A Larger View

a commentary on how current events reflect— or not—our search for higher values

  • Volume XXIV
  • No. 3
  • May/June 2019
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

The pieces are reposted from some of the entries in InnerLifeDirections.com

in this issue:

  • DecriminalizeIllegal Immigration
  • Self-Driving Cars and Racist Technology
  • Economic Dignity
  • The Children of Sex Tourists
  • Auto Debt and Inequality
  • Women and the World
  • To Ponder On

Decriminalize Illegal Immigration

California Attorney General, Xavier Beccera joined Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke in asking for the decriminalization of illegal immigration. Beccera says that civil penalties are enough that criminal charges demonize people whose only crime is seeking a better life. Castro had earlier made a policy proposal to eliminate the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 1325 which makes unauthorized entry into the country a federal misdemeanor. Section 1326 asks for further penalties for subsequent reentries. Those are the statutes used by the Trump administration to separate families and prosecute migrants. Becerra, Castro, O’Rourke and others who may subscribe to the idea know that it is not likely to succeed with this administration, that at best it is a good campaign slogan. And it does look like it is emerging as a Democratic Party talking point.

It’s an important idea, and although it is unlikely to bring relief to those now at the border, it nevertheless needs to be remembered and talked about so that its future as a reality can be that much sooner.

Self-Driving Cars and Racist Technology

Like many I’m waiting for self-driving cars, but I’m also increasingly concerned about how safe they will be. Now there’s another issue. The technology working on those safety issues looks to be programmed to be racist. It identifies white faces but the darker someone is the harder it is for the machine to identify it as a person, in the case of self- driving cars, pedestrians. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that machines consistently failed at recognizing darker skin tones. It’s actually not only self-driving cars, AI in Google image recognition system couldn’t recognize black people, and couldn’t tell the difference between them and an a dark ape. The researchers called such finding alarming, as I hope you will too. There are apparently radars which can better differentiate skin tones, but these are very expensive and to include them in cars would make them very expensive.

It seems to me that since the machines were once programmed by humans and that since the algorithm they function on were devised by humans that the time has come to change the algorithm. That should be the responsibility of the researchers who erred in the first place by revealing their own view of race. So my message to the companies developing AI for self-driving cars is, correct the AI race biases the original engineers programmed in before you even think of cost.

Economic Dignity

The definition of economic dignity has three parts, to be able to take care of your family, having the ability to reach your potential and being free from domination and humiliation. It’s from an article by economist Gene Sperling in the journal Democracy. Sperling worked with both presidents Clinton and Obama. He believes that economic dignity should drive economic policy and that metrics like GDP can be misleading and not produce the right results. In other words economic policy need to make sure for example that people can have jobs with living wages or that corporations not contribute to decreasing upward mobility. Here is how he ends his article: “Government cannot guarantee happiness. But there is little question that with wise and just policy, we do have the power to say to all our people that if you do your part, you care for your family, pursue potential and purpose without ever feeling that you have been given up on, and participate in our economy with a degree of fairness and respect as opposed to domination and humiliation. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp.”

If economic equality means anything to us, then economic dignity is a concept both powerful and useful. And as we begin to ponder national elections, gauging candidates by how closely their rhetoric to combat inequality mirrors this concept may be essential.

The Children of Sex Tourists

The story in The Guardian kept recurring in my thoughts until I finally decided to write about it. The article was about the children of sex tourists in  Pueblo de los Angeles, one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods, and what made it haunting was that it is duplicated in the slums of many cities, in Asia and the US and surely other continents. Of the 4.7 million tourists in the Philippines each year, 1.2 million are men traveling alone and it has been estimated that probably 40% of them are sex tourists. They have web sites and their own social networks where they call themselves “mongers” for whoremongers and share tips and other information including what they call GFE, girl friend experience. Maybe 40 to 50% of the girls working in Angeles City had at least their first child from “mongers” whether they were from Europe, America or Australia. These children have no fathers and consequently no financial support from them. They often live in dire poverty, where the mother perhaps a third generation sex worker, may live on the equivalent of $3 a day. They may not have enough to eat, live in hovels with leaky tin roofs where the floor turns to mud when it rains. It can be difficult for them to go to school. The article mentioned one child who was too weak from hunger to walk to school.

If these men are that oblivious to the consequences of their self-gratification they would hardly make good fathers. But if they have the means to travel to the Philippines or elsewhere, they should have the means to help support their progeny. Tourism is embedded in the economy of many nations so it is doubtful sex tourism would be banned by the respective governments. Still it can be addressed, perhaps something like  a general tourist tax or a  tariff to create a fund for those children. Any way to address this problem is very much in order and quite possible.

Auto Debt and Inequality

Seven million Americans, according to numbers from the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are at least three months behind on their car payments. By the summer of 2018 Americans owed more than   1.26 trillion, more than they did at the end of the recession in 2009.  It paints a troubling picture. Car delinquencies usually come after housing but nevertheless are used to reflect a measure of inequality. While some do own cars they cannot afford, car ownership which is a necessity for many to be able to go to work, is associated with more stability and a bank account that may have a  bit of a balance. Experts say that the number of people defaulting on their car loan points to “financial duress”. People are delinquent on their house first, their credit cards second and their car third. So the increase in delinquencies with car debt is more significant than it first appears. It means that too many people are not able to hold on to something they consider an important or necessary asset.

We hear about near full employment, about the economy doing well and it’s easy to forget about income inequality and how it manifests itself, but it is a mistake to do so. It’s not only a question of remembering those who are struggling, it’s also seeing what lies behind a prosperity that benefits too few.

Women and the World

It’s not enough to have International Women’s Day, it’s necessary to remember why it’s needed, and do so sufficiently frequently so that it might allow us to make a difference. Here are a few statistics that may direct our attention and efforts:

  • ·         At minimum 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation
  • ·         More than 130 million women and girls did not attend school in 2016
  • ·         750 million women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18
  • ·         5000 women and girls globally were murdered for having “dishonored” their families
  • ·         50% of people with HIV today are women
  • ·         23.7%  is the portion of women representatives in national parliaments worldwide
  • ·         2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same jobs as men

·         Women have never been Secretary General of the UN, Archbishop of Canterbury, Catholic priests, Prime Minister of Belgium, the Netherlands or Spain, governor of the Bank of England and of course President of the United States

To Ponder On

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”

J. K. Rowling


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