Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Strident President Donald Trump

This past month I have been regularly watching the CNN news channel. I love the Trump-bashing that goes on in there, in true democratic spirit – reinforcing beyond doubt that USA is indeed the land of the free.

Until now I believed that President Donald Trump was a lot smarter person, in spite of his outlandish campaign rhetoric that he has been dishing out. As I wrote in my earlier post on him, I truly believed that once he became President, he would surprise us all by NOT fulfilling most of his campaign pledges.

It now appears that I may be completely wrong.

This morning when I put on the TV, I did so at the precise moment when President Donald Trump declared:

“We have to start winning wars again"

He is going to declare wars and he is going to win them! --- and to enable him to do that, he is proposing a defense budget of US$603 billion. This sum is more than the sum total spent by the rest of the world’s top 7 countries with the biggest defense budgets:

China                  215.0
Saudi Arabia         87.2
Russia                   66.4
UK                        55.5
India                      51.3
France                   50.9
Japan                     40.9

TOTAL :     US$ 567.0 billion 


The lunacy does not stop there: since he had promised big tax cuts during the campaign, there is no way be is going to be able to wage wars and win them, through increased tax collection. So he proposes what he thinks is the next best thing – he proposes to finance his war mongering through budget cuts in such meaningful areas as foreign aid, healthcare and EPA.

Thirty-five years back (1981) President elect Ronald Reagan, another Republican, was the oldest President of America – at 69 years of age. Donald Trump at 70 now qualifies as the oldest elected US President.

President Reagan too was a great believer in military might. He spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build up American military might, so much so that at one point he told the Pentagon, “Defense is not a budget item. You spend what you need”.

President Reagan was so hell bent on military supremacy that in 1983, he announced the futuristic Strategic Defense Initiative – a hugely expensive Star Wars like missile defense system. There was one good outcome from all that posturing – it forced the USSR to embark on its own military build up, which many believe, ultimately contributed to its bankruptcy and the fall of Communism.

And yet, for all that, during his entire Presidency, Ronald Reason waged only one miserably absurd war – that of the invasion of Grenada, in October of 1983. However, the invasion of the tiny island defended by less than 1,000 militia did not bring any long term, or even short term, honor for the President or the world’s most powerful military power. In fact, in due course, the United Nations General Assembly voted 108:9 – to condemn the invasion as an unwarranted act of international aggression.

President Reagan was a staunch protagonist of  “Peace through strength”. He believed that he could maintain world peace through sheer military might. He was my hero because I believe in that. By contrast, President Trump wants to “Make America Great Again” by waging wars and winning them. I do not believe in that and thus I am not his fan.

The great economic powerhouse that is America gives out less than 1% of its budget in aiding needy foreign nations. Of that, in 2014, US$5.9 billion was spent in financing the purchase of weapons of war.

Instead of curtailing foreign aid and reduce funding for EPA’s programs, America will do well to increase them. I am told that President Trump is stridently against environmental protection because he believes that the claim that the environment is in a depleted state is whole lot of hogwash. But he would do well to listen to others and open his eyes and mind to the state of the environment. He cannot be oblivious to the weather related disasters that the great America has witnessed in recent times.

I think that for America and President Donald Trump, it would be cheaper to win hearts rather than wars. Along the way they will garner respect, esteem and goodwill.

America is a nation of immigrants – its greatness can be attributed to the contributions made by the immigrants – right from its formative years to the present. As on last count, the DHS’ Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) estimated that there were close to 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in America. One has to wonder why the US government did not act, even while the DHS was obviously keeping tract of all the unauthorized aliens. Donald Trump has to consider why the earlier administrations turned a blind eye to the issue, even while they were fully aware. To go blistering against them, as if it were a recent and sudden phenomena, is to invite problems and complications that he cannot even comprehend.

The way to making “America Great Once Again” cannot be through alienation of friends and supporters and partners and neighbors. America cannot survive in isolation - no one can.

"America First" is a gallant aspiration that deserves support, but the manner in which President Trump hopes to accomplish it for America is untenable - he cannot hope to achieve it by trampling on the aspirations of others. If President Trump believes that building the Mexican wall will advance his aspirations for achieving "America First", do it by all means but do not require Mexico to pay for its construction. You want it, you foot the bill.

President Donald Trump has to remember that even the lowly rat catcher is an integral and legitimate member of the human society.

President Donald Trump has to look to history – not a very ancient one at that – and draw lessons from it. For all its military might, for all its pile of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles, atomic and hydrogen bombs, and with a combined military personnel of 1,385,116 – all that it took was one dedicated and determined lunatic to bring the mighty America to its knees and alter the very course of its history forever. 9/11 is proof that US$603 billion military spending is no guarantee that a foolproof defense system can be built.

If wars are to be fought and won, I think they have to be won in the minds of men, and not on battlefields. Subjugating nations and peoples through military aggression is too primeval.

How America behaves impacts us all. I urge President Donald Trump to have consideration for those of us who do not have the wherewithal to wage, or win, wars.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Langdhurbi: Take 2

The remote village of Langdhurbi in Zhemgang District is 7 hours walk from the nearest road head. Far removed from the razzal-dazzle of modernity that is fast changing the social and cultural landscape of urban Bhutan, the simple folks in this pigeonhole of a village live out their lives devoid of dreams. They are incapable of dreams for, they know not what to dream for. All their lives they have been wrapped within the bounds of their cocoon – living a way of life that is a slice right out of the medieval times. This lot has not seen electricity, television or a motor vehicle in their lives – until Rotary Club of Thimphu decided to change that for some of the children from this village.

In July of last year, the Rotary Club of Thimphu transported 20 young children from this impoverished village and brought them to Thimphu for a week. For the first time these children took a bus ride, saw motor road, vehicles, electricity, animated movies and experienced for the first time the throbbing, pulsating waywardness of modern times and way of life. This trip was designed to show these children what stuffs of dreams were made of – what to aspire for and what possibilities existed for them. And, for the really smart among them, the trip would have given them cause for rejoice – in the revelation that the life they have in their village is far more meaningful, healthy, harmonious and sustainable, than that offered by the urban centers where every new medical breakthrough has seen increased number of new and strange diseases, every new scientific invention has seen the world inching closer to annihilation, and every new smart electronic device turning human beings into less smart beings and more forgetful and disjointed.

Among those 20 young kids, there was this really talented singer and artist – named Sonam Dorji, aged 11 years. He had such a wonderful voice and more amazingly he loved singing Zhundra – classical songs. So, this year during the winter holidays we brought him back to Thimphu once again and got him to be coached in singing and drawing. He attended classes at the iBEST and M-Studio who were generous to teach him without charging him a fee. In between he took singing classes from such luminaries as Lhamo Dukpa and Namkha Lhamo, Bhutan’s most accomplished Zhungdra divas.

Sonam Dorji under the tutelage of Bhutan's foremost Zhungdra singer - Namkha Lhamo

Sonam Dorji is back to his village in Langdhurbi and continues his studies at the local community school. What the future holds for him is anybody’s guess. The talent that is latent in him is something I wish I could help him unleash but I do not have the means to do so. And I suspect I am the poorer for leading him to the stars but not being able to help him touch them.

As I prod along on the path of life that must inevitably end in nothingness, I think of this extremely talented boy languishing in abject helplessness in some remote wilderness. If he were a little bit luckier --- if I were a little bit more economically able, he could have one day serenaded the best of the best. But that is not how the story will be written – for all his talent, he is destined to be lost in the sands of oblivion – one potential shining star whose luminosity will not see the light of day.

Sonam Dorji’s trip to Thimphu this year was sponsored by Hotel Jumolhari and writer Chador Wangmo provided food and accommodation for the boy and his aunt who escorted him. Hotel Druk was generous to provide one end-of-session dinner for the boy and his tutors.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rotary Club of Thimphu’s First Annual Conference Successfully Concluded

What was originally planned as the 9th Annual District Conference of the RI District 3292, ended up as the RC Thimphu’s maiden annual conference. From a staggering 2,400++ registrants to the Conference, the final head count for the club level conference stood at 160 (excluding 15 from Bhutan), including spouses. Fifteen (15) countries were represented spanning across 8 Rotary International Districts comprised of 37+1 Clubs.

All the participants were suitably impressed that a new and minuscule club with only 19 Members could organize the hosting of such a large gathering. Everything was timed perfectly – right from the reception at Paro International Airport to check-in at the hotels and the Conference itself. The international participants were impressed with the line up of speakers, led by our Honorable Prime Minister who was the keynote speaker at the event. Every Conference session was perfectly timed to the last nano second – the sessions started and ended exactly as scheduled – no hiccups!

The Rotary Club of Thimphu presented 12 project ideas to the participants for collaboration – in areas that included education, health, agriculture etc.

One Club in Malaysia announced support for 3 scholarships in vocational training - The Rotary Club of Melawati.

Another from the same country promised to take up the construction of hostel for Kagtong Primary School in remote Zhemgang costing US$25,000.00.

Yet another Club donated US$1,500.00 to cover the cost of purchase of farm equipment – for one of the three Youth Cooperatives engaged in agriculture farming.

In the coming months other participating clubs will start to look at our proposals and commit their sponsorship of some of the projects that were proposed.

Our Keynote Speaker – Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan
Dignitaries at the Conference – Hon’ble Chief Justice of Bhutan and Hon’ble Minister for Home & Cultural Affairs posing with Rotarian KK Looi and friends from Malaysia.

Photo shoot - Hon'ble Prime Minister pose with the participants, following the inauguration of the Conference
A throng of Rotarians from around the glob: 7 RI Districts, 38 Clubs and 108 Rotarians

Some Club Members pose with Rotarians from Malaysia. On the extreme left is Rtn. KK Looi who put together his group from among Clubs under District 3300 in Malaysia.
Yours truly with the team leader Rtn. Marian Victor Popa from the Rotary Club of Bucharest “Octo”, Romania. Note the interesting traditional costume he and his spouse are wearing. On the extreme right is Rtn. Rinzi Om, RC Thimphu’s Sargent-at-Arms.
Yours truly with the contingent from Romania
Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing, the Club’s Director of Community Service Rtn. Dawa Penjore and Club Secretary Rtn. Yeshey Dorji with the 7-members contingent from the Rotary Club of Melawati, Malaysia. This Club has confirmed the award of scholarships for three Bhutanese youth - for vocational training in an institute in Malaysia
One of the participants celebrating her birthday at the City Hotel, Thimphu
While we were busy with our club Conference, two of our Members were attending the RI District 3292 Annual Conference in Kathmandu. Rtn. Kesang Tshomo, Director of Memberships and Rtn. Yeshey Nidup, Club Treasurer, represented our Club in the Conference, to show solidarity. They are seen here with the incumbent District Governor Rtn. Jaya Rajya Laxmi Shah and incoming DG Sanjay Giri (2017-2018).
The last two months was a very tiring period. I had to oversee the arrangement and preparation for the Conference. Not to say that I had sleepless nights – but I certainly had very little sleep. Thankfully it is over and I can now relax a bit – until I run to Zhemgang to initiate another of RC Thimphu’s project – solar fencing of farmlands in Kheng Nimshong village - all of 7 KMs.

Throughout the Conference, every one else spoke but I remained resolutely mute. But yesterday at the dinner at the Le Meridien Hotel in Thimphu I decided to break my silence for a while - to quote the American multi-billionaire philanthropist, Mr. Warren Buffett:

“What money you have in excess of your need is useless money

I supplemented it by saying:

“There is one sure way of making that useless money into useful money. Give it to those who need it.”

You should have no doubt who I was hinting at☺☺