09/25/2017

Bringing back earmarks?

There is an argument to be made that Congress functions better with earmarks than without. The latest version comes from Jim Dyer, a Republican who worked under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and served as Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee. His point is that part of the reason that the Veterans Administration was not reformed before is that Congress hasn’t been able to use earmarks to microtarget problems and fund solutions.

After all, what good is a national transportation policy if we can’t fix the potholes on Main Street? What good is a national recreation policy if our local parks are unsafe? And while we debate climate change, can we at least repair specific cities and towns ravaged by hurricanes, floods and fires? And, if we are going to rightfully allocate $1.5 billion more in funds to the VA this year than last because our postwar era needs exceed prewar demand, can’t we at least arm the custodians of the purse with the power to ensure it is spent wisely? (Politico)

I am not wholly convinced that earmarks are the only way to go to fix the VA because let’s be honest, the issues there are systematic and very long-standing and precede the current moratorium of the past three years. However, there are so many issues that Congress has not moved on (such as reauthorization of unemployment insurance benefits or a larger jobs bill) that benefit Americans of all stripes and if it takes funding pet projects in districts to get bills passed, folks are questioning previous disdain for earmarks. Some writing from left of center argue that at this point, Congress is broken enough that we just need some levers to get it moving again. And if earmarks can spur action, so be it.

“There is no question that sometimes, to get bills through, you have to ask people to vote for things that are going to cause them political pain at home, and you ease that pain by compensating them with earmarks,” said former Massachusetts representative Barney Frank in an interview. Today, he added, there are other things a party leader can do to build support for legislation, but “earmarks were the best.” (Boston Globe)

Additionally, it’s not as if the process of earmarking has ended, it’s just gone underground as “lettermarking.” Or elected officials threaten to withhold votes for agency funding or appointees unless their pet project gets money. Or, in the worst case scenario, Congress just shuts down government.

While earmarks required publication of a pork project—along with the amount of taxpayer money being spent and identification of the elected official proposing the earmark—lettermarking allows for such expenditures without any identification of the project, sum and sponsoring legislator whatsoever. (Forbes)

No one wants bridges to nowhere, but Congressional dithering on other common sense issues such as transportation reform and VAWA that have previously passed with large bipartisan majorities could make progressives and conservatives alike rethink earmark opposition. Needless to say, federal funding spurs job creation and workforce training in the states. Sometimes the only thing worse than pork is a complete standstill.

–Caroline

DC, July 21: AAAF’s Political Speednetworking Event

Editor’s Note: Join the Facebook Event at our Facebook Page.

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Asian American Action Fund * Asian American Action Group * America’s Opportunity Fund * PowerPAC+
Present
Political Speednetworking Event: Midterm Elections: Where and How Do I Help the Democratic Cause?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work on a political campaign, or how to become a fundraiser, campaign manager or press secretary? Do you want to know how working on a campaign can further enhance your job prospects once Election Day is over?

AND most importantly, ARE YOU READY to help Democrats win back the House and keep the Senate?

Bring your resumes, be part of the 2014 election cycle resume bank AND JOIN the Asian American Action Fund and other leading progressive groups for a very special professional speednetworking event! We know for Democrats to succeed, we need to have both candidates and campaign staff that reflect the diversity of America. Learn how you can get involved in this critical 2014 political cycle and come hear first-hand candid advice from distinguished political veterans who have been on the campaign trail and in Washington!

KEYNOTE SPEAKER:

Raghu Devaguptapu, Principal with Adelstein Liston, first Asian American to be named Political Director of a national party committee, first at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and then at the Democratic Governor’s Association

Panelists confirmed include:

Jessica Byrd, Manager of State Strategies, EMILY’s List, former Obama for America 2008 staff

Lisa Changadveja, LGBT Americans Director/Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Director at Ready for Hillary

Joon Kim, Vice President of New Partners Consulting, New Mexico Statewide Field Director, Kerry for President 2004

Alissa Ko, Deputy Director at Ready for Hillary, Former Organizing for America Operation Vote Director – VA

Parag Mehta, Former Director of External Communications and Director of Training for the Democratic National Committee

Madalene Mielke, Principal, Arum Group, Former Director of Training and Curriculum for the Ron Brown-Paul Tully Institute for Political Action

Oscar Ramirez, Principal, Podesta Group, DNC Member and First Vice Chair, Maryland Democratic Party

Mario Salazar, Coordinated Campaign Director at Democratic Party of Virginia, Former Operation Vote Director for Obama for America – Nevada

Nina SmithPress Secretary for Governor Martin O’Malley, former publicist for TheRoot.com

Brandon Thompson, National Training Director, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

DATE/TIME: Monday, July 21
Pre-event networking: 5:30 PM, Program promptly starts at 6:15 PM

LOCATION: Hunton & Williams, LLP, 2200 Pennsylvania Ave NW (Foggy Bottom Metro, directions)

RSVP REQUIRED: Seating is limited, RSVP for free online

Real people and their stories: How the government shutdown affected journalists

Editor’s Note: We welcome Jayna Omaye to our blogteam! She’s a journalist with Northwestern University and we are very excited for the professional insight and writing she brings to you our reader.

What happens when your job is covering the government as a journalist, but the government shuts down for two weeks? That was the dilemma many journalists faced as hearings, speaking engagements and other events were postponed so legislators could focus on reopening the government.

Sometimes it’s really easy to get caught up in the politics of an issue, especially when you’re in D.C. When the government shut down, many people were concerned with which politician was arguing for what, why the two parties couldn’t get along, etc.

But the real effects of the shutdown could be seen through the eyes of the average, everyday person: the furloughed employees, the tourists who traveled all the way to D.C. to see barricaded monuments, and the businesses near the Hill that took a beating.

These stories were worth telling, and that is what my classmates and I tried to focus on during the shutdown. If you weren’t in the district during these past two weeks, the shutdown may not have been as obvious. But it has affected everyone, including those not in D.C.

I remember calling my mom to ask her if the federal cemetery where my grandparents are buried was still open. The thought of it closing only hit her as she was driving up the hill to the cemetery.

During the first week of the shutdown, I was working on a story about how well youth followed government news. A Pew study found that younger Americans were least likely to follow the shutdown.

I remember talking to a furloughed intern who was worried about receiving college credit for her internship if the shutdown didn’t end soon. In the meantime, she had to substitute her internship experience with reading textbooks and writing essays. Another intern I talked to was not furloughed because her Congressman deemed his entire staff essential.

Another story I worked on was a video about how D.C. tour companies were affected by the shutdown. I went into the story expecting that these businesses would say the shutdown was horrible and devastating to their business. But again, I was surprised.

Even though one tour company said they were losing business and customers, they also said the shutdown allowed them to explore other avenues and be resourceful. They were able to increase their neighborhood and food tours, which weren’t affected by the shutdown, and help furloughed local workers tour and see their own neighborhoods.

Many people think working as a journalist in D.C. is all about covering government hearings and the politics of an issue. While that is half true, the other part of the job is understanding how what happens in D.C. affects the rest of the country.

I know many people who don’t like “politics.” And while I understand where they’re coming from (because it can be very confusing to grasp), politics and policies encompass everything in this country.

Every single bill that passes through Congress and is signed by the President affects citizens nationwide, whether they know it or not. This idea was even more apparent these past two weeks.

So what happens when your job is covering the government as a journalist, but the government shuts down? As always, you concentrate on real people and their stories.

My shutdown stories:
“D.C. tourism takes a hit during government shutdown”

“Youth least likely to follow government shutdown news, report says”

– Jayna Omaye

Living vs dead Chinatowns, gentrification & elections

AALDEF, the NYC based Asian American civil rights organization, has a new report out about the rate of gentrification in Chinatowns in NYC, Boston, and Philadelphia. (I guess DC was just a lost cause.) In conjunction with the discussion of this article, I want to propose the idea of “living” (these three cities, Chicago, San Francisco) versus “dead” Chinatowns (DC.) In my mind, when I walk the streets of a given Chinatown, “living” connotes active engagement and residency by the Chinese American community versus the slick, big box retail feel of Washington, DC Chinatown, which most Chinese Americans fled decades ago for Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax, VA. The shops in DC Chinatown are adorned in bright signs with Chinese characters, but have very little daily relevance to Chinese or Chinese American culture, such as the skateboard shop, the Ann Taylor, and the Legal Seafood.

It’s a very read-worthy report, and I’ve gone on the walking tour of Boston Chinatown where you can see how highway I-93 literally cuts through the enclave, with a half-sheared building standing mute but providing powerful testimony to interesting municipal planning. The report illuminated that the AAPI population in Boston Chinatown went from 70% in 1990 to 46% in 2010. Philadelphia Chinatown has been encroached upon by developers, and was under threat from a proposed casino for a significant period. NYC Chinatown was at one point overtaking Little Italy, but now with the New Museum and the gentrification of the Bowery, is being pressed upon by towering luxury apartment buildings. Not to mention, Park Row, a residential community adjacent to South Chinatown, and nearby commercial buildings (shops and restaurants) have been under the shadow of 9/11 for 12 years, with limited access for a substantial period of time (9/11 cleanup), depressing retail sales. To this day, there are armed police stations that guard the entrance path to Park Row.

San Francisco Chinatown has managed to thrive due to a high intra-ethnicity turnover rate, and Chicago Chinatown (of which, really, there are 3 – historic Chinatown, “new” Argyle (largely Vietnamese-Chinese American) Chinatown, and “new new” Chinatown, which is across the street from historic Chinatown, and includes a number of residential properties that have lured second and third generation Chinese Americans back to the city center. (There is some small degree of this happening in other cities as well, but in my mind, Chicago has done a better job than most.)

The reason that I keep rotating back to this issue of whether Chinese Americans who have “made it” come back is because it is also a large part of why “living” Chinatowns become essentially “dead” Chinatowns. Moving out of Chinatown and to the suburbs is intrinsically seen as one of the markers of success for first, second, and third generation Chinese Americans. This is antithetical to keeping Chinatowns vibrant. This is separate from biased and discriminatory urban planning decisions hatched in concert with the stereotypically greedy developers. And it absolutely doesn’t discount folks who want to stay but get pushed out – I’m just bringing this up because it’s also a real thing.

Don’t get me wrong – DC Chinatown/Verizon Center is more bustling and lively than a decade ago, and is now an economic engine and one of the hearts of the city, but the business owners by and large do not live there. Although the DC AAPI population has risen 60% since 2000, according to the 2010 Census.

In NYC, the press of developers on the boundaries of Chinatown has caused friends who have lived, breathed, and worked in Chinatown for decades to move to Harlem, where elected officials like City Councilor Melissa Mark-Vivitero have noticed the increase of AAPIs. This follows on a previous out-migration to Queens (Flushing, Woodside, etc.), Brooklyn (where there is another Chinatown), New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut.

So how do we keep the living nature of Chinatowns across the country? The report proposes several solutions: reinforcing and constructing more low-income housing, subsidizing local small businesses, prioritizing green spaces, strengthening the links between satellite Asian Am enclaves in the suburbs to the Chinatown cores, and engaging in dialogue with traditional community land owners like the family associations. All of these are great, and I’m going to a step further.

What I’m fundamentally saying is that keeping Chinatown affordable and full of vitality is partially dependent upon the people in elected office. They hold hearings and have influence over city planning to varying degrees. Former At-Large Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon came out of the fight to keep one Boston Chinatown. Michelle Wu and Suzanne Lee are running for city council in Boston (different seats.) Philadelphia has yet to elect a progressive AAPI city councilmember, whereas SF has a plethora of AAPI electeds (and folks in the pipelines to run when the inevitable term limits hit.) AAAF Greater Chicago helped get Alderman Ameya Pawar, the first AAPI alderman ever in Chicago, elected in 2011. Progress is slow, but steady.

Not that AAPI candidates are necessarily going to be informed about the community’s issues, or even live in the Chinatown district. It is incumbent upon the community and those who work to keep living, breathing Chinatowns to educate candidates and elected officials, regardless of their ethnicity. Because we all need allies and champions in this effort, and sometimes people surprise you.

–Caroline

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