The Pandemic Paradox: How MORE Time Became LESS Time

When I made my New Year Resolutions for 2020, I obviously did not incorporate the impacts of the upcoming pandemic into them. My resolutions weren’t  even that fancy to begin with. It had all the usual suspects in them – eat healthy, work out more, write more, read more, travel more, etc. Those were all things I had attempted and succeeded (and failed) to various degrees on many many previous occasions.  But the fact is I was about 1-2 months into working towards my ‘resolutions’ – in a manner of speaking – by the time 2020 rolled around.  I was already quite set in my workout routines and was completing a book every 2-3 weeks. My diet was the easy part that didn’t even need a resolution as such. But I figured it was the beginning of a new year, and I decided to formalize these goals or processes into resolutions anyway. 

The first 2 months went great. I kept up with my workout routine, had lost more than 15 lbs, and had developed good strength in my muscles. I had completed 4-5 books and had even written reviews on them. My Reading List on GoodReads was growing and I was pretty confident of completing most of them that year. All in all, I was feeling great. 

Then the pandemic hit, Toronto went into its first lockdown, and both the wife and I began to work from home. The immediate consequence of this was that our new routine – one without the commute – gave us an additional 2-3 hours overall everyday for ourselves. I was obviously overjoyed when I considered what those 2 extra hours could do towards my goals each day. I presumed it would give me the flexibility to move around my activities and still have all the time available to do what I needed to. Plus, if I couldn’t do something on time, I always had some extra time available later in the day to squeeze it in. To make use of this time, I even purchased some home weight equipment as the gyms were all closed. All in all, I was excited about what this new lifestyle was able to offer to help me achieve my 2020 resolutions. 

But what actually happened was the complete opposite. My workout routine practically evaporated within a few weeks. I probably read a grand total of 1-2 new books for the rest of the year. And I think I maybe wrote about 4-6 posts in here at most. I was obviously very disappointed with what I initially perceived to be a lack of discipline on my part. To an extent, that initial perception was indeed correct. But over the past several months, I have also understood something about the nature of time, my own perception of it, and how this impacted how I make use of it.

The paradox at the heart of this was that I was making significantly more use of my time when I had LESSER time available as compared to what I did when I had MORE time available. If I had only 3 hours of time available for myself each day, I made a bigger effort to use that time than those days when I had, say, 5 or more hours free time available. It definitely appeared counter-intuitive. If I have more time, I SHOULD be able to accomplish MORE, not LESS. But there I was – having accomplished A LOT when I had far lesser time on my hands, as compared to achieving practically NOTHING when I actually had MORE time. 

I could attribute this to a combination of procrastination, lack of discipline, and absence of motivation arising out of staying home for extended periods of time. But that would not paint the complete picture. At a more fundamental level, I have realized that just being aware of the availability of more time can lead to a general attitude of “It’s OK. I have more time to complete these tasks or goals.” This ultimately leads to not doing anything in the present with the expectation that there is enough time to do it in the future. But when there is no extra time available, I do not have the ability or option of ‘doing it later’ – inevitably leading me to utilize the available time in a much better way. 

Perhaps it is like Supply-Demand-Price-Value. The lesser I have of anything, the more valuable it is – leading me to put in more effort to utilize it. If the same thing is available in excess, it is not that valuable and I am more prone to simply waste it. The extra time I got during the pandemic, in essence, made the time already available to me seem LESS valuable, leading me to waste ALL my available time – existing and new. So what in theory should have allowed me to achieve more of my goals was actually what made sure I did not achieve ANY of my goals. More available time does not mean an increased ability to do what you really want in life. On the contrary, it leads to the dilution of the value of the time you already had. This will then ultimately make you believe that it is OK to waste that previously available time AND the newly available time. 

And so going forward, the biggest lesson is that I have to be acutely aware of how much time I have available and my own perception of how valuable I consider it. 

And as far as setting any resolutions for 2021, I just made sure I didn’t jinx myself by making fun of others and their own resolutions – like I did in early 2020. 

Which COVID-19 Curve Should We Flatten – New Cases, Total Cases, or Active Cases?

The most common talking point on the Covid-19 pandemic has been the idea of ‘flattening the curve’. It generally refers to the idea of taking measures to reduce the number of cases in any given geographical area over time. The ultimate objective is to ‘spread’ the infections (pardon the pun) over a period of time while simultaneously reducing the number of people who are getting infected. This is expected to have the desired effect of lessening the burden on the healthcare systems and to also reduce the overall number of people who would get infected over the lifetime of the pandemic.

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Flatten The Curve – But What is on the Y-Axis?

We have all seen the standard ‘Bell Curve’ as an illustration of this idea. A steeper and higher bell curve (albeit over a shorter duration) is what is to be avoided  as this would indicate a large fraction of the population getting infected over a short time. Instead, the objective is to achieve a flatter and lower bell curve that lasts longer as this would mean a lower fraction of the people infected, but over a longer time. The X-axis (horizontal) in these charts is obviously Time. But where the discrepancies and confusion sets in, is what exactly is plotted on the Y-axis. To be specific, is it ‘Daily New Cases’, ‘Total Cumulative Cases’ or ‘Active Cases’? Is there anything that is correct and incorrect, or is it just a matter of interpreting data differently?

To be clear, it is completely acceptable to simply plot any of the three data sets on the Y-axis and show the resulting chart as a general attempt to provide information. But when one uses the phrase ‘flatten the curve’, the question then is which one should be plotted on the Y-axis?

SKorea chart
Daily New Cases vs Total Cumulative Cases

My personal preference is to plot Daily New Cases to get a proper picture of the scenario. I also believe this is what the original ‘flatten the curve’ referred to. The information in this chart and its interpretation is pretty straightforward. Over time, the number of Daily New Cases goes up, maxes out, then slowly decreases until it reaches zero – at which point the virus is eradicated. At a given point in time, the chart shows where a country stands in this overall trajectory. If it is going up, we know the rate of infections is increasing, and vice versa. If you want the total number of cases at any point in time, all you have to do is add the Daily New Cases for each day till that point – or as the basic definition of an INTEGRAL goes, you simply calculate the area under the curve. So the use of the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ and all its implications (as outlined earlier in this post) perfectly correlate with the Daily New Cases on the Y-axis.

Now how about the Total Cumulative Cases?  By Total Cumulative Cases, I simply mean the total number of infections from the time the first case was reported. Very importantly, it DOES NOT take into account the number of recoveries or the number of deaths. So what this means is that the curve of the TOTAL Cumulative Cases, by definition, only increases till the time there are no new cases at all – at which point, it becomes a horizontal line with the final Y-axis value equal to the TOTAL number of people who were infected at one time or the other. (See above chart)

So is it correct to use the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ while referring to this chart? The short answer is NO, this is incorrect. Firstly, this curve will never ever go down. After an initial increase in steepness (slope increases), it will simply become lesser and lesser steep over time (slope decreases) until it becomes horizontal (slope of zero). But this will never ever go down (slope never becomes negative). So it is completely incorrect to use the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ while plotting the Total Cumulative Cases on the Y-axis. Yes you can still technically state that the curve as such is ‘flattening’ but that would only imply a reduction in the slope of the curve but with a lower bound of zero.

SKorea chart2

And finally, we come to Active cases. I have not actually come across any article which shows a chart with Active Cases plotted on the Y-axis to illustrate the phrase ‘flattening the curve’. But this is actually a legitimate chart that can illustrate the idea of flattening the curve in a different manner. By Active cases, I am counting the total number of people at any given point in time who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and WHO ARE STILL DEEMED TO CARRY THE VIRUS. So this is essentially the Total Cumulative Cases reduced by the number of people who have ‘recovered’ and number of people who have died. At any point, the number of Active Cases will always lie BETWEEN the Total Cumulative Cases and the Daily New Cases.

It will never reach as high as the Total Cumulative Cases and it will always stay above the Daily New Cases. It will reach its peak before the Total Cumulative Cases curve becomes horizontal, but definitely AFTER the peak of the Daily New Cases. (By the way, the peak here refers to the point the number of daily recoveries and deaths exceed the number of daily new cases). It will ultimately go to zero long after the Daily New Cases has gone to Zero. So in a way, this Active Cases curve also shows the same properties of the Daily New Cases curve. It can also track the rate at which patients are recovering and/or dying. As a result, all the implications and messaging from the usage of the phrase ‘flattening the curve’ correctly applies to the Active Cases curve as well.

To summarize, it is completely acceptable to use any of the three data sets to plot over time to provide general information. But the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ should only be used when plotting either Daily New Cases or Active Cases. It should NEVER EVER be used when showing a chart that plots Total Cumulative Cases over time. If you find anyone doing so, please feel free to point it out.

The Idiocy of the “Proportional Restrictions” Approach to Fighting the Pandemic

In the previous post,I described briefly the 4 different stages of increased restrictions that Governments appear to be taking to contain the COVID virus in their countries. But what this approach amounts to is what I call as the “Proportional Restrictions Approach” – and that is what most Governments are taking up. In this approach, the restrictions imposed on the country’s population evolves directly proportional to the extent of the spread of the virus – number of infected cases and deaths.

So essentially, it is Virus Spreads first,  Restrictions come in later. With the exceptions of countries like Italy, where the outbreak happened very quickly before any meaningful measures could even be implemented, most countries are taking a ‘step by step’ approach wherein the restrictions are a direct and proportional REACTION to the increasing infected cases. So it means the Governments start by advising and suggesting people to stay indoors, then move on to declaring symbolic emergencies with no real action items, followed by restricting movement to only ‘essential’ services, but then inevitably ending with a complete lockdown of the entire country.

Simple fact is that every country all over the world which is taking this ‘proportional restrictions’ approach will inevitably reach the complete lockdown phase of restrictions in 2-4 weeks. Why? Because it is simply not possible to make humans stay home.

We humans are simply not wired to take things that we can’t see seriously. If we see a pack of rabid street dogs (or a horde of zombies) roaming the streets, we stay home. But we are completely OK heading out as long as we don’t actually see the virus or its direct impacts (a.k.a lots of sick and dead people).

So no amount of ‘suggesting’, ‘advice doling’, ‘pleading’, ‘educating’ will make mankind simply change some of the most fundamentally hardwired habits and activities within us, and make us stay at home. All over the world, there are instances where people willfully go outside for reasons that are not essential. And they will continue to do so until the Government tells them (and even demonstrates by example) that it is illegal to do so.

Which is why this ‘step by step’ or ‘proportional restrictions’ approach actually MAKES SURE that every one of those countries WILL reach a stage where the virus is completely out of control, at which point the ONLY option available is to put the country in a complete lockdown and FORCE the population to stay home. So my basic question is this:

If a country is going to a complete lockdown anyway, then why won’t they just enforce it upfront – when the number of cases are low and manageable, and when the healthcare systems actually have the resources to take care of these people?

Or put in other words, there are two options: Impose complete lockdown when you only have a small number of cases and contain the spread completely. Or impose a complete lockdown only AFTER the virus has spread sufficiently that it is no longer possible to control it with lesser measures.

As an example, here is a timeline of how New York City responded (or has still yet to respond) to the pandemic sweeping it now. Fair warning: it is a scary collection of statements and (lack of) actions from every side over the past one month. But it perfectly illustrates how the restrictions in place evolved in direct REACTION to the spread of the virus. As it stands today (March 28), the city’s parks and playgrounds are still open to the general public with the City only ‘advising’ and ‘suggesting’ that social distance be maintained. Who wants to place a bet that they will close in the coming days? Does anyone expect this to NOT be inevitable? The only difference between shutting down parks and playgrounds in early March vs early April is over 30,000 sick people and over 500 dead (with more heading that way).

So if anything, the Governments have a MORAL responsibility to shut down the country and place them in complete lockdown for 2-3 weeks with no travel into, out of or within the country. But who actually has the balls to do that? 

The Redundant Stages of Government Restrictions Before Complete Lock Down

Every country has imposed some or the other measures of restriction to contain the spread of COVID-19. Allow me to document these largely redundant stages of restrictions, that come before the inevitable lock down.

Stage 1: The ‘Recommendation and Advisory’ Stage

Here the Governments ‘generally suggest’ and ‘advise’ the population to avoid crowded areas and to stay at home as much as possible. Most travel is still taking place – both international and domestic and local public transport. Out in the city, it is generally business as usual except maybe lesser overall traffic and people. During this stage, the virus infects an additional few hundred or so.

Stage 2: The ‘Declaration of Emergency’ Stage

Here, the Governments declare emergencies! Woo-hoo! It may make headlines, but really this only means that the Govt gets some additional powers to do some procedural shit – like bypass bureaucracy, implement measures faster, etc. Keep in mind, it doesn’t necessarily mean new restrictions on people’s movements – though it could contain some more ‘suggestions’, etc. It just gives the impression that some people are doing some shit. (Reminds me of that line “Jesus is Coming…look Busy!”)

jesusiscomminglookbusy

Here, people still go to work everyday, a bunch of companies will ask their employees to work from home, traffic becomes lighter, maybe crowded areas get closed (think malls, movie theaters, concerts, etc.). But no real enforcement or clear direction on who should or should not be out. Schools may still be functioning (think UK). Some international travel is restricted, but domestically all is normal. Then the virus spreads even more – maybe a couple of thousand cases or so.

Stage 3: The ‘Non-Essential Restriction’ Stage

You know your country is in this stage if the word ‘non-essential’ is thrown around by your Government a lot. Usually it goes something like this: “…blah..blah…blah..blah…..non-essential…blah..blah is not allowed … blah … blah….” But then it is absolutely essential for a bunch of high school kids to go throw hoops in the park’s basketball court. And right next to them, of course you see a bunch of small kids (with their parents around) playing on the swing – because that is so god damn essential! Maybe there are few more restrictions on international travel. Maybe you will see a news story of, at most, ONE person getting fined or jailed because they are skipping quarantine, leading people to believe that their Govt must be ON IT like a pro! Then the virus spreads to greater than 10,000 people.

Stage 4: The “Shit Just Got Real” Stage

Complete lock down! Nobody allowed to go out for anything except emergencies. All travel – domestic, international, and local – is suspended. Widespread deployment of the police and military to enforce this lock down. This is the point the governments realized that ‘generally suggesting’, ‘declaring emergencies’, and ‘blah..blah…non-essential…blah blah’ won’t make people get off the streets. And usually by then, the virus has spread so much that they FINALLY realize that the shit just got real – and very likely out of control!

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In the next post, I will talk about what I call the “Proportional Restrictions Approach” and why it should be made illegal.

Five Lessons for the Modi Government from the Citizenship Amendment Act Protests

Note: Personally, I find great satisfaction from being able to legitimately criticize something that I otherwise generally support and agree with. It comes from the basic understanding that no one is obligated to support and agree with everything that anyone says or does. And so, this is me openly criticizing the Modi Government over the way the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was brought about (and NOT its contents).

I write this post with the obvious acknowledgment that the narrative on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is firmly set against it – both domestic and foreign. The media is critical of it, there are large scale protests spread across the country, misinformation and incorrect perceptions have taken the place of facts, and the Government has largely no control over any of it.

So instead of talking about the merits of the CAA, I will here talk about the lessons that the Modi Government can and should learn from this debacle (yes that is what it is). These lessons are applicable to any legislation and to any Government anywhere – past and future. And it is certainly relevant in the present case. So here goes a (clearly non-exhaustive) list of lessons that the Modi Government should learn from the CAA protests:

1. Acknowledge the radical nature of the legislation:

The Citizenship Amendment Bill set out to right a historic wrong going back all the way to the partition of India. Even though quite narrow in scope, the intent of the bill can easily be perceived to be quite radical. This is especially true when viewed through the prism of similar historical legislation and the absence of any kind of precedence to it. So yes, anytime there is a radical change proposed, there are always bound to be protests – regardless of its ultimate intent or effect. This acknowledgment is necessary to push the Government to take proactive steps to clarify and inform the public about the legislation. The other two radical changes brought about by this Government – Demonetization and rescinding of Article 370 – were understandably kept secret till their execution. But the protests following them should have been indicative of what to expect with the CAA.

2. Anticipate the reaction of radical elements in the country:

The acknowledgment of their presence is already there. But it should also include the anticipation of their reactions to the proposed radical changes. By radical elements, I am referring to those in the country (and abroad) whose objectives are to simply create chaos, promote divisions, propagate hate, incite and carry out violent acts, etc. These people do exist and include those in certain political parties, media houses, university student bodies, extremist groups, terrorist cells, etc. These people hold the power on various platforms and to various degrees to create legitimate unrest and violence across the country without having any of it attributed back to them. It is important to acknowledge their power and address it directly and in a proactive manner.

3. Media Outreach is Necessary:

This Government’s piss poor record of outreach to the media – domestic and foreign – is quite evident in the critical narratives propagated by every single media outlet not named Republic TV or Times Now. With no regular media briefing since its first day in office back in 2014 and practically no 1 v 1 interviews off the campaign trail, the various media houses have no incentive or desire to scale back on their pre-determined narratives critical of every single thing this Government does or stands for.

The fact that so much of the media fraternity all over the world is low level scum is irrelevant to the basic acknowledgment of the massive power they wield. It is therefore in the Government’s interest to keep these people in the loop and have an open and direct interaction with them on a regular basis. This Modi Government needs to look no further than its own backyard – the RSS – to understand how it has strikingly increased its outreach efforts to involve the entire world media. Simple fact is this: If you don’t set the narrative, they will.

4. The responsibility of explaining and justifying any legislation is on the Government, not its supporters:

Expecting support for a legislation as a matter of general principle just because it was in the party’s election manifesto is extremely idiotic and naive. It is the Govt’s responsibility to actively seek support for a legislation not just in the houses of the Parliament, but in the court of public opinion as well. This Government’s complete absence of efforts to educate the general public on the CAB through various platforms reeks of arrogance and a cocksure attitude probably stemming from the successful Article 370 rescission.

In its absence, its supporters pick up the Govt’s slack to educate the public. Nothing constructive ever comes out of leaving the public to educate the public on something the public can easily be divided over. The messaging is never uniform, bias creeps in, talking points are made up on the fly, sound bites and tweets go around as facts, subtlety gets lost in ‘panel discussions’, and the critics will ultimately have a field day ripping all of it apart. This will inevitably lead to misinformation, counter-narratives, and fear mongering.

5. Educate the public on all platforms:

Prior to the legislation being tabled, there should be a coordinated nationwide effort to explain, justify, and address concerns with the proposed legislation. Responding to concerns on the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha floor or explaining the bill in campaign rallies do not count for shit to the public. Having talking heads participate in the cacophony of the ‘Panel Discussion’ is useless at best, and counter-productive at worst.

Govt representatives (including the PM and HM) must give 1 v 1 interviews with ALL news channels and newspapers – including and especially those that are critical of them. Create fact sheets and FAQs, publicize them on all Social media platforms and WhatsApp. Actively seek and respond to questions and concerns and update the fact sheets accordingly. Have local MLAs and MPs give interviews to local TV channels and newspapers explaining what the bill does. Have open dialogues with representatives of those groups that perceive a danger from the bill. These are acts that minimize the scope for misinformation to spread and radical elements to cause chaos. These are also what builds consensus among the general public.

However, these are also things that will unfortunately never see the light of the day with an arrogant Government, or without the acknowledgment of the radical nature of the proposed change.

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When it comes to protests, the best way to address them is by their prevention. Once protests start, there is absolutely no control over how they can proceed and/or spread. And when they inevitably result in violence, the response from the state and police will ALWAYS be what is highlighted, emphasized, and criticized. All the acts of damage by the protesters will be completely irrelevant to the acts of police overreach that has historically been inevitable in a country like India – especially when containing a violent protest.

But to prevent the protests, it is the Government’s responsibility to acknowledge the nature of the proposed change, acknowledge what the radical elements in society can do, reach out to the media in good faith, actively explain the bill to the general public on all relevant platforms, and get their feedback.

Bringing about a change in a country as diverse as India does not begin and end with getting some 450 people to vote a certain way. It begins with the general public, goes through the 800+ people who vote in the Parliament, and then ends with the general public. It is time the Modi Government learn these lessons for its own sake, and if it seeks to fulfill many more of its promises from the manifesto without having to handle nation-wide protests.

The Perils of a Trump Impeachment

Everybody seems to be talking about it, all the media outlets are covering it, social media has it trending 24/7, and everyone has their own opinion on the legitimacy of all of it. And I honestly have no interest or stake in what happens to the man at the top of it all – President Trump. But what I do have an interest in is in the maintenance of civility and unity in any society – especially one that is already as divided as the United States.

Most Presidential elections in the US are truly just an exercise in the demonstration of the division within that country. It is Us vs Them, Left vs Right, Democrat vs Republican, Liberal vs Conservative – name your labels. But nobody seems to point it out for what the division really stands for today – Americans vs fellow Americans. Now how about that label, eh?

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I am not an expert historian to tell you when exactly this division started to take its present shape. Was America truly ready for a Black President in 2008? How did Obamacare’s passing impact the legislative process? What about MitcConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s judiciary appointees? How much did Obama’s executive orders piss off Republicans? How angry did the ‘Liberals’ in America get when Mitch McConnell refused to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court – only to later confirm Gorsuch and Kavanaugh? How confused were people when Donald Trump became the President? What about that Republican bill giving tax breaks that was passed behind closed doors? What did the relentless criticism of Trump tell those who voted for him?

And how do you think society reacts when every one of the above events were amplified by a biased and loud mainstream media – print and cable – along with a significant dose of extreme opinions accompanying it from all the different parts of the internet?

I am not even going to repeat the talking points that are propagated in the media for and against this process. To me, they are rhetorical at best, and political at worst. Nowhere do I see the actual interest of the people being represented in any capacity. But I will quote a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from back in March this year (emphasis mine):

Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

The media, of course, just focused on the last line of “he’s just not worth it” because it was a great soundbite – nothing else. That statement about how an impeachment process can divide the country unless it is based on something compelling and has bipartisan support is the absolute truth. Which is why it is rather unfortunate that Pelosi herself is the one championing the impeachment process now.

For the sake of discussion, let us say the President has just been impeached along party lines in the House. What do you think will happen? You think the nation will rejoice? Is this some sort of a victory? If so, can you tell me who won? What constructive things do you see happening after this? Oh you don’t say it will help elect a Democrat President in 2020? Because clearly that is NOT what this impeachment is about right? Oh I hear you say he just deserved to get impeached? Well, in the immortal words of Snoop Pearson from The Wire, I think what you really meant was:

Deserve got nothing to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.

I will tell you what WILL happen. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, WaPo, NYT, and the likes will rejoice – openly, and with an in-your-face attitude. Half the nation will rejoice too. Operative word being ‘half’ – because the other half will be pissed off. All Dem politicians will claim victory and try to sell that to their base – you know the half that rejoiced. Fox News, Breitbart, Drudge Report, WSJ, and the likes will continue questioning the legitimacy of the process. All the Republicans will cry unfair, play victim and sell that fear of ‘Dem takeover’ to THEIR base – you know the other half that did not rejoice. There will be some superficial pressure created on Mitch McConnell and he will hold a hearing and eventually Trump will not be convicted. The media will get all the coverage and pageviews and get rich with all the divisive and biased rhetoric.

And the poor American people will come out of it more divided and entrenched than ever before. There will be even lesser room for civil debates and discussions. It will be harder to change people’s minds on any damn thing. The ideas of subtlety and nuance will cease to exist in any conversation even remotely political. Friends are chosen based on their political leanings. Extreme positions will become even more common. More politicians will begin to endorse extreme positions. As the Left goes more woke, the Right will double down on rejecting any change at all. Supreme court justices will be confirmed depending only on which party holds the Senate. No significant legislation will ever get passed in the House and Senate. And yes, impeachment of a sitting President will become more common. Everyone will have an opinion, but the American people will ultimately bear the brunt of it all.

Fact is divisive events have a cumulative effect on society over time. And division breeds further division, thereby cementing a dangerous spiraling loop. In the USA, I strongly believe that these events have led the society close to the point of no return. There is a tipping point approaching and this impeachment will make the American people see what lies beyond. Just remember, there is no way back from that.

What I would like to see is a new leader emerge who works not to ‘energize their own base’, but instead seeks to unite the country – and wins the next elections. There are very few in the Democratic primary field who can be fit into that category. I will not take names but just know this – the more to the left the Dems go, the more to the right the Republicans go. So by that metric, figure out for yourself who is likely to unite and who is likely to further divide. But really all that is a redundant exercise because Trump is going to win in 2020 regardless – the impeachment would make sure of that.

So, yeah, have fun.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 5: A Matter of Dignity & Integrity

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

This has been a long series of posts but please bear with me while I offer some final thoughts.

In the history of mankind, human beings have acted on something only after things got sufficiently bad. The inertia is so big that taking proactive measures is just not wired into our brains – or into all our institutions. It is certainly very true in my case and of those in similar situations. Though it might look proactive to some, we made the decision to move to Canada only after we went through sufficient hardships.

It would also be incorrect to simply point the blame at the Trump administration for making people like myself leave. What this administration has done is to simply take an already bad situation just beyond the tipping point. They took that narrow path of survival and made it more and more narrow – to a point where people like myself were forced to re-evaluate our lives and make the decision to leave out of our own choice.  And make no mistake, there are thousands of people like us in the US who are in the process of moving to Canada – unable to bear the burden of the long green card wait time. Every Indian I speak to who is in the same position I was, has either stated their intent to migrate to Canada or is already in the process of doing so. Some of our friends even made the move with us. Immigration status seems to be the default topic of discussion in any conversation between Indians living in the US.

Everyone is concerned for various reasons and yet there are many, many people who are seemingly content with where they are. There are even more who are not even in the US yet, but are looking forward to making a life there in the future without any knowledge of how things work there. With no sarcasm, I wish them all the very best and hope they find what they want.

As for Devanshi and I, we have landed on our feet after our move. After an initial struggle to find a job, she is now working and we are both finally living the lifestyle and routine we have been wanting to since our wedding. As much as that is satisfying, it would be incorrect to reduce our entire new lives in Canada to finding jobs and living together.

Fact is, this is the first time in almost a decade that we are not living on a temporary visa in a foreign country. In fact, it took several months for that to sink in. And truth be told, there is a certain sense of dignity and integrity that comes with being a permanent resident (and especially in not being classified as an ‘Alien’). This is something that can be truly appreciated only by those who have lived an extended period on a temporary visa in a foreign country. People who move to a new country and get their PR status within a short period of time (or beforehand) can easily take the associated privileges for granted – seeming like it was always meant to be. But it is only people like us – who have been made to struggle to find a sense of belonging, a place that lets us be who we want to be, and a place we can proudly call our new home – that can fully acknowledge and appreciate this paradigm shift in our circumstances.

Yes we could have tried to make it in the USA in some capacity if we really wanted to and if we had tried real hard. But ultimately, that just boiled down to us surviving. And we wanted to do a lot more than just surviving – we wanted to LIVE, and we wanted to live with dignity and to our fullest abilities with no shackles and no fear. And that is why we are very happy with our move to Canada and starting a new chapter in our lives.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 4: The Power of Complacency

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, we discussed the issues of living with fear and a lack of freedom in the US. Here, let us see what it is that keeps us here.

So, to repeat the question: If things are so bad living in a Green card backlog, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

The answer to that lies in the fact that, in spite of all the issues I have highlighted, there still remains a path to be in the US legally, work, grow professionally, and lead a good lifestyle WHILE waiting decades for your green card. Make no mistake, the path is definitely a narrow one, is getting more narrow every passing week, and it can terminate at any point – but it exists nonetheless. And therein lies the true answer to why so many of us still continue to live here in spite of all these constraints. In one word, the answer is COMPLACENCY.

We Indians are a truly complacent bunch. If things are going fine now, we are more than happy to simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be just fine and dandy in the future as well. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we look the other way and sometimes truly believe that nothing is going to happen to us.

It might happen to others because others may have broken the rules somehow, but it would never happen to us because we have done everything by the book.

Not only are we complacent, we are also timid and naïve. Most of us live our lives truly believing ‘someone else’ is going to ‘do something about it’. It is actually mind-blowing to see most Indians blindly seek and follow the advice of the very people who have all the incentives to exploit them for their own selfish benefit (think lawyers, employers). Couple this naivete with the complacency, and you have a deadly recipe for exploiting an obliging workforce.

(I am happy to admit that, in the past several weeks, there is a noticeable uptick in the Indian involvement in demanding change and justice against this discrimination. But it is still a very small fraction of the total populace.)

Fact is I was no different until 2-3 years ago when I finally came out of the bubble after the 2016 election. The anti-immigrant rhetoric finally made me pause and ask myself some hard questions about where I was, what I wanted, what I could get and what I could lose in the future. By that time, I was also married and had to think of the wife’s freedoms as well. I came out of my complacency, but I was still in the same situation.

(That was when I joined Immigration Voice, a grassroots advocacy group, and started making my voice heard with the lawmakers. I learnt a lot about how the system works, how to bring about change, and the root cause of all the issues. Over the course of the next 2 years, I did my fair share of advocacy to get this issue fixed. To this day, that has been the best learning experience I have ever had. But that deserves a separate post in itself)

It started with my own concerns on if I would face any issues with my visa renewals. The administration was issuing new rules to process visa applications introducing new constraints on the renewals. I began to hear many cases of visa extensions being rejected for what were previously sure shot cases. I asked myself what I wanted to do 5-10 years down the line. Would I be happy with the roles I would be permitted in my career within the constraints of my green card petition? Or did I want something more? Do I want to live in one single place for the rest of my life or did I want to live in other cities in the future? How much was I willing to risk my career on the unpredictability of my visa extensions every 2-3 years? The answers were obvious.

I wanted more freedom and a life of far lesser fear and uncertainty – not the one I was going to be given if I stayed in the US. When it came to my wife, it was fairly direct. The administration stated explicitly that they intended to revoke the Spouse work permit in the coming year or two. We went from a wait and watch approach initially, to getting frustrated on just waiting for something – anything – to happen, to living with extreme amounts of uncertainty, and to finally realize that we actually didn’t need to and didn’t want to live like this in the first place.

We began to explore options for our move out of the US. We considered Canada, New Zealand and Australia. After deeply researching the immigration processes for each country and our own prospects there, we decided to make the plunge into Canada.  Even after that initial decision, there was still some hesitation on our part though. Perhaps things would get better here – after all we both still had our work permits and were working. The pull of complacency was real and, in hindsight, I feel it almost made us abandon our plans to move. But on that cold December day in southwest Kansas, after a bout of argument, we realized that we both really just wanted to live together. And as long as we were in the US, that was never actually guaranteed.

And THAT was when we made the final decision to not only move to Canada, but to also start acting on it. Act we did, and towards the end of August 2018, we received our permanent residency documents from Canada. I then told my company that I was moving to Canada, following which they offered me a position in their Toronto office. We crossed the border on the 9th of November and moved into our apartment the following week.

In my next and final post, I discuss my situation and the decision-making process with the power of hindsight. I also briefly talk about settling in Canada and what it means to finally be a ‘Permanent Resident’.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 3: (Abundance of) Fear and (Lack of) Freedom

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about the specifics of how the legal, employment-based green card system works to discriminate against people from India. Here, I will highlight some of the issues we Indians face in decades long green card back logs.

Personally for Devanshi and I, at the crux of the whole situation, lay two basic ideas – fear and freedom. In our lives, we all want little to none of the former and an abundance of the latter. But the reality for people like us is quite the opposite. We live in the US with an abundance of fear while the freedoms we enjoy are significantly constrained by our immigration status. Let me start with fear.

The fear comes with knowing that if you are let go from your job (for whatever reasons), you literally have a few weeks to find a new employer who will hire you AND incur all the costs associated with the work visa. The fear comes with knowing that your kid who was born in India, and who moved and has lived with you in the US for over a decade, will have to leave the country once they turn 21. The fear comes with the knowledge that every time you apply to extend your visa, you can be denied without reason, forcing you to just simply up and leave this country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that you could be approved for an extension in the US but can still be denied a visa at the consulate in India – again without reason. The fear comes with knowing that you have to put up with your current work environment – however bad it may be – because you are unable to find another employer who will do all the paperwork and pay the fees to sponsor your visa. The fear comes with knowing that your spouse (predominantly women) live every day not knowing if they will lose their work permit – forcing them to stay home and feel worthless. The fear comes with the knowledge that even if you join a new employer who is willing to do the paperwork, your new green card petition from that new employer might still get denied, forcing you to simply up and leave the country for good – with all your family. The fear comes with the knowledge that every other year, your fate rests in the hands of immigration attorneys and their competency (or lack thereof) in filing the right paperwork by the right time. The fear comes with knowing that one small mistake by the immigration attorney can force you to simply up and leave the country with all your family. The fear comes with knowing that one small misdemeanor or felony – regardless of circumstance – pretty much spells the end of your stay in the country for you and your family. The fear lies in the knowledge that if something fatal were to happen to you, your spouse and kids immediately lose their immigration status and are no longer allowed to stay in the country. (Don’t you dare think the last one is an exaggeration).

Moving on to freedom, or lack thereof.

The lack of freedom is on display when you are unable to change jobs – even if you are being harassed or abused in your current job – just because of your visa requirements. The lack of freedom manifests in your inability to even change job descriptions within the same company if your education was not in the same specific field. The lack of freedom is for you to see when you cannot get promoted to a position that is inconsistent with your green card petition. You will know your lack of freedom when a junior foreign worker from a different country surpasses you in seniority just because they got their green card and you haven’t. Your lack of freedom is there to see when you are unable to travel back to India for a funeral because your visa extension application is still pending. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to register any intellectual property in your name. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to start and open your own medical practice if you are a doctor. The lack of freedom manifests as your inability to quit your job and start your own business, company or non-profit. Your lack of freedom is on display when you realize you cannot take up another job – in addition to your day job – to make ends meet during emergencies. The lack of freedom manifests as your spouse’s inability to work anywhere if you are not already approved for a green card – forcing them to be a homemaker even if they are highly educated. The lack of freedom lies in your inability to relocate to a different city because your green card petition is tied to your current city. Your lack of freedom lies in not knowing if you will be able to legally drive every other year when your visa extension is in process.

Like I said, an abundance of FEAR and a lack of FREEDOM.

Yes, it is true that anyone impacted by this system typically ‘only’ suffers from a subset of the issues I have outlined above. But the mere acknowledgment of this is sufficient grounds for concern on how the system impacts people like me. So the next logical question that comes up is: If things are so bad, how come there are still so many people willing to live under these circumstances?

In the next post, we will look into what it is that keeps people like us in the US.

Moving from USA to Canada – Part 2: The Broken and Discriminatory Legal Immigration System

This is a series of posts (5 total) where I describe why Devanshi, my wife, and I moved permanently from the USA to Canada after spending close to a decade in the US. You can find all the posts here.

In the previous post, I wrote about how the general population is typically unaware of the true nature and scale of the immigration issues – especially when it relates to legal, employment-based immigration in the US. Let me elaborate on what that entails.

There are approximately a million people like myself – Indian citizens who have lived in the US legally for up to or more than a decade on a temporary work visa. For us, the phrase ‘the immigration system is broken in the USA’ primarily means that, under the current immigration system, we will not get our permanent residency for the next decade or two (or three or four or fifteeneven though we have already been approved for it. This has been an issue for more than a decade and is unique to people of Indian origin (and to an extent the Chinese). It stems from an arbitrary cap on the number of Green Cards that can be issued to citizens of any single country each year regardless of when those people had their applications approved.

Since the foreign workforce in the US has a large presence of people from India (and China), this has essentially come to mean that people from India like myself have to wait for decades to see a green card (even though we were approved for it several years ago), while people from almost every other country obtain theirs in a year or less. So, while it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on his/her nationality during hiring, the immigration system requires a discrimination against the same person based on his/her nationality – when issuing employment-based green cards.

So, what exactly does it mean to live in the USA while being on a perpetual wait for permanent residency? Is there even a legal way to live and work here while we wait for our green cards? Turns out, the same system that caused this issue, ironically, also provides what on the surface appears to be ‘a solution’.

Since almost all of us get approved for our green card while on temporary work visas, the immigration system simply allows us to keep renewing our ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely until we actually get our green cards! For those of you who were not aware of these details previously, I promise you I am NOT making this up. As much as this may all sound fantastic and ridiculous, this is actually how about a million Indian citizens live and work in the US currently – by extending their ‘temporary’ visas indefinitely! And for those of us who have been living like this for years, it has long ceased to be a matter of absurdity. On the contrary, we have all mostly just accepted this as a basic fact of everyday life. But yes, the system does appear to provide a pathway for people like me to stay here and work legally while we go through our decades long wait for our green cards. In fact, for the last 3-4 years, there has even been a provision for the spouses of those approved for a green card to be able to work. So what’s all the fuss about you ask?

This is the point where I emphasize that the true nature and scale of the problem is only known to the people who are directly impacted by it.

Over the years, the impacts from this system of legal immigration – where people from one or two countries are discriminated against for green cards – have manifested in ways that go well beyond just the allotment of green cards. An entire ecosystem of different players with different incentives has mushroomed from this flawed and discriminatory system. It has impacted the way companies do business, why people from specific countries are hired, the legal status of children, workplace harassment, career stagnation, forced deportation, family separation, among many others.

In the next post, I will highlight (some of) the problems faced by people (like myself) who are stuck in a decades long green card backlog.