Tag Archives: Law

Is Kamala Harris a Good VP Pick?

Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Is Kamala Harris a Good VP Pick? Yes!

Vice President Biden hit a home run with the brilliant selection of Senator Kamala Harris. I believe Kamala is uniquely positioned to be groomed to be the POTUS in the future. I say this not because she is half Indian but rather based on her experience, talent, and sheer grit to withstand attacks and get the job done. Kamala started her career as the District Attorney of SF, won statewide elections to be the Attorney General before becoming the 1st south Asian origin Senator, and only the 2nd black senator in history. Our nation will be well served having the centrist Senator Harris as our VP.

I love her tough law and order stance and how she has fought inequality all her adult life. Raised by a single south Indian mother, she has inculcated the strong moral ethics as her mother Shyamala Gopalan. Kamala Harris has said she has visited India many times and was very close to her grandparents and aunts. I resent the parochial argument made by some Indians that she does not wear her Indian origin on her sleeve. She rightfully acknowledges the other half of her heritage and above all is an American.

Her crowning achievement was when she fought with the banks, the administration, and even her fellow attorneys generals and achieved the $25 Billion mortgage settlement.  Her policy proposals on immigration, racial and LJBTQ  equality, health care, the environment, and economy are all indicative of a centrist Democratic leader.

While Biden should be applauded for picking Kamala Harris, he should solidify that with a pledge to serve only one term, given his advanced age, and turn over the reins to Kamala Harris in the 2024 election cycle. She could be the first woman to serve as our president.

Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

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Is Kamala Harris a Good VP Pick? No!

Because of Donald Trump, We have lost 205,000 lives to COVID, lost the trust in our health agencies, lost our judiciary to the radical right-wing. Biden has to win in November to save our democracy.  In order for him to win the Vice Presidential Pick needs to have three essential characteristics. She has to be good at attacking Trump, needs to help win a state or help with the Hispanic voting block, and be an eloquent and strong proponent of his economic plan. 

While Mrs. Harris can be quite the attack dog she falls short in the other two areas.  It may be hard to believe after all the atrocities this thug president has meted out to the Hispanic community, but Biden is doing worse than Hillary with Hispanic voters in the crucial swing state of Florida. While Senator Kamala Harris has a terrific and inspiring personal story, it does not motivate Hispanics to the election booth as Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could. The most important task facing a Biden administration, should they win, is to rebuild the economy. Amidst all the misinformation and lies about the economy spread by Trump, it would be very helpful to have someone with economic backing, like Senator Warren, to bring truth and gravitas to the situation. 

Senator Harris is a very ambitious and extremely smart person with amazing achievements and I hope to be proven wrong. Let’s hope that there is a new president elected and to borrow Speaker Pelosi’s words the parasite on our democracy currently in the white house is finally fumigated out.

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.


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Reimagined Communities: Safety For All

(Featured Image: Srishti Prabha at the September 23, 2020 protest at San Jose City Hall)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Imagine you were sleeping in your house and you heard someone break-in. Would you protect yourself and your family?

Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, fired his gun in self-defense, in accordance with Kentucky gun laws, which permits the shooting of someone trespassing on your territory. He was immediately arrested with an attempted murder charge and his partner was fatally shot. 

The three white Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, roamed free after the incident. Last week, September 23, 2020, they were cleared of the first-degree murder charge, with only one officer receiving a lighter indictment for wanton endangerment

A protest was in order. In a case so clear, how could these men be let off with a slap on the wrist? I took to the streets of San Jose to show my support for the injustice inflicted upon Breonna Taylor’s memory and her family.

A bright and beautiful black woman, who served her community as an EMT, was taken in her sleep.

“Black women matter!,” we chanted as a group at SJ City Hall. A group much smaller than what I had seen earlier this year. 

Michael German, Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security | former Special Agent, FBI

The protest cycle, gaining and losing traction, is not a new one, neither is the information it is disseminating. Michael German, a Fellow from the Brennan Center for Justice and former Special Agent for the FBI, spoke about the pattern of white supremacy and far-right militant behavior repeating in 1990, 2006, 2015 at the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 5th.

“White supremacy and far-right violence in the US is a problem that…is poorly understood, partly because the federal government deprioritizes it and the state and local governments don’t want to pick up the slack,” informed German. A consistent issue and a potential threat since the 90s, the ideology of white supremacy cannot be dismantled unless it is understood. 

Why do I bring up white supremacy in relation to Breonna Taylor? It’s this simple. 

The initial act of entering unannounced and shooting an unarmed black woman comes from the fear of her Blackness. The potential cover-up of her murder and the subsequent ruling in favor of the three white cops is the influence and power accrued from fear and oppression of colored communities. 

Data presents a clear distribution. For every 100,000 people, 2306 black people are incarcerated to the 450 white people. A number five times higher. 

There is always some ambiguity in a case or the possibility of nitpicking a story. Here is the question that should be asked…

Did the warrant put out related to a drug offense that was MAYBE loosely linked to the use of Breonna Taylor’s house require an unwarranted attack? 

The fact remains that black people are disproportionately exposed to such encounters or convicted of crimes. Why is that?

Brennan Center for Justice finds that “structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system.” And these systemic inequities are exacerbated and can lead to implicit bias when the law enforcement interacts with the public.

In any ordinary job, negligence would lead to the loss of a job, at the very least. Even insider trading has a consequence. And killing an innocent person has little to no repercussion? 

“Crime in the United States has been a highly politicized issue,” Michael German very succinctly states. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove did not do their job. A job where their first and foremost duty was to provide safety to the community they served, to the people they served, to Breonna Taylor. 

A study by The Sentencing Project provides some historical basis for the drivers of this disparity. They find three recurrent explanations from a multistudy analysis: policy and practice, the role of implicit bias and stereotyping in decision-making, and structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and National Executive Director of Mothers in Charge Inc.

The structural disadvantage for communities of color permeates through and beyond policing. Societal thought and implicit bias are part of the quotidian. Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight and her nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, work to understand the violence in their communities. Johnson-Speight didn’t need to be part of the criminal justice system to live through the injustices faced in her community. As a mother who lost her adult son to gun violence, she poignantly said, “You don’t really have a clue, if you haven’t walked in those shoes.” 

During the briefing, she mentions case after case where there is video evidence that speaks contrary to the police narrative. She uses Breonna Taylor’s murder to highlight the multitude of ways that powerful people use untruths to support the violence inflicted in her communities. 

“She has never had any criminal history but to save the face of the corrupt police officers…to get them off [for murder]…they create these untrue stories. These are the kinds of things that have been happening in communities of color for years.”  

What needs to happen for these narratives to be revised? Where do we start?

Raj Jayadev, CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-bug

No one understands this better than community activist and CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, Raj Jayadev. “Communities have been sacrificed in the name of safety”, advocates Jayadev and very quickly makes the adverse correlation between safety and policing. The premise of law and order has been synonymous with policing, surveillance, prosecution, and incarceration, yet,  evidence proves those two are antithetical. 

Jayadev’s organization runs out of San Jose, a rather progressive city with a low crime rate. Despite this, he points out that San Jose has a relatively high rate of death caused by police violence. White supremacy is not limited to one particular space, it is national. We are all having the same political discourse. 

Jayadev probes, “How do we reimagine safety, safety for all, if law and order isn’t the mechanism to get there?” 

“Defund The Police” reads my sign that I hold up to passing cars at City Hall. I hear a call, “What is her name?!” The group responds, “Breonna Taylor!”

In unison we chant, “Black Lives Matter” to anyone who is willing to hear us. 

Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. Defund The Police.

The words are different but the message is one. We are hoping and praying for a reimagined world in which safety means communities of color are part of the whole. A world where safety means equal access to mental health services, education, livable wages, rehabilitation, halfway homes, housing, and social services geared towards the benefit of all. 

Deprogramming what we know is difficult and will take time. Together we can reimagine…


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

What I Admire About RBG

Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed to complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020 but Justice Ginsburg will be alive in the annals of American law. She paved the way for American women, one case at a time.

Ginsberg co-founded the Women’s Right Law Reporter, a pioneering law journal at Rutgers where she taught. She advocated as a volunteer attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Union. In the mid 1970s she argued half a dozen gender discrimination cases before the high court winning all but one. Ginsberg was appointed as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Her appointment as the second woman on the US Supreme court in 1993 (guided by Hilary Clinton) was one of the best undertakings by President Bill Clinton.  

The Supreme Court justice who gave an unbiased ear to every argument had a famous quote: Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf!

From the vast ocean of evidence, she created her life. She is a beacon of hope for every woman and is a true American hero. She changed history through her landmark cases and built precedence by methodically arguing for gender equality based on the Fourteenth Amendment. 

And now, every woman can claim equal access to education, equal pay, equal military allowance, access contraception, take maternity leave, cut a man’s hair, buy a drink, administer an estate, serve on the jury, and get equal social security benefits. The list is formidable and speaks of her equally intimidating stance on these issues! She wiped close to 200 laws that discriminated against women off the books. She believed that “women would have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

The personality traits I admire of hers:

  • A brilliant mind always at work
  • A rational minimalist
  • Her slow deliberate speech 
  • Measured sentences spoken with thought
  • Total dedication to work 
  • Her commitment to get the law right
  • Steel trap of a memory and ability to recall every word
  • Profound personal dignity 
  • An innate sense of justice
  • Her “ cool” connection with the Millenials as the “notorious” RBG”
  • Her crusade on gender equality
  • Her sense of humor “Ginsburned”!
  • Her warmth towards her staff, colleagues, friends
  • Her determination to remain healthy despite  multiple cancers
  • She showed up to work every day and handled her full load
  • She was a crusader for gender equality 
  • Her zeal to work with her trainer

When I look upon the black and white photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a two-year-old, I can tell that she will be one of the most influential women of this century. I think the best costume for girls this Halloween and for years to come will be RGB in her black robes and white beaded collar!

The death of Justice Ginsburg at this tumultuous time is a phenomenal loss to America. There never will be another like her. Her death leaves a great political void. Chief Justice John Roberts no longer holds the controlling vote in cases cleaved right in the middle of liberal-conservative lines. RGB ruminated on this and her last fervent wish was, “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

It behooves the people of the United States to make their views heard before the election and uphold her wish! There are too many transformative cases like Obamacare that lay precariously in the hands of the new Supreme Court. Our “notorious” RBG was curious, laborious, and glorious in her life. Let’s work hard to honor this courageous Supreme Court Judge.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Game Theory Explains the Pandemic

The COVID-19 spell has left governments, markets, and civil society wobbling through disruptions and damage. The ambiguity that envelops not only the evolution of the disease but also its impact makes it a challenging and complex task for policymakers to devise a suitable policy response.

The pandemic has brought to the forefront some key ethical questions that we must explore. The ‘Human gene’ is thought of as the most skilled of making a choice based on ‘free will’, on ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’. From the study of human behavior, it is widely known that the current setting can be related to the behavior of people, the choices they make, and the human tendency for cognitive error, to be able to forecast patterns and design effective interventions.

Today, the whole world stands on the edge, geopolitics at a cusp, policymakers in a dilemma, to generate an appropriate policy response. This is the classic case for strategic thinking and can, therefore, draw on insights from behavioral economics and game theory. The former is a field of social sciences that is a blend of economics and psychology and looks into human decision-making behaviors, whereas the latter is the study of models based on strategic interactions between players, on rational choice and on maximizing behavior by the people.

In the context of the pandemic, the questions that come to one’s mind are:

  • How to encourage – and sustain – cooperation?
  • How to incentivize social distancing amongst people?
  • How to get various organizations and authorities to better coordinate?
  • How to get countries to cooperate and coordinate?

Game theory is the science of strategy that deals with outcomes that are produced by interactions, based on the behavior of the players. It is a tool to study interactions in the context of interdependencies.

A “game” is any situation involving two or more “players” in which the “fate” of each player depends not only on her “actions” but also on the actions of the other players. Some notable points are:

  1. A “situation” can be economic, social or political, etc. (e.g., social distancing). 
  2. A “player” can be a person or a group such as a firm, a political party, a country, etc. (e.g., a citizen). 
  3. The “fate” of a player is what she cares about such as profit, happiness, winning an election, growth, money, pay-offs, etc. (e.g., catch the virus or not, and keep one’s job or not). 
  4. An “action” is a choice or a strategy. (e.g., to social distance or not).

The main ingredients of a Game:

  1. Who are the players?
  2. What strategies does each player have
  3. What are the payoffs for each player?

The novel Covid-19 pandemic seems like a real-time situation that can be fitted well into the basic game theory model called the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’. The prisoner’s dilemma is basically a game in which there is an incentive to make a choice that may not produce the best possible or optimal outcome for the group as a whole.

Some aspects of this pandemic reflect the same premise, such as the decision to maintain social distancing during a pandemic looks a lot like a move in a multiplayer form of this game. One can either cooperate, and do something that costs a little while helping those around, or deviate, and bring one, a small benefit but at a greater cost to those around oneself. 

If one maintains social distancing, it is not necessary that he/she will not contract the virus as it also depends on what others are doing. Thus, it is a ‘game’-there are strategic interactions.

Let us say, we have a two-player Prisoner’s dilemma game. Both players ‘A’ and ‘B’ have two choices. Choice ‘C’, in which both choose to maintain social distancing and hence cooperate and, choice ‘D’, where they both deflect and do not social distance. The payoff matrix is given below:

Player B

Player A

StrategiesCD
C5,5 (C, C)0,8 (C, D)
D8,0 (D, C)1,1 (D, D)

 

The efficient outcome is (C, C) with respective payoffs (5,5). This occurs when they both agree to cooperate and maintain social distancing. This is the result of ‘Collective rationality’. The outcome “(5,5)” is preferred by both (everyone) but is unstable in that each person has an “incentive to cheat” – there is a temptation to go out when everyone is locked inside their respective homes. However, here both the players have a unilateral incentive to deflect and this outcome becomes unstable and fragile. Each player becomes vulnerable to the so-called ‘selfish gene’ inside of him and has an urge to cheat and deviate and thus get a higher payoff for oneself. If ‘A’ falls prey to this temptation, thinking that ‘B’ would have done the same and drops the precaution of social distancing, then he gets a small benefit (8,0) but at the cost to others in the society. If player ‘B’ is led off by the temptation to deviate assuming that ‘A’ would have reacted in the same way and decides not to distance himself, then likewise his payoff is (0,8). 

Thus, the Unique “dominant” (or “rational”) strategy for each person is ‘Not to Cooperate’. There arises a tension between “Individual Rationality” and “Collective Rationality”. Individual Rationality leads them to settle at the ‘optimal’ outcome, where both them end up in deviating with lower payoffs for themselves at (1,1) and a higher risk of getting the virus. This in fact is what is called the ‘Nash equilibrium’. Cooperation gets destroyed by the ‘Art of War’ and paradoxically non-cooperation becomes the dominant strategy.

Ironically, the biggest debate rattling the world is that which political power would emerge as the winner in this ‘COVID stirred race’ for dominance.

Questions that come to the ground are, whether a country should cooperate with others and share the results of its innovative practices or not? How to get from “(1,1)” to “(5,5)”? That is, how can one make a good outcome happen? This requires Cooperation and Trust

Is there a need for a “third” party to enforce the peace, to enforce cooperation, to enforce a lockdown? Yes, perhaps and the “third” party can be the Sovereign (i.e., the State)?

What are the payoffs and the costs?

What should be the geo-political policy response?

Here lies the ‘tight-spot’ faced by policymakers today…

In the current times, the main players are the citizens and the governments whose choices make a difference and to a large extent play a vital role in checking the pandemic, which had constructed the game theory model in question, in the first place. COVID-19 will reshape our world. We don’t yet know when the crisis will end. But we can be sure that by the time it does, our world will look very different. How different will depend on the choices we make today. Every stakeholder’s choice is an externality for others. 

Global pandemics need global solutions. ‘Radical scaling up of international cooperation among scientists, economists and policy-makers is the need of the hour’. A cooperative strategy by all the players in the ‘Covid-Game’ is the optimum one. It is the Nash equilibrium, in the ‘Covid-induced policy-cogmaire’!  


Malini Sharma is the Senior Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi in India.

Immigration Fees Increase Can Affect You

On July 31, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced an increase to many fees for immigration and naturalization benefit requests. Although most fees are increasing, a $10 discount is offered for online submission where available.

Employment Visa Updates

Employers are understandably concerned about the potential effect the rule has on H-1B, L-1, and other immigrant employees.

For employers with more than 50 employees and more than 50% of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status, a $4,000 fee applies.

The rule expands the Public Law 114-113 fee of $4,000 to both H-1B and L-1 new employment as well as extensions of stay for employers that meet the 50 employees, 50% dependability test. The Public Law fee will apply regardless of whether the fraud fee applies. Extension requests for H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B visas filed by the same petitioner for the same employee or H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B amended petitions were previously exempt from the additional fee.

DHS will now separate the I-129 into forms based on case type and eliminate the current supplements to the I-129 form. This also allows DHS to charge separate fees for each form depending on the classification. DHS states that the current base filing fee of $460 doesn’t accurately capture the costs associated with adjudication since the fee is paid regardless of how many nonimmigrant workers will benefit from the petition or application, the type of worker evaluated, whether an employee is identified, or how long it takes to adjudicate the different nonimmigrant classifications. 

The rule updates the filing fees as follows:

Case TypeCurrent FeeFinal FeeChangePercent Change
E-1E-2TN$460$695$23551 percent
H-1B$460$555$9521 percent
H-2A
(named beneficiaries) 
$460$850$39085 percent
H-2B
(named beneficiaries)
$460$715$25555 percent
L-1AL-1B$460$805$34575 percent
O-1$460$705$24553 percent
H-2A
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460$415-$45-10 percent
H-2B
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460$385-$75-16 percent

Green Card Fee Changes

Children under the age of 14 filing for a green card with their parents were previously able to pay a reduced fee of $750 instead of the $1,140 (plus $85 biometrics fee) currently charged to older applicants. All applicants will pay $1,130 under the new rule.

DHS also chose to separate the filing fees for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, when either filed concurrently with Form I-485 or after the Form I-485 has been accepted and is still pending. Current regulations allow individuals to pay the I-485 fee, but also file the I-765 and I-131 without additional fees if filed concurrently. 

The rule claims: “Debundling allows individuals to pay for only the services actually requested. Thus, many individuals may not pay the full combined price for Forms I-485, I-131, and I-765.” The newly established fees are as follows:

  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document: $590
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization: $550
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or adjust Status: $1,130

Individuals applying for work and travel documents along with their permanent residence application will now pay a total of $2,270.

Citizenship Fees

DHS will remove the N-400 fee waiver (Form I-942) and the reduced fee option “in order to recover full cost for naturalization services.” The rule also removes the fee waiver for the N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. However, the removal of fee waivers will reduce the cost of Forms N-600 and N-600K because the increased fee would no longer need to cover the cost of the fee-waived form adjudication.

However, the N-400 would not be afforded the same price decrease as the N-600: DHS raised the naturalization fee an astounding 83% from $640 to $1,170 for the paper-based filing. With the removal of the reduced fee option, naturalization may be financially out of reach for many families.

Premium Processing 

Currently, petitioners or applicants can pay $1,440 for certain employment-based petitions to be adjudicated within 15 calendar days. The new rule will change the 15-day calculation from calendar days to business days, while also excluding federal holidays and regional or national office closures due to weather or other causes. 

The rule also states that the 15-day period be paused when USCIS issues a notification of approval, denial, RFE, or NOID. The rule would also clarify that a new 15 business day period will begin upon receipt of an RFE or NOID response. If an investigation is opened for fraud or misrepresentation, USCIS can retain the fee and not reach a conclusion to the request within 15 days. 

The agency claims that the shift to calculating by business days will allow USCIS additional time to complete processing on a premium processing petition and could reduce the need for USCIS to suspend premium processing when request filing volumes are high.

Payment Updates

USCIS will eliminate the $30 returned check fee because the fees associated with collecting the charge were higher than the returned check fees actually collected. However, petitioners and applicants should still ensure that adequate funds are available to avoid processing delays. 

Another shift that has the potential to trip up applicants and petitioners is the planned updates to certain form instructions to only allow certain payment types for certain forms. For example, USCIS may determine that it only wants to accept credit or debit card payments for naturalization. USCIS could also decide that only a check or money order is acceptable payment for a certain form. The rule does not modify the instructions at this time, but states: 

“In this final rule, DHS does not restrict the method of payment for any particular immigration benefit request. This final rule clarifies the authority for DHS to prescribe certain types of payments for specific immigration benefits or methods of submission.” 

Extra precautions must be taken to review form instructions every time a case is filed to avoid a processing delay due to an incorrect payment type. 

Biometrics Fees

The new rule incorporates biometrics fees into the underlying immigration benefit request to “simplify the fee structure, reduce rejections of benefit requests for failure to include a separate biometric services fee, and better reflect how USCIS uses biometric information.” The fee includes FBI name checks, FBI fingerprints, Application Support Center (ASC) contractual support, and biometric service management (including federal employees at ASC locations). The rule outlines that a separate biometric services fee will be retained for Temporary Protected Status in the amount of $30, but requests for other immigration benefits will include the biometric fee. 

Secure Mail Initiative

We have seen many clients suffer when the United States Postal Service (USPS) loses important immigration notifications. The rule announced that USCIS will implement Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery (SCRD) as the sole method of delivery of secure USCIS documents. USPS states that Signature Confirmation requires that the recipient or another responsible person at the residence be present to sign for the item and then the sender will receive the signature and name of the recipient and the date, time, and location of the delivery. The rule outlines states 

“USCIS and applicants can track their document using the USPS website up to when the document is delivered. Recipients will also have the ability to change their delivery location by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup” to arrange for pickup at a post office at a date and time that suits them.”

Applicants and petitioners should ensure that accurate addresses are submitted prior to the case filing.

Timeline for Rule Implementation

The fee increase is effective Oct. 2, 2020 for any immigration filings postmarked on or after that date. If you are eligible for any of the immigration benefits subject to the fee increase, you should initiate your immigration process as soon as possible to avoid the substantial increase in USCIS filing fees. 


To initiate your case and save money, email info@challalaw.com or call 804-360-8482. 

IP Law and Trade Policies Compete With Medical Needs

The role of Intellectual Property Law and Trade Policies in Innovation and the access to medicines and medical technologies compete against each other in the Corona impacted world.

COVID-19 has shaken the world and medical technological breakthroughs with new vaccines or drugs would be the only way to save mankind. A global health crisis always triggers concerns over patented medicines and treatments that may impede access to affordable healthcare. A global pandemic or a health crisis stimulates the need for better access to medicines, creating a gray area between the protection of ideas, investments, and access to medicines for the larger good of public health. 

The Emerging Issue     

Intellectual Property Rights awards exclusivity to the inventor or the owner to manufacture and sell their invention.  

Almost a decade ago when HIV/AIDS had become a global crisis, concerns of better access to medicines were raised. Developing nations had concerns with regard to the implementation of strong Intellectual Property regimes as it would have a negative effect on the efforts to improve public health, thereby making it difficult for governments to have policies for affordable healthcare.

The major problem in developing nations is that the prime population pays for their own drugs and state provisions are selective and constrained. Though the concept of state health insurance schemes is blooming, its effectiveness, to date, is questionable. 

A similar situation exists in the current scenario for COVID-19 where not only are the beds in each hospital limited, but extravagant costs have to be borne by patients.

In Tamil Nadu, India, private hospitals are charging a whopping amount of Rs 30,000 per day, even though government orders state otherwise, capping the charges at Rs 7500 for mildly asymptomatic patients and in case they have been admitted to Intensive Care Unit then the charges are capped at maximum Rs. 15,000 per day. Claims of unfair charges are popping up every day where hospitals are being accused of merely robbing patients.

Not only that, exploitative pricing has become a common predicament in most Asian Countries where hospitals are overcharging in COVID-19 rapid tests. The rapid test packages offered by hospitals have been differing from 500,000 rupiah to 5.7 million rupiah ($32 to $365). Exorbitant pricing remains an issue in the United States as well, where an individual faced a $1.1 million hospital bill.

Access to proper healthcare has already started becoming a concern with hospitals turning the major crisis into a money minting machine, even when there is no absolute drug or vaccine for the disease. The concern is, if every entity starts to look at this crisis as an opportunity, sustaining public policy will be a distant task for the government.

The Exclusivity of a Patent 

The key objective of the patent system is to reward exclusively to the innovator for an invention that is novel and has some industrially enhanced efficacy to it. The patented innovation could be a product or a process, as engraved in the TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Right) Agreement, 1995. The patentee creates a solution to a problem and as an incentive, an exclusive right is given to the owner, to produce and sell it, for 20 long years. The pharmaceutical industry is majorly dependent on the patent system to recover its research and development cost and to generate profits for future innovation.

The Competing Interest: Public Health

Compulsory licensing is an act where the government authorizes a third-party to use, make and sell a patent without the permission of the patentee or the owner, when the medicine is not available at a reasonable and affordable price or when it is not obtainable in a justified quantity. Compulsory Licensing and competition from generic or biosimilar products are general issues that threaten many patent holders. A competing interest is involved here, where on one side, there is a greater good of public interest where the ownership of technological innovation should be with the public, and on the other side, there is private ownership of patents fuelling further innovations. 

Biosimilar and generic drugs are sold at a cheaper price and are said to have a trade-distorting effect. However, the provision of consensual licensing instead of any legal compulsion might be a silver lining to this whole circumstance. The possibility stems from the current world scenario where corporate social responsibilities on Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) are an obligation and a single-minded pursuit of business is no more encouraged. This can definitely balance the competing interests of the right holders and the public interest at large. 

With the current COVID-19 scenario, the World Health Organization has accepted a proposal for patent pooling in order to collectively share the patent right, test data, and information required to create drugs and vaccines. It showcases an attempt towards navigating patent rights for all countries thereby making new innovations available to everyone.

Patent Pooling is a framework where one or two patent holders enter into an agreement to share their innovation by means of licensing with each other or with a third party in order to provide fruitful technological solutions. Patent pooling can even help in the scenario where technology is not entirely developed and thereby lead to new innovations without any hindrance to access.

However, with the United States trying to quit the World Health Organization, a question emerges – ‘in case they do terminate their relationship, how is the patent pool going to function?’ We all know what happened to the International Trade Organization when the United States chose not to be a part of it and now with the changes in the current arrangement, the question emerges again. The world is approaching multilateralism and is finally able to compromise with nationalism in order to work in solidarity. 

Lahama Mazumdar is currently working as a Teaching Assistant in National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi and is a doctoral student at National Law University Odisha. 

Public Charge Can Affect Your Benefits

Punishing Low-Income Immigrants With The Recent Changes To Public Charge

Our federal immigration laws have long been controversial. However, within the past few years, there have been numerous contentious changes to immigration law as part of the federal administration’s clampdown on immigration. One insidious change, in particular, has been to the public charge rule.

Public charge is an immigration rule that federal authorities use to decide whether certain immigrants will be a financial burden on the government. Because of public charge, some immigrants worry that their immigration status can be negatively impacted by getting certain public benefits from the government. 

Along with the recent rule change, there has also been an unfortunate amount of misinformation and fear in the community about public charge. There has been a chilling effect with immigrant families, including those not actually subject to the public charge rule, with many choosing to disenroll or to not enroll for public benefits to avoid jeopardizing their immigration status. 

Our communities need to fight misinformation with knowledge, and fear with power. To do that, we must all remember that public charge does not apply to all immigrants and it does not apply to all public benefits. 

What Exactly Is Public Charge?

The public charge rule applies when a non-citizen seeks to enter the U.S. or to adjust to lawful permanent resident status (ie. apply for a green card). It does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to many types of immigrants. Legal permanent residents with green cards already should not be impacted by public charge unless they travel outside of the United States for six months or longer and then return.

In addition, public charge does not apply to asylees, refugees, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applicants, people who have or are applying for U-visas as victims of crime, T-visas for human trafficking survivors, special immigrant juveniles (SIJS) and other immigrants with certain types of humanitarian immigration statuses.

The public charge test looks at a totality of the circumstances and weighs many factors to decide if an immigrant will be a public charge. This includes looking at someone’s age, health, family size, education, skills, and whether the immigrant has an affidavit of support. The receipt of certain types of public benefits by the applicant directly is only one factor in this test.

Traditionally, public benefits that count towards public charge include those that provide cash assistance, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), CalWORKs, General Assistance, and long-term institutional care at government expense.

However, under recent changes to public charge, the federal government has expanded the list of public benefits impacted for green card applications filed on or after February 24, 2020. The new rule looks at whether or not an immigrant receives one or more certain public benefits “for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).” The rule is not retroactive, so applications filed before February 24, 2020 will be considered under the old rule that claimed only cash assistance and long-term institutional care at government expense.

In addition to cash aid and long-term institutional care at government expense, the new post-February 24, 2020 public charge rule now will also include federally funded Medi-Cal (with exceptions for state-funded Medi-Cal, emergency services, children under 21, pregnant women, new mothers and COVID-19 related care), federally-funded CalFresh, federal public housing, Section 8 vouchers and project-based Section 8. Although these public benefits programs have been added to the new public charge rule, most immigrants who face a public charge test don’t get the benefits that could be potentially problematic for public charge. Public charge also only considers whether or not the immigrant applying for a green card directly receives one of the impacted public benefits, not other family or household members.

Conversely, this also means that other public benefits and assistance programs will not have a public charge impact. This includes exceptions to Medi-Cal like emergency Medi-Cal, pregnancy Medi-Cal, state-funded Medi-Cal (like for undocumented youth 21-26), Medi-Cal for children up to age 21. This also includes other programs like California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC),  Social Security retirement, Medicare, unemployment insurance benefits (UIB), school meal programs, earned income and child tax credits, crime victim compensation, energy assistance programs, disaster relief programs and non-cash assistance state/local programs. For COVID-19 specifically, testing, treatment, and preventative care (including a potential future vaccine) will not count towards public charge.

It’s Okay To Ask Questions and Seek Help

Public charge does not apply to all immigrants or to all public benefits. Immigrants should continue to seek the public benefits and care they need to keep themselves and their families safe during this difficult time. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still causing havoc, receiving proper health care, including through Medi-Cal, is more important now than ever. However, everyone’s situation is different and you should speak to an attorney qualified in both immigration and public benefits law if you are concerned about a potential public charge impact for you or your family.

Together, we can fight the fear and misinformation around public charge, empower our communities, and counter the chilling effect impacting so many low-income and immigrant families.

Nghi Huynh is a staff attorney with the Asian Law Alliance, a nonprofit community law office that has served the low-income and AAPI community of Santa Clara County for over 42 years. 

Immigration in Limbo, H-1B Holders File Patents

In this pandemic epoch of coronavirus, our H-1B workers respond to the national emergency. Around 3,310 biochemists and other scientists have worked together to develop a coronavirus vaccine through the H-1B program. 

Reflect and ponder. How can you imagine an America without them?

The proportion of H-1B workers to American companies has doubled its production rate due to workers’ ability to create new products and replace outdated ones. The product reallocation grows more revenue as a result.

However, the H-1B program is limited by immigration policies such as the H-1B visa lottery and the “Buy American, Hire American” policy. This cynical atmosphere of embracing diversity leads to difficulties in patenting an invention. HB-1 workers are leading the nation to promote mass scientific innovations. Yet, they have difficulties in filing patents caused by political and economic changes. 

Who are H-1B Visa Holders?

H1-B Visa Holders are immigrants who work in the United States under a “specialty occupation.” As provided by law, a person is required to have a minimum educational level of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. 

H-1B employees can work for no more than six years. If an employee was contracted for less than six months or if an employee successfully obtained a Green Card, then the six-year limit does not apply.

Recent statistics show that H-1B workers occupy nearly two-thirds of STEM professions.

H-1B visa lottery has affected the status of immigrant workers

On March 31st, 2020 the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) revealed that significant numbers of H-1B visa applications were denied due to a system glitch.

USCIS has not yet offered a remedy. It becomes clear that the H-1B lottery fails to provide an alternative system, affecting the livelihood of foreign applicants and beneficiaries.

President Trump’s “Buy America, Hire American” policy has added a burden to the status quo

The tightened policy ordered the Department of Homeland Security to issue H-1B visas to only the most-skilled or highest-paid workers. As a result, USCIS has increased H-1B visa denials and the number of Requests for Evidence to H-1B applicants.

Due to this immigrant policy shift, thousands of companies have lost their foreign employees.

Today, Indian Americans have experienced unfortunate situations due to their H-1B visa status – many have had their visas denied and are left unemployed.

H-1B workers are given a 60 days period to find another job. 

There is no guarantee that they can be hired in a fast and demanding environment. Unemployed H-1B workers have difficulty obtaining visas, making them an illegal resident in the U.S. As the government limits their potential economic contributions, the H-1B visa holders’ chances of patenting an invention become complex and bureaucratic.

Importance of a Patent Attorney

H1-B workers are leading the overall innovation in the American economy. 

Immigrant workers have contributed to designing machines, developing software applications, proposing business methods, and improving healthcare. 

The inventions of H-1B workers should be safeguarded in terms of its ownership, exclusive rights, and competitive advantage by hiring a patent attorney. 

For valuable reasons, hiring a patent attorney helps an H-1B worker in providing legal advice on how to get a patent, conducting a prior art search for marketability, and patentability of an invention, performing patent infringement, securing an economical patent cost, and litigating future cases in the proper court. 

J.D. Houvener, a San Francisco Patent Attorney, emphasizes the substantial need of hiring a patent attorney:

“In filing a patent application, always consider the professional guidance of a patent attorney. A patent attorney provides a clear understanding of a Patent Law and the complex process of a patent process. By hiring a patent attorney, you get things done right and give you the best benefit you need.”

Conclusion

The difficulties of filing patents as an H-1B visa holder, perhaps, are a call to amend these policies for the permanence and stability of our immigrant workers.

To make America successful, the government should uncap the number of H-1B visas and liberalize the security of getting green cards for immigrant workers. If the administration won’t make a move, great scientific innovations will be at stake.

As immigration policies might have tightened the rope of filing a patent, a patent attorney is always ready to lose the tension in the hopes of innovation and invention.

Rei Lantion is a graduate from Ateneo de Manila University and is an aspiring IP attorney. Professionally, she has a great deal of experience in writing, editing in patent law, working one-on-one with patent attorneys. When she’s not writing she loves playing D&D with her dog Oreo.

Bollywood Blockbusters Straight to Your Screen

Although social distancing has brought our daily lives to a grinding halt, the latest update from Amazon Prime Video proves that the show must truly go on. It is heartening to know that amid the chilling outbreak of the coronavirus, Bollywood has persevered in its attempts to amuse and bring us together. These latest releases are a reminder of how critical online entertainment truly is during this pandemic. Hopefully, Shakuntala Devi and Gulaabo Sitabo will bring a necessary slice of positivity into your lives.  

To satiate your appetite for some B-town, Amazon Prime announced the premiere of Gulabo Sitabo, an Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana collaboration. The two leads amuse audiences in an intricate game of cat-and-mouse, offset by the conflicting agendas of the supporting cast. 

Regarding the film, Mr. Bachchan said, “I was excited about my role since the first time Shoojit showed me the character’s look. It took me almost 3 hours each day to get into character with its different look. I had a wonderful time working with my very talented co-star Ayushmann Khurrana. Even though we are constantly bantering in the film, it has been a pleasure working with him for the first time. This family entertainer has the power to cut across geographic boundaries and we are pleased to bring Gulabo Sitabo to audiences.”

Amazon Prime also recently announced the premiere of the highly publicized Shakuntala Devi. The film will be available to audiences across the globe and is available on the Amazon Prime app on nearly every device. With the formidable Vidya Balan at the forefront, Anu Menon’s latest film certainly cannot go wrong. Vidya Balan intrigues audiences in her retelling of the life of Shakuntala Devi, India’s “human computer.”

Devi is one of the world’s most celebrated geniuses, bringing her talents to India, Hong Kong, and all over the globe. Not only was she recognized for her inexplicable mathematical prowess, but also because she was India’s first woman to publish a paper on homosexuality

When asked about her role, Balan said, “She was truly someone who embraced her individuality, had a strong feminist voice, and braved many a naysayer to reach the pinnacle of success. But what truly fascinates me is that you wouldn’t normally associate a fun person with math…and she completely turns that perception on its head.” Balan later added that Ms. Devi was  “one of the most inspiring women of this country,” and that she was “extremely excited” to bring such an extraordinary woman’s tale to life. 

Other Amazon Prime Movies direct-to-service slate:

Ponmagal Vandhal (Tamil) – May 29th

Gulabo Sitabo (Hindi) – June 12th

Penguin (Tamil and Telugu) – June 19th

Law (Kannada) – June 26th

French Biryani (Kannada) – July 24th

Shakuntala Devi (Hindi) – TBD

Sufiyum Sujatayum (Malayalam) – TBD

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Skip the MBA and Work at a Startup

A question that students and parents put to me most frequently is whether it is worthwhile to pursue an MBA as a ticket to success in the business world.

I tell them that a master of business administration from Harvard, Stanford or the University of California at Berkeley may be worth the high cost because of the brand, location and network value — but not those from most other business schools over the world. The time and money could be better spent in starting a company that solves real-world problems. Students will gain better practical experiences and have a greater purpose than the investment bankers and consultants that business schools strive to graduate.

With the falling cost of a broad range of technologies, from computing to genomic sequencing to sensors and synthetic biology, entrepreneurs can now do what only big companies and governments have been able to do: Solve the problems of humanity. They can design and build smartphone apps that act as medical assistants, digital tutors to teach almost any subject, and artificial-intelligence-based apps that improve public services and infrastructure. They can even build electric vehicles, spaceships and revolutionary energy-storage technologies.

I encourage graduates to start or join world-changing companies and to be the masters of their own destiny. They will surely be earning a lot less than if they worked for the investment banks; and they will take huge risks, and their startups are likely to fail — as is the norm. And they will have to work extremely hard and endure endless runs of sleepless nights. But they will develop real-life skills that no MBA could train them in; they will gain a far broader and more realistic understanding of the world; and they will have a far greater sense of accomplishment and position themselves for long-term success. If they start the right company, they may well make the world a better place. And you never know: The startup could get really lucky and be worth a fortune.

MBA heyday

It wasn’t always this way. When I completed my MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business in the 1980s, I considered it to be the best investment I had ever made. It helped me climb the corporate ladder and become an entrepreneur. As a tech CEO, I also readily paid a premium to hire business-school graduates. I also used to advise tech startups to strengthen their management teams by recruiting professional managers from MBA programs.

That was, however, at a time when there were few other options. The cost of starting a technology company is now less than that of a business degree, and the rewards are much greater.

The world has surely changed since then, but business-school curricula have largely stayed the same. As they say, academia moves at the speed of molasses. That is how it is supposed to be. And, to be fair, I need to acknowledge that the topics that business schools teach do have real value.

Subjects such as management, marketing, law and accounting are still as important as they ever were. The MBA that I completed as a programmer allowed me to become a project leader and then a vice president. I found that I could communicate effectively with user departments and my bosses; I could deliver projects on time; I knew how to manage and motivate employees; and I had the confidence to present business proposals to managing directors and board members. When I became an entrepreneur, I had the knowledge to develop and manage budgets, market products and review legal contracts.

But that was decades ago, in an era in which large companies held the keys to economic growth and competitiveness; when major research labs produced almost all of the cutting-edge innovation. Since then, the cost of developing world-changing technologies has fallen dramatically, and startups can out-innovate the big players.

Engineering degrees

Higher education certainly makes sense for some students. For students with technical backgrounds who want to pursue higher education and prepare themselves to solve complex engineering problems, I recommend master of engineering programs such as the one I teach at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering. These teach specialized skills in fields such as biomedical engineering and materials science. For students in less technical fields, there are also year-long master of engineering management programs such as those at Duke, Northwestern and the University of Southern California. These teach management, marketing, law and accounting skills and skim over the intricacies of finance and investment banking. And they are half the price of an MBA. After all, the skills that matter aren’t how to conceive new types of financial products, but how to create technologies that actually do good for the world.

Students now have opportunities that their parents could never imagine. My message to them is always the same: Rather than wasting your lives working for a Morgan Stanley  or Goldman Sachs  use your intellect and energy to make the world a better place — you surely can.

 

This article was published with permission from the Author.

Paid Family Leave: Workers Pay For It But Rarely Use It

California wage earners welcoming a new child to the family or caring for a seriously ill relative this year can expect increased support from the state’s Paid Family Leave Program.

Eighteen million people in the state pay 1 percent of their wages to the state’s disability program, which helps those who have to take time off for medical matters unrelated to their jobs.

In 2018, the percentage of a worker’s paycheck the state will provide increases from 55 percent to between 60 and 70 percent, up to $1,216 weekly. And the state has done away with the “waiting period” that required people to go without any pay at all for the first week they were out.

“2018 is the year of  better policies for Paid Family Leave, particularly for new parents,” Julia Parish, of Legal Aid at Work, said at a news conference at San Francisco’s Employment Development Department offices on Feb. 1.

The meeting addressed the EDD’s finding that only 36 percent of the Californians it surveyed were even aware of the Paid Family Leave program, and among those who might need it most, immigrants, women and those with lower levels of education, even fewer know it exists.

“Awareness is generally low across the state, especially among minority and low-income communities,” the EDD’s Kacie Finnicum said.

The program is available for new moms and dads, including adoptive and foster parents, and each parent is eligible for up to six weeks per year each. The time they take off to care for and bond with their children can be spread across the calendar however they see fit.

Those six weeks can also be used to care for seriously ill family members, including grandparents, in-laws, domestic partners and siblings.

Advocates urged applicants to plan their time off with their supervisor, as the job protection dimensions of the Paid Family Leave program are more limited. But here, too, the rules have been relaxed this year. For instance, although small businesses have been exempt from having to honor the Paid Family Leave regulations, what constitutes a small business in such a scenario has changed, from up to 50 employees to 20.

If the applicant lives and works in San Francisco, there’s a new rule in place whereby the employer is to make up the difference between what the state pays and the worker’s usual compensation, Parish said.

The speakers also cited findings that workplace efficiency and morale benefit from the program. A temporary accommodation is less expensive than replacing a worker.

Parish described some of the ancillary benefits of the program: It promotes gender equity, she said, by including both partners in the childcare process from an early stage.  By encouraging bonding between the children and the father figure, paid family leave strengthens the foundations of those relationships going forward.

The program requires that the parents apply for it within the first year of the new child’s arrival, whether it’s newborn, adopted or fostered.

Parish was followed by Julia Frudden, of the Child Care Law Center; both cited studies showing that new mothers given the freedom to attend to their children with a brief respite from work responsibilities breastfeed their children twice as long.

Frudden also said that infant mortality drops by 10 percent, there’s a decrease in post-partum depression and better attention to preventive care such as screenings.

Children who have the advantage of more time spent with their parents at home also develop stronger immune systems, she said, which helps them thrive in childcare situations once their parents have returned to work.

Since becoming the first state in the country with such a program, in 2002, California has fielded 2.8 million claims and paid out $5 billion in benefits, Finnicum said.

She and Parish both spoke of their own motherhood experiences and what having paid leave  had meant to them.

“It was a huge relief to be able to have financial support,” Finnicum said. “It was a big weight off our shoulders.”

Although the program is applicable even to those whose needs to care for a family member requires them to leave the country, a person’s immigration status is not factored into the application process, Finnicum said. The only limit on eligibility is that they must be participating in the State Disability Insurance program via automatic deductions from their paychecks or, if independent contractors, through a voluntary plan.

For more information on the program or to apply, visit the web site edd.ca.gov/SDI_Online. Applications can also be made by mail; the form to submit is available at edd.ca.gov/Forms.