07/25/2017

AALDEF: APAs in VA

AAA-Fund invites you to a special presentation of AALDEF’s exit poll results on Asian American vote in Virginia in 2008.

Thursday, June 18
11:30 AM to 1:00 PM
Aladdin Bookstore & Café
4305 Markham Street, 2nd FL
Annandale, VA 22003

RSVP to 800.966.5946 x217 or jyang AT aaldef.org
During the 2008 Presidential Elections, over 1,140 Asian American voters in Annandale, Arlington, Falls Church, Centreville, Fairfax, Glen Allen, Midlothian, and Virginia Beach participated in the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s (AALDEF) multilingual exit poll.  The exit poll was the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation and was conducted in twelve Asian languages and English across 39 cities in 11 states.

The exit poll reveals vital information about Asian American voting patterns that is often overlooked in mainstream voter surveys.  At this special presentation, comparative information will be given about the Asian American vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections, concerns about key issues, first-time voters, and profiles of the Asian American vote by ethnicity, nativity, party enrollment, age, and English proficiency.
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Sponsors

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in cooperation with
APIAVote — Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center
Asian American Action Fund Virginia Chapter — Asian American Society of Central VA
Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of VA — Korean American Coalition–DC
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, DC Area
Korean Community Service Center of Greater Washington
National Association of Korean Americans — OCA – Eastern VA & Northern VA
South Asian Americans Leading Together — South Asian Bar Association of DC

An Immigrant for Prez?

An immigrant’s son was just sworn in as our 44th President. Should immigrants be allowed to run for president? Make sure your voice is heard in the AAA-Fund’s latest poll.

Update: Curious about how folks voted? Track the poll results! After you have voted, click on the “Next” box, click on two “Done” boxes, and you can see the instantaneous poll results. As of 10:52 am PT, a whopping 80 percent believed that immigrants should be able to run for President. Click here to take the poll!

— Gautam Dutta

Grassroots Gala

From our friends at Asian Pacific Americans for Progress:

Commemorate this historic inauguration in one of the most elegant private party venues in D.C.— Perry’s Restaurant in the heart of Adams Morgan. Come join your fellow grassroots activists and organizers as we celebrate our achievements, recognize our leaders and look towards the future! Co-sponsored by Asian Americans for Obama, Filipinos for Obama and South Asians for Obama

To order tickets go to: http://www.actblue.com/page/apap-grassroots-group

DATE: January 20, 2009
TIME: 8 p.m. to closing
PLACE: Perry’s Restaurant
1811 Columbia Road
Washington, D.C. 20009
http://www.perrysadamsmorgan.com/

Grassroots Gala (8:00 – 11:00 pm)
Celebrating the Grassroots! Guests attending this distinctively stylish gala celebration will enjoy a five-star selection of sushi, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and a partial open bar while listening to live jazz performed by world-class musicians.
General Admission – $125
Group Rates for 5 or more – $100 per ticket
Students – $75 per ticket

Bollywood Afterparty (midnight to closing)
Featuring Ashu Rai and DJ Bobby, Resident DJs for the NYC-based Desilicious parties. A cash bar will be available for revelers until closing.
General Admission – $50 per ticket
Students and Groups Rate for 5 or more – $25 per ticket

Special All-Access Passes to the Grassroots Gala and Bollywood Afterparty, as well as a VIP Cocktail Reception with elected officials and community leaders from 5:00-7:30 pm with elected officials for – $250!

Blago's Bollywood Drama

How has the Blagojevich scandal affected Chicago’s Asian American community? Guest Blogger Vijay Prashad, a professor at Trinity College, examines the disgraced Illinois Governor’s ties to the Indian American community. His piece was originally published in Counterpunch.

In 2007, the Illinois government renamed a major freeway that links the wealthy suburbs of northern Chicago the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. This roadway runs though the heart of northern Chicago’s urban sprawl, the expanse of concrete and glass that makes up corporate headquarters (Motorola and United Airlines) and mega-shopping centres (the Woodfield Mall and the Huntley Prime Outlets). Jane Addams, a famous social reformer, would probably not have taken kindly to her name being tied to these churches of American capitalism. The town of Schaumburg sits in the middle of this “Golden Corridor”, and in the middle of this town is the India House Restaurant.

On October 31, a Konkani businessman, Raghuveer Nayak, booked India House for a private party. He hosted luminaries of Chicago’s business community, people such as pharmacy owners Harish and Renuka Bhatt, hotelier Satish “Sonny” Gabhawala, and prominent political leaders of the Indian-American community, such as Babu Patel and Iftekhar Shareef (both past presidents of the Federation of Indian Associations). Nayak, also a former head of the Federation of Indian Associations, owns a group of surgical centres. A highly regarded Democratic Party fund-raiser, Nayak is also a friend of another person who attended the lunch, Rajinder Bedi, an aide to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (the Governor calls Bedi “My Sikh Warrior”). In addition, among the few who are not Indian American, the party included Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s brother Jonathan. Governor Blagojevich made a brief appearance.

People who attended the party made it clear, anonymously, that Nayak brought them together to put his friend Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s name up for the Senate. It had become clear that Senator Barack Obama would win the presidential contest to be held the next week, and these deep pockets realised that his elevation would open the Senate seat. The Governor of Illinois would have the right to fill the seat until the next election cycle. Nayak, Bedi, Bhatt and others wanted to put in a good word for their friend, Congressman Jackson. Gabhawala told Chicago Tribune that he saw Bedi and Nayak try to convince Babu Patel, a Blagojevich fund-raiser, to use his influence and money on Jackson’s behalf.

In a country whose highest court decided that political donations are a form of free speech, it is to be expected that you cannot put in a word for someone without opening your wallet. According to a federal indictment and to reliable sources at the meeting, the fund-raisers promised to raise over a million dollars towards Blagojevich, who would then nominate Jackson to fill Obama’s Senate seat. Later that day, a federal government wiretap caught the Governor saying, “We were approached pay-to-play, that, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a Senator.”

On December 4, the Governor met with “Advisor B” (as he is named in the criminal complaint) and told him that “Senate Candidate 5” (Jesse Jackson Jr.) would get “greater consideration” because of a surety that No. 5 would help Blagojevich raise money and that he would give him “some [money] up front, maybe.” Blagojevich wanted something “tangible” now because “some of this stuff’s gotta start happening now… right now… and we gotta see it. You understand?”

Two days later, a month after Obama’s victorious election, the principal fund-raisers from the India House gathering came to a suburban home in Elmhurst, another of the wealthy suburban towns that ring Chicago. Here, according to Chicago Tribune, the Indian-American businessmen discussed raising $1 million to $1.5 million. At the October 31 fund-raiser, Nayak had already made it clear to Bhatt that he could find half a million, but Bhatt and others would have to come up with the other half million. The December 4 meeting apparently made this vision reality.

Right after Obama’s election, Blagojevich said, “I want to make some money.” He was agnostic about whom he would nominate to Obama’s seat as long as he would get some tangible benefit from the act. Obama’s team, by all accounts, refused to barter the seat although questions remain about the contact between Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and the Blagojevich people.

Jackson says that he had limited contact with Blagojevich, and when the scandal broke, he said, “I did not initiate nor authorise anyone, at any time, to promise anything to Gov. Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the Governor to make an offer or to propose a deal about the U.S. Senate seat.” Federal officials arrested Blagojevich on December 9 on charges of corruption. He is now out on bail, facing an impeachment motion in the Illinois legislature.

The spotlight turned, briefly, on the Indian-American community in Chicago. These men, Nayak, Bhatt and Bedi, were a sideshow to the greater scandals, which were how much Jackson knew and what kind of contact Obama’s transition team had with Blagojevich. Over the years, Blagojevich and Jackson had cultivated the increasingly affluent Indian-American community in Chicago. Blagojevich had a fruitful relationship with the banker Amrish Mahajan and his wife, the businesswoman Anita Mahajan. “Uncle Amrish”, as many know him, came to prominence through his close ties with the Parrillo family (a political clan that is linked to the Chicago mafia).

Mahajan rose to the head of Mutual Bank, whose well-heeled customers donated money to politicians anointed by the Mahajans. Blagojevich was a major beneficiary, as money entered his campaign war chest, and his wife, Patti, earned huge real estate contracts from the Mahajan circle. In 2007, the government arrested and charged Anita Mahajan with overbilling the State for millions of dollars on her State contract. Harish Bhatt’s pharmacies are currently under investigation on the grounds that Bhatt’s fund-raising for Blagojevich turned into phone calls to regulators to lay off from their investigation of fraud.

All of this has frazzled the Indian-American community. Nayak is a well-regarded businessman and a philanthropist. His charity includes setting up hospitals in India and raising funds for tsunami relief. Nayak’s closest ties are with the Jackson family.

He won the PUSH Excellence for Public Service award from Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push and accompanied Jackson to India in November 2007. (Nayak organised a lecture by Jackson at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.) In addition, Nayak brought the main Chicago Democrats into the India Caucus and was a booster for the India-U.S. nuclear deal. Nayak, Mahajan, Bedi, Bhatt and others are all close allies who have leveraged their political connections for economic gain and used that money to strengthen their political heft.

Everything that the Indian Americans did is customary. Political campaigns have become overwhelmingly expensive. The 2008 presidential race cost more than $1 billion. In addition, elected officials live within the social confines of the very wealthy and often aspire to their lifestyle. Even as more and more millionaires run for public office, the bulk of the elected officials do not win on the strength of family wealth.

Their jobs do not provide them with the kind of funds to earn the six- or seven-figure salaries that they would need to fulfil their upwardly mobile aspirations.

Scandals are now commonplace. The fallout from the sleazy pay-to-play empire set up by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff continues to resonate through Washington, D.C., notably inside the Republican Party (many of whose elected officials, such as Congressman Randy Cunningham, are now in prison).

Near my town, in western Massachusetts, a contractor goes to see the local Mayor to deliver his regular payment of $5,000. The Mayor, Richard Goyette, stops him. “What, no envelope?” he asks, stuffing the money into his pockets. In a federal wiretap, Goyette complains about those who had to pay him to earn city contracts, “They’re all greedy.” The symbiotic relationship between money and power is evident regardless of the scale, from a small municipal contract to the large no-bid contracts for firms to operate in Iraq (such as Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton).

Sleaze is characteristic of American politics, and it is one of the principal reasons for the lack of faith among the population in their elected officials and in the political process in general. Large numbers of people refuse to vote on election day for precisely the reason that they do not trust the process. Their withdrawal allows the connected and the wealthy to make the system their own, cynically.

Obama’s election raised hopes and brought large numbers of people to the polls. Millions hope that it will turn the page on the corruption at all levels of government. The Blagojevich scandal is a reality check, a reminder of how widespread corruption has become. Obama’s link to Blagojevich threatens to revive a sense of hopelessness.

Blagojevich’s various scandals are quite pedestrian in today’s America. One of them is that he wanted a payoff for the expansion of the Jane Addams Tollway. That deal did not happen over samosas and masala tea. But others did. When Obama won, Blagojevich recognized quickly that he had a “golden” opportunity, a goose that could lay a million eggs in one swoop. The larger the deal, the less the squalor.

Three of the past six Illinois governors spent time in jail for corruption, so the odds were always against Blagojevich. His affinity with the Indian Americans is not just for their money but also because both share the hunger of immigrants (Blagojevich is the son of a Serbian immigrant and a working-class American woman). Just as Bedi, Nayak, Bhatt and Mahajan turned to Blagojevich for their ascent, he was gifted by marriage to the politically connected Mell family. Money, power, family: this is as much a Hollywood as a Bollywood drama.

— Vijay Prashad

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