April 24, 2014

Slaughter in Egypt

Q: How do you make people more sympathetic to religious fundamentalists?

A: Make martyrs of the religious fundamentalists by slaughtering them in broad daylight.

The Meaning of Patriotism: Edward Snowden

Is Edward Snowden a patriot or a traitor?  It’s only fitting to bring this up over the July 4 weekend.

As for myself, I’m not sold that he’s in either category.  On the one hand, it takes guts to reveal that our government (specifically, the NSA) has been illegally spying on us.  On the other hand, why did Snowden reveal some embarrassing information that had nothing to do with our civil liberties?  What good did it accomplish to reveal that our country has spied on both our competitors and allies?

Personally, I wish Snowden would return to the US to stand trial.  Given that a lot of people have already volunteered to fund his defense, he would receive a fair hearing.

What do you think about Edward Snowden?

– Gautam Dutta

Arizona v. ITCA: Translate the Bigots

Protect the Right to Vote

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Arizona’s Proposition 200, the state’s restrictive new voter registration law, in a 7-2 decision in Arizona v. ITCA.

Background (skip if you already know it): Earlier this year, many of our friends filed amicus brief on behalf of 12 other Asian American organizations arguing that SCOTUS strike down Prop 200 for unfairly burdening naturalized citizens, who make up almost 40% of the state’s Asian American population. Congress thus retains the power to pre-empt inconsistent state laws with regards to federal elections, thereby striking down Arizona’s Prop 200 law by finding that it violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA established a national form for voter registration, with a clear provision that no additional requirements may be imposed by the states. The brief argued that Arizona’s Prop 200 imposed additional registration requirements on the national form, in a clear violation of the NVRA. The federal voter registration form is particularly beneficial to Asian Americans because it is translated into Asian languages. In states that do not translate their state voter registration forms, voters may use the federal form, which is translated into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. Prop 200 also violated the purpose of the NVRA by imposing unequal burdens on foreign-born, naturalized U.S. citizens who are registering to vote. These additional requirements disproportionately affected Asian Americans in Arizona, because a high percentage of them (~40%) are naturalized citizens, compared to only about 5% of white non-Latino citizens. The decision casts doubt on the efforts of other states, namely Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia and 7 other similarly backward states that may disenfranchise voters with citizenship laws.

Now my bit: that all eligible citizens, either naturalized or native-born, have full and equal access to the electoral process, is a theme we repeatedly see conservatives disavow. Their usual protectionist, misplaced patriotism, using religion or policy as excuses for hating foreigners & general inepitude about talking to or about due process is again on display. They might claim their usual claims which calls for a table. It’s been a while since I’ve done one (last time was years ago):

what they say what they mean
Engish is the national language, required no it’s not, stop revising history as you do naturally
foreigners must fit in same thing as using religion to justify your personal flaws (i.e. hating gays)
only Americans should vote sure, but you mean, Americans you agree with only? that’s why you’re not allowed to regulate the right to vote
protect America from non-Americans usual political phrasing you were fed from watching Fox only
why have government spend money translating? why have the government pay for the highways you so badly need?
why stop at just a few Asian languages? would you support any language?
we should know who’s voting sure, just don’t have it be an unreasonable requirement to protect your own kind
we will appeal admit it, you just hate foreigners and want to protect other billy bob’s like yourself
we seek to uphold the law you uphold only the law you want, just like you pick-and-choose the parts of religion you prefer and ignore, say, Jesus’ whole charity bit

The truth is ugly. Out it by writing for us or entering our blogathon.

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:


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:


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

Royal Tragedy

This story’s really upsetting.  The British nurse who allowed a prank radio-station call to go through to England’s future queen when she was staying at the hospital committed suicide.  While it’s unfortunate that Kate Middleton got an annoying call, it’s shocking that nurse Jacintha Saldanha felt that she had to kill herself to make amends for her understandable mistake.

Let’s pretend that Middleton was just an ordinary Brit whom the tabloids did not care about.  Would anyone have cared then if she’d received a prank call?

It’s truly a sad moment when a royal prank leads to tragedy.

– Gautam Dutta

Question of the Week: Egypt

True or False:  Holding an election is undemocratic.

True — according to critics of controversial Egyptian President Morsi.

– Gautam Dutta

Whither Hillary?

We applaud Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for playing a key role in bringing out a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.  We hope that both sides will give peace a chance, as it’s the only way the entire region can move forward.

Which brings up an intriguing question.  If Clinton steps down as Secretary of State, will she run for the White House in 2016 — and become the first female President?  While she would face some strong competition, she would certainly begin as the frontrunner.

A lot can happen in four more years.

– Gautam Dutta


Counting our Blessings

While Obama and Romney are vying for the White House, a more violent struggle is going on in Pakistan.  A couple days back, the Taliban nearly killed a 14-year-old student who had fought for a girl’s right to get an education.

No one should take democracy — and freedom — for granted.

– Gautam Dutta

October 6: Korean Americans for Obama, Philadelphia GOTV & Voter Registration

Editor’s Note: The below is from our friends at Korean Americans for Obama Philadelphia chapter. They share our mission to increase AAPI participation in US politics. Related news from their chapter is that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Simpson today issued a preliminary injunction which stops the full implementation of the Voter ID law from taking place during the upcoming election. Voter ID proponents however still work to remove Pennsylvanians’ right to vote. This Republican tactic cannot not silence the will of Pennsylvania’s voters. Note the Pennsylvania Democratic Party for more info.

Happy Chuseok! Register to vote for November 6′s elections! Want to register? Want to help others to vote? In Northwestern Philadelphia? Come to voter registration & GOTV both at Calvary Vision Church, 550 East Township Line Rd, Ste 200, Blue Bell, PA on Saturday, October 6th 10-4pm with AAPIs for Obama’s Korean Americans for Obama (KAFO). Contact Mara and Judi for volunteer opportunities.

For overseas Koreans interested voting in the Korean Presidential elections on December 19, register by October 20th (welcome video) by visiting your nearest Korean mission (list here with your passport.

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