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

 

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The fallacy of elections


Just this week we saw how democratic election results can be hijacked by instruments of democracy – I am referring here to the State Elections in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. As most people know, Bangalore is the famed capital city of the Karnataka State which is responsible for the IT revolution which propelled India as the world’s leading software services power.

This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time that such hijacks take place in the democratic process. By and large, India has proved that democracy does work as a system of government over the past seven decades, except for a brief two-year period when it was itself hijacked with the imposition of “emergency” in 1975 -77. Well, there are many lacunae in any system of government, and democracy is no exception. It has its own share of problems in implementation, but that is for another blog post!

The federally appointed Governor of Karnataka State invited the Opposition BJP Party to form the government, instead of inviting the ruling Congress Party which had formed an alliance with another party, the JDS. The number of legislators in this alliance was 117, as against the 104 in BJP. In the normal procedure, the Governor would have invited the biggest alliance which can then win a trust vote in the State Assembly.

However, the Governor invited the single largest party (the BJP) and gave it 15 days to prove its majority in the State Assembly, which is only possible if BJP is able to snare at least 8 legislators from Congress/JDS alliance. And, how will that happen? Just think about it. India has already passed the Anti-Defection Law, which means it would be hard for legislators or parliamentarians to cross the aisle and join the other party. It is also not moral to do so, having been elected under the auspices of the party under whose symbol the legislator(s) won the election.

In other State Elections in India, the respective Governors had invited the biggest alliance to form the government, not the single largest party. That suited BJP (the party which rules India at the federal level) in couple of States. However, in the case of Karnataka, they tried to change that rule which a Governor should follow once he or she receives the letters of commitment from the legislators.

So, what happened?

In a tense 3 days of drama, played out in the Supreme Court of India and in Bangalore, the BJP lost out against the alliance of Congress/JDS. I am not in favour of either party, but I am concerned when the powers that be plays out the political game with utter disregard towards established precedents under their own rule. The Supreme Court played a central and decisive role in the whole episode and determined what way things should go in Karnataka State Assembly – it gave just 24 hours to the BJP Chief Minister (who had been invited by the State Governor to form the government) to face a trust vote in the Assembly. So, left with no time to indulge in horse-trading both sides brought their safely guarded legislators to the Assembly for the trust vote. Facing the loss of the trust vote, the BJP Chief Minister resigned.

The whole drama could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had intervened and ensured that proper procedures are followed. The fight should be at the hustings, not at the assembly after the elections were completed. Exposing the respective parties’ machinations to the common man and to the world at large, and going to the Supreme Court which was forced to intervene are not good examples of running the world’s largest democracy.

This proves that at the end of the day, all politicians are the same in India. Some are articulate, polished, well-behaved, and most are corrupt and bend rules in their favour. However, when it comes to winning elections, they let lose anarchy and throw principles to the wind. Similar things happen in other nations as well in varying degrees. However, India cannot risk its strong democratic institutions and the three well delineated arms of governance – the Executive, the Parliament/Legislature, and the Judiciary. These are self-balancing to a large extent, and each one is expected to check on the abuse of power by any other arm, and eventually balance the overall system of governance.

What the Karnataka Elections proved is simple – the will of the people have to be respected and cannot be manipulated in the way that one party wants. The alternative would be to call for re-elections at a great cost, annoying the voters; or, to bring down the government once it has been formed by legislative techniques and defections. However, it has been proven time and again that the voters exercise their power at the hustings to elect their representatives and have the ultimate power to dislodge parties which do not perform to their expectations.

Viva La Democracy, or to put it precisely “vive la démocratie!”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th May 2018

 

The News Bias


There exists a political bias in almost all news organizations. Most famous ones such as CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post are considered liberal, which means “leftist” in the U.S. News organizations such as Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and countless others are best characterized as conservative, which means “rightist” in the U.S. There is hardly any neutral news organization or publication anywhere in the world. The closest that I have seen are The Hindu newspaper in India, and The Guardian in the U.K. There may be others that I do not know, and my lack of mentioning others does not mean that there are no other neutral publications or TV news channels.

There is nothing wrong with some bias, as news editors are, after all, human beings, and have certain orientations and thought processes in their heads as they handle news and news analyses. However, they are not supposed to twist or tweak the factual news to their advantage, with an insidious purpose in mind. It could be that they wish to provoke an anti-government or anti-establishment public reaction, which goes against the grain of news gathering and publishing. The editorials could convey what the editor(s) wants to comment on the main news of the day, but the reporting has to be absolutely factual, as otherwise it could turn dangerous, as we have seen recent instances especially in India with fake news (“faked” news) dominating and corrupting the public’s view of the happenings. Such reporting happens in many countries around the world, and is designed to serve the political orientation of the editor or owner of the publication.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there has to be a law to regulate news, much like in the old days when news publications could be prosecuted for incorrect news reporting which results in public mayhem, destruction, deaths, violence, etc., (this used to be called “censorship” in old times). There is nothing wrong in seeking to enforce law and order against what is famously known as the “Fourth Estate”. I am not inclined to believe that a carefully calibrated law and order enforcement against an erring news publication or TV channel or news organization can be termed as shutting down press freedom. Everyone is subject to the same laws, so what is so unique about one segment of the society?

Well, we might need a “news ombudsman” to ensure impartiality, and to enforce actions against all publications without fear or favour. It is easier said than done. Any government appointee is going to be at least slightly biased, and so it is critical to select someone with the involvement of the government of the day, the political opposition in the parliament and the judiciary, and to embed sufficient powers in the office of such an ombudsman, who can issue orders to law enforcement, much like the Election Commissioner, or the Head of Anti-Corruption Agency.

News organizations should also include all social media platforms such as FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. They need to be regulated simply because they are more powerful than any brick and mortar news producer. News on such platform posted by anyone spreads at exponential speeds and rumours could create havoc. We have also recently witnessed how FaceBook sacrificed the personal data of millions of people who use their platform for monetary benefit. Given the proclivity of the younger generation to take up social media platforms with amazing speed, it becomes essential to moderate such platforms without causing damage to the neurons of youngsters at a very young age.

I enjoy flipping the news channels between CNN, BBC, Fox News, CNBC, and other local / regional channels. The priority given to news coverage varies across the channels. Sometimes what you think is a very important piece of news does not even merit a mention in some of the channels. If things do not go well for the audience of Fox News, then the anchors distract them with some unimportant sidelights. And so on and so forth. Of course, it requires a worldly intelligence to segregate fake news from what is real. It is not an easy skill, as fake news could easily be debunked and thrown away upon a refresh of the news website; it could be worded in a convincing way which reflects in certain measure some amount of truth, or it could be covered by a famous news anchor. If Russia is disliked by most news channels for ideological or political reasons, it is very easy to spot that dislike. If China is berated for trade or intellectual property thefts, that also gets highlighted in a big way. There are hardly any counter arguments that you would hear in the world famous TV news channels against their own governments or allies. It is not unnatural, but it is not normal in a news reporting organization. There are, of course, good examples of news reporting which is balanced and also good analysis of news with differing viewpoints which we get to see sometimes, but such balanced coverage is slowly declining in my opinion, as the audience wants “supportive” analyses, not “destructive” analyses by political commentators. There is also disdain of these commentators or opinion-producers amongst the common public, as they are repeatedly used throughout the year, with more or less the same views. They are either “supportive” of the government, or in some cases “destructive” of the government’s stand on issues. Eventually, people will realize that anyone on this planet can have a view of his/her own on any issue which may or may not affect him/her. Nothing wrong with that position either. The point is that fast-talking commentators have not helped to define a news organization, they only reflect their own biases in their opinion piece.

Looking at the overall stained news scenario, it is but normal to conclude that we should make up our own news – what I mean is that, you pull together pieces of news from various publications using some software which can generate your own news as per your own criteria. If I am a conservative, rightist kind of person, then my filters would produce news that I am looking for! Tomorrow, I could become a liberal and I will then get to enjoy the “liberal” view of world news and happenings!!

Well, folks have a good weekend, and avoid drinking alcohol,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th April 2018 (Today is TAMIL New Year, Wishes to my Tamil Friends and Families!)

The Mechanism


Institutionalized corruption has been the bane of good governance in most developing countries. Even in developed countries corruption masquerades as expensive lobbying, with quid pro quo for almost all favours done by the powers that be. Unfortunately, corruption is instinctively embedded in human psyche – the premise is that almost everyone has a price, like everything has a price, and provided that price is paid, that everyone is available to provide a service. It sounds obnoxious and bothersome to say the least, but it is a practical reality most of us have encountered in our lives. There is no denying it, it is very rare for a person not to have experienced or seen it.

When corruption is institutionalized in the system, like it is feeding upon itself in embedded circles, then we have a very serious and dangerous problem to handle and fix. When public money (basically taxpayers’ money) is siphoned off by government-owned companies through the well-oiled system of awarding contracts at inflated prices to chosen contractors, who then reward the politicians and ministers who appoint directors on the board of these companies via a money laundering scheme, then corruption is well entrenched. It is not possible to eradicate the scourge of corruption irrespective of change in governments or officials. The law enforcement becomes part of the system as it comes under the Justice Ministry, which is just another government machinery to ensure that the above-described system stays in place.

“The Mechanism” is a Netflix serial which just started running – it is about the systemic corruption in Brazil, which is still playing out in real life. You might have seen that the ex-President Lula da Silva has been arrested and sentenced to years in jail, and his successor Dilma Rousseff is also facing corruption charges. I have been seeing the serial for the past couple of weeks, and it has got my full attention. I can visualize how the same system would work out in other countries that I know of.

What surprised me in the serial is the passionate commitment of the law enforcement officers and their loyalty to each other as they fight the corrupt villains together sometimes, and on a disjointed basis on other times. It is funny to see how the lead officer fights off the prosecutor during a press conference. At the end of the day, it is all about human emotion, and how that plays out while the almost real story spins out of control. The Mechanism also shows how important it is to have an impartial judge who carefully evaluates the evidence before signing off the search and seizure or arrest warrants. When someone cannot be bought, then the story turns in favour of ultimate justice.

Many of us have experienced the most simple variety of corruption – like the official at the property registration office demanding a cut before registering the sale or purchase of property, or the driving license official asking for a price, etc., Many of us have only “read” about institutional corruption – how public funds that otherwise could be usefully deployed to pay for much needed infrastructure or citizen services, are tapped by unscrupulous public companies and politicians which keep developing nations poor for ever. This is a sad story playing out in most countries. There are only a very few lucky countries which do not have this plague afflicting their system of governance.

I was never that much interested in Brazil, but The Mechanism brought Brazil right front and centre – a fascinating country indeed. It is the 8th largest economy in the world with more than 207M population, and a GDP per capita of over USD 10K. It is the largest economy in South America and prior to 2012, it was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, meriting its inclusion in the McKinsey BRIC group of countries.

Large countries do have large problems, and Brazil has not been an exception.

Corruption has roiled the country out of shape over the past several years, damaging the presidencies of multiple presidents. It is always surprising to find that the pressure to maintain the status quo is just phenomenal – as we see in The Mechanism, the previous Attorney General (called the “wizard” in the serial) tries to negotiate a deal with the incumbent Attorney General on behalf of the 13 corrupt contractors who, he maintains, are crucial for the survival of the Brazilian economy! And, when that pressure builds up all the way to the President of the country (as is shown in the serial as well), then one can imagine the enormous stress that can be applied on honest law enforcement officials and judges.

The serial is not over, and I have not seen all the episodes. But is easy to figure out the impact of corruption in the Brazilian society, as the water utility company which comes to fix a broken pipe in the serial demonstrates the corrosive influence of systemic corruption by passing off the work to a small time contractor who will then feed back the bribe to the company officials.

I have not seen serials on corruption – this is probably the first one. The creator of the series has done an amazing job (his name is Jose Padilha), and the key actors have performed exceedingly well, though personal animosities do take an overarching role disturbing the main theme of the serial. But let me forgive that distraction and focus on the positives of the serial!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

08 April 2018

 

The Culture of Materialism


The premise of this post has been to establish the link between materialistic greed of (certain) people and corruption and overall destruction of value for citizens who lead normal lives. I went for an event today, and this topic was discussed among a set of trusted friends who had very different views. As an author, I am supposed to state my views in a non-diluted manner, while accepting criticism or praise in equal measure, which is exactly what I am going to do now – I have not changed any of my views in this final version which is getting published this evening (Saturday evening in Singapore), though I did think about some of the alternate views expressed by friends today on this topic.

Here is my view in a few bullets (this is not the normal way I write, but I thought it would be good to highlight):

  • Countries which unabashedly focused on the material well-being of their citizens in the 1970s and 80s, paved the way for economic growth to be the dominant factor in their countries’ vision – examples would be South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore – the four “Tiger Economies” of Asia. This meant that citizens were led to believe on the economic vision of their leaders, in turn, leading to rapid growth over the past 3 to 4 decades, rapidly enhancing the GDP per capita of these nations, and focusing on generating material wealth for the citizens. This has already happened – Singapore now is the 4th richest country in the world in just one generation! There are pros and cons, but one cannot argue with the fact that economic progress has been clearly accomplished.
  • Countries which focused on political philosophies and social development in an Utopian manner did not progress fast due to the debilitating bureaucracies that these countries established, leading to slow progress and corruption as the main driver for faster movement of business. There are many examples of such nations, mostly democracies and some dictatorships, but I am not going to name them. Established mechanisms of corruption and nepotism led to stealing of wealth from ordinary citizens to line the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats, and the wealth generation was isolated in few family run businesses. Not surprising, however.
  • Over the past decade or so, these large countries have seen what the smaller countries have accomplished, and are trying to adopt some of the policies though in a much belated and haphazard manner. However, the institutionalized corruption continues irrespective of change in governments as the essence of bureaucracy has stayed the same. This implied focus on materialistic economic growth will take a very long time to trickle down to ordinary citizens, and will again benefit few individuals and families, as we are seeing. Tax payers’ money is being stolen brazenly to benefit these folks.
  • So, the derivation is that the focus on materialistic wealth generation is not going to work for larger countries since institutional changes and policy frameworks have not changed for the better. This would mean that corruption would accelerate and lead to larger financial scandals, while ordinary citizens would see probably a lower impact of routine corruption due to e-governance initiatives (the only major benefit, yet to be realized however).

In a nutshell, the culture of materialism will lead to skewed economic growth for larger countries, benefiting the same businessmen who benefited in the past. Lifting millions of people out of poverty towards a USD 5,000 income per capita is not a simple challenge – it cannot be compared with the easier task that the Tiger economies had with their singular focus on trade. So, there is going to be very hard time befalling on millions of honest working folks and farmers, who would be held subservient to the governments by paying more taxes and more fees to obtain banking, insurance, and other services.

This is indeed a sad situation. Expecting millions of ordinary folks to understand economic and digital principles is foolhardy, as the base of education and healthcare has not been laid out over the past many decades. When ordinary people see how the rich people fleece money in an illegal manner from the same banks and governmental institutions, what ideas would they get? When these powerfully connected and rich people escape without so much as an indictment, what message does that send to others? While a French revolution is not in the offing, ordinary people would have to take some kind of action within their control, right?

Fascinating, but also saddening. Think about the whole complex situation developing, and you will see that WhatsApp messages and Fake News do not tell the entire story. The deeply maligned people are going to scot free, and no one can do anything. This is the result of all our democracies and institutions in action. Even the U.S. is not spared, as you see in daily news, day in and day out.

The culture of materialism is destructive. It will lead to serious social divisions in society which cannot be fixed in one generation.

Think, probably with a drink like what I am doing now!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th February 2018

Language Emotions and Economic Loss


I came across a LinkedIn post and discussion thread today about Tamil vs Hindi (for people who do not know, both are Indian languages).

The original post was by a Chennai-based IT recruiter who complained that North Indians assume that he speaks Hindi when he calls them up, instead of responding to his English queries in English. He even goes on to mention that he teases the potential candidates by occasionally speaking in Tamil!

There were more than 10,000 comments by the time I came across this post, and thousands of “Like” (LinkedIn should also provide an easy button for “Dislike”).

Haven’t we heard this kind of topic before? Of course, we have, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu and Tamilians apparently have not yet got the 1960’s imbroglio with the Central (Federal) Government on the then hot topic of imposition of Hindi on all States of India, against the Constitution of India and the regional peoples’ will, out of their heads even after 50 years. They are very emotional whenever the topic comes up.

Hindi is sparsely spoken in Tamil Nadu even today, though there are many Tamilians in Tamil Nadu who can speak Hindi rather well. It is not an accepted form of communication, however. Tamilians prefer English, even to talk to other Tamilians. Such is the impact of those old days when Tamil Nadu erupted in violence against Hindi. That misstep also led to the successful emergence of the Dravidian Political Parties of Tamil Nadu, which have been feuding even amongst themselves ever since. The result has been that the national political discourse and national political parties have been locked out of Tamil Nadu for all these past 5 decades.

The bad thing which came out of this anti-Hindi feeling has largely been detrimental to the overall economic interests of the State and its people, though many will argue (even now) that it was the best thing that could have happened for Tamil Nadu (apart from reduced plan allocations and constant challenges, I don’t know what we gained – if someone can elaborate, I would be more than happy to listen without a murmur). In the Sixties and Seventies, when Tamilians educated in Tamil Nadu purely in Tamil and English travelled to Delhi or Mumbai or Calcutta, they were at a big disadvantage. Those days (and even now), the Northern and Western regions of India had the biggest economic investments (both by governments and private sector), and offered more economic opportunities to job seekers. While English was the business language, more often than not it was not the spoken language in the office – it was almost always Hindi.

Who lost out?

Tamilians and Tamil Nadu. India is a country with more than 28 official languages and over 200 dialects. But, 70% of the populations (that is 900M as of now!) speak Hindi in almost a native fashion, or they learn the language from primary school onwards. Another 10% of the population (that is, another 130M people!) understand Hindi well, and would respond in Hindi if spoken to in Hindi.

So, a Billion people can operate in Hindi.

How about Tamil Nadu? It has 68M people only, just 5% of India’s population.

While I am not saying it is compulsory for everyone in the country to learn Hindi or speak Hindi, look at the advantages which I lacked as a non-Hindi speaker. One’s acceptance is higher at business offices, in government offices, in industrial environments and surely in society. Further, one would not need English sub-titles while watching Hindi movies! I survived with extremely half-baked and poor Hindi, and had to mostly depend on others to get my way through. I got into several tricky situations because I insisted on speaking only in English (you cannot blame me, apart from Tamil, English was the only other language that I know!).

I suffered quite a bit during my sojourn in Mumbai for some six years. I always felt left out, and my rather late attempts to learn Hindi did not work out as I just could not recall the right word at the right time. If only I had had the opportunity to learn Hindi even as my third language in my primary school, I would not have had any problems.

At the end of the day, it is the business and social acceptance across the country, notwithstanding any perceived language or cultural supremacy. Tamil is rarely spoken outside of Tamil Nadu in India – except in Tamil communities spread around the country which also speak Hindi fluently as they have settled in the so-called Hindi heartland due to economic or job necessities.

Why take up a fight against Hindi and waste precious time now? What is it going to produce in terms of benefits to Tamilians?

The world is moving fast, and India is moving very fast. Tamil Nadu should worry more about keeping its #3 rank in the State-wise rankings of GDP, it is in a good position to overtake Uttar Pradesh which has three times its population. Let us focus on bread and economics, and jobs and wealth creation for Tamil Nadu. That is a more important fight (in a positive manner, competing with other States of India) than spending an inordinate amount of time on language issues. If Tamilians wish to proceed and establish strong working relationships with Northern and Western regions of India, I would say learning Hindi is a good place to start – a positive thing to progress economically, rather than a negative thing which will impact Tamil. Tamil will never be impacted, it is a language which has stood the test of time over 30 centuries or even more.

Let us make language-based fights and issues a thing of the past, and focus on what is best for our people.

Cheeers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th November 2017

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

A negative vote today in French Elections


Will France follow Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the U.S. Presidential Elections and the Brexit philosophy endorsed by millions of British voters to get Britain out of the European Union (EU)? Will the French voters elect an untested nationalist, against a well-established urbanite with a global outlook?

How France decides today in its Presidential Elections (7th May Sunday) will have far-reaching ramifications around Europe and the world. It will determine if the EU survives as a political and economic entity.

While I have no personal views on the French Elections, I am debating if  young, disillusioned French voters will swing in favour of Marine Le Pen, against Emmanuel Macron. If that swing happens in a wild fashion, it is not inconceivable for Le Pen to claim the French Presidency and that would turn Europe upside down. Le Pen is against all established norms in French and European society – against trade, against immigration, against globalization.

In the U.S. Presidential Elections, I bet against Hillary Clinton and won my bet. I thought that she did not really appeal vigorously to the male, white, Christian, rural base of the middle America – and she didn’t, apart from all the other issues which plagued her campaign (like the email server problem, et al). I was not entirely in favour of Donald Trump, but then there was no other credible alternative, and he easily won the elections against Hillary Clinton, though he missed out on the popular vote count.

Can something like that happen in the French Elections?

Why not? A negative vote is entirely possible.

France is in a crisis. Its political and societal divides have engulfed its core to such an extent that radical outcomes cannot be thrown out of the door. France is under attack by immigrant extremism, or terrorism. Economy is in a turmoil and youth unemployment is rising. France has so many problems today that a traditional, globalized, suave and urban President will not get far into his presidency. Macron could prove himself otherwise, but it is highly unlikely he can fix France’s problems, as he does not have enough political and economic management experience. If he fails in his first year as President, it is almost a given that Le Pen’s supporters will revolt and her base will increase dramatically. And, let us not forget that Macron does not even have any party’s support – in fact, he has no party! Yes, he is coming on the strength of a people movement, not a political party!!

Can Le Pen fix the problems of France?

Even less likely than Macron. Her party has always been on the fringes, and most people are shocked she made it to the final leg of the Presidential Elections. She has no experience managing a large country or economy. She would need a lot of management help if she ever gets close to the seat at the Elysee Palace.

So, in a nutshell, it is going to be a huge challenge for France. May be Macron will win as he has a 25 point lead over Le Pen, but then one never knows. But France has to blame itself for any fiasco, as both candidates have never held elected posts and have hardly got any experience, and may not win parliamentary elections scheduled for June this year. How can this happen? How will a President govern without the support of the French Parliament?

All this points to a hugely challenging time for the French people.

The implications for Europe and the larger world community are huge.

Watch the news today and tomorrow closely to see how France votes for its President.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th May 2017

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

Pathetic TN vs Rocking AP


I was visiting Chennai these past few days.

Given that it was almost end of April with the fast approaching “Agni Nakshatra” of May/June, the heat was piercing through to the skin at close to 40 deg C. The evenings were a bit milder but still a strong 34/35 deg C. People were having no respite from the harsh weather, neither were they having any respite from a dysfunctional government reeling from corruption and nepotism.

The Tamil Nadu State was once the second top industrialized state of India, competing with Gujarat State for manufacturing plants of foreign companies setting up shop in India. Now, it has fallen to the bottom rungs of the ladder, with neighbouring Andhra Pradesh State climbing rapidly to the very top.

What is the difference?

In one word, it is “Leadership”. In two words, it can be explained as “development-oriented and corruption-free”. Indian citizens are very tired of corruption and politicians making huge pots of money without delivering any kind of service at all to the nation.

Tamil Nadu has long been reeling in corruption (only Karnataka State beats Tamil Nadu in corruption per capita), nepotism, mismanagement of government departments, distribution of subsidies and election gifts in a deficit state, lack of water, poor power supply situation even in metro cities, and generally characterized by apathy towards improvement in the state of affairs of the state and its people. The latest rumour is that a major Korean car manufacturer decided to move away from its original plans to establish a car manufacturing plant near Chennai due to the exorbitant demand for bribes. Of course, it is a rumour, but the rationale for such decisions need to be explored conscientiously.

Poor Tamilians. They just have to look a little north towards their enterprising neighbour, Andhra Pradesh (AP) which is run by a charismatic, influential, reform-minded and effective CEO kind of Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu. He is running AP State as a corporate company, much like Singapore, with an effective administration carrying out his vision. Mr Naidu has always been in favour of induction of technology to address governance and peoples’ problems in the state, and it is no accident that AP State is a front-runner in using technology in all of India.

Mr Naidu has achieved a lot in the short span of less than 3 years that he has been in power, after his first long stint of 9 years. The milestone project was the interlinking of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, which not only has irrigated the rice bowl of India but also provided water to the parched villages in the Rayalaseema region of AP State. Apart from his many other achievements, I believe that the linking of two of the key rivers of India will always be recognized as his signature accomplishment. The Congress governments in the past only talked about such water projects but never delivered. Mr Naidu has done that now.

What about Tamil Nadu? It has been begging Karnataka for release of the Cauvery river water, has fought with Karnataka in the Supreme Court, and taken the matter to special arbitration. Over the years, the farmers of Tamil Nadu have suffered. Why? There was just no leadership focused on solving problems of the farmers and suffering people of the state.

In a nutshell, the defining characteristic of a successful government is leadership and the composition of the leadership team. If this active and critical ingredient is missing, no amount of funds or intent can do the job. And when corruption rules the roost, then you can rest assured that development will remain far, far away.

Tamil Nadu is destined to hit the fringe state status very soon, if no effective leadership emerges. What a pathetic situation for a state to be in? Tamil Nadu should aggressively reclaim its premier status and time is not on its side either.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017