UK leaves the European Union (6.24.2016)

TMJ: I was jerked out of bed this morning reading the news about Brexit. I simply cannot believe the world has moved this close to insanity.

Aside from the political and financial meltdown that is unfolding, I am deeply saddened by our world of growing walls. Watching the xenophobic right wing factions in Europe and the United States come out on top scares the living shit out of me.

The UK exit means a lot of uncertainty for the EU, US and the world. But the immediate danger to our country is that somehow this move actually gives credibility to the Trumpster. For the first time, I’m seriously terrified that he may actually win in November. If the UK can shoot itself in the foot, who is to say we won’t do the same?

WILT: Tesla has produced models S and X. It turns out that Elon had in plans models E and Y too, spelling…SEXY. Unfortunately, Ford stole the Model E before they were able to patent the name.

Learning Tracker

I love learning. Every single day, I am on a cutthroat hunt for new opportunities to learn.   I read a ton of articles; I consciously seek out stimulating conversations and I religiously feed my podcast addiction. I’m always taking a Coursera class, and I’m always reading a book.

I’ve done really well with consuming knowledge, but I’m doing poorly with actually absorbing it and making it stick.

With this new series of #weeklylearning posts, I’m going back to the very reason why I started this blog- to hold myself accountable to my goals. I want to ensure that I can retain and recall the knowledge I acquire.  I also want to record some of the intellectual conversations I am having with (myself) people.

This time around, I’m going to use a very convenient (lazy?) method to capture my learning.  I created a Trello board ‘My learning’ with three broad categories of information:

1. media facts: what I learn from newspapers, magazines and podcasts
2. culture facts: what I learn from people in my life; and
3. random: personal dilemmas, debates and staggering realizations

Every week, I’ll record most of my learning in very brief notes on the board.  The idea is just to be able to recall the information (this should only take a few seconds per fact). At the end of the week, I will review the list to solidify the information in my brain, take a screenshot and post three coolest facts to the blog.

Here’s my learning for 2/1/16 – 2/8/16

Trello 2.1-2.8 (1)

Coolest Facts for 2/1-2/8/2016

  • Media: World’s richest 62 people own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of the global population (Times magazine)
  • Culture: My soul sister, 21 year old woman Zenith Irfan, redefines stereotypes by taking a motorcycle trip around Pakistan (PRI podcast episode I learned about from my friend Michelle–
  • Staggering realizations: Some women in this country will work for free until April 8th this year, because they only get paid 77 cents to man’s $1.


Risky Business Report

Earlier this week, Bloomberg has published a non-partisan, comprehensive report on the economic risks of the climate change. The study assesses and quantifies potential consequences of the climate change for each region in the United States. In particular, the report focuses on the damage to coastal property from rising sea levels, climate change effects in agriculture and energy demand, and impact of average temperature rise on labor productivity and public health.

The report states that within the next 15 years, the annual cost of coastal storms and hurricanes along the Eastern part of the country and the Golf of Mexico will increase by $2-3.5 billion (+ $7 billion on losses associated with potential hurricane activity). The report predicts that if we continue with our current approach to climate change, by 2050 up to $106 billion worth of coastal property will be below sea level (with the highest losses  on the Atlantic coast).

Greenhouse gas-driven changes will rise the temperatures which will require production of additional 95 gigawatts of new power in the next 2 to 25 years, costing U.S. residents up to $12 billion per year.  This temperature spike will also reduce productivity of outdoor workers. Additionally, agricultural yield will likely decline by up to 50-70% in some states in the Southeast due to extreme heat (though some losses might be recovered by increases in agricultural productivity of traditionally cold states).

Although The Risky Business Analysis focuses mostly on assessing climate change related risks, it also offers some broad solutions to this dark economic reality.  The report urges businesses and investors to include the risks of climate change in their financial analysis.  Lastly, it encourages strong public sector response to this crisis– the most instrumental tool in prevention of future climate-driven disasters.

Click to access RiskyBusiness_PrintedReport_FINAL_WEB_OPTIMIZED.pdf

Rape, the Syrian weapon of destruction

The Syrian Civil War has removed more than 2.5 million people from their country to immediate neighbors of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (UNHCR, image below lists approximate numbers of refugees in each country).  Women and children make up 2/3 of the refugees (this is a conservative estimate; up to 75% quoted by some sources).


Rape and sexual slavery among these vulnerable groups are a disturbing systemic reality. Women escape Syria where rape is used as a military strategy, only to experience the same risks in the refugee camps abroad.  To make the problem worse, survivors rarely report the crimes fearing rejection or even death from the hands of their own family members (honor killings).

Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie has called a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit has brought together influential policymakers, NGOs and survivors.  The result of the meeting was an International Protocol outlining standards for investigation of sexual violence in conflict areas. While the recognition of this problem is a significant step forward, it is not enough.  To have a meaningful impact, the international community has to issue a coordinated action plan for combating this weapon of silent destruction.

Understanding Hijab

The hijab – veil covering head and neck- is regarded as the most distinctive feature of Muslim women.  The term is mandated by the Islamic dress code.  Interestingly enough, the veil is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran, except for the wives of Muhammad.  At the time, they were the most important women in the society and the veil served as a protection from the eyes of lower class men.  Today, eastern women sometimes regard the veil as a symbol of connection with Mohammed’s wives and a sign of obedience to God.   In western eyes, the hijab is a symbol of seclusion and oppression.

I actually looked this up: the Qur’an does not explicitly address the hijab, but rather it states that women should cover themselves, in general terms:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…(a list of exceptions)”

In my ignorant eyes, hijab was adopted as the interpretation of Qur’an evolved. I neither condemn nor praise the moral values behind the custom, but I do believe that women should be given a choice. And, it seems that a new London-based social media movement ‘Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women’ is re-defining the law by encouraging women to take off the hijab in public places.  The idea is simple: If you want to, take off the hijab and post a picture on Facebook.  So far, the site shows 500+ pictures of women with banana smiles on their faces in the most unexpected areas (I even saw one driving a car!).

Perhaps the most compelling quote that I have found about the movement: “It is painful that I shall not be free so that you will not sin,” writes one woman. “That I have to be covered so that your weak faith does not break!”

Go ladies! 🙂


Political Bickering over Immigration

Immigration has been cornerstone of policy debate for decades.  The debate has focused on many different aspects of the reform, but the U.S. economy and border protection have always been at the epicenter of the discussion.  As expected, policy approach for the immigration reform is divided across party lines. Democrats emphasize economic benefits of a larger labor market and the right for a path to citizenship for immigrants residing in the country while republicans focus on border security and amnesty threats.

The argument put forth by the Democratic Party is a moral one, based on the United States immigration heritage.  President Obama and his party emphasize the need for a road to citizenship for undocumented residents who currently live in the shadows of our society.  The President argues that these residents have contributed to the U.S. economy and have placed roots and families in this country, yet the United States has not rewarded their hard work and dedication.  On the contrary, the current immigration system has left 11 million undocumented residents living in fear of our institutions. The President especially focuses on the children of undocumented parents (‘The Dreamers’) who were brought to this country through no fault of their own. To be clear, this liberal view does not neglect the need for undocumented individuals to admit they have broken the law; on the contrary, it assumes immigrants will be required to pay adequate penalty in fees and taxes for their illegal stay in the United States.

Republicans, on the other hand, are fearful of setting a precedence for lax immigration reform, which, they argue, will encourage illegal immigration in the future and put in question the security of our borders.  The republican view also brings to question the effect on the economy of the 11 million illegal residents who would become citizens (and therefore would be entitled to all government and social services) as a result of Obama’s reform.  Consequently, policy aspects discussed by republicans focus mostly on work permits for illegal immigrants, rather than options for citizenship.

While most politicians agree that the current immigration system is broken, their idea for the reform is different.  The Democratic Party supports an ‘open door’ immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants while republicans focus on employment permits, arguing that illegal immigrants have broken the law and should not be awarded a citizenship.  Until common language is agreed on and consensus reached, the battle for immigration will continue, with no productive implications for residents living in the shadows of illegal immigration.

My opinion on energy policy.

Our generation faces a set of immediate challenges, from nuclear proliferation, through poverty, war and health issues to a rapid change of climate.  But, one of the most silently destructive issues is the future of our energy supply.  Unfortunately, investing in clean energy sources is costly and in the short-term harmful to certain U.S. states that depend on oil production as the primary source of income.  However, in the long-term, clean energy also means a healthier planet for the next generations.  The two sides of the argument have produced a wild and controversial discussion on what is the most optimal solution for the conundrum.

I believe that the solution to the energy-environmental crisis is a simple, two-part recommendation.  It includes: tax on carbon and increased investment in clean energy.   Firstly, the United States has to lead as an example in moving away from the ‘Cap and Trade System’ of energy in which the right to pollute is given to the industries (while remaining under government imposed limits).  This form of direct regulation is ineffective, because although pollution vouchers are free, the companies often buy additional vouchers from other industries and transfer the burden of payment to consumers.  A more effective policy would be to levy a direct tax on carbon emissions on both consumers and producers.  The revenue raised by the tax would then be invested in clean energy research and subsidies for public transport. Clean energy investments would include innovative research to capture renewable sources of energy, increase efficiency and use of biofuels, and transform public transportation into a greener system.

President Obama has made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels.  Modernizing plants and reducing carbon emissions is the first step to securing the future of energy and environment in the United States and in the world.  Introduction of the carbon tax would expand on this policy and reinforce innovation in clean technologies.

Free University education

Prompt: “Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition.”

The United States federal government has been a cornerstone key player in educational policy since the very beginning of the union and throughout its history to this day.  Presidents donated land to universities and enacted laws that granted free college enrollment for veterans.  Today, President Obama is fighting his own fight for increased low-interest loans for students.  However, historically, states have been a lot more proactive in terms of educational policy and should continue to be in the vanguard of free university education for low income students.

The 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution reserves the right for states to regulate areas not covered in the constitution (and therefore not within the jurisdiction of the federal government). Education is not mentioned in the Constitution and thus falls under the powers of the states.  For that reason, the role of the federal government is generally limited to offering financial aid to states (FAFSA) to help in the delivery of educational agendas.  Federal and State financial aid money is then allocated based on the financial need of the student (need-based financial aid).  However, the maximum amount of federal aid grants for any student is about $6,000 while private university tuition may be as high as $30,000 yearly.  In New York State, students are also eligible for state need-based aid, but that amount cannot exceed $5,000 annually leaving-in some cases- a $20,000 ($80,000 in 4 years) financial gap to be filled in with interest bearing loans.

Many young high school graduates are overwhelmed by the cost of tuition and the prospect of having enormous debt after graduation.  Relatively high unemployment rate (nearly 9% in some states) only adds to their nervousness and often acts as a critical factor against the decision to attend college.  As a consequence, less young people enroll in college and even less graduate from 4 year institutions (drop-out rate has also been on the rise).  This negative trend will certainly have an adverse effect on the competitiveness of the United States economy, unless states recognize the need for greater financial aid for students who are not able to afford university tuition.  Some states have already taken steps in that direction—Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma is the first tuition-free college in the nation.

Increasing university tuition is one of the most critical reasons deterring students from attending college.  The President and the Federal Government have offered a number of aid packages to help lower this cost.  However, it is the state governments that have to explore aggressive financial aid reforms to support low income students in their decision to continue education.  Stronger financial aid packages for students from low income backgrounds will not only ensure an increase in college enrollments, but also prepare our nation to compete with the demands of the future labor market.

What regulations should apply to U.S. companies doing business abroad?

PROMPT: In the U.S., businesses must comply with federal regulations regarding labor practices, product safety, and environmental impact. Although they raise the costs of doing business, such regulations are generally regarded as a legitimate way to balance the public good against corporate profits. When U.S. companies operate in other countries, however, many of these regulations no longer apply. Some argue that if U.S. companies meet costs associated with these regulations and the additional costs of doing business abroad, their ability to compete is diminished. Others maintain that some U.S. federal regulations should be implemented only in selected countries. Another view is that U.S. companies have a moral obligation to observe all U.S. federal regulations when operating abroad. In your view, what regulations, if any, should apply to U.S. companies doing business abroad? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

Today’s globally connected economy is governed by several international organizations that safeguard the rights and freedoms of citizens around the word.  Organizations such as the World Bank or the International World Trade Organization have jurisdiction over companies doing business internationally.  Accordingly, I believe that U.S. based companies with businesses abroad have first and foremost the obligation to obey international law, rather than U.S. regulations.

It is my belief that international trade regulations should follow a similar provision to the Supremacy Clause in the United States where the federal law prevails over the law of any state.  In this case, international organizations should have the right to oversee business practices and enact laws.  Laws enacted internationally should then be obeyed by every company doing business on a global scale, regardless of regulations in their native countries.  The only exception to this rule should include any business conduct not overseen by international law but one that has a directly adverse effect on the U.S. safety and economy, such as money laundering, corruption or espionage.  In those rare instances, companies have the obligation to obey the U.S. law.

Although international law may not fully cover the extent of the U.S. law as it relates to business operations, these gaps in policy will be adjusted by public relations pressures.  The assumption is that conscious customers in the United States are unlikely to buy a product that was produced in unethical conditions.  In order to satisfy targeted clientele, companies will respond by implementing social responsibility programs and high standards for their production lines.

I believe that U.S. companies doing business abroad should adhere to international laws governing business. Only in cases where United States safety is threatened, they should be obliged to follow the U.S. law.  International Organizations such as the World Bank should take precedence in governing international issues the same way that the Constitution is a supreme law of the land in the United States. The rest of the issues will adjust with the market demand for ethically produced goods.

Violent crimes

PROMPT: Although rates for violent crime have fallen in the last few years, as a society we must continue to be concerned about existing crime rates and how to prevent violent crimes from occurring. Some argue that the most effective means of preventing crime is to expand police forces, particularly in large urban areas, and put more police officers on the street. Others argue that more effective gun control laws are needed to reduce the number and kinds of guns available to criminals. Still others argue that imposing stiffer legal penalties and keeping criminals in jail longer are the best means of preventing violent crime. In your view, what is the most effective public policy for preventing violent crime? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

An effective policy against violent crime is difficult to accomplish without employing a comprehensive package of initiatives, emphasizing the need to increase quality of policing, while reducing the number of guns available to criminals.  However, I believe that the most significant reduction in violent crime can be accomplished by increasing police units in targeted areas of violent crime.  Moreover, a complementary piece of this policy should include effective communication of crime-stricken areas via employment of a technology whereby the public may read current updates on crime occurrences within their area of interest.

Proponents of gun laws often cite recent examples of gun violence in the United States, including but not limited to Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting and Virginia Tech Massacre. Many believe that enacting effective gun control laws will prevent the number of violent crime occurrences, but research does not necessarily confirm their belief.  Famous Harvard 2013 study on gun control laws has shown that although homicide rate in the United States scores higher than in other developed nations, it might not be a direct cause of lax gun policy.  There simply isn’t enough evidence to confirm that stricter gun laws will decrease gun caused deaths.  This ambiguity in causation casts doubt on whether investing resources in a costly debate on gun restrictions is a justifiable use of public moneys.

On the other hand, employing a data-driven, strong police force in high crime risk areas is an effective preventative strategy against violent crime.  Real life case of strategy policing in NYC under Mayor Giuliani has proven to be an effective policy in a war on crime.  Mayor Giuliani implemented a ‘Broken Window Theory’ in the crime stricken streets of New York in 1900’s to prevent spread of violent crime.  In practice, the theory meant that the police forces cracked down on all crime (even petty crime) with the belief that small crime eventually leads to violent crime.  In addition, the Police Commissioner used data-driven CompStat accountability scheme to identify high-risk delinquency areas, isolate problems and respond with increased vigilance and stronger force. This zero-tolerance policy combined with data analysis has proven to be an effective tool in a war against intercity crime. A missing leg in this policy was delivering collected data to the public in an easily accessible manner- so that they too may serve as whistle-blowers—i.e. via a smart phone application through which citizens would be able to check current statistics on crime in a given zip code area.

In sum, to optimize gains in prevention of violent crime, our policy makers need to deliver an integrated system of targeted policing with easily accessible data to share with the public.  While the effects of gun restrictions are ambiguous, increasing safety and communication with the public is a proven recipe for crime prevention.