Daughters are such a blessing

Sharing a piece by a wonderful author Sudha Arora. The original is in Hindi, I have translated it here.

“How many bachchas do you have?” a middle-aged woman on the Superfast train from Jaipur to Delhi asked me.

“I have two daughters,” I replied with pride.

“But how many bachchas?” repeated the woman in a flat tone.

I thought she might be hard of hearing. Raising my voice a little, I said with a smile, “I have 2 daughters.”

“So no bachchas?”

I stared at her in astonishment.

She looked at me with pitying eyes.

Now I understood that when she asked about children she meant sons.

This conversation was repeated many times in many different places.

Girls don’t continue the family line, girls belong to the family they’re married into, one needs to save for their dowries, girls are a burden – these beliefs in several districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka mean that girls don’t count as children.

Someone even asked me, “Didn’t you try for more children after these two?”

There’s an interesting story behind this.

Both my children were born through Caesarean section. In those days sonography was not that prevalent. It was only after the child was born that the nurse would announce if it was a boy or girl.

When I got pregnant again ten years after the birth of my daughter, the ladies of the neighborhood tried to guess the sex of the baby by the shape of my belly, the color of my face, and whether I was craving sweet or salty food. Since my first child was a girl, they were hoping for a boy this time. My mother had already told my doctor that girl or boy, my tubes were to be tied after the delivery.

This was 1982. Holi was on the 10th of March that year. My due date was the 20th, but the doctor was worried that if I went into labor on the 10th, it might be difficult to arrange for the operation. So the surgery was scheduled on the 8th.

I was admitted to the Woodlands Nursing Home in Calcutta. On 8th March, at 10 a.m., when the doctor saw the sex of the baby after the operation, she sent the nurse running outside.

“It’s a girl! Do you still want to do the tubal ligation?”

My mother replied, “A gift from Waheguru! Tell the doctor to go ahead with the operation.”

The nurse left and returned a couple of minutes later.

“I don’t think you heard me correctly. The doctor said, it’s a girl, do you still want to do the ligation?”

This time my mother said sternly, “I care about the life of my daughter. How many times do I have to tell you to go ahead?”

She continued to fume. “This is the limit! That delicate girl is lying on the operating table with her stomach cut open and they’re wasting time sending messages – she must have lost so much blood. That’s why I said I didn’t want the surgery to be done by a Rajasthani doctor, they don’t feel complete without sons, you’d think boys were born with angel wings…”

The third day after the delivery, when the nurse took me to the bathroom to brush, I fell down in a dead faint. The hemoglobin test showed 5.6. When the doctor saw the results, she couldn’t believe it and had the test repeated. This time it was 4.8. In the ensuing panic I was administered an intravenous iron solution, but I had an immediate reaction to it and began shivering with chills. Then I was given two bottles of blood. I still had complications and was able to leave the hospital only after 17 days.

The day I left the hospital with my daughter, my weight was 38 kilos and my daughter was 4.75 pounds. Ma was relieved that we had both reached home safely.

We all have such mothers and aunts in our family trees who did not think any less of women, who wanted to have daughters despite the prevailing sentiment and social norms that devalued women, who understood the importance of girls and treated them like they were special.

When I was going through a very tough time in my life, it was this very daughter who stood before me and with me like a suit of armor and helped me stand up again by holding my hand. She is my strength, my support, my therapist.

Last year she turned 40. Life’s challenges have made her strong.

In life, every disaster, every deception, every betrayal, first causes trauma, then it becomes the basis on which you stand tall. It gives you courage and makes you strong.

Kuttey? or Kaminey?

Saw Kuttey a couple of days ago, a movie written and directed by Aasmaan Bhardwaj, son of Vishal Bhardwaj. The film, liberally borrowing plot points from VB’s Kaminey and style from Tarantino, is a gangster flick where a bunch of bad guys chase the same MacGuffin, in this case an armored van full of cash.

Quick review for the attention-deprived? It’s oooookay, I guess.

Kuttey may be full of criminals, but its biggest crime is the sheer waste of powerhouse talent in the form of Tabu, Konkona, Kumud Mishra, Radhika Madan, and a host of other talented ensemble actors who appear and disappear in the movie as stock characters (gangster, henchman, police inspector, rebellious daughter, etc.). I think the director imagined them as chess pieces, but they resemble checkers discs much more in their random movements to make the thin plot line work. Naseeruddin Shah (Naseer!) has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role that could have been done by an extra.

It’s hard not to compare Kuttey to Kaminey. Amole Gupte’s Bhope in Kaminey has a full backstory, and his motivations, whether to chase the loot or to forbid his sister’s marriage to Shahid Kapoor’s Guddu, are crystal clear. Here Shah’s Khobre is just in it for the money and we learn nothing about him. Same with Tabu’s corrupt police inspector. Even Konkona, who at least has a few dramatic scenes in the beginning, is a mysteriously transplanted Naxalite whose motivations can only be gleaned if you watch very carefully for the Communist Manifesto carelessly lying around in a shoot-out scene. Radhika Madan’s Lovely is not a patch on Priyanka Chopra’s Sweety, who we learn a lot about and appreciate as a human being. Here Lovely is just the don’s daughter rebelling against her arranged marriage to a builder’s son (another nod to Kaminey).

Is the problem with the movie the plethora of characters? I was reminded of Brad Pitt’s Bullet Train, which is another movie with a bunch of actors chasing something, but even with the non-stop action, you got a flavor of who each character was and what brought them there. And what about the Bengali brothers in Kaminey, who may have had 10 minutes of screen time total but were fully formed and wonderfully quirky characters. Much to my surprise, Kuttey and Kaminey have about the same run time, but Kaminey packs in so much more character development.

The difference, I think, is in the dialogues. There are virtually no dialogues in Kuttey that aren’t about the chase itself, which left me deeply unsatisfied. I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and I do like to have at least a couple of people to root for. They don’t have to be moral, but they do have to be interesting. Can you imagine not caring about a character played by Tabu or Konkona?

What’s worse is that the character with the most screen time is played by Arjun Kapoor, who is completely overshadowed by even the most insignificant actor appearing on the screen with him. Why? Why pick this untalented star child to base your story around when you had so many others marvelous actors right there?

I imagine an afterlife where all these non-lead characters sit around and talk about the heist-gone-bad and discuss what brought them to that particular moment in time. I would watch THAT movie.

If you enjoyed Kaminey, wait for Kuttey to appear on OTT. In the meantime, watch Kaminey again. It is my favorite gangster movie and possibly Shahid Kapoor’s best performance on screen.

Propositions on the Ballot in California on November 3, 2020

Hello world! I am emerging from a long hibernation to put up my bi-annual recommendations for propositions on the ballot in California. California’s awful referendum system means every couple of years the public is forced to suffer through reams of political ads and millions of dollars spent on misinformation. It’s not surprising a majority of even politically aware citizens simply check out of the process and vote “NO” on everything in protest!

But if you want to be thoughtful about your choices, here is a primer. Use to inform yourself; you don’t have to agree with my choices, but it is helpful to know what impact your vote will have.

Proposition 14: Authorizes $5.5 billion state bonds for: stem cell and other medical research, including training; research facility construction; administrative costs.

In 2004 Prop 71 was passed authorizing 3 billion dollars in bonds for stem cell research in the hope of exciting new cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons. 16 years later that promise has not really come true though other, lesser known, disorders have benefited from the research and saved lives. Now that the money is running out, the state is back at the well.

Here is a good, balanced article about the pros and cons of this initiative. My reasons for voting no come down to the following reasons:

  • It looks like last time the money mostly went to the interests supported by the board of the agency formed by Prop 71
  • The government cannot benefit from the royalties from any drug developed under this initiative
  • There is nothing stopping the government from allocating funds for stem cell research from the general fund. Interest on these bonds take money away from the general fund and divert money from other, equally or more important budgetary needs like housing etc.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 15: Increases funding for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.

After the infamous Prop 13 passed in 1978, taxpayers in California who own homes and businesses for many years have been assessed at far less than market rates on their property values for tax purposes. This initiative leaves residential taxes alone and increases the tax on commercial properties.

The main opposition to Prop 15 is that this tax would have adverse consequences for businesses just as they are recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The other concern is that landlords of commercial properties could pass on the tax to the small businesses that rent from them.

However, the reassessment would only begin in 2022, hopefully after the economy has begun recovering. And the reassessment is expected to bring in 6.5 to 11.5 billion dollars to government and schools in a 60/40 split. Here is a good article to read some more about this initiative.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 16: Repeals Prop 209 (1996) that said that government and public institutions could not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

Voting yes on Prop 16 is essentially a vote for affirmative action. The intense discussion on desi WhatsApp groups suggests that this is a loaded topic, with Indian American parents already suing colleges like Harvard for discriminating against their children on the basis of race. But there is a reason that we are discussing a repeal of an anti-discriminatory initiative, which on the face of it sounds counter-intuitive.

After prop 209 was passed, the top UCs, Berkeley and LA, immediately saw a drop of 60% in underrepresented group enrolment, with a statewide drop of 12%. Among other such effects, dollars awarded to certified women-owned business enterprises fell by roughly 40 percent, compared to levels before Proposition 209.

So there is a case to be made that we are not out of the woods with respect to equal opportunities for underprivileged groups. Prop 16 forces colleges to consider backgrounds, and push for more college preparedness for marginalized students. It also benefits women and minority owned businesses when it comes to public contracts.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Prop 16 does not call for quotas. It just allows for race and gender to be considered as factors.

Making diversity a priority may not be on everyone’s list, but there is no denying that it reduces income inequality and eventually makes the state a better place to live for everyone.

My recommendation: VOTE YES

Proposition 17: Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole

At last, an unambiguous initiative I don’t have to research! If you believe, like I do, that people who have served their time in prison deserve to be rehabilitated into society as full members, then you will vote yes on this initiative. Too many people, especially minorities, are deprived of their fundamental right to participate in democracy because of minor infractions. And we all know how the justice system works for certain segments of people!

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 18: Allowing 17-year-olds eligible to vote in the next general election to vote in the relevant primaries and special elections.

Makes sense! And getting more young people involved in the electoral process can only be a good thing.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 19: Extending property tax breaks for certain eligible homeowners.

Currently senior citizens, people with disabilities, and victims of natural disaster can move from one home to another with no impact on their property taxes if the market value of the home being purchased is equal to or less than the house being sold. This protects people who have been in their home for a long time and wish to downsize, without the market movement affecting their taxes.

This initiative extends that special treatment to allow, among other things, seniors to be able to upgrade to a more expensive home with a favorable tax treatment. Here’s the new calculation as I understand it.

Old system: Say you (55+) bought a house for 1,000,000. Now it is worth 2,000,000. You can sell your house and move to a new one with your property taxes staying the same (assessed on 1,000,000) if the purchase price is 2 million or less. If the price is more, you pay property taxes on the full amount of the new purchase.

New system: You bought a house for 1,000,000. Your house is now worth 2,000,000. You want to buy a house for 2,500,000. Your new assessment for taxes will be 1,000,000 + (2,500,000 – 2,000,000) = 1,500,000.

That’s the gist of it. A previous similar bill was soundly defeated, so this time around there are some sops thrown in, but basically this is a measure brought to you by realtors. A tax rule that basically protected long-time homeowners from property value appreciation is now a mechanism to give a tax break to the wealthy and create business for realtors.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 20: Dubbed “Crackdown of Crime” this initiative increases penalties for certain property crimes and repeated parole violations — and make it more difficult for some convicted felons to qualify for early parole and release from prison.

Another easy one. The bill seems to have been written by the prison system bent on increasing the pipeline of incarcerated people by making certain categories of non-violent crimes invite harsher punishment. Why?

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 21: Would allow cities to once again enact rent control laws, but only for properties more than 15 years old. Cities could also prevent landlords from raising rents on a unit when a tenant moves out.

Rent control is another of those controversial issues people tend to have strong views about. The Brookings Institute has collated the research on this and comes to the conclusion that rent control, while giving some relief in the short run, really doesn’t pay in the long run, leading to less housing, unoccupied flats and, oddly enough, gentrification.

The argument that it will provide relief to renters affected by the pandemic does not really wash since that can be done through short term measures.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 22: Classifying rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors.

I call this the Uber/Lyft bill because this is such a specific bill designed to affect one specific industry (and just a handful of companies). After the CA legislature passed AB5 which put 3 conditions for classifying workers as independent contractors, ride-share companies realized that they would fail those conditions and went on a massively funded effort to overturn the bill by referendum.

A family discussion brought up some good points.

  • Why should there be a special carveout for just one industry just because they can spend massive amounts on changing the law? What about all the other industries and workers affected by AB5?
  • Uber/Lyft are able to put downward pressure on driver compensation because they operate monopolistically. They set the rates, they set the rules. In this situation, free market really doesn’t exist, so who is protecting the interests of the workers?

AB5 may be a bad law, but the place to fix it is in the legislature, for all affected businesses and workers. Carving out an exemption for just one industry and codifying the changes in a way that gives no flexibility to the legislature in the future is a bad way of operating.

My recommendation: VOTE NO.

Proposition 23: Requires on-site physician at dialysis clinics.

Despite the rather innocuous text and requirement, this initiative was brought by a large labor union group (SEIU-UHW West) that has been fighting a battle with private dialysis centers to unionize their employees. Opposition to it has been hugely funded by the clinics, but the initiative has also been opposed by patient and doctor groups who fear that the bill will force the closures of clinics, especially in remote areas.

I have mixed feelings about this bill because I think the whole dialysis clinic system is a racket. In this country we don’t educate and inform our most vulnerable communities about good health habits and then exploit their chronic conditions to milk the government of reimbursements. But this bill doesn’t address the underlying issue; instead, it seems to be a nuisance bill to score a point in the war between the union group and the private clinics.

My recommendation: A reluctant NO.

Proposition 24: Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative

My first thought in reading the summary bill was – Stricter consumer privacy laws. No brainer. Why wouldn’t you vote yes? Then I delved into the murky state of privacy laws in California. There is a lot of history and a lot of complexity, some of which is well summarized in this Wired article. Bottom line: In 2019 the legislature enacted a law called the California Consumer Privacy Act that was supposed to be one of the strictest privacy laws ever drafted. But it left gaping loopholes through which companies like Facebook and Google could drive right through. This initiative aims to fix those loopholes and has been crafted by Alistair Mactaggart, the same guy who helped to write the original bill which got watered down eventually. The bill has the support of Andrew Yang, Ro Khanna, among others.

The thorniest issue with this initiative is whether a complex piece of legislation like this should be left to the voters to decide. The question is: Can we afford to wait? According to Mactaggart

The most important thing about Prop. 24,…, is its potential to steer the internet away from an economy based on tracking users across sites in order to serve them the most highly targeted ads at the lowest cost. …. that business model is accelerating the demise of the journalism industry, and taking democracy down with it.

I feel the sense of urgency about this too.

My recommendation: VOTE YES.

Proposition 25: Referendum to uphold “Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments”

In 2018, SB 10 was passed replacing cash bail with risk assessments (risk of fleeing/avoiding showing up in court) because requiring defendants to put up cash for bail disproportionately affects the poor. The bail bond companies stand to lose a lot from SB10, so they’ve sponsored this initiative to overturn SB 10.

While risk assessments can be biased, there is no denying that cash bail is punitive.

My recommendation: VOTE YES to uphold SB 10.

Judgemental Hai Kya – Wildly Entertaining

I haven’t written a review in what feels like years, so the fact that Judgemental Hai Kya made me write one says something about the movie, I guess!

It’s ironic that Judgemental Hai Kya (JHK)got into trouble for its earlier name “Mental Hai Kya” because the PC police thought it showed “disrespect” for people dealing with mental health issues. The movie is singular in the way it gives agency to its psychotic protagonist, Bobby Batliwala Grewal, a young woman with some kind of dissociative disorder, possibly from being traumatized as a child. JHK also offers a template to the neurotypical in how to approach the mentally ill – all the characters, even the ones deeply affected by Bobby’s behavior, treat her as an equal, and accommodate her quirks with a patience it would be rare to find in the real world. There is the occasional laugh at her “no-filters” approach to life and relationships, but the jokes never seem mean-spirited; rather, as a woman, I felt a sneaking admiration for how Bobby lives her life without making compromises to the patriarchy – we’ve all tempered our behavior and our dreams to make it in a man’s world, Bobby carries a knife to cut anyone who tries anything fishy. And she is willing to pay the price for being who she is – when given a choice between paying a fine or going to the asylum for “rehab” she happily chooses the latter. “I spent 3 months in the asylum and returned home, but he is never going to get his nose back,” she explains after punishing a groper.

Bobby’s hallucinations and delusions make her an unreliable narrator, and this gives JHK much of its unique appeal. With most of the story being told from her perspective, the audience is perpetually off balance, much like Bobby. Writer Kanika Dhillon uses Bobby’s instability wonderfully to keep us guessing till the climactic scene, even though there are many moments in the movie where you are sure you know what’s going to happen and the denouement, when it does come, is probably what you expected.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is a terrific supporting character in this thriller. I’m not an expert on art appreciation, so watching Sucharita Tyagi’s Not A Movie Review of JHK was very helpful in understanding the nuances of the scene and color choices. Go see it first.

JHK is Kangana Ranaut’s movie all the way, and you’ll appreciate her performance even more when you realize her co-actor is Rajkummar Rao, one of the best actors in Hindi movies today. Rao exudes charm and sexiness (yes, sexiness!) and the menace his Keshav Kumar Shravan generates in Bobby is so subtle that, like her, you wonder throughout the movie if you only imagined it. He is a master of the craft and she matches him scene for scene, moment for moment. Even her dialogue delivery, which I have had issues with since Gangster, has improved steadily film after film till it is pretty much perfect here. What a tour de force Judgemental Hai Kya is for Kangana!

It’s tempting to make a cheap comparison between Kangana’s character’s psychosis and Kangana the actor’s recent anti-social behavior in public but, oddly enough, JHK made me feel a lot of compassion for a woman who has powered her way to influence and success in the cesspit that is Bollywood. Who knows what she had to do to get there and how it affected her? I will certainly reinterpret her actions going forward as the reactions of a person who is trying to navigate a reactionary and patriarchal world without giving up her identity and power.

Back to the movie. As a thriller, is it as good as Andhadhun, which completely blew me away? My personal preference is for movies that mystify me a little by not explaining everything and for that reason, I (narrowly) prefer Andhadhun. Just as an example, without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Kangana imagines some fantastical characters bearing the distorted faces of her acquaintances. The film helpfully shows us who these characters originally are by cutting between their normal faces and the new ones. I think I would have preferred to guess.

The other issue I have is with the shifting of the narrative to London in the second half and the rather incongruous device of a futuristic Ramayana play to set up the climax. Possibly the London setting is so that Bobby feels even more un-moored in a strange place without the support system that keeps her functioning. And the Ramayana does provide the opportunity for fabulous cinematography. I just have an inherent suspicion of foreign locations in Hindi movies.

But these are just quibbles. Judgemental Hai Kya is a terrific entertainer that will keep you riveted to your seat for 2 hours. I highly recommend that you watch it in the theaters, if only to support good Indian cinema and act as a counter to the Golmaal 5s and Housefull 7s that dominate Bollywood box offices. You’ll get to see 2 fantastic actors at the top of their game and a good, masala thriller that slips in a message of kindness, compassion, and respect for the differently-abled while giving you a good scare.


Propositions on the ballot on Nov 6, 2018

Here we go again. Only about 40% of people vote in the midterms, but if you are one of those planning to sit out these elections, I beg you to reconsider.

Here are the propositions on the ballot in California, with a local Palo Alto initiative as well, since I live here.

voteEarly voting may have already started in your county. Check it out here

Also, make sure you are still registered as a voter; the DMV admits to have messed up a number of voter accounts. Check here

Proposition 1: The Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond
Voting YES supports this measure to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for housing-related programs, loans, grants, and projects for low-income residents, veterans, and farm-workers.
Voting NO opposes this measure.

VOTE YES. Only the government can make a dent in the housing situation in California, since there is no incentive for private agencies to construct low-income or affordable housing. While this proposition does not solve California’s housing woes, it certainly makes a start. It also makes it easy for cities to plan for housing growth better and encourages them to think of their less fortunate citizens.

Proposition 2: The Use Millionaire’s Tax Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Housing Bonds Measure.

Voting YES supports authorizing the state to use revenue from Proposition 63 (2004)—a 1 percent tax on income above $1 million for mental health services—on $2 billion in revenue bonds for homelessness prevention housing for persons in need of mental health services.
Voting NO opposes it.

VOTE YES. Anyone who has ever traveled to San Francisco cannot have have avoided encountering the homeless, many of whom are on the streets because of mental illness. This proposition specifically helps those with mental illness. Without stable housing, people with mental illnesses cannot begin to rebuild their lives. It is a win-win for everyone – a humane solution to the issue, and cleaner, safer streets. Also, Prop 63 already collects this money – Prop 2 just helps to allocate it better.

Proposition 3: The California Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative

Voting YES supports this measure to authorize $8.877 billion in general obligation bonds for water infrastructure, groundwater supplies and storage, surface water storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.
Voting NO opposes this measure.

On the face of it, this is a much needed measure that protects existing watersheds, improves the quality of water and dams like Oroville (Oof, remember that scare?) and puts money towards recycling water and purifying contaminated water. It is supported by environmental organizations like Save the Bay and California Wildlife Foundation.

However, Sierra Club opposes it because the Prop was written without a lost of transparency and benefits wealthy farmers in Central Valley who have depleted our water supply irresponsibly and are going to be bailed out by the government.

(It is important to note that there was a water bond in June 2018 also, but that money went to park and wildlife projects, not initiatives that improved water quality and sources of water.)

I took some time to listen to a Forum debate on this. Listen here. After listening to both sides of the argument, I have to agree that there is some pork for powerful Central Valley agribusiness, but there is a lot of money for good projects too. So I am (with some reluctance) VOTING YES. (Mercury News opposes it.)

Proposition 4: the Children’s Hospital Bonds Initiative

Voting YES supports authorizing $1.5 billion in bonds for the construction, expansion, renovation, and equipping of children’s hospitals in California.
Voting NO opposes it.

VOTE YES: The $1.5 billion state bond measure would provide grants over a 15-year period for construction, expansion, renovation and equipment for California’s children’s hospitals, which include Palo Alto’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Oakland’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Proposition 5: The Property Tax Transfer Initiative

Voting YES supports amending Proposition 13 (1978) to allow home buyers who are age 55 or older or severely disabled to transfer their tax assessments, with a possible adjustment, from their prior home to their new home, no matter (a) the new home’s market value; (b) the new home’s location in the state; or (c) the buyer’s number of moves.
Voting NO opposes amending Proposition 13.

Sometimes all you need to make up your mind on a proposition is to see who put it on the ballot. In this case it is the California Association of Realtors.

Here is one viewpoint:

California law already allows seniors who sell their homes to transfer their low, Proposition 13 tax base to a new home. That’s been the law for more than 30 years.

There are sensible limits in the existing law. It requires that the new home be of equal or lesser value than the one that was sold, and that the transfer can be taken only once. Those limits help preserve critical public services while also protecting seniors who want to downsize.

Proposition 5 would throw those limits out the window. It would allow the property tax transfer to apply when people 55 and older trade up to a more expensive house — and to take that tax break with them as many times as they wish.

What this essentially means that wealthy home owners (of a certain age) are the ones to benefit. The loss of revenue would severely impact local government agencies and take away money from local services.


Proposition 6: The Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative

This ballot initiative would repeal the gas and diesel tax increases and vehicle fees that were enacted in 2017 and require voter approval for fuel tax and vehicle fee increases in the future.

Voting YES supports this initiative to:
repeal fuel tax increases and vehicle fees that were enacted in 2017 and
require voter approval (via ballot propositions) for the California State Legislature to impose, increase, or extend fuel taxes or vehicle fees in the future.
Voting NO opposes this initiative, thus keeping the existing taxes and fees as they are.

VOTE NO: California gas is already expensive because the state mandates a certain level of safety and cleanliness and has environmental protections built around it. The gas tax adds about 18 cents per gallon to that. The question to ask is – are you really worried about those 18 cents? Or would you rather have better roads and some effort towards relieving the congestion we currently have on our arterial highways? I vote for the latter.

Proposition 7: the Permanent Daylight Saving Time Measure

Voting YES supports allowing the California State Legislature to establish permanent, year-round daylight saving time (DST) in California by a two-thirds vote if federal law is changed to allow for permanent DST.
Voting NO opposes it.

VOTE YES, YES, YES! This is personal…I hate having jet lag without first going through the experience of being cramped in a tin box for 24 hours.

Proposition 8: the Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative

Voting YES supports requiring dialysis clinics to issue refunds to patients or patients’ payers for revenue above 115 percent of the costs of direct patient care and healthcare improvements.
Voting NO opposes it.

Proposition 8 would essentially limit the profits of dialysis clinics which, in California, are run by two big corporations that account for 70% of the clinics. Instinctively, this feels fair, especially since many of these clinics operate at huge mark-ups and don’t always offer high quality procedures, but the Mercury News argues that medical insurance being a complex issue, passing such a blanket measure might cause clinics to close down and that would be a disaster for patients. According to the LA Times:

But even if the revenue cap doesn’t drive clinics out of business, it would give them a perverse incentive to deliver care less efficiently — to raise patient-related spending in order to raise the revenue cap. And despite what supporters claim, there’s no guarantee that forcing clinics to spend more would do anything to make care better or more available.


Proposition 10: the Local Rent Control Initiative

Voting YES supports allowing local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing, thus repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.
Voting NO opposes the initiative.

VOTE NO: Economists agree that rent controls usually cause a restriction in the supply of housing. The solution to high rents is to build more housing, period. Here is an article in The Economist that explains it; I’ve used this as the basis for my decision.

Proposition 11: The Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative

Voting YES supports:
– allowing ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call during breaks paid at their regular rate;
– requiring employers to provide additional training for EMTs and paramedics; and
– requiring employers to provide EMTs and paramedics with some paid mental health services.
Voting NO opposes them.

VOTE YES: It just makes sense. And the reason this is not already a law is because a 2016 Supreme Court decision made the existing law murky.

Proposition 12: the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative

Voting YES supports banning the sale of meat and eggs from calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens confined in areas below a specific number of square feet.
Voting NO opposes it.

VOTE YES: The current conditions in which meat animals are confined is horribly cruel. Let’s fix this.

Palo Alto Measure F

Measure F is designed to regulate healthcare costs.
Voting YES is a vote in favor of limiting healthcare charges for providers in Palo Alto to 115 percent of the costs of direct patient care by requiring healthcare providers to supply rebates or cost reductions to those who pay for or are financially responsible for patient services when the predetermined cost is exceeded.
Voting NO is a vote against limiting healthcare charges to 115 percent of the costs of direct patient care.

VOTE NO: This is similar to Prop 8 and brought by the same organization – the SEIU – the service employees union. While the intent is laudable, it should not be up to individual cities to mandate this..it makes for a bureaucratic nightmare and competition from neighboring cities.



Propositions and Office Holders on the Ballot in California, June 5, 2018

Hey folks, it’s time for that quadrennial ritual again – the midterm primaries! Hope everybody has got their sample ballots and voters guide and is diligently reading through them and making informed choices.

Ha! ha! Just kidding! Midterm primaries are traditionally the least attended of all elections, and till someone makes it mandatory to vote it is going to remain the same. But important issues tend to be sneakily slid into these primaries and hopefully everyone is a bit more woke this year thanks to our dear leader, who is blazing a trail of corruption and nepotism not seen in recent years. So here is a cheat sheet for all you busy people out there who want to do their civic duty but have no time to do the research.


Here are the 5 propositions that are on the ballot this June and how I plan to vote on them.

Proposition 68, Parks, Environment, and Water Bond

A “yes” vote supports this measure to authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for state and local parks, environmental protection projects, water infrastructure projects, and flood protection projects.

A “no” vote opposes this measure.

Recommendation: It makes sense to raise money when your balance sheet looks healthy, and with its 6 billion dollar surplus, CA is in a good position to raise money cheap. There’s no denying that we need the money. There are a lot of proactive measures being taken to protect the Bay and its inhabitants from the effect of climate change. There are also measures to fund new parks in the Central Valley, and it is a good gesture to help populations that have not traditionally voted democratic. I am proud of the legislature for considering this. With our current fiscal status, servicing this debt should not be a problem.


Proposition 69, Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox and Appropriations Limit Exemption Amendment

A “yes” vote supports a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to:

Require that revenue from the diesel sales tax and Transportation Improvement Fee, as enacted by Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), be used for transportation-related purposes; and exempt revenue generated by SB 1’s tax increases and fee schedules from the state appropriations limit.

A “no” vote opposes this amendment.

Recommendation: This refers to a 12-cent gas tax that has already been passed last year by the legislature. By getting voters to support this amendment, lawmakers are ensuring that the money cannot be diverted to any other use but transportation. There is a public initiative in November to repeal the gas tax itself, but while it is still there, it makes sense to lock down its deployment to only transportation related uses.


Proposition 70, Vote Requirement to Use Cap-and-Trade Revenue Amendment

A “yes” vote supports this legislatively referred constitutional amendment to require a one-time two-thirds vote in each chamber of the state legislature in 2024 or thereafter to pass a spending plan for revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

A “no” vote opposes this amendment.

Recommendation: Reflexively, anything that ties lawmakers’ ability to use funds for the purpose they were generated makes me uncomfortable. If the cap and trade program generates revenues, why should we make it difficult for those revenues to be spent, even if this is only a one-time restriction? This proposition was a sop to Republican lawmakers by Governor Brown in exchange for their vote on the cap-and-trade program to give him a two-thirds veto proof majority for the initiative.


Proposition 71, Effective Date of Ballot Measures Amendment

A “yes” vote supports this legislatively referred constitutional amendment to move the effective date of ballot propositions, including citizen initiatives and legislative referrals, from the day after Election Day to the fifth day after the secretary of state certifies election results.

A “no” vote opposes this.

Recommendation: Because a substantial number of Californians vote by mail, allowing a ballot measure to become law the day after the election means that in case of close races, the outcome may well be different by the time the vote by mail ballots are counted. This measure fixes that by waiting for the certified results before enacting a measure that has been decided by voting.


Proposition 72, Rainwater Capture Systems Excluded from Property Tax Assessments Amendment

A “yes” vote supports this legislatively referred constitutional amendment to allow the state legislature to exclude rainwater capture systems added after January 1, 2019, from property tax reassessments.

A “no” vote opposes this amendment.

No brainer. VOTE YES.

Statewide Office Holders

Before giving my recommendations, I have to confess a bias; do with it as you will. Other than the most important offices, if I don’t see a particularly big difference among candidates, I will always pick the Democrat woman, if there is an option. We need more women in politics. Call it a sweeping generalization, but in my limited exposure to American politics over the last 10 years, I have come to believe that women are more likely to be amenable to changing their views based on the shifting mood of the electorate. They seem to be less ideologically rigid. And that is what I look for in a politician, someone who is responsive to her constituents. That being said, here are my recommendations.

US Senate:

With California being a comfortably Democratic state, the real battle is between incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein and Democratic challenger Kevin de Leon. We have a top-two system, which means it is likely that these two will make it to the November elections as well.

There has been a rather sustained campaign to portray DiFi as a centrist candidate out of touch with progressive Californian values. Perhaps. But she has been a reliable Democratic vote in the Senate, has moved leftward on marijuana in response to public pressure, and has been an outspoken member of the Senate Judicial Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, apposition she holds because of her seniority. As we approach the November elections and a possible change of hands in at least one house of Congress, I would like to a have a senior member with good political connections on these powerful committees. As the Mercury News puts it, “Seniority matters in the Senate.”

And please, no talk about age when we don’t apply the same rules for men.

Recommendation: Dianne Feinstein.

California Governor:

Even though I’ve seen signs for Travis Allen in true blue Palo Alto (gasp!) anyone who is thinking of even considering a Republican for this office at this moment in time needs their heads examined. To my mind, the three contenders to evaluate are Gavin Newsom, John Chiang, and Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom is the current Lt. Governor and respects the departing Governor Jerry Brown’s legacy of fiscal prudence and social progressivism and would follow in his footsteps. Chiang is the current state treasurer and presumably the executor of Governor Brown’s fiscal policies. Villaraigosa was the mayor of Los Angeles and has executive experience. Here are some interesting parts of their manifestos in a nutshell:

Gavin Newsom:

  • Supports charter schools and school choice
  • Supports public financing of elections
  • Longtime foe of the NRA
  • Supports SF status as “sanctuary city”
  • Supports single payer health care in theory
  • Began his political career more conservative that he is today and has gradually shifted to the left. But probably more conservative and corporate minded fiscally than his progressive supporters would believe.

John Chiang

  • Affordable housing is his principal plank
  • No position on charter schools
  • Cautiously supports the idea of single payer but does not think it is fiscally viable
  • Foe of the NRA and has implemented divestment of public funds from companies selling weapons
  • Thin on details
  • Has made misleading ads about the failures of his opponents that have been rated poorly by Politifact

Antonio Villaraigosa

  • Strong proponent of charter schools – heavily endorsed and funded by charter school associations
  • Is uncertain if single payer is right for CA
  • Opposes eliminating cash bail and is supported by police associations
  • Has a history of supporting entitlement reform policies endorsed by state GOP
  • Supports reform of Prop 13

Recommendation: Gavin Newsom. There’s really not a lot to choose from among these three candidates, but I don’t like Villaraigosa’s flirting with entitlement “reform” and am leery of politicians wholeheartedly endorsed by police associations. Chiang is just too much of an unknown. There is another candidate called Delaine Easton who meets much of my lefty progressive wish list but has had no traction in this election and would be unlikely to have the political capital to get anything done.

Lieutenant governor:

Recommendation: Eleni Kounalakis. Why? Because she is a former Ambassador to Hungary under Pres. Obama, she is a Democrat and a woman.

For the rest, I defer to the San Jose Mercury News:

Attorney general – Dave Jones

Insurance commissioner – Steve Poizner

Superintendent of public instruction – Marshall Tuck

State Board of Equalization, District 2 – Malia Cohen

There are several other items and offices on the ballot, but I;d really like to address only one other: The recall of Judge Persky. It is a Santa Clara County measure only so feel free to ignore if you are in another district.

Judge Persky’s recall is an issue where emotions run high. I remember being appalled that Brock Turner, the young man who raped a girl at Stanford was let off relatively easy – he was sentenced just 6 months, served 3 months, and is currently in Ohio planning an appeal to his conviction.  Apparently there was a loophole in the law that did not impose mandatory prison sentences if the victims were unconscious or intoxicated and Turner benefited from that. However, he is a registered sex offender now and that will go with him wherever he moves, unless he wins on appeal.

Pro-recall advocates stress the discrepancy in sentencing of a privileged white young man to such a light sentence while minority defendants get the book thrown at them. They are also angry about the fact that the judge chose to disregard the prosecutor’s recommendation and went with the probationary officer’s recommendation when it came to sentencing.

Anti-recall advocates point to the fact that Judge Persky has a pattern of light sentencing. Persky did not break any laws in this case. And his recall will send a message to other judges to get very tough on the perpetrators of such crimes, and the effect is likely to be felt much more by members of socially disadvantaged classes, many of whom will not have the resources to mount the vigorous defense that turner’s family did. But their best argument is “Judges should not have to bend to majority pressure.”

And this last argument, along with the fact that an independent judicial commission exonerated him of bias, is why I am going to vote no.



Abortion – The Difficult Debate

During the run up to last November’s elections, I was astonished that many conservative women would openly support Donald Trump despite his reputation as a serial adulterer and his openly hostile attitude towards the female sex. Then I saw an interview with one of these supporters who said, very clearly, “He’s an ass but I vote for whoever the Republican Party nominates because of ‘Abortion’.”

I’m sure there were many such women who may not have been as overt about their political affiliations but nevertheless held their noses and voted for Trump because of this single issue. And I get it. If you think abortion is equivalent to killing a child, you cannot, in good conscience, vote against it.

This is the uphill task many Democrats face as they try to win hearts and minds of conservative women within their community. Women vote, and women care, but this single issue has been a wall that we have not been able to breach. The irony is that many Democrats have similar feelings towards abortion. So why are we not able to bridge this divide?

Here I propose a script that we can use to talk to our conservative women friends about abortion. Essentially, they are my feelings towards the subject and if you share some of my thinking, feel free to modify it to suit your own experiences. Let’s reach out across party lines in an effective way so we can get widespread support for causes and organizations that support women’s health and well-being.

(I’ve tried very hard to be respectful to the beliefs of people who oppose abortion but if you feel the language is condescending or patronizing in any way, please point it out and I will fix it.)

My 2 cents:

Abortion is horrible. Anyone who has had one, or even a miscarriage, knows what I am talking about. We women are biologically primed to celebrate and anticipate motherhood, so when a woman decides to have an abortion, it is a gut-wrenching choice. It is also, probably, a last resort.

When there were a couple of times in my life when I was scared by the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, I had to consider my options. And I recall that my gorge rose at the thought that I might have to have to terminate my pregnancy. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I know I have a choice, but I just can’t.” When it became clear that I was not pregnant, I almost collapsed in relief. I’ve talked to some close friends about this and they have shared that they felt the same way when this happened to them.

Now my daughter is in high school. She is the smartest and most responsible person I know, but I have to be realistic about the fact that a teen pregnancy is, biologically speaking, possible. I’ve gone through the scenarios in my head. And I know, choice or not, if she happens to get pregnant, I’m going to encourage her to keep the baby.

So, feeling the way I do, why do I still support a woman’s right to choose?

It’s precisely because I know that abortion is horrible and a last resort that I believe that decisions about pregnancies should be left to women. We don’t take this decision lightly. If we are looking for an abortion, there is a good reason for it. Even if the reason appears casual on the surface, like a teen getting knocked up and then shrugging her shoulders about it, it is probably because she was never educated about taking precautions, never given the “talk”, or doesn’t have a frank and open relationship with her parents that she can talk about these matters openly.

And the data available to us on this subject is pretty clear that when teen girls are given sex education, counseling, and access to contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies go way down. Here is a chart about abortion rates over time. You can see clearly that having the right to choose as granted by Roe v. Wade has not made abortions more popular.


There has been a move among conservative states to shut down clinics that provide such services. And there has been an all-out effort to close Planned Parenthood branches and gut federal funding for the organization.

At first glance, it appears that such efforts bring down abortions in states that enact strict anti-abortion laws. But data also shows that the abortions just migrate to the nearest state that offers the services. For instance,

An influx of women from out of state also was cited as a reason for Louisiana’s increase. Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said abortions for nonresidents jumped by more than 1,200 between 2010 and 2012, and suggested new restrictions in Mississippi and Texas were a factor.

From the same article,

The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, where abortions fell from 3,064 in 2010 to 2,147 in 2014. Laurie Temple Field, government relations director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii, said more women were getting access to health insurance and affordable contraception. She also credited the state’s policies on sex education in public schools, which includes information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Five of the six states with the biggest declines — Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent — have passed no recent laws to restrict access.

So the data suggests that abortion is a matter of desperation, and that women looking to terminate will travel miles to find a provider and, if that is not possible, will resort to back-room procedures incredibly dangerous to their health.

Here’s my question to you. Isn’t it far better to not have unwanted pregnancies at all instead of having to make the difficult choice of keeping the baby or not? I am pro-choice, but in a perfect world, I would also like to see no abortions at all. I just happen to believe that the way to do this is to have more counselling services, more education, and easier access for contraception for women. And if after all these services have been provided there is still the rare pregnancy that is unwanted, yes, I believe in a woman’s right to make choices about her body, because bringing an unwanted and unloved child into this world is pretty cruel to the child and the mother. And in cases of rape or incest, I’m sure you can understand why the pregnancy may be emotionally devastating.

So let’s work together to reduce the need for abortions. Organizations like Planned Parenthood whose principal work is in counseling and health services with a very small part of their funding going towards abortions need your support too. What you are supporting is free or cheap health care, contraception, and services that help teens and young women make better choices. When it comes down to it, all of us women, no matter our party affiliation, want the same thing for our society and our children. We have much more in common than you think.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – Soggy, Miserable, Romance

The best thing that could have happened to Karan Johar’s latest movie, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was the controversy surrounding Fawad Khan, the Pakistani actor who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in this bloated 2 hour 35 minute-long weep fest. Even among Johar loyalists like me who were enthralled by the escapist glossiness of Riverdale romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and manipulative melodrama Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the bloom was wearing off, thanks to clunkers like My Name is Khan and Student of the Year. Without the hype surrounding the movie and a trailer featuring the glorious title song, I wonder how many of us would have dragged ourselves to this throwback of a movie, featuring foreign locations and playback singing, features that have become passé even in formula-driven Bollywood.

Johar sets this tale of unrequited love in his usual upper crust milieu, where transportation is by private jet and the credit cards are bottomless, but it has always been his forte to focus on the emotional anxieties of the rich and famous. If that lends his movies a sheen of inauthenticity, that is usually overcome by the clever lines, the crisp editing, and the attractiveness and chemistry of his lead actors.

In ADHM, though, his charm runs out, and what we are left with is a pastiche of countless movies of the 90s and 00s, including Johar’s own, which have fermented in his gut a tad too long before being regurgitated into a stinky mess that reeks of desperation. Every line of dialogue is either from another movie, or sounds like it should be. Plenty of old classic songs are replayed constantly, as are tunes from old KJ movies. Even the scenes are repurposed. A scene of the actors cavorting in a Swiss-like mountain meadow is obviously a Yash Chopra homage, but feels dreadfully like the director has run out of ideas, especially since the actors begin the scene in Paris.

Even the actors inhabit multiple personalities from their previous movies. Ranbir Kapoor, who is surely a better actor than on display here, senses the fakery of the premise and decides to recycle responsibly. He is Ved from Tamasha for the first half hour or so, before seguing into Barfi and then Janardhan/Jordan from Rockstar. Anushka Sharma looks like Zaara from Veer Zaara and acts like Taani from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Since the two are not even supposed to be in love with each other, even the Shahrukh/Kajol kind of chemistry cannot be relied on to prop up the movie, though the Khan gamely makes a Botoxed-cameo to help out his friend,

Aishwarya Rai, Ranbir’s other love interest, seems to be in this movie to triumphantly prove to her detractors that she is back in shape and drop-dead gorgeous again, so take that, you haters. Every scene is an audition for a future perfume commercial or a jewelry line, with popping lip color and artfully waved hair framing those luscious features. It’s possible she has a no-kissing clause in her movie contracts because her love-making scenes with Ranbir are positively anemic, which are such a disservice to the story, given that their relationship is supposed to be one of sensuous physicality.

The one redeeming factor of KJ’s movies has always been the pleasant sense of satiation one gets from consuming buttered popcorn but, sad to say, it’s time to admit that the butter has gone rancid and the popcorn is soggy. Mainstream Bollywood has been coming out with very interesting movies lately, like Pink, and Badlapur, and Kahaani, where the emphasis is rightly on strong narratives, indigenous themes, and meaty roles. The era of Karan Johar’s fantasies may have finally passed, it seems. I think I’ll miss it, but I’m glad it’s done.

Why This Is Creepy

A (male) friend asked me on Facebook why I found the following video creepy.

I didn’t want to brush off his sincere question with a glib or facile answer, so I decided to write this post to clarify my thoughts not just for him but for me too.

Let me start by acknowledging that I am nearing the half-century mark of life. I have grey hair, cellulite, an extra 10 pounds and, if I could, I would live my life in sweatpants and tees. (Basically, I’ve given up!). If you were to meet me on the street, you may not even notice me; I look so harmless, sexless, and inconsequential, the antithesis of a sexual predator’s target.

But, even now, if I am walking alone in the daytime or night, and I encounter a man either walking towards me or behind me, my fingers curl into fists. I become hyper-aware, listening for footsteps that may be speeding up, or looking for signs that the hands approaching me could be raised in a way that is threatening to me. I scan the environment for safe spaces I can run to, or an ally across the street. I don’t even realize that I am holding my breath for the entire duration of the encounter, and I will usually let it out with a whoosh when the moment has passed. And the funny thing is that the guy doesn’t even have to be bigger than me or obviously menacing in any way.

I’ve been doing this forever.

The first time I was groped (as far as I can remember) was when I was fifteen. I was returning home from school via a shortcut through some fields (I lived in a suburb of Mumbai in India). The guy ran up from behind me, grabbed my breasts, and ran ahead. It happened in the space of 5 seconds or less. I was shell-shocked, though I kept plodding toward home. I never told my parents, not even when it happened again a few months later. Why? Maybe I was ashamed. Most victims of sexual assault feel that way, however unfair and stupid it may seem. Perhaps it is ingrained in the culture somehow that the woman must have brought it on herself.

It took a couple of more incidents before the shame gave way to rage, and I started preparing for the next one with the hyper-awareness that I mentioned before. The next time it happened, it was a guy on a bicycle. I was with a friend, who remembers the incident better than I do. When the guy on the bike put his hand on me I hit his back with all the force I could muster, cursing him loudly. I vowed I would never, ever again, be a victim.

I sincerely hope not every woman has had an experience like mine, but I know for a fact that many have had worse, and nearly every woman has experienced some kind of physical dominance from a man at some point in her life. The easiest, most primitive way to exhibit dominance is to get really, really close. Maybe it is my heightened sensitivity to such experiences, but I get very nervous, even though I know that in most cases I can defend myself just fine. It’s just that I don’t want to be in that position. I would rather avoid conflict, because even though I may physically win that particular encounter, there is really no win for me in the long run. An extreme example of what I mean is in the new Hindi movie Pink, where defending herself gets a girl into all sorts of trouble, both physical and legal.

More importantly, when a man gets very close, looms, invades your space, as Trump does in that video, he is sending the subliminal message “I am the boss of you. I have power over you. I can do you harm.” And women, even the most emancipated, fearless, and empowered of our ilk, know that in a very basic, biological sense, that message is true.

When I experienced that gut reaction to Trump’s behavior last night, I went on social media to see if my feelings were unusual or if other women were creeped out too. Turns out it was not just women who noticed. Nigel Farage, the architect of the misguided Brexit campaign in Britain, now an advisor on Trump’s campaign, said this:

“He looked like a big gorilla prowling the set. He is that big alpha male — that’s who he is, that’s who he is,” Farage said. “We all have comparisons to animals or whatever it may be, but that’s how he seems to me. The leader of the pack, that’s what he’s like.”

Even an idiot like Farage could read the body language on display last night.

Jane Goodall, the primate expert, told The Atlantic magazine, “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…”

That’s what happened last night. Trump may have also openly called Clinton a liar, threatened to imprison her and, in general, projected a ton of bile and hatred on to her verbally, but the volume really didn’t need to be on to understand what he was saying. You just had to look at him over the course of the 90-minute debate. His message was loud and clear. 


What it Means to be an American Citizen

Recently an ESL student of mine became a spanking new U.S. citizen. I’ve been teaching her English for about a year and a half, but the last six months were spent cramming for the citizenship exam, which has not only reading and writing tests but also big chunks of American history. To better help her remember the material she was memorizing, I often used Google Translate to explain complex concepts that the Founding Fathers had immortalized in the U.S. Constitution over 200 years ago. The very first paragraph is quite a mouthful –

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The entire paragraph is actually just one sentence, but it contains within that single sentence such a multitude of ideas that it took us a while to unpack them all and truly understand the purpose of the drafters. As we proceeded through the reading of American history, I felt such a sense of pride for this country I now call home.

Eight years ago, I had taken the same citizenship test, and I recall how my voice wobbled when I pledged allegiance to this country over my motherland India, where I had spent the first four decades of my life. What had kept me going through the solemn ceremony was the certainty that the values of this country I had now adopted were aligned with my personal belief system. Casting my first presidential vote for Barack Obama, who embodied those values and referred to them often, only made my pride in this country deepen.

Fast-forward to 2016 and I am looking on in horror as a minimum of 40% of the American populace seems to be in thrall to a racist, egomaniacal demagogue who has shattered all norms of civility, political correctness, and even lawful behavior, yet continues to have stable support among a plurality of Americans. Donald Trump once famously said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His continued viability as a Presidential candidate seems to bear that out.

So what does this say about us as a country? About our claim of moral leadership? About our standing as the leader of the free world?

When I became a U.S. citizen I believed that America stood for certain values, and that core ethic justified its preeminence in its world. Yes, we made and continue to make mistakes in our self-governance and in our dealings with the world, but I’ve always hoped that we have a certain moral core that we return to to self-correct, to acknowledge our mistakes, to make reparations. What bolsters this belief is that I live in a society whose values lean increasingly towards acceptance of diversity, towards tolerance, towards punishing wrongdoers and rewarding virtue. Sometimes this belief gets shaken, as when I hear of black Americans unfairly targeted by police, or bank executives getting away scot-free after legally looting their stakeholders. But there has always been a sense that if we can mobilize, protest, and take action, these mistakes can be fixed.

But when a throwback like Donald Trump comes this close to power, I really have to question my fellow Americans and their loyalties. Have we really forgotten what we are and are meant to be as Americans? Do we need a reminder of what our values are? Well then, here’s a list, in no particular order –

  • We believe in a voice for everybody, regardless of their economic, social, or racial status.
  • We accept and welcome diversity
  • We believe in abiding by the law and none of is exempt from doing so
  • We pay our fair share of taxes and insurance to live in a stable, prosperous society
  • We care for our fellow citizens and our global brothers and sisters
  • We care for the environment and the ecology we are leaving to our children
  • We engage in respectful dialogue
  • We believe in equal opportunity
  • We are saddened by others’ suffering and seek to help where we can

And most important of all, America is a nation of “We” and not a country filled with “I’s,” each looking out for himself. This is enshrined in our constitution, whose first three words should give us a hint to the culture the framers were creating for the new country.

Donald Trump, you, your campaign, and your supporters need to take a closer look at what it trumpmeans to be a patriotic American. Take a minute for self-examination and think about whether the values I listed above are actually better held by immigrants like myself and my student, who honor them by our actions every single day or by rage-filled xenophobes like you who seem to have strayed far, far away from the ideals of this country.

Maybe each one of you should take the citizenship test too…it might teach you a few things you seem to have forgotten as you celebrate hate, denigrate the “other” and make a virtue of gaming the system. Then you might understand what it truly means to be an American.