einsteinapple

"The Future is not an Inheritance, Its an Opportunity and an Obligation" – President William Jefferson Clinton

Category: Politics and Policy

The Libertarian in You? Google, Same Sex Marriage, and Contraceptives

Atlas, in front of Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City (Credit: Brooklyn Prints)

Atlas, in front of Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City (Credit: Brooklyn Prints)

“He was a man who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him” – Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

There is a deep ‘Libertarian’ streak in me. I don’t think it works as a political ideology when implemented without modifications in our real world. But ‘Freedom of Choice’, and consummate political and economic freedom in spirit – is embodied in Libertarianism. I find my ideas regarding political governance and policy – most closely reflected by the Democratic Party, and if I have to classify myself, I would call myself a left-centrist. But as with anything else in the world, the solution to complex problems needs to have a balance, and it is always a blend of different political ideologies. Recently I came across four discrete incidences, and I came to completely different conclusions when I viewed them through the prism of Libertarianism.

We know Chick-fil A and their recent tryst with disaster. They are a nationwide fast food chain, and they announced their views publicly about their belief in the traditional concept of marriage, and how same sex marriage is not acceptable under the institution of religion. They have also been weakly linked with supporting anti-gay political organizations. In protest of their sentiments, different pro same sex marriage groups had what they sarcastically called as ‘Chick- fil A Appreciation Day’. No press is bad press, right ? While the protests were in opposition, they inevitably only increased the sales of Chick – fil A, simply by focusing the nationwide attention on the corporation with regards to such a sensitive political topic [1].

Another incident,

A baker in Denver (Colorado), denied to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his non-acceptance in same sex marriage as the principle reason for denying service. He said he would bake any other cake for them, not just a wedding cake. The baker of course owns a much smaller organization in comparison to Chick-fil A. On the other hand the baker actually denied service to the gay couple as opposed to Chick-fil A, who only voiced their opinions against same sex marriage. Is one worse than the other ? Personally, I do think so [2].

More shockingly, a 24 year old rape victim (in Oklahoma) was recently denied emergency contraceptions by a doctor within the country. As shocking as it is, the doctor actually cited his (or her) lack of belief in contraceptives. The young victim was not actually pregnant, but tried to avoid potential pregnancy in vain. Most people probably would agree that the doctor was wrong ? But, we might differ on where we draw the line, was she wrong in her belief in not using contraceptives itself, or was she wrong in imposing her beliefs on another individual (a victim of a despicable crime nonetheless) ? Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma have been off the rails for some time – in their policy structures. Oklahoma actually has what they call as ‘Conscience Clause‘ – which states that a professional doctor can deny medical coverage to an individual, based on their own personal beliefs [3]. As Thomas Friedman once famously said, “We Really are All Stocked Up on Crazy Right Now“.

Finally,

GOOGLE announced last week that they are going to include the issue of copyright when displaying search results in the future. It essentially means, that if a webpage has copyrighted material embedded in it (or has such a pending complaint in court), then Google will not display that webpage at the top – even if the webpage fits best with your search key words. We all know that hardly anyone looks at the second page in Google results. To me, Google embodies the spirit of Libertarianism more than any other corporation in the world. Even its smallest actions, have massive rippling consequences around the world, because of its relevance and reach on a global scale. I know Google keeps tabs on us and saves our preferences (even when they promise international courts that the data is deleted), to advertise more relevant products based on consumer preferences. But where do we go, when we need an open answer to the millions of questions we have in our lives ? – GOOGLE. Integrating copyright legal issues when displaying what Google itself calls ‘The most relevant results for your search‘, betrays what Google embodies in spirit – Complete Freedom of Information. On a comparative scale, Google is as Libertarian as they come.

So, where do we, as a society draw the line ?

Under a true libertarian society, if you have the freedom to be correct, you also have the freedom to be completely wrong, right ? So, when do we step in and draw the line ? Its a fascinating question.

The issue of same sex marriage today, is the same as the civil rights freedom for African Americans fifty years before. How many times have we looked back at history and thought to ourselves, ‘Did we really do that ?’. The Libertarian in me says, in a society predicated on consummate freedom – one has the liberty to be completely wrong. I can live with that. But, just because you have the liberty to be wrong, does it mean you can ruthlessly impose those beliefs on other people, when your actions have significant real world consequences? In a twisted way, while both Chick-fil A and the baker in Colorado are equally worse, the latter is worse than the former because he actually denied service to the gay couple. In hindsight however, let the free market be the judge for both of them. If you do not agree with Chick-fil A’s same sex marriage views, don’t go there for lunch – its a simple, yet effective solution. In fact the free market has already affected their profits and ratings – the average national approval rating for food chains is approximately 43%. Chick-fil A dropped below 40% last month. If the baker does not serve gay couples – do not go to him, am not from Denver, but I am fairly positive the great Mile-High city has more than its fair share of incredibly toothsome bakeries. Let the free market decide, and then businesses have a tough decision to make: are we business agencies first, or are we political agencies first ? If you choose the latter, then your profits are at a serious risk – given your beliefs. But we should still let the free market decide – and it will, with time. It already has – for Chick-fil A.

With regards to medical help we cannot simply let the free market decide – because these are time sensitive issues [3]. Doctors and fireman (or firewomen) serve the society, as opposed to business agencies that sell products. I think this is where our libertarian streak should draw the line. As a professional doctor who believes in not using contraception, you still must serve all people without prejudice. Its very a slippery slope to continue with such a trend – what comes next ? The state fire department is going to say they do not extinguish fires in the residence of a gay couple (hypothetically speaking) ? I almost take a contrasting position – with Google. We as information consumers have a prerogative to demand Google that it preserves what it stands for – A libertarian commitment to providing information. I don’t think of information policing when I think of Google, in fact Google is the anti-thesis of any version of policing. Mr page and Mr Brin, let the copyright issues be resolved where they need to be – in courts. Your commitment to a libertarian freedom of information is your spirit – and do not betray that at this juncture.

So, where does your own Libertarian streak end ?

References:

1. Let Chick-fil A Fly Free. August 1st 2012, New York Times – Link

2. Jack Phillips, Denver Baker who Refused Wedding Cake to Gay Couples Defends his Stance. July 30th 2012. The Huffington Post. Link

3. Rape Victim Denied Emergency Contraception by Doctor, June 1st 2012. The Young Turks – Link 

4. An Update on Search Information. Google Blog – by Amit Singhal, SVP Engineering, Google – Link

Advertisements

Shadow Wars

President Obama

President Obama

Source used for essay: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and The Soul of the Obama Presidency (Author, Daniel Klaidman) Link

What is War ?

Does war mean we should have thousands of boots on the ground ? Does the definition include having military tanks and army bases in a strategic region ? Does it mean we have a tacit (and at times, murky), yet mutual understanding of co-operation between both governments (the one that attacks, and the one whose land is a strategic base) ?

These encompass a few of the traditional definitions about warfare. As the world marches towards development, progression and a need for sustainability – there is little doubt that the rules and the art of warfare and counter-insurgency have changed significantly.

No more does a government needs boots on the ground, and neither does it need to acknowledge its official presence, and in strict legal vacuum, it might even present a reasonable case that it is not at war in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan. These are what we call – ‘Shadow Wars‘. The ones that are very effectively lethal, with almost no footprint on the ground. Are they a moral and legal nightmare ? Probably …

National Security Policy is the holy grail of any presidency – it is as complicated as its political. It is intrinsically complex because it is at the intersection of the congress, and the departments of defense and justice. Add to it the political punditocracy of the ever present media, Guantanamo detention policy, and lobbying groups for human rights such as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) – it can get pretty chaotic on the first hour, of day one. Then there is always the little obligation of keeping the country safe.

We can have a Republican congressmen who argues her case with merits – indicating that a person who has attacked a country does not deserve the same rights as a criminal, and hence should not be treated as one, in a court in southern Manhattan (and must be shipped away to Guantanamo for detention indefinitely). The devil is always in the details, right ? Does this standard apply to terrorists, or potential terrorists the administration picks up ? Make no mistake, the potential terrorist is just as dangerous as the ones who have already committed the crime, but the crime has not been committed yet – nonetheless. On the contrary, we can have ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) presenting its case (with merits, again) for all criminals needing to be treated adhering strictly to the United States constitutional framework. The latter argument resonates the principle of ‘We are not Them, and we are different from those who want to destroy us‘.

There is no one size fits all responses to these questions, and neither are there any easy responses. I loved these lines from the book: “lawyers, they lived in a world of abstract constitutional analysis and intellectual reasoning, insulated from the raw immediacy of terrorism and its political fallout”. It is true, and I have learned it with age. One of the most important talents of an artist is to choose the most appropriate tool from the box, for the job in hand. Choosing intellectual analyses over middle ground – when it comes to events as visceral as terrorism is analogous to playing flute to deaf ears. As much as the administration wanted to close down Guantanamo, the deal breaker predicated on what one would do with the two hundred inmates.

The Republican congress and the people in general – never warmed up to the idea of bringing the prisoners into the country. Even the few chinese dissidents (incorrectly picked up) were held onto for almost seven years because there was no where they can go – even though the administration wanted to set them free. They were finally shipped off to Bermuda. One has to pick his battles to win, and with the political climate in Washington – the President picked health care policy and economy over detention policy (and some might argue, over constitution). However, decisions made by presidents do not occur in vacuum, and they definitely cannot be binary. In Obama’s case – he always intends to converge rather than dissent, and find middle ground rather than hold on to a specific side of the spectrum.

With time, fact tends towards fiction. In more ways than one, the current administration’s counter-terrorism policy and warfare reminds me of Steven Speilberg’s ‘The Minority Report’. With the rapidly increasing drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, Obama’s administration has walked the fine line between taking terrorists and at times – potential terrorists off the grid with lethal precision. There are perfectly acceptable arguments for both moral and legal standards – on both sides of this complicated spectrum (i.e. right V wrong). But I am more interested in ‘what is‘, in this case rather than ‘what it ought to be‘.

At times, they take out potential combatants through hell fire missiles and drone strikes fired from above. These strikes eliminate high value targets with precision, and intend to avoid civilian casualties at all times (women and children). The classification of which target to eliminiate, and what metrics to apply – for deciding those targets are evolving. As it is with any process that is evolving – mistakes have been made.

Perhaps the lack of attention towards reforming detention policy – dovetails elegantly with the question of what to do with a high value target, when you identify one? If you take him alive, then he proves to be a repository of information using which potential future attacks can be neutralised. But if you take him alive, you have to mirandize him, and would you try him in a military or a civil court of law? Would you bring him into the United States and risk another political fire-storm? At times they keep the target (if captured alive) in a vessel, off the coast near a strategic base, and I find the term ‘Floating Guantanamo‘ for the vessel intriguing. Once they extract immediate information about potential attacks, the FBI take over – for the justice department to handle the case, after the counter-terrorism experts have gotten the information they wanted.

The justice department does not accept any information provided by the prisoner under stress, and hence there has to be a clean transition between the counter-terrorism investigation, and the FBI investigation (which can be used in court to prove the act of terrorism). The conditions provided to the prisoner must be in adherence to The Geneva Convention, and if the prisoner asks for an attorney – you have to provide him one. Most importantly – if the prisoner is a citizen, then it changes the entire dynamic. The more prisoners you capture, the more you will have to house them somewhere. The administration does not know what to do with one Guantanamo, and it definitely does not want to open another one.

Eliminating targets and exercising executive power to make such decisions – are fraught with risk, right ? Setting such presidential precedents are analogous to ‘a loaded weapon lying around’. The grating question of how my successor would extend the limits of such executive decision making remains in every incumbent’s mind, as it does with President Obama’s mind.

As I said, there are no easy decisions. At some point it comes down to the overall benefits and costs of a decision – right? The option of Kill or Capture, will be more of an actual option, when the detention policy is reformed, if its reformed.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution: The Need for Supporting Legislations

The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment

When does it get ‘Too Much ‘ ? When do you say, ‘This has Gone Beyond Control‘ ? Remember that line from Joe (Friends), when he talks to Chandler about Kathy?  – ‘Over the line ? You’re so far past the line – the line is a DOT to you’.

As I woke up this morning after treating myself to an athletic banquet last night in the form of Usain Bolt and Andy Murray – a part of me felt empty reading New York Times over coffee. Ever since I remember, how many mass shootings have I known about ? I don’t think anyone can forget the NFL wide receiver – Plaxico Burress shooting himself accidentally in a New York nightclub. Ofcourse, the Columbine high school in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 stand out in my memory. When you are young, you only realise something bad has happened, where as when you grow up – you appreciate the gravity and profundity of the event in itself.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was released last month, and the mindless killing of young students happened in Aurora, Colorado. Then last morning, more innocent civilians were killed – of all the places inside the country, inside a place of worship (A Sikh Temple, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin).

When I went to the Capitol Hill earlier this summer, I purchased a personal copy of the US Constitution – I have always wanted to own a personal copy. The laws of the land are simple, and so is the interpretation of the Second Amendment. It was adopted on 12/15/1791 along with the other Bill of Rights. In simple interpretation: It states that as someone who lives in the country, you have the prerogative to purchase and own firearms. Amongst other amendments, the second amendment embodies the intrinsic fabric of Liberty that defines the United States of America.

On the contrary, what some call Liberty, others call it Disturbing. There is little doubt that the issue of gun control is back into the discussion in Washington DC, it will eventually find its way into one of he most important talking points in Presidential debates between now and November. The problem is not with the amendment in itself, but with how it has been taken advantage of (as with any law – if its not revised with changing times). There are certainly many law abiding citizens out there who use firearms for protection and hunting, and that is perfectly legal. The real problem originates when people driven by racism and hatred, and psychologically unstable individuals get their hands on dangerous firearms.

As with any law written during the beginning in a country’s time – we have a tendency to consider it as set in stone. One of the biggest strengths of the United States Constitution is the fact that for the most part – it is still relevant to this day. Think about that – a document written almost 225 years ago is still relevant to this day – which innately indicates that our founding fathers got it right for the most part. That is an enormous achievement in itself.  In contrast, think about the number of religious texts that we still hold on to – which seem like they have no real correlation to our current world. The problem is not with the second amendment in itself – but the lack of supporting legislations that allows an individual to exploit it.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the biggest organizations that defend the second amendment. Their lobbying power and leverage in Washington is unquestioned, and in certain parts of the far conservative right, they hold a sacred place within the political framework. The real truth of the matter is, President Obama does not have enough votes to pass legislations, and curb such mass shooting incidents before the elections. The Republicans will never go for such policy measures, and even some of the Democrats embrace a similar stance. At its core – this is not about the right – versus – left, it is about protecting our citizens. The Huffington Post had an excellent article on Nancy Pelosi discussing Washington and gun control earlier this evening.

So, let us be smart about it. Let us frame the question differently, can we ? There is no doubt we can work within the existing structure of the second amendment. A good start would be to consider every mass shooting incident as a ‘Domestic Terrorism’ event. That inevitably places a higher burden on the perpetrator of the crime. Secondly, legislative proposals can be introduced to perform comprehensive quality checks on the potential firearm buyer’s past history and psychological health. I understand in most cases, completely law abiding individuals with no prior misdemeanors actually commit the crime. Hence the additional legislative proposals are at best – risk hedging strategies with a high probability of reducing such incidents in the future. It is very important to control the types of firearm sold to civilians inside the country (as our President said, AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers in warfare, not in the hands of civilians in downtown Denver).

One can draw parallels from ‘The DREAM Act’ and the immigration policy under the current administration. Through a series of strategies, President Obama got to his eventual objective of not deporting minors and especially, minors with no criminal records out of the country. He was able to achieve that despite the opposition support for strictly adhering to the immigration regulations. As someone who is deeply passionate about the intrinsic freedom and liberty offered by this country, I am confident about the fact that the problem is not with the second amendment in itself. It is not feasible for us to change that, and we probably don’t need to. The underlying problem is predicated on the lack of supporting legislations that allow us to maintain the integrity of second amendment, while at the same time – keeping our innocent civilians safe. It is time for the highest office in the country to have a serious policy discourse with regards to The Second Amendment.

No more Jokers in Gotham !

References:

1. United States Constitution: Link

The Politics of Climate Change: A Young Independent Voter Perspective

Independent Voter

Independent Voter

As much as we would like to believe that elections come down to the votes of the entire population, its not as simple as that, is it ?

Any presidential candidate hopes to tick at least each of these three boxes: energize his (her) own base of supporters, win back (or sustain) the independents, and in a good year – potentially get a few of the opposition voters to his side by pandering to their base. There are different strategies to how all the three boxes can be successfully checked, and more often than not  – previous successful presidential candidates have achieved the trifecta.

In a very unique case of the 2008 elections, the entire landscape of the voting population changed significantly  – especially african americans and the younger demographics. Since the Obama campaign strategy team determined that there simply were not enough voters who would vote for their candidate (over Clinton to start with) – for them to win, they engendered such an incredulous level of political activism at the grass roots level. It eventually resulted in millions of new voters (especially, african americans and young college kids) being added to the ballot that it is quite possible the democratic party achieved what was previously called – ‘Impossible‘. If you cannot find sufficient voters who will vote for you in the existing structure, then add new members to the structure who will most probably vote for your candidate (Audacity to Win – David Plouffe) [1].

As they always say, ‘You Campaign in Poetry but Govern in Prose‘ – right ? Each election comes down to a multitude of factors, some of which are under your control, but a good fraction of it is not. Perhaps, economy, election year issues, sending clear messages to the public, integrity of the candidate, and  even the degree of success of the incumbent rank right up there in terms of factors that govern the results of a presidential election.

Among many election year issues (which I hope to discuss between now and November), the economy ranks first. I can reasonably assume that national security, gun laws and second amendment rights, immigration policy and deportation of illegal immigrants, clean energy and climate change management, and abortion laws in the country – are always usual candidates for discussion during presidential debates.

At the risk of over-simplifying, it is not entirely unreasonable to say that independents determine the election results more than the supporters on the right and left. Let us look at the electoral votes, Bush – Gore (271 – 266) in 2000, Bush V Kerry (286 – 251) in 2004, and Obama – McCain (365 – 173) in 2008. If the base remains loyal to their own parties, then it is indeed the independents who determine the elections.

With that as a reasonable premise, let us look at how our younger demographic thinks about climate change. This survey conducted by Stanford University in 2011 (with Ipsos and Reuters) – asked the youngest member in each house (and they took demographic variability into account) about their beliefs on the various dimensions of climate change [2].

Among the respondents, 91% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans believed the the temperature of our planet has been increasing consistently over the years. Where as, only 38% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans believe that climate change is caused by only anthropogenic (i.e. human driven) activities. There is more: 88% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. There is a clear and consistent pattern that highlights a Republican’s lack of belief in climate change, and a comparatively higher degree of belief on the part of a Democrat with regards to the same issue.

If you look at the independents, 84% believe the temperatures of our planet has been increasing consistently, 25% believe climate change is caused by human activities, and 70% believe that climate change will continue to affect our planet in the future. Perhaps most interestingly, almost two thirds of younger independents believe that climate change is caused by anthropogenic activities (either partially, or to a higher degree).  We can quite clearly see that independents are indeed – ‘Independents’. They find themselves some where in the middle between Democrats and Republicans. One hopes that they would demand for policy changes that reflect their beliefs in the near future, and depending on which candidate they think will implement such policies – they would cast their votes, come November.

The very phrase Climate Change (or the less accurate term – Global Warming) has been dragged through the mud so much that it is considered as a loaded and a politically toxic term in Washington these days. As we discussed earlier, presidential elections are determined by a number of election year issues and talking points.

The landscape of new voters is in continuous transition – with an increasing fraction of mexican american population being able to vote currently (as they become legal), parts of Arizona and New Mexico are tending towards becoming battleground states in 2012. At the least, one fifth of the voting demographic is between 18 and 24 years old nation wide (and it tends towards one fourth in certain locations in the west coast) [3]. If our reasonable premise of party loyalties hold true – then come November 2012, can the Republicans convince more than two thirds of younger independents that they are incorrect about their beliefs in climate change ? This in essence highlights the power of education to help shape the future of our children. Education is one of the best policy tools available for us to create more informed and environmentally sensitive voters in the future.

If environment and climate change is a serious talking point in this election, based on which the younger independents vote – then the Republicans needs to change their talking points – President Obama holding a Kenyan passport  might be a good place to start with.

References:

1. Audacity to Win: David Plouffe

2. Stanford University and National Survey on American Public Opinion Study – Link

3. Young Voter Demographics – Census Bureau

The Metamorphosis of the American Press

Mainstream Media

Mainstream Media (Credit: Andre P. Siregar, from funcrowds.com)

The Press has the power to shape our future,

“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States, on Press)

“The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses”

Vladimir Lenin (Russian Communist Revolutionary and Premier of Soviet Union 1922 – 1924, on Press)

There is a beautiful scene in ‘Game Change’ (about the 2008 presidential elections) when John McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt says to Sarah Palin: “No News Cycle Lasts for More than 72 Hours Anymore, News is Consumed for Entertainment Purposes Only“. As I witness the non-stop electoral politics 72-hour news cycle every day, I cannot help but wonder whether Schmidt’s words should be set in stone.

There is little doubt that media significantly influences the outcomes of presidential elections, more so these days than any of the elections in history. Gone are the days when politicians without charisma can hope to one day – become The Leader of the Free World. With the continuous convergence of electronic and print media, it is safe to say that Google owned ‘YouTube’ is indeed the television of the twenty first century. The New York Times can be read on print, just as easily as it can be flipped through on your iPad or Android.

It is the uninhibited power of the information and internet age. Youtube has no pressure of viewership, (in most cases) censorship and (again, in most cases) geographical boundaries, and hence it reaches infinitely more people than the traditional outlets can ever hope to do. In my mind the traditional television outlets include (not exhaustive) MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, Comedy Central, and Fox News.

In fact I rate Rachel Maddow’s Show (MSNBC), The Daily Show (Jon Stewart on Comedy Central), The Late Show (Letterman on CBS), and The Tonight Show (Leno on NBC) very highly. If we include fringe commentators on both sides – then we should include Bill Maher, and the radio shows presented by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Let us be gracious and accept Fox News as an actual news channel and not as a propaganda machine. Even then, with a 24/7 news cycle there are not many shows that one can watch to get actual undiluted news. One way for news channels to push their left centered, or right centered agenda is by claiming that the show is presented by a Commentator (implying, he interprets rather than reports), and not a reporter. Sean Hannity from Fox News  comes to mind.

Other than the few shows mentioned above, have you ever wondered how our traditional media identifies the most trivial of news pieces everyday, preferably one that increases rating and panders to sensationalism, and hammers home the message day in and day out. Over the top reactions using phrases such as Obama’s Watergate, and Obama’s Social Justice and most incredulously – Nazi references describing the current administration, leads someone with an actual appetite for undiluted news to switch off the television in search for more authentic outlets.

I think ‘The Young Turks’ (the largest YouTube news channel in the world) came to the rescue of people who want the truth, and nothing more. I have a few issues with its host Cenk Uyger, but he is by far the most consistent political commentator you can find outside of television. He is as critical of Obama, as he of the Republican party, but he lends credit where it is always due.

Let us consider the print (and electronic outlets). On the left is New York Times, and on the right are Wall Street Journal and Politico. A personal favorite of mine has always been Huffington Post, and I have an innate and profound admiration for Ariana Huffington. Just yesterday, Huffington Post had an excellent article on India’s electricity failure, and beyond that – it is consistently is on the mark with respect to the pulse in Washington each day. Read Huffington Post each day, and you can almost be rest assured that you are not wasting your time on chaff and mindless chatter (traditional media?), you get actual news that reflects the pulse in Washington. Sometimes, there is unadulterated chaff originating out of Washington in itself (e.g. Eric Holder contempt), and that is not really Ariana’s fault, that really is Washington’s fault. Oh well, its an election year after all.

The media can make or break your career, and in most instances there is nothing called as bad publicity. News is consumed differently than even from five years before. I no longer read news papers in print (and my dad still does so – religiously every day), and I get my news exclusively from online. Since my time ach day is limited, I quite logically go to outlets that probably fit with my interests. Is it not surprising, that a left centrist will probably read the New York Times rather than the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ? Even though reading the WSJ in my case will potentially provide me a more diversified viewpoint. I think I do not read WSJ any more because when I finished reading an article, it is loaded with propaganda and same old archaic talking points (e.g. trickle down economics), I almost feel like independent of what the story is, the WSJ will inevitably find a way to get the banal talking points into the article. I am sure New York Times has been held to the same standard (or the lack of it) by the right, but I still think it reports news, rather than integrate talking points consistently.

I remember our president saying to Jon Stewart (on The Daily Show) that he no longer watches news, for he feels he does not learn anything from it. I am fairly sure he watches news at some point, but I concur with his assessment of most outlets these days. We all remember the 9/11 First Responders Bill (the bill that lends them medical benefits) – called as the Zadroga Bill, and how it lost traction in the senate? The news got lost somewhere between us keeping up with the Kardashians and Trump’s birther issues.

Among all the traditional and print outlets inundated with seasoned commentators, it was indeed a political satirist – Jon Stewart, who saved the bill from doldrums and got the senate’s attention in a span of two days. It passed the next week, and it provides medical benefits to 9/11 first responders to this day. How ironic is that? As ironic as Ariana Huffington (The Huffington Post) and Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks, here is Uygur on Obama) delivering is with the news that we as people who are involved and interested in out political governance, policy and electoral politics  – truly deserve.

Roger Ailes (President of Fox News) started the ‘Fair and Balanced’ network in 1996, and he has exclusive meetings with Richard Nixon outlining how to present the GOP to the American people. He also outlined how to inform people about Fox’s version of the truth, and it is probably not surprising that Fox was the first channel to announce the 2000 election to Bush (Bush V Gore). I am positive that the left centered channels are involved in the same information feed to the people, probably to a lower extent than Fox News.

There is no doubt that the news machine treated our President favorably, when compared to Clinton in 2008, and there is no doubt that they will exert a significant influence in the outcomes of presidential elections in the eons to come. Freedom of the Press is a prerogative, but it must be earned. With power comes responsibility, unfortunately most of our traditional outlets have way more of the former than the latter. Huffington Post, The Young Turks and Jon Stewart, remain as unique exceptions to the current media in our political system.

 

Reflecting Absence: 9/11 Memorial Site

9/11 Memorial Site

9/11 Memorial Site

It was a warm and humid July evening in New York City. Walking inside New York City is quite unlike anything else in the world, especially on the lower east side. When you’re young there is a certain sense of restlessness when you are inside the city, because you aren’t quite sure what you should do. You are excited to be there, and you want to do what tourists are most fond of. When you grow older (thirty something), you appreciate the a pristine ever present energy inside the city which grips you, and never leaves you until you get to the other side of the tunnel.

For reasons I still don’t know why – I decided to move out of Queens (where I was staying for three days) to live in Jersey for the next two days. I am supposed to get on a plane from JFK to visit mum in two days. As far as I know, you need to get under either the Holland tunnel or the Lincoln tunnel, or go over the George Washington bridge to get outside of New York City – and take it from me, each of those options are worse than the other two. Have you ever tried to fit a T-REX into an erlenmeyer flask ? If you have tried it, then you know how it is to go to Jersey from New York – especially in a cab. Hell, most cabs inside the city don’t even go to Brooklyn or Jersey (Jersey is even worse, you know, with it being another state and all).

But, since I made that ingenious decision I decided to live with it. You take a PATH underground train from Jersey into the city. That is by far the best option that God has given us, for us poor souls who don’t want to navigate through the traffic ourselves. I had been planning this evening for quite some time. Before I left, I wanted to visit the 9/11 memorial site, and reserved tickets well before. People often misinterpret a memorial site to a museum, the latter is not the same as the former.

As I walked into General Square in Jersey City, I could clearly sense the sudden increase in temperature underground. There is no escaping it during the summer, and until the train comes along you have to endure such debilitating heat underground. I had no idea how it would be, but I did know that I wanted to visit the site. For better or worse, 9/11 changed the world forever – and New York City is personal to me. Its where I have had memories from incredible highs, to crippling lows. As the train approached the world trade center site, I got out and came out – and breathed a sign of relief as I felt the cool air on my skin.

New York City is place where you can be surrounded by thousands of people, and yet still feel alone. You can walk hours on a straight line navigating through thousands of people, without ever coming out of your own mental cocoon. Its such a unique place to reminisce, and think about where you have been, and how you ended up here after ten years. As I walked on auto-pilot with my ever present black back-pack, black tee, adidas long knee socks and black tennis shoes, and Rafael Nadal long shorts (pirate pants), I could not help wonder about – well, nothing. I was inside my own world and yet, surrounded by so many people who could render the colors on a rainbow to shame. You had to go to the other side of Battery Park, to collect your paper tickets, and then head to the actual memorial site.

I asked a couple of cops for directions, and I am still glad they obliged. If it wasn’t for them, I still will be lost. In a lot of ways it is like a medium security airport – your bags and belongings are thoroughly searched before you follow the crowd. Once you are in the vicinity of the memorial site, you simply follow everyone. As I crossed the yellow lines, and entered the actual memorial site there were brochures in multiple languages on the wall. I crossed them – and then I entered the two pools.

Widely criticised as a ten year long financial disaster, there they were, the two giant pools designed by an Israeli-American called Michael Arad – the two embodiments of the 9/11 memorial site called ‘Reflecting Absence”.

I did not lose anyone I knew on 9/11, but these were my emotions during those two hours. They were as transient, as they were profound. The pools essentially had a rectangular formation, and the two pools are actually at the base of where the two world trade towers stood. Imagine a rectangle, and then imagine if someone punched a deep hole inside the rectangle into the ground, and then imagine someone carving a smaller rectangle in the middle of the larger rectangle – into which water flowed eternally. The two pools were in the middle of the oak trees. You can sense the energy by observing people around you. Most of them whisper out of respect, some of them stare in silence, and some others grieve in tears. The temperature cools down significantly as you get near the pools due to the cold water running into the giant void (that is the smaller open space of a rectangle).

The names of the victims on 9/11 and 02/26/1993 – are engraved on the bronze parapet around the two pools. If the two pools were designed predicated on such a spartan-like theme, then they accomplish what they were designed for. They leave you with a sense of anguish, hollowness and drained hope. They make you feel hollow in an almost visceral sense – not dissimilar to how you would feel if you have ever lost a loved one. Nothing what you feel there originates from affectation – you almost want to shed tears for someone whom you never knew, but lost their life for no fault of their own. You can quite easily see a member of a family right next to you wondering how it has changed their life forever.

As you see multiple layers of cold water in a crystal lattice formation flow vertically into the intermediate base, and then to eventually flow following the exact vertical trajectory into the bottom rectangular void, you cannot help but wonder about a profound absence – the absence of all those lives we lost on 9/11, the lives we lost that have disappeared into that giant void at the bottom of the pool, and continue to lose around the world everyday. Almost rhetorically, you ask yourself – ‘so where is the water that goes into the void? as much as you want to ask what happened to those three thousand people who lost their lives that black Tuesday’. The spartan design leaves you with little hope and almost angry, at how we have erred throughout history. As I meticulously placed my index finger on bronze parapet wall and read a couple of names engraved on them by running my fingers on a horizontal line, I swore I would do everything possible that this will not happen again to the next generation. I remembered the wonderful daughter of one of my best friends who is two, and has her entire life ahead of her.

I did not really know what happened on my way out and how I ended up in Battery Park, on the south side of Manhattan Island I instinctively took the Ferry to Staten Island. As Lady Liberty stood proud in front of the landscape of golden evening summer skies – I just knew we should never build another memorial site – the lives of our children are precious infinite.