Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Segregation in church

An interesting story about one agnostic who attended a friend's choir performance in church, got called out, and won an argument with the preacher in front of a room full of believers.

Not an APIA so far as I know, but a graceful way to present one's opinion while making some necessary points.

It has been a long time since I stepped inside a church (apart from attending a wedding or funeral) but generally I go through the motions out of respect for the loving or the deceased. Sometimes I feel disingenuous, and sometimes I just feel really out of place, but usually it crosses my mind that I'm bowing down to a false god (albeit out of courtesy to others.) The experience might disturb me, or leave me feeling unsettled.

This story from dailykos is a good example of how to pick a good time and place to make an argument for agnosticism, even if you didn't mean to get into it.

(On a housekeeping note, there are so many things I want to write about: Texas, Delay, Voting Rights, Katrina, Mineta. And so little time. But I promise to write something new this week as I've been lagging in my blogging. Not quite the bloggers' fatigue that Reappropriate describes but just fatigue in general. I think I need another vacation already, thankfully July 4th is just around the corner!)

Education doesn't pay

Sorry for the posting delay. I have some good articles in the works but my life is flying too fast by me currently, some days I wish I had more time just to pause, decompress, and understand it all.

Today I want to draw your attention to the story of Nichole Byrne Lau, who was most recently a teacher at a New York City charter school where she "received an evaluation saying that her students at the Williamsburg Charter High School were 'lucky to have you as their teacher.'" and was also mentioned on the front page of the New York City School's website. (Hat tip to Steve Gilliard where I first saw the article.)

She was fired for showing other teachers at Williamsburg Charter School a copy of the pay school for teachers in NYC public schools, and organizing her colleagues to ask for better salaries and benefits.

Why do I bring this up? Well, her last name is Lau, but it doesn't really matter whether or not she is Asian American or hapa. What is at the heart of the matter here is the way that American society is willing to devalue their teachers. This is one of the central tenets of Asian education that I *do* respect -- not the blind faith and unwillingness to speak out or question authority -- but the status that teachers and professors are accorded in Asian society. This disrespect extends from the children to the parents on up to school admininistrators.

Ask my friends who are teachers what it was like in their first few years, how hard they struggled to control their classrooms, and how much they consistently had to lobby for resources from the schools so that they could DO their jobs of teaching kids. Ask them how they felt when, freshly minted Ivy League degree in hand, people asked them, "But you went to Harvard/Stanford/Columbia - why would you want to teach?!?" with just enough scorn and derision in their voices to make the low salaries and long hours sting that much more.

Ask them about being spat on by kids, about being hit, about unresponsive and ungrateful parents (and administrators). Ask them how fast the idealism drained out of them, like a newborn with a head wound. Small wonder, then, that teacher retention is so low, and demand so high. What makes it worthwhile then? The small victories of seeing a child understand how to solve a math problem are outweighed by unruly classes and seeing much of your salary go toward school supplies for kids -- books, crayons, construction paper, even toilet paper at really broke schools.

Let's look at another field where the employees are similarly in demand, like nursing. Nurses in many parts of the country are represented by unions, and in places with particularly desperate need, they can get signing bonuses of $5,000-20,000. There are no incentives like that for teachers, and one of the few distinctions is that without nurses, people would die due to substandard levels of care.

I would argue that without retaining teachers who are qualified (and Byrne Lau definitely sounds like she fits the bill with a degree from Columbia Teachers University) and paying more to make it a more attractive job, the American future dies as well. Never forget that all of our future employees/leaders/CEOs/presidents come out of the schools, pubilc, private, charter or parochial. Investing in good teachers makes logical sense because it's an investment into our future.

I'd also like to debunk an old canard that "those who can't do, teach." It's that many can't be bothered to teach because there is little to no reward in it. Education can and should pay.

Fight on Nichole Byrne Lau!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Renew the Voting Rights Act

Pop quiz, folks!

Recently, the Republican-dominated US House of Representatives decided to cancel a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act because:

a) it discriminated against the ability of some Southern states to discriminate
b) Republicans wanted to make ballots English only
c) there are state laws in the pipelines that would force more stringent identification like driver's licenses as a prerequisite to being able to vote
d) all of the above.

The Wall Street Journal says, "The federal Voting Rights Act protects minority populations from diminution of their electoral strength."

Find background on voting right here and take action !!!

Clarence Page, an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune writes in "Tinkering with Votnig Rights":
Yet, one need only peruse some of the approximately 1,000 cases upon which the Justice Department has acted since the Voting Rights Act was last renewed in 1982 to find plenty that has kept the department busy.

In 2001, for example, the all-white board of aldermen in Kilmichael, Miss., just happened to cancel the town's local elections only three weeks before Election Day, just as it was becoming apparent that the town's first black mayor and council members might be elected. The aldermen, elected at large, wanted the delay so they could remap the town into districts, which would have protected some board seats held by whites. That wasn't a good enough reason for the Justice Department, which rejected the change.

In 2003, election officials in suburban Harris County, outside Houston, failed to provide bilingual assistance to Vietnamese voters, who had grown to almost 2 percent of the county population. The Justice Department and Asian-American legal-aid organizations worked out an agreement that resulted in bilingual assistance and other reforms. In the wake of those changes, Harris County elected its first Vietnamese candidate, Democratic businessman Hubert Vo, to the Texas state legislature in November 2004.
And I firmly believe that lack of in-language voter education or poll station materials has kept the APA community without electoral power. In states and municipalities where APAs have access to properly translated in-language voting materials, our elders (who sometimes don't read English but are citizens entitled to vote nonetheless) are able to cast their votes for the candidates that they prefer. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, ballots are translated into Hmong, Vietnamese. Minnesota has 3 Asian Pacific American elected officials in the state legislature, which is quite large compared to the percentage of the state's population. Coincidence? I think not.

This is one of the questions that gets at the heart of why I started this blog in the first place, on the first anniversary of the 2004 Presidential elections.

Electoral reform and voting rights are not necessarily sexy aims since they are more procedural in nature. But it is through these fights over procedure and the nitty gritty rules that we are able to allow our fellow new Americans to vote. After all, in the political view of the world, it doesn't matter if you have 1 million new citizens in your movement if they can't vote because they don't have the proper ID. So voting rights complements and is part of the immigrant rights struggle.

We are constantly having to prove that we matter to the politicians. But those who would see us "go back to where you came from" understand the inside rules and procedures and will attempt to manipulate them to disenfranchise us in any way possible, to reduce the political power that we should have (see Tom Delay's redistricting efforts here ). Thus we must be vigilant, understand our rights, comprehend the complex machinations, and block their loopholes and riders. It's not the glamorous work of putting together sit-ins but it is just as necessary.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Still breathing

Despite everything, I have managed to keep my head high and my face above water. I am still breathing, still hanging in there. I can't say how much longer this energy will last or how I can continue the scant momentum that I have. But it's great to see old friends who I can reconnect with instantly, and regain the spark of idealism that we shared.

Nowadays I am just bone tired and weary, and I think often of Sojourner Truth's Ain't I A Woman? speech. Left arm, right arm, left foot, right foot. The tide beats on and so must I.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Props to Gov. Howard Dean

Gov. Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee, is showing much love to the Asian Pacific American community by showing up to events and listening to our voices in a way that Terry McAuliffe never did.

With Dean, it's clear that his visits are more about relationship-building and hearing our concerns than about asking us to donate $100,000 straight up the way that Terry ran his events.

Let's look at his history as a presidential candidate:

Gov. Dean is the ONLY candidate to show up to a candidates' forum put on by the Asian American Action Fund. No Kucinich, no Rev. Sharpton, none of the other candidates bothered to show up. The DNC Chair at the time, McAuliffe, and community stalwart Congressman Mike Honda showed. For his efforts, Dean is rewarded with a surprise endorsement by the Taiwanese American congressman from Oregon, David Wu.

I remember listening to his speech there and from San Diego, and those were the two
speeches that really pushed me to support Dean, apart from his populist, take-no-prisoners rhetoric and speaking style.

Let's look at what he's done since election . . . to the position of DNC Chair:
Then this past April, over 400 Asian Pacific Americans gathere in San Jose for the first ever DNC Asian American national leadership training. Dean attends, and he stays around much longer than anyone would have expected. (McAuliffe was always in and out - spoke his piece, shook hands with people on the way out and mugged for the press. But no substantive conversations.) This training was free (no registration fees) to anyone who wanted to come - and a truly diverse pan-APA crowd showed up from both coasts.

The good Governor spoke to everyone who approached him, sometimes at length. He spoke to young and old, the wealthy financiers and struggling students alike.

In May, he held two forums on the sizzling hot issue of immigration - one in NYC (specifically with Asian Americans) and the other in Chicago. To the best of my knowledge, Terry McAuliffe would NEVER have done that. These were frank discussions that were closed to the press, but venues that allowed the community to vent and to offer positive suggestions for change.

Now he drops by the annual AAAFund dinner to say thanks and keep on doing the good work. Governor Dean, we might not always agree with your positions (let's have less discussion of national security and border security and more of a hopeful prosperous future as Americans united) but you have given our community more access than previous Chairs. It is my hope that you continue to do so, even without pressure from APIA leaders.

Remember, all these events happened in the past few months. In a few months alone he has done more outreach to rank and file Asian American Democrats than
Thank you for all of your hard work. Believe me, we in the community both notice and respect your efforts to include all Americans. (Still not thrilled that you gutted the constituency desks, but you've made up for it by creating the American Majority.)

P.S. These immigration forums, they're sorta similar to what a presidential candidate would do, no? It's all good with us if you want to keep that light burning. We'll be waiting for ya.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


I must confess the lust that burns inside my heart. It is all-consuming and omnipotent and when object of my affections glides by like a red hot whisper, all of a sudden, I'm aflame.

The yearning in my eyes turns my body and waist, lingering after the direction in which she has disappeared. Sometimes I wonder if I approached her, how I would follow through. But I'm not ready to commit. I can't. Just not able to.

Part of me wants to say, fuck it all. I am in love. The other more rational part says, take it slow, you don't know if she's the right one. Afterall, you had your heart broken by an older and moreunreliable model. But I stop in my tracks, just as I'm ready to go over and introduce myself. She's gone. I was too late.

My precious.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

immigrants: terrorism:: LGBT community: Federal Marriage Amendment

Which is SAT-speak to say how many ways can the Republicans pull the wool over people's eyes? First the GOP (Grand Old Party) decided to make undocumented immigration THE hot button issue - internal focus groups and polling suggested that the issue was a win-win - it motivated their base of (white) Christian conservatives and split traditional Democratic-leaning base groups like labor and environmental groups from immigrant rights activists. Not to mention, just one mention of "security" would make Democrats cower and run for political cover, selling out a constituency that currently can't vote. Well, the Republicans figured it would be like making mac n' cheese to bully one of the most disenfranchised parts of America, since they have no voting rights and no legal status.

Little did they figure on the massive rallies to show our support of our immigrant brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. The rallies I attended were wholly diverse with grey haired seniors marching alongside young punk anarchists and queer pride activists standing up next to Catholic nuns. (The GOP by way of Tancredo and Sensenbrenner's House bill HR 4437 really pissed off and mobilized the churches when they wrote that preachers can't minister to parishioners because it's a CRIME to "aid and abet" undocumented immigrants.

And what do you know? The left mostly stayed together and it was the right who splinted down the corporate America on Wall St and the average Bubba in Texas line. Corporations (and small businesses) ultimately NEED undocumented labor to do all the menial and dirty jobs that actual make these Fortune 500 companies run. They need someone to make the food and then throw out all the trash, someone to deliver their mail and to stock the shelves.

Plus they discovered that the majority of Americans actually support undocumenteds. Damn those inconvenient truths that even scare ads can't dispel. Onto the next bogeyman, which is gay-bashing via the Federal Marriage Amendment.

There's a true field-tested nuclear bomb which is sure to make everyone look over here while they are busy ripping off taxpayers here (and over there.)

It seems to me like the GOP is running out of dirty tricks to distract the American public from the spiraling gas prices, exploding roadside bombs in Iraq, the plummeting economy and feeble job market, and their own general inability to manage domestic, foreign or ANY policy.

There's a reason why members of the LGBT community were marching in support of immigrant rights, and it's encompassed in this oft-quoted poem:

First they came...

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Pastor Martin Niemöller
Peace and love to everybody and remember that my struggle today could be yours tomorrow.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The sad saga of Wen Ho Lee and the American media

Has hopefully come to a quiet (if not just) end.

Wen Ho Lee, former Los Alamos scientist, finally received some (monetary) compensation for the pain and suffering that the US governement wrought. Five major media outlets (NYTimes, LATimes, WashPost, the Associated Press and ABC News) joined with the US government in giving Lee a $1.6 million restitution for being publicly smeared in the press and being held in jail for some 270 odd days in jail. At the end, the judge who presided over his case apologized to him for being led astray by agents of the US government. As Lee says, apologies by judges are almost nonexistent.

But it doesn't make up for the lack of face that he has suffered, nor the damage done to his reputation. While I am a 2nd generation Asian American and one who doesn't particularly care to uphold my family's name by saving face, I acknowledge that it is a part of the culture and that for 1st generation immigrants like Lee, "face" is reality.

The poor man will always have "accused of national security theft" after his name. I would like to say instead that he was cleared of any wrongdoing after a witchhunt by Nora Trulock and James Risen of the New York Times and the Department of Energy under then Secretary Bill Richardson. (Richardson is currently Gov. of New Mexico with ambitions for presidential office. Remember this during the primaries and find better, more moral people to support. Richardson has never really apologized for his oversight of the case or how his employees treated Wen Ho Lee to my recollection.)

Eric Boehlert (Salon.com, Rolling Stone) has a compelling piece up on the Huffington Post that compares and contrasts how the media (chiefly the NYTimes) and government worked together to sell a false story to the American public both during the Lee case and the leadup to Iraq. Here's the last paragraph:

NOTE: In March 1999, when the Times was poised to break its big Wen Ho Lee scoop on page 1, a story with major national security implications, Clinton's FBI, for various reasons, asked the Times to hold off running the story. The Times complied for just 48 hours and then published the story. But recall that in 2004, when the Times was set to break its big NSA wiretapping story on page 1, a story with major national security implications, the Bush's administration, for various reasons, asked the newspaper to hold off running the story. The Times complied for nearly a year before finally publishing the story.
Read the whole thing. Very worthwhile.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Drones for the left

Someone remind me again why it is that homes get hotter at night. I understand intellectually the reasons why but it feels so wrong!

Yesterday someone used the phrase "toxic coworker" in conversation and I think that it perfectly describes my situation.

That said, I wanted to focus on a critique of the PIRG/Grassroots Solutions, Inc. canvassing model that greggish posted on dailykos. The model is that you have eager young high schoolers or college students (the cuter and perkier the better) go around asking for money either door to door or in a prominent public location. Frequently these were girls who did the asking. In 2004 this pissed me off so badly because they were using my area as an ATM without addressing any real issues, without voter registration, and without really engaging anyone in a dialogue about what the hell was going on in our theoretical democracy:

But there are two more unstated principles that need to be known about this model.

First of all, it's operated entirely from the top-down. The canvassers and directors who actually do the work have no influence upon their work conditions, the distribution of the funds they raise, or even the choice of causes for which they campaign. An employee who's hired for one campaign can be switched over to another campaign; the 'raps' are created without input from those delivering them; all decisions are made without any accountability to those below.

Second of all: the model is, in a way, curiously apolitical. I don't mean that it's not 'liberal' -- but rather, that it does not engage in deliberative processes. It is not rooted within any particular community. There is no defined agenda beyond the broad banner of 'progressive values.' It has a mild disinterest in 'the news.' Its participants (both the canvassers and those who are canvassed) do not participate in open-ended, discursive relationships with the organization or each other.

This gets at the heart of why I always thought the DNC's fundraising canvassing operations were useless and trite. The PIRGs' organizing style, not just their canvassing, I always resented. It was very twist your arm, over the top, and even though I am a bleeding heart liberal, I could not stand the personality or style of many of their organizers. Let's not even start on how little they are paid to do the grunt work.

These people are essentially drones for the left, with as little say or voice in decision-making as the standard rank-and-file Republican. No backtalk, no conversation, no buy-in or investment. Just wham, bam, and thank you ma'am for your cash.

I'm not sure who to feel worse for - the john or the whore, or the left for sinking to such degrading tactics. Degrading in terms of level of conversation and input the drone or average solicated person gets, and degrading in terms of this ain't real organizing baby. It has decreased the net level of dialogue, and increased the transactionary nature of politics without even providing much for the rank-and-file canvasser. It's time-stealing, pain-staking, thankless work and people get paid shit to do it, but they went door-to-door regardless.

If anything I am more inclined to give money to someone who is trying to register new voters because at least that brings someone into the political process. It's not just some "liberal" fundraising machine sucking up my money and time.

Perhaps one day there will be a Big Blue IBM commercial that demonstrates the futility of such styles and the lack of dissent or discourse it creates. In the meantime, I choose to give to organizations that treat their workers better and that have more invested in the community.