23 November 2016

“Identity Politics” is a Really Good Way to Address Poverty

Assuming that the electoral college dooms us all on December 19th by confirming Donald Trump as President, who at last count had 2 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, there is going to be a long and bitter existential debate on the left. The current mode du jour is that liberal “identity politics” is what tanked the Electoral College count. While I don’t deny the merit of that specific argument, it would be remiss of me to not call out one glaring issue with dropping identity politics from the discourse of leftist politics: Identity politics are a great way to address poverty.

If our ultimate path to winning an election is winning the economy, and if we have a moral obligation to ensure no one goes hungry or homeless, how poverty is addressed must be at the center of the political conversation. In 2015, four out of the ten countries with the highest quality of living also placed in the top ten in terms of gender equality. One of the countries with a top ten gender equality score — Rwanda — is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and has one of the highest quality of living in the continent. No sh*t. Women are more than half the population of most countries, so of course empowering women to live safe, productive lives benefits everyone in the country. But in order to get to that point, something has to be done to address the root causes of the problem. In Rwanda’s case, the “solution” was tragic — the country went through a genocide in which a massive portion of the male population was killed, so women were a large part of the reconstruction effort. Fortunately those attitudes of gender inclusion have largely prevailed, and women make up more than half of the Rwandan Parliament.

Other than genocide, how can we address the cultural barriers that prevent women, ethnic, racial, gender expression or other minorities from achieving economic prosperity, thereby lifting everyone in the country? Identity politics, plain and simple. If we as a society are scared to address the myriad of cultural factors that affect segments of our population, how can we expect to propose real solutions? Bringing jobs to the rust belt isn’t enough if women, black people and Hispanics in the area are prevented from the same employment opportunities as white men. Identity politics allows us a lens into what is working where and for whom, and that lens is critical to advancing economic well being of the overall population of any country.

Identity politics also provides another valuable lens to economic health, one that Bernie Sanders has been shouting about for 40 years — income inequality. The overwhelming majority of economic growth in the past decade has gone to the top 1%, and the majority of that wealth has gone to white men. The ten wealthiest people in the country are all white men. With the exception of Warren Buffet and (arguably) the Koch brothers, all of them made their money in tech. The tech industry has boomed in the past decade, with venture capital (VC) funding doing the heavy lifting in early funding of companies like Uber and AirBNB. The breakdown of VC funding through the identity politics lens is telling: statistically speaking, black female-led tech companies raise 0% of all VC funding, despite a 300%+ increase in the number of black female-led companies since the 90s. Look at the numbers and try to make the argument that identity isn’t hugely relevant to addressing economic growth in America. I dare you.

I will be the first to admit that we on the left cannot have it both ways. There are undoubtedly problems that disproportionately affect the white majority. If we want to continue to use identity politics as a way forward, we can’t be afraid to address issues facing specifically the white community, especially if the current the demographic shift means they will go from the majority to the plurality in the next generation.

Moving beyond the merits of identity politics in economic well being is the issue of messaging. Messaging on “white issues” obviously must be handled respectfully for both white and non-white people, as there is rarely a single community in America in which white people do worse than PoCs, and given that America was largely built on the backs of black slaves. Despite the possibly explosive implications, we need to recognize that though “white culture” in America is loose and charged construct, it does have implications that need to be addressed.

The most common argument against identity politics I hear from the right is that they are “divisive” and “exclusionary.” Divisive to whom? To white people, mostly. Until this point, the left has not done a great job of articulating the majority of any population doesn’t need to be specifically addressed like the minority. For decades, if not centuries, minority needs barely made it to mainstream politics or media. Solutions were built for the majority and minorities were left to figure out how to make it work in their own lives. Arguably for the first time in American history, the needs of people outside the majority are featured. But in that amazing phenomenon, much of the majority felt like they were left out. Seeing that the new right is the alt-right is white supremacy, I’m going to take a wild stab and say it’s thus up to the left to figure out how to properly message “majority inclusion”. Again, I argue the solution is not to drop identity politics, no matter how tempting.

I could probably write a dissertation on this topic, but I’ll leave my last point as something I have long been arguing — America needs to get better at embracing nuance. It is shameful that large swaths of our population find a cultural penchant to being uneducated and/or poorly informed and/or incapable of understanding details. America has been responsible for some of the greatest achievements in nearly every academic, professional and technological domain. We should not relish in not knowing things. We should collectively embrace that most things require some understanding of math, history, education, and overall context. We should collectively embrace that is our moral obligation to remain aware of who we are, where we are and how our actions affect others. It is the assault on intelligence that is our problem, not using identity politics to better understand our world.
We have a long way to go and, with Donald Trump in The White House, a lot of damage control to do. If and when we get a second to stop and breathe, I hope the political left continues to embrace higher thought, adopts better messaging and with that, one of the best tools we have in bettering America — identity politics.

31 July 2016

Rebuttals – Support for Hillary


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If you need help convincing people in your life to vote for Hillary, I'm here to help.


From the Right

If you are on the right/conservative/Republican, check out this list of high-ranking Republicans who have endorsed or expressed support for Hillary.
  • Voting for Hillary because she is a woman is sexist.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are a high school guidance counselor. One day, one of the best students in your high school comes into your office and tells you that he has been struggling with classes lately. You ask him questions about his life at school, home and his part-time job. After a few minutes, he reveals that his grandfather – with whom he was very close – died a few weeks ago, and he hasn’t been able to concentrate on anything since. Other than that, everything else in his life is the same as before.

Clearly the death of his grandfather is the reason why your student isn’t doing as well. But instead of helping him cope with the death, you tell this student that he just needs to work harder. Other kids are doing well in the same classes, and so should he. He needs to spend more hours studying, work more closely with teachers, and spend less time socializing. His grandfather dying has nothing to do with his performance, you tell him.

Sounds stupid, right? Well, that’s also one way to look at systemic discrimination, including patriarchy. Patriarchy is the idea that males dominate society. Indeed, by every measure, America always has been and is still a patriarchy. Everything equal other than sex/gender, men are paid more for doing the same job as females. Women are the disproportionate victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that males commit. (Male victims of violence are overwhelmingly victims of other men, not of women.) Women account for 51% of the American population, yet there are significantly more men in Congress. Every single one of our 44 presidents have been male. Women only received the right to vote in 1920, meaning that men had a 144-year monopoly on political governance in America.

When women or men talk about the significance of Hillary Clinton achieving her success as a woman, they are not saying that men don’t matter. What they are saying is that considering the history of patriarchy in America, what Hillary Clinton has done is remarkable. When women and men take pride in Hillary Clinton being a woman, they are acknowledging her success at breaking down systemic discrimination, and in this case, that discrimination is patriarchy.

Going back to our example, acknowledging the role of patriarchy is important for the United States to progress as a country. If you as the guidance counselor of that student ignore the big and obvious problem of his grandfather dying, are you doing him any good? Does it do any good to tell him to work harder? No. Should you encourage him, his family, his teachers, and his friends to address the problem that is holding him back? Of course. Likewise, we need to acknowledge the significance of Hillary Clinton achieving what she did because it is addressing a systemic problem in our country. It is not sexist to acknowledge the significance of Hillary Clinton being a woman.

As for the idea that people are only voting for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman – that is simply ridiculous. She started her career as a civil rights advocate for disability rights of children, and essentially helped rewrite how the law perceives kids with disabilities. Her work on this issue has been used around the world. She brought to light systemic and violent discrimination of women in international law. She was an agricultural and educational transformer, advocating for small farmers and all children in Arkansas. She attempted the first comprehensive, universal healthcare reform for all Americans. Literally every other industrialized nation has already implemented universal healthcare for their citizens. When a Republican Congress blocked her plan, she compromised and expanded healthcare to 8 million children, a program that still exists today. She was then a Senator for eight years and Secretary of State for four years, and has popular support among colleagues and staff from both parties in both positions. Most of her current fiercest critics started criticizing her during this election.

Saying people are voting for Hillary Clinton only because she is a woman is like saying Serena and Venus Williams are hugely successful tennis players only because they are black. People are voting for Hillary because she is incredibly well qualified, just like Serena and Venus won a lot of Grand Slam titles because they are really talented players. Hillary being a woman is inspirational for a lot of people, sure. Serena and Venus being black are inspirational for a lot of people, absolutely. Hillary’s sex is not what qualifies her. Serena and Venus’ race is not what qualifies them.

It’s no coincidence that the countries that have the most equality between males and females also have the highest quality of life, meaning everyone lives longer, healthier, less stressful, safer and more fulfilled lives. If you ignore your student’s problem and let his grades slip, his opportunity dies. If you do the same thing to other students, collectively, everyone suffers. Similarly, if patriarchy and unfairness towards women – again 51% of the American population – continues, then everyone will suffer.

Acknowledging the accomplishment of Hillary Clinton as our first female nominee for President from a major party is not sexist. It’s acknowledging the struggle of women in a historically patriarchal society. People are not voting for women because she is a woman; they are voting for her because she is extremely qualified, the best candidate, and because they are inspired by her achievements in a society that has always discriminated against women professionally and politically.

  • I like Trump because he says what he means.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you’re looking to hire a new office manager. You have two candidates – one is a guy that has a lot of the same interests as you. The other is a woman you don’t have a lot of things in common with. The guy seems like the kind of person you’d be friends with, so you consider offering him the job. But before he leaves, he says to you, “You’re f*cking ugly, this office looks like a piece of sh*t, and I’m the only one who can fix this.”

Would you hire him? Of course not.

Like every social, professional and personal relationship, we have to be decent and tactful when we say something. Shouting at everyone does nothing except turn people off. Why would we ever allow President of the United States be an exception to this basic rule of decency? How would our kids react? What will our allies abroad say? What would people who do not agree with Trump think? Why would intentionally hurting people ever be a good idea?

Trump is allowed to have opinions. But as a Presidential nominee, he cannot be allowed to say whatever he wants however he wants. Not even your office manager can do that. Why should your president?

  • Hillary wants to take away my guns and repeal the 2nd amendment.

Her actual words in her DNC Convention acceptance speech, “I am not here to repeal the 2nd amendment. I am not here to take away your guns. I just don’t think you should be shot by someone who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place.”

Her platform reflects exactly that. She’s for reasonable gun control measures, not for taking your guns away.

  • Hillary wants to let terrorists into the country from Syria. 

No, she doesn’t. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism are Muslims. Hillary wants to let refugees from Syria into the country. The process to enter the United States as a refugee is long and extremely thorough. In 2015, Hillary said she wanted to allow 65,000 Syrian refugees, which is about 1% of total Syrian refugees (people forced to live outside of Syria) and about 0.6% of the total Syrians that have been forced to leave their home. That means America will have a massive selection pool to ensure those who come here are neither terrorists nor have a history of violence. 10% of Syria’s 22-million population is Christian. Half of all Syrians have been forced out of their home, so it’s even possible (not likely, but possible) that all Syrians that come to the States are Christian.

Hillary obviously doesn’t want innocent people to die because of terrorists. Plus, the topic is so controversial that Hillary would destroy her own career if any refugees that settle in the States were terrorists or violent.

  • Why won’t Hillary and the Democrats say radical Islam?

There are more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide. Muslims live in every country in the world and are of every race, including white. According to the US State Department, which keeps track of all known terrorists organizations, a high estimate of terrorists worldwide is 132,000. Even if you were to double this number, and assuming that all terrorists worldwide are Muslim, the total number of terrorists is less than 0.03% of the entire Muslim population. Remember, these are not based on biased media figures. These are based on the best data the US government has.

Meanwhile, a very common theme among people who commit acts of terror against Western countries – from the Boston bombers to the attacks in Paris – is that racism and discrimination push men (only 1 known terrorist attack in the West was committed by a woman, who was a San Bernardino shooter) in the States and Europe to radicalize and join a terrorist organization. Further, the French government has estimated that 50% of the people who have left Europe to join ISIS or another terrorist group in the Middle East identify as Christian or atheist.

So, what good does referring to terrorists as “radical Islamists” do? Not much. People who identify as part of a religion commit acts of violence all the time. Non-Muslims kill far more people in mass shootings in the States than Muslims. But monitoring all non-Muslims doesn’t help identify potential mass shooters because the percentage of mass shooters among the total non-Muslim population is too small. Likewise, monitoring all Muslims in the States or worldwide is pointless when the number of Muslim terrorists is so tiny compared to all Muslims. In saying the phrase “radical Islam”, you are equating terrorism as a version of Islam, even though statistically, the chance any given Muslim in the world is a terrorist is zero, and even though Muslim religious leaders around the world have condemned terrorist violence. Meanwhile, no one is saying “extremist Christian” to refer to the many mass shooters in America who identify as Christian. It is actually more correct to assume any given Catholic priest is a pedophile than to assume any given Muslim is a terrorist.

The term “radical Islam” also has a big negative effect. As already mentioned, people who grew up in Western countries and then become terrorists are often subjected to extreme racism and discrimination where they grew up. The term “radical Islam” equates a very tiny portion of the total Muslim population as representative of all Muslims. It denigrates the 1 billion+ Muslims who are not terrorists and it makes Muslims in the West feel isolated. This has repeatedly shown to help the appeal of terrorist organizations grow.

So the reason Hillary Clinton and Democrats don’t say the phrase “radical Islam” is because they want to defeat terrorists groups. Republican politicians and pundits use the phrase to appeal to conservative, uneducated constituents, not because there is any evidence it helps us identify terrorists.

  • We should monitor all Muslims and not let any more Muslims into the country.

One of the founding principles of the US Constitution is freedom of religion. A ban on people based on their religion is a direct violation of the Constitution, even if the ban is temporary. Enacting any legislation that bans Muslims for any period of time will be struck down in any federal court. Were Trump to enact legislation that that violates freedom of religion, other amendments in the Constitution are fair game, including the other parts of the 1st amendment (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble) and the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms).

Even if it were constitutional to monitor people based on their religion, there is no clear way on how to do so. Muslims are from every country in the world, are of every race (including white), and speak every major language in the world. So determining who identifies as Muslim in America based on nationality/origin, appearance or affiliation is impossible. Monitoring or surveillance of a person is also a complicated, as there are new encryption methods and apps that encrypt end-to-end invented on a daily basis. The sheer amount of time and resources it would take to monitor all Muslims in America makes the very idea completely logistically unreasonable.

Like all groups of immigrants, Muslims contribute a lot to this country. As much as 5 percent of all Muslim-Americans are doctors; Muslim immigrants/Muslim-Americans fill in major gaps of professional services required and demanded in the States that are not met through its local/non-Muslim population alone. Glossing over the critical contributions of Muslims in the States not only demeans great members of American society, it deters future immigrants that fulfill a need that cannot be met at home.

  • Hillary and the political correctness war is killing America.

To some people, saying something “politically correct” may be annoying and stupid. To others, it’s just being polite and accurate. No decent person goes around calling black people the N-word, so what’s so different about learning how to better communicate in a diverse society? Cars today are much more complicated than cars in Henry Ford’s era. More goes into a car, and there are therefore more words we use to describe different parts of a car. It’s a car mechanic’s job to learn the names of these different parts, not stop at the number of parts of a Model T car. So how is learning better language to describe different people any different? We have more races, religions, and ethnicities of people in America than ever before. We are a more advanced society that understands more about bigotry and human rights than ever before. Our language should reflect that. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be decent and learn how to refer to one another properly.

Political correctness goes both ways. Democrats don’t refer to the base of Trump’s constituency as “Fat, gross, uneducated white people that turn to heroine because they are too lazy to go to college and get a real job.” They don’t refer to the base of Ted Cruz’s constituency as “People who are too stupid to think with their brain instead of the Bible”. They don’t do that because it’s disrespectful, hurtful and doesn’t address the real challenges facing real communities. Trump, on the other hand, loves to insult people, places and companies. He could come for you next.

  • Only the political elites like Hillary.

Based on the endorsements at the DNC Convention alone, Hillary supporters include average people, Michael Bloomberg (who is 10+ times richer than Trump and a truly self-made billionaire), Republicans and 90+ percent of all Bernie supporters, the overwhelming majority of whom are not part of any elite establishment. Though they are heavy political influencers, it’s important to note The Washington Post is keeping a list of Republicans supporting Hillary.

There’s clearly a racial and class divide that has permeated the American political right in the past few decades, as one Republican intellectual explained, starting with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. After years of appealing to people motivated by racism, sexism and bigotry, yet not addressing concerns of poor white people in America, Donald Trump found fertile ground to make his campaign and appeal to disaffected white people. One of his initial campaigner advisors explained that the strategy was based on the rhetoric the far right (many of whom were self-proclaimed white supremacists) has used in recent years. This is where ideas like building a wall between the US and Mexico, banning Muslims in America and emphasizing “law and order” came from, even though all of these are unconstitutional and/or have no policy backing.

What’s especially worrisome is that a significant portion of the American population (perhaps even half) has seemed to disown the ideas of having even a basic understanding of the major issues, and accepting scientific reason and intellectual thought. Since its inception, Fox News has been widely criticized for “dumbing down” the news and intentionally misrepresenting information, because the network knows its viewers are the least informed and the least inclined to research anything further. While it’s understandable to not want a small elite of the country run the entire political system, it’s also the responsibility of the American people to actually take the time and stay informed. As President Obama famously said, “Ignorance is not a virtue.” It’s shameful to be purposely misinformed or under-informed, especially considering the vast amount of information and analysis that is available online for free.

  • Trump is a man of God. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine push policies that are against God’s will.

Not a single public figure of faith has confirmed Trump’s claims he is or ever was a regular churchgoer. Considering how much he loves media attention, we can safely assume he would have had a public figure of faith in his life were he ever religious.

In contrast, Clinton was raised Methodist, regularly held Bible studies during her time as First Lady of Arkansas, and had three priests speak at the DNC, all of whom have a personal relationship with Clinton. Kaine is a devout Catholic and has attended the same Richmond, VA church for 30+ years. Many members of his church confirm he is a regular attendee and attended very consistently long before he became a figure in national politics.

There is no single way to interpret the Bible or any religious doctrine. As one priest who spoke at the DNC Convention said, recurring and prominent themes in the Bible are the importance of people taking care of others, ensuring no one lives in poverty, and being kind to one another. With policies that place poverty reduction, economic prosperity and dignity for all, the Clinton/Kaine platform fulfills these important lessons of the Bible.

From the Far Left, Bernie Bros, and Third Party Supporters

  • Hillary is a war-mongering war criminal who should be in jail. She destroyed countless lives in Syria, Libya and Honduras, among others.

No doubt that a lot of Hillary’s decisions at Secretary of State had immutable negative effects. Instead of denying questionable policy decisions, we should acknowledge them and do better in the future.

The problem of US foreign policy goes far beyond the executive branch of government (i.e. the President and their cabinet), however. The military and the industrial complex that surround the military permeate nearly every facet of American life, including the core of every election – jobs. With a budget of $601 billion and about half of all US federal discretionary spending, there is no way to have a discussion about US foreign policy without recognizing the military’s role in American economic life. One presidential vote is not going to dramatically alter these relationships. In fact, every president in modern history has succumbed to these power dynamics. A President Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson would not have been exceptions.

In order to alter the relationship between the military and American economic life, one thing that has to happen is jobs that use the same skills the military employs en masse must be created – high-skilled manufacturing that cannot be automated, engineering, research and development, logistics, and security. One possible industry is clean energy – researching, designing, creating, deploying, maintaining and monitoring solar panels, wind farms, etc. Thankfully, Hillary has a comprehensive clean energy plan as part of her platform.

President Donald Trump would be devastating for foreign policy, causing mass instability abroad and, inevitably, many more wars. Trump is highly likely to suppress domestic human rights, freedom of speech, disregard good governance and rule of law, all of which will destroy progress, and law and order Stateside. History has told us that once a human right is realized, countries become highly unstable if that right is revoked – look at what is happening now in Turkey and what happened in Iran in the 1970s. History also tells us that gross income inequality and a population with a high opportunity cost in staying complacent leads to civil war. That is exactly the situation we’ll have if Trump wins the election.

Meanwhile, Hillary has the most progressive social platform in the history of the Democratic Party and really, the history of American politics. People may not agree with her policies, but there will be no coup or civil war under her presidential term(s). There is so much left to do for comprehensive foreign policy reform, and for this election, your only viable option to have a real, responsible and safe discussion is to elect Hillary.

  • Hillary supports fracking. She’s bad for the environment.

Keep fighting to make the Democratic platform more environmentally friendly!

Based on her debates leading up to the convention, saying Hillary supports fracking is an incomplete statement. She supported fracking only in areas that passed strict environmental requirements and that had popular support among local constituents, which equated to nearly no current or foreseen fracking sites. Further, Bernie made it clear that the work of he and his supporters have swayed Hillary to a stronger position against fracking.

Regardless, there is no disputing Hillary is a waaaaaay better candidate on the environment compared to the vague policy statements Trump has ever said. So far, he said he will shut down the EPA (as Bush did in the early 2000s). He also said he will try to revive the coal industry, which while extremely unlikely, is demonstrative of how willing he is to put aside environmental concerns for short-term gains in the polls.

  • Hillary cheated her way into the nomination. She shouldn’t have won the primary. The DNC is a corrupt machine.

By no empirical measure did Hillary lose the primary. She won the most votes, she got the most delegates and she got the most super delegates. (Watch Samantha Bee’s explanation and defense of the super delegates here.) In 2008, the margin by which Obama won over Hillary was bigger; Hillary conceded earlier, threw her support behind Obama and campaigned for him after she lost the primary, just like Bernie did for Hillary on Tuesday, July 26th.

The DNC made some mistakes, sure. The leaked emails exposed bias among 7+ staffers, and there is of course a chance if the leak were bigger that it would have exposed more bias. But to call the entire primary “rigged” or “institutionally corrupt” based on mostly those emails is presumptuous. By all means, if you want to do the hard, repetitive and gritty work of reforming the system, please do. We will get more diverse candidates and a better understanding of our constituents with a more transparent, easier to understand primary process. But do not equate Hillary’s thorough understanding of the existing system, ethical use of earned relationships within the party and among constituents, and a well-mobilized campaign as the same as corruption, especially considering Bernie has been in Washington for nearly two decades and had plenty of time to reform or better master the primary system. Ultimately, Bernie’s platform did not win popular or delegate votes among Democrats, period.

  • Hillary does not represent my views. I’m for a socialist economic system.

Hillary and Bernie overlap on the overwhelming majority of the issues, no matter how you dissect the ideas. In terms of policy, Hillary already had expanded social safety nets in her platform. Bernie said that he and his supporters were able to further expand those as part of the official Democratic platform. He also confirmed she agrees Citizens United should be overturned and that the nation’s biggest banks that use monopolistic and predatory lending practices will be reformed and/or broken up.

Hillary is a strong advocate for equal pay for equal work, meaning no social construct (i.e. gender, sex, class, race, orientation, etc.) can unduly influence workers’ compensation, which will further empower marginalized voices. As a lawyer, Arkansas state advisor, US First Lady and Senator, she also has a strong lifelong track record of actual implementation of social equity that Bernie cannot claim through the results of his Congressional record.

To realize Bernie’s idea of a socialist society, the vast majority of the American public needs to be convinced. Just eight years ago when Obama ran in his first presidential election, the word “socialist” continually tested as one of the most negative, toxic and poisonous words among the general electorate. Many people still feel that way.

Bernie continually cites Scandinavia as an example of an ideal economic society. Obviously, the US is not Scandinavia. Of the two biggest countries in Scandinavia, Sweden has a population of about 9 million people; Norway has about 4.5 million. Convincing an American populous of 310+ million people and that by every measure is more diverse that an economic system in Scandinavia will work for the States is a massive task. It’s a fundamental cultural shift. It would not have happened even if Bernie had been elected. By increasing voters rights (i.e. power of collective voice), tackling economic and social discrimination, and addressing long-standing gender inequality in this country, Hillary is working towards a future in which a serious discussion on economic restructuring would be an option. Don’t underestimate what she will do for the long game in achieving a post-capitalist society were popular consensus to be achieved.

From Moderates and Disillusioned Voters

  • I don’t support either candidate. I won’t be bullied into voting for Hillary. I won’t be motivated by fear, and neither should you.

You’re not motivated by fear at the thought of a President Donald Trump? Really!? What the f*ck is wrong with you!? The ACLU called this man a “One Man Constitutional Crisis. He doesn’t understand the basics of The Constitution. Every gross misstep he makes he attributes as “semantics”, “sarcasm”, “media bias”, and “elitism”. He openly mocks and demeans women, minorities, the disabled, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and the military. And that’s all within the past three months. You should absolutely be fearful of the worst qualified candidate in American history, a person doesn’t even have a basic comprehension of the rule of law, foreign policy, domestic human rights and international conventions.

One of the worst aspects of this election is taking the electorates’ ability to argue real policy and social justice concerns. Parts of the black community have repeatedly raised grievances of past Clinton policies. Tim Kaine’s unabashed use of his time in Honduras is enraging for US-Latin American social advocates. These are issues that should be debated during an election, but now the primary focus has turned to defeating a demagogue baboon from taking over the most powerful head of state position in the world and causing global chaos.

Ironically, our only choice is to vote one of the two major party candidates into office and work from there. It’s a less than ideal situation for a lot of people, but due to so many failures of our political system and of the American people’s level of engagement and understanding of the country and world, it is our reality. The choice of who to put in The White House is clear – we must vote for relative sanity, stability and for world order. We must vote for Hillary Clinton.

  • Both Hillary and Trump are corrupt. I can’t vote for either.

If you don’t vote for Hillary, this may be the last time we all vote for a US President, period. The ACLU has called Trump a “One Man Constitutional Crisis” and is already mobilizing lawyers around the country to challenge Trump’s unconstitutional policies and decisions should he be elected. Whatever your grievances for Hillary may be, the choice between the two candidates is too stark to even debate.

  • I hate Trump but I’m not inspired by Clinton/Kaine enough to vote.

No one is asking you to love the Clinton/Kaine ticket. We’re just asking you to help us avoid the apocalypse. If we recover at all, it’ll take decades to undo the damage Trump does. At most, it’ll take you a few hours to vote.

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  • The son of Khizr Khan and his wife died while serving in the US military in Iraq. In response, Trump said he’s also sacrificed a lot for his country. Neither Donald Trump nor any of his children ever served in the military. Trump has also made fun of John McCain because he, “got caught [in war]” and called the US military a “total disaster”.
  • Trump doesn’t know how many articles are in the US Constitution.
  • Less than a third of the House and a fifth of the Senate happily endorses Trump.
  • Trump keeps promising West Virginian and Pennsylvanian coal mining areas he’ll revive the industry, even though it’s highly improbable that’s even possible.
  • Trump has called for the violation of international law on multiple occasions by saying family members of terrorists should die and the US military should reinstate torture.
  • Trump said he hopes Russia “finds the other 30,000 emails” of Hillary Clinton, essentially advocating for international cyber crime against the States. When questioned, he said he was “obviously not being literal”.
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25 July 2016

Here’s Why Hillary’s Foreign Policy is Not a Good Reason to Vote Third Party

Note: this post assumes you are left leaning in the American political spectrum. See this post on Medium, here.

Interventionalist, war-monger, regime-changer…I’ve heard a lot of terms to describe Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. I’m in international development, and I understand from my own work and experience how destructive and destabilizing war is on a country for not just the present generation, but for many generations to come. I get the frustration and anger that comes with Hillary’s decisions, and I agree that her foreign policy has been contentious and often times dangerous.

Some Presidents (especially George W. Bush) have been absolute disasters in their foreign policy. Some nominees (especially Donald Trump) would be devastating in their foreign policy. The more pervasive problem is that EVERY president since I have been alive (and probably much further back) has made dangerous foreign policy decisions, no matter how progressive or conservative they were on the campaign trail. If we truly want to see a reform in our foreign policy, at minimum, we need to:

1.     Address the power the military has in our political process.
2.     Address why the media and the American public don’t understand that war does not equate all of foreign policy. As an example, look at how idiotic so much of the response was to the Iranian economic sanction lift.
3.     Figure out how to de-monetize/not derive profits from war.

No matter how great Jill Stein’s or Gary Johnson’s rhetoric is now, I guarantee you even if either were to miraculously win the Presidency, American foreign policy would not dramatically change in the three ways described above. These kinds of changes take massive amounts of studying, organizing, fundraising/lobbying, relationship building and perhaps even economic restructuring. It won’t happen in one election and, as Dan Savage recently mentioned, it won’t happen through the piecewise, sporadic approach third parties take.

Meanwhile, the threat Trump/Pence place on people like me – LGBTQI people, women, POCs, people with disabilities – is enormous. I quit a job with the UN in sub-Saharan Africa precisely to avoid persecution and dangerous conditions explicitly due to who I am. After years of work on economic development and human rights, I can confidently say the domestic human rights, inclusion, willingness to listen to constituents and openness of Hillary’s policy are some of the few and major things that are going correctly in this difficult world.

Casting a vote for a third party candidate will not rewrite the course of American foreign policy, military intervention and the American public’s opinion of both. Casting a vote for a third party candidate will not change the course of foreign policy. Casting a third party vote might, however, help elect as President an authoritarian demagogue with the temperament of a toddler who is willing to exploit and abuse those of us who are already most vulnerable here in the States. If anyone voting for a third party candidate uses foreign policy/war as a justification, at least be decent and acknowledge the complicated reality of the situation. At least acknowledge you are willing to subvert the human rights of people in the States for your principles, because like it or not, that is what you are saying.

24 June 2016

Brexit - Initial Thoughts

Find this on Medium, here.

I’ve already had a few friends reach out and ask what exactly Brexit means in practical terms. The answer, of course, is very complicated. I’m going to try to write out longer posts in coming days, but here are a few things to pay attention to in the news about why this is such a big and catastrophic deal:
  1. Most obviously, the international markets are going to go crazy. Already, the pound has devalued to its lowest point since 1985. The currency has not been valued so low since the USSR existed. International trade deals, including bi-lateral agreements between the UK and individual EU countries will now have to be rewritten/renegotiated. Immigration policies — including employment eligibility — will also change. According to the Lisbon Treaty, there is a two-year deadline for all of this to happen.
  2. Xenophobia and parallels to the US election — much of the Leave/Brexit movement was based on illogical arguments that are equivalent to Trump building his financially, politically and legally impossible wall on the US-Mexico border. The nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric that fueled the Brexit movement is impossible to ignore as irrelevant or tangential. In fact, it was center in much of the vote. Trump/Trump-like figures (including Boris Johnson, who was the figure for the Leave movement) will undoubtedly see validation for their incoherent, racially motivated “policies” that will hurt everyone, including and even especially the very people who vote in favor for such measures.
  3. Exit of other countries in the EU — Sweden has already indicated it will consider holding a vote to leave the EU following the passing of Brexit, as the UK is its closest EU trading partner and it still uses the kroner. The EU is the world’s second most powerful trading and economic bloc, and these hits could destroy the EU, which will have untold impact on the global economy. The debt financing and number of refugees the rest of the EU countries will have to take on as a result of the UK exit will also massively shift, perhaps to a breaking point.
  4. International aid and the UN — DFID, the UK government’s aid agency is one of the largest in the world. With the chaos of the UK EU exit, the fund is likely to shrink (maybe even significantly). The UN and its legitimacy will also take a hit as nationalistic sentiment grows. A global rise in nationalism and isolationist policies is exactly when institutions like the UN are most important, even if the institutions need major reforms.
  5. Future of the UK — In terms of GDP, the UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world.* As Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted to stay in the EU, it is very possible both will hold separate referendums to vote on independence. If secession votes pass, the composition of the UK itself will fundamentally shift.
  6. Disconnect between the “elite/establishment” and the “commoners” — Brexit is a clear indication that a large portion of the UK’s population is angry at the “elite/establishment” control over their lives. Many believe globalization has not worked in their favor, and that the “elite/establishment” is unequipped to work towards more equality, social safety nets and inclusion. If the “elite/establishment” of the UK cannot work with the “commoners” to close these gaps, more drastic moves like Brexit will come, which will ultimately work in no one’s favor. This strongly parallels what is currently happening in the States.
*Update, 14h32 EDT, 24 June 2016 — France has technically taken over the UK has the fifth biggest global economy following the rapid devaluation of the British pound.

09 May 2016

The Reductive Effect of Homogeneity

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend at a diner in the West Village. He recently finished his Masters from the same graduate program as me in New York City. Since we are both looking for a job, we immediately began talking about the headache involved in the process.

In our profession of technology for international development (ICT4D), we are at a convergence of two fields – one that is increasingly driven by local, diverse solutions (international development) and one that, at least in North America and Europe, has generally become more white and more male (technology). In the United States, women make up a smaller percentage of coders now than they did in the 1980s.

The subject of race and sex/gender in the tech workforce is a testy subject. With every article I write on diversity in tech, I get a backlash of the usual tired comments:

“Stop complaining, work harder.”
“Don’t make excuses for not being qualified.”
“Who the f**k cares if there are no women in tech?”

The arguments in return should be obvious – it’s not a mere coincidence the industry is dominated by white men. Not including, designing or accounting for more than half the population (i.e. women) in any industry is a horrible strategic business decision.

The cause of such visceral reactions to my articles comes down to less refined reason – white men think I am writing them off. As my friend at the diner – a white male – said during our conversation, it really sucks to be reduced to one’s race and sex instead of one’s accomplishments. That, I know. I am an Indian-American woman, and so the reductive nature of everything I have achieved is an everyday reality. Undoubtedly, my black athlete, Indian software developer, and East Asian friends in finance understand being reduced to common racial tropes. They’re harmful and frustrating.

Here’s the ironic thing about homogeneous tech workforces – I can’t help but see them as a trope. The masterfully satirical Tumblr blog, All Male Panel, captures the sentiment of this idea perfectly. In a world in which there are brilliant and qualified people of all sexes, genders, races, ages, religions, ethnicities and nationalities, how do so many companies and organizations continue to have such homogenous groups of employees, founders and executives? Any bystander could conclude it must be the product of a rigged system.

In that rigged system, the individuals and their accomplishments are diminished. There’s even an Etsy store for the cliché, saying, “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” When I, and I’m guessing so many others, see a workplace overwhelmingly made up of white men, I can’t help but think the individual employees got to where they are because of their race and sex. It’s a similar effect to always attributing a black or Latino person’s admission into an Ivy League school to affirmative action.

A product of being privileged to live in New York City and work around the world is exposure to talent of all walks of life. Unfairly reducing a person and their accomplishments is damaging. I don’t want to look at anyone – white males included – and think about only their race and sex. One of my favorite teachers, the person who first encouraged me to write, was a white guy. Had I discounted any of my life mentors and advocates based on race or sex, I would have done myself a lot of harm.

Alas, the ratio of white males to everyone else in the tech industry is impossible to ignore. If those of us outside the favored majority know the system is rigged, we know those in the system may not actually be competitive compared to the entire population. We can’t help but see mediocrity of the favored win over exceptional of the unfavored. We associate homogeneity with mediocrity and, therefore, mediocrity with the homogeneous. That is the reductive effect of homogeneity.

White men, if you don’t want to be reduced to your race and sex, fight for diversity.

01 February 2016

Advice to private sector companies trying "solve poverty" - from an International Development Practitioner

This was cross-posted on Medium, here.

 In the past few years, the start-up culture in the States and parts of Europe has exploded. Along with the explosion have come a record number of companies that aim to do a “social good” by providing products and services for the world’s poor. While the Global North’s[1] private sector (GNPS) wages its debate on what type of solution is needed – from social enterprises, to (lean) start-ups, to venture capital funds, to philanthropy to corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of major companies – I want to offer some thoughts from an international development prospective, regardless of which private sector solution you favor. After all, the areas these GNPS “social good” initiatives are aiming to reach come on the heels of decades of international development work. Both sides stand to learn a lot.

Ceremony with the Burundian Ministry of Health and the vaccination alliance, GAVI - October 2014

How International Development Thinking Differs

Level of Accountability

By far, the concept in international development (ID) work the GNPS seems to understand the least is level of accountability. In ID, our ultimate goals are to lessen poverty and better economic empowerment in a given context, such as a community, a city or even an entire country. If a GNPS company offers a product or service to a client that fails to meet their needs, there is no punitive recourse so long as legal obligations are met. If I go to the drugstore and buy paper towels that are not strong enough to handle and actually create more of a mess in my kitchen, the company that made the paper towels may choose to better their product to stay competitive, but there is no inherent obligation on their part to ensure my particular needs are met with their product. So long as the company sold what they advertised – paper towels – they have met their requirements.

On the other hand, one of the first things we learn in ID is that we must ensure stakeholder participation does not lead to a worse situation than before. Fulfilling this obligation is incredibly hard in places with weak governments, infrastructure, social benefits and a dearth of employment opportunities, because if our work fails the stakeholder, we have wasted their limited assets, time or trust. If we advise an impoverished person to participate in a training program that doesn’t yield better employment opportunities, we have asked them to spend time and money to commute to the training program, to forgo their normal daily work wages, and to raise their expectations for no benefit. If we advise a farmer to purchase an individual insurance policy to protect against failed crops, and then her crops fail but not to the extent to receive compensation, we have asked for money she could have used to better her yields or purchase food for her family. Even seemingly benign methods of participation have a trade-off, and it is up to us to determine what that means.

Because of this higher standard of accountability, ID organizations have robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms. The main purposes of M&E are to define what constitutes “success” and “failure”, how to prevent unintended harmful consequences, how to improve, and to document what went wrong. M&E is a huge chunk of any given ID project because it is central to protecting our stakeholders and to how ID organizations fulfill donor requirements. The idea of accountability is thus present from start to end of the ID work lifecycle.

Understanding a context

Being a minority (South Asian) in America, I can speak from lived experience that many companies poorly understand segments of the population in the Global North. However, there are commonly used methods to get around this poor comprehension; as we move toward the Internet of Things, more and more of these methods will involve passively generated data. Other common data examples include analyzing purchase patterns and Internet analytics, or conducting focus groups or surveys.

Data certainly exists in the Global South. A large part of what the United Nations (UN) does is collect and analyze data on everything from populations to health centers to crop yields. Data in Global South often does not, however, paint as complete a picture because there are so many more unknowns about a society. That’s why building relationships on the ground is invaluable to contextualizing our work. In fact, these relationships are one set of critical advantages proper ID organizations, particularly the UN, have. Without these relationships, we do not understand why a community does what it does, where a community gets its information, what values are held in high regard, and what we can do to better the situation.

Similarly, understanding a country’s current landscape requires historical, political, and economic knowledge. I once attended an event hosted by a private sector firm that proclaims itself as a “leader in international development consulting”. As I got into the elevator to leave the event, I overheard one of the firm’s associates say that tonight she needs to, “Put together a presentation on Ethiopian food security”. The Ethiopia country office of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is a massive operation, serving 8 million+ people. The time, money, and resources that go into WFP Ethiopia cannot be boiled down into a few PowerPoint slides, and neither can the entire food security landscape of the country.

One running joke I have is that ID is all think and no action, while the private sector is no think and all action. Of course the truth for both sides is somewhere in between. It should go without saying that if an issue is central to a company’s work the company needs to have a thorough understanding of the landscape beyond just market competitors.

Recommendations for GNPS companies trying to “solve poverty”

Define “poor”

Whether someone makes 2 USD a day or 10 USD a day makes a big difference. Anyone who wants to work with the “poor” should define what they actually mean by "poor". We have numerous indexes in ID to define and contextualize poverty – use them! Common indexes include GDP per capita, the Human Development Index and the Gini coefficient.

Do not push products and services unnecessarily

Along with understanding what “poor” actually means, a company trying “solve poverty” should understand their job is not simply to push products and services. Every company thinks they have stumbled onto something truly innovative, and while some products and services could do a lot of good in a particular context, to truly alleviate poverty and better economic empowerment, the humility to differentiate between a market opportunity and a value-add is critical.

Do not be afraid of the government

As an ID practitioner, it is truly painful to watch current US politics because the Republican party seems convinced that the government fundamentally has no place in helping people. For those of us who have worked intimately with governments that have little capacity, we know nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the poorest of the poor will not be captured by the private sector (Global North or Global South). Further, certain needed services, like public transportation and healthcare, have to work at scale (and often at a loss) to stay viable, and therefore cannot be privately run.

ID work is not competing with the government. More often than not, we are working directly with the government to strengthen systems and services. Likewise, a GNPS company should not compete with or circumvent the government. Undoubtedly working with governments can be expensive and time-consuming, but even if direct collaboration with a government is not possible, a GNPS company should at least be aware of how the government operates, what they do, and who should be providing what.

Learn international development language

Like every industry or sector, ID practitioners use a set of terms and phrases – we have our own language. For the reasons listed above, ID work is important to a GNPS company trying to “solve poverty”. Some of the most brilliant colleagues with whom I have ever worked have been based in sub-Saharan Africa, rural South Asia and Latin America for years. They will not learn GNPS lingo, nor should they be expected to. If you want to work with them, learn how to communicate with them, even if that means finding someone like me who straddles the two worlds to translate.

Good luck, do well at doing good and get used to using a lot of acronyms.

[1] I am not a fan of this term but am using it for simplicity’s sake.