Have You Ever Been to A Developing Country (or Making America Great Again)?

polluted-waterHave you ever been to a developing country? One where you can’t drink the water, the roads are full of potholes, the air reeks of car emissions and pollution, tree branches and fields are littered with plastic bags, trash piles up on street corners, you can’t afford to go to the doctor, public schools are atrocious, corruption is endemic, but at least you see people in police or military uniform everywhere?

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In many developing countries, government investment in public services is almost zero, and government regulations of the environment or business activities are non-existent. The only real use of government spending is to build up the military and the police forces to protect the elite. Call it choosing growth over sustainability, if you like. But the effect is that only the rich, who can afford huge 4X4s, expensive private schools and hospitals, bottled water and cronyism can thrive.

And that’s basically Mr. Trump and the GOP’s vision of America. I suggest you get vaccinated, travel abroad, and then come back and see if you can stomach making America Great Again.

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The America I Hope They’re Watching

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I hope that when people around the world look at what Trump is doing and saying, instead of the hate and ignorance, they’ll see the enormous outcry of support for Muslims’ humanity from average Americans at protests and on social media, including the massive support shown by Jewish Americans (despite the animus you’re supposed to believe exists between Jews and Muslims). Of course, Americans could have shown similar concern when we were bombing, droning and killing innocent Muslims throughout the Obama administration.

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Nevertheless, I do hope that the world sees the protests in our streets, campuses, at airports, and on social media against the Trump administration’s policies and actions. In my own little social media bubble, I have read countless stories shared by my American friends of Jewish, Iranian, Arab, Latin American, European, and Asian backgrounds about their own families’ courageous journeys to America as refugees and immigrants during times of political violence or severe economic turmoil.

That is the America I hope the world is watching. They are the people that make me proud to be American.

I have also been very impressed by the many Germans  who — usually so reluctant to discuss their own country’s shameful past — have been sounding the alarm about how easy it is for a people and their nation to take a nose dive into the abyss.

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Why Lie about Election Results?

Isn’t it the epitome of stupidity to question the validity of an election you just won? Especially if you just won the election based on very small margins in a few key states and after every poll in every major news publication said you were going to lose big.

Of course, Trump is spinning this to be about 5 million or so votes that lost him the popular election. If there really were 5 million fraudulent votes isn’t it possible that many of those were in the decisive states where Trump won, like Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin? And isn’t it possible that those votes tipped the election in favor of Trump? In that case, is Trump willing to call for a reelection if voter fraud tipped the election in his favor?

In terms of just basic reality, it makes no sense that illegal immigrants would come out and vote and expose themselves to possible deportation. If you know anything about those who are undocumented, you know they stay as far under the radar as possible and avoid consuming or participating in public services or going anywhere where they may be confronted by the authorities. That 5 million illegal immigrants risked getting caught just to sabotage the election is absolutely absurd.

So why lie? I think there are four main reasons the President and his entourage lie:

  1. Small Penis Syndrome. You lie to yourself because you cannot face the fact that you are a very, very small man.
  2. The Emperor has No Clothes. You lie to your boss because that is what he wants to hear. Trump has never been employed. He has always been the boss and no one has ever told him he is wrong. So if you tell him what he wants to hear and it reinforces his narcissistic self-image as a winner, then you can keep the boss happy. In this sense, Trump will be the easiest president in history to manipulate. All you need to do is play into his ego.
  3. Testing the Limits and Alliances. You lie to see how far you can get lying, how much your fan base will accept your blatant falsehoods, and which news outlets and political allies will defend you no matter what you say or do. This is the test of committed tribalism. And so far he’s gotten away with it.
  4. Voter Turn-Out and Fighting Against the Inevitable. In both Bush 43’s first election and Trump’s, the Republican candidate won the election but did not win the popular vote. Trump arguably did worse than Romney yet was able to pull off the election due to the Electoral College. In order words, there is no real popular support or mandate for his policies. But as demographics continue to move against the GOP and its policies, elections will continue to be won by Democrats getting high voter turn-out and Republicans trying to make it harder and harder for Democrats to vote. One of the major reasons for the voter fraud lies of the past few years – and now even more evident with Trump’s massive lack of popularity – is to create enough hysteria to pass draconian voter suppression laws. The GOP simply has not other long term game plan to the White House. On the congressional level, they achieve the same by gerrymandering.

Personally, I think it would be interesting to get an independent panel (which we know will never happen) to review votes, especially in close states. But when that was suggested by Jill Stein with support by some people in the Hillary camp, the Trumpsters cried foul. Now ironically, Trump is questioning his own victory. Both amusing and scary.

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My Year in Books 2016

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Y2016 was a busy year. We had our third child, but somehow I still found time to read a slightly larger than normal volume of books. Here is my list:

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While I did read some very good books, I wouldn’t say that there were any must reads this year. I probably got the most from non-fiction, with highlights being: The Snakeshead, an amazing story of a Chinese woman who became a billionaire illegally bringing Fujianese Chinese to the U.S.; Sahara Unveiled about a trip across the desert; Servants of Allah about the many African slaves in the Americas who were Muslims and carried their religion with them; Sapiens about the history of humankind and our evolution put into a behavioral/political/historical context; and A Short History of Reconstruction about, you guessed it, the period after the Civil War when the U.S. tried to rebuild the divided nation and economy based on free labor and find a place for recently freed slaves, marked by white supremacist violence and terrorism.

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There were a handful of good novels including Youngblood, A Homegoing, Goat Days, and a General Theory of Oblivion. There was also an underlying – though not intentional – theme of African American lives which included the aforementioned non-fiction about Muslims in America and Reconstruction and the novel A Homegoing. Even Goat Days is a story about slavery. I also read Edward P. Jones’ excellent short stories about D.C,. Lost in the City. But probably my best read of the year was Claude Brown’s semi-autobiographical Manchild in the Promised Land.

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And, whenever I needed a break from my ambitious list, I could always turn to the D.C. crime writer George Pelecanos. Though most of his books are similar in theme, characters and stories they are so easy and enjoyable to read, especially as a Washingtonian.

Finally, I finished the year off by re-reading Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun. It was never my favorite of his novels, but there were three pieces of narrative in the novel that always stuck with me and that I wanted to revisit:

But I didn’t understand then that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.

Izumi wasn’t the only one who got hurt. I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply. I should have learned many things from that experience, when I look back on it, all I gained was one single, undeniable fact. That ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centered, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.

Every time we met, I took a good long look at her. And I loved what I saw.

“Why are you staring at me?” she’d ask.

“Cause you’re pretty,” I’d reply.

“You’re the first one who’s ever said that.”

“I’m the only one who know,” I’d tell her. “And believe me, I know.”

. . . for no particular reason.

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Things I’ve Read (recently)

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The following are some interesting and insightful things I have read in the past few months from the following three non-fiction works of history:

Servants of Allah traces the history and influence of the large number of African Muslims who were brought to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. The book documents how, contrary to the popular historical depiction of African slaves as peasants, many – especially those who were Muslim – were educated and literate. In particular, I find the following except interesting as it serves as a reminder that in the populist Islam vs. the West narrative, Christianity isn’t always the brightest light on the hill:

Ibrahima pointed out “very forcibly the incongruities in the conduct of those who profess to be the disciples of the immaculate Son of God.” The Africans had experienced or witnessed forced conversion as a justifications for slavery, whereas in their religion, conversion was a means of emancipation. They were in daily contact with religious men and women who were nevertheless sadistically brutal. The debauchery of Christian men who sexually exploited powerless women—not accorded the status of concubines—could not have escaped them. As slaves, they had experienced the Christians at their utter worse. Because they did not have a race or class consciousness, they saw the Americans primarily not as whites or as slaveholders but rather as Christians.

Similarly, Sapiens – a materialist recount of the evolution of humans in a historical context – helps put current Western/Christian fears of the Other into perspective:

These theological disputes turned so violent that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholics and Protestants killed each other by the hundreds of thousands. On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attacked communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organised festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican’s rooms with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors). More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.

The figures of 2002 are even more surprising. Out of 57 million dead, only 172,000 people died in war and 569,000 died of violent crime (a total of 741,000 victims of human violence). In contrast, 873,000 people committed suicide. It turns out that in the year following the 911 attacks, despite all the talk about terrorism and war, the average person was more likely to kill himself than to be killed by a terrorist, a soldier or a drug dealer.

With A Short History of Reconstruction what I found most interesting was how (i) terrorism, in the form of organized violence was employed successfully by Southern whites to maintain the status quo of white supremacy; (ii) an assortment of coordinated efforts by the police, the legislature and courts, and white civil society (often through terrorist violence) were employed in full force to sustain white supremacy and the economics of free labor; (iii) the political rhetoric to rationalize the above – for example, on taxation, federalism, and personal responsibility – are all very much alive and part of the conservative lexicon and worldview today; and (iv) all of the above defined the Jim Crow South up until 1970, a legacy which we undoubtedly still suffer. Continue reading

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There is Hope

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If just a little more than a half century after the close of World War II and the murder of 6 million innocent lives, Trump is capable of rehabilitating anti-Semites, and if 30 years after the Cold War, our president-elect can turn a Soviet KGB official-turned-despot from foe to roll-model, then there should be hope for Muslims around the world that one day the hatred they suffer will come to a happy end.

If a black man can become president in America? And if a white man who has admitted to committing fraud and bragged of sexual assault, has been married three times and unfaithful countless more, has gone bankrupt four times, lost $1 billion in one year and made the U.S. tax-payers pay for it for another 20, consistently rips everyone off, rides a golden elevator, and believes in absolutely nothing . . . if he can become a Republican and then elected president of the United States, surely anyone can. So if a fraud and phony can make it, you can too. The sky is the limit.

See, there is still hope for America and Americans.

Just be patient. The dream is alive. Sleep and dream.

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My Final Election Reflection: It Wasn’t So Unique

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After the initial shock and hysteria of the Trump victory, I have had some time to reflect. My final conclusion is that in general terms the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections were pretty normal, with nothing out of the ordinary.

Let’s start with what we know about U.S. elections:

  • Americans are tribal and vote based on demographics rather than adherence to political ideals
  • Americans are complacent and apathetic; hence voter-turn out tends to be low
  • Because political parties are basically just branding, as such, they focus on fringe issues to differentiate themselves from each other. With a two-party system, this means that the partisan/sectarian split tends to be very close to 50-50% of the population
  • Because of the above, there are very few swing voters and the key to winning elections is not swaying voters, but getting more of your sect to the polls (ie, rallying voters) than the other team.
  • Because of changing demographics in favor of Democrats, the Republicans have an interest in making it as difficult as possible for certain parts of the Democratic constituency to vote.
  • The incumbent party generally loses the presidential election after two terms.

Now let’s look at this year’s facts and how voters behaved:

  • Obama currently has the highest approval ratings of any exiting U.S. president in recent history
  • The economy is performing relatively well, with low unemployment in states like Michigan where Hillary lost this year, but Obama won in 2012
  • There was low voter turnout
  • There was low voter turnout for Hillary
  • There was low voter turnout for Trump, with Trump receiving lesser votes in this election than Romney did when losing to Obama in 2012
  • There was almost no media coverage of the issues, 32 minutes in total on the three major networks.

So what do the combination of what we already knew and what we’ve seen this year tell us? That this was a pretty normal election. Here’s why:

  • Contrary to what you may be hearing, Americans are not angry. Otherwise, we would have seen large turnout, as we did in 2008. The economy is doing well, and Americans overall like the sitting president. But neither Obama nor Biden were on the ballot, so in theory there was no continuity candidate.
  • Without getting into a discussion as to why or if justified, Hillary was an unpopular candidate. She didn’t persuade Democrats to vote for her in 2008 and wasn’t able to articulate a new reason to vote for her in 2016.
  • There was no discussion of issues, which doesn’t really matter anyways because Americans vote based on sect, not policies. So it didn’t matter that Donald Trump – the New York City Playboy conman with entitled, gelled-back haired offspring– was the picture of everything Republicans have always hated about the Northeast.
  • It was consistent with our history that the Republican party (non-incumbent) candidate would win after two terms of a Democrat in the White House.

So put aside the alleged changing political dynamics, racism (there’s always been racism, heck, our country was founded on it), and Middle America’s political revolt and anger. Obama would have likely won by a landslide had he been able to run.

Twenty-five percent of voters, some 90 million people, didn’t show up. Trump did worse than Romney who lost big. Hillary was a horrible candidate because she was unable to rally Democrats. Americans continue not to give a damn and are increasingly more sectarian. These should be the stories of the day.

The fact that Trump was able to empower racists, xenophobes and anti-Semites is anecdotal, a negative externality of the campaign. Something to be ignored by White Privilege.

Our take away could be that the victory of a highly incompetent cheat and race-baiter who got a nudge from the FBI Director means that America as meritocratic and post-racial is pure myth. But being able to keep the fiction alive . . . that, my friends, is White Privilege.

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