around wellbeing of citizens is a fantastic one, a new concept, which will be closely watched by the rest of the developed world. NZ needs to ensure that it succeeds in implementation. Otherwise, it will be considered as a flash in the pan, with no measurable impact in creating a sense of well being and reducing levels of poverty and homelessness.

We have to wait and see the impact. In whichever manner we see it, the “wellbeing” budget is a novel concept focused on certain clear national people-centric priorities, which should, with effective implementation and followup, generate a significant sense of wellbeing in NZ citizens. My two cents is that PM Ardern has a new strategic thinking and should be commended for taking the risk to release such a budget to the scrutiny of the public and economic analysts.

All the best to her and her forward-thinking government.

Note: I visited NZ on a family vacation many years ago and came to the conclusion it is one of the best in the world, and my family has always wanted to return to NZ for a second vacation.

Cheers, and have a great weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th June 2019

It’s Never Going to End


It has been the bane of the U.S. for a long, long time. And, it continues even more aggressively in the 21st Century, wherein we are all supposed to be living in an evolved social civilization of cultured, refined and civilized human beings living together amicably.

And, it is happening in the most economically and militarily advanced nation on the planet, which is considered to be the only “super power” left after the complete domination and total ascendancy of one single country leaving all the others far behind.

I am referring here to the mutual killings of American citizens by each other, the latest being the mass killing of 12 people in a municipal office building on Virginia Beach on the East Coast of the U.S.

Terrible, and completely avoidable.

Why do civilized people need guns to protect themselves? The U.S. has a very large, dispersed and credible law enforcement department in all its states to guard and protect the people. There should really be no need for weapons, even of the milder variety. In this case of mass shooting, the killer used a high-capacity magazine (to provide him with many more bullets) and a silencer. In previous killings in the U.S., the killers have used military style weapons, which should not have been made available to normal citizens in any case.

As I was watching the episode being played out on CNN yesterday, and then on Michael Smerconish show late in the evening Singapore time, I could feel that this issue of guns and gun violence is not going to go away in the U.S. Smerconish revealed at the end of his session that 73% of the viewers who took part in an online survey which he initiated at the beginning of his show felt the same way. Only 27% of his viewers who participated in the survey felt that something could be done. This shows that the U.S. is inextricably entangled in the gun issue, and the killings that ensue which are unlikely to stop, irrespective of any government legislation.

Why will the most advanced nation on earth allow such unnecessary killings to happen? This was not a terrorist act. The killer was a disgruntled long time municipal employee. Apart from the easy availability of legal guns, the U.S. also has to contend with a more serious issue: that of mental health in a population that is considered to be generally prosperous as per world standards. The per capita income exceeds USD 60,000 and in comparison, India’s per capita income is around USD 2,000 and China’s is around USD 8,000.

If incomes are a determinant of crime in a society, then low incomes in poorer countries should be a leading indicator of endemic violence but that does not seem to be the case. So, it is not income per se that is the cause of violence in society – higher incomes would then have meant a drop in violence and crime. The U.S. is suffering from a combination of mental health problems, segmented unemployment, and very easy availability of weapons. If problems at home can be taken out on one’s colleagues, that is a very bad indication of deteriorating mental stability. It is very difficult to monitor such developments in an individual, unless his or her colleagues report on behavioural changes to the negative extent to their superiors. Oftentimes, the superiors and the HR department ignore such issues as they probably think these will eventually get resolved and should not be bothered with as long as there is no measurable impact on the business.

However, in a developed country with “affluenza”, it becomes critical to observe how employees behave and conduct themselves. Imagine what would be the impact if a large Silicon Valley company or a large Wall Street Bank had a disgruntled, totally frustrated employee who takes out an assault weapon and starts shooting his or her colleagues. Is it unlikely? No, it is not. It can very well happen anytime. We have seen a series of school shootings in the U.S. and the huge psychological and traumatic impact these shootings have had on school going children.

Does any other advanced and civilized nation has this kind of gun problem?

The answer is an emphatic NO. There might be occasional violence and petty crimes, and terrorist attacks in countries such as France and elsewhere. The recent mosque shooting in New Zealand is clearly a terrorist attack. But there is hardly any developed country wherein a guy pulls out his gun from his person and shoots at others in a bar, and these kind of shootings have happened multiple times in the U.S.

The U.S. has a real serious problem on which the government is not paying any attention. The Congress is not paying attention either. Gun violence is coming up only as part of the Presidential Campaign primaries, and even the Democratic hopefuls are tentative as no one wants to take on the most powerful NRA (National Rifle Association) which funds many politicians in the U.S. There are other very powerful Conservative Political Thinktanks and Political Action Committee Funds which keep influencing and funding politicians on the right and the extreme right, and this only means that there will be no legislative solution to the gun violence problem in the U.S. anytime soon. This problem will persist and innocent Americans will keep dying for no fault of theirs.

Is the U.S. setting up a role model on this matter for the rest of the world? I am afraid that such happenings will influence not only the potential gun killers hiding in the U.S. waiting for their turn to unleash their weapons on the slightest pretext, but will also influence killers elsewhere even in better gun-free societies.

And, that is the worst part of the emerging scenario on gun violence in the U.S. It is really high time that the U.S. Government, the Congress and the Supreme Court get together in a non-political manner and launch a new gun violence reduction initiative, part of which should be targeted at offering a gun amnesty program like what Australia executed in the Nineties.

If innocent people continue dying because of gun violence in a peaceful society environment, and not in war or conflict, then the government should ask itself some serious questions. And, take some serious actions.

Will the U.S. government do that?

Surely NO.

Have a great week ahead, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 June 2019

Electronic News Analysis


After several years of using news apps on my iPhone, I can claim I have some experience in making an assessment of their value to me. I see and “read” news from almost all of these apps every day, as I hardly see TV news (except for the occasional CNN news) and do not get printed newspapers at home. Obviously, the phenomenon of “fake” news has been in the news for the past couple of years, thanks to noises made by U.S. President Donald Trump. However, I do not believe mainstream media (that I depend on) “indulge” in fake news intentionally, though there have been random reporting issues which were corrected subsequently in most cases.

Given that fake news is not an issue in my assessment, and given that I possess some intelligence to distinguish bad reporting from good reporting, apart from the necessary acumen to make a judgement on newsworthiness (as relevant to my tastes and requirements), it should not be surprising for anyone to understand my list of the choicest news apps (from mainstream media sources only) that I pay attention to every day. I mostly ignore WhatsApp-communications with spurious looking media web links, and in any case will do my own assessment of the material communicated if it sounds critical or important.

So, here we go, in the order in which I read the apps on my iPhone every day:

GLOBAL NEWS:

  1. AP NEWS (The Associated Press)
  2. BBC NEWS
  3. CNN NEWS (International Edition)
  4. The Washington Post (paid subscription)
  5. The Wall Street Journal (paid subscription)
  6. The Guardian International Edition
  7. RT NEWS (yes, Russia Today – pretty good!)
  8. FOX NEWS (yes, alternative view to CNN)
  9. AL JAZEERA English News – occasional browsing
  10. GOOGLE NEWS – occasional browsing
  11. YAHOO NEWS – occasional browsing

ASIA & COUNTRY NEWS:

  1. SCMP (South China Morning Post)
  2. The Straits Times
  3. The Times of India
  4. NDTV NEWS

GLOBAL BUSINESS NEWS:

  1. CNBC
  2. BUSINESS INSIDER
  3. The ECONOMIC TIMES of India
  4. LIVE MINT

The above list is a comprehensive one which I have listed out for the first time! I would like to emphasize that it is important for everyone to make their own assessment. The above listing has served me well. In terms of rating Asia-based publications, I am giving a higher rating to SCMP as compared to The Straits Times. First, I have to commend SCMP for high-quality, in-depth coverage of key Asia news. Second, SCMP provides free access. Third, SCMP provides 4 editions for its readers: Hong Kong, U.S., Asia and International. The Straits Times restricts most access to very few free news items – almost 70 to 80% of the items are marked “premium” which means it is available only for paid subscribers. I was a paid subscriber for couple of years recently but then gave up, as I was not impressed with the news coverage though I was impressed by interviews with newsmakers and opinion columns.

The surprising thing in the above list is The Wall Street Journal. Increasingly, I am finding that the coverage of news and analyses of key issues are getting better in WSJ – I even dropped them an email! I thought they would be “right-of-centre” for most issues with their Republican tilt, but that was not the case (at least, that is not the case for the past year or so). I do not always agree with their “opinions” and the views of their Editorial Board, but that is fine – I do not have to agree with some one else’s opinions.

RT NEWS has been good in terms of providing an alternate view to what is emanating from the U.K. or the U.S. They are unabashedly pro-Putin, there is no doubt about it. But then, we need to know what Putin and the Kremlin think about global issues, and their thoughts and actions do matter even now. Sometimes, I find that their news coverage is more balanced than even CNN!

I have enjoyed reading The Washington Post, but I am getting a bit tired of their extreme left positioning on most issues. There is always a balance that needs to be reached, and I am afraid that the Post sometimes does not understand that balance is more critical than supporting the leftist agenda all the way through. I am considering dropping the paid subscription to the Post with a heavy heart (it costs USD 1 per week – which is much cheaper than The Straits Times!).

There is just one word to describe FOX NEWS – it is “bad”. It takes right wing agenda to the maximum right position, and simply does not have a balanced reporting. However, as I mentioned above, it does provide an alternate (though extreme) view to CNN, and I make it a point to sample what the right wing pundits are doing to further support President Trump and reduce corporate taxes, et al.

So, there you go – that is my list. I do the catch up every day – mostly during early morning times, given that I wake up very early, and then give it a miss for the rest of the day till I happen to switch on CNN on the TV or CNBC for financial news.

All told, I have to state here that I make my own judgement on current affairs and have my own opinions on most issues that matter as you would have witnessed on my blog if you had been a regular reader. The key thing is that I have an opinion on things which matter. Most people I come across have either not heard of the issue or do not have their own opinion if they have come across the issue – and this is the prevalent situation in our society today. I encourage my children to read as much as they can possibly read up on international affairs and key issues rocking the world today.

Have a wonderful week ahead, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th May 2019

Democracy in Action


The biggest news this past week was the outcome of the Indian Elections (of course, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi get to dominate the useless news emanating from Washington D.C., for the most part). The coverage by the Western media was mostly indifferent, ranging from an objective matter-of-fact coverage by Associated Press to a hugely opinionated piece published by The New York Times. Such a wide range is to be expected, but I was taken aback by some of the vitriolic media coverage against the outcome, which is that the ruling BJP Party won a very comfortable majority on its own.

While many world leaders sync with Mr Modi (like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe) on right-wing political philosophy and a strong-man macho image, it is rather strange that the Western media continues to cast aspersions on the Indian democratic process, as though the Western nations are all above board. I do not have a specific agenda or orientation when it comes to Indian politics and the choice of parties in the elections per se, but I have one thing in common with most people around the world: the trust in the fact that India continues to be the single largest democracy in the world with over 900M voters out of who some 600M people actually voted in the recent Parliament elections, in a mostly transparent process. No other country can match this democratic electoral feat – not China, not the U.S. It takes couple of months to complete the elections in India, but one single day of counting to publish the official results. Elections happening in Asia are no less sacrosanct or less trustworthy when compared to those happening in the U.S. or elsewhere. As we all know, the Presidential Elections of 2016 in which Donald Trump won is suspect due to Russian meddling in the U.S. elections (we do not firmly know that Russia meddled, we have to trust Robert Mueller!). So the moral high ground from which the U.S. can lecture the so-called Third World nations is questionable. It is not that the U.S. government is doing the lecturing, but the arm-chair opinion makers do so with not much involvement on ground realities, and they are mostly left-wing, liberal analysts.

Well, now let us come to the results of the Indian elections. It was a totally surprising result – very few psephologists projected an absolute majority for the BJP, though it was clear for the past few months that the party will form a government with close to 50% of the seats in the Parliament. The elitist, liberal view was that the BJP would have to pay for rising youth unemployment, agricultural farmer problems, the demonetisation fiasco, rising levels of hate crimes, and so on and so forth. The right-wing view was also very clear: the BJP will win handsomely, and form a government on its own (even without its allies).

We now know that the latter view prevailed. India overwhelmingly voted for the BJP, totally obliterating the Indian National Congress and the Nehru / Indira Gandhi / Rajiv Gandhi / Sonia Gandhi / Rahul Gandhi dynasty once and for all. It will not be possible for the Congress to resurrect itself, unless it kicks out Rahul Gandhi and conducts professional party elections, both of which will not happen. The Congress is disorganized and demoralized. The regional parties are equally shattered, except in South India.

So, Mr Modi is entering his second term as India’s Prime Minister, which may be a good thing from the perspective of continuity and continued execution of some of his better policies. He has to focus on generating youth employment, improving the infrastructure for manufacturing, attending to the huge issue of the agricultural economy and farmers’ problems, and in general, focusing heavily on the economy. The GDP growth rate has to accelerate well beyond 7.5% to generate big benefits to the Indian population. The BJP should not get cocky about its dominance and start making strategic mistakes like what the Congress did for over 5 decades of their inconsistent governance. History does teach lessons when it comes to politics and government!

Mr Modi also needs to reassure all Indian citizens that they are equal in his eyes and in the eyes of his party and government. He is the Prime Minister for all of India and not just for the Hindus. He cannot condone hate crimes and atrocities against the minorities. His past silence in the face of such crimes and atrocities has been construed as his acquiescence towards his Hindutva philosophy and the RSS ideology. He should come out firmly and embrace all people of India, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. This is an absolute must for the continued social peace and integration of India, and this fact would surely be not lost on Mr Modi.

There are many WhatsApp messages coming in from various connected groups on the pros and cons, and analyzing the media coverage of the Indian elections. In my opinion, most of these are meaningless. The elections have been fought democratically and won democratically. Period. The matter ends there. The Indian electorate should now look forward to a vastly improved governance, an enhanced GDP growth rate, more job creation, increased manufacturing (leveraging the problems faced by China in its trade war with the U.S.), and peace.

I would like to wish Mr Modi all success in building a resurgent, dynamic India for all its people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th May 2019

The World of Intolerance


The world is becoming more intolerant. This is a fact, and not fake news!

I am here specifically referring to intolerance within a society, or towards immigrants in a society. This intolerance is a by-product of animosity which has always existed in any society towards minority religions, minority races, and immigrants from economically disadvantaged countries. Immigrants include asylum seekers who are facing religious or racial persecution in their own countries. Immigrants include folks who just want a better life for their children and who are fleeing countries like Venezuela where their own currency is completely worthless. Apart from immigrants, any society has built-in, embedded fault lines. In some societies, these are well managed and duly contained by governmental and social leadership. In some other societies, these fault lines manifest in terms of on and off violence towards other religions or races which fall under the minority category.

The entire world has been witnessing the serious fault lines in the U.S. society, where minority freedoms are under serious threat (there has always been a serious issue in the U.S. when it comes to minority rights) in the vicious atmosphere created by President Trump’s utterances, and the increasingly reckless shootings of unarmed Blacks by the police. I laugh when the U.S. State Department issues their reports on religious and racial freedom issues in other countries – I am not belittling such issues, but how can the U.S. take the high moral ground when its own house is in serious disarray? But then, there is no other nation which issues such reports, and we need to really know the status in the countries that the U.S. is pointing fingers at. It would be better if the U.N. does its job properly, but unfortunately it does not perform the “policing” and “monitoring” activities well when it comes to religious and racial persecution – and if it does, then it always comes very late, by the time most damage is already done. The U.N. also does not have the moral high ground as it listens to the powerful countries which fund its operations more than the poorer countries where most issues are present. The U.N. also does not have the guts to investigate similar issues in the most powerful countries such as the U.S.

When right-wing political parties take power in democratic nations, the problem of intolerance gets accentuated. Why is this so? It is because the right-wingers resent the traditional libertarian left-wing activists, who elegantly combine their elitism with egalitarianism. The right-wingers generally wear their likes and dislikes on their sleeves, and are mostly dominated by religious and racist tendencies leading to non-separation of powers between the state and the religion, even where such separation is mandated as in the U.S. or India. The emergence of right-wing governments in large, diverse countries is a serious cause of concern, though the fight has always got to be at the hustings and not in the streets. The problem with left-wing activists is that they are very quick to take to the streets and their activism could rapidly degenerate into street violence. That should be avoided at all costs, as such violence gives strong rationale for the right-wing governments to take retaliatory action and squelch any revolutionary tendencies.

The feeling of intolerance is insidious, it seeps into the veins – and it is trans-generational. The Black slavery matter is still a huge problem in the U.S. for the past three centuries, and the blatant discrimination of the Blacks in American society is no secret. The scar on the conscience of Whites is so bad that even Congressmen have started talking about reparations to the Black people. Universities are discussing about how to compensate Blacks for all the slavery and atrocities committed by White slave masters. I am no student of American history, and cannot comment further on what should be done, but all of us see the hugely negative media coverage about unarmed Blacks being shot at by mostly White policemen in American cities and counties. Such recurring problems are not prevalent in most other democratic countries, including India.

Why are people so influenced by race and religion?

There is no simple straightforward answer. It is a complex matter with no clear answer. Since “old” and even “middle-aged” folks cannot be changed easily, we have to rely on the education system to properly educate the next generation on such serious matters. Since we cannot depend just on self-policing by the society, the governments of the day have to legislate non-discrimination with violations to be punished vigorously. Law enforcement requires to be seriously educated, surely in the U.S., where guns are pulled out by the police at the drop of the hat and aimed at the head or chest rather than the leg!

All this does not address the emergence of right-wingism, unless the moderates come to the fore and fight the battle. Right-wing politicians prefer brute force in general, and law enforcement gets encouragement by such people; they push through their ideologies and policies in a rather vigorous manner, and create new intolerance in societies where none existed. They inflame passions wherein these were simmering just below the surface. Of course, they will claim that they want to change the country for the better, make it more secure, reclaim its past glory, et al. However, the intolerance quotient will keep raising, and will eventually damage the society at its core, like it has happened in the U.S.

I am not a left-winger. The best way to characterise me is that I am a moderate. But since I am liberal in my thoughts, it comes through as left-wing activism when I write on matters such as these. My preference is to seek a balance in whatever we do both in our personal life as well as social life. Government should be even more balanced, as it is the government for all of the citizens, not just for the people who voted for it to be elected to office.

So, let us carefully think about the imbalances and inequities in the society in which we live in. We are worthless if we cannot collectively address the problems in our society. We are also worthless if we do not grasp the inequalities in other societies and share our thoughts about such problems, as what happens in one society has influence in other societies. We are, at the end of the day, totally interlinked in this new world of social media, right?

Intolerance is insidious and should not be encouraged or tolerated in any society.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th May 2019

Social Media and Privacy


I was dismayed to read the following article from CNBC today. And I am sure you will be as well, if you use any Google service at all. I am sure all of you use one or the other type of Google service, such as Gmail, YouTube, etc.,

Read the article written by Todd Haselton on 25th April 2019 at https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/25/how-to-stop-google-from-storing-your-location-history.html?&qsearchterm=how%20to%20stop%20google

You will be shocked to see the level of detail that Google keeps about you on its servers. Especially if you have turned on the location services, you will be surprised to find out that every movement of yours is being tracked by Google.

Is this the right thing for the user of Google services? The jury is totally out on this issue as we have seen a series of data scandals affecting these famous social media companies. I do not think that users can totally trust them anymore. While Google says that only you can see your data, it takes just one more data breach by yet another fantastic hacker out there.

Even democratic governments the world over are now going after these companies to control privacy, fake news, spread of hate news, and terrorist preachings. Almost anyone can maintain a Facebook page and propagate his hate agenda against the rest of us. Where does it stop?

Previously, such bad guys were running their own websites which were tracked by law enforcement and taken down if they ever crossed the limits. Now we have to depend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google to enforce mechanisms of law enforcement on a voluntary basis, which have not worked out to the satisfaction of governments, individual users, corporate users, and law enforcement officials. The European Union has taken the hardest stand against social media companies especially when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of individual users located in EU countries. Large fines have been imposed (in various cases).

Notwithstanding all the turmoil surrounding them, these companies are still flourishing in the U.S. and globally as well. Look at their stock prices! As individuals, we may not be able to make our protest heard loudly when it comes to our own privacy, as we are not part of any social movement against social media. So, I took the next best action: I followed the recommendation by Todd Haselton in his above article, and deleted all history in various categories such as “Web & App Activity”, “Location History”, “Device Information”, “Voice & Audio Activity”, “YouTube Search History”, “YouTube Watch History”, etc., Just go to https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup
and do the needful for yourself!

I suppose we cannot ignore the possibility of such data being made available to a third party, or sold to a third party, or hacked by external agencies or hackers. This is simple common sense to control data about ourselves. There should be no excuse for not doing this – in fact, now I have started looking at all IT services that I use as an avid web user, specifically focusing on privacy and the kind of data about myself that I am willing to share with these services.

I was not surprised at all when the Sri Lankan Government decided to turn off social media access to its citizens. It was an unprecedented step, but much warranted in the aftermath of the recent terror attack on churches and hotels which killed 253 people last weekend. We cannot cry hoarse on the matter of freedom and liberty, when terrorism is spawned by leveraging access to social media. Governments have to take actions, and sometimes (not always) such actions might infringe on the fundamental rights of social media companies. I am sure the Sri Lankan citizens will understand why their government enforced such a ban on social media. The argument that social media are crucial for communication during disasters is of course valid, and the world has moved on from mobile SMS text messages to WhatsApp and other such effective tools. However, the decision on what to do in any specific situation has to be left to the best judgement of the law enforcement agencies, and not to libertarians and social media companies.

Increasingly, the battle field on social media is shaping up around the world. People do recognise the positive aspects of social media for various purposes, especially communication one-to-one or to a socially connected private community. I use WhatsApp extensively every day – it takes up most of my mobile screen time. I stopped using Facebook couple of years ago (prescient, it appears!), and do not use any of the other social media except LinkedIn for corporate and business use. I got out of even Google Plus services quite some time ago. However, I cannot be complacent – I am investigating all my “touch” points with the web via any kind of app, to see what kind of personal information is “forcibly” or “unconsciously” being shared. Of course, this is my own website on WordPress platform, and I am not censoring it!

On privacy matters, I tend to side more with the EU than with the U.S., except on matters involving crime or violence. Privacy should remain sacrosanct, except when law enforcement seeks access to your personal data with appropriate legal warrants for a justifiable purpose – it cannot be on a fishing expedition. I am against community or sectarian policing – one bad apple is still one bad apple only, and an entire community cannot be blamed, monitored or tracked because that one bad apple is a violent criminal or murderer or a terrorist. It is pertinent to point out in this context that the specific community or sect will do well to identify bad apples in the midst of them, and try to correct their ill-advised ways, and if that does not work, report them to law enforcement. Even tacit silence will be construed as support for the bad apples in their midst, and these bad elements could then feel encouraged.

The U.S. government believes that it can and should access ANYBODY’s personal devices, irrespective of whether that person is a suspected criminal or not. Even ordinary, regular travellers to the U.S. have been subjected to this particularly overbearing exercise of border protection officers. What the government does with the data that they retrieve from those devices is anybody’s guess. This does not happen in any other country, to the best of my knowledge.

Turning “off” social media in very serious situations like a terror attack, as recently happened in Sri Lanka”, is to be supported due to various reasons, the most critical being the spread of intentionally malicious information which could cause panic amongst the general public, and aggravate an already worse situation for the government and law enforcement. I entirely agree that it is the right thing to do under the special circumstances, and I am sure that the Sri Lankan government will turn “on” the social media that it switched off very soon, once investigations are completed.

The inconvenience caused due to such a ban will be best understood by the affected citizens, and should not be misconstrued as censorship.

I think it is high time for social media companies to increase their own self-censorship and prove that they are responsible corporate citizens in the very near future. Otherwise, they will be fined, regulated and controlled by the government(s), and deserted by users such as myself!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th April 2019

The Sri Lankan Massacre


It was totally avoidable.

What happened on Easter Sunday 21st April 2019 at several locations in Sri Lanka is a prime example of how governments and law enforcement authorities ignore actionable intelligence on impending terrorist attacks. 253 people were dead and over 500 injured due to the Sri Lankan government’s apathy towards valuable and credible intelligence provided to them by the U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies.

May be the Sri Lankan government thought that they knew better about their own citizens. May be they thought that military style terrorist attacks were not possible in Sri Lanka after the total elimination of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamile Eelam) movement in 2009. May be they thought that their country has now reclaimed its spot as one of the most tranquil and peace-loving tourist destinations of Asia.

All such assumptions were totally shattered last weekend when several churches and five star hotels were attacked by unconscionable terrorists. Some of them were known to Sri Lankan intelligence and the police and ought to have been closely monitored and tracked. But obviously they were not.

It is not about the clash of religions or civilizations anymore. It is pure terrorism against common innocent citizens who pursue their daily chores in the most routine, mundane, peaceful manner in any society. It is the total responsibility of an elected government to protect its people from such mindless violence. If the government fails in this most critical duty, there is only one thing to do – resign. The Sri Lankan government should have immediately resigned once it was established that they had received actionable intelligence but on which they did nothing – they abdicated their most important responsibility. Incompetence should not be tolerated by the citizens who elect their governments in a democracy (they have no such freedoms in an authoritarian form of government). Citizens pay taxes and fund the government, so they have the right to expect performance from their government.

However, as an external observer, I should commend the Sri Lankan government for certain quick actions it took in the aftermath of this sad attack. It imposed dusk to dawn curfews, suspended certain civic rights, aggressively moved against certain places known to be harbouring terrorist agenda, sent out the right kind of messages to the citizens who were panicky and anguished, arrested scores of suspicious people, refused to announce their names even, and declared a national emergency. It also suspended social media like Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc., which is considered an unprecedented step. These are the actions which a determined and very upset government will and should take.

Suspension of civil rights of suspected terrorists is entirely acceptable given the innocent victim toll that has occurred, which is at least partially attributable to the sympathies and support of sections of society, thereby encouraging the perpetrators to commit such mindless atrocities. However, all these governmental actions do not let the ministers and the bureaucrats off the hook. Their total inaction is what led to this massacre in the first place.

Given that Catholic Churches were targeted on a Easter Sunday, the religious implication cannot be missed. However, I believe that it would be futile to emphasize religious conflicts as the basis for this tragedy. As long as there are many different kinds of religious faiths, tensions are bound to exist. But we as human beings first, should try to celebrate our differences rather than exacerbate the differences and get into a conflict. After all, everyone has got to live. The inalienable right to live is more critical and much more important than a simple allegiance to one’s own faith which could lead to monumental blunders due to blind teachings, which the victims cannot even contest.

No religion is going to condone violence against fellow humans who have an absolute right to live the way they deem fit. No one can be forced to follow a way of living or a way of religious faith. That should be left to individuals. Anger and irrational thinking driven by extreme forms of faith should not be allowed to flourish and should be nipped in the bud. This would mean some sacrifices of personal and religious freedoms, which are a better way to resolve potential conflicts and violence.

And, finally, an elected government can never abdicate its responsibility towards protecting the lives of its citizens. The Sri Lankan massacre tragedy has proved beyond doubt that government should eternally be vigilant, monitor its own citizens, watch religious schools which tend to impart some kind of extremist thinking, take foreign intelligence seriously, strengthen its own intelligence apparatus, invest more on law and order, etc.,

Of course, there will be loss of privacy. There will be some inconvenience. There will be some restrictions in free speech and movement. There will be push back from powerful global social media companies. There will be some loss of freedom. There will be more government controls on what is happening in society.

But then, who is responsible for national security? Social media companies or the government?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th April 2019