In Memory of the Paris Agreement

I was walking Lucy today in the neighborhood, and decided to sit down on a bench beneath some shady trees low to the ground like green turtles. Sunlight slipped through the gaps between leaves and made the pair of us look speckled. My neighbor was passing by and asked if she could join us. I greeted her and said that she could. Lucy went sniffing at my neighbor’s toes. I mentioned that today Trump had announced he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, and wondered what she thought about it.

This is what she said:

The earth in itself is beautiful.

I was walking down a grassy path today. There was a breeze. I saw two things: a blue jay, and a rose.

Humans too, in themselves, are beautiful. I was walking downtown today and saw two things. I saw a little girl trying to touch the nose of a huge black poodle. And I saw an old man humming a Beatles song to himself—A Day in the Life. Today was the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, you know. 

I think that humans are at their worst when they are apathetic. When they choose to not care. So I think the tragedy of today is that it shows how capable we are of apathy. We can be so apathetic that we will tie and untie knots to demonstrate that we simply don’t give a damn.

I asked her if she had strong political opinions. She smiled and said not particularly. Lucy was getting restless and chewing on her leash. I said goodbye to my neighbor, and Lucy and I started walking back home. I wondered if my neighbor was being dramatic. I decided that she wasn’t. I wondered if the next winter might be be colder than the last. After all, the El Niño is supposed to be over, so I heard, or had it ended last year?—I couldn’t remember. Either way they say that mild winters follow mild summers, and May has been so cold.

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Why Hillary Clinton should be president

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Clinton has personality flaws, electability flaws. But out of the remaining candidates available to us, Hillary Clinton would be the best president of the United States. Not the best candidate, or the best person, but rather, the best president.

My argument focuses on leadership and policy qualities that strongly suggest to me she will be a better president (perhaps by far) than our other options, Democratic and Republican, with a liberal bias but consideration of some valid conservative concerns.

  1. Pragmatism, cooperation, don’t fix what isn’t broken

Clinton has changed her positions and policies over the years. Supporters of Sen. Sanders like to point this out, especially her moderate/conservative by today’s standards views on gay marriage and crime (but I’ll get to her championship of social justice later, in #3). However, in an intensely polarized political climate (i.e. what’s currently going on with the supreme court, 50+ attempts to repeal Obamacare, etc., etc.), Clinton more than any other candidate is a pragmatic liberal in the sense that many of her policies are more common sense than ambitious.

This fits into “don’t fix what isn’t broken”–such as Obamacare. Republicans keep making the false claim that Obamacare isn’t working: well, it is, and Republican candidates’ efforts to repeal it would probably be disastrous. Sen. Sanders, as he does on many issues, has a proposal that is highly flawed.

I love Bernie, but I don’t see him and Congress getting along very well as president. Clinton has proven that she can work across the aisle, which today is more important than ever. Am I the only one who can’t imagine Bernie and a Republican congress getting along particularly well? I know Bernie supporters will say that his candidacy will bring about a revolution in politics, and put a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, but we really can’t bank on that, especially not for every year of his presidency. Sanders’ one-note repetition of the same points (important as they are) does not suggest to me he’ll adapt effectively to opposition.

Back to common sense policies: Close corporate tax loopholes, invest in infrastructure, invest in clean energy, tax relief for families, require financial firms that are too big to fail to either break up or reorganize, the list goes on and on. Fitting into this common-sense mold are innovative policies, like offering tax breaks for companies that share profits with workers.

2. Clinton is the best candidate on foreign policy

Obviously, she has the most experience as the Secretary of State. No, Trump’s business deals around the world do not count as foreign policy experience.

To begin with, I agree with some critiques of the way President Obama has handled foreign policy. However, Clinton is actually stronger and a bit more conservative than Obama on many foreign policy matters.

While Clinton, as Secretary of State, may not have left a legacy as profound as those of George Marshall and Henry Kissinger, it seems likely that history will find her tenure as Secretary of State a positive one and herself as an extremely competent holder of this important position. She effectively helped change (for the better) the way most of the world viewed the United States, advocating “soft” foreign policy all around the world–diplomacy, not war. She also made domestic economic growth, for the first time, a pillar of US foreign policy. Many successes in Obama’s second term, including the Iran Deal and normalization of relations with China were only possible due to actions Hillary took as Secretary of State. She was far from perfect, and the problem of Libya and the declining (?) situation in the Middle East demonstrates that she did not succeed much in improving American interests there.

She is the only candidate with a comprehensive plan (multilayered and coherent) to take on the Islamic State. Sen. Sanders is extremely inexperienced with regard to foreign policy, mainly relying on his opposition to the war in Iraq as indicative of his acumen. Mr. Sanders is extremely intelligent and prescient on many issues, however, we need a strong leader than can actively engage our allies and enemies. Now is not the time to shrink from the world scene.

A brief statement against Trump and Rubio’s positions on foreign policies: Trump and Rubio both seem to believe the solution to world problems is to use brute force and bullying to impose America’s will on the world. We’ve seen in Iraq and many times before that our policy needs to be more nuanced.

Sen. Sanders does not (yet) have a foreign policy adviser with actual foreign policy credentials (though he may soon, but it may be said that Feb. is pretty late in the game). To those who think he offers a radically different vision, he is hardly more liberal than Pres. Obama on most foreign policy issues.

3. Clinton is committed to social justice

YES, BERNIE IS TOO. I am simply going to demonstrate that Hillary is, too, too.

It is my firm belief that our rapidly changing society needs a President who is liberal on social issues. Bigotry and prejudice cannot continue to thrive. A strong ultra-conservative backlash is coming to a tilt this election season, with abortion clinics shutting down, a war on Planned Parenthood, Trump’s outrageous statements about, well, everyone, a rise in white supremacy groups... (the list goes on and on).

Clinton is liberal on social issues. She supports gay marriage. She entirely regrets her tough-on-crime stances from her husband’s years as president. She wants to expand rights for LGBTQ, disabled persons, empower women, less guns (please, one issue where she is definitely more proactive on than Sanders). She will nominate liberal justices to the Supreme Court when given the opportunity.

Almost every talking point that Sanders makes about important social issues–women’s healthcare/rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, etc–Clinton comes extremely close to his positions. For individuals, there might be key differences (at times, Clinton is more moderate, and might push a little further in that direction for the general election). While I view these shortcomings as valid critiques of Clinton, my point that she would be a better president than Sanders from my arguments in #1 and #2 above still stand.

While Senator Sanders may have been more prescient on many of these issues, Clinton has come around. I understand that some people can never forgive Clinton for what she has said in the past, but that is the problem of those individuals. The central argument of this post still stands. Clinton will help create the change we need in this day and age, though perhaps she may not be ready for the change we’ll need in 25 years.

Conclusion:

A flaw with Clinton is that she does fit into her critics’ narratives about systemic inequality (the types of donations she has accepted, etc.). However, her plan to address income inequality and voting rights is nearly as strong as Sanders’ , and again, her moderation and pragmatism makes her plans frankly more likely to happen. Again, that word ‘nearly’ is a valid reason to continue to support Bernie in the primary, but again, it doesn’t defeat my argument.

Summary of my argument for Hillary: Strongest leader, will accomplish a lot as president, strong on foreign policy, more than sufficient with regard to social justice.

Summary of my argument against Bernie: In the past, the “shoot for more, settle for more” argument that Sanders supporters have made might have worked. But if Republicans control Congress, it simply won’t. I know how appealing he is, because he represents something fundamentally different for America. I do not think this will make him a better president in our current political system and our current United States of America. I’m just left skeptical that he would be effective in the White House.

sidenote: I’d rather have Sanders by far than any Republicans. It’s unclear who polls better against GOP candidates (no, the internet articles that you have seen declaring Bernie as better in every scenario do not look at all the polls). I want him to stick in the race as long as he can. However, the numbers don’t look great for him.

Summary of my argument against Republican candidates: They fit into a narrative of prejudice. They are a part of a hazy system of self-perpetuating and probably false economic ideas.THEY WILL GET US INTO WARS! THEY DENY CLIMATE CHANGE!

Anyways, Bernie or Hillary would be great. But Hillary’s got the significant edge as a leader, a president.

Remembering MLK: A Dream Deferred

“The poor, black and white, are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. What happens to a dream deferred? It leads to bewildering frustration and corroding bitterness.”

In memory of Martin Luther King Jr., I could not recommend more highly listening to his Three Evils of Society speech.

The Three Evils of Society is one of MLK’s lesser known speeches, but one of his strongest. He displays his amazing eloquence and breathtaking talent for speech, gripping a listener by the collar and surprising you with his bitterness and his tenderness, his compassion and his ambition. In this speech, much more so than the famous I Had a Dream and On the Mountain speeches, he demonstrates his concrete political ambitions, and sharp socioeconomic awareness. MLK is much more than a civil rights activist and peaceful demonstrator. He is a preacher, a brother, a father. But this speech proves to me that he is also a social entrepreneur–a man with a keen awareness of society’s injustices, and the will to upturn them.

What are the three evils?

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

1. Racism

2. Poverty

3. War

In this speech lies a biting critique of American capitalism that still resonates with perfect relevance towards today’s issues of race, poverty, and war. In the speech he essentially demands a redistribution of political and economic power. He recognizes both capitalism and the government’s role in creating poverty for black communities, but focuses his attacks on the government, bringing to light the hypocrisy that can sometimes be our democracy–the millions of dollars going to wealthy plantations, and yet the absurd outcry against poverty programs. This could not resonate more today, considering our government’s generous support of large corporations and the conservative outcry against programs that spend money to support the poor.

We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order.

He also speaks in acerbic protest against the Vietnam War, and the rampant material culture of the United States that still persists today. His protest against against the cruelties and the fruitlessness of the Vietnam War apply perfectly to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Never has MLK, to me, seemed so radical. He criticizes our efforts to enforce democracy abroad and demands that the unemployed not have to suffer the poverty and humiliation that comes along with their position. He says that we have to put as much money and effort towards educating our children as we do towards building automobiles. He requests that power in organizations that alleviate poverty be shifted towards locals in the affected neighborhoods.  Until listening to this speech, I had not quite realized how much MLK’s dream had manifested for him and many others in firm political objectives.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust morals and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

MLK asks if Americans will choose materialism, or humanism. Though everyone is familiar with the mountain-shaking biblical imagery of King’s words, I had yet not realized his socialist undertones. In the past 50 years, in many ways, not much has changed. Americans have chosen materialism, and with the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court has declared that those with more money have more speech.

This too is one of King’s self-evident truths: that in our abundant wealth and prosperity, it is wrong that so many suffer as they do in poverty. And that this must be addressed with government policy and individual action.

I’m not trying to make a particular political point with this blog post; rather I’m just recording my gut thoughts and reaction to this tremendous speech who is the reason I’m off classes today.

Who is part of the reason so many of my friends and peers are where they are today.

Whose words, and the power that lies in the truth he speaks, still can inspire us to create change today.

Who reminds me why I felt such frustration when major media outlets called the outbreak of student activism at Yale petty complaints, and a representation of Millennials aversion to free speech (this is just so false but I won’t even get into it now). While the problems that we face at Yale may be privileged problems in comparison to the terrible poverty that King discusses, it is the revolutionary spirit of activism that is essential to defend every time. The spirit that will allow us to choose humanism every time.

And remember:

“So let us stand in this convention knowing that on some positions, cowardice asks the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscious asks the question, is it right? And on some positions, it is necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular; but he must do it because it is right. And we say to our nation tonight, we say to our Government, we even say to our FBI, we will not be harassed, we will not make a butchery of our conscious, we will not be intimidated and we will be heard.”

Capitalism’s New Aesthetic

In other news, this week get Cadivel for free! After Friday it will go back to being $3.99 with 50% proceeds going to charity.

Anyways, I understand I’m taking a bit of a turn with the subject material, but it’s something that I want to talk about. Let’s give this a shot.

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Immigrants in the smog. Overcrowded slums. Bustling factories. The first skyscrapers. Industrial production churns out steel, coal, and oil. Railroads at their peak, the first automobiles.

Levittowns. Consumerism on the rise. Catalogues, shopping, the middle class, the beginning of the service economy. White collar businesses flourish over the abandoned mines.

The Internet. Instantaneous knowledge, infinite connection, and constant communication on social media. Gentrification of cities. Silicon Valley start-ups, iPhones and Androids, PCs and Macs. A stock market higher than ever; increasing income inequality.

So what is capitalism’s next aesthetic?

It’s already happening, or beginning to happen. Mainly on the west coast–the Bay Area California and the Pacific Northwest. But it’s beginning, burgeoning, and may soon spread.

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Local. Green, all natural. Social impact, close-knit communities, sustainable enterprise. Engagement, transparency, accountability.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to imagine exactly what the consequences on America will be, and it’s certainly plausible that it won’t catch on–and even if it does it certainly won’t catch on everywhere. All the “aesthetics” that I described above did not affect all of America, and in fact affected only the minority of it. But I believe that soon–meaning in the next fifteen years–the aesthetic of capitalism in America could be compassion.

Compassionate capitalism. It’s not an oxymoron, not anymore.

B Corporations, along with many other companies, are changing that. B Corporations are corporations–organized to make a profit–but they meet high standards of social and environmental impact, sustainability, and transparency. Certified by the non profit B Lab, B Corporations are among those incorporating as a new brand of company: the Benefit Corporation. The Benefit Corporation is required to consider its impact on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means that the company must take into consideration the best interests of its employees, local community, suppliers, vendors, and the environment in making decisions. This legal move essentially sets companies free from pursuing profit alone, allowing the pursuit of higher causes. Hootsuite, Kickstarter, and Etsy are among the latest in B Corp’s ranks, joining Natura, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and so many others.

To achieve certification, companies take the B Impact Assessment, a constantly evolving tool developed by B Lab and its partners. The B Impact Assessment measures positive impact, rewarding companies for practices such as recycling, paying employees above the living wage, conducting financial audits, engaging with the community, using local suppliers, hiring individuals from low-income backgrounds, and even more importantly, through practices known as Impact Business Models.

A key trait of the B Corporation is that it does not simply “do less harm”. B Corporations actively pursue making a positive impact on society. Having an impact business model means that a core process of the company creates good. For example, a company that makes solar panels has an environmental impact business model. And if that same company also distributes the solar panels to needy communities, they have an additional impact business model. Other IBMs include donating a high percentage of profit to charity (or even better, being owned by a non-profit), having an intense employee training program like Greystone Bakery, which specifically hires and trains formerly incarcerated individuals, and alleviating poverty through the supply chain by creating high-quality employment opportunities in third world countries.

The community of B Corporations is catching on. In the past five years, the number of B Corporations has increased from 400 to 1400. However, B Corporations represent a tiny fraction of American businesses, and also a tiny fraction of the broader social change that is occurring all around us. Consumers are starting to pay attention and become more educated about what they buy. We’re starting to be aware of the impacts of the thoughtless purchase, and companies, beyond just B Corps, are starting to react and even lead. The exciting thing about B Certification to me is that it reframes rather than fundamentally changes the capitalist mindset. Yet this small change can produce so much good in the world: instead of asking, “Can I be the best in the world?”, let’s ask, “Can I be the best for the world?” And let’s be honest–if you’re saving the world, you probably deserve to make a little profit on the side.

I do not mean to say that this transformation is inevitable. All of us still have a role to play. I put out a special request to all of the college students, and in particular my amazing classmates at Yale (though it applies to students at all institutions). At Yale we are empowered, or even expected, to join the leaders of the next generation. Whatever vision of the world we aspire towards may to some extent become a part of the future. So I ask that my classmates educate themselves on social enterprise. Google B Corp (and you’ll be surprised by how many news articles are being written, now more than weekly, about them). Do not join a company because of the prestige, technological innovation, or salary alone; yet the beauty of this new order of capitalism is that you do not need to turn away from these things to pursue good. Consumers will start to buy products that align with their values. Employees will work with companies that do the same. If we can reach a critical mass of participation in the movement, the tide will turn, and social enterprise could be come the norm, not the golden outlier. And we’ll have capitalism’s new aesthetic.

This week’s book: As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

This week’s album: Rumors, Fleetwood Mac