Monday, October 31, 2011

Racism against Chinese Americans in Army, Marines

In a NYT story they say Chinese/Americans have a lot of questions about the death of Private Danny Chen. It seems he either killed himself or another soldier ended his life. This came after his superiors had repeatedly used ethnic slurs and dragged him across the floor. It seems he was repeatedly demeaned.

It's a paradox. In higher education in California you can't count Chinese Americans as a minority because many of them work much harder than the average Caucasian and get admitted to the prestigious University of California in large numbers. There have been quotas, and although they allegedly don't exist now, admissions people aren't exactly impressed by good grades if the person is Asian.

So are they just people who work harder: or as this Army incident shows, are they part of a minority in America. The Times points out that Marine Lance Cpl Harry Lew killed himself in April in Afghanistan. Before he died he'd been the subject of brutal hazing. The marines who did the hazing have been ordered court martialed.

I have language exchanges every week with three UCLA doctoral candidates from China. They work incredibly hard, denying themselves a lot of the fun I enjoyed in graduate school. They are achieving at a high level because of their extra efforts.

Our society can't have it both ways, making them non minorities for college admissions, while they're being treated like dirt as they voluntarily defend our country.

As for being bad soldiers, I guess the superiors of Danny Chen never heard of Korea.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Promise of Thanksgiving

Halloween will soon disappear and we will look toward Thanksgiving, the ultimate family gathering. As a Mayflower descendent I am both proud to be connected to two different Pilgrims and embarrassed by what the second generation did to the Native Americans who celebrated the harvest and helped them survive

That's how it goes in American history. We are a great nation, yet we have to overlook the racism that was such a part of it in order to feel good about who we are. However, Thanksgiving celebrates our togetherness. Grown up children return to the nest and for once the core family is gathered around the table.

We can celebrate the fact that we're a free country that has a generous tradition of philanthropy for those wiped out by tsunamis and hurricanes. We can put aside our political differences for a day and reach out to others who don't share our views. We can also vow to be better Americans and deal honestly with our problems.  We were a nation that grew by sacrifice from the revolution to today as we are pulling out of Iraq. Sacrifice will save this country, once again, if we are all determined to share it. We became great, not through isolation from others, but by sharing a dream that can continue to be true if we all join hands.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Student, My Hero

There are some occasions when a student remembers his professor as a guide on how to run his life. He cherishes that relationship and uses that professor's lectures as a standard for future decision making.
In my life, I’ve had such people guide me. But in a very real sense, one of my students has become my hero. Ronnie has the size and appearance of an NFL linebacker. He towers over me and I’ve always thought if I really got in trouble I’d want him walking into a situation with me. Not that he’s violent, but his imposing size would prevent others from going too far with impunity.
But, of course, that’s not why he’s my hero. He went to a tough inner city school and after school ended, he went to the library and stayed there until it closed. He tried very hard and because he had brains, people wanted to help him.
By the time I was teaching him in Feature Writing, he was working at Home Depot and Kmart at the same time. He wrote thoughtful pieces that showed great talent and I thought that he was as good as any student I ever taught at the Newhouse School. My dream was for him to write at the New York Times.
Of course, by the time he graduated newspapers were going out of business or hanging by a thread. So he has a good job in government, Right before he graduated he wrote an article in the school newspaper that asked: “If the school is 30 percent African American why should there be a separate Black graduation?” He didn’t care what other African Americans might say to him, because there was no party line on how African Americans had to feel or think.
He drove an hour and a half to have dinner with me the other night. I was really looking forward to seeing him, because I feel like he’s an American hero and he passes on his strength to me simply by being my friend. He’s the best kind of American, one who thinks deeply about things and isn’t afraid to say something when he sees an injustice. If my daughters weren’t already in college, I’d make him their guardian if I passed on. My life is better because I had the privilege of teaching him. My life continues to go well, because he’s my friend.

Originally published on 10/18/11

American Freedom vs. Chinese oppression

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of independence he provided a statement that justified personal freedom at a time in which governments were seen to grant freedom of speech to its citizens. His amazing document, in which he channeled John Locke, said freedom was an inherent right.
Democracy is a messy concept. Other governments seek to restrain the ability of people to communicate freely, but America and a few other countries believe it is a crucial right. At the moment, the speech of a certain group is undermining confidence in America. However, even though democracy has its downside, overall what Americans experience is enough freedom to say what  they think and determine how they should vote.
Our biggest competitor, China, does not value free speech. In the New York Times yesterday, the paper revealed the government is setting strict rules about micro-blogging, the  vehicle in which ordinary Chinese (lao bai xing) learned what really happened in a high-speed train wreck. Since China has invested a large amount of money in high-speed trains, it was something people needed to know.
They are also limiting entertainment programs on regional stations to  two 90 min. entertainment programs a week. I guess in China having too much fun is a threat to national stability. The new, tech savvy Chinese are going to live in a different world.
For many reasons, I have a strong positive feeling for Chinese all over the world. My trips to China have been life changing experiences. I have experienced wonderful hospitality (re qing) and been able to have close relationships with many fine people. These people have gotten used to a modicum of freedom that will now be taken away. I'm experiencing extreme sadness about the world they'll be living in.
Thank God I'm an American.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Netflix, Greed, and the canary in the coal mine.

Netflix has done what seemed impossible to do; destroy its stock price, public relations and employee morale. In that way it is an unusual American story. If it had had a legion of very connected lobbyists, like GE, it probably would have received governmental support and have stopped deterioration of its finances.
I say this is unusual because most Senators and Congressmen are owned by major corporations or the teachers union. In most cases conspicuous greed doesn't seem to be a problem. There may be a couple of bankers in jail but not many. Some of them, in fact, saved their fortunes by taking TARP money.
It seems you need to have a totally out of touch CEO in order to fall out of the elite. I know friends who dropped Netflix, even though they loved the movies. Most of us aren't smart enough, it seems, to stand up for ourselves and say we're not going to take it anymore.
If Americans understood what it's allegedly American companies were doing to destroy the lives of middle-class people by being driven by greed, they would be as active as they've been with Netflix. At this moment, American companies are doing anything to get into China, because they figure that they want to be the last company to make some money before the ball drops in China and people discover they have all our proprietary technology.
Greed hurt Netflix, but if the American people won't pay attention to what's happening to our country because of this rampant greed, the outcomes won't be clear to them until we've destroyed the middle class.
We need someone with the strength of Teddy Roosevelt to deal with the new Rockefellers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to destroy America

An article in the New York Times today reveals how the GOP field with its accusations has diminished our legal system in the eyes of conservatives and others. This is just one example of how the war between our political parties is changing the confidence Americans have in their government.
Winning, without the consideration of campaign rhetoric on the American people, is dangerous. We once had a country where leaders of both sides could retire to a room and figure out what was best for the American people over bourbon and branch water. That era is gone and the two-party system, which has been a cornerstone of support for our Constitution, has now become the enemy of our Constitution. In a court room, the defense attorney for a rapist tries to find out problems in the life of the rape victim. It is one of the most controversial outcomes of an antagonistic legal system because it can destroy the life of someone who had already been victimized.
Our country is in the same position. If the Republicans keep pointing out the deficiencies in our system of government the country will never have confidence in itself again. I'm not a Democrat, and I don't think they've made any attempt to cut back on spending. But the Republicans are out to destroy the country they say they're protecting.
The day that they realize that they are Americans first, and Republicans second, we can start building confidence in our government among the American people.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chinese Americans are pissed off

Chinese Americans who live in Los Angeles are very angry. Their Chinatown (Zhongguocheng) is extremely large.  It stretches through the San Gabriel Valley for a long distance. Prices in this area for housing are beginning to go through the roof. Schumer's law, which would give a foreigner a visa if they bought American property will just make things worse for Chinese Americans. Chinese want to live near other Chinese, so they invest in those areas. Chinese Americans already have seen prices escalate because of home purchases by mainland Chinese. In one community there are housing developments just to hold the mistresses (er nai) of mainland Chinese who do business in America.
This is just another shortsighted mistake Americans have made about China in the last 20 years. If an American company goes to China it needs to take on a Chinese partner. Then if it wants to stay, it is forced to turn over proprietary technology to the government. General Electric has made a deal to help build a passenger plane which aims an arrow at the heart of Boeing. The dumbest thing I ever heard was a GE spokesman who said the military wouldn't get that technology for two years. This man knows nothing about China.
The Republicans in the house are not going to vote for tariffs on Chinese goods even though they're made by state owned industries and supported by subsidies from the government. It looks like the tea party wants to destroy America instead of turning back the clock.
Any company that goes into China should expect that their technology will end up in a Chinese company that will have an advantage in the marketplace.
We can't expect the Chinese to take care of us. They operate in their national interest. If we don't stand up and fight, our children will be their janitors.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Who says Bankers are Immune from Prosecution?

              If you're looking to buy a house in Los Angeles you'll be surprised at the paucity of homes on the market. Since LA home prices are 166% of prices in 2000, you'll wonder how this happened. Aren't many Americans out on the street because they couldn't make mortgage payments?
              It seems the banks are waiting to foreclose on property until they get a multistate settlement that essentially says we won't sue you for all the things that you did that were illegal. They want this guarantee, because the large number of mortgages that involved robo signing and the skirting of requirements required to sell their mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could guarantee they'd be in court until after the Obama administration leaves town. (Your guess is as good as mine on that timetable)
              The bankers who made so much money selling these loans to investors in tranches(where you buy a piece of a collection of mortgages) now don't want to face the music. Bank of America, whose former boss made really laughable deals, is scared stiff.
              There are very few bankers who took the money and ran that have been  charged with any felonies. They would never say what Harry Truman said; "the buck stops here." Under significant pressure, Kamala Harris, Atty. Gen. of California, pulled out of the multi state agreement because people were pointing out that you could do illegal things and never have to pay for them. The banks wanted absolution.
              Obama wants something done immediately in order to move the economy along. I understand his desire to do that. But criminals shouldn't be able to walk away from destroying our financial system.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

What Occupy Wall St. is and isn't

Many people are talking about Occupy Wall Street and what it is or is not. Fox news makes them sound like homeless psychotics or clueless philosophy majors. Others on the left see it as the beginning of a new movement that will galvanize the left wing of the Democratic Party.

In fact, it probably won't eventually fit in either one of these analyses. I view it as a simple wake-up call for everyone who is angered by the situation in which the rich get richer and many others are unemployed. Over the last few years it's been clear that Wall Street runs our government. The rich decide which way the country will go and tells the congressmen they've purchased how to vote.

To the extent that it is controlled by adbusters, I am for economic equality for shrinking middle class and poor, not for structural changes in American Government.

Like many I voted for Obama and found that he was incapable of picking subordinates. He put Summers and Geithner in charge of the economy and they protected the rich. Obama could have been leading Occupy Wall Street, but instead every move he made was helpful to the wealthiest Americans.
Many of us are independents and have no faith in either party. But we're angry as hell, and don't want to take it anymore. It's clear that Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are in office to make money for themselves or are strapped to an ideology that does not allow for compromise.
Now the question is what are the 99% of Americans who've lost purchasing power in the last 10 years, while the bankers and others on Wall Street tripled their net worth, going to do about it.
Are you listening?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Authors, Artists and the Zone

Those who run frequently have experienced the flow of endorphins which kick in after a couple of miles and makes you feel like you are being propelled forward. You are in the zone.
It's the same thing for authors, and I assume, artists. You don't know when your characters take over the story and tell you what they should be doing, but when it happens it's almost like your writing is being driven  by an exceptional source. You don't want to stop, because it seems so perfect.
I'm not saying that everything you write when you're in the zone will look great to you upon second reading, but while you were writing it, you were being pushed forward by unseen winds.
When I look at some of the art that's been produced by people who are on my Google plus, I'm astounded by the beauty. Maude McDonald  had the creativity to paint a modern horse against the back ground of the figurative horses in European cave paintings. It's clear she was in the zone when the idea struck her and she painted this work of art.
Unfortunately, at least for this writer, some days you sit in front of the computer, and until you try free writing you don't have a chance in the world of entering the zone. That's why it's such a special place, because the rest of the time you are struggling to create a word picture out of the ether.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Yearning for Communication and Camaraderie

I was at a dinner the other night which involved a cross-section of Los Angeles. There were African-Americans, Asians, and white guys like me. In discussions with some I began to pick up a theme. It sounded like people were looking for camaraderie and deeper discussions on what was happening in America and of a  structure to perpetuate this kind of interaction.
Until the 60s, it was common for men to have places they could go to for these things. As a wire service reporter, I could see the fraying of communication and the inhibiting  of  the transfer of information from one generation to another. The situation has finally gotten to the point where more and more younger men want the reassurance that values still matter.
My assumption is that the same concerns are shared by women, although they've always had a readiness to be open with each other which men seem to fear and makes them close up. The farther technology goes, the more people yearn for a serious conversation over coffee.
Our nation needs to have a glue that holds us together. The feeling right after 9/11 was that Americans were reaching out to other Americans. But a few weeks later we were back in our anomic worlds. In societies in other countries there may be less distance between people because of extended families and adherence to tradition.
The yearning is there. I just hope more of us reach out to experience a re-communication.