Weekly readings – 10th October 2020

What I wrote

Please vote!

Ableist culture

Business

Apparently, Airlines’ loyalty programs are highly coveted and valued

How Singapore’s Sea is surfing Southeast Asia’s digital wave

Insider story on Mackenzie Scott, an author and a reclusive $60-billion woman

A deeper look inside the airline industry. It’s true that this is an extremely tough industry to be in with high capital intensiveness. But looking at it from another angle, can we afford not flying any more? If you open a local restaurant, you may have a new competitor the day after. The chance of such a phenomenon happening in the airline industry is slim to none. There are always two sides of a coin.

Venmo announced its first credit card. The concept of tailoring the highest cash back rate to the highest spending category is pretty interesting

Goldman Sachs and Moody forecast that a Biden administration would be better for the economy and the Americans

A great interview with Daniel Elk on leadership, management and decision-making process

Technology

Additional steps that Twitter is taking ahead of the election

What I found interesting

A very damning account of how this country failed a lot of people. You can’t deny that the US has a problem when it has a man worth $200 billion while there are a lot of men like the guy in this article

A sad story on how the eviction system fails citizens in DC

A study on the brand intimacy of the top brands in the US. Amazon, Disney and Apple lead the way

Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that our limited progress in fighting the COVID-19 virus has at least partially caused our continuing high unemployment rate. Had we been as successful in each measure as the other OECD countries, nearly nine million more Americans would be employed and over 100,000 would still be alive.

Source: Brookings Institution

A study on Gen Z

Source: Zebra

Please vote!

The catastrophe that is the US’ handling of Covid-19

Back in July after 99 days of no community transmissions, Vietnam faced a 2nd outbreak that ultimately took 35 lives and put the whole country in a brief whirlwind. Fortunately, since then, not only have we managed to control the pandemic again, but we also registered a 2.62% growth in GDP in the third quarter. Experts predict that Vietnam and China will record positive growth in 2020.

South Korea garnered a lot of global praise for its handling of the pandemic. The Asian country will, in the future, become a case study for how to react during a deadly health crisis. Even though it didn’t register a growth, South Korea managed to limit the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on its economy.

Figure 1 – Vietnam’s Number of Covid-19 Cases. Source: Google
Figure 2- South Korea’s Number of Covid-19 Cases. Source: Google
Figure 3 – Impact of Covid-19 on GDP in South Korea, Compared to OECD and the US. Source: WSJ

Why do I cite Vietnam and South Korea here? They serve as evidence that it doesn’t need to be a complete trade-off between an economy and a public health crisis. The economy shouldn’t be the excuse for our failure to handle the pandemic, because:

  • If a developing country like Vietnam and a less rich country like South Korea can do it, why can’t the all mighty USA? Don’t we always proclaim that this is the greatest country on Earth?
  • I believe that when it comes to serving the citizens, their safety should come first without question. It’s the government’s job to ensure that citizens are cared for in crises, both from a health and economic perspective.

Let’s look at the US. The number of cases is on the rise again as we are entering the usual flu season and cold weather. There is no sign yet of a vaccine that can actually be mass produced for the public. Nor is there any sign of this pandemic being controlled. The President of the United States and multiple powerful Senators tested positive for the virus. The White House, the symbol of the US’s power, became a super-spreader. It’s unfathomable and unacceptable to me that this is the stage we are in after 6 months of fighting the pandemic. When you look at it, what progress have we achieved? If you are a manager and your job is to grade the US’ performance so far, what grade will you give, in comparison to other countries?

Figure 4 – The US’ Number of Covid-19 Cases. Source: Google

Voter suppression means that they are afraid of your votes

The Governor of Texas just issued a terrible proclamation in an effort to suppress voters. Per CNN:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Thursday limiting the amount of drop-off locations for mail-in ballots to one site per county.

The move significantly affects the Democratic stronghold of Harris County, which is the state’s largest county by population — one of the most populous in the country — and covers a massive area. It must now reduce its 12 drop-off locations down to one starting on Friday, according to Elizabeth Lewis, spokeswoman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. Travis County, which includes the reliably Democratic city of Austin, must limit its four drop-off locations to one.Other large counties — like Tarrant, Dallas and El Paso County — only had one drop-off location already in place.

Source: CNN

The US is called “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”. If the freedom to vote is taken away, what kind of freedom should we boast about here? This incident is hardly a one-off. Republicans have been consistently trying to delegitimize mail-in ballots, even though there is no substantiating evidence and GOP politicians have voted using the method for years. Ultimately, they want to dissuade health-conscious voters who are largely Democratic from voting.

Sadly, this isn’t the only method to suppress voters. Gerrymandering has been around for a long time. It’s a method to design a district’s shape that will result in favorable results for politicians. In other words, gerrymandering allows politicians to choose voters, instead of voters choosing their own public servants and lawmakers. In this case, some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are guilty of gerrymandering.

There is no shortage of coverage on folks claiming that their votes don’t matter. The sentiment is real. I personally met a few people in Omaha, Nebraska who, with a resigned and matter-of-fact-ly tone, said that their votes don’t count. That’s what lawmakers count on. They want to dissuade folks that disagree with them with gerrymandering, voter suppressing tactics and a barrage of news aimed at creating confusion. They want to only have their supporters vote so that they can stay in power. If you look at it, it’s no different from taking away your rights and freedom.

Nonetheless, vote!That’s the most powerful weapon that you have. Your votes decide who can make your neighborhoods safe. Your votes decide who handle a public health crisis and your likelihood. Your votes decide how justice is served in your community. Your votes decide how your children’s lives will be in the future.

Supreme Court’s role in immunity for the police – the importance of voting for democracy, not partisanship

How Supreme Court puts its thumb on the scale to seemingly savor the police

Qualified immunity is a legal protection granted by Supreme Court to shield government employees from frivolous lawsuits. In the case of the police which can exercise lethal forces upon citizens, the implications of qualified immunity can be profound. While it’s legitimate to offer police officers latitude in doing their job, qualified immunity can also be overused as a protection from misdemeanors. In this article, Reuters looked into how Supreme Court sided with the police in case involving use of excessive force. I highly recommend that you read the article. Some highlights that I think are important are as follows

In a dissent to a 2018 ruling, Sotomayor, joined by fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that the majority’s decision favoring the cops tells police that “they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

In that case, Kisela v. Hughes, the justices threw out a lower court’s ruling that denied immunity to a Tucson, Arizona, cop who shot a mentally ill woman four times as she walked down her driveway while holding a large kitchen knife.

A year earlier, Sotomayor in another dissent called out her fellow justices for a “disturbing trend” of favoring police. “We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity,” Sotomayor wrote, citing several recent rulings. “But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity.”

Source: Reuters

The main challenge for plaintiffs in excessive force cases is to show that police behavior violated a “clearly established” precedent. The Supreme Court has continually reinforced a narrow definition of “clearly established,” requiring lower courts to accept as precedent only cases that have detailed circumstances very similar to the case they are weighing.

In February, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, granted immunity to an officer who shot and wounded a 14-year-old boy in the shoulder after the boy dropped a BB gun and raised his hands. The court rejected as a precedent a 2011 case in which an officer shot and killed a man as he began lowering a shotgun. The difference between the incidents was too great, the court determined, because the boy had first drawn the BB gun from his waistband before dropping it.

In other recent cases, courts have sided with police because of the difference between subduing a woman for walking away from an officer, and subduing a woman for refusing to end a phone call; between shooting at a dog and instead hitting a child, and shooting at a truck and hitting a passenger; and between unleashing a police dog to bite a motionless suspect in a bushy ravine, and unleashing a police dog to bite a compliant suspect in a canal in the woods.

The Supreme Court in 2009 raised the bar even higher for plaintiffs to overcome qualified immunity. In Pearson v. Callahan, it gave judges the option to simply ignore the question of whether a cop used excessive force and instead focus solely on whether the conduct was clearly established as unlawful.

By allowing judges to consider only the question of clearly established law in excessive force cases, the Supreme Court created a closed loop in which “the case law gets frozen,” said lawyer Matt Farmer, who represented Lewis’s family.

Source: Reuters

I am not sure I know of situations where the odds are stacked against citizens more. Citizens, in general, do not possess weapons or resources to self-defend against authority which, ironically, is supposed to protect citizens in the first place. In cases where abuse of power is apparent, the laws, as you already see, are not on citizens’ side, either. It’s obviously a disturbing phenomenon to witness. One must wonder whether this qualified immunity and the Supreme Court’s tendency to rule in favor of the police contributes to the abuse of power and excessive use of force.

Vote. Vote. Vote. On every level.

Former President Obama penned a thoughtful blog post detailing his opinion on how the country can move forward from the current crisis. You can read it here

Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices— and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Source: Barack Obama

Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away

Source: Barack Obama

The former President said it better than I think I can. So, vote whenever you can because our life depends on your votes a lot. It’s the most powerful weapon you can have in a democracy. What I really hate is that some folks relinquish their voting duty because their “guy or gal” isn’t a candidate or there is only one or two issues that they disagree with their candidate.

Vote for democracy, not partisanship

A study published on Cambridge Press examined whether Americans were willing to trade democracy for partisanship in voting.

…in states and districts where one party enjoys a significant electoral advantage, politicians from the majority party may be effectively insulated from an electoral punishment for violating democratic principles. To get a sense of the real-world relevance of this implication, consider that in 2016 only 5.1% of US House districts were won by a margin of less than 6.9%—the smallest margin that Table 4 implies is necessary for violations of democratic principles to be electorally self-defeating. That share of districts was still only 15.2% in 2018. Put bluntly, our estimates suggest that in the vast majority of U.S. House districts, a majority-party candidate could openly violate one of the democratic principles we examined and nonetheless get away with it.

Source: Cambridge Press

Our analysis of a candidate-choice experiment as well as a natural experiment consistently found that only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: (i) voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and (ii) voters employ a partisan “double standard” when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms. Put simply, polarization undermines the public’s ability to serve as a democratic check.

We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for our understanding of democratic stability in the United States and the rest of the world. We saw that roughly 10–13% of our respondents—depending on the type of contests considered—value democracy enough to punish otherwise favored candidates for violating democratic principles by voting against them

Source: Cambridge Press

What does that mean? In my opinion, if voters were more willing to cross the partisanship line and vote for a person of a different party, it means that the partisanship and the divide within the country would be less severe. Lawmakers would be forced to be more accountable and to offer bipartisan legislations. The world is too diverse and lively for any of us to stubbornly stick to a rigid ideology. If one party is too egregious and the other party’s candidate shares more values with you, you should vote on shared human values, not partisan ideologies or “stick it to somebody else”.