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

Avoidable Deaths in Unnecessary Conflicts


I came across the following “Costs of War” website run by Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University, U.S.

“Costs of War”

It is worthwhile spending some time on the reports published at this site, which have not been covered widely in the international media. The various analyses are revealing data that many of us do not have access to. The overall figure of deaths in the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan related war on terror conducted by the U.S. and its allies is at least over a million, considering the casualties inflicted by diseases and infrastructural deficiencies caused by war in these underdeveloped countries.

I am not delving into the statistics at this site (which I strongly encourage my readers to go through anyway), but more into the human misery caused by wars such as this war on terror. Wars are always the result of misjudgements or forced error-prone judgements by civilian officials in governments who are susceptible to pressures from the military-intelligence nexus thirsting for war anywhere they deem it necessary. We know this from the historical evidence gathered in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which was caused by false information from a U.S. warship sent to the U.S. Defence Secretary and the Iraqi War on Terror based on false data presented to the U.N. Security Council by Colin Powell. Rarely has a serious conflict been caused by real evidence of attack by an enemy from the field (except the World Wars I & II). What powerful countries look for is a justification to launch a war based on any kind of provocation or any kind of false data.

Why do they do such a thing as start an armed struggle which they know would cause unnecessary casualties on either side, or serious civilian collateral damage, even if they know they would win the war? The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, it was defeated and humiliated by the Communist North Vietnam in 1975, though it was already a super power. Did it not learn its lessons from that war? Why send finely trained soldiers into war and lose them for good? Why spend so much of taxpayer money (USD 5.6 T in the war on terror till 2017) which could have been invested within the U.S. for the benefit of the people of the U.S.?

At the end of the day, the purpose is to “teach an unforgettable lesson” to the enemies or terrorists who attacked the U.S. in 2001. Terrorism has not gone away and has not been eliminated as a result of the “war on terror”. What we know for sure is that more than USD 5 T has been spent, more than half a million people are dead for sure, more enemies have been created on the ground in the Middle East, the Syrian & Yemen conflicts are not even counted in the above war on terror, and so on and so forth. If the purpose is to teach a strong lesson to aspiring terrorists, and also to eliminate every existing terrorist, then that purpose has not been accomplished. “Mission Accomplished” by George W Bush was a falsity as the world knew even then.

Targeted elimination of specific terrorists is very challenging and may not be possible at all. While that objective has to be pursued without any doubt, the unnecessary killing of suffering civilians in these countries need to stop. Need to totally stop. Will the Western countries allow such killings in their countries if the reverse scenario had happened, or even otherwise? No, not at all.

Human life has to be respected and human misery needs to be addressed.

Imagine spending USD 5.6 T on eliminating poverty in the world. Imagine eliminating homelessness and providing a healthcare safety net with that kind of money. Imagine so many good things that could have been achieved over the past 17 years with such serious amount of funding, if not for the world, at least for the U.S. How about drastically reducing the U.S. budget deficit with that kind of money?

Well, no easy answers. The military – intelligence – government – industry nexus will continue to serve the needs of war, while providing rationale for starting wars. I would think Asian countries are more circumspect when it comes to starting wars. We have seen standoffs between China & India, China & Vietnam, China & Taiwan, China & Japan, etc., but such conflicts are managed well without ever firing a shot, as Asia understands the potential costs of war which could completely derail the “Asian Century”.

One of the biggest results of the war on terror is continuing human misery and migration (displacement of people). This continues and is proving to be a huge challenge to many Western countries. How do they integrate these migrants (who they really do not want) into their respective societies?.

Overall, the conclusion is simple: the war on terror should have been very specific and very localized to specific regions of countries, instead of establishing a country-wide war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have had specific purposes which should have been accomplished by now (after so many years of conflict). Instead, we see meetings being scheduled between the U.S. and the terrorists they shunned all this while!!!

In the meanwhile, the various war zones operate (almost all in the unlucky Middle East region) and conflicts rage as usual. The Military-Industrial complex is salivating at the potential U.S. – Iran conflict, which will generate huge business for them of the order of USD trillions again, while killing innocent people in hundred of thousands for sure.

Welcome again to the World of Ever-present Conflicts, Unnecessary Wars, and Totally Avoidable Deaths!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th November 2018

 

Does Government own You?


For thousands of years, humans did not have a form of government which took responsibility to manage and defend a nation or territory. Before government came into picture, the rule of law was based on the inalienable rights of an individual to his or her life, liberty and property. You might have read this principle of what is known as “natural rights” during your school years.

Fights and battles happened when one person or his army tried to violate this natural set of rights, and take away the life, liberty or property of one individual. That was not at all acceptable, and it was perfectly fine for the aggrieved individual to wage a fight against the aggressor.

With the advent of a system of government, people came under the government’s governance mechanism. In return for infrastructure, safety and security, the people were ready to pay taxes to cover the costs of governance. In essence, a social “compact” was struck between the society and the government which was elected by the society. The government assumed primacy in all matters pertaining to the state, running of the governmental affairs, dealing with other states, protecting the people, investing in infrastructure, et al.

The influence of the government on the society or any individual in the society is nothing short of phenomenal, whether we are living in a democratic society or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no option to live “outside” of your society or country’s system of governance (after all, we don’t choose our parents or country of birth!). We can carry our thoughts which will never be subject to any external controls, but even our thoughts are subject to controls once explicitly expressed. This is the situation in many countries.

So, the question arises: which part of you the government owns? Whole or some part? The physical part or the mind part? Are we really fully free in any society? Does the government own us? Can the government take away our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and property? Where does the government stop?

And so on and so forth………..can the government dictate to us on what we should be doing? Is it a facilitator or commander of your talent and skills?

Do we have the option to break our social “compact” and return to the nomadic way of life?

Do we subjugate ourselves to the primacy of the government which rules us? Do we totally give up?

Well, of course, we all know that the situation is not so dire in most countries. The government does not intervene in your personal life, unless there is a law and order problem. It really does not care.

Some governments, however, try to own you, commandeer you, and punish you if you commit offences not palatable to them. Taking away a citizen’s life, as we have seen recently appear to be quite extraordinary (I am referring here to the Kashoggi case in Istanbul). While I am stunned by the apparent indifference to the murder of an innocent civilian citizen in a diplomatic facility, let us not forget the foreign intelligence agencies of the top nations of the world routinely carry out targeted assassinations around the world, in countries where they do not have any jurisdiction. Torture, cruelty, killings and threats are all normal practices practiced every day in the name of national security, or if that does not work, in the name of regional security / protection of valuable allies / in the cause of world peace, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, be prepared at any time to be owned by your own government apparatus. And, if your country’s government is very closely connected with the the government(s) of the most powerful nations of the world, then you are in for an even scarier ride if your thoughts are on the wrong side of what these governments think is right. How about sympathizing with the suffering Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis or Rohingyas, just to name a few?

Food for lot of thought, I should say, pun intended!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th October 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

The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

London and Freedom of Speech


I do not agree with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in his rather aggressive approach towards entertaining the visit of President Donald Trump of the U.S.

President Trump is a guest of the U.K. Government, whether the Mayor likes it or not. He has done everything in his power to deter the visit and make it very inhospitable for President Trump when he came calling last week.

London is amongst the top 3 cities of the world, along with Paris and New York, that is the most visited in the world. It is the financial and commercial capital of the U.K., and ranks either #2 or sometimes #1 in the finance circles as the most capitalistic city with a tremendous presence of the world’s top banking and financial institutions. It may, however, not continue to be in that exalted position for long with the onset of “Brexit”.

Never mind its position as a top city in the world; the least the city can do is to welcome any guest – and, in this case the leader of the U.S. with which the U.K. claims a rather “special” relationship. You may detest him, you may not like his anti-immigration stance, you may hate his vituperative outlook on Europe and its problems, but nevertheless you do not want to antagonize him. If there is a war with Russia, you need the U.S. to be on your side. It depends on whether the President likes you or not, unfortunately, given that he also does not like NATO.

Mayor Khan could have done better. He did the right thing by allowing the public to protest against President Trump, and let the blimp fly over central London as an insulting symbol of the President. But, in his official position as Mayor of London, he should have welcomed the President whether he likes him or not. The Mayor let his visceral hate of the President overtake his common sense. And, common sense is very critical in governance and law enforcement.

In life, it is not possible to only meet with people that you like, whether in social life, corporate life, or elsewhere. The maturity of a person is measured by his or her ability to transcend personal likes and dislikes, and connect with the “other” side of the equation in an equanimous manner. Irrational outbursts against a philosophy which is anathema to a person of power, influence and persuasion should be avoided by that person. After all, the world has multiple sides on any issue, and one cannot just argue forever that his or her side is always right. What about the 30% of the people who may disagree with the 51% majority in that case? Democratic processes as per law can and should be allowed in any democratic country to play out, but the governance mechanism cannot be held to account by majority view on any issue if it is not part of an electoral process. If that be the case, the judiciary of any country can be swayed by what appears to be a majority opinion (based on polls), and could make a judgement call which is not necessarily in conformity with the law.

The same case with Mayor Khan – he should have used his head more than his heart when it comes to policy making and receiving guests. As expected, President Trump shunned London and heavily criticized Mr Khan on crime statistics, which unfortunately for the mayor, appears to be true. London briefly overtook New York on murder statistics earlier this year. The increase in public attacks of innocent victims cannot be dismissed as the mayor did, blaming inadequate policing due to cuts in budget. That is a blatant excuse for non-performance and lack of governance. The Conservative Party has no guts to fight against Mr Khan due to his popularity, another misconceived capitulation.

In simplistic terms, Mayor Khan has failed in governing London successfully, and his escapism on governance does not go down well with the thinkers in the electorate. Mothers are afraid to send their children out into the city. Hospitals are overwhelmed with treating victims of attacks on the streets. Law enforcement is weak. The mayor should be having his hands full dealing with all these issues, rather than spending time criticizing President Trump.

I am not a big supporter of the president, but I believe it is important to welcome guests invited by your own government and show them around depicting the success story of your city, and dispel incorrect notions. It is as simple as that, rather than shunning the visitor who has wrong impression of you.

This post is not aimed at defaming Mayor Khan – only his inaction in welcoming the President of the U.S. It cannot just be his own “choice” – it is for all of London to welcome a guest.

So, at the end, President Trump did not spend any time in the city of London – he avoided it completely. That’s a slap in the face of London, and that’s not a good sign.

Can’t we have a mature discussion between two dissenting adults?

On the other hand, Mayor Khan was singled out by President Trump on terrorism, while there were many other cities in Europe and the U.S. itself which were under terrorist attack. May be there is something there which is irking the president – one would never know. It is not a secret that the president likes Boris Johnson, however!

Have a good week ahead, folks

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2018

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 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

 

Soul of America


The U.S.A. is by far, the most preferred country for immigrants, beating the next 9 countries on the list of preferred countries for immigration as per a recent survey.

For decades, and even for more than couple of centuries, America has been welcoming new immigrants to its shores. Both immigrants and America have benefited from this continuous immigration from all over the world. America has become a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, the closest example in Europe being the U.K. America has also been providing opportunities to create new wealth for all its people, and especially to talented immigrants, and examples of such cases abound and far too numerous to be captured in any article like this. America has become richer, diverse, more capable, and more dominant in the world due to immigration. Immigrants have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, more than 60% of PhD students in U.S. are foreigners, and more than 40% of students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are foreigners as well. There is no doubt about these facts which have been validated by data from many surveys.

For America to take a strong stand on an anti-immigration political platform compounded by some serious heavy-handed law enforcement actions separating immigrant parents from their children in the most recent episode along the border with Mexico, is rather unusual and challenging its soul itself. The administration of President Trump has pushed the limits on putting a complete stop to all kinds of illegal immigration, with or without the support of its own Republican Party, and with or without the support of the U.S. Congress.

Let us for a moment go back to the soul and heart of America. Americans have always been welcoming immigrants, and have built a meritocracy based on peoples’ talents rather than on their skin colour or religion. This is the reason why America’s technological, political, social and military dominance is complete with no challengers in sight, though it can be argued that China and Russia are bent on challenging the U.S. hegemony of late. However, the U.S. is by far superior in all facets of human endeavour, and while there are pockets of dominance all around the world, the U.S. offers the most complete package to potential immigrants who, if they are talented and skilled, would be on par with the local U.S. citizens. Such adaptability and flexibility in building an equitable society has paid off for America in the long run, and is a model for countries like Singapore which is also focused on building a multi-skilled, competent and knowledge-based society.

Given this background, the vicious action of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents can only be considered cruel and far beneath the status of a generous, accepting and welcoming society that is the U.S. It is no wonder that President Trump came under huge pressure from his own party to stop the family separation, and he did that with an executive order that he issued with far less clarity than it should have exhibited. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction.

As we say, it is a torture to carry the guilt on a society’s heart and soul – examples again demonstrate the power of guilt. In Australia, the governments in the past have separated aboriginal children from their native parents and transferred these children to white foster parents. A similar thing happened in Canada. Many countries have inflicted cruelty on children – especially in Europe and Africa.

The U.S. need not and should not acquire and carry that guilt on its heart and soul. It is despicable, and completely out of character for a nation like the U.S.

Illegal immigration should be reduced but handled with care and compassion. People flee their countries mostly on economic grounds or political persecution. The U.S. is the most advanced country which is equipped to handle such immigrants, and is also the most capable in absorbing select immigrants – only the U.S. Congress has to enact legislation codifying the criteria that can be applied to such immigration.

Most European countries are trying to stop immigration. It has been a hot-button issue for elections in several countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and France. There is no perfect solution, especially when there is no common denominator on big factors such as language or religion which affect social and cultural integration of the immigrants into the respective societies. Such issues are less divisive in the U.S. as it has become a well-accepted melting pot of people from all over the world, working with each other and depending on each others’ services.

So, at the end of the day, the U.S. remains as the most preferred nation for potential immigrants from all over the world – even from other developed countries!

It is critical for the Executive and U.S. Congress to sit together and resolve matters pertaining to immigration policy. It is very critical for the future progress of the U.S. and cannot be ignored. The continued success and technological progress of the U.S. are based on immigrants continuing to flow into the U.S., of course on a controlled basis.

Kudos to America for being the most generous nation on planet earth!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd June 2018