Tagged: History

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

The Korean Crisis


North Korea has long been a problem child of the world.

Now, it has also become very dangerous consequent to its acquisition of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Its vociferous claims that it will destroy the U.S., Japan and South Korea, have not gone unnoticed, and are increasingly being taken seriously while in the past such claims have been dismissed all too easily.

Any war on the Korean Peninsula is sure to kill thousands, if not millions of people, and devastate Asian economies. South Korea is a major global manufacturer, critical to the world’s supply chain in several key industries. Japan is not far from the Korean Peninsula, and there is bound to be huge impact on the Japanese economy as a result of any Korean conflict. And what about China which shares a border with Korea? Any war would have huge repercussions on China as a whole.

Is a war inevitable? It appears so if one reads/sees the world media. The war “noise” is increasing on a daily basis, both from the U.S. and North Korea. It is a fact that all Asian countries are dreading the prospect of an imminent war. It does not appear that President Donald Trump really cares about the impact of a Korean war on Asian countries and the global economy as such. Being unpredictable has been a success symbol for him, and he is more than a match in this aspect as compared to Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Looks like in Trump, Kim Jong-un has found a tough, unpredictable, and surprising foe.

Notwithstanding all of the above, war is never inevitable. War, of course, should be avoided at all costs. War is really not an option in today’s modern, peaceful world. Sounds fancy, isn’t it?

It does, but I still believe that a genuine attempt has to be made, without any pre-conditions attached, to make peace with North Korea. This can only be made if all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council jointly agree on a peace pursuit, and appoint an emissary to negotiate peace terms with North Korea. In return for a permanent suspension of all nuclear and ballistic missile testing, North Korea should receive monitored humanitarian assistance, equal treatment as a full member of the United Nations, trade benefits, removal of all sanctions, and recognition as a state on an equal footing with South Korea in all matters. All war games on either side will be suspended permanently. The Korean Armistice will be converted into a full peace treaty between North and South Koreas.

Looks impossible, right? But I believe not enough has been done on good faith from both sides for a very long time. It is critical to gain trust, and that is not possible when there are ballistic missile tests on one side, and war games on the other side of the 38th Parallel which divides the two Koreas. Sabre-rattling is not a good idea in a scenario of heightened tensions.

While the above positive situation could come about eventually, it is unlikely in the current context of who blinks first. I am afraid that President Trump might pull the trigger if the North explodes a nuclear device, and attack the test location with Tomahawk missiles like what he did with Syria recently. If that happens, then all bets are off. War will break out as Kim Jong-un will not accept the insult and the attack on his country, and will order his forces to attack the South with all its might. An all-out war on the Korean Peninsula will destroy most Asian economies and kill thousands of civilians, and could bring Japan and China into the war.

Such a situation is definitely not good for Asia and not good for the world.

Sober counsel needs to urgently prevail on both sides, and South Korea needs to aggressively push the U.S. not to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. Japan needs to be more sober as well, not wanting to create an unnecessary war in its proximity. And, the U.S. needs to listen to its close allies and not make decisions on its own.

War mongering should stop urgently. Asia is now clearly on the brink of war, just as Middle East has always been.

Think! and, Think Again!! Peoples’ lives matter.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th April 2017

 

The Travails of Europe


There is a lot of news coverage on the visit of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to the White House. Highly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it failed to deliver the goods for both sides. You can read the media, but my assessment is that Merkel did not do well to convince Trump that it is better to collaborate on world trade, rather than fight. She lost on the refugees’ matter, the need for the European Union as a policy integrator for all of Europe, the critical importance of NATO, et al. But that was to be expected when she was dealing with an obstructionist, anti-global, anti-immigration, anti-other developed countries, kind of President which is what Trump is, after all.

However, Merkel does realize the very important and critical trans-atlantic alliance that the EU and NATO have with the U.S. – not just a trade or economic partnership, but also a strong military alliance. With the impending exit of Britain from the EU, Germany becomes the only large and strong country of Europe pitted against the existing and future challenges facing Europe, and if there is one strong person that can steer Germany at this juncture of critical importance, it can be none other than Merkel. For sure, she is going to have troubles with not just Trump, but with the entire U.S. Government administration. There are people in the administration who would like to challenge Germany and the EU on trade and military matters pertaining to the funding of NATO for instance. There are folks in the administration who are not at all happy with the trade surplus that Germany is running with the U.S. which is close to USD 50B. America wants to export more to Germany and wants to tax the German cars which are getting imported into the U.S. from Mexico for example.

It is going to be very challenging to find some common ground.

In the meanwhile, Merkel has to deal with a host of other big issues in Europe, such as Brexit, Russia, Turkey, Syrian immigration challenges, etc., etc., She probably has the hardest job in all of Europe atleast amongst the Presidents/Prime Ministers of the various European countries. She realizes the strategic role that the new world order has imposed on Germany, quite the contrary from where Germany rose in the first half of the twentieth century, which ended in disaster and rubble. For Germany to have built one of the most robust democracies and economies in the world over the past five decades or so, is a reflection of the strength of the German people and their strong affection towards democratic institutions and free market principles. Merkel is not going to give up the hard won democracy which has formed the bedrock of Germany. Given her background as a “refugee” from East Germany, she realizes the very important responsibility for Germany to extend its arms with open and welcoming attitude towards Syrians fleeing their country.

I do not, for one, believe, she will give up these very strong principles, to improve her relationship with the U.S. For her, there are no contradictions here – both are important, but the first principles are critically more important than any one country. Europe is going to have to face its problems on its own, with all the messy politcs in various nations which are going for elections, but then the EU has survived the vagaries of politics and global challenges over the past so many decades. And, Merkel can only strengthen the EU to even further heights before she leaves her Chancellorship.

Let us wish Europe and the EU all the best under the stable, steady and strong leadership of Angela Merkel.

Cheers.

Vijay Srinivasan

18th March 2017

The stark failure of the U.N. in Aleppo


Who is to be blamed for the total failure to safeguard civilian lives in Aleppo?

Syrian Government, Russia, the U.S., or the U.N.?

Systematic murder of thousands of civilians by indiscriminate bombing has continued non-stop for the past several weeks, and apparently the Syrian Government Armed Forces seem to be gaining solid ground against the rebels and the ISIS. This is after almost six long years of conflict.

Aleppo is a serious example of an exodus in operation – thousands of ordinary citizens are fleeing the city in the face of continuous bombardment of all targets – none spared. Is this the right way of waging a war? Is the annihilation of a country’s own citizens the right way to win a war against government rebels?

Serious questions with no answers.

Again, the futility of the U.N. as an institution of peace has been brought into serious question – the U.N. has not only become completely powerless, it has demonstrated its total uselessness. Most of the world’s countries fund the U.N. operations and their extravagant way of conducting business around the world. But when it comes to stopping wars, they come through as an impotent organization. The U.N. or event the UNSC cannot stand up to the big powers of the world.

What is happening in Aleppo now could potentially amount to the biggest civilian massacre the world has ever seen after the Second World War. War crimes are being committed in Aleppo, and the U.N. looks on impotently with just statements. The U.S. has lost its position in the Syrian conflict to Russia which has taken over the situation completely and is controlling everything which is happening now. One has to take note of the fact that governments and militaries are generally heartless when they are seeing and smelling victory. In this case, the Syrian forces are seeing victory against the rebel forces after a very long time and they are not going to give up their chance of winning the final battle against the rebels.

The world does not believe that these rebels are the same as the ISIS forces. But then, who cares? The U.N. has no power and no strategy to intervene and stop the bloodshed. The Russians are playing games with the Americans while consolidating their gains in Syria. This has long term implications for America’s Middle East strategy. The pity is that most of the other allies of America have not significantly contributed towards the defeat of ISIS forces in Syria, and America has been fighting its own war.

If only America and Russia have collaborated from the beginning, things could have been vastly different. The critical focus area should have been to avoid bloodshed, but that was not to be. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have already died in the Syrian conflict, and now another 250,000 civilians in Aleppo are in mortal danger.

What is the world doing? What can it do?

We all carry on our own business every day in the most normal manner possible. Have we registered our protest with the U.N. through our countries or via the social media?

What are we doing to stop the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in a mass war crime? Are we even spending 5 minutes of our time everyday to think about these folks?

We can do far better as educated, well to do people who matter somehow, somewhere in this small world of ours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th December 2016

 

Man as the Maker


I guess the title sounds kind of deterministic or a sort of prognosis for things to come.

I thought a lot writing about this subject due to its sensitivity and the abject lack of sensitivity on the part of religious opponents who might see this as an affront to their religious choices and their theories that there can be no “maker” other than god. Religions are a part of the fabric of human life on this earth, and they have had an outsized influence on the development and behaviour of human species. However, most religious dogmas were the creation of man, and their continued sustenance demonstrates their hold on humanity, despite evidence that such dogmas resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the past few centuries and especially in the 20th century. Those religious dogmas have no scientific basis.

This is not a blog post which will argue the benefits or otherwise of following a religious faith or the practicing of non-religious faiths such as agnosticism or atheism. This post is more about the most crucial development in science today which allows man to play god, the creator of human beings of any characteristic, outside of the normal process of conception and delivery. If Man can play the role of the Creator, then can it be said that “Creationism” as a philosophy of the arrival of human species on earth could have been right in some way? If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is correct, how can Man play god and create a new human or animal species?

I am sure the answer is based on Science. But I got this question into my head and could not get it out of my head for a while. Scientific Research has advanced to such a stage that today, man can create any kind of species (almost, not yet fully!) in a test tube in the labaratory environment. Science is not going to stop its inevitable march towards discovering new things all the time, and Scientists are pursuing the causes of things in this world based on evidence and research. Science is not going to go away and proclaim that all things in this world are a result of some godly intervention to make them happen, which is the Creationism Theory. Or, justify in some research-oriented manner, that god is an “intelligent designer” of all things on this planet, and these things are complex and could not have come into existence without a proper cause.

Man is on a non-stop quest on scientific matters. At the same time, religious conservatives are on a non-stop quest on establishing Creationism as the essential cause of all things we see around us. Both aspects are amazing, but it is clear which one is on the right direction.

If Man can create a human being from a test-tube, and shape its genes and chromosomes, and that can result in a particular species which has certain pre-identified characteristics, what does it mean? Are we all at an inflection point? Are we going to witness the usurping of all things godly by Man who seems to be assuming great powers to make things as he deems fit? Does this sound like the “Maker”?

Well, it is abundantly clear that man’s quest for scientific discoveries is going to lead him to more surprises and more influences than he can manage. He will ultimately gain full and complete access to the technique of making a man. Then, can he be considered as a “He”, meaning god with a capital “G”? Would Man then have arrived at a point when he can demonstrate that capability to all and sundry? Would he be excommunicated by the religious gurus we will have by then? Will people believe in this Man? What will happen?

Nobody knows.

It is only funny that Man has come full circle around. He originally offered the Theory of Evolution to justify how man evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees. Now he discovered Creationism of his own type, based on scientific methodologies. How will the original religious Creationists take this kind of intervention by Man?

Not too kindly, I guess. This is their turf!!!

Religions still dominate our culture. And it is surprising that even in the U.S. wherein scientific discoveries are at the maximum level (including the creation of new species), there are enough number of ultra-religious folks who simply do not believe in any of this science, and push their own ideas on how human species came about – from the one and only god. The British seem to be more sobre. Even Archbishops in the U.K. seem to believe in the Theory of Evolution while not disputing the influence of god.

OK, now it is time to meet Man the Maker of new destinies. This would mean that we indulge in scientific studies ourselves, and discover for ourselves the possibilities at almost the outer realm of science. It is critical not to make judgement calls, and analyze what Man is discovering without actually jumping into it. Take time to analyze and determine for yourself. Check the evidence. Talk to others. Don’t indoctrinate anyone. Let everyone find our for himself or herself.

It is an interesting thought process to follow, and I am not yet done with this line of thinking. There is more to come along these lines. In the meantime, think for yourself, and don’t get indoctrinated by dogmas.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016

 

An Equal Society


There is no society in this world which treats all its constituent members in an equal way. There is always a system – implicit or explicit – which differentiates people who exist every day in a particular society. If there is a violation of the “unequality order” of the society, it is almost immediately noticed, commented upon, published about, and in some cases the society responds in an unequal way to restore the same level of equality (or unequality).

In advanced and well developed societies, the distinction is based on haves and have-nots, and in some cases on the colour of the skin, or race. This cannot be disputed, evidence stares at us at every place or developed country we go to. While it is not widely accepted, the society continues on its journey as the primary focus is to eventually attain equality by continual economic development, as the primary driver is one of wealth creation. There is no institutionalized system of stratifying people into specific buckets as to the nature or kind of work that they have to do based on what such people have been doing in the past. Examples would be slaves in the U.S. or Hispanic workers who have gone on to generate material prosperity with education and jobs in an unequal White-dominated society. The same applies to immigrants with skills who have gone on to create wealth in the American society which affords almost equal treatment to meritorious folks with ideas wherever they may be from.

The above description does not fit many other developed countries like France or Germany where there are language barriers and cultural inhibitors which would not allow immigrants to get embedded within a reasonable length of time, into the respective societies. Such absorption into society is a pre-requisite to achieve equality eventually.

From the above arguments, it is clear that equality in societies can be achieved by dint of hard work, education, ideas, and determination, combined with a strong inclination to associate oneself with the ethos of the respective societies. Such an approach has largely worked in developed countries.

Now, let us look at India (my favourite topic of course has always been India). Even within its own society (not counting the foreigners), there exists a system of caste-based stratification which has strangled the development of India for the past several centuries. The Indian society does not, unfortunately, accord equal treatment to its own constituent members, and almost always the kind of treatment is based on religion, caste, race, or gender. This has continued in an uninterrupted manner through India’s modernization during the Nineties and beyond.

I believe that contrary to what general folks think, development of society is largely predicated on equal treatment of its members in a caste-blind, colour-blind, race-blind and gender-blind manner. Unless such a treatment is achieved, India will not be able to reach its full potential, given that roughly half of India’s population (more than 600M people) are today classified in the lower caste categories. Successive governments have failed to develop this enormous human potential. The only thing which changed the situation a bit was the IT revolution in India, which depended on people of all types as long as they met some skills criteria. Only in IT companies you will be able to meet the entire gamut of young and energetic Indians who are drawn from all castes of India. Employees are always equal and performance measurement is based on pure merit. This is not the case in the Indian society outside of these IT companies.

The reason why a Japan or a Germany was able to achieve outstanding success in industrialization post the world wars as many of us understand is the homogeneity of their population which spoke the same language and interacted in the same manner to build a power house. All citizens were equal in the eyes of the society and the government. While homogeneity is no longer possible (as there is no single language in India), the learning from such examples should have impressed upon the government of India on the urgent need to “equalize” its citizenry. Caste systems should have been officially abolished which would have benefited the country a lot. The sustenance of caste-based society even to this day shows that India has been unable to get past its past and create an “equal” nation.

Think about it for a moment. How much potential India has lost because of its insistence on recognition of past practices and customs? its inability to push its people up economically with necessary compulsory primary and secondary education – which remains elusive to most of its people even after nearly seven decades of independence from British rule……..and so on and so forth.

While we cannot blame only the upper castes for all the ills of the Indian society, it is a fact that the lower and the lowest castes are still mostly doing the things what their parents were doing – there are of course, many exceptions. But a concerted effort to pull the lower castes up would require the determination and complete cooperation from all the upper castes. The lowest castes of India are akin to the slaves of the 17th, 18th and 19th century America, and affirmative action is continually required to bring them into the mainstream society (I believe that once they attain economic prosperity, they should be considered as “equalized” and receive the same treatment – no preferential treatment). At the same time, the loss of confidence of the upper castes on the governmental treatment should not be allowed to be translated into country exits for a better life elsewhere in a developed country. Meritorious treatment is required to run and maintain the society in an equitable manner and there is no set formula which will work out of the box.

Well, it has been some long writing but I think it is a critical topic for all societies and especially for the Indian society which is on the cusp of breakthrough development as the only large-sized economy which can consistently deliver over 7 to 8% annual GDP growth for the next 25 years and it is very important that all members of its society take part and benefit from this growth irrespective of their caste, creed, race or colour.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th October 2016

 

The anachronism of royalty


I am forever surprised with loyalty demonstrated by British citizens (not all of them of course), Canadian Citizens (a far less proportion) and Australian Citizens (a far far less proportion) towards the British Queen. There are many other nations under the British Commonwealth who also revere the British royalty. The same situation is prevalent in Japan towards the Japanese Emperor, and in several other nations which have maintained royalty in conjunction with democracy.

India has had a long tradition of Kings and Princes (rarely Queens, however). The “subjects” – meaning the citizens – were loyal to their respective Kings and the King’s word was considered sacred. The King (or Kings as India had numerous states) was considered the next best thing to God’s presence on earth. People who violated the mandate of the King were punished. Of course, that was the system of governance in the past in most countries around the world. The society, the culture, the arts were all built around the King’s Court.

However, I have not been exposed at all to the royalty of any country, and do not have much knowledge except for information that has to be crunched before passing History exam in the school. I have forgotten most of it, like most others, because History was never considered a “serious” subject, and was one essential component to passing from one grade to the next. That’s all was to it. I missed the political learning that could have been derived from History lessons and happenings of the past, which laid the foundation for political science.

Recently, I became interested in the Netflix serial “The Tudors”, and read up about the Tudor dynasty. It was very fascinating to see the machinations of King Henry VIII in the 16th Century England. I saw that he was charming (as portrayed in the serial and Wikipedia !!!), calculating, vindictive, lustful, and politically minded. There were numerous incidents in the serial which demonstrate his depth of knowledge on the political happenings in England, his acute sense of his limitations, and his ability to reward and punish folks who were involved in his Court.

While history can surely deliver serious learning to political scientists, its place in modern thinking is to be re-examined. Royalty is an anachronism in today’s world of social media. Respect for elders and royalty should be maintained as such, similar to what one would do to elders in one’s own family. There is no doubt that royalty should be treated on par with government in a country which has subscribed to both. However, the thought comes up often in discussions with British people – that if royalty is to be funded by the common man’s tax monies.

Taxation has always been a major issue with royalty. Kings imposed new taxes to fund their palaces and to fund wars. The common man complained, often quietly, as the alternative to paying taxes was going to prison. The situation with modern governments is not much different however. We all have to pay taxes to satisfy the demands of the government of the day in our respective countries, and we do not entirely determine how the monies are used as our elected representatives determine that.

In the case of Kings, it was different. They can choose whatever area they wish to spend the money on. They carried that sacred line to God which empowered them as “men above mortals”, as King Henry says on several key occasions in the Tudors serial. He was absolutely clear that the royal bloodline was even above the mandate of the Pope of Rome. He fought with the Pope and declared himself to be the Head of the Church of England, and decimated abbeys and monasteries, and seized their wealth.

Can you imagine such happenings in today’s world?

Well, the real principle today is that all men are equal. There is no one above another man. There is no man who is closer to God than any other man. There is mortal equality, and of course, God sees all of us on an equal footing. The middlemen who profess closeness to God have a “profession” of faith, which may not be possible for us to adhere to. We should focus on what we do best in our daily lives, and leave the rest to a force greater than nature itself.

If Kings have provided the image of God on earth in yesteryears, so be it. That is not the case today.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th July 2016

Singapore