The Shattering of Peace


It is now 14 years since our family visited New Zealand. We loved that country, its fine people, its air and water purity, its clean roads and rivers and mountains. We drove all the way from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island, a distance of over 3,000 KMs in just about 2 weeks. It was a fabulous family vacation, and even today if we take a vote at home about where we want to go for the next vacation, it is unanimous – New Zealand! Though we do not always follow that vote as we go to other places for different experiences!!

We had a great time travelling around New Zealand, interacting with its great people, drinking some fantastic wines, and enjoying the volcanoes as well as the fast rivers and forests and mountains. Outstanding experience!

So, I was so sad when I learnt about the White terrorist from Australia wreaking unimaginable havoc on a peaceful country (he could have done that anywhere, but choosing New Zealand was an abominable decision) and murdering 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch (we had been to Christchurch during our holidays), on a Friday. As we know, Friday is a holy day for Muslims and they go to mosques for lunch time prayers.

While I do not wish to taint this murderous attack as a religious one (Christian Crusaders attacking Muslims) or a racist one (Whites against immigrant Browns), it is inevitable. There is no point in hiding the fact that White supremacy is on the rise around the Western nations of the world (given a positive push by the Honourable President Donald Trump of the U.S.), and could soon emerge as the chief contender for global terrorism trained against immigrants and Muslims specifically, as opposed to ISIS. Both are very bad for the world; while ISIS can only be defeated militarily, White supremacy is better controlled by nation states and their enlightened leadership.

A fantastic example of leadership was on display over the past one week, and that is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She demonstrated total empathy with the survivors and the victims’ families, and came through as a leader who would also make fast and rapid changes to her country’s gun laws in the aftermath of this disaster, without listening to special interest gun lobbies and wasting time. She was seriously wounded at heart that this attack could happen in her peace-loving and immigrant-welcoming country, and the whole country (including the immigrants and all the Muslim community) rallied around her leadership. They could sense and feel that she was in their midst, truly suffering the consequences of this attack on her “own” society.

I admired her mingling around and sympathizing with the plight of the survivors in a headscarf (similar to a hijab, worn by Muslim women), as a mark of respect and empathy towards them. Thousands of ordinary folks came out in support of the Muslim community around the mosque yesterday (Friday) during prayer time with silence observed, and hands entwined. And, the Prime Minister was there in attendance!

All this shows that a predominantly White country could do positive things towards immigrant victims and survivors who are not White, with the sheer willpower and commitment of the country’s leadership. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet, the Parliament and also the gun owners and gun shops came around in support of the new ban against assault rifles which was quickly implemented. Will this ever happen in the U.S., especially under Trump’s watch? Trump or no Trump, it is not going to happen in the U.S. Thousands of Americans are shot and killed using military-style weapons (which should have no place in a society) every year, including children and innocent bystanders, and the government does nothing except uttering vanities and both parties getting into a fist fight on TV shows in a totally partisan manner.

So, the peace is finally shattered in New Zealand. I am not sure that a country of just 3M people can recover from such a murderous attack. I would argue that apart from banning weapons of mass destruction like assault rifles with high capacity magazines, NZ should also carefully examine who comes in from Australia and other countries wherein White supremacy is firmly in place (though the supremacists might never win a public election). Imagine the reaction if a Muslim terrorist had killed 50 Church goers on a Sunday. The beauty of NZ is that it demonstrated that there is no difference between two such murder attacks. NZ will not go with one or the other – both attacks would eliminate peaceful folks who just turned up for worship and prayers. How would Trump react if it was the latter occurrence – all hell would have broken loose.

In a nutshell, there is no escape from close police monitoring, immigration checks, and gun control – all developed countries are learning that these factors play a very big role as we have seen in the Netherlands, France, the U.K., and Germany. Law enforcement needs to take an aggressive and serious view of individual freedom which transgresses into the larger good of the society. Individualism and religious conflicts cannot be excuses for murdering innocent civilians who play no part in such conflicts, and are after all, normal citizens going after their lives like any of us do.

I wish to salute Prime Minister Ardern for her resolute defiance and sombreness in the face of this attack on her country. Her empathy with a small immigrant community in her nation has captivated the hearts of all positive people around the world.

Hope NZ recovers from this disaster with a lot of healing. My best wishes to Kiwis of all colours,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd March 2019

The Healthcare Challenge


The biggest challenge any society faces today is how to keep its seniors productive and engaged, hoping to utilize their knowledge, expertise and experience while they still can work and contribute. This is especially true of economies such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and several other developed nations where rates of birth have been on the decline for decades.

The key factor in ensuring that the seniors continue to work (at least part time) and contribute to society, is achieving a competitively priced (I would argue low cost) healthcare. The proportion of budget allocation for healthcare is on the increase in developed countries, but it is still lower than the budget allocation for national security/defence. A big share of the healthcare allocation should go towards the older generation, as they have worked hard in building the society to where it is today, and it should be any government’s priority to fund their healthcare costs.

Good healthcare provision need not necessarily be very expensive, as often portrayed in the media. Private healthcare has become purely a for-profit business and is often associated with high cost since it purportedly offers higher quality as compared to public hospitals. Not so, in my opinion. I have seen good quality healthcare of comparable levels, in both private and public hospitals, at least in Singapore. The impression that people have is that private hospitals should be providing high quality due to better resources, doctors and equipment – this is not necessarily true. Most of us operate on referrals from friends. Even general practitioners are puzzled if you tell them you prefer a public hospital, as they know you could avail of private healthcare either due to corporate coverage or your own personal private insurance coverage. Why not spend more money, if you can knowing that it does not come from your pocket?

However, if the “greed” factor can be managed appropriately, there is a distinct possibility that private healthcare providers can provide decent quality at reasonable or fair prices, though higher than public healthcare costs. There are good examples of private healthcare providers who are viewed as reasonable in almost all developed countries.

In my opinion, the issue on the table is two-fold: reasonable healthcare coverage for all citizens (like what Singapore provides) via an insurance scheme tied to provident fund, and the willingness of private providers to fall in line with market demands, rather than stay isolated with an exalted brand image associated with very high costs.

For seniors, the challenge of healthcare is multi-faceted: apart from health ailments often associated with advancing age, they also have to contend with lack of a sense of well-being and potential isolation from society. Folks who have just turned 58 have a long possibility of continued contribution to society in many, many ways. How can they deliver on that promise, and how can a government encourage them to do so in a very proactive manner?

Providing healthcare on demand is the key. Seniors should get priority in accessing healthcare at a lower cost, which would strongly encourage them to continue serving the society which is taking care of their needs. People in Western societies continue to work well past 65, and age discrimination has not stopped them from operating in service industries wherein unemployement is rather low. Similarly, at the high end of the wage spectrum, there is a strong need for mature guidance from senior executives who have left active corporate jobs.

The other big issue with seniors is the emergence of previously unheard of diseases which affect their functionality, such as dementia and Parkinsons’ – these can be avoided or delayed by continued active work engagement which instils a strong sense of purpose. Helping younger generation and mentoring them are strong reasons why older folks would like to continue serving, albeit at lower time commitments.

So, in an overall sense, the healthcare challenge is looming large for seniors in all societies, and they can help themselves by continuing their engagement from where they left off, while trying to ensure that they keep well from a healthcare perspective. Keeping fit is not an easy task for any age group. It assumes big importance for the older generation due to various ailments which could be kept at bay by an appropriate fitness regimen and addressing healthcare issues in a timely manner. Governments should support the seniors aggressively, especially the ones just leaving their jobs for good. Both physical and mental health issues need to be addressed in this effort.

The return on investment from such efforts will add significantly to the GDP growth rate. Smaller countries will benefit more and faster due to efficiency of policy executions.

It is critical to bring the healthcare providers in line with society’s expectations, instead of letting them run riot – healthcare is not a “normal” or “regular” business. This also applies to pharmaceutical companies and other innumerable support providers in the healthcare industry. We have seen egregious examples of super greed by pharma companies in the U.S. which are rather very bad examples of how such companies try to extort unhealthy profits from consumers, insurance companies and hospitals.

In a nutshell, seniors can be productive for economies to grow, and they are asking for better quality healthcare at lower costs. Societies need to support them.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th March 2019

Why the rich shun taxes


Anyone who has followed the World Economic Forum debates would have surely chanced upon the illuminating one in which Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman heavily criticised the rich for not paying their share of taxes.

The traditional view of economics and politics has been that the rich would want to be taxed less, as they believe that they could directly contribute to nation-building in a more productive and efficient manner, instead of letting governments fritter away the increased taxes in an irresponsible and inefficient manner. After all, is it not true that business entrepreneurs are more adept in building functioning businesses and creating more jobs with the increased money that is available to them by way of reduced taxation?

Sounds good and appropriate?

May be not.

Our societies (in almost all countries) are characterised by income inequalities and non-inclusive growth benefitting few rather than the many. Inclusive growth remains a dream for many nations which aspire to equitable income distribution and growth benefits for all. Is it wise to just leave this most important objective of governments and societies to the whims and fancies of the richest people of the world? Of course, there have been good examples of the very rich people like Bill Gates, but there are also many, many bad or poor examples of rich folks who do not invest their less-taxed money on much-needed job creation or philanthropy.

Achieving a reasonable level of income equality is a very essential pre-requisite for national economic development. Such equality will then extend to education and healthcare for the citizens. As we know intuitively, any society will develop in a holistic manner if we address education, healthcare, infrastructure and systemic issues plaguing the society leading to crime and inner-city violence, etc., So, equitable income distribution is an absolute must for a society to develop faster without its attendant ills, and put it firmly on a path to economic and social growth.

But then, the rich do not want to pay more taxes. As the U.S. just demonstrated, the U.S. Congress successfully passed the tax reform bill which essentially reduced the tax rates for the wealthy (Republicans favour less taxes and less role for government in nation-building as core fundamental principles of their Party). When the wealthiest nation in the world is not playing ball to raise taxes on its most wealthy citizens, it means that the rest of the world is going to be disillusioned, thinking probably that they are on the wrong trajectory, based on what some academics state in their opinion pieces. Then the world would lose its battle against income inequality.

I quote here from the World Economic Forum 2019 event transcripts (I could not resist it!): “The ratio between executive pay and that of an average worker has grown from 30:1 in 1978 to 312:1 today. The top income tax rates in 1970 worldwide was 62%; that has been negotiated down to less than 38% in rich countries, and 28% in developing countries. In many countries, high tax rates on the rich have been abolished, while $170 billion every year is taken to tax havens.”

I am sure it is clear to my readers where the developed world is headed: less and less taxes for their wealthy (as their governments probably do not need the increased tax collections that are absolutely possible and needed for reducing their own countries’ income inequalities and providing for their homeless people sleeping on the streets). This is not a good thing even for the developed world.

What about developing countries? Many developing countries are unfortunately characterised by heavy levels of corruption, money laundering, stashing of illegal money, public bribing to win elections illegitimately, and weak systems of judiciary to counter the encroachment by the executive and the self-serving legislatures. This has become a never ending downward spiral of less and less money being devoted to national development and eliminating poverty. Of course, we can argue that pulling poor people above the line of poverty is a more urgent need in these countries than accomplishing income equality or reducing income inequality. But then, the poverty lines are set so low that it would take many generations before the poor folks could reach any semblance of equality in the society, while at the same time not having equal access to education and healthcare.

It is important for governments to realise that they cannot forsake the development of their countries by surrendering to blackmail by their rich people to take the business elsewhere, like what many tech companies did in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. Under pressure from President Trump’s administration, companies like Apple have finally agreed to bring their money back from low tax jurisdictions to the U.S. and invest in job creation in the U.S. [sorry folks, I have to give credit where it is absolutely due, and in this particular case, President Trump did the right thing to exert pressure that was much needed to make tech companies behave – after all, they should show some patriotism, not just driven by economic greed caused by low taxes elsewhere].

It is not at all surprising that the rich do not wish to pay more taxes, and are, in fact, working to persuade their governments to reduce not just their income taxes but even their inheritance taxes. They mostly think they are smarter (and most of them are) than the rest of us. They think that they are capable of strongly influencing their politicians and governments. They think that they can invest the extra money left in their hands in ways wiser than what their own governments can do.

Well, well, now you get the overall picture – where the society is and where the rich at the top are. Don’t get me wrong – it is not illegal to be rich, but it is unconscionable not to be willing to pay fair share of taxes or avoid and evade taxes altogether. What happened to the people in the middle and bottom of the pyramid who helped the rich man’s enterprise to get to where it is today? Without them, can anything of value be produced in any industry or business? Did they get their due share of incomes? Did the rich even bother to find out if these folks got their fair access to education for their children, healthcare for their families, and so on and so forth. Did the governments bother at all? As long as democratically elected governments are subservient to purely economic interests, the situation on the ground is unlikely to change, and income inequalities will continue to persist.

Good to think about during a Sunday………..

Have a great week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th March 2019

Moral Decadence


It is a well known fact that most of the rich countries have committed huge sins and transgressed the moral boundaries of ethical living on this planet. Numerous examples of trampling on the rights of other countries and people can be cited in evidence.

Most European countries, the chief among these being the U.K. and France apart from Denmark and Germany have colonized distant nations and subjugated the people of those countries in horrible manner through several centuries. I am not leaving Japan off the hook – the Japanese committed innumerable sins across Asia which included killings and raping innocent folks. The list of sins committed by developed countries is very long, and that would include even the U.S. which has been responsible for countless deaths and disappearances caused by their invasions and regime change policy.

The focus of this blog post is not on these countries or their past sins. It is on the continuing sad story of the Blacks in the U.S. who are being tortured both by law enforcement and the common people due to the colour of their skin, which implies only one thing – deeply ingrained racism, and the very strong feeling that the Blacks are no better than slaves. This is abominable, and the racist feeling seems to be widespread across the U.S., going by almost weekly reporting of incidents whose subjects are Blacks going about their lives in the most innocuous manner possible. If a White person does the same simple thing – such as clearing trash in his own backyard, or waiting to swim in his own condominium’s swimming pool, or just taking a walk along a tree-lines boulevard, etc., no one would even bother to look. But if a Black person were to do any of these daily chores of life, it is absolutely reasonable for a police officer to stop the person and ask for his ID or engage in aggressive questioning. The evidence is mounting every day about such seemingly harmless occurrences, which are shot using phone cameras of bystandes and instantly posted on social media.

Were such things happening in the past?

Absolutely.

The difference now is the instantaneous publicity that is available via social media. And that makes such happenings come through as extremely ugly and damaging to the reputation of law enforcement.

What does it show when such things continue to happen? What does it say about the society in which Americans live? What does it say about the government which runs the country? What does it say about the police?

Only one thing – a precipitous decline of moral values, a huge drop in the perspective of Whites about Black people in general, lack of religiosity in the outlook, lack of influence of the Church or the Synagogue as the case may be, and so on. The moral decadence is stunning. I am not talking here about lack of morals such as indulging in mindless violence or prostitution. What I am talking about is the value of any human being on this planet which cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and cannot be considered as higher or lower than any other human being. White cannot have a value higher than that of the Black, and that assertion applies to Brown and Yellow as well. All colours need to be equal at all times.

Americans and the U.S. government cannot dismiss these law enforcement problems as unusual or rare occurrences – these are surely neither unusual nor rare in today’s America.

It is easy for the Whites and the Browns and the Yellows to attribute the cause of inner city violence to the Blacks. Violence in the U.S. exists all across the colour spectrum and across all sections of the society. One cannot affirm Blacks only to be the chief cause of violence.

Given the poor state of ensuring moral equivalence of human beings in the U.S., the country can hardly claim to be the beacon of freedom and justice for the free world. The “free” world does not exist for the Blacks in the U.S. – they are getting shot at by the police for doing their daily chores. Many Black lives have been taken away over the past year due to arbitrary and excessive use of force and total lack of reasoned judgement on the part of the police. You might have seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Across the U.S., well-meaning Whites are very concerned about such atrocious human rights violations, when the U.S. government is screaming hoarse on such violations elsewhere in other countries.

But then, other countries do not care anymore.

Why?

They can clearly see for themselves that the U.S. is one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations against its own citizens.

So, why bother to change bad behaviour?

No need, let us continue violating the rights of our poor vulnerable citizens – even the mightiest nation in the world does it – isn’t it?

Such is the strong influence of the most powerful nation on earth which purports to be the most honourable country with respect for freedom and justice and democracy, with a Constitution which enshrines individual rights of citizens.

Would you want to chase your dreams in a country with moral decadence as the core principle in differentiating its own citizens? Think carefully. The Blacks have to get Dr Martin Luther King’s dream back in their heads and fight for their freedom which they are increasingly in danger of losing.

Participate in the CNN #MyFreedomDay on the 14th March against modern day slavery.

Cheera folks, have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th March 2019

The elusive Nobel Peace Prize


Former U.S. President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, as we all know – he probably deserved it, though I am not able to pinpoint one single accomplishment which would have motivated the Awards Committee to select him. Though President Obama is not my favourite, he obviously deserved the award for his peace-making efforts around the world and for his push towards nuclear non-proliferation.

It is very obvious that the current U.S. President Donald Trump never liked that Nobel Prize going to Obama, and is probably of the strong view that if there is any U.S. President who deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, it can only be him. He thinks he has eliminated the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat by schmoozing with Chairman Kim Jong Un, building a personal rapport with him, walking around the summit hotel venues, wasting U.S. taxpayer money, and giving rambling press conferences at the end of his rather useless summits. He did one with Chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June 2018 with huge fanfare, and he has just “un”finished another one in Hanoi, Vietnam earlier this week.

And, he expects the Nobel Awards Committee to take note of his peace overtures towards North Korea, and probably award him the 2019 Noble Peace Prize for his huge, earth-shattering peace accomplishment. Does anyone, just anyone (excluding his Republican Party supporters) believe him? Why would the august committee of Nobel Prize foundation even recognize him?

    President Trump has the distinction of singularly destroying the credibility of the U.S. Presidency and the U.S. Congress and other government institutions
    He is the first President ever who has abused and misused Twitter to communicate not only his views on sensitive foreign policy matters, but also use it to attack his political opponents and detractors
    He is the first President to single out sitting Judges and attack them for judicial decisions which went against him
    He continues to rubbish the FBI, the CIA, the Dept of Justice, and the Office of the Special Counsel
    He actively schmoozes with dictators such as Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Putin, President Duterte, Crown Prince MBS, and so on and so forth – his explanations and justifications of why he does what he does are just laughable and his actions will eventually destroy the global standing and credibility of the U.S.
    He thinks he is larger than life, due primarily to his ability to “make” deals – he has tried to make deals only with dictators and murderous regimes, and even there, he has failed miserably. What happened to his “The Art of the Deal” credentials?
    He is totally unable and unwilling to make deals with democratically elected leaders, who are subject to the same democratic constraints that he is subjected to, which he totally ignores for his own personal interests

It is absolutely clear to one and all, that President Trump is a show-man from the world of real estate and casinos. He is gambling and acting only on his instinct – and this is a real low for U.S. diplomacy. When history is written, I am sure that his gullible approach to global diplomacy, his mistreatment of the closest allies, his mafia style “shell out the bucks or else” approach, his denigration of global institutions and also the U.S. democratic framework – all this and more will be covered in depth, as such a disastrous experiment cannot be repeated.

While there are very bad examples of how past U.S. Presidents indulged in regime changes around the world (the South American misadventures of CIA led to thousands of killings and disappearances) against the influx of Communism and Socialistic ideology, President Trump has taken a different approach towards destruction of democracy – he is doing irreparable damage not only around the world but more so within the U.S. itself. He has been responsible for re-emergence of racism which is despicable. People act on Presidential cues, and we see the results as unimaginable acts of racism against the Blacks across the U.S.

Well, if the Nobel Prize Committee chooses President Trump for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize because he achieved all of the above, while stopping the nuclear weapon testing by North Korea, then let us celebrate the demise of prudence and democracy around the world. Let us join the beautiful Dictators’ Club and help rationalize anti-democratic forces. When Michael Cohen said in his Congressional Testimony earlier this week that President Trump won’t go away quietly if he loses the next Presidential Elections, did I get goose bumps? You tell me.

Have a great weekend, folks,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd March 2019

Far removed from Reality


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and,

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

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

Cheers, have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th January 2018

The Make-Believe Yet Real


I have been wanting to write on this topic for quite a while.

I struggled with the title a bit, as I thought it should reflect what I really feel about the specific matter about which I am going to write in this post. How do I communicate about something in a succinct yet penetrating manner? I realized that I have to go a long way in mastering the English language! It has been tough though I might sound simplistic!!

This post is about the City-State of Singapore.

It is sometimes too hard to believe that this bustling city of 5.6M people produces a GDP of USD 330B, translating to USD 57K GDP per capita, placing it as the third richest country in the world. It is managed like a global corporation with efficient allocation of capital and resources, with long-term planning firmly in place, assuring its citizens and residents of long-term economic and political stability. It is hard to grow at more than 3% GDP growth rate for such a highly developed country with physical limitations on geographical size and population (which is not growing).

My point in writing this post is to compare how Singapore manages peace and prosperity in a cogent and planned manner, as compared to cities like Paris or New York or London. I cannot compare it with large countries as Singapore is just a city. When I look at the extensive TV coverage on the yellow-vest protest in Paris, or the multiple people protests in New York that went on last week, it is apparent that the respective governments are not doing a fine job of addressing the issues or grievances of the people who are protesting. Probably they couldn’t care less. There is law and order problem in almost every major city around the world – as we know, there are downtowns and also the seedier parts of town with criminal gangs operating in many cities. There is violence perpetrated every day – you just need to look at the gun-related crimes in the U.S. or even in just one major city in the U.S. to understand how far violence has embedded itself into the psyche of the American society.

I am not trying to say that people cannot protest to convey their views. This is possible in Singapore in a government regulated place which is designated for that purpose. Disrupting the city’s business and economy should not be the way. In cities in India, people protests are often infested with political parties’ radical elements who have their own agenda and also criminals who get a free ride to perpetrate violence in the guise of being part of such “people protests”. There is no way to control such situations. The images of public transport buses burning, public property damaged, private cars destroyed, civil services disrupted, and so on and so forth, have poured in even from such a civilized and cultured country such as France. The massive outpouring of people against the government is a big indication of disconnect between those who govern and those who are governed.

Violent protests causing damage and death have no place in civil society. The best way to bring down an elected government is to precipitate a massive defeat in the next elections – not to dethrone it via the undemocratic method of public violence. Such a thing has happened in many countries – such as Ukraine in 2014 when a popularly elected government was overthrown with the support of Western governments and people protests. [Note: I am not a supporter of Russia – I am mentioning this fact just as an example].

Of course, there are governments which suppress people protests with a heavy hand, causing further damage. They incarcerate people who did nothing but participate in protests for a long time without due process. There are many examples of such happenings around the world.

Governments which do not listen to their electorate will eventually face defeat in the subsequent elections. So, people have to be patient to exercise their franchise in the next elections. While peaceful protests are fine, how will any government ensure peace when they are dealing with some 10,000 or more people at one go in one place in a city? Law enforcement is likely to make errors in judgement.

Coming back to Singapore, the peace and prosperity remain the key tenets of the government and of the people. There is absolute sync between the government and its citizens on certain fundamental principles and frameworks. Citizens may not always agree with the government, and there are plenty of examples of such situations. I would mention the issues of overcrowding of subway system and immigration – there are many more. The government, however, heard the issues, analyzed the causes and addressed the same. It is absolutely critical that countries have “listening” governments.

The government – citizen compact has to be heavily communicated and understood. I agree that bigger countries such as the U.S., China, India and the U.K. have larger issues and more people problems to be tackled. Singapore may not have those kinds of problems and issues. The key difference is the measured approach, cautious thinking, consultations with key affected parties, and communication. As we can witness the current ongoing stalemate in the U.S. government shutdown, hard positions between key branches of government are untenable and unsustainable, because the affected people will eventually hit back. Maturity is needed, and if the elected President and House Speaker cannot even sit down and sort out the issues bedeviling the country, then the hope for a positive resolution drops considerably in the minds of the citizens. In the meanwhile, running of the government suffers, and 800,000 government servants are going without paycheck. Not at all acceptable in a civil society and in a democracy.

I can also cite the example of the U.K. where a “no-deal” Brexit is staring at peoples’ faces with its attendant uncertainty and impending economic chaos. If it were Singapore’s problem, it would have been tackled differently, in a more mature way. There is not much rationale in countering that Singapore would not have such an issue as Brexit. If an “Asian Union” were formed in the same manner as the European Union, then Singapore would be a part of it, and such a situation as Brexit is entirely feasible. A referendum is not a solution, in my opinion. Citizens are good in electing popular governments, but collective policy making cannot be sub-contracted to the whims and fancies of sections of society who could sway the vote which could affect the entire country and its people. This is a debatable argument, and I am not strong in propounding this – I have to work on strengthening the logic and rationale of such an argument. An elected government has been given the task of running the country in the best possible manner, and it has to execute its job keeping the best interests of its citizens, yet be ready to compromise where needed. There is nothing like “my way, or highway”. If that were the case, Malaysia and Singapore would not have enjoyed peaceful co-existence over the past five decades.

Well, I can keep going on. In a nutshell, the large countries of the world need enlightened governments with a broad perspective on public issues and long-term thinking. I know it is easier said than done, as large countries have fractious and finicky electorates and fragmented political parties. But then, we want the best amongst ourselves to govern us, right? It means that successful people in their own fields of endeavour have to be persuaded to participate in the political process and be part of the government execution even if they do not win elections.

Singapore continues to be one of the best managed countries in the world, even without the economic statistics to support it. If that is not the case, how do we explain the fact that foreigners who come here do not really wish to leave a city which has almost zero crime, decent economic opportunities based on merit, good public transport, almost all government services available on a digital mode to its citizens, a good healthcare system (although expensive), etc., though I have to state that the real estate is extremely expensive. It is a long track record which is hard to beat amongst the developed countries of the world.

Yes, it appears to be “make-believe” when you live here, yet it is absolutely real.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th January 2019

The India Puzzle


April 2019 is fast approaching……..

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

So, what is the conclusion?

Where is India headed in its next phase of growth?

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

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

What is my own suggestion?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

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

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

All the Best to Democracy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th January 2018

How to deal with an Idiot


Nowadays, it has become a routine yet demanding task.

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

Idiots come in a variety of forms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, and have a great Pre-Xmas Weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd December 2018

 

Find Your Original Value Systems


This post is not about “individual” values and value systems that we all originally grew up with, and sometimes abandon on the way of life for whatever reason(s).

This post is more about that moral beacon of the “free” world, the U.S. and how it has been diluting its own original values and value systems over the years for convenience and monetary/business reasons. There are always plenty of reasons why a country would abandon its values, the most critical one being political and / or business expediency. Countries sacrifice their values to make money, or for national security purposes. There are thousands of reasons why such a sacrifice is always portrayed as warranted, especially to the domestic audience.

There are hundreds of instances when the U.S. preached from a high moral ground to other nations, but secretly or sometime openly, pursued national goals which were totally contrary to its founding values. I am not documenting in this single post all the very bad things that the U.S. did in South America, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. There must be plenty of academic research carried out on this topic by its own universities who do not shy away from such research even if it is damaging to the country where they are based, and that is sheer goodness.

In the current state of global affairs, time has come for the U.S. to reassess its seven decades old strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and this is the main thrust of this post. I am not writing this post as the consequence of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder and dismemberment at a Saudi diplomatic facility, which is totally and utterly despicable. Such pre-meditated actions only demonstrate that most of the Middle East region is yet to get out of their revengeful tribal mindset and integrate with the rest of the world. There is nothing special or unique about Saudi Arabia or for that matter, the Middle East as a region. Every region of the world is the same with similar people eking out a living. The governments make the difference.

My view is that Saudi Arabia is not going to change its ways, and the U.S. is going to be forever subservient to Saudi interests, simply because of two things: access to unlimited oil wealth and as a strong counterweight to Iran. For whatever reason, the U.S. continues to hate Iran, and is not going to reconcile with Iran. And, given that Iran is also a very proud nation dating back thousands of years of civilization, it is apparent that scores will be settled one day or the other between the two countries. In such eventuality, Saudi Arabia will be a key ally for the U.S. to count upon, and will take the brunt of any potential war with people and money.

But, in the process, both countries have seriously departed from their respective founding values. Apart from the known case of Khashoggi’s murder, the brutal war on Yemen which has unnecessarily killed thousands of innocent men, women and children, is a direct result of the planned collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Where is the morality? Where is the human conscience? And, where is that useless organization that we are all funding called the United Nations?

The U.S. cannot be complicit in the execution of what can easily be determined as war crimes. It should stay well above such actions, and demonstrate its moral values in any part of the world. No point in arguing against Myanmar government for murdering the Rohingya Muslims on the one hand, but assisting Saudi Arabia to bomb civilian areas of Yemen on the other hand. What kind of value system is this and why are the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the U.S. citizens, not protesting against such egregious violations of human rights?

What applies at home should apply anywhere else as well. The U.S. needs to learn that every human life that it helps to kill in the name of even a “righteous” war (which it is not in the case of Yemen) would cause irreparable and severe damage to its own value systems; and as many believe, would come back to haunt it, like what happened with Vietnam.

We cannot and should not forget our roots – where we came from, what value we were born with, what values we grew up with, what kind of moral and social systems that we have imbibed, etc., Likewise, nations cannot and should not forget their own value systems, in the name of national security or strategic alliances, etc., If those issues are causing concern, there must be ways to tackle the same with the same firm value systems, and demand that every constituent or participant adhere to some basic common values as well. If the U.S. cannot or will not demand such compliance from its strategic partners, then it has no right to demand that other nations should adhere to its values either. There will be no moral high ground from which it can preach its values while destroying the same underneath the ground for its own benefit.

In a nutshell, my concern is that values are fast disappearing from international discourse and diplomacy. Every country is becoming short sighted. Every country stands ready to dilute its values. Every country is willing to sacrifice values in the altar of expediency. And, no country can be pointed out or blamed, since the high priest itself is engaging in similar activities.

Is this wrong? Absolutely.

Is this morally correct? Absolutely not.

Can such things be done in the name of national security? Surely not. There are other ways.

So friends, judge for yourself. Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 December 2018