April 23, 2014

In Mike We Trust

Ed. note This Op-Ed by Kal Penn appeared in the May 10 edition of India Abroad

I first worked with Congressman Mike Honda when I was a White House aide to President Obama, working on issues related to young Americans and the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In a sea of chaos that is Congress, it was always refreshing to see Mike go to bat for his constituents, and to join the President in standing up for young people and community members in a way that most members of Congress did not.

Having worked alongside Mike in both policy and politics, I am proud to endorse him for his re-election to Congress in 2014. Washington, DC, can be sort of a crazy place. To many of us, it’s unfathomable that there is opposition to commonsense issues like access to health care, comprehensive immigration reform, and education. And we often look to our leaders to see how they intend to engage on those issues we care about.

As the Congressman representing the innovative spirit and drive of Silicon Valley, as chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus for an unprecedented seven years, and now as chair emeritus; as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, it’s rare and refreshing that Mike really moves and lives by the conviction that every one of us deserve an opportunity and a voice.

As a young person, that kind of leadership was refreshing to see.

On health care, Mike and CAPAC worked with the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses to include critical provisions that tackled health disparities in the President’s final historic health- care reform legislation of 2009.

On immigration, over the previous three Congresses as chair, and now as chair of CAPAC’s Immigration Task Force, Mike has led the constant drumbeat to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that leaves no one behind. He believes in an immigration system that is inclusive, family- based and humane, and invests in America’s future.

On education, he worked to dispel the model minority myth, and to push for greater resources flowing to colleges and universities that serve underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

Mike’s record speaks volumes to his character. He has continued to push for issues that are critical, regardless of whether there is existing political appetite for it amongst his peers in Congress; essentially, he has helped to create the tenable space for much of the action we have seen.

His advocacy for social justice and serving communities that do not have a voice is unparalleled. Mike grew up behind barbed wire in a Japanese-American internment camp, even as his father served in the United States Military Intelligence Service during World War II.

As a young boy, he learned that being Japanese carried a negative connotation in America. But he knows that the reason Japanese Americans were unjustly and illtreated was because no one in Washington said no.

Today, Mike continues to be an unwavering opponent of hate speech and bullying perpetrated against all communities, regardless of creed, race, gender, sexuality, disability, country of origin, and immigration status.

Mike has been a friend and mentor to many young leaders, artists, business folks, and innovators. I know that he will continue to deliver that which is just and best for his constituents and for this nation.

- Kal Penn

It Takes A Village To Blow One Up

West, Texas was best known as a place to grab something from the Czech Bakery while driving between Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Now, West is best known as the latest in a long line of American industrial disasters reprehensible for their utter preventability.

The explosion at the fertilizer plant comes from failure of the local, state, and federals governments and the plant owners and operators to satisfy the needs of worker safety, community safety, and national security. OSHA has not inspected the plant since 1985. Schools and homes were allowed to be built very near the plant. The plant had 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate at which Department of Homeland Security regulation is triggered. We know the plant had so much ammonium nitrate, because paperwork indicating such was filed with with a Texas regulatory entity. The mishmash of regulators is not required to share information. Unlike the inability of first responders to communicate with each other because of technical incompatibilities, government regulators don’t interact with each other. Given the large variety of regulating agencies, better intercommunication is needed.

A tangle of agencies regulates plants like the one in West. Different agencies were assigned oversight for different chemicals there. Among the federal agencies responsible were the E.P.A., Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. State agencies include the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state chemist’s office and the state health services department.

Ammonium nitrate is a national security concern because in nefarious hands it can cause this:

Murrah_Building_-_Aerial

Terrorism isn’t the only reason for concern about the large amount of such an explosive chemical:

The explosion was so powerful it leveled homes and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Judging by the size of the crater and the extent of the damage — pieces of twisted metal landed in distant pastures, and ceiling tiles and lights shook loose in buildings two miles away — the explosion was more powerful than the Oklahoma City bombing, experts said.

Texas markets its lax regulations as a reason for businesses to relocate:

Loose regulations” in Texas may be a nice pitch for out-of-state business, however, in 2010 the state accounted for 10% of all workplace-related fatalities in the country. In 2011, Texas had the second-highest number of fatality investigations from OSHA (California was first), in 2010, Texas led the nation in Latino worker fatalities.

The marvelous economic tales spun about Texas even beguile those who should know better like a writer for Texas Monthly. Jack Ohman and the editors of the Sacramento Bee, however, were not beguiled:

RTSHf.St.4

The owners and operators of the plant seem to have long thought they could pick and choose what few regulations with which they were supposed to comply would apply to them. Among other problems, the company received a citation for construction of 6,000 gallon ammonia tanks without a permit, did not have a sufficient risk management plan, and had no signs or illegible signs on many storage tanks, many of which did not meet safety standards.

The Czech connection in West remains strong; the Czech Republic may provide nearly $200,000 to aid recovery. That’s very helpful and kind; it’s greatly appreciated. I wonder, though, if Bangladesh provides something even better, a guide on how to handle preventable disasters — arrest the owners.

How many other extremely dangerous plants and chemical storage facilities continue to operate in similar fashion with such disregard for the workers, the community, and national security?

- Justin Gillenwater

It’s All Up To What You Value

One week later and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the intense burst of awesomeness from Asian American Justice Center President and former Asian American Action Fund endorsee Mee Moua when she schooled Senator Sessions. Haven’t seen it? Take a look:

SESSIONS: Ms. Moua, maybe you can comment. Do you think that a nation that decides that they can admit an individual somehow has no right to say that that person’s brother would have to qualify independently, rather than being given a guaranteed entry in the country? Do you think a country can legitimately make that decision?

MOUA: Senator Sessions, coming from the Asian American community when in the 1880s we were the first people to be excluded explicitly by the United States immigration policy I’m well aware that this country has never hesitated in the way that it chooses to exercise its authority to permit people to either enter or depart its borders. And we know that the Asian American community in particular didn’t get to enjoy the benefit of immigration to this country until the 1960s when those restrictive policies were lifted. So I know very well and very aware that…

SESSIONS: Well let me just say, it seems to me. It’s perfectly logical to think there are two individuals, let’s say in a good friendly country like Honduras. One is a valedictorian of his class, has two years of college, learned English and very much has a vision to come to the United States and the other one has dropped out of high school, has minimum skills. Both are 20 years of age and that latter person has a brother here. What would be in the interest of the United States? …

MOUA: Senator I think that under your scenario people can conclude about which is in the best interest of the United States. I think the more realistic scenario is that in the second situation that individual will be female, would not have been permitted to get an education and if we would create a system where there would be some kind of preference given to say education, or some other kind of metrics, I think that it would truly disadvantage specifically women and their opportunity to come into this country

SESSIONS: Well that certainly is a problem around the world, and I would think that the primary problem with education and the fact that women have been discriminated against should be focused on the countries that are doing that primarily .

As you can see, Sessions essentially asked a rhetorical question of Moua without care for her answer. My guess is Sessions asked his rhetorical question so he could answer it. What astounds me — and where the awesomeness comes in — is Sessions was almost certainly asking another rhetorical question and yet Moua’s response was so profound that Sessions actually listened and responded to Moua instead of responding to his rhetorical question with more of his talking points. Sessions didn’t alter his position, but he did essentially say “you’re right” to Moua.

Notice Sessions didn’t slow down when Moua was schooling Sessions on Asian Americans. No, it was once she started schooling Sessions on women that he finally snapped out of his rhetoric and — if ever so briefly — into reality. Perhaps the Republican attempts to no longer appear to be “angry white men” party is making slightly more progress on the gender front? With our immigration system facing such incredible gender imbalances, such schooling is needed even for far more well-meaning politicians! Pramila Jayapal over at ColorLines has some great ideas on fixing those imbalances.

While Sessions isn’t Ted Cruz-level crazy, he’s not exactly the firebrand of positive policy. Sessions has blocked a child sex trafficking bill, suggested helping feed the hungry is immoral, and apparently delights in the suffering of illegal immigrant families. Yet somehow in 2003 Jeff Sessions received a 100% rating from the Christian Coalition for his stances on issues relation to families and children. Clearly Sessions values families. Unfortunately, it appears he and his ilk only value certain kinds of families.

What families do you value? I agree with more of Mee Moua’s wise words

Children will always be our children whether they’re over the age of 21 or not. For us to start thinking about which members of our family we’re going to trade away is a dramatic and drastic departure from the core values of what has been driving this country since the founding days.

Senators Boxer, Brown, Franken, Harkin, Hirono, Schatz, and Warren seem to agree too, having urged prioritization of family reunification and a clearing of family visa backlogs. I would go a step further urging a clearing of all backlogs; there’s up to a more than ten year backlog for employment-based immigrant visas too. While that pales in comparison to the backlog for immigrant visas for siblings from the Phillippinnes, a category with a backlog so embarrassing there are still priority dates from the 1980s which have yet to become current.

There’s more you can do than merely marvel at Mee Moua’s awesomeness. Add your name to the to the 18 Million Rising petition to tell Congress you stand for fair and just comprehensive immigration reform and they should too!

- Justin Gillenwater

White House Initiative On Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Comes To Houston On February 23

On Saturday, February 23rd, the Texas Asian American & Pacific Islander community and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders invite you to attend the Texas Regional Conference at the University of Houston‘s main campus. This free, first-of-its-kind conference will be a unique and valuable opportunity for the Texas AAPI community to interface with the White House and federal agencies to learn about federal programs and potential policy developments, leverage resources, develop solutions to address AAPI concerns, and bring together people from all across Texas together to collaborate on empowering our community.

In addition to connecting with federal resources, this is an opportunity for community members and leaders throughout the entire state to gather in one place and discuss ways to collaborate, share resources, and maintain communication.

The morning will feature speakers including Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, and a keynote from Chris Lu, Cabinet Secretary and Special Adviser to President Obama. Lunch will be provided (vegetarian options included), followed by breakout sessions addressing specific topics, including Economic Development, Healthcare, Civil Rights, Immigration, Education, Housing, Senior Issues (Social Security, Medicare, housing, etc.), Labor/Employment, and more. These breakout sessions will feature staff from local federal agency offices that can help directly address specific issues or problems, as well as featured local speakers from the community. The agencies will also provide information on federal job and internship opportunities for students.

Participation is free and open, but online registration is required.

Candidate Forum For Asian American Voters In Harris County

Our friends at OCA Greater Houston are sponsoring a Candidate Forum for Asian American Voters with Houston 80-20 and cosponsors Asian American Democrats of Texas, Bangladesh Association, Houston, Boat People SOS, Emerge – USA, Pakistan Chamber of Commerce, Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus, and Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce at Chinese Community Center, 9800 Town Park, Houston, Texas, 77035. on Monday, October 8, 2012 from 6:30PM to 8:30PM. Dinner will be provided!


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Gene Wu (D) and MJ Khan (R), candidates for State House District 137 will attend, as will Vy Nguyen (D) and Dianne Williams (R), candidates for State House District 149.

An Indian, A Texan, And A Democrat Go To Charlotte

When I first realized I was going to the Democratic National Convention, I was beyond ecstatic. It was my first convention, so naturally I wanted to make the most of it. Every day I got to go to a different event, attend another party, and meet some great new people.

I started my convention experience by attending the AAPI Caucus meeting. There, I heard from Asian-American leaders from around the country, including a panel introduced by Governor Neil Abercrombie featuring Tammy Duckworth, Tulsi Gabbard, and Mike Fong. My takeaway from that session is that minorities are going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2012. Honestly, that was the theme I witnessed the entire convention. And those of us privileged enough to be Texans felt a personal connection to that particular theme.

For the first time in history, we witnessed a Latino deliver the keynote address at a major party convention. Mayor Julian Castro’s speech was the perfect balance of inspiration and fight, but what really resonated with me was what he represented. His story is America’s story — a family who moved to America in search for a better life, who worked tirelessly to achieve the American dream, who live up to the ideal of America as a mosaic of race and religion, where hard work and smarts are rewarded, regardless of where they may have come from.

His story resonates with me, and in today’s ever-changing America, it resonates with so many others. His selection shows that Democrats are ready to embrace this new era; while at the Republican convention, we were lucky to see any minorities in the crowd. Of course, there is no reason they would be there. While Democrats are showcasing this new generation of minority leaders, the Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure we can’t even exercise our most basic democratic right.

The rest of the convention did not disappoint. The speeches by Michelle Obama and President Clinton were two of the best speeches I have ever heard, and seeing President Obama speak in person for the first time was as amazing as I imagined. This convention proved to me that minorities are the future of the party and this country. Both parties have made their decision on how they want to handle the future, and after this convention, I know I picked the right party.

The magic of Barack Obama as President of the United States has not faded. The enthusiasm and passion have not faded. The ability of so many Americans to relate to him has not faded. I got to see it first hand: Democrats are fired up, and ready to go!

- Palak Gosar

Sam Yoon To Lead Council Of Korean Americans

I wanted to share an update on what has been happening since you joined me in our historic campaign for mayor of Boston in 2009.

Several months after the election I made the difficult decision to leave Boston and move to the Washington, D.C. area. Though I loved Boston dearly, I took the opportunity to move closer to my family, but also to lead a national organization advocating for community economic development.

I learned so much about how grassroots community organizations all around our country both thrived and struggled due to the Great Recession. I took their message to our national leaders and even documented them in our own YouTube channel. But by the end of 2011, I was offered a chance to serve in the Obama administration.

Most of you know I was an early and strong supporter of Barack Obama in his historic 2008 race, and I was honored to work for him during most of this year at the Department of Labor in the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) as a senior policy advisor. The time I spent there was both eye-opening and sobering. It is an enormous challenge to prepare a 21st century workforce in a struggling economy with a gridlocked Congress. Yet I saw the good people at ETA march on every day, for American workers, and I salute them.

This brings us to today. I am pleased to let you know through this email that I have recently been hired as the President of a non-profit organization called the Council of Korean Americans (CKA). CKA is a national, non-partisan group of Korean Americans whose mission is to assert a clear, strong voice on matters of importance to our community and to advocate for our full participation in all aspects of American life.

Founded in 2010, CKA fulfills a clear need in the Korean American community, which, like many immigrant and ethnic communities, lacks a national, unified voice. I firmly believe our members and our allies have the talent, energy, and drive to make this happen. I would love for you to be involved.

Check back from time to time at our website. I plan to start a blog and comment on issues of the day from a more personal point of view. I encourage you to sign up for our newsletter and stay in touch with me as I take on this new venture.

That’s my update, in two minutes or less! Thank you for reading, and thank you so much for your friendship over the years.

Please stay in touch, and God bless!

- Sam Yoon

Ten Lessons Learned From The 2012 Democratic National Convention

  1. Flying in a day early so you don’t miss anything is worthwhile
  2. An iPad with a keyboard case will greatly lighten your load compared to a 15″ MacBook Pro, but that will also greatly reduce your writing down to note taking. Next time try a MacBook Air.
  3. Making sure to take time out to really eat is important. Next time be sure to schedule time to write too.
  4. To decide where to take time to eat, Yelp won’t steer you wrong on where to eat.
  5. Diners that serve delicious Blue Bell ice cream and display PBS on their televisions actually exist!
  6. An umbrella you can stuff in your bag even when very wet will do well for you.
  7. Good friends who have your back are doubly important during convention week. They can get you in somewhere, save you a seat, watch your bag pile at a party while you take turns getting food & drinks, or hook you up with the last veggie burger — the limit is your imagination.
  8. Never trust a cab company when they say the taxi is on its way. And Uber is apt to be over capacity.
  9. The morning after the big speech, the airport won’t be as crazy as you expect.
  10. TSA Pre-Check is a good thing.

- Justin Gillenwater

The 2012 DNC AAPI Caucus

The second AAPI caucus meeting was well-attended and filled with remarks from a number of Asian American politicians, several Secretaries, and one Second Lady. I wish I could say the same for the first meeting, but I wasn’t there. It was over by the time I picked up my media credentials. Lesson learned.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of CAPAC, reminded everyone in the room that President Obama is good for our community, and I don’t just mean Asian Americans. Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam reminded us President Obama grew up an island boy — he doesn’t forget about the territories. Perhaps the key takeaway from Chu’s remarks, Republicans are working so hard to prevent those who wish to register to vote from doing so — 81% of first time voters voted for Obama in 2008. Congressman Honda, former chair of CAPAC, rightfully declared Asian Americans the theoretical margin of victory, but only if we register to vote. Only 55% of eligible Asian Americans are registered.

Chu also focused on the anti-Asian sentiments percolating throughout unsavory elements of the American polity with particular focus on Pete Hoekstra bringing in yellowgirl in Michigan in the year of the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder.

Chris Lu, President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary, noted that 2012 is not only the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder but also the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Internment and 130th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Lu also reminded us that before President Obama, a meeting of every Asian American Secretary throughout history would fit at a table for 2. Now if they all got together, there are many board games they wouldn’t be able to play together since Obama appointed the third, fourth, and fifth Asian American Secretaries.

Secretary Arne Duncan gave some of the best news of the caucus — the Department of Education is working to dispel the model minority myth. Duncan also shared that this was his first convention and he’s having a great time. There’s always something special about one’s first. Duncan stressed the importance of America leading the world in college graduation; the Department of Education is working to make that happen.

Secretary Hilda Solis reflected the feelings of many, many people. The Democratic National Convention looks like America, unlike the Republican National Convention. Solis also celebrated AAPI politicians and leaders, whom she collectively referred to as “fast and effective.” Solis’s words also included high praise for Michelle Obama.

Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, also praised the First Lady, noting how critical her work on childhood obesity is to many AAPI communities. Tchen reminded the crowd that 17 new Asian American federal judges have been appointed and confirmed thanks to President Obama with 3 more on track for confirmation.

Former White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse expanded on the theme of federal judges, making the point Gautam says is ignored in this presidential race — 2 SCOTUS nominations could arise in the next presidential term. Rouse also urged everyone in the room to make their best efforts to maximize turnout.

Dr. Jill Biden appeared for a few brief remarks largely stressing the importance of involvement in the political process.

Maya Soetoro-Ng also spoke.

Daniel Inouye gave a speech that should have been televised.

Mayor Ed Lee was the most amusing speaker, upstaging Mike Honda, who usually has no competition for most amusing:

I’ll be short because I am.

On a personal note, I don’t know if anyone in the room needed or made use of it, but I greatly appreciate the accessibility provided to the hard-of-hearing:

- Justin Gillenwater

The Speech That Should Have Been Televised

Senator Daniel Inouye gave an incredible speech before the AAPI Caucus at the Democratic National Convention. He said what President Clinton came so close to saying in his incredib[ly long] speech Wednesday night. He used the r word, which he noted people are afraid to use.

Republicans are blatantly advocating racism

Senator Inouye told the crowd of outrages he faced as a young man:

  • The government classifying him as 4-C, enemy alien
  • Being told “we don’t cut Jap hair” in Oakland returning home in uniform after the war
  • Being refused service in Hawaii after the war because he was not white

Senator Inouye has spent most of his life fighting racism. He’s 3rd in line to the presidency, but “that doesn’t cut the ice.” When his brothers and sisters who are not from Europe are mistreated, it angers him.

Discrimination was rampant in his youth. We can’t go back to that.

Let’s cut that out.

- Justin Gillenwater