Tag Archives: Obama

Obama meets the high-tech kings (and a queen); but my favorite Obama meeting this week was the one with Manny Pacquiao

In the twitterverse came the comment that people were lining up last night in Woodside awaiting President Obama. Surely, they must have shipped in from Redwood City and such.

People in Woodside don’t line up for much.  In fact, the line comes to them.

So it was quite natural for the president to fly in for dinner with the nation’s high-tech giants on their home turf Thursday.

Whenever you accept an invite to Woodside, you never know how much it ultimately is going to mean to you.  A million? A billion?

I hope it worked out for the president sake, for the country’s sake, last night.

The U.S. could use a few trillion.

There’s something about Obama when he hits the road. You forget about all the process stuff in Washington that’s bogging him down and you see him in his natural mode of rock-star schmoozer.


Earlier this week, I commented in the Philippine media on another Obama meeting, the one with Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao in DC. It was far more important a meeting than you think.

About two years ago, when he was just thinking about politics and a run for Congress, I called the boxer Manny Pacquiao the Philippines’ Obama.

At the time, Obama was in campaign mode, attracting large  crowds world-wide. He was like a rock-star representing hope and change. But I’ve seen them both in action, and Pacquiao was all that in boxing trunks.

I didn’t exactly call him the Great Brown Hope, but I sure wasn’t joking when I called him the Philippines’ Obama.
There’s just something about Pacquiao that suggests his ultimate reach will be far beyond the ring.

My assessment had less to do with Pacquiao as Obama’s intellectual equal (I don’t know how many rounds Pacquiao could last at Harvard Law School, for example), and everything to do with the sheer charismatic leadership prowess of the Pac-man.

Is there any doubt that Pacquiao could go toe to toe with anyone on that score?

So when the two men—Pacquiao and Obama—finally met this week in the White House’s Oval Office, I thought it was far more significant than any meeting Obama has had with a Philippine leader during his administration. (You don’t think that red-dress photo op with Arroyo a few years back was worth a darn, do you?)

That makes it both funny and sad, that in these times, the current president of the Philippines would barely make a headline were he to drop in on Obama. But the pound-for-for-pound champ? He caused a traffic accident just crossing Pennsylvania Ave.

Obama even had a few gifts and a promise for the Pac-Man this week, reportedly giving Pacquiao  three grocery bags full of light blue M&M’s with the presidential seal (breakfast of champions?), a watch with the same august logo,  and a promise of visiting the Philippines in the future.

Why not? When Obama goes to Oahu, he’s just a relative short hop to Manila.

Would he do that for PNoy just to say hello?

Doubt it.

But the Philippine president shouldn’t feel bad. I doubt Obama would make a trip to Manila for anyone but Pacquiao.

That’s why this shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere cute meet just to promote an upcoming fight. This is how relationships are forged. And in politics, relationships are everything. Those who focus on wonky policy matters and dismiss Pacquiao as a mere bobbing-head-jock-figure are missing the potential of Pacquiao’s real political potential. You can always surround yourself with the right policy folks, which will be a critical thing for Pacquiao.

Far more important is leadership, and that has nothing to do with policy nor ideology. It’s  all about charisma and the people.

If Egypt had a Pacquiao, that uprising would have been over in a week. But when all the opposition could do was trot out an ElBaradei?  Come on.

Leadership and charisma count for a lot more than you think.

You might have noticed it last year when PNoy trounced a relatively lackluster field, and even Joseph Estrada got votes. When you have the people abdicating to the political class, the oligarchs start recycling themselves and wearing yellow T-shirts.

That leaves the future wide open for new politico to excite the public.  And who among them has as legitimate claim to being man of the people besides the people’s champ himself?

Pacquiao still has sometime before a run for the presidency. He’s doing his time in the woodshed but it shouldn’t be for long. In the meantime, he’s going to have to stop fighting, period, no matter how good the money. He’s got a whole country riding on his shoulders.

Just keep in mind, if all you see is a guy in boxing trunks, you don’t understand the real power of  Manny Pacquiao.

SNL/Hader’s Hu? Not sure about it, then watch it again. I thought we were done with Charlie Chan’s Showbiz?

Get past the ad and go to the open.  It’s about 8 minutes long.

Non-traditional casting aside, don’t you think there are enough unemployed Asian American actors out there to add to the realism of a comedy sketch?


Emil Guillermo on the BP Spill:We need Deepwater Horizon spill finale now, before the end of “American Idol” tonight. Please.

My protest over the BP spill has been  muted because I’m a user. 

Not of BP. But of oil in general. My outrage would be like ratting out one’s drug-dealer. (It is an oil addiction. George W. Bush told me so).

Lately, blog/twitter readers would notice I’ve chosen the escape route of dwelling on the ending of favorite television shows and the losing streak and offensive ineptitude of my favorite baseball team.  Contemplating those sort of things is so much better on the soul  than contemplating the end of the earth, which  in truth is what the BP spill represents.

To see the constant video of the oil streaming and the damage to the Gulf, the wetlands, the animals is too much to bear.

We need to say f-you to the profiteers and the government that enables them. We’ve already saved Wall Street and the car industry. When we save Big Oil at times like this you can see the trade off. 

At least BP isn’t in the nuclear game. That’s the only thing that makes the time to end spill slightly more bearable. Oil is less forever than nuclear. But a screwup is a screwup, and no one seems to be prepared for these worse case events.

Go to the video. See the oil flow. Let’s see a BP spill finale now.

In the meantime, let’s vote BP off the Island. And hope Obama, and  Sec. Chu and Sec. Salazar stop dancing with the oily.

White House AAPI Initiative: Trying to give more meaning to Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May

The White House is using APA month in May to launch its Asian American Pacific Island Initiative, which hopes to continue what the Clinton administration had started and what the Bush administration ignored.

Kiran Ahuja, the White House initiative’s executive director,acknowledged that the Clinton administration did a lot of work in the tail end of its tenue by identifiying issue areas like education and health as Asian American community concerns. But the Bush administration, she said scaled back the scope and focused on entrepeneurship in its day before finally letting the  White Hous initiative die.

Now Ahuja said she plans to build on the work of the Clinton administration, essentially making up for lost time and lost momentum.

“We’re ready to hit the ground running,” Ahuja told a telephone news conference. The broader focus will include data collection on education, health care and jobs to help identify where Asian Americans are underserved. “We know across the board there are barriers to the community being engaged.”

Ahuja was not specific but said the May roll out will begin an effort that will include  high level agency heads in the government meeting with community leaders.

Again, a good first step as a show of concern for our community. But it does also show how the community has been ignored in some vital areas during the Bush years.

Van Jones: Latest victim of the Right’s Nouveau McCarthyism

The new partisan parlor game in Washington is a devilish one, all about sucking the life out of the Obama administration one aide at a time. Unfortunately by targeting Van Jones, a man with an unfailing belief and passion for the environment and the creation of a green agenda for America, the right has only succeeded in forcing out a bright, competent person of color who could have done a lot of good for this country.


When I first met Jones in the late ‘90s, I was naturally impressed. On New California Media, a television program I hosted and produced on PBS and cable outlets in the state, Jones was a frequent guest. He was a Yale law grad and the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, and when I needed someone to comment on community issues, Jones knew his stuff and his rhetoric. His was passionate,intelligent and smooth. I figured politics would be a natural progression. But when his focus turned to green and the environment, while I was surprised, I saw it as a good move for him politically. And more his style.

Green is everybody. Green is the world. Green is the future.

For any person of color, race is always an issue. In environmental issues, race is often a key dividing line between who gets to go green and  who stays toxic.  People of color are all too often shut out and dumped on when the talk turns to green. So Van going green made a lot of sense. But I also felt that going green gave him a sense of liberation from tired old race politics. Van was no child of ’60s. He was now. Going green gave him some real stuff to chew on in the coming years.

So isn’t it ironic that what comes back to haunt him are statements and positions from his activist past.  None of it is relevant. Anti-war stuff?Crude references to Republicans?  But all of it can be made to be a distraction as Jones pointed out in his resignation statement. And once the right finds a small hole to exploit, it bores in and makes it seem like the Grand Canyon. What would have come next? Van Jones with Paris Hilton? Breaking pita bread with Muslims? In the absurd political world of the right, it’s all fair game in the effort to find things that will destroy an administration one person at a time.

If good people like Van Jones can’t fight these kind of tactics, then public life in the age of the politics of personal destruction is simply not worth it.

Van Jones’ resignation is a loss because he represented the hope that a lot of young people saw in the Obama campaign. Maybe that’s the right’s grand plan. Kill the hope.


The Skip Gates arrest: Is this the national conversation on race we were meant to have?

I still think the Skip Gates incident is an example of the kind of racism we have now in America. If Gates wasn’t black, the officer in question would have been a lot more courteous to a man such as Gates. But Gates doesn’t look like a distinguished professor. Take away his Harvard ID and would he look like a crackhead looking to lift a TV in some expensive home?

That’s how far we have come on race in America.

I do want to be fair to the cop. So let’s take color out of the equation.

Then what do you have?

A pure battle of egos. The police officer and the distinguished professor, each of whom was pulling a little one-upmanship on the other.

A prominent black scholar gets asked to come out of his house by an officer. He knows the history of race in America and gets irritated as hell. He calls the chief of police on his cell phone.

Meanwhile, the officer at the scene reacts to said prominent professor pulling rank with the only thing he can do to show his authority and preserve his alpha maleness.  He makes a meaningless arrest, and thus documents his abuse of power.

At the core, it’s all ego, more than race, though race was there for sure, like tossing gasoline in a field of straw.

Get rid of race, and you still have an ego problem. And isn’t that the center of all our problems, especially when it comes to power and the exertion of power in unfair ways over those with less power (who more often than not are people of color)?

So  now that the Senate isn’t going to pass health care by August, maybe we’ve just been given something to chew on as a nation on vacation.

When Eric Holder called for honest frank discussions on race during Black History month, all he needed was something like the Gates arrest to kick things off. It’s actually quite fitting for those summer discussions at the beach house.  Over mojitos or a few brews, go ahead ask your friends who they think was right: Gates? The cop?

Hot enough for you?

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates arrest is the new barometer for racism in America

People trying to make sense of the Skip Gates arrest story should know there are two Cambridge’s in Massachusetts. There’s the one where typical “town and gown” conflicts are the rule. And then there’s the Cambridge divided by race and class and snap judgments are made before you can pull out your Harvard ID.

For that reason, I was always surprised when white friends of mine forever downplayed their Harvard connection, even to this day. I always was quick to raise it at all times.

It’s stereotype insurance. My friends’ half-hearted attempts at modesty are quaint. Me, I needed the protection.

Keeps you from having to do a lot of awkward explaining, i.e., “Hey I’m not here in a tuxedo as one of the waiters, I’m a damn dinner guest!” In other words, I belong here. It’s not always apparent to observers.

If people could only see Gates and realize he was the distinguished professor and head of the African American studies department, then we’d all be fine. But that’s not what you see in America when you see a person of color, or more specifically a black man, who looks as if he is trying to break into a home. You don’t think, it’s the black man’s home, of course. Because they couldn’t afford the home, unless it was a Section 8 rental, perhaps. You think, he must want the television set inside for drugs, or maybe he’s looking for sex. You know what they say about black men and sex. You think those thoughts and you call 911 as quickly as one woman did, a citizen on the watch, which brought police out to Gates’ door. When the Cambridge cops arrived, they didn’t do much better than the woman. They were suspicious of Gates even after he was inside his own home.

He just didn’t whip up that Harvard ID fast enough.

I visited Harvard in May, and actually was struck by how diverse it had become. There were Asians, Latinos, blacks, whites, it was a different kind of place from my days as an undergraduate. It seemed less colonial, more modern, almost as diverse as California. But Harvard can be its own oasis. Walk outside of Harvard Square toward Central Square and the Charles, and the diversity of Harvard clashes with the urban reality of Cambridge. It’s not necessarily crime-ridden. It’s just crowded, gritty and very urban. Full of life. Real people, real problems, often divided by race and class. That’s the world of the Cambridge cop. They see a lot of life.

Because of that, it’s a bit rough to say they acted as the president said “stupidly” the night they interacted with Gates. They may not have realized when they crossed back into the H-Zone.

But this is how a lot of Americans act when they see a person of color doing something that doesn’t make sense to them. It’s just downright puzzling to them. And then they react to the stereotypes they know. The familiar racist ones. Not the new ones of accomplishment in a time when a black man calls the White House home.

At the Wednesday night press conference, when President Obama talked about as if it were him breaking into his ‘home,” he joked, “I’d be shot.” There was laughter. But I didn’t laugh. There was more truth there than joke.

Could the Gates affair have been avoided?  Maybe if Skip Gates was wearing his Harvard ID on his forehead. But probably not. We just don’t live in that America yet.


Skip Gates is a kind of hero of mine. The Afro-American Studies department was always good at Harvard. But Gates made it great and made ethnic studies both hip, intellectually rigorous and respectable. No basket-weaving here.

So what about Asian American studies at Harvard? A South Asian friend of mine who was an undergrad with me at Harvard, liked it so much he’s been a tenured professor there for over 20 years. I asked him why Harvard doesn’t have an Asian American studies program like the African American program, and he said matter-of-factly, “Because Asians don’t have a Skip Gates.”

He was serious. Gates is respected, and he has power. Asian Americans aren’t even close to that level in the academic world.So I’ve always wished we had an upfront scholar like a Gates advocating for Asian America.  The Cambridge cops actually did Gates a new lease on his academic life. When Gates gets treated like he was by the local cops, they’ve just handed him his next best-seller. They’ve made him into a 21st Century Rosa Parks. Overall, the whole thing is humiliating, sure. But it’s also a sad reality check. If it can happen to Gates in a time when a Barack Obama lives in America’s house, what more to the poor, the powerless, the less distinguished? Nothing has changed.

For some reason, I just doubt you’d see the Cambridge cops give the same treatment to had someone like the late John Kenneth Galbraith, or former Harvard president Larry Summers lost their keys and had to jimmy a door.

It’s no sin to be a forgetful white person. But a black person with no key? Katie, bar the door. Skip Gates is trying to get into his own living room.