Emil Guillermo: CAPAC leader Rep. Judy Chu on skipping the Trump inaugural, saving health care, Dreamers, and more
January 20, 2017 11:00 AM

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Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, isn't at the Trump inaugural. In my phone conversation with her, Chu said Trump's attack on civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis was the last straw.

But it's not the only thing that makes her doubt Trump's fitness for the job of president. She feels a more concerted investigation should be conducted on Russia's tampering with the Nov. election and the nature of communication between Trump staffers and Russia. 

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Listen to the podcast here

Instead of the inauguration, Chu will be holding a district meeting with constituents on the Affordable Care Act, and whether it can be spared Trump's elimination.

Finally, Chu talks about bipartisan efforts to protect undocumented immigrant youth from deportation through the BRIDGE Act. The new president has promised to go after executive actions on Day One, which could eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a simple signature.

Chu won't be at the inaugural, but she's not giving up the fight. Personally, she feels that Trump may stumble from some political faux pas and not recover. If it happens within the first two years, the midterm elections could help Democrats win the Senate and add seats to the House.

Already, the New York Times is reporting that as Trump takes office, intelligence agencies continue to examine intercepted communications between Trump's aides and Russia. It means that as Trump assumes office his aides are under investigation by agencies that Trump, as president, could conceivably block.

Listen to my conversation with Rep. Chu here

See my piece on Obama's last day here.
 
We'll miss Obama's integrity and his commitment to inclusion. Compared to Obama, Trump is a downgrade.

Since writing that piece earlier on Thursday, Trump continues to act as a man who doesn't quite understand he's about to be president. 

Instead of acting presidential, he continues to act Trumpish, for example, saying his nominees have" the "highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled."

You'd think that the presence of Energy Secretary Rick Perry alone would help assure a more modest IQ ranking. 

Then there was the Lincoln Memorial concert (not the first one as Trump claimed. Obama's 2009 inaugural concert with Springsteen, Beyonce, U2 and Pete Seeger, among others, was far more star studded).  Trump's selection for his walk-up music? The Rolling Stones song, "Heart of Stone."

Ever catch Mick Jagger's lyrics?
 
There's been so many girls that I've known
I've made so many cry, and still I wonder why
Here comes a little girl, I see her walking down the street
She's all by herself, I try to knock her off her feet
'Cause you'll never break, never break, never break, never break
This heart of stone, oh no, no, this heart of stone.

Maybe the song is Trump heralding his best attribute. Considering all the charges of misogyny that came up pre-election, it was a telling choice of music for the soon to be predator-in-chief.

I guess there's still time for him to deliver some kind of graceful, unifying speech at the inaugural, if he can only find it in his "Heart of Stone." 

But somehow I doubt it. 

That Women's March the day after the inaugural on Saturday couldn't come soon enough. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Creeping along from Obama 44 to Trump 45
January 19, 2017 2:09 PM

The transition I call the "Trump Creep," aptly describing the process and the man, is about to end. The inaugural is here and now the show really begins.

For some, these days since Nov. 8 have been like the "Twilight Zone."

But just wait.
 
We ain't seen nothing yet.
 
The man who likes his politics raw, blunt, and tweeted is about to take over. Taking on such power could be humbling. Or it could grow his already monumental ego to a size that could bust the Capitol.

Ironically, the term "creep" was also an acronym that harkens back to Nixon and Watergate (remember the burglary at the Committee to Re-elect the President). Maybe that's no mere coincidence as Trump is already the least liked president in two decades to enter office, the least ethical (anyone else settle a $25 million fraud suit?), and least transparent (seen any tax returns? Blind trusts?). 

Trump (what's with all the Mr. Trump business? NY Times style on second reference would call Mickey Mouse, Mr. Mouse. My style book says just plain Trump), who is on the brink as the most potentially Nixonian president we've ever had. And now he's ready to govern.

A Trump 45 could be a real pistol. Aimed at us. 

Immigrants, Muslims, all of us who qualify as "other." And all of us do.

At last count, more than 60 Democrats have chosen the route of Rep. John Lewis and won't be attending the inaugural, including Asian American members of Congress Rep. Judy Chu of California, head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Rep. Grace Meng of New York, Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Mark Takano of California, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington.

"When President-elect Trump denigrated and disrespected our civil rights icon and leader John Lewis, and when he did it on Martin Luther King weekend of all times, I said that is the last straw," Chu said on my podcast. 

I've both attended and covered inaugurals past. All of them had a sense of bipartisan joy and excitement. 

In 1993, I covered the first Clinton inaugural, when many Americans and people of color were excited that after 12 years of Republican rule, a new administration was bringing real hope to America.

The actual highlight for me was hearing Maya Angelou read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," which heralded a fresh start: 

Here on the pulse of this new day,
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Where's the poetry in 2017?

In 2009, when I covered the first Obama inaugural, even the political rhetoric was poetic when the incoming president expressed his vision.

"On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

I still remember hearing Obama's words, standing in the cold wondering how long any sense of bipartisanship would last. 

It was all too brief.  

But there was enough to allow Obama to stave off an economic collapse rivaling the Great Depression. There was enough to make sure people didn't lose their houses due to all those toxic mortgages that many Asian Americans in California were burdened with. There was enough to give 20 million previously uninsured health insurance.

Whatever spirit got us all that seems to be missing from the inaugural of Trump 45.

Big League.

The last news conference of President Obama was indicative of the kinds of concerns we'll rarely hear about in the new administration, which is even talking about kicking out the media from the West Wing. 

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(White House-Photo by Pete Souza)

Unlike Trump, who recently shouted down CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, calling him "fake news," Obama lauded the media at the last news conference. "America needs you and our democracy needs you," said the president, "...to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves."

What's the best version of Trump? Fewer tweets? More transparency? Less orange?

The conference was also notable because of that sense that became a hallmark of the Obama years: a sense of inclusion. 

I've been in that room before as an ethnic news reporter, and so often, our concerns aren't acknowledged. But this time, there was April Ryan of American Urban Radio asking Obama if after being the first black president we'd ever see it again.

"I think we're going to see people of merit rise up from every race, faith, corner of this country," the president said. "Because that's America's strength. When we have everybody getting a chance and everybody's on the field, we end up being better."

You sure didn't get that sense in the White House cabinet appointees of Trump. 

But the president continued. "If, in fact, we continue to keep opportunity open to everybody, then yeah, we're going to have a woman president. We're going to have a Latino president. And we'll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. You know, who knows who we're going to have. I suspect we'll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them."

Interesting, that instead of saying Asian American, or Chinese, or Filipino, or Korean, he said Hindu, a shout out to Indian American participation in terms of manpower and fundraising, perhaps. 

But definitely an eye-opener as we consider that distant time when we may have an Asian American president!  

On that and other issues, Obama was always there as a constitutional protector to beat back discrimination and race, and to make sure we were not forgotten.

He didn't forget on his second-to-last day.

"And by the way," the president said in his press conference as he talked about racial divisions and stereotypes, "It's no longer a black and white issue alone. You got Hispanic folks and you got Asian folks, this is not the same old battles that--we've got this stew that's bubbling up from people everywhere, and we're going to have to make sure that we in our own lives and our own families and work places do a better job of treating everybody with basic respect and understanding that not everybody starts off in the same situation."

And on the very last day, Obama did a little bit more, adding 330 more commutations of sentences, bringing his total granted in his eight years to 1,715, according to the Washington Post. That's more mercy doled out than the last 12 presidents combined.

So as Obama 44 comes to an end, we remember fondly the closest thing to an Asian American president we've ever had--Barack Obama, the bi-racial African American with the Indonesian half-sister, who was born in the nation's most Asian state. 

He wasn't perfect, but he seemed to balance all of our interests for the greater good. That simple trick in the name of democracy we may not see again for a long, long time.

It makes this last day something to savor as we creep along to Trump 45, vowing to keep hope alive.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Thoughts on Rep. John Lewis, Desus and Mero, and Steve Harvey for the MLK Weekend
January 13, 2017 10:55 PM

Presidential historians will note this was the week the words "Trump," "prostitutes," and "urination" somehow found themselves used publicly in the same sentence.

While the implied acts in the sentence aren't verifiable, the words are, and they appear in the dossier U.S. intelligence chiefs presented and discussed with Trump last week.

That made the subject fair game to be reported broadly in the public interest. The less tasteful can get their salacious details elsewhere. But the basic reports aren't fake news, as it's important to the nation whether Russia had compromised the soon-to-be-leader of the free world.

It all troubles Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

"I don't see Trump as a legitimate president," Lewis told NBC News

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The Russians may or may not have had something on Trump, But Lewis thinks Trump was Russia's preferred candidate. 
 
"I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton," Lewis said. "I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I'll miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be home with something that you feel is wrong."

As we enter into this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Lewis is a man whose words resonate.

Lewis was beaten up by state troopers when he marched from Selma to Montgomery--the nonviolent protest that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965--and later went on to serve in Congress for 30 years. 

In 2013, Lewis received AALDEF's Justice in Action Award

The man's moral compass was shaped fighting for civil rights alongside Dr. King. You can trust his instincts.


BUST TO LEAVE OVAL OFFICE
This, incidentally, will be our last MLK weekend with the glorious bust of America's civil rights hero in the White House.

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During his tenure, President Obama had the MLK bust replace that of Winston Churchill, which was moved to the private residence. Reportedly, the incoming president has told the British that Churchill shall make like MacArthur and return to the Oval Office.

And just like that, America will go from "I have a Dream" to perhaps a more appropriately inspiring Churchill quote: "If you're going through hell, keep going."

Even before Churchill arrives, you'll feel the difference by next weekend, when our march will seem like it's heading backwards.

For Asian Americans, I always wonder where we are in terms of racial progress.

Every time I sense movement, there are always reminders, big and small, of what we're fighting against.


DESUS AND MERO, STEVE HARVEY, AND MYSTERY ASIAN WOMAN
This week, a shout out goes to those hip hop arbiters of American culture, Desus and Mero, aka the Bodega Boys, who on their Viceland channel show pricked the daytime TV host Steve Harvey and his recent slam on Asian American men.
 
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On his own program, Harvey showed the cover of a book, How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men.

And the punchline was "Asian."

The attitude in the delivery got a huge thirteen-second laugh from Harvey, who saw racist comic gold and milked it heartily by tagging how short that book might be: "That's one page, too."  

And he didn't stop there, as he mocked the book narrator, "Excuse me, do you like Asian men? No. Thank you."

The woke Desus and Mero commented as they watched the tape: "Where's the joke?"

Indeed. 

You mean in the age-old universal denigration of the Asian male, society hasn't fully digested the Chow Yun Fat/Jet Li memo yet?

Desus and Mero then skewered the talk show host's publicity shot, with Harvey in a bare-chested Putin pose sans horse. "Looks like a glazed ham," said Mero.

It's not exactly justice, but it was brothers taking down a brother.

My two words for Steve Harvey: Miss Colombia.

And don't think Asian American women these days are doing much better. Consider Doris Truong, a past president of the Asian American Journalists Association and a home page editor for the Washington Post.

If you watched the Senate confirmation hearing of former Exxon head Rex Tillerson, you may have noticed an Asian face behind him. It was one of the few times my AAdar was dinging during any of the hearings (AAdar is my vintage gaydar, recalibrated to detect Asian Americans and not sexual orientation.)

And there was Miss Anonymous! An Asian face! It was not, however, as many conservatives tweeted, my friend Doris. 

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The Asian woman became an obsession for some conservative viewers, who saw her while the cameras continued to roll after the hearing. She was taking pictures of Tillerson's notes! In the words of Barney Fife, "Citizen's arrest, Citizen's arrest!" 

Since no one remembers The Andy Griffith Show, conservatives did the next best thing: They tweeted out this injustice! 

And it made sense: Truong, a member of that liberal news cabal, the Washington Post, was somehow caught red-handed, as if some Chinese spy.

But it wasn't Truong. Just wrong.

Truong called them out as fake news.

Unfortunately, that's the kind of thing Asian Americans are too often subject to. Man or woman. We're foreigners. We're spies. We're people's worst stereotype. We're what's wrong with the picture.

More galling is how even when we're legitimately part of the news, we're left out of the coverage.

I watched the Tillerson hearings all day Wednesday but saw no coverage of Elaine Chao's three-hour confirmation hearing for Secretary of Transportation in the electronic media until I saw a bit in the New York Times the next day. 

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Chao's the successful Asian American female stereotype, a former Bush cabinet member, who's also married to Senator Mitch McConnell.

So no controversy, no news? Rubber stamp the model minority!

Is that really better for a woman who will be in charge of Trump's potential infrastructure overhaul that could cost $1 trillion?

On the channel I watched, that anonymous Asian woman sitting behind Tillerson had more face time than Chao.


SESSIONS' SESSIONS
The little slights we may have to deal with on our own. 

But who will be there to help us when discrimination rears its head in issues like voter suppression? 

A decent attorney general would. But Sen. Jeff Sessions isn't it.

When the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, Sessions cheered. He's one of the major perpetrators of the myth of voter fraud. Does it happen? Does four cases of voter fraud out of 135 million votes in 2016 sound like it?

Judging by what he's done in his home state of Alabama, he'd only make it harder to vote, requiring obstacles to the ballot like cumbersome and unnecessary voter ID laws.

Would he help Asian Americans? Forget his parading around an Asian American granddaughter. The answer, based on his record, is no.

Already, Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mazie Hirono has said she won't vote for him.
 
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"I have deep concerns about how Senator Sessions would use his prosecutorial discretion as Attorney General to address a number of critical issues," Hirono said at a Thursday press conference. She was especially dissatisfied about how he would "scrutinize voting laws for discriminatory effect."

Sessions may yet make it out to a full Senate vote, but it won't be until after Jan. 20.

But it was once again Rep. John Lewis whose voice seemed to carry the moral weight against Sessions.

"We need someone who's going to stand out, speak out," Lewis testified. And then he did what few others did--he used the inclusive rhetoric you'll rarely hear over the next four years. "For the people that need help, for the people who have been discriminated against. And it doesn't matter if they're black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American, straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jew. We're all in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who's going to look out for all of us."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. couldn't have said it better.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.



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Emil Guillermo: Asian American says Obamacare saved his life, in AALDEF podcast
January 7, 2017 10:16 PM

As Congress got back into action last week, there was one clear-cut enemy to the American public, but it wasn't Vladimir Putin. 

For some reason, Trump and the GOP love Putin.

But this thing called Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, Trump and his ilk uniformly hate with a passion.

As President Obama gives his farewell address on Tuesday, it's undeniable what he's done for the American people. 

For Kalwis Lo, 28--born in California to Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. in 1988--Obama did a lot more than anyone can imagine. The president gave him a chance to live.

In 2011, Lo had just graduated from UC Santa Cruz and found out he had cancer.

Listen to Kalwis tell his story in my podcast interview here.

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In California, the state with the most Asian Americans, about 3,826,000 people have gained health insurance through Covered CA, the California state-run marketplace. That's a 54% reduction in the uninsured rate, according to Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA). There are also about 16 million Californians with pre-existing conditions who could once again be denied coverage if the ACA is repealed.  

Republicans gave President Obama little chance at the start of his term in 2009. Now that their titular head Trump is on the verge of leading the country, there is no doubt that their priority will be to eliminate the legacy piece of legislation of the Obama years.

Kalwis Lo can't believe it. 

"If ACA didn't exist...no one cared that I was going to die," Lo told me. He's appreciative of what Obama did and doesn't think it's overstating it to say the president saved his life.  He's scared that Trump and others seem so hell-bent on reversing it. 

Last week, Obama warned that by getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, Trump would "make America sick again."

Lo knows first hand that it's far more drastic than that.

 "People are going to die," he told me.

*     *     *
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at 
www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: The GOP ethics reversal and Asian American leader Mike Honda
January 3, 2017 3:33 PM

Where do you stand politically on anything in 2017? Judging from the first days, no one knows for sure, not even the professional pols. 

If you've been following what a Trump World would be like, we all got a taste of how chaotic politics will be as we witnessed the quick about-face of Republicans who had secretly voted to dump the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). 
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Office of Congressional Ethics? That's no oxymoron. It's a real thing.

And yes, it was ultimately agreed today that ethics is a good thing in government!;

But the OCE has not always been used in the public interest. To begin with, it's somewhat redundant, as all its work is referred to the House Ethics Committee, which ultimately decides.

The problem has been that the independent investigations are often launched on something as flimsy as an anonymous tip or by outside advocacy groups. The investigations can also lead to a political misuse of the office's work, say, allowing for an opponent of a House member being investigated to hammer and cast aspersions against said member in the media during the investigation. 

It can even be used to end a political career.

So you can see why House Republicans wanted to dump the independent office. 

It was all about self-preservation. 

The OCE has destroyed Republicans and Democrats alike.

Just ask Mike Honda, the former congressman representing California's Silicon Valley, and the emeritus leader of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. 

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When I first heard the news Monday night after the vote, I thought of Honda immediately.

After 16 years, Honda isn't part of the 115th Congress, in part because of complaints filed by two local California politicians who supported Honda's political rival, Ro Khanna. 

Khanna defeated Honda in November in a veritable landslide. 

But the catalyst in Honda's defeat was the OCE investigation that looked into whether Honda unethically targeted South Asian donors.

The investigation looked worse than it was in a case that was more about bad optics than anything else. 

It wasn't conclusively a pay-to-play scheme, but it was still sent up to the House Committee. 

Mind you, the OCE was founded after three congressman were busted for, among other things, bribery and racketeering. 

The most famous case involved former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson, who hid $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He was convicted in August of 2009 and sentenced to 13 years for taking nearly $500,000 in bribes in exchange for brokering business deals in Africa.

Nothing Honda did approached anything close to the Jefferson case. Honda staffers may have been sloppy in emails discussing  their list of South Asian donors. It was hardly the kind of malfeasance that birthed the OCE.

But it sure helped Honda's political opponent.

"They used that issue of ethics as if I were unethical and as if I broke a law," Honda told me when I called him.

The print media sensationalized the story without putting it into context. And Honda said he was forced to use $300,000 to defend his staffers with legal costs.

And now the House committee that has the OCE's report is likely to do nothing further.

"What I'd like from the House committee is a letter that states, we received information [from the OCE], and we want people to know this is not a violation of law. It's a violation of House rules," Honda told me. "To put it in proper perspective."

With Republicans in control of everything, that's not likely to happen.

In fact, in the time since I talked to Honda, the news of the secret dumping of the OCE created a backlash no one expected.

And Washington got a sense of outrage at its own self-inflicted act. 

Ethics? It suddenly brought every politico together in what could be the only thing they can all agree to in the next four years.

Dumping an ethics office as the first act of a new congress just doesn't look good for anyone in the undrained swamp.

By late Tuesday morning, the Republican rank-and-file that voted to gut the OCE backed down, following criticism from Republican leadership, Democratic leadership, and angry constituent calls. There were even a few choice words from the Tweeter-in-Chief, President-elect Trump.

Considering the $25 million Trump paid to settle his Trump University fraud case, I guess The Donald knows first-hand what ethics isn't.

But this quick reversal on ethics is just the new politics under Trump.

It's like new dance partners trying to figure out the beat and how the new politics looks and sounds.

Expect more of it in 2017, where everything is GOP, Democrats are lower than low, and Trump is the "X" factor.

If you're an Asian American advocate, Honda has this advice on dealing with the Trump years ahead. 

"Listen to what he's going to say," Honda said. "Prepare yourselves to respond to missteps by the administration. They're going to misstep or misspeak based on their own principles, which are contrary to ours. The community is going to have to step up, step out, and speak up. They can't moan and groan and say this is terrible. They have to be visible and they have to be heard."

That's Mike Honda. Thanks to politicization of the OCE, he won't be in the 115th Congress. But he remains a national voice for Asian Americans, ready for the fight ahead.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at 
www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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