By Samir Shukla
I have always preferred the influencing power of words over the preciseness of numbers. Two plus two will always equal four, but have two people sit on a park bench, look straight ahead and quickly write down what they observe and you will get two variations. Numbers and their wizardry came easy to me in school years. Today words inform my life, give me comfort, and light the much worn as well as newer paths.
In my thoughts, in June, I stroll on such a path, awaiting the sizzle of July, scouting the spot where I will jump to the other half of my fifth decade on this globe. Every year the month begins with the bombast of fireworks and ends with the soft blinking of fireflies.
I'm sitting on the upper wooden deck behind my house on a breezy June night. A thin moon dimly lights the clouds, nocturnal insects break the quiet with occasional chirping. The night is deepening while smooth bourbon mingles with the ice in a thick glass sitting atop a small table to the right of me. The sips help navigate the jumble of thoughts disturbing the night, or does it jumble the thoughts navigating the night? The bourbon will have the last word.
I left work earlier in the day and drove home and landed in my driveway but couldn't remember any landmarks or turns I made. Don't remember accelerating or braking. I simply made it back home as if I had transported from one location to the next. It's a drive I've done countless times. The only thing I remember is shifting from the NPR radio station to a classic rock station somewhere along the route. Damn if I could remember the drive, but I recount flipping from a chatty segment on immigration and nodding my head to an Aerosmith power ballad. This is among the thoughts this night as I take another sip.
A brick wall about the height of an average basketball player separates my backyard from the street. I sit facing the wall, looking down at it and the dark backyard while the night mellows. A car passes by, its usual noise softened by the bank of trees on the either side of the wall and the wall itself.
The engine noise sounds like a heavy cardboard box dragged across sand, approaching, amplifying and then fading. The single headlight does double duty for the other broken headlight while evoking a low flying UFO hovering just above the street. The bourbon enhances its spectrum.
I tap the nearly empty glass and sniff out the last drop which whispers to me to call it a day. The numbers 11:58pm light up the phone that's been set aside. Two plus two sure equals four, and now two more minutes and the thin moon will cough up another day that the sun will embellish in its own manner in a few hours and backslap it on its way.
The words and thoughts swirling around my brain now fade while the numbers win the night once again, ticktocking along while I quietly open the back door and tip toe through the kitchen and up the stairs into the awaiting midnight slumber.
By Samir Shukla
The Republic of Modi's 2019 election is over. India once again became its prime minister. Yes, sure, I've purposely mixed up the words here, but make no mistake. Narendra Modi was reelected India's Prime Minister by a large margin and a bigger mandate. He has infused himself into India's ethos unlike any former Prime Minister. He is now larger and will be an even bigger self-proclaimed charger; further sprinkling his vision and policies into the country, which some will hail and others will curse.
It takes two terms, whether for Presidents or Prime Ministers, to fully flex the vision and policies for long-term effect. Those are fighting words for Modi detractors, albeit too late now, and, even more so for Trump detractors, who would love to deny him a second term in 2020.
It will be up to a man or woman with the word Democrat attached to their name to accomplish that task. The democrats vying for the party's nomination are becoming louder, as they must. Someone has to get ahead of the pack and stay ahead. Their policies are, for the most part, in line with progressive ideology. There is no “out of nowhere" outlier like Trump was during the Republican primaries in 2016. Each candidate will have to work hard.
Joe Biden remains the frontrunner, but there are four or five other candidates chomping at the bits that have a chance at the nomination. I can't imagine most of them will get too far, but they may be already angling for a cabinet position, if a democrat wins the White House.
The first debates have taken place in late June (after we went to press for the July issue). More debates are coming up in July. Much convincing and fundraising await the candidates.
In politics, as in much of life, it's all about persuading. My modus operandi has always been, if I can go see it, I will, if I can touch it I will. If I can hear it, smell it and taste it, I will. That is a prime way to inform myself. Now the nearly two dozen folks running for the Democratic nomination must inform the voters and persuade people to vote for them when the primaries crank up early next year. The long slog continues.
Upcoming Democratic Debates:
July 30 & July 31, 2019: CNN (9-11pm), Detroit
I invite you to follow me on Twitter: @ShuklaWrites
By Samir Shukla
Every few weeks there is news of a mass shooting somewhere in the United States. This time it hit home. Charlotte's name came up on this day, April 30, 2019, the last day of classes for the spring semester at University of North Carolina at Charlotte (my alma mater and the university that my daughter is currently attending), as the news quickly spread of an active shooter on campus. A shooter entered a classroom and began shooting.
One of the students ran toward the shooter and physically attempted to stop him. The student along with another died and four more were injured. The shooter, a young guy who for unknown reasons decided to shoot his fellow students, was quickly taken into custody by the police.
Once again debates about guns flared up. Here is the reality. We are a gun country, have been and always will be. Whatever is your interpretation of the second amendment, guns are in America's DNA. There are no simple solutions to gun violence, or most types of violence for that matter.
There is a bigger underlying dilemma here. It concerns half of the human species. I'm talking about males. I've written before that an overwhelming majority of violence of all sorts are conducted by my gender.
I often think about this. Yes, thoughtful regulations and background checks would help, more readily available and affordable mental health care would help, but more laws and rules still don't deter the innate male tendency toward violence. This is why we need a different, long-term approach.
What's really needed is a massive societal effort geared toward, let's call it, “Male Care." Yeah, it sounds odd, what is male care and why is something like that needed? The better question is what is it that drives males to violence? Females also experience physical, financial, and mental problems that males experience, but they don't resort to violence to try to “solve" those problems.
The overwhelming numbers of violent incidents, including shootings, brawls, domestic violence, religious extremism, wars, road rage, you name it, are spewed by males. We can make more laws and instill tougher punishment, but that doesn't get to the source of the problem.
A global effort involving multiple forces to reach out to boys in a “father figure manner" is a must, especially for boys who lack such figures in their lives. This is a complex discussion, but I guess what we really in the long term is a holistic manner of raising boys, if that makes sense, where they are able to find their place in the daily dissonance and rapidly evolving ethos of humankind as strong and stable men.
It's where males are instilled with a discipline and restraint that can be accessed when the dark forces of violence lurking beneath threaten to overtake them. This may be the only real remedy to reduce violence of all manners.
By Samir Shukla
The Battle of the Dans
The unfinished business of electing the representative for NC's 9th congressional district is once again moving forward. The race should have ended with Election Day in 2018. But a new special election was called after the state elections board found last year's election was tainted when Republican Mark Harris used a political operative who improperly handled mail-in ballots. Harris, who narrowly led after November's votes were counted, opted not to run again. His opponent in that election Democrat Dan McCready is running again and didn't have any primary challengers.
Now, after a primary with 10 candidates, the Republicans have chosen their candidate and the battle lines are drawn once again. Call it the Battle of the Dans. The Democrat Dan McCready is running against Republican Dan Bishop. This special election is attracting national attention. Lots of money is being poured into both sides. The district has been in Republican hands since 1963. It would be a huge embarrassment for the NC Republican party if McCready wins.
The special election for NC 9th District will be held on September 10.
Here are a few helpful sites to help find your Congressional District or Representative:
The Democratic Debates
There are now 23 folks running for the Democratic nomination for President. It is the most diverse field ever. Women, men, white, black, gay, straight, old, young, non-Christian and bi-racial folks are running. Clearly, it's a brawl with 4-5 major candidates and the rest trying to figure out how to get their names and heads above the water line. Joe Biden is clearly the guy to beat at the moment.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will host 12 official debates, set to begin in June 2019, with six debates in 2019 and the remaining six to be scheduled during the first four months of 2020. The debates will be split over two days as there are so many candidates.
Upcoming Confirmed Democratic Debates:
June 26 & June 27, 2019: 9–11pm Miami (NBC)
July 30 & July 31, 2019: 9-11pm, Detroit (CNN)
By Samir Shukla
Sanya Malhotra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui appear in Photograph by Ritesh Batra
-- Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Cast: Nawazzudin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar
In our video-driven world, a still photograph can still impact lives. The film Photograph is a quiet tale of friendship and romance opened by a single photograph. A very subtle entanglement of the characters guides the film, written and directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox). He takes time unfolding the story. Rafi (Nawazzudin Siddiqui), a struggling photographer, and Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), a shy middle-class student, cross paths at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Rafi convinces a hesitant Miloni to take her photo and prints it out on a portable printer in his backpack while she waits. He loses track of her when she is called away by a family member, taking the photo without getting a chance to pay Rafi.
Rafi is working in Mumbai to help pay off family debt back in his native village. He lives in a dark, grungy room with several male roommates while saving money to send back home. His grandmother, dadi (Farrukh Jaffar), meanwhile writes to him that she refuses to take her medicine unless he finally finds a wife. Rafi decides to track Miloni down and asks her to play along and pretend she is his fiancée, so dadi will resume her meds. Miloni goes along with Rafi's scheme while living out her life, even meeting potential suitors her parents arrange for her, in her comfortable middle class home.
In the meantime, feisty dadi decides to visit her grandson and meet his future bride. No, the film doesn't turn into a comedic farce at that point. Batra deftly guides the story and characters further into a study of friendship, longing, class and caste differences that inform people's lives. Both Rafi and Miloni keep up the charade to please dadi, who of course in no amateur in such matters.
Rafi and Miloni begin to develop a friendship that slowly suggests a budding romance. Photograph is a nuanced, slow strolling film. It's the space between the silence and subdued conversations that make it tender without being coy or corny. Interspersed with Hindi and Gujarati dialogue, the film unfolds ever so gently, while navigating cultural differences, societal expectations and the invisible forces that attract two people.
The film gives nods to classic Bollywood while Batra and the cinematographers capture the daily lives of street denizens of Mumbai - the taxi drivers, chai sellers, vendors, small shopkeepers. The densely packed lives of Mumbai streets come alive where the different inhabitants in Rafi's local street market all have heard that his grandmother wants him to find a wife or she will not take her medicine.
Somewhere along the way I was expecting tense moments, conflict between the two protagonists, maybe harsh words being exchanged, some physical action even, but Batra sticks with a serene mood. Both Siddiqui and Malhotra, respectively playing middle aged man and young student, work their parts with subtle warmth. Jaffar steals more than one scene as the world weary grandmother.
By Samir Shukla
It's the slow thickening of summer. The soft spring is rapidly dissolving. The road to the 2020 American election is also hardening month by month. Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his report in April, and reset the political parameters. I'll let you make up your mind, and, sure, there's no smoking gun pointing to President Trump on matters of collusion. But there are layers of untruths, most of them unnecessary for governing, surrounding this most amoral of a president. The ball will continue its roll, history will judge.
Bernie Sanders did a townhall on Fox News and it was a hit for him, he is on a roll and already making other candidates as well as the general Democratic political establishment nervous. Joe Biden has now tossed his name in the ring, further shaking up the Democratic tree.
This historically diverse slate of candidates is now gathering money, chatting up talk shows, and will go into next month ready to prep for the first two Democratic debates…slated for late June on NBC and late July on CNN. Each will be spread over two days. It is yet to be determined how the Democratic National Committee will mix up the batch of candidates to make the debates fair to all. Each of them will have shorter times to explain their agendas. Trump was the “way off the grid" outlier in 2016, Bernie is already emerging as the expected outlier of 2020.
Will the new generation of Democrats elbow their way upfront and take the reins or will the old guard tamp down the youngsters and emerge as frontrunners saying, “Not so fast young'uns."
The first order of business is the tug of war between the young squad and the “we're saving these seats" squad of grizzled political veterans, namely Biden, Warren, and Bernie. There are many intriguing characters in the young squad. Finding the balance between exciting the activists and partisans and getting noticed by the wider mainstream is the challenge for all here.
In the meantime, India is in the midst of its massive election. The voting will wrap around the third week of May and the Commission will announce victors a few days later.
By Samir Shukla
The serene sounds of the Appalachians, American music and more, with chatting banjos, guitars, the vocalists, piano, drums, will once again fill the air at MerleFest.
The annual family-geared music festival, sorry no booze served, is spread over four days in the foothills of North Carolina. Music literally fills every corner and hilltop at various indoor and outdoor stages of varying sizes. Organizers tag MerleFest as a celebration of “traditional plus" music of the Appalachian region. I say it's a celebration of music. Period. You can expect plenty of bluegrass, country, rock, Celtic, folk, gospel, blues and more. Over the past several years, I've learned to jaunt about the stages, spread around on the campus of Wilkes Barre Community College, to make the most of the performances.
One of many special features this year include the Steep Canyon Rangers premiering the “North Carolina Songbook" set on the Watson stage on Sunday afternoon, which will feature the band covering music from NC luminaries including Earl Scruggs, James Taylor, Thelonious Monk and many more.
Among the dozens of performers lined up this year, highlights include Brandi Carlile, The Trailblazers, Pete Wernick, Si Kahn, The Avett Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Wynonna and the Big Noise.
MerleFest, founded in 1988, is held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
MerleFest takes place April 25 – 28, 2019. Full artist lineup and other details can be found at www.merlefest.org.
By Samir Shukla
Ok, so the 2018 American election is still not over, at least in a neck of the North Carolina woods. The debacle of North Carolina 9th Congressional District shows how fraud can undermine the voting process. An investigation into possible election fraud is under way. Republican Mark Harris looked as though he won in the 2018 election in November, defeating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Not so fast. After reviewing the numbers, the NC State Board of Elections has ordered a new election, citing irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots.
We are off to a redo. The NC State Board decided to first hold a primary election on May 14. After that, September 10 will either be the date of the runoff primary election, if it's necessary, or the general election. If a runoff primary is needed, the general election will be held November 5. The sad part is that the winner will be seated in the House of Representatives for about a year; in essence the winner will start working for reelection just as soon as being seated.
McCready is running again, unopposed in the Democratic primary, while 10 Republicans are going to fight it out in the Republican primary to get a chance to take on McCready.
Turning to the mushrooming numbers of Democrats running for president, now Beto O'Rourke has tossed his name into the ring. Joe Biden is pretty much going to run, he's just taking his time to announce. He is still a landline kind of guy.
I have said this and will continue to say that, in the end, the Democrats need a close-to-center candidate to beat Trump. I can hear the howls of left-wing Dems giving me an evil eye already. Let me put it this way, all the talk of reparations, taxing the wealthy, Medicare for all, increasing social security taxes, New Green Deal, may fire up the progressive base, but unless they are spelled out in fiscal detail, they are just talk. Primarily, even if the money is worked out, they require massive changes in people's habits, behavior, and status quo. There's a substantial number of Republicans and Conservatives looking for someone to vote for that's not named Trump. They are not going to look at the increasingly hard left turn of Democrats, just as they are turned off by the hard right turn of the Republicans.
Also, Republicans have become masters of simplifying their message where the average Joe can grab onto it. Simple words, simple concepts. I know the primaries are where the hard-progressives and hard-conservatives lurk. The Democratic candidate that can learn to balance the activists with a message of workable policy, long-term views, specific incremental changes, and, yes, fiscal responsibility, will emerge ahead of the pack, even victorious.
Imagine a Democrat talking about fiscal responsibility when the current crop of Republicans and so-called conservatives are spending money like drunken gamblers.
A simple advice to all the progressives duking it out with other progressives on social media, it's way too early, don't eat your own, it will sort out.
It's funny how we are becoming more tribal in the political sphere, but at the same time during events such as sports and music, we untangle our usual tribalism and weave a different community. A couple of Carolina or NC State fans high-fiving each other every time their team scores maybe politically polar opposite, but in that one moment, after a slam dunk, or during a soaring guitar solo in a concert, the tribes merge into a whole. Candidates that understand these commonalities will prevail.
The Democratic National Convention 2020 will be held in Milwaukee. That's a smart move as Trump flipped Wisconsin, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania (three states Hillary Clinton was expected to win) in 2016.
The decision by Democratic National Committee to not do any debates on Fox News shows a sign of weakness and, more importantly, a missed opportunity. If you want to win back independents and soft Republicans, don't preach to the choir. Go into the lion's den and defend your beliefs.
The current crops of politicians are admirable in that they want to do something big. Big economic policies and social policies. Slow down folks. You can talk of going as big as you want, but in the long-term, incremental changes tend to stick and do the greater good. Big economic changes tend to help a certain segment while screwing another segment. There is never a win-win. Social change doesn't do big and quick. It is naturally slow. That's where a stroll is better than a road race.
By Samir Shukla
India's national election is now underway. The numbers are mind boggling. There are nearly 900 million eligible voters. Think about that. It is an exercise in democracy unprecedented in human history. The closest cousin in numbers is of course the United States.
India's Election Commission has announced the elections will be held in seven phases, between April 11 and May 19, 2019. The results will be declared on May 23.
The big battle is set. Narendra Modi is running for reelection while Rahul Gandhi challenges him for the seat of Prime Minister.
Social media played a large part in Modi's rise in 2014. Now, five years later, social media, especially WhatsApp, will have a huge effect on the elections.
There's no way to conduct India's election in a single day. India's Parliamentary system has myriad political parties that must form coalitions to win and survive. United States' two-party system is not going anywhere for a while.
The world's biggest democracy and the world's most powerful democracy are brothers in arms and natural economic partners, not to mention the most diverse countries in the world.
If America's upcoming presidential election is a rumbling road race, India's national elections are a double-barreled locomotive, fully-loaded and brimming with people hanging on to every corner, compartment, doorway and rooftop, while careening toward the horizon. The awaiting future.
By Samir Shukla
Line up on the fences folks. Pull up the lawn chairs. Wait for it. Here it goes. The starting gun goes off. Bam. Vroooom…it's off to the races. Well, maybe more like a slow sprint. The engines aren't quite revving yet.
The race for the White House in 2020 is now on. Really on. Of course, it's been bubbling for a while, since the wrap of 2018 mid-term elections and now Democrats are lining up and announcing their candidacies. Elizabeth Warren was the first out the gate and now old favorite Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat into the ring, along with other senators, congress folks and a few oddballs. Joe Biden may give it a go, as well. Sanders will be formidable. If Biden runs, he will be formidable. Of course the newbies and fresh faces are elbowing each other, trying to create a narrative for their candidacies while taking hard left turns of varying degrees on policies and ideology.
Democrats have started raising funds, holding townhalls, and begun visiting the early caucus and primary states. Here we are in the swivel month of March, the juncture between chills of winter and the warm promises of spring, and the political battles are being drawn. Electioneering has begun slowly and will invariably pick up speed.
Most candidates are working to turn the Democratic Party further left. This will galvanize hard progressives while turn off moderates. For all the talk of revolution and massive policy initiatives, incremental changes have always worked better. Yes, all ye youngsters ready to light the world on fire - social, economic and political changes take hold when done in a steady, calculated manner. That's just the way it is. Revolutions have a tendency to burn out rather quickly.
Some Republicans are not quite sure of the finality of Trump's candidacy. Trump has never stopped campaigning and is, of course, confident he will be the Republican nominee. He is itching for the fight against the Democratic nominee, but it's not a sure bet that Trump will be the nominee. I would not write off a strong primary challenger to Trump in the sodden and scarred Republican fields.
Here's the basic gist. Like it or not, voters will fall into percentage camps come Election Day. About 40 percent of voters will vote for the Democrat no matter who it is. Another 40 percent or so will vote for Donald Trump, barring storms, damning revelations that sideline him, or a strong primary challenger perseveres. The point is that about 40 percent will vote for the Republican nominee.
Even in our bloodied fields of partisan wars, it is still about swaying the middle camp when it comes to the general election. Sure, both parties will caress and fuel their bases during the primaries, but once pieces fall into place, victorious candidates, yes even Trump, will do a two-step toward the center for the general election.
The midterm elections offered a message massage to both parties. The democrats feel a bit more limber with the House in their corner. The Republicans feel a little less tightness in the upper neck holding on to the Senate. Both parties received voter massages they now spin in their favor.
Here's a suggestion. It's time to loosen personal ideologies. I know that's like asking many people to stop breathing. That's alright. The American Republic needs sober voices of reason to persevere. I really couldn't care less about conservative, liberal, progressive, neoliberal, neoconservative, democratic socialist, socialist, libertarian, or any other label.
I'm a proud LibConProgertarian (Lib-con-progur-tarian). A Libertarian on Mondays, Conservative on Tuesdays, Progressive on Wednesdays, and a vegetarian all seven.
Seriously, though, ideological labels only feed tribal urges. They are simply labels that mean nothing in a globally-connected, vastly diverse population of the country. Most people are a combination of both, really, multiple ideologies, but somehow refuse to acknowledge that.
I know social progressives who are fiscally conservative, I know fiscal conservatives who are very socially progressive. Libertarians can really be the strong third party that we need, but they can't get past hyper-individualism and Ayn Rand-spewed nonsense. We are a community, no matter how you try to slice it up. I am an independent individual who can be that way because of the support of family, friends, and the larger community. It takes all to run a vibrant, peaceful, opportunity-giving neighborhood, town, school, county, state, country.
I'm convinced we are not that divided. On the surface, yes, it sure as hell looks like the country is torn apart with divisions, especially in political sphere. Sure, there's plenty evidence of regionalism, red states and blue states, states of fear and hate, a nagging discomfort over the direction of the country. The bane of our generation, social media, feeds these tribal beasts. The reality is that most Americans are reasoned and good folks. Outside obvious extremists, even those who lean hard left or hard right are essentially seeking to do well.
The reasoned majority will preserve America. They are not angry, they are exhausted. They understand differences and want logical, workable solutions. People understand that income disparities exist, subtle to overt racism and other isms exist, that getting an education and seeking health care shouldn't make one bankrupt. But they don't want to blow stuff up either, or build walls, they want to build bridges. The reasoned majority must toil harder to keep the partisans from stealing the national conversation.
In the meantime, all hail the fact checkers and those who make an effort to put the fire of truth under those who make spurious claims. Politicians, spokespersons, media, journalists, social media hacks, all benefit from the vigilance of truth.
I will dissect the madness of American political shenanigans on a regular basis while we proceed onward with Road Rage 2020. Pull up a chair and join me.