Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Nationalism Debate on National Review

It's been quite a while since I did a blog post. And while I don't have anything to write on just yet - I thought it is worthwhile to bookmark some fascinating writing and discussion going on in the US on nationalism in the National Review.

Donald Trump's rise to the US Presidency has resulted in conservatives in the United States, doing a lot of self analysis - the meaning of conservatism itself is part of an ongoing debate right now. By any usual measure though - love for one's country - whether called patriotism or nationalism, has been part of almost all conservative, or what we call a right wing, ideology around the world.

Here are some fascinating articles debating these concepts - nationalism  and patriotism - all from National Review. If you have an afternoon or evening free and are the patriotic/ nationalistic/ Bharat Mata ki Jai type guy like me, I think it would be time well spent to read these pieces.

For Love of Country - A defense of nationalism, by Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry

Responses to this piece:

Critical ones:

The Trouble with Nationalism by Jonah Goldberg

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trump's win and some insights from the coverage of the 2016 elections

Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States of America. Coming close after the surprise Yes vote in the Brexit referendum in the UK, this was yet another shocking blow to the established liberal order in general and the rule of globalised elites in particular. 

Whether Trump won due to running a racist, xenophobic, misognynistic campaign or whether he won because he listened to and spoke about the economic anxiety gripping parts of "White" America is going to be debated long and wide. And whether Liberal elites should try to listen to these anxieties rather than mocking these Americans through Late Night comedy shows is another question that will be discussed for a long time to come.

The Alt-Right, Breitbart and what have you, came into prominence as having become a significant part of the Trump campaign. When they began to get featured in the mainstream media, I found this part from Ross Douthart's piece back in April particularly noteworthy:
But while reactionary thought is prone to real wickedness, it also contains real insights.... Reactionary assumptions about human nature — the intractability of tribe and culture, the fragility of order, the evils that come in with capital-P Progress, the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion — are not always vindicated. But sometimes? Yes, sometimes. Often? Maybe even often.
Both liberalism and conservatism can incorporate some of these insights. But both have an optimism that blinds them to inconvenient truths. The liberal sees that conservatives were foolish to imagine Iraq remade as a democracy; the conservative sees that liberals were foolish to imagine Europe remade as a post-national utopia with its borders open to the Muslim world. But only the reactionary sees both.
Talking of Liberal utopia, Mass Immigration has been and is going to be in the foreseeable future probably the most hotly contested cultural ( & economic ) issue in my opinion. This post in titled Who Belongs, provides an often easily felt but rarely articulated understanding on how native populations look at immigration. It refers to comments from someone called Michael Ignatieff.
What is driving this surge in anti-immigrant populism in Western politics?
"what we’re seeing is, in part, an ideological split between cosmopolitan elites who see immigration as a common good based in universal rights, and voters who see it as a gift conferred on certain outsiders deemed worthy of joining the community."
This disagreement, he said in an interview, has animated much of the backlash against immigration that is described as “uncontrolled” and a threat to receiving communities. These disagreements over “who belongs,” he said, will “define the 21st century.” …
Now talking of global elites, written in September, well before Trump's unlikely win, Mathew Continenti had explained in this piece titled The Politics of Disassociation,  Why populism, nationalism, and tribalism will outlast Trump and Clinton. In the piece, he quotes another article by John Marini and this paragraph is very instructive:

Those most likely to be receptive of Trump are those who believe America is in the midst of a great crisis in terms of its economy, its chaotic civil society, its political corruption, and the inability to defend any kind of tradition—or way of life derived from that tradition—because of the transformation of its culture by the intellectual elites. This sweeping cultural transformation occurred almost completely outside the political process of mobilizing public opinion and political majorities. The American people themselves did not participate or consent to the wholesale undermining of their way of life, which government and the bureaucracy helped to facilitate by undermining those institutions of civil society that were dependent upon a public defense of the old morality.
Finally, among all the post Trump win analysis pieces, I found this piece by Ed West in The Spectator to be most fascinating - especially the ending.

"How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant:
Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but ‘racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia’ — is the desire to delegitimise any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic… cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.
Is it any surprise then, that across the western world the centre-left is sleepwalking to irrelevance? The proposition nation is a noble concept, and one against which the white identity politics of the Alt Right is hard to morally articulate, but it is very much a utopian one, and certainly something that has never been tried before in a democracy. Liberals boast that demography is on their side, which it certainly is, but when they achieve their goal they might not like what they have created. The more utopian dreams fail the more virulent its believers tend to become towards opponents, but it doesn’t solve the existential contradictions. As a child, I remember a superpower tried changing human nature to create a paradise on earth; that didn’t work out too well."

PS: This Youtube video rant by Jonathan Pie, that has gone viral is absolutely brilliant :)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We need some Plain Speaking

Disclaimer : This is a long and rambling post about a few topics - but mainly intended to think aloud about having an honest and open debate about RTE. 

2015 onward, we have seen an outbreak of various kinds of incidents in Europe - both terrorist attacks as well as some non terror ones - like the attack on women in Germany on New Year's eve, which has led all sorts of questions being asked about mass immigration, multiculturalism, integration, the state of of liberal democracy and so on. The Leave vote winning the Brexit referendum only further fueled the ongoing rhetoric. Clearly there is a problem for all to see. The integration of Muslims, especially from the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan is not going very well - I do not need to post five different links here to make that point.

Roll back a few years. Mark Steyn, in an interview on Uncommon Knowledge, had this sequence, which goes into the heart of a tough question. There have been facts as well let's say fear mongering, about the changing nature of European society with lowering birth rates of white Europeans and rising immigration from the Muslim world. The term Eurabia had been mentioned by Steyn and a few others, with some particular date given by which Europe would be a white minority continent. That was vehemently countered by the multicultural left saying - no way that date is right, it would take many more years. But within that is an implied admission that Europe could be on it's way to becoming a Muslim continent. Alright, then the next question is So what ? So what would be wrong if Europe or the West turned Muslim ?

Steyn answers that in the above clip. Why did I bring this rather provocative clip up ? Simply because I thought this was an example of honest, plain speaking.  Another good example of some plain speaking, albeit provocative, about demographics, this time about the US for example is this article.


Asking about consequences of demographic changes is a fair question in my opinion and deserves  thoughtful answers, whether it is the West or India. Every time the Census data is published in India, the very same data is analysed completely differently by the Left and the Right. For example this time around, the narrative from the Left was that Muslim population growth rates are at their lowest levels ever, while the narrative from the Right was about how the Muslim population growth was higher than that of Hindus again.  Both statements were correct factually - but they displayed differing concerns, as well as social/ political agendas.

Same data different analysis

Take this very detailed analysis by Shanmukh, Dikgaj and Saswati Sarkar. It discusses the possibility of Western UP and Southern Uttarakhand turning Muslim majority by 2061. So what ? You might ask. So what if that and indeed, other parts of the country turn Muslim majority - what is the problem, what is the issue ? I think - these are tough questions that deserve a lot of thought and analysis, Maybe there is no problem and any concerns raised are bogus. Or maybe there are questions to be raised about the life and liberty of non Muslims in such areas. Either way, it would be better as a society to answer these questions with clarity, rather than fear mongering or whisper campaigns.


The Education sector is subject to quite vociferous debates across the world. The new Prime Minister of post-Brexit Britain Theresa May, has immediately gone for the restoration of "Grammar Schools" - something not touched by her predecessor David Cameron, who belonged to the same party. Note how she is not ashamed of using the term "truly meritocratic Britain". Of course, the move will not go uncontested, it will face virulent criticism from the Left, but at least there is a debate happening in the public space transparently.

In the United States, Charter Schools are a  cause for lot of debates. In this article, the great Thomas Sowell points out how Charter Schools have been delivering better results for the black community but are opposed by the Left and their success stories are ignored by the media because it does not suit their politics.

Whatever the debate, in my opinion there is far more plain speaking on both sides than what we see here in India.

Coming to RTE

We have been seeing a lot of hand wringing over the disastrous consequences of RTE, including it's sectarian nature. Within the last month, the cancellation of affiliation of six prestigious schools of the NPS group in Bengaluru, on account of an attempt to get minority status through fake certificates in order to avoid falling under the RTE regime, has brought some additional media attention.

There have been some criticisms of RTE of a secular nature in the Indian and International media, right up to this column by Geeta Kingdon in The New York Times. Someone the other day described RTE as a legislation which confuses "building schools" with "school buildings". See this video (sadly very under-shared & under-seen) of how a small, private school teaching kids from non-privileged backgrounds had to shut down as it did not comply with some bureaucratic wisdom.

Let's come to the most divisive aspect of RTE which is the sectarian nature of the law. A surprising number of people do not know about this. A more disturbing number of India's public intellectuals, media mavens and journalists PRETEND to not know about this.  But basically this is what it means: A combined reading of the Constitutional Amendment (93rd Amendment), the RTE legislation and cases decided by the Supreme Court means that only Hindu owned schools (whether Aided by the govt or Unaided ) have to comply with the regulations of the RTE. Minority owned schools (both Unaided and Aided) are exempt from complying with the RTE regime.

Apart from the plethora of regulations, the big issue here is schools under RTE, that is "HINDU schools", have to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children to be reimbursed the state. In other words, the Indian state, which promises free (& compulsory) education to children between the age of 6 to 14, SHIFTS the burden of it's own promise (in part) to private, Hindu schools only. Experience of the last few years tells us that many schools are shutting down as state governments are often not fully footing the bill or delaying the payment etc etc. The disadvantages that a Hindu school faces vis-a-vis say a non Hindu school are an enormous additional burden when it comes to be a competitive player of school market.

Reality Check India (RCI), has been pretty much leading the fight on Social Media to spread awareness on this issue. His blogs are an absolute education on this subject (and on many else). I would recommend anyone interested in knowing more about the disastrous RTE to read his posts on the topic.

 Consider the below explanation from this blog post by RCI which explains the nitty gritty of this discrimination faced by Hindu schools.

RTE Discrimination Explained

At the very least, if you explain this much to any reasonable individual, he or she will probably agree that something is not right here, at least in terms of a fair competition between say Hindu schools and Catholic schools - the Hindu schools are at a substantial disadvantage, whether it is in terms of autonomy or finance. The financial disadvantage is probably getting passed on to balance 75% students.

How do you know it is actually a competitive game ? A Jesuit organization, which DOES NOT have to comply with RTE, giving suggestions to the government to ENFORCE RTE. There is something unspeakably grotesque and sinister in this, which is hard to articulate, but quite deeply felt by me. Imagine an office, where one department - say Operations was exempt from following the dress code but went around snitching to the HR - hey look - those guy in Sales/ Finance are not dressed properly.

So, where is there so much silence about this in the mainstream media ? Why are India's public intellectuals who are up in arms against Gau-Rakshaks largely silent about this gross unfairness and inequality before law ? Why is no one doing plain speaking like Shreyas Bharadwaj did in this article where he mentions the following:
The RTE is nothing less than a targeted tax on Hindus already running schools and a preventive tax on Hindus from entering into the education sector. A 21st century version of Jizya.
          (SO WHAT, you may ask, later ....)

How does such an incredibly unfair law stay on the books with very little awareness or debate out there in the real world ? Is there a remotely similar situation in the education sector of any country which dis-advantages the majority community so severely ? I haven't come across any such examples. I am not totally surprised -after all the Indian state is unique in shifting the burden of responsibility to the private sector with great innovation. The 2% of profit for compulsory CSR for corporates was also a World's first when it was brought in a few years back.

 But amending, let alone repealing RTE, if ever any government - gets into that mode, will be an extremely onerous journey. The path will be filled with massive obstacles led by the activist classes who make up our so called "civil society" and then dealing with an increasingly difficult judiciary. There are moral hazards to be encountered in every step of the way, every clause to overturn. Take some examples.

  • Repeal RTE for Hindu schools: All hell would break lose if someone tried to do it one shot and it is here that we will get into some really deep ethical quagmires ? Do you not want good education for the underprivileged kids of the society ? These are Hindu kids also - you want to block their growth? You will hear plenty of goading from Catholic educationists for eg - who will go - We are fine if you Hindus don't want to educate your kids.This is the diabolical genius of the RTE legislation for it has now pit Hindus on two opposing sides and you can never make everyone happy at the same time ever again. 
  • No Detention: If you cite falling standards of educational outcome and learning and link it to removing no detention - then you will get some activists saying that schools are actually safe spaces for children from under-privileged backgrounds first and foremost and by bringing this in - you are actually attempting to thrown them out of school in a few years. In case the BJP tries this - they will be accused of doing an about turn on their own policy in Maharashtra. In any case today, meritocracy in India has been already sold as a Brahmanical conspiracy and this will be just another part of that agenda.
  • Requirements of physical infrastructure:  If you try to make them less stringent - you will be encountered by jibes of how you are inhuman to think schools should not have toilets for girl students.
The challenges I narrate are just as I scratch the surface. Experts and Intellectuals will no doubt weigh in with many more difficulties. There will be more moral hazards unearthed. There will be more Zero Sum Games to lose sleep over.

Asking for equality before law should be a simple exercise, it is generally considered to be a foundation of rule of law. But in India's current legal and political system, pitting one group against the other, pitting one special interest group against another is the norm and so there are no guarantees based on common sense and basic principles.

And so to end, something about plain speaking about the consequences of doing nothing and the status quo.

It appears to me that in the current state of discourse, the activist among the parents would rather be protest against high fees of a private school and get it under govt control, than have an education market of choice. 

What is the average Indian middle class parent most concerned about ? Is it RTE or rising school fees ? It is the latter. When you explain it him - what does he say ? He says hmm, we will still have the good missionary schools left unaffected - we will send our kids there. So what he will ask you - let the poor Hindus be educated through RTE and the elite go to the excellent Missionary schools. Hasn't the elite always gone to these excellent Missionary schools. What is the problem now ?

This is the question that needs to be answered. Well this is the elite that gives you today's self appointing judiciary and today's media. It is the same elite class that has nationalized the Hindu religion. Do we want more of the same or do we want a change for the better and equality before law ? 

I do concede that better policy alternatives need to be formulated in detail, but plain, honest, truthful speaking is needed from all sides. I guess what I am also saying is just stating the obvious like Equality before law is needed, may not be enough anymore. We need to engage in Sustained Persuasion. Doing nothing  about this is not an option we can afford.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Minimum Government, Maximum Governance

The recent expansion of the Narendra Modi council of ministers, taking it past the tally of the previous UPA government, is being seen as the latest blow the promises of Minimum Government, Maximum Governance - a slogan popularized by the Prime Minister himself, both pre & post elections as a symbol of this government's mantra and working style. The size of the council of ministers is a function of many factors, both administrative and political, and hence it is probably not the best measure of  Minimum Government, Maximum Governance. However, we do remember that the initial smaller size of the cabinet of ministers was touted as a sign of having a Minimum Government (again, probably wrongly), so the criticism now is perhaps a reply to that.

What does Minimum Government, Maximum Governance actually mean? What are some of the indicators that - what is being preached, is actually being practiced by the government ? Do people actually want it ? Is it actually the right thing to do at this point in time in India ?

On the two year anniversary of the NDA government, in an interview to The Wall Street Journal, Narendra Modi had this to say on the role of the state :
WSJ: What is the proper role for the state in the economy? 
Mr. Modi: The role of the State in the economy is best described in my maxim “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance.”  The state should be an enabler: a fair and transparent enabler creating an environment for sustainable growth and job creation, and giving a sense of belief to the people.
In a developing economy, state enterprises do have a role in some sectors.  They have to be managed professionally and efficiently. We have given them operational freedom and brought in talent from the private sector as well to facilitate this.  The state need not do business in certain sectors.  We have a new policy on strategic disinvestment.  We are in the process of identification of entities for strategic sale.

We can come up with many examples of  what maximum governance could mean. I suspect it is a euphemism for a government which delivers services to the citizenry in an effective manner. So the whole JAM (Jan Dhan + Aadhar + Mobile) architecture can be looked as a step in that.

Minimum government is a more difficult thing to pin down, but we can lay down some broad points in perhaps an increasing order of difficulty :

  1. Getting the government out of business or in other words privatization/ dis-investment;
  2. Procedural simplification for businesses and citizens in their dealings with governments etc, so in effect it could mean a range of things from Deregulation to Scrapping of old, defunct laws and so on;
  3. Reducing or limiting the size of the Central government and bureaucracy surrounding it;
  4. Reducing or limiting the scope of the Central government.

Point number 1 which is Privatization is probably the simplest means of demonstrating Minimum Government and the lack of privatization under this government has provided it's critics a convenient stick to beat it with. Why should the Government still own and run Air India - we ask. Of course, privatization means having to deal with bureaucratic tangles on one hand (the legacy of Maximum Governments of the past) as well as its political fall outs, unions and what have you on the other; and this government has appeared reluctant to spend its political capital on such things so far. On the question of the lack of privatization, Mr Modi had this to say in the same interview:
Actually, in any developing country in the world, both the public sector and the private sector have a very important role to play. You can’t suddenly get rid of the public sector, nor should you.  But if you look at the last two years of my government, and if you look at the entire post-independence phase of the country, you will find that in terms of money volumes the maximum disinvestment has taken place in the last two years.
So, as of now, we will continue to see some disinvestment, without big bang privatization and so on that count the record of this government is going to be a mixed one and possibly a disappointment for some of it's supporters.

Now let us look at Point 2. In terms of deregulation, simplification etc, one of the most discussed points is the Ranking for Ease of Doing Business. So far, we have seen small improvements in the ranking - up to 130th in the world in 2016 from 134th in 2015, but hardly something to write home about yet. But as you can see in the article, steps are indeed being taken, take the new bankruptcy code as an example. The government is setting itself ambitious goals, including getting into the Top 100 by next year.

We have seen some interesting progress in terms of scrapping of laws at both the central level as well as states under BJP. In this interview, Bibek Debroy of the Niti Aayog, mentioned that 1200 ! laws have been removed from the statute books at the central level. Also consider this article from the same author describing the ambitious project of cleaning up the statute books in the state of Rajasthan. It is an extremely instructive article which tells us how complicated and messed up our laws are. These lines here give a good idea of the nature of the activity.
First, are there old statutes and rules that can be repealed, similar to the recent Union government initiative? Second, can one rationalise and harmonise statutes/rules, and avoid the confusion that lack of standardisation causes? Third, can one place all statutes/rules in the public domain? Fourth, can one reduce excessive government intervention in statutes/rules?
As a possible template, such a massive reform exercise doesn’t take off unless it has the personal interest and the blessings of the chief minister. That message has to percolate through to departments. To state something not often appreciated: Rajasthan government doesn’t administer a statute/rule; a specific department within the Rajasthan government does, and every such department regards its statutes/rules as proprietary stuff, not to be trifled with. That’s where the CM’s intervention is vital. Equally importantly, there has to be a faceless bureaucrat, who will take the CM’s agenda and run with it, pestering and hounding departments, refusing to back off.
Posterity will not pardon me if I let that bureaucrat remain faceless. Had it not been for Rakesh Verma, the additional chief secretary, I am certain we wouldn’t have delivered. This isn’t about the Industrial Disputes Act. This isn’t about the corporate sector. It is about all the laws/statutes and all citizens. It is about making laws friendlier, including simpler language, where fresh drafting is involved. Rajasthan is the only state to have done this. Kerala repealed 697 statutes in 2005 and another 107 in 2009. That was huge, but not exhaustive. Rajasthan’s exercise is exhaustive.
Now, coming to Point 3 - with the recent expansion of the cabinet of ministers, there is no real case to be made here for this government. Neither have we seen any particular coverage of reducing the size of the bureaucracy. Instead, the focus seems to have been in making the bureaucrats perhaps more empowered and efficient. The only thing one can say is perhaps Fiscal Deficit targets are kept in check, for now, despite having a large state.

And finally coming to Point 4 - well this is the most difficult to pin down and grapple with. Our own history post independence of centralized planning and Socialism, instead of a Free market,capitalist system; influences the general thinking of the public and politicians in a certain way. In this article, Sanjeev Sanyal mentions Why India needs to no longer be an Ashokan republic, but a Chanakyan one. But in some sense the legacy of this Ashokan "nanny state" since independence, further accelerated by various well meaning progressive instincts of our elites, politicians and judiciary,  has resulted today in a nation in which we have regulations for everything : from free speech, opening schools, and from cinema to temples.

In this essay about free speech, PB Mehta rightly mentions:
The Indian Constitutional imagination was always marked by statism. The ideals of liberty in any constitution are shaped by the greatest fears of that society. Where the fear of tyranny dominates, there is greater emphasis on protection against coercion. For India’s founders, the bigger fear was not tyranny, but social oppression. The State needed to be empowered to protect society from itself. 
Not only is untangling of this complex web of laws going to be a herculean task for anyone who seriously attempts it, there is also a question of whether there is an actual appetite for it among the citizenry. One of the places that we see this in action, is the contentious case of school education. We know for example that the Right to Education Act imposes very many constraints on the running of non-minority schools - from policies of admitting students, to policies for promotion and indeed starting new schools. Very many schools are being shut down across the country due to non compliance. And yet, if you read news reports, all parents associations across the country seem to be doing is railing against exorbitant fees and getting government officials to intervene and then coerce schools into complying and thereby possibly shutting them down in the future. When it comes to a choice between having more choice of schools and liberty on the one hand and state regulations on the other, we Indians seem to prefer state intervention and regulations.

The same instincts and history of statism means that a secular state has Hindu temples under government control, rather than in the hands of communities at a local level, the only argument being that the state is in a better position to guard against possible caste/ gender based discrimination. The same instincts of statism means that we are seeing a clause being inserted in the Real Estate to prevent religious, sexual orientation, diet discrimination.

The one clear contrast to our preference for statism and fear of social oppression is the American tradition of Liberty. Liberty, that unique word that you hear all the time in the American political and social discourse is almost absent from our own discourse. Right from the times of James Madison, Americans have had Liberty as one of, if not their most,cherished ideals. It is perhaps the only large country where generally one party and about half the country is interested in limiting the size and more importantly the scope, of the federal government. And that is why many Republicans and Conservatives are truly concerned about the GOP's candidate of 2016, Donald Trump - who promises great management instead of a limited government.

And so pragmatically speaking, given our current income low income levels, given our history of socialism, given our tendencies in the society of fearing social oppression more than the tyranny of the state (despite humongous corruption), and dare I say, our lack of interest or it would seem - desire for Liberty, the best we can really hope for now, is a more effective and efficient government, which cuts out redundancies, middlemen and corruption where possible. (To be fair, we have seen some improvements in delivery of good services, across governments in the past decade - take the case of Income Tax return processing or Passport departments, for example.) We can also push for more federalism, reducing the scope of the central government and empowering state governments to do more, and this government has taken some steps in that direction. If we could additionally, curtail the state's instinct of rushing into solve problems that don't need state intervention probably, like trolling in social media for example, it would indeed be a major shift.

In India, we are unlikely to ever see many articles similar to this one - making among other things a moral case for Liberty and Limited Government. Thankfully though, we are beginning to see some interest in this direction of making a pragmatic case. Reuben Abraham and Vivek Dehejia lay down a pragmatic agenda for limited government, the first half of Modi’s mantra of “minimum government, maximum governance” in this article. A new conversation for a vision of a limited government and a limited state may actually be the most positive impact of this mantra being brought in by the Prime Minister. Actual results will probably take a much longer time.

PS: This article by Shri Debroy in Swaraja making the case for studying the classics for better appreciation of Reforms is well worth reading on this topic. As he mentions here, Reforms indeed mean a small government, as mentioned in this paragraph.

We continue to debate reforms—big bang, steady state, first generation, second generation. Often, we have our preconceived notions about what “reforms” are. To me, whichever aspect of reforms we debate, the discourse is essentially about three strands. First, the government cannot do everything. Second, the government doesn’t know everything. Third, the government means a decentralised government.

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