Tag Archives: President Obama

That was no heckler in San Francisco: Yelling “Stop deportations,” an undocumented Asian American stands up and Obama stands down

I’ve played basketball at the Chinese Rec Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown as a kid, but this was a one-on-one game no one would have expected.

An undocumented Asian student in America, Ju Hong, 24, a Dream activist, was one of those with an invite to the special presidential event.

Hong was supposed to be merely ornamental, not a catalyst.

SEE THE REST OF THE COLUMN ON THE ASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND BLOG.

 

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White House pool report and President Obama’s remarks at the the East Room celebration marking the end of AAPI Heritage Month

From pool report today:

A lipstick-smeared president marked the end of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the East Room. He paid tribute to the contributions the AAPI community has made to the country, hailed the importance of immigration to America and called for lawmakers to find a way to fix today’s broken system. But before he could get to the tributes or the praise, he had to explain away the red smear on his right collar. After greeting the almost 300 in the audience with “Aloha,” he praised the warmth of their welcome. “A sign of the warmth,” he said, is “the lipstick on my collar.” He blamed the aunt of Jessica Sanchez. Sanchez, of Chula Vista, Calif., was the runner-up in the 11th season of American Idol. Making sure everybody could see the offending mark, the president pivoted, pointed to it and said, “Look at this.” He added, “I do not want to be in trouble with Michelle, so I am calling you out.”

Continue reading White House pool report and President Obama’s remarks at the the East Room celebration marking the end of AAPI Heritage Month

No jokes at First Presidential Press Conference since WHCD, but lots on sequester, immigration, and Jason Collins

I know the presser is a 100-day marker. But the WHCD was such a stark contrast. It’s definitely back to the somber stuff today.  Brief mention of the WHCD at the start, but Syria is the lead. Obama still unclear on what the U.S. should do. And even support efforts announced today seem to be a token gesture. A delicate fluid situation.

President was more clear on the sequester and defining the dysfunctional government and putting blame on Congress and its failure to do its job.

“It’s not my job to get them to behave,” said the president. 

 

(from televison coverage of press conference)

 

 

Obama’s example of the FAA instance exposed the short-sighted nature of the GOP. All it’s done is borrow money from airport improvements in the future, which hurts the U.S. long term. Obama said the best strategy is to address issues through a broader deal.

 Obama mentioned a “permission structure,” that may allow  those scared of their political base to reach compromise on budget issues.

 It was as blunt and detailed an answer, of the conseqeunces of sequester and how it  has hurt the country. No pussyfooting here.

“We are using our seed corn, short term.And the only reason we’re doing it is because right now we have some folks unwilling to make some simple changes to our tax code, for example to close loopholes that aren’t adding to our competitiveness and aren’t helping middle-class families,” said the president. “There are common sense solutions to our problems right now. I cannot force Republicans  to embrace those common sense solutions. I can urge them to, I can put pressure on them, I can rally the American people around those common sense solutions. But ultimately they themselves are going to have to say we want to do the right thing.”

The president indicated he understood Congress’ political dilemma. “It’s tough,” he said. “Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They’re worried about primaries. And I understand all that, and we’re going to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to do what’s best for the country. But it’s going to take some time.”

Permission structure? Does he mean political cover so that conservatives can hide behind a tough vote?

The president also weighed in on what is could be the signature accomplishment of this term: Immigration.

The president praised the Gang of Eight’s efforts, saying it may not have been what he would have done, but it did meet the criteria: Border safety, strong employer provisions, improvements to the current bureaucracy, and that pathway to citizenship.

Obama praised the pathway as one where people can earn the right to legalize their status over time.

But that’s one of the contentious issues in the plan.

Obama said he’s open-minded. He’ll need to be. Already some House members have said they don’t want a big package but would rather take up the issue piece meal. 

Sound precarious?  It is. And this is the President’s best issue going forward.

Obama was almost out the door when he came back to the podium to discuss Jason Collins’ coming out statement.

Said the President:

“Yeah, I’ll say something about Jason Collins. I had a chance to talk to him yesterday. He seems like a terrific young man, and, you know, I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him. You know, one of the extraordinary measures of progress that we’ve seen in this country has been the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality, not just partial equality, not just tolerance but a recognition that they’re fully a part of the American family.

And, you know, given the importance of sports in our society, for an individual who’s excelled at the highest levels in one of major sports go ahead and say, this is who I am, I’m proud of it, I’m still a great competitor, I’m still seven feet tall and can bang with Shaq and, you know, deliver a hard foul — and for, you know, a lot of young people out there who, you know, are — are — are, you know, gay or lesbian, who are struggling with these issues, to see a role model like that who’s unafraid, I think it’s a great thing. And I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly. And everybody’s part of a — part of a family, and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, and not their sexual orientation.”

That was a question the president was glad to answer.

See my latest at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog.

 

Another Asian American bites the dust in the Obama Cabinet: Steven Chu out as Secretary of Energy

Secretary of State Steven Chu’s departure doesn’t come as a surprise. Chu had some tough political moments where his science and academic smarts may not have served him nor the president well. In politics, just because you’re right, doesn’t mean it’s right. Chu made comments about gas prices he had to recant. And there was the Solyndra episode that blew up in his face. Politics is not easy. Even if you’re a Nobel Laureate.

Today’s announcement means there’s one less Asian American in the cabinet, two if you count Chris Lu, the cabinet secretary.Obama has said to wait until all is said and done before commenting about the diversity of his second term staff. 

But Chu is one of the best and the brightest Asian Americans on the planet. When a guy like Chu can’t cut it, that’s certainly sends a message to others who aspire to serve in politics.

Here’s a presidential statement below, a White House release that massages the exit of Steven Chu. It’s followed by a link to Chu’s farewell letter to those at the DOE:

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 1, 2013

 

Statement from the President on Secretary Steven Chu

 

I want to thank Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people.   As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy.  And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs.   Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future.  I am grateful that Steve agreed to join in my Cabinet and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

But in Steven Chu’s letter to the Energy Department, there’s alot that was done to mark the last four years. Read his letter here.

On the “new” immigration debate, Latinos, Asians, and the “documented undocumented”

At the Fred T. Korematsu Day ceremonies in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre (Korematsu is the man who said no to the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during WWII), I saw two American Filipino heroes most people should know but usually don’t:  Labor organizers Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. 

Itliong and Vera Cruz were the heart and soul of the farm worker movement when Filipinos dominated California’s Central Valley fields. But they were overshadowed in the 60s by Cesar Chavez, who took advantage of the massive wave of Mexican immigrant labor, and became the face of the farmworker movement.

Were Filipinos in the fields? Aren’t the workers all Mexican?

Itliong and VeraCruz have long been ignored and left out of the histories. Chavez gets streets and schools named for him.

A generation later and Latinos seem poised to trump Filipinos  again as our politicians consider comprehensive immigration reform.

One would think it shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground between Filipinos and Latinos. Thanks (or “no thanks”) to imperialism, the broad group of American Filipinos, both born here and immigrants, legal and illegal, usually have Hispanic last names, as well as the Catholic Church in our DNA. 

For these purposes, I like to call us “Aspanics,” Asian Hispanics by way of those wayward explorers. 

But we definitely screw up the political puzzle in the U.S. especially in this new immigration debate where those of Mexican descent dominate the discussion.

And while there are a lot of them in the 11 million estimated undocumented immigrants here in the U.S., there are a lot of Asian Americans too. It’s estimated there’s an undocumented community of around 270,000 Filipinos, and another 200,000 Asian Indian. All told, there’s maybe a million Asians who are undocumented.

One million and we’ll likely not even be seen as significant in the debate.

Instead, we’ll all be lumped together, as if you can apply a single standard to immigration reform.

You want to talk about immigration? Why is anyone linking any reform to beefing up the Border Patrol and border security with more money and resources?

Does that even make sense if you’re talking about Asian immigration?  Latino advocates say it doesn’t even make sense for them.

I know some Asian immigrants do come in through Mexico, but this is the problem about immigrant “lumping” that I see is a big problem in the ongoing debate.

I’d say for Filipinos and other Asians, the biggest problems are overstays and tourism. There’s something about the bureaucracy where people lose track, documents are forged.

How is Border Security relevant to our group?

Another idea President Obama mentioned is a requirement to “learn English.”   Shouldn’t apply to Filipinos or Indians who know English and spawn call centers. But the whole idea of requiring English seems counter to our democracy. Why are we bringing back the legacy of  literacy laws?

Indeed, there’s a lot of ideas being kicked around. The only thing that seems to unify everyone is that magic phrase:“pathway to citizenship.”

But this is hardly a red-carpet or yellow-brick road. What if the pathway takes decades?

 And where would one wait?

If you have to go back to your ancestral home, where is the line? Hey, there really is no line. You just have to put your life on hold. For decades, maybe.

Where’s the fairness there?

And what if you go home and die waiting? Sounds like the virtue of “self-deportation.”

OK, in an attempt at compromise, what if you get to stay here in the U.S.? 

Then congratulations, you’ve voluntarily turned yourself in and have become an official “documented undocumented person.” 

You had jobs and paid taxes before (not all are paid under the table and skip taxes). Some banks even made mortgages to undocumenteds.

Now will you be allowed to collect on the public benefits you contributed to?

Or will you now have the official brand that allows for people to legally discriminate against you?

At least the bureaucracy that failed to keep tabs on your student or tourist visa, now has you in their sights.

One thing people seem to agree on is the Dream Act. Maybe all the talk of comprehensive reform will allow for that to finally happen. In his Las Vegas speech, Obama definite seemed to signal that would be coming as he told the story of a young man who was among the first to be approved in the deferred action amnesty program.

But what about the mature  immigrant? Why discriminate against the older immigrant who works here, pays taxes but doesn’t have papers?

He has to start over in mid-life back in the Philippines?

There’s lots of problems in beginning this debate that the president says we could be ready for. Let’s hope so. But let’s also hope that Aspanics and other Asians don’t get lost in whatever compromise plan, if any, gets adopted.

But I have to admit, just thinking about what happened to Filipinos when Chavez took over the fields, gives me pause.

Let’s hope fairness doesn’t get lost in the compromise.

 

Obama loses Chris Lu as Cabinet Secretary: Where will both go next?

The biggest news to rock the Asian American political sphere broke today with this press release from the White House.

Whither Chris Lu?

 

Statement from the President on the Departure of Chris Lu

 

WASHINGTON, DC — The White House today announced the departure of Chris Lu, Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary.

 

President Obama said, “Chris Lu is one of my longest-serving and closest advisors, first crafting my legislative agenda in the Senate, then leading my Presidential transition, and most recently, managing my relations with the Cabinet.  Through his dedication and tireless efforts, Chris has overseen one of the most stable and effective Cabinets in history – a Cabinet that has produced extraordinary accomplishments over the past four years.  For that reason, I have asked Chris to consider other opportunities to serve in my Administration, and after he enjoys some time off, I hope he will consider those opportunities.  I know I speak on behalf of the entire Cabinet in thanking Chris for his friendship and exceptional service to our nation.” 

 

At the last Inaugural in 2009, I saw and talked to Lu and saw him as a key person for the community. Indeed, over the last year he was the chair of the White House outreach group to Asian Americans. But he was also the high ranking Cabinet Secretary. This year, I wondered what his fate would be, if he’d go up, down or sideways in the administration.  

I didn’t expect it to be out of the administration.

Obama has been under attack for a lack of cabinet diversity (which I find hard to understand). But this will fuel the criticism.  Obama says wait and see until all the changes are made.  Indeed, even the Lu  press release indicates Lu’s been offered something else in the administration.

I suspect Lu’s either burned out from politics and wants a regular high-paying legal job.

Or he didn’t get what he wanted.  

Or he wants to step out from behind the shadow of a boss and run for office somewhere himself.

Still, it’s strange for Lu to be leaving. His ties with Obama go back, not just to Obama’s Senate days, but to their days as students at Harvard Law School.

The smart and talented Lu represents the kind of high level diversity the country and Obama needs. And as the release said, he’s done a good job.

What he does next, and what Obama does to replace him, will certainly be worth noting.

 

 

An Asian American in Newtown, the President’s “Gettysburgian” address, and more on the changing gun control debate

I was hoping not to see it, but in this era of diversity, how could we not expect an Asian American name on the roster of the dead children at Newtown.

Madeleine Hsu, 6 was among the 20 gunned down on Friday.

She was described as “very upbeat and kind” and the “girl who wore flowery dresses” in a Wall Street Journal account. But there was no photo and little else, as the family told an AP reporter they wouldn’t be speaking to the media.

As the facts come in, here’s one thing that stuck out for me after a weekend of news discussion shows.

Except for these mammoth events where lunacy and guns cross paths and innocents get in the way, we are a safe, safe society.

According to latest crime stats, there is no reason to feel you need a gun to be safe.

That is unless you have an issue, about paranoia, criminality, or something else. But America is much safer than everyone thinks.

Only with the addition of guns, does the safety level decrease and the danger level rise.

Another interesting tidbit: On at least two of the Sunday network news chat shows members of Congress who have a pro-gun viewpoint were invited to come on the programs.

There were no takers.

No one had the courage to stand up for their “gun lobby” convictions in the face of 20 children dead.

That’s telling, and how I know we’ve reached a turning point in the debate over gun safety.

It’s the power of the Newtown 20.

The night-capper, of course, was President Obama’s speech on Sunday night.

It was just the right kind of speech. Moving and emotional without being overly so, spiritual without being too religious, although the president did read from scripture (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and even invoked Jesus’ name at the end.

But he was more in the role of president as national comforter. He was Parent-in-Chief, describing what it’s like to be a daddy. He showed us the real value of the young lives lost. They are all part of us.

The idea of the nation as a family, came to mind. And when he mentioned “love,” I thought the president knocked it out of the park.

But it seemed to give him a bit of courage to say the bold political words that he had yet to say as forcefully in his administration.

When it comes to gun violence he’d visited so many other scenes in his four years, but last night he said it as plainly as he could: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He spoke of the “obligation to try.”

And then he laid out the policy path:

“In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

It was already a great speech.

But was it” Gettysburgian,” as one writer suggests?

If we are caught in a modern civil war over guns, it’s an appropriate comparison. We have to come together on this issue, once and for all. The tragedy of 20 innocent children senselessly massacred goes beyond the fatalities of war. We aren’t on the battlefield, we are on Main Street U.S.A.

And then came one last invocation of the religious.

Said the president:  “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

And then he read the childrens’ names one by one, including Madeleine Hsu’s.

(See my original post on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog).