Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Congressional maps suit, new Little Saigon districts violate VRA?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 30 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WESTMINSTER, California—Another lawsuit against newly drawn electoral districts could change realities for underrepresented voters, as well as inspire future suits.
On 23 November 2011, former Mariposa Republican Congress member George Radanovich and other Republicans filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court against the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s (CRC) newly drawn congressional district (CD) maps.
Before the CRC was created in 2008 by the voter initiative known as Proposition 11, State lawmakers created their own districts, giving them the power to shape the borders that would keep them elected.
The CRC was given the task of considering public comments throughout the spring and summer of 2011 while drawing congressional, Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization maps to be used in elections during the next ten years.
Along with reflecting 2010 census data, the new maps were to adhere to strict guidelines including the Voting Rights Act (VRA) which in its basic meaning is meant to keep minority votes from being diluted.
Former Congress member Radanovich’s suit claims that the CRC violated the VRA. However, rather than diluting minority votes, he believes it protects Democrat minority incumbents.
The suit alleges that the CRC drew CD maps that spread an African American population in Los Angeles (LA) county into three separate districts, rather than pack them into one or two.
As the suit claims that the LA African American voting age population (VAP) is decreasing, rather than growing, splitting the community is considered unmerited because minority communities that are not growing do not need to be split, as they will probably not expand into surrounding areas.
Former Congress member Radanovich wants the State Supreme Court to throw out the CRC’s maps and have court appointed “special masters” draw new ones.
However, in October the State Supreme Court denied former Congress member Radanovich’s earlier lawsuit, which was also against the CRC’s CD maps.
Throwing out the CRC maps could affect Westminster’s Little Saigon community as the maps remove a portion of CD 47’s Vietnamese American voters from the district and put some into coastal CD 48 and some in CD 46, which includes Santa Ana and Orange.
Unlike the LA African American communities mentioned in the lawsuit, the Orange County (OC) Vietnamese American community’s VAP is growing. Such growth is considered to allow for splits as they encourage minority communities to expand.
Although the Coalition of Asian and Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting (CAPAFR) has reported that Little Saigon’s new CDs will diminish the Vietnamese American vote, there have been no lawsuits filed on behalf of the Vietnamese American community specifically.
Over the 2011 summer, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) was reportedly considering a lawsuit against the CD maps; however the Viễn Đông has not received comment back on whether such plans could still go forward.
Because redistricting lawsuits are costly, can take years for decisions, and the filer/s must prove that certain criteria were disregarded in the drawing of districts, it is risky to file redistricting suits alleging VRA violations.
Also, the general public is not usually aware of the rights they have under the VRA, which could make filing even less probable, regardless of possible redistricting injustices.
VRA, Section 2
The federal VRA was the CRC’s number two priority, after making sure all district maps contained as equal VAP populations as possible.
Section 2 of the VRA reads that no citizen should be disallowed a vote based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
Minority groups who feel their VRA rights have been violated do not need to prove that maps were intentionally drawn to discriminate against them; rather, they need to prove that the maps offer them less opportunity to participate in the voting process than other groups.
For example, a minority group can claim it is a victim of “cracking,” or having its group split, though it is large enough to form a single majority-minority district, which is a district where minorities make up 50 percent or more VAP.
Or, a minority group can claim it is a victim of “packing,” which is concentrating minority voters within a single district, limiting their influence on surrounding districts.
To prove it has had its VRA rights violated, a minority group must first show that it is large enough and geographically compact enough to form a single majority-minority district.
A minority group must then show that its members tend to vote along the same political lines, as well as show that the White voters within its district tend to vote against the minority group’s preferred candidate.
As Little Saigon, currently shares CD 47 with a larger Latino population, in what is called a minority-coalition district, or a type of majority-minority district where two or more minority groups are combined within a single district, it is large enough to form a single majority-minority district.
The trickier part is showing the tendency for members to vote along the same political lines, as pertaining to party Latinos tend to vote Democrat and Vietnamese Americans tend to vote Republican.
Whites are actually the minorities in the district, giving Latinos and Vietnamese Americans more power to elect their preferred candidate, respectively.
More information
For more information on the VRA, visit online at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Artist views: Religion, spirituality revealed through artwork

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

LONDON, England—Ms. Padmayogini becomes in touch with her environment before capturing an image.
She wishes to see and reveal life for what it is. No filters, no mediation.
“We seem to spend so much of our days surrounded by visual imagery, that it can seem hard to really see the world around us at all,” she wrote in her personal blog, adding that people often allow their friends, family, the media, and the corporate elite to conceive the world for them rather than seeing it through their own perspectives.
Ordained as a Buddhist in 2002, Ms. Padmayogini aims to reflect her spirituality through her painting and photography.
Working with both the urban environment in London as well as the “natural world,” Ms. Padmayogini is drawn to the spirit and interconnectedness within the planet.
“I have rather an eclectic approach to my work, responding to the world around me with what seems like the right medium,” she wrote, again emphasizing her “dialogue” with the environment she is painting or photographing.
Practicing breathing exercises for a few minutes during the day, focusing solely on her presence and awareness, help her to see the world more clearly.
“If we can come back to ourselves, through mindful means and then re-look at the world around us, we will see a richer and more detailed world and our experience will be much more satisfying,” she wrote. “Just looking without adding to what we see.”
Changing what is seen
Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, age 54, is trying to use his artwork and religion to transform the environment around him.
“It's a rough place,” he was quoted in the Toledo Blade, speaking about his home in Camden, New Jersey. “It's the second-most dangerous city and the second-poorest, but there's so much good happening through the churches. It's very exciting as an artist.”
A member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales religious order, Brother McGrath also travels throughout the United States, presenting his illustrations and hoping to inspire audiences through storytelling.
“I used to sit under my Mom's ironing board and watch As the World Turns every afternoon, drawing on paper my Dad brought home from work,” he was quoted. “I was a very shy and self-conscious kid and drawing was kind of a safe place for me.”
Upon graduating from college, Brother McGrath entered the seminary. Initially, he wanted to become a priest but decided to become a brother so he could keep his artwork first.
Focusing on creating Romanesque and Gothic art, the kind featured on stain-glass cathedral windows, Brother McGrath was able to combine his art with religion and has been asked to create art for Catholic parishes and universities nationwide.
He usually paints with acrylics; however he has discovered that the Apple iPad proves to be a productive way of creating digital sketches for his Christmas cards.
Along with using new mediums for creating artwork, Brother McGrath is opening his mind to new ways of seeing aspects of Catholicism, creating a non-traditional graphic displaying Baby Jesus in the arms of Joseph.
“Mary gets enough attention, he was quoted. “I have a particular devotion to Joseph and fatherhood.”
Though, Brother McGraw’s devotion runs much deeper. He is ultimately interested in creating beauty through painting and storytelling; something he believes will save the world.
Choosing which world to live in
Mr. Damien Marley, age 33, is a Jamaican musical recording and performing artist who uses his reggae/dance hall style music to convey his message of brotherhood to his listeners.
Son of the late singer and songwriter, Bob Marley, and a practicing Rasta, Mr. Damien rejects the oppression of Western society, particularly the oppression of African slave descendants.
Rastas are members of the Rastafari Movement which arose in Jamaica during the 1930s. Not an organized religion, the Rastafari Movement encourages Rastas to find faith and inspiration within themselves, treating themselves as royalty, countering the inferiority they feel that dominant culture places on them.
“Don’t you ever give up, don’t you ever give in,” Mr. Damien sings in his song “We’re Gonna Make It” off his 2005 Welcome to Jamrock album. “Speak of love Jah [God’s] children and be proud of who you are.”
He continues, urging his listeners to concentrate on the brighter sides of life.
“It’s not too late,” he sings. “I know we’re gonna make it.”
Info on artists
To listen to Mr. Damien’s music, visit online at
To view Ms. Padmayogini’s blog and artwork, visit online at
To view a blog, video, and some of Brother McGrath’s paintings, visit online at

Occupy OC protest retail stores, employee comments

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 26 November 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

SANTA ANA, California—Making an effort to inform shoppers about corporate greed and political contributions, Occupy protests were held at WalMarts nationwide on 25 November 2011.
The protests even started earlier in the week as Orange County’s chapter of the group, Occupy Orange County (OC), specifically protested the early opening hours WalMart and several other retailers held in order to maximize profit on the busiest shopping day of the year-Black Friday.
Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving, kicking off the Christmas shopping season. It is commonly known as “Black Friday” because it is the day retailers consider themselves “in the black,” or actually making profit.
The Occupy OC protesters believe that WalMart owners, who might have been at home with their families on Thanksgiving, are maximizing profit at the expense of WalMart employees who had to leave their families to go into work as early as 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.
Occupy OC is part of the larger Occupy Movement that started with protests in New York City and San Francisco in September 2011, influenced by pro-democracy protests earlier this year in the Middle East and North Africa.
Along with the Occupy Movement’s physical stretch, even spreading to cities internationally, its demands are wide ranging. However, it has been reported that the protesters are calling for economic and social change.
“The underlying theme in the Occupation Movement is that large corporations and major banks have become corrupt and greedy, making large profits off the backs of the average American,” according to an Occupy OC issued statement. “The heads of corporations pay themselves huge bonuses while continuing to cut the labor force as well as wages.” 
Occupy OC also took issue with WalMart’s history of political contributions from elections campaigns to lobbyists, funding mostly Republicans.
As WalMart has locations all over the United States, the early hours and Occupy protesters are not exclusive to OC.
In fact, Occupy OC is acting in solidarity with Occupy groups nationwide who called 25 November 2011 “Blackout Black Friday” or “Don’t Occupy WalMart.”
New York WalMart, local WalMart
Ms. Jeanine Mucci, an employee at Plattsburgh, New York’s 24 hour WalMart told the Viễn Đông that she thinks stores should close by 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving to allow people time to enjoy the holiday.
However, she does understand that the shopping attached to Black Friday is “part of American culture.”
Ms. Mucci did not have to go into work on Thanksgiving night, though she is familiar with the process the store goes through to accommodate early shoppers.
“We’re so money hungry, we have to be open,” she said, adding that she spoke with a manager from another 24 hour WalMart in Long Island, New York about their early opening process.
Ms. Mucci said that the store was closed to customers at 9 p.m. It was opened again at 10 p.m., though only allowing 100 customers in at one time.
This process began after the 2008 death of a Long Island, New York WalMart employee who was trampled by shoppers eager to begin their bargain shopping.
As shoppers can outnumber discounted items, such an incident is unfortunate though not unlikely.
Back in Santa Ana, California’s WalMart Superstore, the mood around 10 a.m. was busy, though not chaotic.
One employee, Mr. Eduardo, told a customer that things had died down, but when he ended his shift at 3 p.m. Thanksgiving day, there were people with tents already camped outside.
When Mr. Eduardo started his shift at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, every cash register was open.
He made no mention of the Occupy OC protesters and there were none in sight, though there were many other retail stores open, with profits to maximize and customers to inform.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Artist views: Support for Occupy movement, opposition understood?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 15 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

LONG BEACH, California—The Occupy Movement has become fuel for artists, some of them seeking support for critiques that have awaited recognition.
J. Mal, a vocalist for the Long Beach based rock/hip-hop band MDMF, told the Viễn Đông his group created a song called, “Money Spent,” prior to the Occupy Movement, hoping to get people to think about what they spend their money on and why.
“I support it,” J. Mal said of the Occupy Movement, adding that he considers himself a part of a lower class, the 99 percent.
The Occupy Movement is an international movement that started in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco in September 2011. 
It was inspired by the “Arab Spring,” protests that started in Middle East and North African countries earlier this year, resulting in the end of decades-long dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt.
Protesting social and economic inequality, the Occupy protesters consider themselves to be in the 99 percent of society that is oppressed by the 1 percent corporate elite.
“If I was in that position, I would be blind just like them,” J. Mal said, trying to understand the mindset of the 1 percent. “They’re so used to having so much.”
There are some people, like hip-hop mogul and businessman Mr. Russell Simmons, who have openly supported the 99 percent. However, most of the elite class has ignored the protesters calls for perceived equality.
“You’re that rich,” J. Mal said. “You can’t even spread the wealth?”
Journalist, unlikely supporter
In its coverage of the Occupy Movement, specifically the Occupy Wall Street encampment at NYC’s Zuccotti Park, mainstream media discredits the protesters as lacking a clear agenda, journalist, blogger, and author Mr. Robert Schiffman wrote in the Huffington Post.
He wrote that mainstream media reporters have visited the encampment with “preconceived ideas,” about the movement. Rather than listening to what the protesters were really saying, the media has set out to label and stereotype the protesters.
“What really ticks the media-cracy off, one suspects, is not that the Occupiers lack a coherent message, but that it won't fit into an eight second sound bite,” he wrote. “It won't even fit into a political platform, because it is not just about taking positions and articulating agendas. It is bigger than that.”
He continued, writing that the Occupy Movement is about everyone’s long felt economic difficulties, as well as spiritual collapse within the United States. Such a message will not likely come from the mainstream media.
“Unlike earlier protests, which looked to the press to get the word out, the Occupiers depend more on their own social media and networking,” Mr. Schiffman wrote. “They may be the first mass movement in history that has been able to bypass the press and frame their own message in their own terms.”
Plus, by framing their own message without “a list of fixed positions and proposals,” the 99 percent can make sure the 1 percent doesn’t have an easy target, Mr. Schiffman wrote. The movement is more open-minded.
A picture paints a thousand words
One of the most open-minded aspects of the Occupy Movement is the photography capturing the many perspectives attached to the images.
The group Street Art Utopia, whose motto is, “We declare the world as our canvas,” features a collection of photographs from the Occupy Movement protests on its website.
Some of the photographs are taken by independent news groups, while others are taken by individuals who feel the mainstream news media is not accurately reporting the movement’s message.
Many of the photos are images of protesters holding up signs like, “Did you lose your home? Wall Street stole it from you,” and “If only the war on poverty was a real war, then we would actually be putting money into it.”
One photograph, taken at Occupy London, displays an image of the Monopoly character sitting on top of a Monopoly board, his hat slightly extended out as though he is begging for money.
Monopoly is a board game, where the aim is for one person to gain as much in imaginable assets as they can, thus having a “monopoly” or domination over the board and declared the winner.
The image, created by Banksy, a London based graffiti artist and political activist, suggests that the dominating class, represented by banks and corporations, is seeking a handout.
Such a handout appears to be at the expense of the 99 percent.
Artist info
To listen to MDMF’s “Money Spent,” visit online at
To view Street Art Utopia’s collection of photos on the Occupy Movement, visit online at

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mexican drug war, arms deals affect U.S. policies, vice versa

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 13 November 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico—On 4 November 2011, the Viễn Đông shared Ms. Sandra Martinez’s story about her cousin becoming a victim of a Mexican drug cartel.
Ms. Martinez is a Huntington Beach, California resident who used to live in the border town of Nuevo Laredo in the Northern Mexican state, Tamaulipas. Prior to the Mexican military’s heavy presence in the town, the Zetas, a large Mexican drug cartel, were consistently seen in the Nuevo Laredo, using violent force to intimidate the residents and procure youth as personnel.
Original Zeta members were once part of the Mexican military. When they found out how much money they could make in the drug trade, they left the military and used their training to beat their competition and recruit younger members to work as spies and drug dealers.
The money made off the drug trade is the driving force behind it, California’s 34th Senate District Senator Lou Correa told the Viễn Đông. He is of Mexican descent and still has family living in Central Mexico.
Senator Correa continued, saying that the violence is not contained to border towns and is seen in small villages throughout Mexico.
“People are afraid to walk the streets,” he said. “It’s a shame to see that.”
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that the money going into Mexico for drugs is creating major problems for Mexican democracy, yet certain legislation being pushed by U.S. voters could further contribute to violence in Mexico.
For instance, there has been ongoing debate in California on legalizing medical marijuana. If a proposition to legalize such marijuana appears on upcoming ballot measures and voters vote to legalize it, there will be more incentive for Mexican drug lords to sell it, thus making their cartels larger and stronger.
Senator Correa added that former U.S. policy for stopping drugs from entering the United States has contributed to all of Mexico being disrupted.
Ten to fifteen years ago, the U.S. federal government was concerned about drugs coming in through boats or planes to Miami by way of the Caribbean islands. The drugs had originally been sent to the islands from countries in South America, like Venezuela and Columbia.
By intervening in the drugs being sent to the United States from the Caribbean islands, the U.S. government forced drug traffickers to find alternate routes.  They went from flying and shipping drugs in and over waters, to transporting them inland through Mexico.
If the United States is successful in stopping drugs coming in from Mexico, drug traffickers will only seek alternative ways to get the drugs in, Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông.
They could even sneak drugs in directly through California or consider Canada as an option for entrance.
Brief history
Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, Native American civilizations including the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya and Aztec inhabited the area of Mexico.
African slaves were also brought to Mexico for labor, contributing to the blend of culture within the country.
In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, though civil wars and border disputes with the United States weakened the country. Texas, what is today California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma  were lost to the United States in 1848.
French forces invaded Mexico in 1861, staying until mid-1867.
The beginning of 20th century contained revolutions within Mexico, where its citizens revolted against the powers ruling the country. There was a period of economic growth from the middle to late century and then in 1982, the economy plummeted.
Difficult times followed, as people rebelled and foreign interests stepped in to help rescue the country. Some of the countries, like the United States, are still present, represented by their interests.
Mexican arms trade
The United States is still present as a foreign interest in Mexico, reportedly encouraging the sale of military-style weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
A report released in June 2011 by three U.S. Democrat Senators, including U.S. Senator representing California, Ms. Dianne Feinstein, found that 70 percent of the guns seized in Mexico between 2009 and 2010 came from the United States.
Drug cartels use these guns in the violence against Mexican citizens.
“The Americans began to sell arms as a voracious, ambitious industry,” Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who has been outspoken against arms trading between the United States and Mexico, said in 2010. “This [U.S. arms trading] often provokes conflicts in countries that are poor and less developed.”
He continued, saying that arms traffickers view selling guns to criminals as a business and international public opinion needs to unite against the “irresponsibility of the Americans.”
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that if the Mexican cartels did not receive guns from the United States, they would get it from countries like Russia, China, or Venezuela and there would still be carnage in Mexico.
Again, he said, the money involved in drug trading keeps the operation going.
“The best way to stop this is to make sure our kids don’t start,” he said, adding that teaching children to refuse drugs at an early age is an effective strategy in not only keeping them drug free and safe, but helping to end the violence inflicted by the Mexican drug war.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How possible future presidents would handle economy, jobs, image

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 12 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

ROCHESTER, Michigan—Aside from the candidates speaking about why they are the best pick for the Presidency, they stood united on the stage, refusing to talk poorly about each other.
Their targets instead were President Barack Obama and the mainstream news media.
The debate, called “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate,” hosted by CNBC, showcased the same eight 2012 GOP Presidential candidates on 9 November 2011 that have been consistently showcased in the debates since early September.
Although CNBC anchorwoman Maria Bartiromo announced that the debate would “focus almost exclusively on the economy and how to fix the financial problems of the country,” some of the commentators raised personal questions, while some of the candidates brought up outside issues in their answers.
For example, when Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was asked how she would create jobs as quickly as possible if she became U.S. President, she included in her answer, “We have to build the fence on America’s southern border and get a grip on dealing with our immigration problem.”
Though connected to the economy, the immigration debate is layered with many other issues attached.
U.S. economy
Nearly every issue occurring within the United States can be tied into the U.S. economy, which is the world’s largest national economy. Even some issues outside of the United States can reportedly affect the U.S. economy.
Like Italy’s financial disaster, for instance, causing uncertainty in the international stock market, where U.S. businesses and individuals often invest money.
However, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, “Europe is able to take care of their own problems. We don’t want to step in and try and bail out their banks or bail out their governments.”
Former Governor Romney added that taxpayer money would not be used to bail out U.S. banks either if he was elected President, something President Obama and former President George W. Bush have done through the Federal Reserve System (FRS) with banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.
“This bubble was predictable, because 40 years ago we had no restraints whatsoever on the monetary authorities,” Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul said, when asked whether he would let banks fail instead of bailing them out. “If you keep bailing people out and prop it up, you just prolong the agony.”
Congressman Paul has been a consistent critic of the FRS, which is the core banking system of the United States. Along with former Speaker of the House, Mr. Newt Gingrich, Congressman Paul believes the FRS should be audited and made to explain why certain banks were bailed out.
Their views on the FRS are similar to what Occupy Wall Street protesters throughout the United States have called for since the Occupy protests began in New York City and San Francisco in September 2011. The Occupy protests have expanded to include cities worldwide, whose people are speaking out against social and economic equality.
However, Mr. Gingrich said that the neither protesters nor the news media accurately discuss the economy.
“This is the richest country in the history of the world because corporations succeed in creating both profits and jobs,” he said.
In order to create those jobs, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said that U.S. businesses need to be competitive, something the U.S. government has made impossible.
“I was always for having the government out of the health care business and for a bottom-up, consumer-driven health care,” he said, mentioning his work as a lawmaker since the early 1990’s, adding that the national health care system, commonly called “Obamacare” needs to be repealed.
Texas Governor Rick Perry agreed that the next U.S. President would need to “trust the capital markets and private sector to make the decisions” and “let the consumers pick winners and losers.”
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman said that the United States is an unnaturally divided nation, quickly spending money, lacking ability to compete, and refusing to address the issue of unemployment.
Presidential Image
Ms. Bartiromo addressed Mr. Herman Cain, a Georgia businessman, saying that though the American people want jobs, they also want leadership. Then, she mentioned Mr. Cain had been accused of sexual misconduct with four different women.
She was booed by the crowd.
“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations,” Mr. Cain said. “The voters have voted with their dollars and they are saying they don't care about the character assassination. They care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.”
California’s 34th Senate District Democrat Senator Lou Correa, who has somewhat been following the debates, told the Viễn Đông that the media is guaranteed certain freedoms, giving them the right to reveal what it finds out about Mr. Cain’s personal life.
“In politics there is no foul ball,” Senator Correa said. “It’s a contact sport.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebrating veterans for more than one day

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 11 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

ORANGE COUNTY, California—Although Veterans Day comes around once annually, U.S. national, state, and local governments participate in policies and programs that help veterans and their families throughout the year.
This week, President Barack Obama announced executive actions that are getting veterans back to work by helping them quickly find jobs they are qualified for as well as discovering available job postings.
As part of the American Jobs Act (AJA) being debated in Congress, the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credit could give businesses incentives for hiring veterans.
The tax credit would be beneficial to veterans looking for work in Orange County (OC), as Chairman of the Veterans Affairs State Senate Committee and 34th Senate District Senator Lou Correa told the Viễn Dông that veterans are facing discrimination when applying for jobs in OC.
He continued, saying that employers are hesitant to hire veterans who could be called back to war at any time, as this could negatively impact their business.
“We’ve got these challenges when our resources are even lower,” Senator Correa said, mentioning California’s budget shortfalls and the high amount of veterans that will be returning from wars and conflict overseas.
California veterans, National Guard
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that California will probably have more veterans returning home than any other state.
He continued, saying that for the past decade, men and women have joined the California National Guard (CNG), believing they would have weekend duty for one weekend out of each month. Many of the people who joined are young mothers and fathers with regular jobs, signing up to help protect California if a disaster strikes.
However, the National Guard goes through the same combat preparation active duty Army soldiers do, thus its members are called to fight overseas, leaving their families, mortgages, and jobs for six months or longer.
These veterans are more prone to mental illness than other military personnel, as they are less mentally prepared for battle, Senator Correa said, adding that National Guard soldiers often serve four or five tours, completely disrupting their everyday lives as well as marriages.
“We have essentially a citizen army becoming professional,” he told the Viễn Đông.
Helping the vets, citizens
In mid-September 2011, the first “Stand Down” was held in OC, inviting homeless veterans to enjoy a shower, toiletries, and social services.
Other counties have been holding events like this for a while, Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông, adding that society needs to change its mentality toward veterans, honoring them with more than putting up a flag and pledging allegiance.
For example, he said that if a person is on a plane and notices a veteran sitting near the back, the person should offer the veteran a seat up front, openly recognizing the veteran's correct respected position in society.
Certain legislation that has made it easier for veterans to go back to school once they have toured overseas has definitely helped show veterans respect, Senator Correa said. However, there is still much more to be done.
“It’s [legislation] nibbling at the edges of the main issue, which is how to integrate them into our society,” he said.
However, there are more opportunities for veterans to become integrated, as well as receive help than there used to be.
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that upon finishing up a tour, veterans used to be checked in by the State and told they would be called if they were needed again.
Now, veterans get checked in and are checked up on periodically, to ensure they are recovering from possible mental or other effects resulting from their fighting overseas.
Senator Correa continued, saying families, politicians, and society in general can be instrumental in helping veterans by becoming educated on various subjects affecting veterans. Veterans affairs are not condensed into one issue for one political party, rather should be seen from both sides.
“It’s an issue of fairness, justice, and keeping our moral obligation to our veterans,” he said. “I hope it’s not just a one day special. It’s about helping veterans every day.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

National, Cali core education scores amid NCLB revision pending?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 10 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

SACRAMENTO, California— Recently released nationwide education data could be seen as less significant, depending on the U.S. Senate decision on federal education law revisions.
On 1 November 2011, the Department of Education released the 2011 Nation’s Report Card for math and reading under the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP) project, revealing this year’s national and individual state’s statistics for 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores.
While 2011 results mostly show student progress nationwide, the U.S. Senate is debating revisions to the federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which requires students to be proficient, or competent, in their grade level math and reading by 2014.
Revisions would relax some of the standards, giving states more power by making the federal government less involved in monitoring all schools and rather have it focus its energy on schools performing in the extremely poorly.
Supporters of the current NCLB law, including the Obama administration, feel that revisions will result in states not accurately monitoring educational needs; while critics of the current law feel it forces teachers to focus on math and reading proficiency testing instead of offering students a well-rounded education.
The bill including the revisions was passed in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on 20 October 2011 and is being discussed in the full Senate.
If the revised NCLB law passes, what will the next Report Card for math and reading look like?
NAEP math, reading 2011
Statistics for the National Report Card on math and reading were gathered using 209,000 4th graders and 175,200 8th graders for math results, as well as 213,100 4th graders and 168,200 8th graders for reading results.
Student performance is rated as basic, meaning partial mastery of required skills; proficient, meaning competence in required skills; or advanced, meaning superior performance in required skills.
The NAEP report shows that 4th and 8th grade students nationwide are performing better in math this year than they did in 2009, while 8th grade students nationwide are performing better in reading this year than they did in 2009.
Also, more 4th graders nationwide are at advanced math levels than they were in 2009, while more 8th graders nationwide are at advanced reading levels than they were in 2009.
“The improvement of mathematics achievement undoubtedly reflects the success of math instruction in our schools,” Chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the board running the NAEP project, Mr. David Driscoll wrote in a statement. “It is quite different from reading, where the achievement that NAEP measures also reflects how much children read outside of school.”
Students coming from families with low-income levels, indicated in the Report Card by eligibility for reduced priced or free lunches, are also performing better this year than they were in 2009.
Asian students scored highest in both subjects out of all racial or ethnic groups surveyed: Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Black, Hispanic, Native American/Other Pacific Islander, or Two or more races.
However, at the state level, results are not always as high as national statistics.
California 4th grade students are performing at lower levels in math and reading than 4th graders nationwide, yet have progressed in performance since 2009.
For California 8th grade students, math and reading performance is also lower than their counterparts nationwide; however, while California 8th grade students have progressed in math performance since 2009, they have digressed in reading performance.
Students eligible for reduce price or free lunches in both grades are performing at lower levels in both subject areas than students not eligible for such lunches.
NCLB revisions
On 14 October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported that Iowa Democrat Senator Tom Harkin and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions had introduced a bill including revisions to the NCLB law.
“We need to update this law to make sure that every child receives a great education,” Senator Harkin was quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “We’re moving into a partnership mode with the states rather than the federal government.”
The bill was voted out of the committee 15-7 and is expected to receive a vote in the Senate by Thanksgiving 2011, as well as a vote in the House possibly by Christmas 2011.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lawmakers fight against voting law changes nationwide, Cali?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 9 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—Voting law changes that could strip over 5 million people of their voting rights are facing opposition from Congressional lawmakers.
On 12 October 2011 and 19 October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the Brennan Center for Justice’s findings regarding new laws that could disadvantage voters.
Since the 2010 elections, 34 states, including California, have introduced changes to voting law legislation and 12 states have actually changed their voting laws.
Some state laws will require voters to have government issued photo IDs, while others will fine groups involved in voter registration, like the League of Women Voters, if registration paperwork has any errors.
Changes to voting hours, limits on early voting days, and zero voting access for ex-felons are also some states’ new laws.
The states that passed the new laws are mostly Southern or Midwest states, located in regions where democratic injustices have historically and consistently occurred: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Maine.
These states’ voting law changes have also been largely backed by Republican lawmakers, reportedly in alliance with private corporations seeking to influence election results for their benefits.
“Voting is the heart of democracy…yet today, our voting systems are deeply flawed” the Brennan Center for Justice’s website reads. “We boast the world’s oldest representative government, but barely half of all Americans vote.”
Democrat lawmakers fight back, Republican justification
On 3 November 2011, Democrats in the House of Representatives sent letters to election officials in 50 states, citing voting law changes and the injustices they could cause in the 2012 elections.
“The Department [Department of Justice] needs to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote -- and, if so, whether any laws were violated," Florida Senator Bill Nelson was quoted in Agence Free Presse (AFP).
The Democrat lawmakers believe the new laws would make it more difficult for elderly people, young voters, and African Americans to vote, as they are less likely to have government issued photo IDs.  
Most youth and African Americans voted Democrat in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections.
The Democrat lawmakers also believe that the new voting law changes are reminiscent of laws that historically kept African Americans, as well as Native Americans and poor Whites, from voting in Southern states.
Such laws included poll taxes and literacy tests, which required people to pay taxes to vote and tested the literacy of potential voters, respectively. These laws were abolished by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965, making it illegal to dilute minority voters’ voices.
However, the Democrat lawmakers feel that abolishing such laws only created avenues for newer voting laws that could disadvantage the electorate.
For example, the Democrat lawmakers share the publicized story of Ms. Dorothy Cooper, an age 96 woman who has voted for the last 70 years with no trouble. This year, she had a difficult time obtaining the necessary voting ID under new voting law in Tennessee.
She was turned away from obtaining her ID twice, once because she brought her birth certificate without her marriage certificate to show her name change. The other time she brought her birth and marriage certificates, her telephone bill, and her lease, but did not have her social security card.
After U.S. media highly publicized her situation, she obtained the necessary identification.
Republican lawmakers believe the new laws will prevent illegal immigrants from voting, as well as make it more difficult for people to cast ballots in multiple states.
“I have no desire to suppress people from voting,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was quoted in AFP. “When it comes to voting, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say you have to prove that you are who you say you are.”
Cali’s introduced legislation
California’s Assembly Bill’s (AB) 663 and 945, which also would have required voting ID law changes, have failed.
As the nationwide state voting law changes have been reportedly backed by Republicans in most states, some of California’s voting law change bills have been backed and even authored by Democrats.
The State almost passed a bill regulating voting registration, making it difficult for third party groups registering voters to pay their employees based on how many people employees attempted to register.
Senate Bill (SB) 205, authored by 34th Senate District Democrat Senator Lou Correa, was introduced to the State legislature in February 2011 and vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2011.
In the bill, Senator Correa wrote that in 2010, Orange County elections officials received complaints from voters saying they were re-registered with a political party without their permission. Companies registering voters paid their employees $8-10 for every completed voter registration card.
“I understand the author's desire to stop fraudulent voter registration,” Governor Brown wrote in a veto message. “Efforts to register voters should be encouraged, not criminalized.”
Senator Correa was, however, successful in another voting law change he authored.
In October 2011, Governor Brown signed SB 183, allowing the State to count ballots that have identifiable marks or information on them, like a scribble to ensure a working pen.
Prior to the new law, ballots with identifiable marks or information were tossed out.
“This bill not only ensures more votes get counted, but also educates voters on how to properly mark their ballot,” Senator Correa was quoted in a press release. “This new law makes a simple change to our elections process that will substantially benefit California voters.”
Thought to consider
Are voting law changes helpful for your community? Will they hinder your community’s democratic participation?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Approaching Veterans Day: Honoring U.S. veterans or otherwise?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 8 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

OAKLAND, California—The upcoming holiday meant to honor U.S. veterans comes in vain for some.
On 11 November 2011, the United States will celebrate the sacrifice of nearly 25 million veterans involved in past and present U.S. wars and conflicts.
There have been early celebrations, like the 2 November 2011 Congressional Gold Medal Gala Dinner honoring the veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion in Washington D.C.
The 100th Infantry Battalion was the mostly Nisei, or second-generation Japanese, battalion that experienced heavy combat during World War 2 (WWII). It combined with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, another Nisei team honored at the gala with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest awards any civilian can receive.
“These were common men who rose to uncommon heights, who put their lives on the line, without fanfare, without seeking credit, to regain our national birthrights for us,” U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said at the gala, adding that initially Japanese Americans were not allowed to fight for the United States in the war against Japan, due to discrimination after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. “The magnificence of what they accomplished is the stuff of legend.”
Though the Nisei veterans, living and deceased, are among the veterans receiving national honor for their military service, there are veterans who feel they joined the service for nothing as they return home empty-handed.
A war at home
At an Occupy Oakland protest on 25 October 2011, Oakland police shot Mr. Scott Olsen with a projectile.
Mr. Olsen is a veteran Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq and is reportedly recovering from brain injury, the result of a fractured skull.
According to news reports, Mr. Olsen was standing still, not provoking anyone when a projectile hit him in the face and knocked him down. As fellow protesters gathered around to help him, police fired tear gas canisters at them, causing them to disperse.
“The fact that this war veteran fell wounded not on a battlefield in Iraq but in an American city, apparently as a result of police action, strikes many who have followed the Occupy movement as ironic,” Reuters reported.
The Occupy movement began in New York City and San Francisco on 17 September 2011, where people protested social and economic inequality. Influenced by the “Arab Spring,” which were protests that resulted in the end of decades-long dictatorships in countries like Tunisia and Egypt,  have spread to cities across the United States as well as internationally.
Joining the students, educators, labor unions, and activists protesting at city halls, outside banks, and in parks, veterans have become involved, at times wearing their fatigues.
“This is our moment to stand up and to voice the grievances, to voice what we’ve all been thinking of for a long time,” Gulf War veteran Mr. Brian Smith told Democracy Now! at Occupy Louisville protests. “The system does not work for us. The system works against us.”
He continued, saying he is disgusted that the largest U.S. banks, like Bank of America and Citibank, have taken advantage of the Veteran Affairs (VA) home loan refinancing system, charging hidden fees for loans.
At Occupy San Francisco, Iraq War veteran and close friend of Mr. Olsen’s, Mr. Aaron Hinde told Democracy Now! that service members swear oaths to protect their countries, carrying that responsibility with them even outside of the military. This same responsibility is what brings veterans out to the Occupy protests.
U.S. Army veteran and executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War Mr. Jose Vasquez told Democracy Now! that veterans leaving the military are highly likely to face unemployment and homelessness, giving them more reason to join the protests.
“People are forced to reenlist because they’re facing a tough economic situation,” Mr. Vasquez said. “Many veterans are going into the police force because of the economic situation. That’s one of the few jobs that military personnel can get easily after leaving the military.”
He added that veterans represent the 99 percent, or a majority of the world’s people who are not wealthy.
“The one percent [wealthy] uses the police and the military to sort of maintain what they have,” he continued. “Military and the veterans are getting angry about how the people are being treated.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Depression in the Vietnamese American community: stats, silence, suppression, speaking?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 7 November 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

ORANGE COUNTY, California—For the Vietnamese American community, the absence of physical pain generally equates to good health in an individual.
But, what if an individual has a pained mind?
According to an Orange County Health Needs Assessment (OCHNA) 2010 report, many Vietnamese American immigrants feel a deep grief covered up by their daily lives in the United States. The report is called “A Look at Health in Orange County’s Vietnamese Community” and uses information gathered from a 2007 survey.
Escaping Vietnam and eventually arriving in the United States resulted in profound loss as theVietnamese who fled left behind their homes, families, and possessions.  Many refugees left with only their lives and the clothes on their backs.
Such loss can contribute to mental health problems like depression. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines depression as “a psychological disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentrating and feelings of dejection,” or feelings of a lowered spirit.
Within the Vietnamese American community, there is often a denial of depression’s existence, as stigmas around depression, being a mental illness, link the problem to genetic defects and ancestral flaws, causing people experiencing the problem to be less apt to seek help.
However, the Vietnamese American community is not alone in its suffering. There are others, specifically from various other ethnic minority groups, who have put their depression aside so they could focus on survival in the United States.
Understanding depression within the Vietnamese American community can help to better connect it with other communities in the United States, both ethnic minority and mainstream.
Lack of mental health care, coverage
In 2008, a California Health Interview Survey found that Vietnamese Americans over age 55 were more likely than Whites their same age to report needing mental health care, though were less likely to actually speak with their doctors about it.
The OCHNA report mentions a high regard Vietnamese Americans tend to have for doctors, often keeping Vietnamese American patients from disclosing health problems with their doctors for fear of disappointing them.
However, if Vietnamese American patients do confide in doctors and ultimately receive care regarding health issues, specifically mental health issues, they are more likely to do so with their primary care doctor, according to a scholarly article abstract from 2009, “Discussing depression with Vietnamese American patients.”
For this reason, primary care doctors need to build “culturally informed strategies for addressing stigmatizing illness,” the article suggests.
The OCHNA report shows that there are 11,232 who have been told by the doctor or health care professional that they have emotional, mental, or behavioral health issues, like depression. However, of the OC Vietnamese Americans with mental health issues, like depression, fewer than 6,127 have received health care for their issues.
Among the reasons for OC Vietnamese Americans not receiving health care were: not thinking about getting care, feeling they did not need help, shame and embarrassment, and lack of affordability.
As over half of OC Vietnamese Americans do not have mental health coverage, the group has the lowest rates of mental health coverage of all ethnicities in OC.
A view from outside the Vietnamese community
In her book, Black Pain, Ms. Terrie M. Williams exposes depression within the African American community. She writes that denial and the community’s failure to recognize depression perpetuate the illness.
Ms. Williams argues that the African American community’s historical resilience has helped the group survive yet has also been used to convince individuals within and outside of the community that depression is not a valid or significant illness among African Americans. 
Instead, she writes that depression can manifest itself in behaviors that are detrimental to the community: crime, violence, substance abuse, eating disorders, and addiction.
Ms. Williams addresses the African American community’s historical silence about depression and how it has contributed to multigenerational depression, perpetuated by older community members who might unknowingly teach this silence to younger members.
These younger members perpetuate the same silence, continuing the cycle and accepting it as a way of life. They will not seek outside help for the depression because they will not think they need it or will be too ashamed because of the stigma the community knowingly or unknowingly places on depression.
Thoughts to consider
Is the Vietnamese community similar to the African American community in its collective denial, or lack of recognizing its depression?  Are there other ethnic minority communities sharing the same denial?