November 24, 2014

Why Do Both Parties Fare so Badly with the Public?

Sen. Mike Lee, a co-founder of the Senate tea party caucus. Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography

Some is image, some is reality, some is tough times – but neither will crack that on their current path.

The GOP knows it has an image problem. It regularly polls below anything this side of toenail fungus. So the party elders have spent a lot of energy considering how to fix their messaging. The real problem, though, doesn’t seem to lie as much with the messaging as the message. The GOP in practice is for all intents and purposes the party of the one percent (or the point one percent). Some of its principles are positive messages – freedom, entrepreneurship, and so forth. What it actually does, however, is advocate for the elite at the expense of everyone else – and it really doesn’t even propose, much less seriously push, anything that helps the everyman. The public seems to get that – maybe imperfectly, but they get it. In their mind, the GOP has become the party of the plutocrats – with an antiscientific and often wilfully blind crowd of Fox News viewers cobbled on. This is not an appetizing portrait. In fact arguably the mystery is not why the GOP doesn’t do better, but why it does as well as it does while acting so consistently to the detriment of most of its own voters.

So why don’t liberals clean up? Because they don’t look too great themselves. Substantively they haven’t delivered on their promises. Maybe that is, as Kuttner says, because of conservative obstruction to a greater or lesser degree. But the average voter doesn’t seem to care nearly as much about the why as about the what – and the what is a lack of major improvement. Worse still, many see them as just throwing tax dollars away on different interest groups – and when those groups are not them, it’s unfavorable. This is particularly bad when times are tight – people seem more willing to be generous with the poor when they are in good shape themselves, but when people are straining to make ends meet, it’s harder to favor payments to anyone else – particularly those who are perceived as working less hard (or not at all). Liberals also have the problem that they are identified with government, which people generally think doesn’t work. Ok, partly they think that because conservatives are doing their best to make sure it doesn’t work. But government is also pretty good at botching things up even when no one is deliberately throwing wrenches into the gears. Take Healthcare.gov. So liberals look to most of the public as maybe closer in heart to the middle class than conservatives, but ineffective, catering to the indolent with money the country doesn’t have, and not a very positive alternative in themselves.

The negative views of both sides are exacerbated by gridlock and polarization. Between the very deep divides that exist and the quirks of the political process, (gerrymandering etc) it is very difficult for either side to really do things. There have been major exceptions, true (eg the Bush tax cuts or Obamacare). Still, it’s so much easier to stop then to do that neither party can end up with much in the way of trophies. Even when something gets done at all, it’s complicated, messy, and usually unsatisfying in one way or another. There seems to be an absence of “grand triumphs” that anyone can trumpet. This leads to even greater disaffection and disappointment, as well as a political culture of persistently running on not being the other guy rather than having a positive message. With the possible exception of Obama in 2008, it’s rare that anyone wins for who they claim to be rather than who they aren’t. The last several *waves” have all been incarnations to one level or another of “throw da bums out”, with no real mandates for (or even really approval of) their replacements.

Maybe part of this is that when things are on a general downward slope, everyone is dissatisfied – the opposite facet of the rising tide lifts all boats trope. We’re currently coping with a whole series of trends – the soaring costs of health care and college, the hollowing out of certain sectors, the sluggish job situation, etc, etc – that have been building for years. Taken together, they create a generalized and quite justifiable angst in the electorate – especially given that most were raised in better living standards than even relatively good jobs can support now. That angst lies behind much of the Tea Party frustration (though whether that angst has been targeted in the right directions is another question entirely). On top of that, really turning things around is exceedingly difficult especially given a toxic political climate and often postrational debate environment, where actual facts matter less and less to a disturbingly high fraction of the politicians and the people as well. With a chronically disappointed electorate, elections seem to boil down to picking lesser of two evils in all but the most unusual cases.

The bottom line is that both parties have severe image problems – but that really isn’t the core of the problem. To a much greater degree, they have substance problems (maybe in the literal sense too for some members) underlying them. Both have to operate in a difficult environment against a backdrop of tremendous angst. And both have opportunities to change where they stand and how they see things going – but they aren’t likely to be able to really fix anything on their own either, so victories will remain fleeting and the battle will continue to be second worst until the game changes.

– Dale Edmondson

“Where are you ‘from, from?’”

A recent campaign organized by Harvard students called “I, Too, Am Harvard,” has sparked discussions of racial comments and the diverse experiences people of color face.

The campaign highlights black Harvard students’ experiences of fleeting racial comments based on stereotypes associated with being black on a university campus. Originally organized as a play stemming from interviews with members of the black Harvard community, the campaign has expanded to a photo series, where black students hold up signs with statements such as “Can you read?” and “You’re lucky to be black…so easy to get into college!” to illustrate these stinging comments made by classmates, friends and others.

“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned—this project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here. This place is ours. We, TOO, are Harvard,” read the description of the campaign’s Tumblr page.

Harvard, where black students make up 11 percent of the class of 2017, has responded positively to the campaign, according to a recent USA Today article.

Although the campaign focused on Harvard’s black community, a recent New York Times article explored how subtle comments like those highlighted at Harvard can have bigger racial and ethnic implications on minority groups. The article showcased some Asian stereotypes, such as hiring “the Asian computer programmer because you think he’s going to be a good programmer because he’s Asian.”

Others in the Asian-American community have also addressed similar issues of ethnic identity and origin. Wong Fu Productions, a California-based film production company run by three Asian-Americans, recently posted a video skit called “Accidental Racism,” where coworkers of different ethnicities probe each other about their ethnicity and origin.

In the skit, one of the actors asks her Asian-American coworker, “Where are you from, from though?,” to which he responds, “If you’re asking me where my family is from—China, I guess.” It is also interesting that the Asian-American coworker then asks another man from Kentucky the same types of racial comments without realizing the similarities and stereotypical undertones.

Another video series from ISAtv, a YouTube channel focused on issues of the Asian-American community, called “Level: Asian,” follows two Asian-American brothers as they explore what being Asian means to different people. In their most recent video, they ask UCLA students about the Asian college lifestyle and the question, “Do you think all Asians go to good colleges?”

Have you ever been asked about your ethnicity and been offended by someone’s probing question of “No, where are you actually from?” Or do these questions not bother you? Can these comments be considered “racism 2.0” as one source in the recent New York Times article labeled it? Or do these questions stem from genuine curiosity from someone who may not be as familiar or aware of your culture as you are?

Jayna Omaye recently earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. As a student reporter, she previously covered politics, immigration and demographics in Washington, D.C. for a number of national media outlets, including USA Today, McClatchy, MarketWatch and the Military Times.

Follow her on Twitter: @JaynaOmaye

Thriving in the gray areas

News judgment is one of those tough-to-describe intangible concepts that best represents a balance between understanding what readers want to read and knowing what they should read.

But it’s never that simple.

As journalists, we are told that we need to have “good” news judgment. But all journalists possess a different sense of what’s newsworthy based on their own values and backgrounds. So how can all of us have the same news judgment? Isn’t that what diversity is meant for, to provide different perspectives on issues?

This past week, I worked on a story about the effectiveness of solitary confinement in protecting gay and transgender immigrants held at U.S. detention centers. Although solitary confinement is supposedly used to protect these vulnerable immigrants from abuse and assault from other detainees, a new report found that the psychological trauma of solitariness can be extremely harmful and in some cases, irreversible.

I pitched this story to a couple of publications that I thought would be interested, but they didn’t want it.

Although I finally found an outlet that published my story, I did not understand why this underreported issue was deemed not newsworthy to some.

Maybe it was my background and experiences that shaped the way I saw this piece. Or maybe I need to develop my skills and gain more experience, because this isn’t the first time I felt this disconnect.

Yes, my story affected a smaller demographic (gay and transgender immigrant detainees), but that does not mean it is not important. Most good stories are rarely isolated issues, and many journalists understand that a smaller issue is part of a bigger problem. With this particular story, it dealt with the bigger picture of immigration reform and how we, as a country, treat vulnerable populations.

So the most important part of news judgment is the balance between want and need. Working at a media outlet requires a journalist to hone into the publication’s audience and understand what they want to read about. However, journalism is also about setting the news agenda and publishing stories that we think our readers should know about. How do we find that balance, especially when everyone has such different backgrounds and perspectives? Should we place want before need or vice versa?

I don’t know if there will ever be a black-and-white answer to these questions. However, I think good journalists are able to thrive in the gray areas and help their audiences understand that many issues today are rarely black and white.

LGBT immigrant story:
“Report raises concerns about solitary detention for gay, transgender immigrants”

The Reminder of One Community’s Success

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri

Editor’s Note: We moderate all comments, including inappropriate and racist ones.

I have never watched the Miss America pageant live, so when I heard about the news of Nina Davuluri becoming the first South Asian American to win the Miss America title, it was from my Facebook mobile app the morning after. Yet, barely five minutes passed before my Facebook friends started posting news stories on the racist backlash to someone of Davuluri’s lineage attaining the title “Miss America.”

Whatever your views on the Miss America pageant, Davuluri’s success is nothing to take lightly. While the pageant has its origins since the 1920s, it was not until 1983 when the first African-American woman would wear the crown and in 2001 when the title went to a Hawaii-born Filipino woman. As groundbreaking as her accomplishment may be, the reaction on the Internet is nothing new. When Cheerios released a commercial in which a little girl adorably pours cereal all over her African-American father’s chest because her White mother said Cheerios is “heart healthy,” the company had to disable YouTube comments. When a 10-year old Latino boy (beautifully) sang the National Anthem while wearing a traditional mariachi outfit, stinging tweets speculating about the boy’s immigrant status filled the online world.

Each ethnic and underrepresented community always celebrates a victory when someone from that community achieves some success (my mother still boasts about how a National spelling bee champion is Indian, as if the child were her own). Yet, we are constantly reminded of the outsider status minorities share in this country and how no matter what the achievement, no community is immune from the vitriol of the anonymous online poster. It is a humble reminder that the advent of technology and communication modes, as well as progress in other areas, do not reflect a change in attitude of the entire American public. So while we praise Davuluri’s win and read all about it on our smartphones, laptops, and tablets, we are reminded that there are some who will simply burn up inside to see another community’s success.

– K.J. Bagchi

Amanda Terkel

A long form interview from C-SPAN Q&A with Amanda Terkel, senior political reporter and politics managing editor at the Huffington Post, whose surname belies her Korean-American background & whose life story & motivations are very familiar to our readers. Her story is truly too great not to share.

It must be noted that the political attacks against her are wholly ignorable for the triviality versus her work’s greater purpose. We could go on & on about the pettiness of the critics but her success makes us all proud & greater.

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.

July 25: NYC AAIFF with AALDEF

AALDEF
Asian CineVision

Join the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) on Thursday, July 25 at the 36th Asian American International Film Festival for a screening of:

LIL TOKYO REPORTER
Director Jeffrey Chin | 30 mins
Civil rights leader and newspaperman Sei Fujii discovers several hurdles to acquire equal rights, within his own community and beyond.
Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 6:30PM
Anthology Film Archives
32 2nd Ave (between 1st & 2nd Ave)

Other short films in the INTO PENUMBRA program:
Only Child
Director Christian Gosset | 6 mins
Keye Luke
Director Timothy Tau | 12 mins
Or Die…
Directors Gregory Bonsignore & John Petaja | 12 mins
More Than a Face in the Crowd
Director Samantha Chan | 25 mins

Discounted tickets for AALDEF friends are $10.50. Tickets are non-refundable. Please also consider a $5 donation (or more!) to help support AALDEF’s legal and educational programs.

RSVP by Monday, July 22th. For information or to purchase tickets, contact Jennifer Weng at 212.966.5932 x212 or events@aaldef.org.

The film festival runs from July 24 – August 3. Check out the entire schedule at AsianCinevision.org/AAIFF.

A dialogue on n+1’s “White Indians” piece

Editor’s note: In reading n+1’s “White Indians,” I had my own thoughts and solicited the opinions of two Indian American friends, who agreed to have our dialogue published as long as they were anonymized. Let’s call them J and T. This is by no means meant to symbolize what all Indian Americans or all Asian Americans think; what follows is real talk about race, hip hop, arts and culture, and politics amongst friends.:

“White Indians” argues that South Asian Americans are a “safe” minority to have on-screen, that “no color is safer than South Asian brown. No minority presence in the US is more reassuring, or less likely to get angry or acknowledge your antiblack racism.”

C: My initial take was that as well written as the article is, I have mixed feelings because the editors (including editor Nikil Saval) don’t talk about the current mainstream or the conflation of South Asian American with the scary terrorist. Conflicted about a lot of it, but the handling of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley is spot on. Have noticed and cheered rise of desis on tv.

J: Thank you for sending this provocative article. I completely agree with your assessment of it esp. about Muslim-Americans. I too have mixed feelings, particularly about the caustic writing style. It kind of put me in a funk reading it in the morning. It was kind of all over the place and written from a masculine perspective. Why didn’t he mention The Mindy Project? asked K. One error that I’d point out is that Vijay Prashad actually says that the folks who came through the highly skilled labor pool were from middle-class families in India, not wealthy elites. Prof. Pras(h)ad was referenced in a poorly edited documentary “Not a Feather But a Dot.”

T: I actually thought it was very well-written, though after a while it did come off as ranting. That’s the point where I think it lost an overall thesis to the whole piece. However, I do agree with a lot of the points brought up, it’s all stuff I’ve heard in various places since college, just collated.

I agree with his point about Desi actors, but at the same time, I’m conflicted b/c I know a lot of them. They struggle for roles, because diverse roles don’t often exist for south asian actors — the reason the Outsourced people were so excited was, even though they were stereotyped roles, they were LEAD roles, something a lot of those actors have strived for for a long, long time and rarely gotten a shot at. And in the arts, Desis gravitate towards being performers, but not as much towards directing and producing, i.e. decision-making that would open up more opportunities for non-white actors. So essentially, they take what they can get, and I don’t think you can fault them for it. Kind of similar to Hattie McDaniel…..people always gave her crap about taking stereotyped black “mammie” roles, but at the same time, she won an OSCAR as a black woman in the 1930’s. You have to give her credit for that.

There actually are a lot of indian americans (younger) that Identify more with hip-hop culture and not so much the whiteness — but these are the kids of working class families, not the ones that grew up in affluent, “whiter” suburbs. Also — there are a lot of younger Indians leaning to the right, the ones who grew up in more affluent suburbs and all want to open their own businesses, or who are culturally sheltered and think gay marriage is gross….

J: Yeah, one of my young 18 year old cousins is a mini-Republican in the making, all about entrepreneurship, and grew up in predominantly white affluent suburbs. hip-hop is no longer black, urban, or low-income in its roots anymore – it’s global, and there are plenty of people of all races who identify with it, both as listeners and producers.

T: My point about the hip hop was not so much about identifying with blacks (look at most of Irvine, CA as an illustration — hip hop oriented but still very, very Asian). A better way of saying it is that there’s a contingent of young Desis who are not white-identifying, usually from less affluent backgrounds.

C: I think there is a subset of any minority that is not white or mainstream identifying. 626 and Garden City CA is a good example too. How does this compare with the diaspora experience?

Actually, if you don’t mind, this is a pretty educational dialogue. Would it be ok to post this dialogue, with names stripped out if you prefer, to the aaa fund blog?

T: I’m fine if you post the comments, i’ll leave it up to J.

J: Sure, no names please.

–Caroline

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

AAA-Fund Endorses Mike Honda for Congress

AAAF logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gautam Dutta, Esq. (415) 236-2048; Dutta@BusinessandElectionLaw.com

WASHINGTON, DC, April 9, 2013—Asian American Action Fund (AAA-Fund) endorsed the re-election campaign of California Congressmember Mike Honda.

Mike Honda currently represents California’s 17th Congressional District (North San Jose, Fremont, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Milpitas, and Newark), and has served in Congress since 2001. In addition to sitting on the House Committee on Appropriations, Congressman Honda spearheaded the Wireless Task Force and co-chairs the Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group.

Gautam Dutta, AAA-Fund’s Executive Director, praised Congressmember Honda’s strong record of leadership:  “We’re thrilled to endorse Congressman Honda.  For the past 12 years, Congressman Honda has united the entire Asian American community, and given a powerful voice to Asian Americans, Silicon Valley, and the community-at-large.”

Former Sunnyvale Mayor and AAA-Fund Board member Otto Lee added:  “Throughout his career, Congressman Honda has selflessly mentored many of our community’s rising leaders, including newly elected Congressmember Ami Bera, the third South Asian to serve in Congress.”

Congressman Honda’s commitment to public service is unwavering.  He joined the Peace Corps when he was 24 years old and, thereafter, was an educator in the public school system for about 30 years.  His lifelong dedication to social justice, fighting racism and expanding equal opportunity for all stems from his experiences in internment camp as a Japanese American during his early childhood.

“Today, as Congress debates immigration reform, Congressman Honda leads his colleagues on the issue of reuniting families – one of the greatest concerns for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Dutta added.

Congressman Honda shares his leadership on issues affecting today’s latest technologies with his longstanding leadership of the Asian American community on immigration, civil rights, and education. He now serves as Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

AAA-Fund is a Democratic political action committee whose goal is to increase the voice of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) on every level of local, state and federal government in America. To achieve this goal, we address the chronic under-representation of AAPIs as campaign volunteers, campaign contributors, and candidates for political office. AAA-Fund has endorsed candidates across the country.

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