Tagged: Government

Great Truths


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

John Adams

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

— Mark Twain 

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

— Mark Twain

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

— Winston Churchill 

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

— George Bernard Shaw

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

— G. Gordon Liddy 

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

— James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

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

— Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University 

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

— P.J. O’Rourke, Civil Libertarian

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

— Frederic Bastiat, French economist (1801-1850)

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

— Ronald Reagan(1986) 

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

— Will Rogers

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

— P.J. O’Rourke 

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

— Voltaire(1764)

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

— Pericles (430B.C.) 

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

— Mark Twain (1866)

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

–Anonymous 

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

— Ronald Reagan

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

— Winston Churchill 

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

— Mark Twain

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

— Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903) 

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

— Mark Twain

23. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

— Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995) 

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

— Thomas Jefferson

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

— Aesop

FIVE BEST SENTENCES

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

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

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

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

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

I think there are some good truths in the above sentences. It is funny that many of these truths are in play today in nations big and small. I thought this is a good education for my blog readers. Enjoy but also think about these truths. Aren’t these relevant even today?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th September 2017

 

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Global Broadband Progress


The United Nations published its 2017 Global Broadband Progress Report on the 14th September 2017.

It is an important report to monitor for people who are interested in the technological and social advancement of developing and poor countries. Around 52% of the world’s population (some 3.9B people) do not have access to the internet. The “digital gap” between the internet haves and the have-nots is growing as well.

Broadband internet access is not only important for education, it is also crucial in providing access to quality healthcare and enhancing incomes, reducing the gender gap, and better infrastructure. Broadband has become a critical part of sustainable development world-wide, and a majority of countries have established a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the penetration of internet into their respective countries, and connect resources to the national broadband for greater access and better livelihood.

While developed countries are increasing their broadband speeds to cater to increased speed requirements of their populations, the average broadband speeds in developing countries are not keeping pace, thereby widening the gap. Further, rural areas are under-served by broadband internet, as the latest 4G technology is being rolled out in urban cities with an ability to bear the cost.

Developing and Least Developed Countries have to worry about the widening digital chasm with Developed Countries. Even in Developing Countries with over 40% internet penetration rates, there exists a big gap between the internet speeds that one can get in an urban city compared to what a rural area gets. The governments force telco providers to extend their networks to the nooks and corners of the countries, but then the progress has been slow.

Given that Developing Countries are now jumping into the mobile broadband networks (sometimes from 2G straight to 4G, and in some countries from 3G to experimental 5G), we can expect a deeper penetration of mobile broadband in these countries in the near future. For countries such as India, the ability to access broadband internet on the go also provides huge benefits to the users – such as access to current weather conditions, education, healthcare information, government services, law and order situation, news, agriculture-related data, and so on and so forth. This is fundamentally going to change society and its focus on development. It will also lead to broader thinking and benchmarking against global standards. Of course, we cannot forget video content which with unlimited data, could easily displace televisions.

The progress of broadband adoption in Developing Countries is an important indicator for the development of society as a whole. Even a decade ago, we would not have thought in this fashion. This shows the huge advancements that internet has made in changing the lives of people for the better.

In order to reduce the gap with Developed Countries, there must be aggressive and concerted focus on not only extending the broadband networks but also increasing the speeds of access.

In 5 years from now, such a focus would completely change the livelihood of rural populations of large countries. Let us hope for the best in this effort.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th September 2017

 

 

Ethnic Cleansing


According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, ethnic cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity”.

According to a U.N. Commission of Experts formed in connection with the atrocities committed during the Yugoslavian wars in the Nineties, “…… the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include: murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others”. 

Now, unbelievably, there is ethnic cleansing happening in one of the ASEAN countries, and all members of the ASEAN grouping are keeping mum, in keeping with their stated policy of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs. I am referring to the systematic ethnic cleansing being carried out by Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) against its Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State adjoining Bangladesh, which has created a humanitarian crisis with over 300,000 people fleeing from murder and rape being committed by perpetrators.

I had a strongly positive view of Buddhism and Buddhist monks who give up all their material possessions in search of enlightenment. I have mentioned to many of my friends that I am inclined towards seeking truth in Buddhism (as against Hinduism to which I belong by birth). I have always wanted a simpler faith which can show the path to enlightenment in a straightforward manner without the undue complexities involved in Hinduism, though fundamentally Buddhism emerged as an offshoot of Hinduism.

Now, I have to question my faith. When I see that Buddhist monks and Buddhist practitioners from Burmese society join hands and attack the Rohingya Muslims belonging to their own country, then the pacifist nature of Buddhism as a peaceful religion with peace-loving followers evaporates………in a white plume of smoke. And, all the expulsion, burning of homes, mosques, murder, rape, et al, happened with the absolute connivance of the Myanmar Government and the state security forces……..all of them being of Buddhist orientation.

There is heavy coverage of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in the news media this past week, and so I am not going to repeat the key findings.

In the midst of all these happenings, the silence of Myanmar’s Nobel Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has been simply appalling. She is a powerful figure in Myanmar, and is globally known for her peaceful fight against the very powerful Myanmar Military rulers. She finally won that fight, but is was only a partial win. The Military still controls 25% of the Myanmar Parliament, and the silence exhibited shamefully by Aung San Suu Kyi is a witness to the domination of the Military when it comes to internal affairs. If she had risen up against the Military and said things to protect the Rohingya Muslims, things would have been vastly different now.

However, notwithstanding the ghastly attacks on Rohingya Muslims, and their forced evictions from their townships and homes, matters continue as though all is normal in Myanmar. ASEAN has not said anything of significance against Myanmar, and the U.N. is struggling with multiple crises around the world. In the meanwhile, Myanmar Government and security forces get away and continue their behaviour as though nothing has happened.

It is a complete pity that the world community is unable to stop the ethnic cleansing so systematically being carried out by the Myanmar Government. When there is no one to question, is it any wonder that things continue as usual under the pretext of “communal violence” or “national security”? Not at all.

I can only hope that the displaced Rohingya Muslims would eventually find their way back to their townships in Rakhine State with the approval and support of the Myanmar Government, which needs to understand that it is not yet recognized as an equal member in the comity of democratic nations of the world. It needs to prove its intent to become one by solving this problem, and changing its Citizenship Law to grant citizenships to Rohingya Muslims, and providing security to them.

Let us all hope this would happen soon.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th September 2017

Citizen Privacy and Social Service Delivery


The Supreme Court of India upheld the sanctity of personal individual privacy as enshrined in the Constitution of India last week in a landmark ruling, which was widely considered as a setback to the Government of India, though the Government lawyer denied it saying that he welcomed the ruling.

The intent of the Government was to ensure that it had access to citizens’ data to deliver e-services, eliminating middle men and corruption which are endemic in the Indian system of bureaucracy. Most of us from India have felt that there was a strong need to automate routine government services, avoiding the requirement to visit government offices, which are notorious for their poor services and demands for money to execute simple tasks. We have seen and experienced how other developed countries deliver such services efficiently and without much ado, and with zero corruption.

India has successfully implemented the world’s largest national identification system (called “AADHAAR”) based on biometric data of citizens. Though the card is unwieldy, and possibly prone to misrepresentation, it has emerged as the one single identity for all Indian citizens. The PAN or Permanent Account Number Card which is held by most Indians has served as the identification proof for many years, but it was predominantly meant to be used in connection with Income Tax matters. The government now intends to link the Aadhaar Card with the PAN Card in the Income Tax system, thereby clearly establishing the identity and address of the individual tax payer.

Coming back to the privacy case in the Supreme Court of India, it was funny to note the inconsistencies in the arguments put forward by the government on various occasions. The government said that personal privacy, though a fundamental right of citizens, is not “absolute” – it does not give absolute rights to the individual on privacy and privacy has to operate within reasonable limits. The government lawyer went to the extent of arguing that citizens do not have absolute rights over their “own bodies”. Can you believe that?

If there is one institution in India which does not take nonsense, it must be the Supreme Court. For more than couple of decades, Indian Supreme Court Judges have acted as the balancing force between the executive (the government) and the parliament, and have generally been protective of individual citizens and their rights. I was not surprised to learn that in this crucial case of individual privacy, they acted to support the individual, rather than the government. While arguments flew back and forth, it was apparent that the Court was not going to play around with fundamental rights of citizens, irrespective of the needs of the government.

It is critical for the government to deliver e-services to citizens efficiently; it is also important for the government to deliver subsidies to deserving citizens such as farmers. However, the Supreme Court of India differed with the government on the need to sacrifice the privacy of the individual in order to be able to deliver something of value and importance to that individual.

I do not think the government will contest this ruling, or try to pass a legislation to overturn the ruling. I am sure that the current government is pragmatic, if not anything else. They have heard the ruling, and have reconciled themselves to the fact that nothing much is actually going to change on the ground. “Reasonable restrictions” can still be applied to the data collected.

What this case proves is that while access to and use of citizens’ data are critical to various requirements of the government, there needs to be strong safeguards for data privacy and protection before any individual data can be seen or processed. Consent of the individual concerned is of paramount importance before his data can be “touched”. There are no absolute guarantees, everyone understands that, but there has to be a consciousness on the part of the government as to the criticality of the data and the potential for abuse and misuse.

Kudos to the Supreme Court of India for this ruling, coming so soon after another landmark ruling regarding the triple talaq divorce case.

India is setting new milestones as it grows into the next phase of its social development.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 2017

 

The India Experience……..continues…….


I spent the past few days in Chennai, the Capital of Tamil Nadu, visiting relatives and finishing off some personal work which was waiting for my visit for the past 4 months.

Every time I visit India, my perception of the environment has kept going up – I mean, increasingly positive. The improvements that I see all around should have come about couple of decades ago, keeping in tune with global enhancement to living conditions. But India faltered on its way to economic growth, led by ineffective leaders who were always subject to political pressures and vagaries, and who made decisions not always keeping the welfare of the country at heart.

However, notwithstanding the huge delays which have cost dearly, finally things are shaping up. I am not going to be positive about most things, however. In a very large country like India, it is very tough and almost impossible to get every section of the society aligned with economic growth imperatives and the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to achieve equitable growth for all. There are people who are always against the central government and its initiatives. There are state governments not ruled by the same party which rules in the centre (federal). There are religious factions, there are minorities and then there is the “silent” majority who do not care about anything.

With all these challenges, India is moving fast forward, which is a rather surprising development over the past year or so. It will take considerable time, but it is not inconceivable for India to reach a 9 to 10% GDP growth rate, and a per capita income of USD 3,000 in the next 5 years, which should lift the size of the GDP to more than twice what it is today. It is also entirely possible (given the trajectory and assuming minimal disruptions) to achieve a per capita income of USD 5,000 in about 10 years’ time, which would be roughly three times the size of the economy today.

Well, good to read. On the ground, things move slowly however. Corrupt practices continue, albeit with reduced intensity. I pick up feedback from cab and auto rickshaw drivers, who are rather articulate and voluble when it comes to criticizing everything around us. I also collect inputs from folks that I meet, because invariably the talk turns towards the ineffectiveness of state governments and economic growth, etc.,

One thing which worries me is that what you hear about the English capability of Indians is actually not true. Most people are more comfortable in their mother tongue or in Hindi, the de facto national language which 70% of India speaks and understands. When I called a central government agency in New Delhi which is responsible for the national bio-metric ID cards, and chose the option to receive instructions in English and to speak with someone in English, I could not get the right person despite multiple attempts. I was able to get only Hindi speakers, who were baffled that I could not converse in Hindi, and struggled to understand what I was trying to say. It was incorrigible that the senior management of that agency has not addressed the issue, as everything in Central Government in New Delhi (and elsewhere in the country) is supposed to deal with all parts of the country, not just with Hindi speakers. Further, I tested the basic English language of OLA and UBER drivers in Chennai, and they consistently demonstrated lack of grasp of basic English communication.

So, what are we talking?!!!

It is not adequate for just the IT workers and Financial Industry workers to speak English. India needs to do something urgently to rapidly enhance English literacy. The most popular language in China today is English! Is it surprising? No. China has repeatedly demonstrated that if it sets its mind and heart to achieving something, it will achieve that, come no matter what. India does not follow this tenacity in thinking to achieve and then achieving the target with heart and mind.

Another parameter that I use to measure improvement is the ability of the economy to maintain capital assets to ensure maximum utilization and productivity of the asset. India has repeatedly failed to maintain its assets. Simple examples include MIG fighter jets (“flying coffins” as these are called), roads, power plants, water supply, railway stations and rail tracks, airports (improving finally), and infrastructure in general. Faulty lifts (elevators) and escalators abound. Attention to detail is completely lacking. Maintenance discipline which is an essential and critical component of economic productivity does not exist. How then can India compete with China?

In a large metro city like Chennai, with a population of 8M (50% more than Singapore), the upkeep of public facilities and roads are found to be seriously in disarray. I dread the upcoming monsoon season when the number of potholes in roads will multiply rapidly. It is apparent that public money is not being spent wisely in the interest of the public. Many arterial roads do not have pavements, or have pavements which are occupied by hawkers. The city municipal corporation does not seem to be taking strict action on violators. All legislators are afraid of voter backlash, but they view the voters in pockets. The silent majority goes without a say.

I can go on and on, but the key point that I observed is that people are optimistic and the general economic environment is improving (notwithstanding President Trump).

I hope that one day, not in the too distant future, at least some Indian cities will reach the status of global cities which attract talent from around the world.

The Indian story continues……….

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th August 2017

 

 

The Danger of China


China is the world’s most populous country, and its second largest economy with a GDP of USD 11.2T in 2016. Its GDP per capita stands at a little more than USD 8,000. This is a huge accomplishment in less than 25 years. The size of China’s economy dwarfs that of India by a ratio of 5:1 and is more than twice the size of the Japanese economy. It has only the U.S. to surpass (the size of the U.S. economy in 2016 was USD 18.6T). China is a U.N. Security Council member and wields significant influence in world affairs by throwing its political, economic and military muscle all together.

However, most people forget that China is a totalitarian regime, with its Communist party ruling the nation for the past nearly seven decades with an iron hand, with very little tolerance for dissent. The major difference is the adoption of free market philosophy by the Communist party in 1979 when the then Chairman Deng Xiao Ping opened up the Chinese economy to outsiders and global investments. But, one can never forget the fact that the regime is authoritarian and flexes its muscles against its own citizens and other countries who are seen to be going against its interests.

Since there is no democracy in China, generally outsiders (and citizens) have to toe the party line and government mandates in their operations in China. People who don’t are punished. After all what can you expect from a dictatorship which is not accountable to the people of the country?

All this could be fine for the trading nations of the world and for countries who are afraid of the growing might of China. However, what is not fine is the militant aggression demonstrated by China on its way to the apex of the world. And, now there is just one country which could test China’s limits and arrest its aggression. That is, of course, the U.S. No other country can hamper China’s intentions as badly as the U.S.

China claims all of South China Sea as its own, and is soon planning to extend its Air Defense Identification Zone to West Pacific Ocean. There is one simple strategy that China is adopting – that its Navy should be able to access and control seas which are thousands of miles away from its own shores. So, it is developing a Blue Ocean Navy capable of operating far away from its shores, like the U.S. Even Russia, the U.K., and France have their limits, but apparently China does not have any limits – financial or otherwise. It is seeking to claim world hegemony like what the U.K. did in its heydays, and what the U.S. has been doing via its global military might posturing over the past several decades.

China wishes to challenge the U.S. in every sphere. It is very clear that China does not play by international rules. It has consistently ignored mandates and rulings from global multilateral institutions (not unlike the U.S.). It has ignored the ruling of the World Court on the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines. It will continue to do so, as China feels it cannot be challenged. The ASEAN nations will toe China’s line, as these countries are dependent on China for trade. Chinese economy is far too big for any country to ignore. So China cleverly uses its economy as a big carrot for making countries follow its diktat.

There are a few countries who won’t do that as a matter of philosophy, apart from the U.S. India is a good example of a nation which would stand on its own, irrespective of what China does or does not do. China, for example, has not allowed India its much desired access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but that has not held India back from doing nuclear commerce with several countries such as Australia. China needles India along the Line of Control at the border between the two countries, but so far India has stood its ground. Of course, it is easy to see that the U.S. and India are large countries with significant power on the world stage. India also adopts a multi-pronged alliance strategy by working with the U.S., Japan, and Australia on military related matters such as joint naval exercises.

The Chinese Navy is conducting joint naval exercises with Russia in Baltic Sea this week, and alarm bells are ringing (rightfully) in many Western capitals. Baltic Sea is very, very far from China, and yet China has chosen to send some of its most advanced ships for this exercise. The U.S. must be worried. Europe is a very different theatre, with many countries closely packed together and several of these countries have borders with Russia. And, Russia has a Baltic sea port in Kaliningrad.

The unfortunate thing is that China is not a transparent nation with democratic ideals and an open society and media. Many things are unknown and not discussed in civil society. This is the most worrying factor for other nations, who have to depend on what the Chinese leaders publicly say and do, and then carry out their own assessments and preparations.

So, China is a danger to world stability and peace, unless it becomes less aggressive and less petty in dealing with smaller Asian nations. A country, irrespective of its size or population, cannot aspire to become a global leader who is respected around the world, while trying to steal what is rightfully others’ property and livelihood. China needs to learn this fact, and learn it very quickly. It needs to develop “soft” power like what the U.S. also has (apart from its hard military power), and that would take China a much longer time than just 25 years. China also would not be able to match India on “soft” power – India has much more respect on the world stage and is considered mostly a friend if not a big trading nation.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd July 2017

 

Never a boring day


Never a boring day.

Yes, it has never been boring with all the action in Washington DC, mostly caused by President Donald Trump himself.

Last week has been another chaotic week with President Trump causing significant damage to his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions blaming him in connection with his recusal from the Russia investigation. President Trump criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the ex FBI Director in charge of the Russia investigation. He criticized Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Robert Mueller to the post of Special Counsel. He even went on to say that he can pardon anyone, including his relatives, friends, and even himself! I have not even attempted to cover all that President Trump did to himself in terms of continuous damage over this past week. I can only say with certainty that there were many folks smiling around the world at the funny situation that the President is placing the U.S. in – I was disappointed, as I sincerely had believed that President Trump would be a firm and strong leader with a no nonsense approach to solving not just America’s problems, but also some of the intractable world problems which have been simmering for a long time, and which President Obama could not resolve despite his best efforts.

Now, it has become seriously hard for me to defend President Trump with anyone who has been easy to criticize his indefensible actions and utterances. Honestly, it is not necessary for the President of the U.S. to keep constantly telegraphing his thoughts to the world at large. There are matters which require a deliberate thought process before getting public exposure, and which also require a strong team work within the President’s Cabinet. It is becoming very clear that the President hardly thinks before sending out his infamous tweets on matters of national importance. He needs to urgently realize that running the U.S. Government as its Chief Executive is very different from running his own corporation.

While President Trump has kept the twitterati and the paparazzi scrambling to interpret his tweets and random utterances, he has also continuously pleased with millions of people around the world who are enjoying the fun. Previously the fun was delivered by third world leaders, but now by a first world leader. Why not enjoy it as long as it last?

This will not be good for the image and credibility of the U.S. While President Trump has every right to communicate directly to American Citizens, his treatment of the establishment media can only exacerbate an already rather fragile situation. Since there is some smoke, we cannot fault the news media from their own investigations. President Trump now calls these big news media as “fake news” originators. Even Fox News is slowly distancing itself from close allegiance to the President.

The Republican Party lost its Obamacare repeal initiative in the Senate by not being able to bring it to a vote. It was a huge slap to President Trump, and he could hardly contain his rage against Democrats and a few of the Republican Senators who refused to cooperate.

With all this stuff, it is not unreasonable to think that the U.S. Government business would be at a standstill. Luckily, that is not the case. Things are happening, and decisions are being taken, that is the positive news. It is however apparent that mundane government business is not in the mind of President Trump as he is constantly being challenged on the Russia matter, and he seems to be hating it.

If he stops thinking about it, stops tweeting about it, stops challenging the folks conducting the investigation, stops worrying about what is going to happen to his son and son-in-law and some of his close allies, then everything will get into a better shape. He can bring his extraordinary energy into finding jobs for unemployed Americans, bringing trillions of dollars stashed in foreign shores by U.S. Corporations, rationalizing the complicated U.S. tax regime, investing in the crumbling infrastructure, and many other such initiatives in which he strongly believes in.

However, it has never been a boring day thus far.

Have a great weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2017