Monday, October 31, 2011

Medi-Cal, “Supercommittee” cuts to hit California, not OC yet

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 31 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WESTMINSTER, California—In efforts to keep California’s budget gap from widening, Medi-Cal providers will see 10 percent reduction in payments.
However, no date has been set for the cuts yet.
On 27 October 2011, Governor Brown announced that California had received federal approval to cut over $623 million from Medi-Cal provider rates. To “ensure that access to care is not compromised as the reductions are implemented,” a monitoring plan will be set up, according to the Brown administration.
So far, the federal government has not given California a date for when cuts will be allowed to start, but they are expected to affect most Medi-Cal covered patients, though not all.
Medi-Cal is California’s state Medicaid system. It covers low-income families with children, seniors, foster children, pregnant women, and people with specific diseases including breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.
People under Medicare, which covers seniors age 65 and older, will not be directly affected by the cuts and will not be forced to enroll in managed care plans as a way for the State to save money.
Although the cuts will be distributed throughout California, Orange County (OC) will not be affected this year, Pharmacist Thu-Hăng Trần of Tran’s Pharmacy in Garden Grove told the Viễn Đông.
Medi-Cal in Orange County (OC) is run under CalOptima, OC’s public health care plan, which works as a “middle-man” receiving funding from the State. CalOptima then gives that funding to OC providers. As CalOptima’s funding has already been allotted for in the 2011-2012 State budget, cuts will not dent it.
Providers in counties without county public health care plans, like Los Angeles and San Diego, receive their funding directly from the State and will experience the cuts.
The cuts were part of a 2011-2012 State budget trailer bill passed in March 2011 that were supposed to go into effect on 1 June 2011, however the State had to wait for federal approval to enact them.
Cuts include a 10 percent reduction in provider payments for multiple outpatient services, including adult physicians and clinics, therapy, optometry, dental, and pharmacy. Nursing home nurses and adult sub-acute care nursing home facilities will also experience 10 percent reductions in provider payments, while acute care nursing facilities will receive 10 percent reductions in provider payments as well as a rate freeze.
However provider cuts will not apply to child physician and clinic services, home health services, hospital based sub-acute care facilities, or outpatient hospital services.
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that though the cuts would not yet affect her, many pharmacists throughout California will not even be able to break even under the new cuts.
For example, she said, if a pharmacist as a provider currently pays $100 for the cost of a patient’s medication and the State pays a $5 dispensing fee, then the pharmacy receives a total $105 from the State. This covers the cost of the medication and brings in some profit.
Under the new cuts, the pharmacist will only receive $95 from the State, not even enough to pay for the medication.
Pharmacists will be forced to not carry medication they will not profit from, making it difficult for patients to get medication from their pharmacists. These patients may ask their doctors to fill the prescriptions with generic medications, as they are less expensive than brand name medications.
A lawsuit will be filed in federal court this week, on behalf of providers, patients, and advocates, in attempts to keep the cuts from happening, Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông. A hearing in federal court could happen as early as November 2011.
“We have no choice,” she said.
This is not a first, “Supercommitte” to ensure it’s not a last?
This is not the first time the Viễn Dông has reported on Medi-Cal cuts, meaning this issue of cuts has been a long-lasting one. On 26 July 2011 and 8 August 2011, the Viễn Đông covered Governor Brown’s elimination of Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) centers set to take place on 1 December 2011.
On 7 October 2011, the Viễn Đông covered the U.S. Supreme Court case, Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, which focused on whether or not people receiving Medi-Cal, their providers, and their advocates can sue California and stop its cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates.  
The U.S. Supreme Court case could change or keep in place the decisions made in California district courts in 2008 and 2009. Those decisions blocked cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates.
Assemblyman for the 69th District Jose Solorio, told the Viễn Đông that people throughout California have experienced enough medical cuts and doctors will only cut services to patients if they themselves see reduced payments.
However, Medi-Cal cuts could only be the beginning, as last week the Congressional “Supercommittee” in charge of figuring out how to fix the national deficit proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.
The Supercommittee’s plan seeks to cut $400 billion from Medicare and $100 billion from Medicaid as part of closing a $3 trillion budget deficit.
Ms. Leah Bolger, with the organization Veterans for Peace, disrupted an opening meeting the Supercommittee held on 26 October 2011.
“We would have enough money for housing and healthcare and everything that we want, if we stopped spending our money in this black hole of the military machine,” she said. “The American people want to tax the rich and end the wars. That’s how we fix the deficit.”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Protests, Bolivian law end road construction on indigenous reserve

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 30 October 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

LA PAZ, Bolivia—In what can be seen as a victory for indigenous rights, President Evo Morales signed a law banning road construction that would cut across indigenous land.
President Morales signed the law on 24 October 2011, after about 1,000 protesters from the Amazon had participated in a 66-day march to La Paz, a dedicated 600-km effort to preserve their ancestral territory.
“The government knows it cannot decide on the future of our land without consulting us,” the governing party’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) indigenous lawmaker Pedro Nuni was quoted in Inter Press Service (IPS). “Native peoples have thought deeply about the defense of our territories.”
The $415 million, 177-km road would have been built across the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) and was supposed to be part of a highway that would transport resources from Brazil to the Pacific Ocean, maximizing travel time between cities.
Although news coverage has reflected the views of indigenous Bolivians who protested against the road, there are indigenous Bolivians who think a road through TIPNIS would have brought development to the community.    
Brief history of Bolivia
Bolivia is located in central area of South America. Brazil borders the country’s north and east; Paraguay and Argentina border its south; Chile borders its southwest; and Peru borders its west.
The country has a population of about 10 million people, and considered the poorest country in South America with a poverty level at about 60 percent. As a multiethnic country, Bolivia includes Amerindians, or indigenous people, Mestizos, or people of both Spanish and indigenous ethnicities, Europeans, and Africans.
Spanish is the main language spoken, as the Spanish began colonizing the area in 1524; however, there are 36 indigenous languages that have been made official in Bolivia, Aymara and Quechua being the most common.
The Aymara are believed to have arrived in the area now known as Bolivia over 2,000 years ago and advanced into a civilization known as Tiwanaku, with as many as 1,482,000 people.
They created colonies, made trade agreements, and instituted an empire of states. Rather than getting rid of cultures, the Tiwanaku civilization included them into its own when expanding into the areas now known as Peru and Chile.
However, around AD 1000 the Tiwanaku civilization disappeared due to lacking food supply and the area of Bolivia remained uninhabited for centuries. When the Spanish came to the area, the Incas, who had expanded the area from 1438-1527, were the area’s habitants.
Indigenous people were used as the Spanish labor force, as silver was important to the colony in the late 16th century. In 1781, there was an indigenous rebellion that killed 20,000 people and by 1809 indigenous and non-indigenous people in the area were both struggling for independence from Spain.
In 1825, independence was proclaimed and the area was named Bolivia after Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who fought for independence in parts of South America.
For the indigenous people, currently identified as over 62 percent of the country’s population, independence meant they would still have to struggle to keep their ancestral land, as Mestizos and other Bolivians born in the country felt more entitled to it.
Revolts were frequent until 1953 when the government discouraged identity with indigenous roots, rather focused its energy on identifying the rural indigenous people as “campesinos” (“peasants” in Spanish).
However, in the 1970s ethnic pride resurfaced and by the 1990s, there were indigenous people involved in local politics.
In 2005, Bolivia elected President Evo Morales as its first indigenous Aymara descendant to the presidency and in 2009 Bolivia became the first South American country to give indigenous people the right to govern themselves.
Yet, actions like the previously planned road through TIPNIS land symbolize Bolivian indigenous people’s continuous struggle for their rights.
What next?
Being a proponent for the road project, President Morales has had his reputation as a leading champion for the environment questioned.
President Morales seemingly signed the law banning the road because of the indigenous people’s pressure on the legislature, as they held a vigil outside the building the day the law was passed.
The IPS reported President Morales as saying the indigenous leaders would be responsible for explaining cancellation of the road project to the TIPNIS inhabitants that wanted the road built.
Though, news coverage has mostly reported on the inhabitants who did not want the road built.
“Let's continue forging ahead with the process of change, but without destroying the 'tierras comunitarias de origen' (‘communal lands’ in Spanish), and with full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” leader of the TIPNIS native communities Fernando Vargas was quoted in the IPS.
Mr. Vargas reportedly urged President Morales to build a country that conserves nature, suggesting that there will be future battles with Bolivian indigenous people over their land.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gov recognizes Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag, community

*This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông on 29 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WESTMINSTER, California—Representative Jose Solorio visited Little Saigon on 28 October 2011 to share Governor Jerry Brown’s official recognition of resilience, freedom, and democracy important to the Vietnamese American community in California.
Such resilience, freedom, and democracy are symbolized in the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag, the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam, dating back to 1948, with three red stripes on a yellow background.
Representative Solorio told the media that Governor Brown’s decision to continue State recognition of the flag during his first term in office revealed Governor Brown’s commitment to the Vietnamese American community.
In fact, rather than a quick, emailed response agreeing to continue recognizing the flag, Representative Solorio told the media that Governor Brown took the time to craft a thoughtful statement about the flag and its meaning to the Vietnamese American community.
“The Vietnamese American community has made positive contributions to the historical, cultural, educational and economic prosperity of California,” Representative Solorio read Governor Brown’s words to the media. “Vietnamese Americans remain vigilant in opposing tyranny of all forms, actively supporting human rights for all people, and celebrating the principles of democracy, justice, and tolerance upon which our nation was founded.”
Gaining, keeping recognition
Representative Solorio told the media that he began helping Governor Brown better understand the need to continue California’s recognition of the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag since the beginning of 2011.
In 2006, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-14-06, which allowed the flag to be displayed on State building property holding California-sponsored, Vietnamese-American ceremonial events.
On 25 October 2011, Governor Brown answered Representative Solorio’s recognition request, on behalf of Vietnamese Americans in Orange County (OC).
The reply was yes!
“I know how important it is that the Freedom and Heritage Flag is recognized as the symbol of the Vietnamese-American community in California, because it represents freedom, democracy, unity and hope,” Representative Solorio was quoted in a press release on 28 October 2011.
Though, this is not Representative Solorio’s first successful attempt in gaining recognition on behalf of Vietnamese Americans in California. In April 2011, the California Legislature unanimously passed Representative Solorio and Senator Lou Correa’s co-authored ACR 40, which recognizes April as Vietnamese American Month.
ACR 63, co-authored by Representatives Solorio and Allan Mansoor, recognizes June 19, 2011 as the Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Services Day and was also unanimously passed in June 2011.
The resolution also recognizes the last week in April as Black April Memorial Week, a time to remember the pain and sacrifice experienced as a result of the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
Ms. Kim Nguyễn, Field Representative for Representative Solorio, told the Viễn Đông that the general public, outside the Vietnamese American community, is not usually aware of the current situation in Vietnam or what the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag represents.
“They don’t think much about it,” she said, adding that Governor Brown’s recognition of the flag will contribute in educating people about the flag and its symbolism.
On 27 October 2011, Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California President Neil Nguyễn issued a statement thanking Governor Brown for recognizing the flag.
“We tirelessly continue our efforts to promote freedom and democracy and to condemn the suppression of human and civil rights to the Vietnamese people by the current Communist regime,” the statement read.
Over 80 cities, including Westminster and Garden Grove, have recognized the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag to symbolize the contributions of Vietnamese Americans in their cities. California has joined states like Hawaii, Louisiana, Ohio, and Michigan in also recognizing such contributions though adoption of the flag.
There are over 183,000 Vietnamese Americans living in OC, an increase of over 35 percent since the year 2000. Southern California has over 300,000 Vietnamese American residents, while California has nearly 600,000. By 2030, Vietnamese Americans are projected to be the largest Asian American subgroup in California.
The United States has close to 2 million Vietnamese Americans residents, many of them recognizing the Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag, finding offense in the current Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag as a symbol for their ancestral country.
Thought to consider
Now that the Vietnamese Freedom Heritage Flag will continue to be recognized in California, how much education will be taught about the flag’s symbolism? Will your community contribute to providing such education? If so, how so?

Friday, October 28, 2011

No more mystery: Vietnamese American Oral History Project

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 28 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

IRVINE, California—Southern California Vietnamese Americans have rich histories surrounding their pasts in Vietnam, journeys to the United States, and integration into their new home country.
Whether experienced first-hand, or handed down through ancestral knowledge, these Vietnamese Americans reflect such rich histories with presence.
But what about the stories that are not told, due to shame, fear, or feelings of unworthiness?
Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the first generation, are reluctant to talk about their pasts for multiple reasons, Dr. Thúy Võ Đặng, head of the soon to launch Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP) told the Viễn Đông.
For instance, surviving the war, displacement, and resettlement were all traumatic experiences that many first generation Vietnamese Americans do not wish to relive, even through memory. Also, there are some who do not feel their stories are worth much.
Though, Dr. Đặng told the Viễn Đông that she believes the VAOHP will make the diverse, complex identities within the Southern California Vietnamese American community available to a broad audience and “give voice to the community in a way mainstream history has not been able to.”
Dr. Đặng is heading the VAOHP under the University of California Irvine (UCI) School of Humanities. The VAOHP will be housed at the UCI Libraries’ internationally known Southeast Asian Archive and made available to the researchers, as well as the public, when it is completed in three years.
Generously funded by an anonymous donor, the VAOHP will be revealed at an ideal time, reflecting an awareness and sensitivity to the degree of pain within the Southern California Vietnamese American community regarding its past just over 35 years ago.
The goal of the VAOHP is to capture, record, and disseminate diverse experiences and perspectives from within the Southern California Vietnamese American community.
Interviews will be recorded in audio format, as well transcribed, and the oral histories will be made available via website.
Although not currently conducting interviews, Dr. Đặng will teach a Vietnamese American Experience course this winter that will train students on conducting oral histories for the VAOHP, providing the groundwork for them to continue their training for years to come.
“It is so important to interview these eyewitnesses to history, especially the elders, who made new lives for themselves and in the process contributed to the economic and cultural development of Orange County, California, and the nation,” UCI School of Humanities Dean and part of the VAOHP advisory committee, Ms. Vicki Ruiz told the Viễn Đông. “This project will contribute to our larger understanding of modern American history.”
Although there is urgency in obtaining histories from the first generation, the VAOHP is not limited to that generation, Dr. Đặng told the Viễn Đông. It will include identities beyond the generally portrayed refugee, expanding to reach voices of mixed race, LGBT, or recent immigrant Vietnamese Americans.
Dr. Đặng and UCI Asian American Studies professor as well as VAOHP advisory committee member Professor Linda Võ have conducted oral histories in the past that will also be added to the student collection.
The VAOHP is looking to collaborate with other organizations working on their own Vietnamese American oral history projects, so people wishing to access various histories will find it easier to do so.
 “This is the first time we have the staff and funding to collect and record these stories from community members themselves,” Research Librarian for UCI Southeast Asian Archive and consultant for the VAOHP Ms. Christine Woo told the Viễn Đông. “We hope this project will lead to greater use of the archive's collections by community members who, in turn, will contribute photos, letters, diaries, and other personal papers to our growing collections.”
The VAOHP’s impact
Dr. Đặng told the Viễn Đông that the VAOHP is a long term project, planned to last for hundreds of years so future generations can learn about the contributions Vietnamese Americans have made to Southern California.
“When they [stories] are put online, our hope is that researchers and teachers will use them for educational purposes and our children will be able to access them to learn about the history of their community,” Professor Võ told the Viễn Đông.
Many Americans have little contact with Vietnamese Americans, maybe interacting with them when getting their nails done at a salon or eating at a Vietnamese restaurant, Ms. Woo told the Viễn Đông. “The VAOHP's oral histories will not only connect Vietnamese Americans with each other but will tell others about them in their own voices.”
Head of Special Collections for UCI Libraries and VAOHP consultant Ms. Michelle Light told the Viễn Đông that the project is meant to bring about new knowledge, healing, and understanding, as well as support community memory and identity.
She hopes it will inspire continued dialogue between older and younger generations.
 “These stories about how and why we came to America and the struggles we faced to build a new life here are an important part of American history,” Professor Võ told the Viễn Đông. “Being able to work with Dr. Thúy Võ Đặng and support such an important project that will benefit my community is truly an honor.”
To access the VAOHP website, visit

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Solitary confinement: Context behind Cali inmate hunger strikes

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 27 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

CRESCENT CITY, California—News coverage of the two part California inmate hunger strike focused mostly on the inmates refusing food, with little coverage on the effects of their living in solitary confinement.
On 1 July 2011, Pelican Bay State prison’s secure housing unit (SHU) inmates began a three week hunger strike, protesting SHU prison conditions.  They were joined by SHU inmates from other California State prisons and went on strike for nearly another three weeks, beginning on 26 September 2011.
It was one of the largest prison strikes in California, involving tens of thousands of inmates and supporters worldwide and contributing to an ongoing debate regarding solitary confinement.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on torture Mr. Juan Méndez was quoted in a UN News Centre article on 18 October 2011. “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”
The inmates called off the strike on 13 October 2011, when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to meet their demands, calling for changes to SHU placement policies and treatment of SHU inmates.
CDCR’s current policy places inmates in solitary confinement if they have committed crimes in prison, or are labeled as gang members or gang affiliates. The policy has been criticized as unjust.
“There are pronounced racial disparities in solitary confinement,” University California of Santa Cruz (UCSC) Director of the Social Psychology Graduate program and Legal Studies program Professor Craig Haney told the Viễn Đông, referring to the SHU placement policy as part of the reason for the disparity. “That is certainly true in California, where Latino prisoners predominate in solitary confinement units.”
Conditions in solitary confinement are various, though the California inmates were protesting torture, including lack of medical treatment, inadequate food and water amounts, lack of activity, as well as group punishment and length of time spent in solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement’s impact on mental health
According to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website, inmates have been placed indefinitely in solitary confinement for the past 40 years.
Although not everyone who goes into solitary confinement develops mental health issues, there are some people who do, Professor Haney told the Viễn Đông.
“We are fundamentally social animals who depend on others for feedback about the appropriateness of our feelings, the contours of our identity, and so on,” he continued, adding that isolation is a stressful experience in which people are forced to cope with an existence of nothingness. “When we don't have social contact, or live in an isolated world that doesn't "make sense," we are pushed to the edge of madness.”
People who are mentally healthy are better able to cope with solitary confinement than juveniles, whose minds are more fragile, or mentally ill people whose minds are already “damaged,” Professor Haney told the Viễn Đông.
UN call to limit solitary confinement
Mr. Méndez was quoted in the UN News Centre article as calling for limits on solitary confinement and a ban on the practice used for juveniles and mentally ill inmates.
He defined solitary confinement as any time an inmate is kept isolated from anyone except for guards, for at least 22 hours in one day.
Mr. Méndez said solitary confinement should be no longer than 15 days, adding that only a few days of isolation can produce permanent mental damage.
“In the exceptional circumstances in which its use is legitimate, procedural safeguards must be followed,” he said, adding that solitary confinement could be used as a means of protecting some inmates, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual inmates from harm. “I urge States to apply a set of guiding principles when using solitary confinement.”
According to one of Mr. Méndez’s recent reports, the United States currently holds 20,000 to 25,000 inmates in solitary confinement.
“Social isolation is one of the harmful elements of solitary confinement and its main objective,” he said. “It reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum.”
Thoughts to consider
Will there be more prison hunger strikes nationwide, considering the amount of inmates currently held in solitary confinement? Was the California strike the beginning or the end? A continuation?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Students lack voting education, more disadvantaged voters?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 26 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

SAN BERNADINO, California—Miss Kyra Mangual will be taking U.S. government and civics next semester at Sierra High as part of her California graduation requirements, however she doubts the course will persuade her to vote next year.
She told the Viễn Đông that she doesn’t think her vote will make any difference, even in a Presidential election.
Despite the increasing youth turnout rate during the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Presidential elections, Miss Mangual’s feelings are reminiscent of statistics from a decade ago. During the 2002 general elections, fewer than 1 in 5 young adults, age 18-24, were expected to show up at the polls.
On election day in 2002, NPR reported that there were students eligible to vote yet chose not to because they didn’t want to take the time to vote, they didn’t care about the issues, they felt politics were inherently corrupt, or they had their minds on other things.
“Driving’s a lot more important than voting,” then age 18 Florida’s Stoneman Douglass High student Mr. Brian Richiardi was quoted on NPR, adding that plenty of students his age felt the same way.
Another Stoneman student, age 17 Mr. Tyrone Jenkins, told NPR that his life would be the same regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican was elected.
Yet, there were some students who did feel voting is important.
“People who don't vote have no reason to complain,” Stoneman student Mr. Andrew De Jesus told NPR. “If you don't vote you did nothing to change.”
Other students told NPR that voting would impact their future and was necessary.
As most schools are legally required to offer some form of U.S. government and civics education, are these schools adequately preparing students to vote, emphasizing the significance of this form of democracy?
On 11 October 2011 and 18 October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the possibility of over 5 million voters being disadvantaged in the 2012 elections due to voting law changes. Will student voters increase that amount of disadvantaged voters?
U.S.  government, civics education nationwide
If voting is taught in schools, it is most likely taught in U.S. government and civics classes.
States set their minimum requirements for their students to take U.S. government and civics classes, while localities can increase those requirements for their schools if they see fit.
Most U.S. states require their high school students to take at least half of one unit, which is usually a semester, of either U.S. government, civics, a combination of the two subjects, or a combination of the two subjects with economics, U.S. history or their equivalents.
Without that half unit in U.S. government and civics, students in such states will not graduate from high school.
A few states, including Alaska, Nebraska, and Vermont, do not have specific requirements for their high school students to take U.S. government or civics classes.
There are also states, like Kentucky and Massachusetts, which do not specify how many units their students must take in U.S. government and/or civics, though they require the topics to be covered at some point during the students’ high school social studies educations.
Missouri requires its students to take an exam on “provisions and principles” of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions instead of an actual class.
Some states, including North Carolina and Washington, require their high school students to take at least one full unit, which is usually an entire year, of U.S. government in order to graduate.
There are states that give their civic units names that directly correlate to voting like Georgia’s “Citizenship Education” and Hawaii’s “Participation in Democracy.”
Then there is Arkansas that has separate learning tracks for its high school students. The “Core” curriculum is the standard, basic curriculum for high school students, while the “Smart Core” track offers college and career ready curriculum.
Students in the Core track are required to take half of one unit in U.S. government and civics, while students in the Smart Core track are required to take a full unit.
By Arkansas’s Class of 2014, both Smart Core and Core students will be required to take half of one unit in U.S. government and civics.
Some Southern California students
Although California is like most states, requiring its students to take at least half a unit, or one semester, in U.S. government and civics, some students do not believe they are learning much about the voting process.
Miss Kyonne Lightner, who graduated from Los Angeles’s Dorsey High Class of 2006, told the Viễn Đông that her teachers did not teach her a thing about voting, except that she should do it because it will change the economy.
She added that the only time she did vote was for President Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election.
Miss Jasmine Roberts, who graduated from Fontana’s Henry J. Kaiser High Class of 2010, told the Viễn Đông she took her U.S. government and civics course in summer school.
“They [teachers] said it was important for us to register, but didn’t say exactly where or how to,” she told the Viễn Đông. “I have not registered myself, nor have I voted on anything.”
Mr. Pierre Trần, who graduated from Huntington Beach High Class of 2011, told the Viễn Đông that he also has no idea how to register to vote and none of his classes even discussed the voting process.
Students in the Huntington Beach Unified High School District must take the California required semester of U.S. government and civics, paralleling the local Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) requirement for its students to take a semester of U.S. government and civics during their senior year.
According to the GGUSD High School Course Outline for the U.S. government and civics course, students study voting, voting behavior, and voting requirements toward the end of the class.
Thought to consider
If voting is considered to be the most important form of democracy, how much education on voting should high school students be required to receive at school?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Artist views: relating to the surrounding environment through art

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 25 October 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

COZUMEL, Mexico—Ms. Yolanda Gutiérrez is part of a developing group of environmental artists, seeking to transform their worlds through art.
Such artists are found globally, finding and working to change environmental issues they are not pleased with surrounding wildlife habitat, nature, and urban life.
But they also compliment the world they live in, appreciating its beauty and using their talents to praise it.
The artists use what is around them to send messages to viewers and listeners. For example, Ms. Gutiérrez uses shells and organic materials she finds on the sites she will work.
Though, she also works in her studio, usually using natural materials to reveal themes and myths about Cozumel’s coast.
One of Ms. Gutiérrez’s major projects, from 1995, was inspired by a wildlife reservation on the island of Cozumel. After two hurricanes had hit the area, she worked with biologists from the Mexican Ministry of the Interior to create nests for birds that had fled the island because they lost their homes.
Ms. Gutiérrez’s nest project, called “Santuario” (“Sanctuary” in Spanish), brought the birds back to the area.
Although Ms. Gutiérrez explores issues on her home island, she also depicts issues regarding the larger natural world.
Another of her famous works, called “Umbral” (“Threshold” in Spanish), is an installation of cattle jawbones meant to look like birds in flight.
“A new cycle of life emerges from the death of another,” Ms. Gutiérrez was quoted in “Death is not the end, but a transition from one life to the next.”
Art capturing transition
South Korean nature artist Mr. Hee-joon Kang has been doing nature art since the 1980s, creating art with his own body as he interacts with the nature around him.
For example, he will hide in tall grass, drag things across beaches to leave marks in the sand, or leave brushes outside so the wind can create its own drawings.
“I am strongly interested in small delicate objects from nature which are not recognized by people normally,” he was quoted on “I find a divine poetry in it.”
Mr. Kang does not create as much as he assists nature in creating. His work suggests that everyone impacts nature in everything they do.
Specific works of his, like “Drawing” or “Autumn” or “Winter,” dissolve the lines between the artist and the passing seasons, as he uses paper, clusters of thorns, and soil smeared over stumps to reveal the beauty he sees in nature that many people take for granted.
Mr. Kang classifies his artwork into three different concepts. The first uses natural materials, like wood and grass, to draw lines “because each natural material has its unique line,” he said.
In his second concept, he mixes different soils with water and dries them to reveal natural cracks. The third concept involves drawing the shapes and shadows of detailed and delicate natural objects.
“Substances of nature become the motive of my work,” he said.
Lack of natural substance as motivation
The late rapper and actor, Mr. Tupac Shakur, commonly known as 2 Pac, critiqued the urban environment around him, as well as the United States as a whole, in much of his music.
In the song, “Panther Power,” from his posthumously released 2003 album Resurrection, he called the American Dream a scheme because it promised freedom, education, and equality, but gave him and his ancestors nothing but slavery.
“The American Dream was an American nightmare,” he rapped. “You kept my people [African Americans] down and refuse to fight fair.”
2 Pac added that the U.S. government used ignorance and drugs to keep African Americans from achieving success.
He continued, rapping that his mother never let him forget facts surrounding his ancestral history in the United States, stripped from the culture, the environment of Africa.
“Some time has passed, seem you all forget,” he rapped, reminding his listeners, especially his African American listeners, not to get too comfortable in their U.S. environment. “There ain’t no liberty to you and me, we all ain’t free yet.”
He ultimately called for a change in the environment called the U.S. government, and urged Black people to remember their beauty and reflect the environment in Africa they came from.
Thought to consider
How can your community artistically transform its surrounding environment?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Environmental effects on physical, mental, spiritual human health

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 24 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

SACRAMENTO, California—In a move which health groups believe will benefit human health, the State has established a legal commitment to lower carbon emissions beginning in 2013.
On 20 Thursday 2011, the California Air Resources Board adopted rules that will regulate carbon emissions, also known as pollution, from oil and gas producers, utilities and transportation companies, as well as farmers and the building industry.
The regulations establish a “cap and trade” system, where limits are set on how much carbon dioxide companies can produce. California will give each company the same number of “carbon allowances,” meaning the amount of carbon dioxide the companies can produce.
Companies that produce less carbon dioxide than the limit will be able to sell the allowances they have not used to other companies who intend to pollute more than the limit.
The new cap and trade system is said to increase incentives for businesses to reduce carbon emissions, contributing to better health for California residents.
Health care costs will decrease along with the air pollution, according to the American Lung Association in California and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As California appears to be contributing to a healthier environment by reducing air pollution for its residents, what other areas of the environment could be changed to improve the physical, mental, and spiritual health of people specifically in your community? Globally?
Environmental impact on physical health
Carbon emissions have been linked to diseases directly affecting people’s lungs like lung disease and asthma, as well as other diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
One form of carbon emissions is carbon dioxide, which is produced when fuel burns, as well as when humans and animals exhale. Carbon dioxide is dangerous to humans and animals if inhaled in large doses and lethal in its purest form.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, both helping to keep humans and animals breathing.
As industry increases, trees and plants are removed from land to create room for machinery, factories, buildings, residences, and roads. Such infrastructure can produce more carbon dioxide into the air, as the buildings can depend on fuel for energy, which is burned. Roads provide travel for cars, which produce carbon dioxide when fuel is burned to keep them moving.
Without enough trees or plants to absorb the carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, humans and animals are more apt to contract diseases said to be caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide inhalation.
Environmental impact on mental health
The industrialized environment, substituted for trees and plants is believed to have an indirect effect on the human mind.
Quick paces on the job can produce intensity and stress, less sleep and depression.
Rather than socializing with face-to-face human contact, people increasingly use various forms of typing to communicate. Youth, the next generation, especially use texting and various social networking websites, like Facebook and Twitter, as means of communication.
According to a BBC film series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, as industry and technology have developed, humans have developed brains that think like computers. Humans increasingly work solely to solve problems and are goal oriented, as opposed to enjoying the inconsistencies life has to offer.
However, actual computers run at speeds quicker than most humans can think and can stay “awake” or on, longer than humans do. Without enough sleep, people can become depressed and contract other mental health problems.
Environmental impact on spiritual health
The hustle of an industrialized environment can cause people to focus solely on production, leaving little if any time for play and a balanced spirit.
Bogged down with work, people in an industrialized environment do not always have enough time for their family, friends, and selves.
Less time is spent connecting to emotions as thoughts void of feelings are preferred in fast paced work settings. In customer service jobs, a smile is valued, even if it does not match what the employee is feeling inside.
People are increasingly told to keep their personal lives separate than their work lives. Though, what happens when their work lives becomes their personal lives?
Thought to consider
Does your community need to change its surrounding environment? If so, how so?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brazil: Amazon forest losing life, brief country history, reforestation

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 23 October 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil—Consumption of a McDonald’s hamburger or Chicken McNuggets has been linked as a contributor to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Deforestation is when a forest is cleared of its trees, its life, making way for industry profit through highway construction, mining activities, dam building, logging, cattle ranching, and soybean production.
According to Greenpeace, an environmental activist group, a majority of the Brazilian soybeans are bought by a company called Cargill. That company then sells the soybeans to fast food companies like McDonalds, which feeds the soybeans to its cows and chickens.
As the fast food chains expand to more areas, more cows and chickens are needed, hence more soybeans. This means, clearing more forest because the soils in the Amazon are only productive for a short time period after forest removal.
The Amazon rainforest has been said to hold about 30 percent of the world’s species, with millions of unclassified or unknown plants and animal species. When the trees that provided homes for animals and insects are gone, the critters become displaced, seeking shelter elsewhere if they can find any.
As the trees are often cleared by burning, releasing carbon, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other poisonous chemicals into the air, animals and humans living near and working in the Amazon could become ill or die from smoke inhalation.
The cattle ranching done after some forest has been cleared, is also detrimental to the environment. Cattle release large quantities of methane through burping, contributing to climate change as the gas traps heat at greater rates than carbon dioxide.
This heat contributes to heat waves.
Cattle ranching has other negative effects, as people working on the ranches are often treated as slaves, according to Greenpeace.
Amazon deforestation can delay the cures of diseases like AIDS and cancer, as the forest has been said to hold treatments for medicines used against such diseases.
Is deforestation in the Amazon warranted, given the health and environmental effects it has on plant, animal, and human life?
Brief Brazilian history
Brazil is the largest country in South America, with a population of over 192 million people. It borders all countries in South America, except for Ecuador and Chile.
In the 1500s, the Portuguese colonized the area known today as Brazil and the country was legally recognized as independent in 1825, though it declared independence in 1822.
In the 1940s, Brazil began its exploitation of the Amazon, its natural resource, though deforestation did not become widespread until the 1960s when the forest was cleared for cattle ranching, as grass is able to grow in the poor soil.
The country needed national revenue and a way to pay off international debt, seeking to gain money by exporting beef. Also, the Brazilian people were starving and the beef helped feed them.
By 1970, highway transportation projects, like the Trans Amazon Highway, were promoted, causing more forest to be cleared so products used for export could have an easier exit.
Hydroelectric dams and mining activities were introduced to the Amazon in the 1980s. The dams have been known to flood the area, as well as emit carbon dioxide and methane into the air. Mining requires clearing trees in order to open mines. The trees are often then used as building materials and wood for fuel.
Logging for timber has also greatly reduced trees in the Amazon. Because logging is selective and only certain types of trees are commercially valuable, other trees have to be removed to get a specific one. Also, when a tree falls, it takes smaller ones down with it.
After the trees are logged, the soil that was once shaded is subject to intense heat by the sun. The soil then becomes less fertile and farmers cannot sufficiently use the land for multiple yields. More trees then have to be removed so the farmers can survive.
By the late 1980s, Brazilian Amazon deforestation had become a global issue and since the early 2000’s the rate of deforestation has decreased.
Measures taken to end, slow deforestation
In 2002, Brazil signed the Kyoto agreement, which is an agreement among countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the year 1990 emission levels by 2012.
Greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap and release heat into the air.
Although Brazil joined other countries in ratifying the Kyoto agreement, it was considered a developing country and therefore not required to cut emissions at the same rate as developed countries.
In 2006, Brazil recognized that deforestation accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and by 2007 the country’s lean toward ethanol and biodiesel fuel production, as well as forest conservation areas, had cut the rate of deforestation by 50 percent in three years.
Brazil has offered plans to further reduce its emissions, like using donor funds to help reduce emissions. Plans from other sources have included giving credits to developing countries that reduce emissions while giving credits to developed countries for funding “reforestation.”
Reforestation puts trees and plants into forests that have been damaged by deforestation.
However, although Brazil has the largest national economy in South America, the country’s main priority is reducing the poverty rate, with 26 percent of its population living below the poverty line.
Deforestation is not Brazil’s main concern.
Thought to consider
Does impoverishing a forest through deforestation contribute to human poverty?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New free-trade agreements, economy have impacts on environment?

*This article was orignally published by the Viễn Đông on 22 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—On 21 October 2011, President Barack Obama signed free trade agreements with three countries, believing all agreements will boost the U.S. economy.
If the newly signed U.S. free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama do boost the economy, demand for products will increase as prices for them decrease. This sort of economic growth has been linked to negative effects on the environment as well as global warming.
As demand for products goes up, more resources are used to produce those products. Supporters of economic growth believe Earth will reproduce the resources taken from it, even if at a slower rate than humans would like.
Critics of economic growth argue that Earth’s resources are limited and will eventually cease to exist, quicker if global production keeps its pace. They feel humans should use only what they need, the bare minimum.
However, some critics also advocate for ways to efficiently sustain Earth’s resources and still keep economies growing.
Or developing, rather.
For economic growth, environmental deregulation
The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent as of September 2011, though it is higher in ethnic minority communities, causing a political obsession with job creation. 
Politicians and their economic aides feel that the more people are working, the more money they will have to spend, thus growing the economy.
“For years, Washington has been busy tying the hands of businesses across this nation with regulations and backwards fiscal policies that have slowed entrepreneurship and destroyed jobs,” Congressmember Ed Royce, 40th District Representative, was quoted in the OC Register last summer. “It is time to reverse that trend.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come under criticism from politicians, activists, and others who say that regulating the gases that certain businesses, like ExxonMobil, emit will make it difficult for those businesses to hire workers.
Instead, the businesses will be using workers' salaries to pay fines for emitting too much gas.
But there are others who feel that people are working to grow the economy at the expense of the environment.
“Development has no limits, growth has limits”
Chilean economist Mr. Manfred Max-Neef told Democracy Now! last fall that most economists do not understand that humans depend completely on nature and cannot rely solely on economic growth to sustain them.
Mr. Max-Neef said that economists don’t know how to calculate costs, sharing that economic advisors or consultants advise companies to move their factories away from where their products will be sold.
“What is the impact on the environment of that transportation, you know, and all those things?” he rhetorically asked, adding that such advise dehumanizes the process of people interacting in food production.
If products were produced closer to home, people who purchase those products might know who made them and feel more of a connection with the producer. Such solidarity among people depends on mutual aid, not greed.
 “Greed is the dominant value today in the world,” he said.  “As long as that persists, well, we are done.”
He continued, saying the economy is meant to serve people, people are not meant to serve the economy.
“Development is about people, not about objects,” he said, adding that growth is not the same as development and development doesn’t necessarily require growth. “Development has no limits, growth has limits.”
Nothing is more important than life, he added.
Environmental economics
One form of economics, environmental economics, is an actual field of economics that focuses specifically on the economy’s effect on the environment.
The central theme behind environmental economics is market failure, meaning that the market economy will fail to sufficiently provide resources for the people it serves.
Because of this insufficiency, more people are excluded from obtaining certain resources, like clean water, as the resource is limited and salvaged for those privileged enough to access it.
Such access can come from private purchase or be given by the government. If given by the government, the quality of the resource will be degraded, as more people will be using the resource.
Thought to consider
How will more jobs in the community affect the environment, from the people to the animals and plants?

Friday, October 21, 2011

OC schools lack Vietnamese language courses amid pop. growth

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 21 October 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

ORANGE COUNTY, California—The local Asian population is growing, yet not necessarily represented throughout local public schools’ foreign language curriculum.
Namely, the Vietnamese population lacks such representation.
Orange County (OC) has the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam and could become the largest Asian subgroup in California by 2030, according to an OC Health Needs Assessment (OCHNA) 2010 report.
The 2010 U.S. Census revealed that there are over 183,000 Vietnamese living in OC, an increase of 35.6 percent from the 2000 Census.
Since the late 1970s, the Vietnamese population has had a growing presence in OC, currently representing over 6 percent of the OC population.
Though largely distributed in Garden Grove and Westminster, the Vietnamese population is dispersed throughout OC.
However, where the language is offered in public schools correlates to where the Vietnamese population is heaviest.
Public schools offering Vietnamese
Bolsa Grande High School (HS) in Garden Grove, as well as LaQuinta HS and Westminster HS in Westminster are the only public high schools in OC that offer Vietnamese language courses to its students.
Westminster HS, under the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD) added Vietnamese as part of its world language curriculum in 1999; while Bolsa Grande and LaQuinta, under Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD), added the language into its curriculum in 2002.
The additions at Bolsa and LaQuinta came after parents told school officials that younger Vietnamese Americans, which make up over half the student population at both schools, were not learning their ancestral language.
Who takes the Vietnamese courses
La Quinta Vietnamese teacher Mr. Leon Nguyền told the Viễn Đông that of the 42-48 students he teaches in his level 1 and 2 Vietnamese courses, 90 percent are Vietnamese American students born in the United States; while 9 percent are Vietnamese students born in Vietnam and 1 percent are non-Vietnamese students.
All students wishing to graduate from public high school in California must either take a foreign language or visual and performing art course for at least one year, which means all California high-school students have the opportunity to study Vietnamese for at least one year.
However, they can have more of an opportunity  to study Vietnamese, as getting into a California State University (CSU) requires students to take at least two years of courses in the same language. To get into a University of California (UC), students must also take at least two years of courses in the same language, though they are recommended to take three years.
If students choose to take Vietnamese as a foreign language, their curriculum will focus on developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing Vietnamese, as well as exposure to Vietnamese culture.
Barriers to offering Vietnamese in public schools
Dr. Thúy Võ Đặng, who collects data for the UC Irvine’s Vietnamese American Oral History Project, told the Viễn Đông that Vietnamese American youth could feel a disconnect with their ancestral language and culture.
She continued, saying that some Vietnamese parents want to provide for their children’s futures in the United States and not dwell in the Vietnam of the past.
“Parents are not telling their children about Vietnam and their lives before migration too much,” Dr. Đặng told the Viễn Đông, adding that knowledge about the past would afford younger Vietnamese American youth with an intimacy surrounding their ancestral language and culture.
Though, there are other barriers hindering schools from teaching Vietnamese as a foreign language. As Asian languages like Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are not the traditionally offered Spanish, French, and German foreign language courses, there are not many textbook options available or curriculum examples to follow.
There is another barrier regarding the dialect taught to students, as there is more than one Vietnamese dialect.
“I try to teach both dialects in my class,” Mr. Leon told the Viễn Đông.  “However, when it comes to pronunciation, I try to teach more of the Northern dialect, due to its pronunciation to be more accurate and distinguishable when speaking.”
Thought to consider
Has offering Vietnamese language courses at the three schools helped Vietnamese Americans attending those schools connect to their cultural heritage through language?