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

 

 

The Inherent Corruptibility of the Great Human Mind


It took me quite a while to think and frame the title of this blog post, though I know well what I am going to write about. I added the word “great” after more thought, as I concluded that notwithstanding the negative aspects of the mind, it is still the greatest invention of man (till Artificial Intelligence unseats it from the throne).

The idea for this post came from the introduction chapter of the book “We are the Change we seek – The Speeches of Barack Obama” edited by E.J. Dionne Jr., and Joy-Ann Reid. My wife passed this book to me for weekend reading, asking me not to waste time and instead read something substantive and meaningful (Disclosure: She likes Barack and Michelle, but I am ambivalent on Obama and fond of Michelle). There must be some pointed intention in her to make me read the works of this famous orator of a president.

I did read the introduction fully, and then meandered around the book, read Barack Obama’s farewell speech at Chicago, and so on. But one thing in the introduction chapter held on to me like a leach – it was the quote from a speech delivered by FDR (Franklin Roosevelt) at Thomas Jefferson’s home at the historic Monticello venue on July 4, 1936.

To quote FDR, “……….our nation’s founders had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude. They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures”. Unquote – the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as FDR puts it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty, and political and religious intolerance”.

I rarely quote from books or articles or newspapers. Most of what I write germinates from a single idea, a single inspiration. I then think about the idea and bring together the thoughts from a racing mind, in order to make a meaningful blog post.

However, in this case, I felt that I am rather highly influenced by the idea of FDR, and so wanted to give full credit to him, before I leverage his idea for my add-ons!

To dissect FDR’s idea, you need courage, yes, I mean courage and boldness of vision. Mahatma Gandhi had that courage, to break away from traditions, and release the collective power of the minds of millions of Indians. I may not agree with his collaboration with the British during the Second World War, but that does not take away an inch from the greatness of his mind, which was as astute and visionary as the founders who wrote the Constitution of the United States.

We are held back from progress when our minds are not completely free from the bondage that FDR is referring to in his Monticello speech. When we discriminate people by their race, religion, or colour, it means only one thing – that we have not yet forgotten slavery and the hard lessons of ethnic cleansing. This discrimination exists everywhere, in all societies, and more so in that beacon of human freedom, the United States.

The human mind is highly influencable and highly corruptible. I would argue that the human mind distances itself from morality when it is forced to encounter difficult choices in society. It is rather easy to follow countless others and take the beaten path – why take the risk and chart a new path like what Gandhi did? And, face unknown troubles? It requires big courage, self-sacrifice and a certain moral steeliness.

The societal demand for conformism is a drag on the independence of human thought and freedom of the mind. Society corrupts each and every member who has chosen to be part of that society. If the cult leader (taking an extreme example of conformism) orders his disciple or follower to commit a crime, it is more than likely that the crime will be executed just so that membership benefits continue and there are no repercussions from the cult. You see what I am suggesting? Society controls the freedom of the human mind.

Gandhi protested against the religious traditions of the early 20th Century, and went against established traditions followed by Hinduism. He was a rebel and a reformer, who wanted to transform the Indian society and unlock its long held shackles. He wanted independence from the British rule, no doubt, but first he wanted Indians to achieve independence of their minds.

Human mind, as I stated above, is corruptible, as it is not immoral to amass wealth in whatever way possible. If the mind takes that view, then any logical argument to wean it from its corruptible state would be pointless.

So, in a nutshell, the human mind is corruptible, highly influencable in a negative way, and is not reform oriented due to the necessity to confirm to society’s conventions. Reformers come along once in a while, and try to persuade the people on the critical importance of positive reforms in an egalitarian manner. Mostly they fail, as Obama did, but sometimes they succeed as Gandhi did.

So what do you think?

Is your mind already corrupted? Are you forced to conform to societal norms and demands?

Or, are you a reformer? Do you feel that the society is unfair and unjust? Do you think marginal folks do not get a chance to play a meaningful and impactful role in society? How do you knock off corruption from society?

What should we do together?

There is always time to think, and no time is more suited for thinking than a Sunday evening with a nice drink in the hand and thoughts in that corruptible great mind of yours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 December 2018

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

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 Unusual President’s Brash Initiatives


When I look at the continuous drama going on in Washington, D.C., I cannot but fail to appreciate the unusual nature of the White House incumbent. Never before had there been a President of the U.S. who has flouted all public norms of decency, all diplomatic protocols, all trade agreements, and whatever has so far formed the foundations of American Democracy.

Some of the President’s, sorry, most of his actions border on incredulity, what else can I say? It is simply unbelievable that so many things that the President says are things which have never been stated publicly (I am including his tweets, obviously). America is changing dramatically during this Presidency, and the America which will exit at the end of this Presidency is going to be vastly different from the one that existed in 2016.

Of course, I am not going to fault this President for some of his “actions”, which are apparently what he promised to the electorate and let us not forget that he got elected via a public election process in the U.S. One cannot hide behind the fact that Hillary Clinton won 3M more public votes than Donald Trump, that is not the way the U.S. Electoral System works.

Let us see what President Trump has accomplished in the past 18 months:

  • The first ever major Tax Reform signed in 30 years
  • Lowest unemployment in 20 years
  • GDP rapidly growing at over 3%
  • More than USD 5T wealth created

There are many actions that President Trump took which have put fear into the most important trading partners of the U.S., such as Canada, Mexico, the U.K., the E.U., China, and India. His “America First” philosophy is now deeply ingrained in the psyche of the U.S. public, and in fact, in most countries around the world.

There are many negatives spawned by President Trump which have impacted the world in the wrong manner, and he is facing several personal scandals as we all know well. The “fake news” media (his term for the mainstream media comprising of liberal news channels and publications) have kept all of us very well informed. I look at Fox News everyday to see how is their version of the news unfolding, and the dichotomy is greatly interesting.

Coming back to my rationale for writing this blog post (I think this is my fourth post on Trump), I cannot disagree on his economic or trade initiatives. I will not cover his immigration and border security initiatives in this post. It requires an American President made up of an entirely different fabric to contest the long-held notions on free trade. But I think he is executing his trade strategy brilliantly, while the U.S. economy is chugging along well and wage growth has started trickling in. The U.S. is the biggest buyer of most goods in the world, and runs a big trade deficit with most large countries, which is simply untenable. I cannot understand why trade parity is so difficult to accomplish – it need not even balance entirely, what the U.S. wants is some kind of parity – not a very lopsided one such as the one it has with China. The U.S. cannot be importing over USD 500B of goods from China, while exporting just around USD 130B to China – highly untenable.

It has become very difficult to gauge President Trump and forecast his next action plan. It is apparent that most of his ideas are actually stemming from his brain, as he hardly trusts his own cabinet. He has seen a continuous exit of his cabinet team members who could not see eye to eye with him on apparently random ideas or actions. It is also very clear that President Trump does not like to wait to take action on his random ideas – he wants almost immediate action. If the Congress does not play along, he will even go to the extent of threatening his own party members!

So, the world is in for a continuous random adhoc ride the likes of which it has never experienced. I am now almost sure that President Trump is going to be re-elected, simply because there is no other contender from his own party, and the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray with no strong personality emerging with less than 18 months to go for campaigning to start for the 2020 Presidential Elections.

Who will the U.S. public go with? A guy who has delivered on his economic and trade promises, though he has misjudged on many other initiatives, and plagued by sleazy scandals? Or, a relatively unknown candidate who is yet to be tested though he might bring new ideas to the table? The jury may be out, but it is my considered guess that President Trump will win a second term, at the end of which the U.S. will be an unassailable economic and military power, though not liked around the world for its exclusivity in global affairs.

If I were an American citizen, my vote will have to be cast for President Trump. There is not much to argue against such a vote as I stand to benefit in a variety of ways – lower taxes, better wages, more economic growth potential, and more demand for American goods.

If I am an Indian or Chinese citizen, my vote will obviously go against President Trump. I would like a pro-trade, pro-immigration candidate.

If I am Singaporean, I may not give a damn, though an inner voice is asking me to stay involved with the U.S. – but, it is not a choice I have, and as a small nation, it is better to manage the middle ground extremely well. There is no point in rocking an already shaky boat. We realize the world is forever, unstable, and it is our duty to demonstrate rationality in decision-making.

That’s it folks, have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd September 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

 

Two Dictators and their Antics


Singapore was witness to a historic summit between two dictators earlier this week (on the 12th June 2018) in the idyllic small island of Sentosa off the main Singapore island.

One dictator has established himself as a ruthless governor of the pariah state of North Korea (NK or otherwise known as DPRK – Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea). He has been the leader of NK for the past 7 years only, but has amply demonstrated his cruelty by murdering many of his people in the shortest possible time, including his own uncle. His citizens are starving. He has channeled all his slush funds into developing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, and his unstable government has incited fears even in his closest ally, China. I do not understand the relationship between NK and Russia, however. May be technology transfer? In a nutshell, NK is neither democratic nor socialistic – people are just slaves of the Kim family for over 7 decades.

All these things are well documented, with news coverage of NK being incessant over the past 12 to 18 months or so, with the aggressive posturing of its young leader, often against the U.S.

The other dictator I am referring to here is of course, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S. who is unpredictable, unstable, and easily incited into drastic actions. How can he be the so-called “leader of the Free World”?. Under his stewardship, the U.S. is being castigated for a series of diplomatic and trade-related missteps. No one in the U.S. government or even the White House knows what Trump is up to with his early morning tweets setting government policy and heavily criticizing his opponents and the media. He wants his way in everything that matters to him, and appears to be totally devoid of careful counsel. And, that is exactly the way he made the trip to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un.

The meeting was totally unscripted and was deemed to be a “relationship” meeting as Trump continually attempted to downgrade expectations, having built up those expectations to a feverish level in the days leading up to the “dictators’ meting” in Singapore. Kim was wiser, he hardly stated anything publicly, and kept his counsel, and demonstrated a cool head during his Singapore visit without appearing to be unduly excited.

Why should he be? He was, in any case, not giving away anything to Trump. The meeting was hailed as an outstanding success by Trump, though many observers thought it was a complete waste of time having accomplished nothing of substance – no complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization; no stopping of missile launches; no resolution to the thorny issue of abducted Japanese citizens by NK agents; no tight time schedule for anything; no way forward on the big human rights violations by NK against its own citizens; and no, no, no for many other demands.

For Trump, it was a public relations exercise, becoming the first ever sitting President of the U.S. to have met with the leader of NK – ever. He thinks he has figured Kim out and can handle him well. How? All by touch and feel, as Trump claimed in his media interactions? Why would he think and then say that Kim is a “talented” guy? Trump expressed his appreciation of the fact that Kim took over as Chairman in 2011 when he was barely 26 years of age, and brushed aside questions on the very bad human rights record of NK.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time with no solid returns for the stakeholders – South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It was a failure.

It was horrifying to see that the leader of the Free World has now become a close friend of the worst dictator on earth. For a very long time, the U.S. has entertained dictators all over the world, and antagonized democracies. Any one who has followed world history will attest to this fact. The U.S. always hid behind domestic compulsions, national security, and cold war antagonism. In the past one week, Trump has even alienated his closest allies in the G-8 meeting in Canada, and blasted Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a dishonest person and a liar.

So, the world is heading towards a circus play of these two dictators. We have no choice but to play along, as otherwise the world will be headed towards another war – as Trump himself stated during his Singapore trip, he has saved 28M lives! Totally ridiculous, unacceptable and irresponsible.

Singapore spent a lot of money in organizing this summit of the two dictators – upwards of $15M. Many locations, especially the hotels in which the two dictators were staying, and the meeting venue in Sentosa were all in locked-down status. Thousands of police personnel were pressed into duty. For Singapore, it was beneficial as it gained worldwide attention as the venue of the summit, having been friends with both sides over the years. Singapore is a close military ally of the U.S. and it also has other wide-ranging business, trade, economic relations with the U.S. Singapore has also maintained diplomatic relations with NK, though it complied with the U.N. sanctions against the regime.

Chairman Kim Jong Un gained big publicity as well – he was treated as a visiting head of state and acquired legitimacy as a leader in his own right. This would not have happened for a long, long time under the U.N. sanctions scenario (which still apply).

So, in a nutshell, lot of noise and fanfare for a very weak 4 points agreement which has been touted as something huge back in the U.S. by President Trump, and deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prize? Forget it. NK has a long way to go before the world recognizes it on par with South Korea (unless there is a merger).

In any case, visit Singapore and see the Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island – you might like to walk along the same corridor that both the dictators walked on!

Here’s Wishing all Friends a “Selamat Hari Raya or Eid Mubarak”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2018