Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Election Day

It is finally here - February 9, 2016.

It is always so thrilling to vote - it is exhilarating to see democracy in action!

Young, old, white, black, asian, everyone was there, and from all walks of life.   I saw my plumber's truck, neighbors, people with walkers, my former state representatives.  Ah, democracy.  Lots of families came to vote with their young children.   I think the turnout is going to be huge.

My voting precint was buzzing with activity, with several news media folks (I recognized a few).  Just as I walked in, Kasich was leaving, which was probably why the press was there.

What fun!   Looking forward to seeing the results tonight.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Organizing for Hillary

My friend and I drove to Milford to an Organizing for Hillary rally, where Bill Clinton was going to speak.  The event was scheduled to be from 2.30 – 5.30, but I didn’t want to stay for 3 whole hours.  I imagined lots of surrogates would speak before and after.  So when I saw in The Telegraph that Bill Clinton was going to be there at 3.30, I was keen to go only at around 3.30, and happily my friend felt the same.  My only concern was parking.  If we went late we were sure to have to park somewhere far away and walk.  The Clinton campaign was probably organized enough to ensure parking for everyone so we would at least get parking.

It would be exciting to see the press.  Maybe I would see PBS’ Judy Woodruff who was in NH for the weekend.

We got to Milford Middle School, and the number of cars didn’t seem that many.  We were able to park close to the entrance.  Inside, they would not let us get beyond the welcome table without adding our name to the signup sheet.  I didn’t want to sign up, I was just there to hear Bill Clinton speak, but I just couldn’t get past the table.  We signed in and went in, and I was surprised by the size of the room.  It wasn’t all that big.  And it was only about half full.  And among the people there, half of them seemed to be either the press or core Hillary volunteers.

We were a little taken aback.  We had expected a much larger crowd. 

Bill Clinton was introduced by Mayor Jim Donchess of Nashua, and then he spoke.  As usual he was eloquent, describing various Hillary achievements.  The crowd clapped but was overall subdued.  The sense in the room was, to my mind: “We are the team that supports the all democratic causes.  Hillary has done so much, accomplished much that is dear to democratic hearts, and has an agenda we want.  Why is everyone with the other guy?”

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush was coming right here to Broad Street Elementary School, about 100 feet away from my home.  Well, I figured this is an event I should go to, just for the fun of seeing retail politics up close.
It was more elaborate than I expected, with the full Bush entourage in tow.  Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Bush, his wife, his son were all there.  Lindsey Graham spoke first, followed by Susan Collins.  And then Bush spoke.

It is always surprising how more cogent their arguments appear when heard in full, and not as snippets  on TV.  And one’s own analysis always has new insights for one rather than just reading the op-ed writers.  The audience was surprisingly moderate, and Jeb Bush was surprisingly moderate.  A question was, “do you agree there is climate change, some people seem unable to accept that?”  Jeb Bush’s response was, “yes definitely there is climate change, and one of the reasons is human impact.”   Wow.  I didn’t think Republicans agreed to even this much.

It was a standing room only crowd, and I found a spot at the back.  The group standing next to me were clearly neighbors and knew each other.  They talked about another neighbor who was going to vote for Sanders, but without the derision I would have expected, especially when compared to the anger with which they spoke of Hillary.  “She is liar,” he said flatly, and went into details of the Benghazi incident. “She will lie about what she ate for breakfast if it suits her.”

Most of the questions were moderate (except one on immigration), including one on from a pastor from rural Pennsylvania who forcefully described poor people (“138% below the poverty line, they were ‘dying’ with lack of healthcare”) who had been able to get healthcare from the Affordable Care Act, and wanted to know what the answer was for them if that was changed.  Bush actually listed a couple of things he liked in the ACA (coverage for pre-existing conditions and coverage till children are 26) and said he would keep them, while changing other aspects of the law.  And he talked about keeping costs down, etc. etc.  Another question was from someone who works with a literacy non-profit and demanded to know what the answer was for the poor today.  “When you and I were young,” she said, “everyone had chance.  What can I tell them now?”  Bush called out to his sister in the audience, who runs a literacy foundation, and talked about various changes needed in the education system.

His primary focus education system is the lack of testing and lack of any measure to see whether a child has learnt what he or she should have learnt in that grade.  He talked about the testing measures he had introduced in Florida, and one questioner called him up on that, and asked him isn’t that a runaway train with no control?  Wasn’t it too much testing?  Bush stuck to what he said about testing being important to ensure that every child learns.

His biggest applause came when he said, “on the first day of office I give you my word that I will not blame President Obama.  Unlike the president, who blamed my brother for everything.”  Moderate though the crowd was, they clearly strongly disliked Obama.

The next biggest applause came when he laughed at Trump, and said (in response to Trump’s comment at the debate last night), “no, Trump, _you_ are the loser.”  Lots of other anti-Trump lines brought forth applause as well.

The third biggest applause was when he took a dig at Hillary Clinton. 

The audience was almost liberal, except when it came to America’s position in the world (and approval of Obama).  They were very much for a notion that “America should lead,” America knows best, and America should resolve conflicts, etc. etc.  

The most interesting conversation was with an Asian woman in a smart green jacket standing next to me.  She had come all the way from Florida to volunteer for the Bush campaign.  She had been in Iowa as well.  She said he was the best governor they had had.  I asked her specifically what she liked.  One, she said, was that he made government more efficient.  She and her husband have two small businesses, LOCs, and she made it so much more easier to do things after Bush made some changes.  In places like California and Delaware, she said, there was so much more paperwork, and one had to mail in forms, whereas in Florida now they could do it all online.  “He made things efficient with IT, like he says on the campaign trail!” she said.   “It made our lives so much easier!”  I nodded, and asked for more.  The next big achievement to her was education.  She said her son’s best friend, an African American, was in a poor neighborhood, and consequently in a poor school.  He was about move to a charter school and was now doing extremely well.  “What about the idea that en masse movement of students from public schools further hurts the poor schools?” I asked.  “Anyone who wants to leave can leave,” she said.  “You know, anyone can leave.”  We talked some more on the topic, and she believes in taking personal responsibility, which is in line with what I have observed in Asian families.  They work hard, take nothing for granted, do everything for their children to help them succeed.  She proudly mentioned her son who goes to Philips Academy in Andover, MA (an elite private school).

She and her husband were going to South Carolina next.  It was hard to fault her for her support of Jeb Bush.  It had worked for her.

The 2016 Election

After all my excitement and involvement in previous primary seasons, I mostly sat out this election cycle.  The Republicans were all repugnant, Hillary seemed the anointed democratic nominee.  I wasn’t inspired to even attend rallies.  Sanders coming on the scene was interesting, I knew him as a liberal and an Independent, but I did not expect him to win.

Week after week I looked presidential candidate visit schedules, but just couldn’t motivate myself to go.  They never said what they meant.  They just said things to get votes.  And if they won, other influences took over.

I religiously followed the debates, which is as entertaining to me as football is to some.  And I generally followed the race.

And then, after seeing Sanders in debates and reading about him I began to Feel the Bern.  The Iowa results and speech clinched it.  I would have voted for him anyway, but that made me Feel the Bern!  I began to feel a bit of the old spark.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

President Obama: Your support for Prime Minister Modi

Dear President Obama,

I volunteered for your campaign, and voted for you.

I am not naïve, I understand that real change is hard.  I understand that you have to balance multiple factions and multiple interests.  I know that an emotionally stirring speech cannot change the world any more than the wave of a wand can.   I understand that Republicans in Congress have been against you every step of the way.   I understand that you have to compromise for political expediency.

But I thought you would not fundamentally go against your character.  Which is why I do not understand your endorsement of Indian Prime Minister Modi.

Maybe you had to ignore the blood on his hands from the 2002 Gujarat riots because the US needed to engage with India when he became prime minister.

But your continued warm encouragement, endorsement, and ‘friendship’ with him is not acceptable.

The right wing pro-Hindutva groups are gaining more and more prominence.  He and his administration support their actions, turning a blind eye to even the most inflammatory events.  Free speech is being eroded.  Heads of key institutions are being changed.   He and his supporters want to re-write history and change the fundamental fabric of the nation as a secular country with great tolerance for every culture and with a voice for everyone.  It attacks the very foundation of India.  This will impact India for generations to come.

As one example, here is a recent article in a well-respected newspaper (which also highlights his silence on the lynching of a Muslim in September):  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/world/asia/india-writers-return-awards-to-protest-government-silence-on-violence.html?_r=0

Your endorsement carries great weight in India.  You chose to visit India under PM Modi on Republic Day, when the Modi administration policies are attacking the very values enshrined in the constitution that made India a Republic.  Your welcome of him in Spring 2015 played a large role in India’s excitement with Modi.   These actions are cited by Modi supporters as Modi’s successes.  Your support of PM Modi in the Times influential people’s list, by writing a warm personal profile, was the last straw. These actions shut the voices of people who are trying to highlight actions by Modi and his administration.  

You might have to engage with him as a leader, but to support him as warmly as you have been doing?

You once said if you had a choice to have dinner with someone it would be Mahatma Gandhi.   At the dinner Mahatma Gandhi would have asked you, “My dear Barack, how can you endorse him?”

I hope it is not your character that says you should support him, but your politics.  I would be even more disappointed if you truly believed that PM Modi is a great man.

It is good that you are not running for office again.   You have lost my vote.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Strange ...

It is really rich that Republicans are talking about income inequality.   And they have the cheek to say that it is Obama's policies that have resulted in the top 1% benefiting from the economic recovery!!   This after they stopped Obama at every step, on any measure he tried to take to address serious inequality.  And have severely eroded resources that enable equal opportunities for all.  What do they think we are all smoking?  

On 60 minutes on January 25, 2015 (paraphrased):

Interviewer Scott Pelley: Do you support raising taxes on the wealthy?
Republicans Boehner and McConnell: No.

Interviewer: Do you support the President's initiative for free community colleges?
Republicans: No.

Interviewer: How about raising the minimum wage?
Republicans: Bad idea.

Interviewer: Do you support increasing the child care tax credit?
Republicans: Well ... we will think about it.

How in the world can we address inequality without access to education, a living wage, and a host of other things?


Republicans speaking about income inequality is the most blatant political shift ever.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The View is Different Depending on where you Sit

The excitement among Indian immigrants in the United States on the election of Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India is nearly eclipsed by the exuberance on his visit to the United States this week.  Welcome carpets are being rolled out as Indian organizations and communities fall over themselves to welcome Mr. Modi to the United States.   Giddy at the thought of the United States inviting Mr. Modi after rejecting his visa 9 years ago over sectarian violence, my Indian friends and acquaintances, Indian community leaders, and Indian immigrants young and old are reveling in the excitement, seeing it as a personal triumph.

“Proud to be an Indian,” is a repeated sentiment on Facebook pages and websites devoted to this visit.  “Strongest PM of India,” “a true patriot,” “strong leader” are equally popular themes in community dinners, Indian conversation circles, news articles and social media.  The community event planned at Madison Square Garden is packed to capacity and promises to be a mega event with high profile community members in attendance.   Almost every day the last few weeks I have found an email related to this event in my mailbox, or come across an article in an Indian news outlet, or heard someone I know mention it with glee.

Mr. Modi is seen as the leader who will raise India up to be an economic power by accelerating the pace of development.  He is seen as a strong leader, who will brook no opposition from anyone, and who will crush any effort to stop India’s march towards its rightful place near the top of the hierarchy of nations.  Detractors like environmental activists and advocates for the poor prevent India’s progress, these supporters of Mr. Modi argue.  We need an iron fist ruling India, otherwise we will be mired in stagnation, they say.  Some go to the extent of saying India needs a dictator, who keeps moving ahead no matter what.

Closely aligned to this desire for India to be a superpower is the glittering promise of a Hindu India.  The notion of Hindu India, engineered and propagated by Mr. Modi’s party, is seen as rightfully reflecting the majority of the country (India is 80% Hindu, if all the strands and layers of Hinduism are counted as one). It is perceived as a long overdue recognition that values and ideals born of Hinduism should define India.  This push towards dominance of the majority Hindu community necessarily puts down minorities, in particular Muslims.  Pro-Hindu goals go hand in hand with anti-Muslim sentiments.

This is paradoxical.  And hypocritical.

The Indian immigrant community in the United States is very successful at many levels.  They are a minority – including all people of Indian descent they number at just over 3 million, or about 1% of the US population.  The Indian immigrant community (first generation immigrants) is even smaller. Like most immigrants, they are hardworking, have a strong work ethic, have an unshakeable belief in the value of education for themselves and their children, and have close-knit families and communities.  These values, which they bring with them to the United States, are building blocks for a foundation that has led to success in many fields.

This foundation, and the consequent success, has been built on the bedrock of some quintessential American values.  There are two values of significance here.   First is the multi-cultural ethos of the United States that accepts people who are different, and at a personal level is warm and embracing of people from other cultures.   The second is the recognition of the importance of minority rights.  Anyone living in the United States, whichever community they come from, has the right to follow their values, practice their religion, define their own identity, and educate their children the way they wish to.

68% of Indian Americans voted for President Obama.  The percentage of first generation Indian immigrants who voted for him is probably much higher.  Immigrant communities generally support democrats, in addition Mr. Obama was popular since he was not from the majority community.  Indian immigrants welcomed him as a fellow minority.  But paradoxically, in the country where they grew up they support a leader from a party whose ideology is based on stamping out minorities and rallying around a “unifying” (dominant) identity.   Electing Mr. Modi is in many ways like electing Mr. Rick Perry to be the president of the United States.   I suspect very few Indian immigrants would vote for Mr. Perry, yet they are excited about Mr. Modi leading India.  Several Indian immigrants who volunteered for Mr. Obama’s campaign eagerly took the lessons learnt in grassroots campaigning and new technology based tools to campaigns in India – but to campaigns that supported Mr. Modi on the right rather than candidates on the left.

When President Obama celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, in the White House, jubilation erupted in the Indian American community.  “Mr. Obama lighted a lamp in the White House!” they exulted.  “Imagine that!  We have arrived – Diwali in the White House!”  Yet when Mr. Modi, for the first time in independent India, chose not to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr by hosting a dinner for fellow Muslim lawmakers, breaking a time honored tradition, there was virtually no comment. 

Every region in the United States with an Indian population has centers for children to learn Indian languages, Indian history and culture, and the Indian fine arts.   Weekends find many an Indian parent ferrying children from dance class to music class to language class.    The desire to keep their children connected to their identity runs deep. The parents welcome multiculturalism in American society, and the ability to have an Indian (or Hindu) identity even if they are a small minority.
An avowedly Christian America would be alarming, but a Hindu India is not.  Public education is secular in America, so the children here are not under pressure to conform to the dominant religious identity.  I can just imagine the outcry from the Indian community if public schools became predominantly Christian and began infusing values considered Christian.  Yet they see nothing wrong bringing in a distinct Hindu bias to education in India.   Particularly egregious is the subtle introduction of Hindu values under the guise of helping educate the severely disadvantaged, as in the case of education of tribals (aboriginals), a minority at 7% of the Indian population.  It moves them away from their roots, their culture, their identity.

Indian parents welcome choices their children have in the United States, and yet, when Mr. Modi’s government attempted to make it mandatory for all children to listen to his Teacher’s Day speech, no one seemed to think anything was amiss.

Indian immigrants enjoy the benefits of an open and pluralistic society where they can thrive while maintaining their identity, where the law declares everyone is equal and institutions protect that most precious law for majority and minority communities.  They see how they can further their hopes and dreams when public infrastructure benefits all, not just the majority, and does not require them to lose their identity.   They take to heart Lincoln’s words, “…dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Yet in India, where they identify with the majority, they forget that everyone is equal is enshrined in the Indian constitution too.  They forget the great lengths the founding fathers of modern India went to embed rights for minorities in the fabric of the new nation.  The struggles of competing interests, the vital part of any democracy, is seen as something that is holding India back.   The rights of minorities is seen as infringing on the majority.  The sacrifices of the less powerful and smaller in number for the greater common good is expected, often demanded.  For instance, for water in Gujarat hundreds of thousands of tribals were displaced by dams across the Narmada river.   But the majority of Indians in the United States consider the decades long protest by the tribals much ado about nothing, and something a ‘strong’ leader like Mr. Modi should fix.  A dictator can ‘fix’ it indeed!
Campaigners of Mr. Modi’s party have gone so far as to say people who do not agree with Mr. Modi should leave India.   If Mr. Rick Perry is elected president of the United States and conservative Republicans ask immigrant communities who do not like his policies to leave, the Indian immigrant community would be the first to make use of every avenue offered to them in this democratic society to fight what was unfair to those who didn't toe the line of the majority. 

The view sure looks different depending on which window you look out of.

The final irony is that multi-culturalism is not a new concept in India.  With over 800 languages, innumerable cultures, ten major religions and scores of smaller ones, India has been the home to thousands of groups, who have lived together, worked together, influenced each other, and learnt from each other, for millennia.   In much the same way that Indian immigrants appreciate what the United States has to offer for everyone, India is a place where minorities have lived harmoniously with the majority.

Almost a century ago my grandfather, with no assets to his name, started a business in a new town.  He knew no one, as there was no one there from his community.  He was a “minority” in that town.  He first rented a piece of land from a Muslim businessman, who also gave him credit because he instinctively trusted him.  My grandfather’s honesty, intelligence, and business acumen so impressed this businessman he took him on as his protégé and they became fast friends as long as they lived.  My grandfather’s family sent over plates full of sweets on Hindu festivals and on Muslim festivals received dishes heaped with lamb and fish delicacies.  They respected each other till the end and did business together.  The town continues to have Muslims, Hindus, and people from other communities.  I remember waking up to the Muslim call for prayer when I visited as a child, and Muslims and Hindus peacefully negotiating prayer times at the temples and the mosques in town.  India has had its share of strife - the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947 and the violence in Gujarat in 2002 are just two examples - but it also has plenty of towns like my grandfather’s town. 

That is the view to look for.