Category: Politics

inclusionPoliticsSocial JusticeTravel

Cuba as a prayer to inclusion

As the current administration of the U.S. continues to place restrictions on travel to Cuba, my heart aches, and my mind goes to back to amazing days that we spent in Havana and Trinidad last summer.

A year later, impressions remain with me. Walking the streets of Habana and Trinidad, one is left optimistic on what inclusion could be. As we traveled across half the island, and from one end of Habana to the other, I was struct by the absence of the “Black ghettos” — the all too familiar racial segregation that is imprinted on each and every U.S. city that I have ever visited.

I was struct by the fact that the resources, though humble, were shared by all across gender and color. People of different hues and ages did Tai Chi in the park. Occasional people on the street made sarcastic comments on the Castros or Trump, the bureaucratic inefficiencies, the resources constrained by the embargo.

But the generosities were unparalleled. The warmth is still in my heart.

Along the roads, I was struct by the absence of police. Or rather it was the absence of omnipresent force — of the signals that lethal violence is around the corner, trained on Black bodies. The occasional officer, there to mitigate traffic issues, no military grade automatic weapons, that’s what I needed for a vacation.

Seeing people with access to a basic burial, children able to attend a dance class without their parents having to defer due to money, people with access to a simple loaf of bread regardless of the meager cash on hand.

We saw families coming together to say their goodbyes.

I cannot unsee inclusion, I cannot unsee the basic respect for basic human dignity. I cannot unsee humanity in practice.

I hope that you visit soon.

HistoryPoliticsTravel

Austria as harbinger of change

Last night the, right-wing Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned. He was allegedly videotaped asking a Russian citizen for donations in exchange for government contracts. It is a trope all too common in the democracy of my citizenship, tragically banal as mass shootings.

The impact in Austria was the apparent collapse of the current governing coalition of centrist+right parties. There were protests in Vienna, and the president has called for September elections. The people might need them sooner.

I hope that the elections bring about a political change that invokes the kind of open and forward thinking Austria, the kind of Europe even, that the world is desperately in need of.

Austria has no dearth of vision. The cover photo is of Ute Bock — a Vienna educator who worked on behalf of asylum seekers, especially with respect to educational opportunities, access to housing, and fairness in policing.

Bock’s legacy lives. When I arrived in Vienna, I encountered a poster featuring Katerina Anastasiou, top candidate of a coalition of the Green, Communist, and other leftist parties called KPÖ PLUS.

The agenda described on their website, emphasizes equal housing, job opportunities, and the dismantling of fascism. I’m too far removed for a subtle understanding of Austrian politics — I don’t even pretend to speak German — but the basic outline seems more in the line of public service than fascist money for favors.

To quote from one of Anastasiou’s recent speeches:

The Europe we want does not exist yet, but it lives in us!

So reminiscent of the last lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth

That the left is sounding a call for support of immigrants and access to housing is not surprising, I learned that they’ve been effective at it in Austria — Vienna at least since the early 20th century.

These are photos I took outside of the Karl Marx-Hof public housing complex, erected in the late 1920’s. To equate it with the oppressive housing complexes of the US is a sacrilege.

The day I visited, the grounds were vibrant. 20-somethings debated in the courtyard. In the steps leading to the entrance, the diversity of Vienna was on display, as Somalian, Bangladeshi, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Eastern- and Austrian-Europeans went about their way basking in the sun. Kebab vendors sold savories and outlined the veggie prospects to me.

As I entered the courtyard I encountered the following plaque

A testament to the 60 families, residents of the Marx-Hof, that had been executed by the Nazis in 1938 and 1939.

Austria’s gift to humanity is its ability to build from the memory of unspeakable horror. To help bring about that vision of the world to which we all aspire. I am with them as the continue the long march forward.

PoliticsTravel

Waiting for a visa

My spouse received her Schengen visa this morning. It was quite a nail biter as we tried to a trip to France. She is a citizen of Botswana, while the kids and I have US passports. Meanwhile, a colleague of mine is probably in a similar condition awaiting their Schengen visa for travel to Vienna from Indore.

While we waited, I tried to get my French compréhension up by reading Thomas Piketty’s blog en français. While reading this linked article on income and class inequality in India, I learned about Babasaheb Ambedkar — an advocate for the rights of people from marginalized castes (the term Dalit is used widely though contested) and by all measures one of the freedom fighters who brought India out of colonialism. His memoir is entitled —  Waiting for a Visa.

The human crises brought about by global climate change alone should dictate the shared international acceptance of open borders. But as this graphic from the UN World Tourism Organization shows, we’re a long way off from Bob Marley and Haile Selassie’s dream of “world citizenship”.

world_tourism

The world’s visa policies evince a lot of anti-African (my spouse travels on a Botswana passport), anti-Asian bias.

I take consolation that some countries are taking the lead.

Openness

We should all be thankful that Mauritius and Seychelles are right there in the top — and that the Caribbean is greeting the world with open arms!

I’m taking stock of my US passport privileges. I’m praying for a more inclusive world.

MigrationPolitics

Reverse migration and the Georgia election

According to this story in the Atlantic, the migration of African Americans from the Northeast to Georgia in particular (and the Southeast generally) may be a factor in the November 6 election. The reason it is called reverse migration? In the 20th century more than 10% of the Black population of the South left the oppressive, openly racist and anti-democracy regimes in Southern US states ( like Georgia) to mildly better regimes in the U.S. north. Emerging political representation, flourishing Black communities, and lower costs of living have been beckoning the descendants of the refugees of the 1920s and 50s back.

I ran some numbers on this a few months ago. It could very likely impact the Georgia governor election in which Stacey Abrams is in a statistical draw with the current Georgia Secretary of State (who seems to have nostalgic fondness for un-democratic practices of the 20th century). It will be interesting to see how the reverse migration factors in coming political social events.

AtlantaPoliticsSocial Justice

Vote absentee if you live in Georgia

Want to make sure your vote counts in the Georgia November election? Casting an absentee ballot may be the way to go!

Federal judge Amy Totenberg (sister of Nina Totenberg if you are an NPR listener) ruled Monday that Georgia could go ahead using insecure paperless voting machines.

Although Judge Totenberg concurred with many cybersecurity experts that the voting machines pose a credible threat of alteration of ballot counts, she decided that the last minute switch would impose a burden on voters and a logistical challenge to the state’s election commission. If you’re not up on the current events, the head of the Georgia election commission is running for governor in a highly contested election and there have been some irregularities in his management (or lack thereof) of voting records. Hmm.

There have been charges of voter suppression, a 21st century step back from a hard won right to vote — ponder the 19th century Harper’s magazine image above celebrating the democratic participation of newly emancipated peoples post Civil War.

The main concern with electronic voting machines — especially the ones used in Georgia — is that they cannot be easily audited. The National Academy of Sciences in their report recommended in fact that “Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible.” This applies to the machines used in Georgia, and Judge Totenberg effectively ruled that this should be the last election in which such machines are use.  Further, a malicious and technically sophisticated insider could alter voting records — that is “hack” the election.

Now if you cast an absentee ballot, the paper copy is preserved. Voter advocate sites like vote.org can help you get your ballot in a matter of seconds. There is an online tool that the Georgia Secretary of State’s office provides. I am not whether the online tool provides the functions that the National Academy of Sciences recommends — tracking of absentee ballot delivery and receipt.

In any case, absentee is a good way to be very present in the democratic process in Georgia.

 

 

 

Data ScienceHistoryMigrationPoliticsSocial Justice

Back to Mississippi: Black migration in the 21st century

The recent election of Doug Jones to the U.S. senate in Alabama — thanks largely to African American turnout — got me thinking: What if the Black populations of Southern cities were to experience a dramatic increase? How many other elections would be impacted?

Does that seem far-fetched? Over a tenth of the Black population of the U.S. left the South during the first half of the last century.

They moved from the rural South to the North and West, hoping to escape race-based terrorism and find economic opportunity. The featured image, from the U.S. Library of Congress, is an infographic made in 1950 by the Census department about the migration. My grandparents were part of this movement — they left oppression in small town Georgia and Alabama hoping to find a (slightly) better situation in Atlanta.

As the U.S. census figure infographic below indicates, this migration — one wave in 1910 – 1940 and another wave coming 1940 – 1970 — was epic. Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns is a gripping history of this Great Migration.

020_blackpop_northern_cities_horiz-01

The Great Migration, 1910 – 1970 from: US Census Bureau. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/020/

 

A trend towards a reverse migration back to the South has been noted recently. In a 2011 story, the New York Times reported that in 2009, of the 44,000 people who left New York City, over half moved to the South. A more recent report by the Times, provocatively entitled  Racism Is Everywhere, So Why Not Move South? explores some of the rationale behind this movement. The sentiments echo the recent paper Individual Social Capital and Migration by Julie L. Hotchkiss and Anil Rupasingha.  Improved social capital — the sense that you are a somebody in the place that you live, that your life matters (or could matter someplace) is a powerful catalyst for movement.

The LinkedIn Workforce Report for January confirms that Southern cities are gaining workers at the expense of Northern cities, and this Redfin analysis reports that there has been some North to South migration. According to the LinkedIn Workforce Report, southern cities are still among the top ten in terms of job migration (at least amongst LinkedIn members). Thriving African American communities in cities like Atlanta and Jacksonville, lower costs of living, and the rise of these cities as technology centers are powerful draws.

To look at the potential political impact of a new reverse migration, I ran a few simulations. I assumed a similar reverse migration rate of 2% per year over out ten years. In my simulations, I assume that the main states from which African Americans migrate are New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and California — the main destinations of the Great Migration.  I assumed that the main destinations of the new migrants are among the states that people left during the initial Great Migration: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. I could have arguably added Tennessee to this mix. I used a Dirichlet distribution to model the allocation of migrants to various destination states.

Let’s first revisit the 2016 election map

newplot (6)

Below are a couple of illustrative outcomes from my simulations. In most of the outcomes, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are the states in which the political outcome of the migration are felt most.

newplot (8)

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are impacted the most

newplot (7)

There’s still hope for Mississippi

Again, I let 10,000 simulations play out, sampling the allocation of migrants to destination states from a Dirichlet distribution.

To make the point a bit further, below is a bar chart showing the number of outcomes for each state over the 10,000 simulations in which Black voters had a decisive impact upon the presidential election (i.e. allocation of electoral college votes) for that state.

election_outcomes_nicer

The point though is not really predicting the dominance of one political party or the other, it is understanding the implication Black voter empowerment — how Black people are empowered to participate in decisions regarding the health, education, policing, and economic viability of their communities. Further, beyond just Black and White, it speaks to me as an opening to think about participatory multi-racial democracy. After all, there was a flash of time between the Civil War and the enactment of Jim Crow racialist laws  in which Citizens of Color of the South were actively involved in governance.

Although these are speculative simulations — for me they contain the seeds of a certain kind of hope. Perhaps the future is the past — but maybe we can mold the future in ways that are universally empowering.

MathematicsPoliticsSocial Justice

Mathematicians, rock the vote!

Can the resistance inspire a new generation of mathematicians?

Samuel Hansen thinks so. In his recent post on The Aperiodical, he describes how the recent avalanche of math-informed court decisions on gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are putting mathematics in the spotlight.

It is really heartening that discrete geometry and other branches of advanced mathematics can be use to preserve democracy — much in the spirit of the 1964 voting rights act (being signed in the featured image).

Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin has done a lot of work in this area, leading the effort to train mathematicians to be expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases. Duchin’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group page has a lot of useful resources.

Consider registering for one of the gerrymandering trainings if you’re a mathematician, statistician, or data scientist based in the Bay Area!