Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Americans do not pay taxes amid talk of tax cuts, drugs affect economy

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

WASHINGTON D.C.—The U.S. Congress has come to an agreement on whether to extend a tax cut benefitting 160 million U.S. workers.
The measure will extend the payroll tax cut for at least another two months.
Lawmakers had until 31 December 2011 to extend the cut, otherwise payroll taxes would have increased by 2 percent on 1 January 2012, forcing the average U.S. family to lose out on $1,000 next year.
Although mainstream news coverage heavily focused on Congress’s difficulty to compromise on the tax cuts, there has been little coverage on where some of the tax dollars are actually going, or how they are being used to fund programs.
For instance, last week the Viễn Đông reported on how the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) aids drug cartels in laundering millions of dollars.
U.S. agents reportedly smuggle money across the United States-Mexico border, hoping to learn about how the drug cartels use the money, where it is kept, and who the ringleaders are.
To achieve this goal, the DEA might allow drug operations to go on for months or years before even one criminal is arrested.
As the DEA is funded with tax dollars, Americans are indirectly supporting the drug trade, all while DEA agents hope to catch the suspects they are funding.
The DEA funded drug operations allow the drugs to make their way up to the United States and people who sell them on the street are not taxed because selling and being in possession of narcotics is considered illegal by the U.S. federal government.
At the same time, the U.S. government funds the “War on Drugs,” which includes criminalizing drugs and incarcerating people who possess and sell them.
Prison funding, “War on Drugs”
According to the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), of the over 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about 500,000 of them are imprisoned due to drug related offenses.
Funding for state prisons, including prisons within the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (CDRC) system comes from taxpayers.
Since former President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, there has been an increased burden on taxpayers nationwide due to an increasing prison population while addiction has not decreased, according to retired police officer and former drug identification expert for the Torrance Police Department Mr. Kyle Kazan.
In a 2011 documentary film, The Exile Nation Project: An Oral History of the War on Drugs, Mr. Kazan said that marijuana is California’s number one cash crop and the State is making very little money on it.
California law allows for people with illnesses like cancer, chronic pain, and anxiety to possess medical marijuana to ease their symptoms.  
In some cities, including Garden Grove, there are medical marijuana dispensaries where people with such illnesses can buy marijuana from vendors.
However, as federal law makes selling or possessing marijuana of any kind illegal, these dispensaries are constantly threatened with shut down.
“It’s [marijuana] costing us money because we’re still fighting it,” Mr. Kazan said, adding that the number two cash crop in California is grapes and “California makes a fortune on grapes.”
Before the failure of Proposition 19, which was on the November 2010 ballot and would have legalized marijuana in California, the California Board of Equalizations estimated that $14 billion in marijuana transactions occurred in California every year.
If taxed, the State could have made $1.4 billion in revenue, contributing to the rising costs of healthcare, education, and transportation.
Mr. Kazan said that the State needs money and the drug policies have failed. “It [legalizing marijuana] seems like a pretty obvious solution to me.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Difficulty for some, ease for others in paying back student loans

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

PLATTSBURGH, New York—Ms. Jeanine Mucci is like many other college students, taking out her first student loan to help with the costs surrounding college life.
However, she is in her last year of college, not her first.
Rather than take out a hefty loan to pay for her education at State University New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh, she worked at retail stores near campus and as a resident assistant (RA), as well as accepted money from her mom to cover the cost of her pending nursing degree and living expenses.
The one loan she is taking out will pay for her apartment this last semester.
As graduation is approaching, Ms. Mucci told the Viễn Đông that she is striving toward a sense of independence and sees the loan as a way to achieve this, as she can avoid asking her mother for some extra money.
She is not worried about being able to pay the small loan back because she feels she will have job security in the nursing field and will probably start paying some of it off before graduation.
“I know friends that are $72,000 in the hole and don’t have jobs,” she told the Viễn Đông, adding that those friends have to defer their loan payments which only increases their interest rates. “[They’re] looking at the degree on the wall and asking, ‘Is it worth it?’”
Student loan debt
Ms. Mucci’s friends are among the students who have contributed to the national student loan debt of over $1 trillion.
And college tuitions are only rising.
However, protesters nationwide, even internationally, are attempting to help such students.
Part of the Occupy Movement, inspired by pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in the spring 2011, the protesters feel that banks and corporations are profiting from global social, economic, and political systems.
Such banks and corporations include those companies that loan students money for college.
The protesters, or Occupiers, argue that the companies make loans to students at higher interest rates than the government does, forcing the students to pay back much more than they were originally lent.
More students are turning to private loans as the government is reportedly struggling economically and in less of a position to loan its students money for school.
On top of this, Occupiers note that unemployment rates worldwide are unstable, taking away from the job security students need upon graduating college.
Without jobs, students have a difficult time, if they are at all able, to pay back their loans.
As a solution, Occupiers are urging recent graduates to not pay back their student loans and are calling for companies, as well as the government, to make loans to students at zero-percent interest rates.
In October 2011, President Barack Obama announced his plan to make it easier for nearly 2 million Americans to pay back their student loans.
Among other perks, his plan would decrease the monthly payment amounts, consolidate loans, and forgive a borrower’s remaining debt after 20 years.
Still, the Occupiers feel this is not enough.
College students ready?
SUNY Plattsburgh Director for the Center for Diversity Pluralism and Inclusion (CDPI) Dr. J.W. Wiley is paying back a series of low-interest loans he took out to help him pay for his doctorate education, as well as part of his daughter’s undergraduate education, while he worked in his career as an educator and consulter.
“It’s tight, but it’s doable,” he told the Viễn Đông about how he is managing. “I still have money to play with.”
He added that he makes a nice salary and has consolidated his loans, figuring out a way to pay back hundreds of dollars every month rather than the thousands some other people have to pay back.
However, his situation is different than the situations of undergraduate students because he is already in his career rather than going to school to start one.
Dr. Wiley told the Viễn Dông that some students finding it difficult to pay back student loans were really never ready to go to a four year institution to begin with.
Some students get caught up in the partying aspect of school and fail to handle their educational responsibilities, lessening their job prospects when they do graduate.
Rather than go to a community college and gradually build the discipline needed to succeed at a four year school, the students “suffer the consequences from having bought into in the hype” of doing what society promotes and rush into a four year institution, Dr. Wiley said.
“People need to be realistic,” he continued, adding that school counselors could have more conversations with students regarding their social maturity. “A lot of these students are not aware of what they’re doing.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2012 U.S. elections series: Voter participation, immigrants more American?

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

WESTMINSTER, California—Vietnamese Americans are more American than Americans.
Orange County (OC) Senior Deputy District Attorney and 2012 candidate for the OC Superior Court judgeship Mr. Jeff Ferguson excitedly explained such thoughts to the Viễn Đông, adding that Vietnamese Americans have taken full advantage of their civic participation opportunities available in the United States.
More so than most Americans whose families have been in the country for a longer period of time, especially such American youths.
“They get out and vote,” Mr. Ferguson said of Vietnamese Americans.
In OC, 63 percent of the registered voting age population (VAP) turned out to vote in the 2008 general election, while 62 percent of that VAP was Vietnamese American.
“That’s something this community has learned-how important it is to vote,” Ms. Trần Tammy, District Representative for California 34th Senate District (SD) Senator Lou Correa, told the Viễn Đông, adding that the Vietnamese American community is like other immigrant communities from countries worldwide that came to the United States in search of democracy. “They appreciate it.”
The community began immigrating to the United States in large numbers, following the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
Fleeing social, economic, and political oppression, the first Vietnamese immigrants who would establish the Vietnamese American community in the United States desired to be actively involved in their new country, participating in the social, economic, and political arenas they were denied in Vietnam.
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that most Americans-including the first Europeans who set up colonies- were actually descendants of immigrants who were fleeing their countries due to oppression.
“America is considered a place of freedom,” he said. “That’s why we have to watch it very carefully.”
 Taking advantage of freedom
The United States is among other democracies worldwide that hold multi-party elections, allowing its citizens to rotate the ideologies in power and vote for representatives who express opposite or differing views from their neighbors.
Senator Correa told the Viễn Đông that a lot of places around the world require a candidate willing to take on the “status quo” to be sure of winning. Otherwise, if that candidate loses there is still a threat to the opposition and the candidate could be exiled or even killed.
Then, some countries do not even entertain the thought of allowing a second party to compete for public office.
“This country has a wonderful system,” he said, adding that the United States has had time to develop democracy. “We have really avoided civil war.”
He added that the crisis surrounding the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court selection of former President George W. Bush could have turned out to be disastrous.
Former President Bush had lost the popular vote to candidate Mr. Al Gore, which was contested, and the Supreme Court voted for him 5-4, thus giving him the election and making him President.
“We as Americans accepted it,” Senator Correa said of the decision. “We accepted the process and we moved forward.”
However, the Supreme Court decision that year is possibly among reasons why there are Americans who do not vote, feeling as though their vote will not matter anyway.
In October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on youth voting and found that among the reasons for a lacking youth vote was the feeling that their voices did not really matter.
Justification for such feeling included the lack of education surrounding voting and voter registration.
“They [teachers] said it was important for us to register, but didn’t say exactly where or how to,” Ms. Jasmine Roberts, who graduated from Fontana’s Henry J. Kaiser High Class of 2010 and took her U.S. government and civics course in summer school, told the Viễn Đông .“I have not registered myself, nor have I voted on anything.”
Such lack of desire for inclusion into the political system is further fueled by voting law changes and special interests involved in politics that the Viễn Đông also reported about in October 2011.
The Brennan Center for Justice found that over 5 million voters nationwide-especially ethnic minority voters- could be disadvantaged in the 2012 elections, as over a dozen states have passed voting law changes, such as requiring photo ID’s for registration.
These voting law changes have been found to be largely backed by Republicans and funded by special interest groups.
The highly publicized Occupy Movement has opposed such special interest group involvement in the political process, as well as called for changes to the social, economic, and political process within the United States and such processes abroad.
Influenced by the spring 2011 pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the Occupy Movement began in September 2011 in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco. It soon became popular in cities throughout the United States and even internationally, resulting in marches, port shutdowns, and encampments on public property.
Occupy-OC Irvine’s civic liaison between the group and the City of Irvine Mr. Greg Diamond told the Viễn Đông that the main point of the movement was to get people talking about issues that go untouched, like government corruption.
Though, that term is possibly relative to specific communities.
Mr. Ferguson told the Viễn Đông that most Americans, have been used to a certain, high standard of freedom, allowing them to take advantage of it and not fully appreciate their rights.
Vietnamese Americans who were born in Vietnam have felt their rights suppressed, he said, leading to their thankfulness for such rights in the United States.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Artist views: Portrayal of women in U.S. society through music, modeling, film

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 20 December 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White.

SAN BERNARDINO, California—Before Ms. Kyra Mangual models outfits for a crowd, she tries them on for comfort.
Both physical comfort and psychological comfort.
If she is comfortable, the show will go according to plan and she will do what she can to stun the audience, her body the canvas, her clothing the painting.
However, if her outfit brings her physical or psychological discomfort and she refuses to hit the runway in it, there is a possibility she will not be able to be in the show and she could miss out on further opportunities for work.
It is therefore encouraged that she wear the outfit and those outfits tend to reflect “sexiness,” and “ultra-femininity.”
“The main goal is to sell clothing,” Ms. Mangual told the Viễn Đông. “Sex sells.”
In a country that prides itself on democracy and freedom, drawing people from countries that lack such ideals, it is essential to look into particular aspects of popular culture and the way people vote for specific products by spending money.
Particularly, how women-a marginalized group-spend money and are thusly included in the vote.
Ms. Mangual said that women want to wear sexy clothing or be viewed as sexy, partly because advertisements portray women in such a way.
If more women go out and buy the clothing a particular model has worn at a show or in a photo, the model is doing her job.
Currently, clothing that reveals more of the female body-whether the skin itself or the shape-is what is popular; however if the trends were to change because models wore “less sexy” types of clothing, popular culture and women with tastes for mainstream fashion would probably change their flavors accordingly, Ms. Mangual said.
Musical misogyny
Though hip hop styles have changed since its reported early 1980s beginning, the art form has historically come under attack for various reasons, misogyny being one of them.
Hip hop critics have negatively noted certain rappers uses of words that are considered degrading to women, as well as images of half-naked women in certain rappers music videos and photo shoots.
There are female rappers who even portray themelves as sexual objects, such critics feel.
However Harlem, New York based hip hop artist Mr. Darrell “Dmac” Davis told the Viễn Đông that females are not portrayed to be as sexual as they once were.
“Many artists now are focused on lyrics about life without misogynistic messages,” he said. “For the select few that do continue to marginalize women, this message is subconsciously internalized.”
He continued, saying that the internalized messages can affect the way women are treated and can place pressure on them to adhere to trends that further degrade them.
Dmac added that he has degraded women in his music, as his artistic expression brings out multiple facets of his personality, from aggression, anger, hope, and his experiences with women.
“In a sense, it can relate to double consciousness,” he said, referring to a term coined by the late sociologist Mr. W.E. B. Du Bois, who explained the dual lives of African Americans living in the United States, seeing themselves from two different and warring perspectives.
One perspective is the original slave master’s, seeing oneself as superior to African American slaves who are viewed as nothing more than workhorses and moneymakers. Such a view includes African American women as well.
The other perspective is from the slave’s view, needing to be free and treated as equal yet feeling degradation from the master and inferiority that comes with forced indebtedness.
Such a combination can create a conflict within. To Dmac, as well as some other male rappers, this double consciousness means indecisiveness surrounding his feelings about women and his relationship to them.
Dmac’s music is his recognition of such double consciousnes and his struggle to remain aware of it.
Women in film
Writer Ms. Maria Wagner wrote in an essay titled Women in Film: That Object Named “Desire” or In Search of True Liberation for Women, that women’s inclusion in film is often viewed as a form of liberation but is instead a form of enslavement.
“Without women there would be no cinema,” she wrote. “From the very beginnings of cinema a woman has been made the centerpiece of attraction, an object of desire.”
She adds that concerns of genuine womanhood have not been addressed in film; hence women either buy into their enslavement or “vaguely sense” it.
“This systemic cultivation of women as objects of desire has been akin to the gradual process of drug addiction,” she continues. “First, the effects were rather mild and pleasantly stimulating-and thus considered not only harmless by both men and women, but even liberating.”
“However, as time went on and doses increased, a feverish state of dependency set in.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What depression is, is not to the Vietnamese American community

*This article was published in the Viễn Đông on 5 December 2011 and was written by Vanessa White as part of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship program created by New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

ORANGE COUNTY, California—Mrs. Lan Nguyễn remembers being depressed when she did not pass her medical licensing exam in 1979.
She had sought haven in Melbourne, Australia upon the Fall of Saigon, which was the last day of the Vietnam War.
When the United States left the country, the U.S- supported South Vietnam was taken over by the Communist North, resulting in the beginning of massive emigrations of Vietnamese people.
Although Mrs. Nguyễn had lost almost everything when she emigrated in 1975, leaving with her family, the clothes she was wearing, and some U.S. dollars she had been saving, she did not feel depressed about her loss and instead focused on the future.
Yet, failing her medical licensing exam while in Melbourne did cause her depression as it meant an uncertain future for Mrs. Nguyễn.
She describes that period of time as very difficult, though it was necessary for her to continue functioning.
Having three children to take care of while studying for her medical exams, Mrs. Nguyễn had little time for herself or anyone else. Fortunately, her friends recognized her need and supported her by showing they understood and were there for here.
Mrs. Nguyễn overcame her depression and says she has not felt it since 1979. She immigrated to the United States in 1981, earned her medical license, and was ready to take advantage of the vast opportunities her new country had to offer.
“Survival mode”
Living in United States after suffering trauma and loss in Vietnam, many Vietnamese Americans focus mostly on their basic material needs and less on their emotional health, according to Dr. Suzie Dong-Matsuda, who is Service Chief I of the Adult Mental Health Outpatient API Clinics of the Orange County Health Care Agency Behavioral Health Services.
There is also a tendency within the community to accept hardship and project resilience, causing community members to bury their grief under their everyday tasks and struggles.
“The rate of depression in the Vietnamese community is very high, all due to the insecurity of displacement and adaptation of a new culture,” Mrs. Nguyễn told the Viễn Đông, adding that she has not experienced such hardship in adjusting to life in the United States.
She continued, saying that though she is not depressed, her husband is and covers up or does not feel his depression while at work.
When he comes home, though, he is uncontrollably angry and unhappy.
Mrs. Nguyễn said her husband is depressed as a result of suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as he was severely traumatized due to the Fall of Saigon.
“He’s depressed, but not at the point he cannot work,” she said.
Mrs. Nguyễn’s husband’s masking of his depression is common among Vietnamese Americans, many of which also hide the illness out of shame.
Traditional views surrounding depression
According to a 2010 Orange County Health Needs Assessment (OCHNA) report called, “A Look at Health in Orange County’s Vietnamese Community,” there is denial and stigma surrounding mental health issues such as depression within the Vietnamese culture.
Still a cultural belief in Vietnam, mental health issues correlate with genetic flaws in the family lineage, or some type of curse or punishment for a past transgression.
People with mental health issues are treated as though they have no dignity and slapped with the labels of “insane” or “crazy.” 
They receive little help for their mental health issues as they are often treated poorly in the limited institutions that do offer the services they need.
As part of the Vietnamese culture, mental health issues remain in the close-knit family, hidden from the larger community and affecting every family member.
Such a connection can create tension within the family, according to Dr. Dong-Matsuda.
Only after the mental health issue cannot be handled at home do family members usually seek mental health services.
At that point, mental health professionals experience resistance from family members who are pessimistic about treatment results.
Thoughts to consider
How do community members define depression? Is it a serious illness or concern within the community?

Recognizing complexities in depression, reporting accurately

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 1 December 2011 and was written by Vanessa White as part of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship program created by New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

BOSTON, Massachusetts—Vietnamese Americans definitely suffer from depression.
At least this was my thought prior to attending the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Conference on Aging in Boston from 18 November 2011 to 22 November 2011.
As a MetLife Foundation Journalist fellow, I was required to prepare a proposal reflecting a project I will complete and disseminate through the Viễn Đông early next year. In an effort to relate my experiences as an African American to the Vietnamese American community, I chose to write about depression.
More specifically, my topic was depression in ethnic minority communities with a focus on the Vietnamese American community.
I had assumed that all ethnic minority communities suffer from some level of depression, having had to give up parts of their original cultures when attempting to assimilate into U.S. culture. Part of that assimilation required and still requires ethnic minority community members to focus on survival of their physical bodies rather than survival of their original cultures.
To some extent, while the body thrives, the culture dies. This, I thought, was reason enough to be depressed.
However, my ideas for the article series shifted upon my receiving feedback from expert responders like director of the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia Dr. Toni P. Miles, Cleveland based freelance journalist Ms. Eileen Beal, and Boston based freelance writer and editor Ms. Sally Abrahms.
Dr. Miles, in particular, asked me what depression is and why I wanted to write about it. Unable to answer her with an exact definition, I realized I need to have a clear definition for depression if I am going to write about the topic.
Yet, given the Vietnamese American community is a combination of Vietnamese and American cultures, the definition of depression is different between the cultures. In fact, there is no word in the Vietnamese language for depression, revealing to me that the illness is relatively new to the Vietnamese American community.
In the session following feedback from the expert responders, I connected with Dr. Theodore Marmor of Yale University when he said that reporters need to know about the background information and context of what they are reporting.
Although Dr. Marmor was speaking specifically about the U.S. health care system, I applied his advice to my reporting on depression and the Vietnamese American community.
Rather than directly place my Western-influenced perceived ideas of depression onto the Vietnamese American community, as well as other ethnic minority communities, I have chosen instead to look at depressive symptoms from the perspectives of various Vietnamese American community members.
This approach for my project was deepened as a result of a poster session meeting I had with researcher Mr. Grant Harris, as we spoke about some of the pros and cons involved with qualitative research, or research that is more “one on one” and less statistical.
Our talk was so inspirational, I decided to attend an afternoon session called: The Art of Interviewing: Exploring the Qualitative. There, I learned more about techniques, benefits, and difficulties involved in qualitative interviewing.
This session, ultimately led to my decision to focus my interviews more narrowly on specific individuals within the Vietnamese American community while capturing a broad range of perspectives.
For example, taking advice from Ms. Beal, the Cleveland based freelancer, I need to remember that there were different waves of immigrants coming into the United States from Vietnam beginning in 1975. An influential Vietnamese American who arrived in the United States during the first wave could have a very different reality than a more recently arrived Vietnamese American.
The differing realities will produce differing views on depression.
Also, I will take into account the various generations within the Vietnamese American community, from the first arrivals in the United States in 1975, to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren born in the United States. I need to recognize that varying levels of assimilation also account for varying definitions of depression.
Overall, the GSA Conference on Aging has given me more passion for pursuing this project, enhancing my eagerness to discover and reveal views that I have often overlooked.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Artist views: Racism, self-hate, cultural appreciation

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 13 December 2011. It was reported by Vanessa White

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania—Angrily, she tells the audience to refrain from trying to guess her race, swearing at them to emphasize her upset.
“I was born in Seoul, which makes me Korean!” Dr. Michelle Meyers, part of the duo Yellow Rage, screams at the crowd gathered to hear the group’s poetry. “These slightly slanted eyes ain’t just for seein’…I see right through you!”
Her audience of mostly African Americans applauds and cheers.
Dr. Myers and her fellow Yellow Rage member, Ms. Catzie Vilayphonh from Laos, are Philadelphia based spoken word artists, using their art to challenge common misconceptions about the Asian American community.
Usually aggressive, their lyrics and performances convey a pain that is often not seen by people outside the Asian American community, giving the mainstream world a peak at some of the community’s prevailing issues.
Such issues include sexual stereotypes placed on Asian women, a lack of mainstream recognition of the various Asian cultures and subgroups, as well as misuse and mispronunciation of Asian languages often due to lacking effort and attention to detail on behalf of the non-native speaker.
“What do you know about napalm and Saigon?” Ms. Vilayphonh asks her audience, adding that knowing a few words or sentences in a native Asian tongue does not make the non-native language speaker able to comprehend an Asian reality.
She tells the audience that she is not their personal translator and not to ask her what she is saying in her native language when they hear her speak it.
If she wanted them to understand what she was saying, she would have said it in English.
Misunderstood, though speaking the same language
Mr. Tyler Perry is an African American actor, director, playwright, entrepreneur, screenwriter, producer, author, and songwriter. In 2011, he was named the highest paid man in entertainment, though has been criticized for such gain being at the expense of the African American community
His films consist of African American cast members who represent a variety of people within the African American community. According to Mr. Perry’s critics, these characters perpetuate negative stereotypes about the community.
A central character in many of Mr. Perry’s films is Madea, an elderly African American woman characterized by critics as “ignorant,” “sassy,” and “loud,” while Mr. Perry’s supporters view her as “humorous,” “real,” and “strong.”
Critics of Mr. Perry feel that he has destroyed the image of the matriarch in African American families. They feel that African American mothers and grandmothers who have endured negative stereotypes and painful, even violent, racism deserve more than to be represented by a character that mainstream society once again laughs at and further stereotypes.
They argue that African Americans have been fed the same lies about themselves for centuries because those lies sell. Thus, the African American community needs fresher stories.
Mr. Perry dismisses the criticisms as jealousy and hate on behalf of the critics.
“It’s attitudes like that, that make Hollywood think that these people [characters] do not exist,” he said in an October 2009 60 Minutes interview. “That is why there’s no material speaking to them, speaking to us [African Americans].”
Mr. Perry’s supporters say that he was raised by strong, African American women whom he reveals in characters like Madea. Characters like her represent the perseverance within the African American community.
Supporters feel as though Mr. Perry is meeting the African American community at its current point of need, accepting who community members are without shame and revealing their pride to a mainstream audience.
Multicultural audience
In urban cities like Boston with established ethnic minority enclaves, art reflective of the multicultural communities can be found.
For example, a mural outside of the metro station at the Fields Corner stop in the Dorchester neighborhood shows people of different colors and facial characteristics. Some are interacting in conversation and others are playing with a soccer ball.
Further down, the mural shows a building with signs reading, “Bank,” “Post Office,” and “Phơ.”
Under a bridge on Dorchester Ave., there is a mural with various flags including the U.S., Jamaican, Dominican Republic, and Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom flag.
Another mural on a building further down Dorchester Ave. shows the mostly smiling faces of people from various racial groups, youth to elderly.
Under their faces are subway cars with the message on them, “Our community is strong because we communicate.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Minorities” excluded, benefitting from Occupy Movement?

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

LOS ANGELES—A Huffington Post article recently questioned the role of Latinos in the Occupy Movement, suggesting that “minorities” might be receiving limited exposure and benefit.
Specifically, the article mentioned Occupy Los Angeles (LA) and addressed whether or not the LA county population of 50 percent Latino matched the population of Occupy LA protesters, or Occupiers.
“What time does a Latino have to go protest?" the Post quoted Mr. Julio Cesar Malone, a veteran journalist and columnist for Spanish-language media in New York. “Our people are working two jobs to survive. Many work 16 hours and have to commute for four more--they're drained.”
To some, participating in the Occupy Movement is seen as a privilege.
However, Occupy LA has made an effort to reach out to underprivileged groups, including the Latino community, providing a Spanish translator at its general assembly (GA) meetings and having incorporated Latino unions and groups since its inception.
Such efforts are combined with those of other Occupy groups in cities nationwide that have set up specific action committees to address the needs of “minorities.”
The Occupy Movement began in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco in September 2011, inspired by pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa during the spring 2011.
Though their demands are broad and not “clear” and “articulate,” according to the mainstream media, the Occupiers nationwide are generally calling for changes to what they feel are global economic, social, and political injustices.
Along with “lacking coherent demands,” the media has portrayed Occupiers as being mostly White, with little attention given to “minorities.”
The movement has also taken the focus off “minorities,” boasting itself as being open to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or various other “isms.”
By cloaking the “isms” with a large unity coat, are “minorities” being downplayed as important to the movement?
Occupy the Hood, “minorities” after the Occupy Movement
Specifically addressing the needs of ethnic minorities, or “people of color (POC),” Occupy the Hood (OTH) operates in cities nationwide where there are large concentrations of POC.
OTH acts in solidarity and involvement with the Occupy Movement, yet holds events explicitly for POC like food drives to POC in low-income neighborhoods, as well as consistently focusing on issues like mass incarceration, health and educational disparities, and racial profiling.
“Occupy the Hood is relying on methods of organization that have been going on prior to the origin of the Occupy Movement,” Occupy the Hood’s Facebook page reads. “We must craft a movement that uniquely and directly speaks to the issues of People of Color.”
OTH continues, mentioning that it looks forward to seeing what develops from the Occupy Movement.
Though, Orange County (OC) resident Mr. Howard Harrell, who has witnessed U.S. social justice movements in the past, told the Viễn Đông that “minorities” included in many movements, or even causes, are often excluded again in everyday life when the movement or cause is over.
For example, he said he remembers an increase in African Americans entering the military during the Vietnam War. The military had been integrated for over nearly two decades and African Americans were considered equal in battle.
However, when those same African American soldiers returned home, many of them were unemployed again or could not get admitted to universities.
They were, again, excluded from their citizen’s rights, which they thought they were fighting for abroad.
“There are institutions that run themselves in a way where only minorities are negatively affected,” Ms. Sara AbiBoutros, who lives in a working class, largely “minority” New York neighborhood and is involved in NYC’s Occupy Wall Street, told the Viễn Đông. “They don’t affect White people.”
She continued, saying that such institutions divide “minority” groups and attempt to keep Whites from being empathetic toward “minorities.”
“For minorities more than anyone there needs to be systematic change,” she added. “Our whole system is set up to keep minorities down.”  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The police role as the 99 percent, suppressing Occupy movement

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

LOS ANGELES, California—If the police lost their pensions, they would side with the protesters.
Several of the Occupy protesters, or Occupiers, felt this way at the Occupy Los Angeles (LA) raid on 30 November 2011. They shouted at police, beckoning them to lay down their batons and grab ahold of peace instead.
“They’re our friends,” one Occupier said, calming the intense crowd.
Though early in the night, another Occupier shouted that the police were part of the 1 percent, or the wealthy individuals who the Occupiers believe are economically, socially, and politically oppressing the 99 percent, or the masses.
As there have been increased police “crackdowns” on Occupy encampments, or occupations, nationwide, the question is being raised: to whom are the police loyal to?
Massive budget cuts in nearly every state have hit local police departments, causing layoffs and slashing pensions, with more expected to come if the national debt is not reduced.
Occupiers worldwide feel they are using their protests to directly address the negative causes and results of such debt.
The Occupy Movement started in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco in September 2011, inspired by the pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in the spring of 2011.
Though their demands are broad and not “clear” and “articulate,” according to the mainstream media, the Occupiers are generally calling for changes to what they feel are global economic, social, and political injustices.
“Join us!” Occupiers screamed at the police, receiving shielded, straight faces and the threat of arrest as a response.
Police, the 99 percent?
Ms. Sara AbiBoutros, who is involved with the Occupy Wall Street group that started the Occupy Movement in New York, told the Viễn Đông that the police are definitely part of the 99 percent.
She continued, saying that police nationwide are doing their jobs and taking orders while having their salaries and pensions cut.
Despite this, retired police out of uniform are the only police she has seen joining the Occupiers in protest.
“They would have to be in uniform to make a statement,” she said, adding that at least 15 uniformed, even retired, police officers showing up to a protest in support the Occupiers would have a positive impact on the movement. “It would be a complete game changer.”
Former Orange County Sherriff’s Department (OCSD) Investigator Howard Harrell also told the Viễn Đông that he feels the police are part of the 99 percent.
However, he personally understands that the police have to do their jobs and that sometimes means doing things they might not necessarily be proud of.
He added that police officers are depending on their jobs to secure their livelihood and often the livelihood of their families.
The Viễn Đông contacted the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which conducted the Occupy LA raid, for comment on whether the department as a whole considers itself part of the 99 percent.
As of this article’s print, the LAPD has not returned comment.
Police, ignoring role as 99 percent?
Ms. AbiBoutros told the Viễn Đông about a conversation she had with an NYC police officer in November 2011 after the Zuccotti Park occupation was cleared and the area barricaded.
She continuously questioned him about why he was not on the other side of the barricade with the Occupiers.
“Don’t worry,” he told her, after avoiding her questions for a while. “When the time comes, I know what I have to do.”
Ms. AbiBoutros pointed at the officer and screamed, “This officer represents the 99 percent!”
She said that the other officers turned and looked at him “like he was the devil.”
Even if police officers think a fellow officer is sympathizing with the Occupiers, it is perceived as unacceptable within the force, she told the Viễn Đông.
She added that even police officers who might support the Occupiers probably feel they cannot voice such an opinion because they could receive backlash from their fellow officers.
When police decide to support the Occupiers, Ms. AbiBoutros said, the injustices that the Occupiers are fighting against would not necessarily end, yet the government would be forced to act on changing them.
“They won’t have anyone enforcing these so-called rules and laws,” she said.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Civic participation in Occupy Movement, OC Irvine camp remains

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

IRVINE, California— In a move that incorporates the Occupy OC Irvine protesters into the city discourse, their encampment will remain in front of the Irvine City Hall.
On 6 December 2011, the Irvine City Council was to decide whether to allow the encampment to remain for another two weeks, or clear it away following the “crackdowns” on other Occupy encampments nationwide, including Occupy Los Angeles’.
Instead of prolonging the decision process at council meetings every two weeks, Irvine has decided to set up a special subcommittee with city officials and Occupiers so both entities can meet outside the council meetings and address their respective needs and expectations.
The encampment, known by its protesters, or Occupiers, as the Village, has been active since October 2011 in solidarity with the global Occupy Movement that started with protests and marches in New York City and San Francisco in September 2011.
Protests and marches turned into encampments, or occupations, in parks and in front of city halls, as city councils nationwide allowed Occupiers to extend their free speech by staying overnight in these locations.
Inspired by pro-democracy protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa during the Spring of 2011, the Occupy Movement has united people affected by social, economic, and political inequality despite race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, or sexual orientation.
Mainstream media has portrayed the movement as “leaderless” and “lacking specific demands,” however the Occupiers, believe they are all leaders, representing 99 percent of the population that is disadvantaged by the remaining, wealthy 1 percent.
Irvine Occupiers, specifically, feel that “large corporations and major banks have become corrupt and greedy, making large profits off the backs of the average American.”
Such corporations fund political election campaigns, using their money to back candidates that will support their causes. The more money a candidate has, then the more advertising space the candidate can purchase, thus influencing people to vote for them.
According to Occupiers, this is not true democracy. Instead, they have implemented their own form of democracy, holding general assemblies (GA) that address the various grievances they feel the U.S. government is ignoring.
Occupation or no occupation, will the movement have an impact on U.S. democracy?
GA sessions, new government?
Though Occupy general assemblies (GA) vary in procedure, they are a means for Occupiers to use discussion for raising concerns and asking questions, as well as submitting proposals that determine courses of action the group will take.
There are several committees at Occupy Irvine, including accounting, administrative infrastructure, civic liaison, food service, legal, logistics, media, outreach, public relations, first aid, safety, grounds, and community service.
Each committee sends a representative to report to the larger Village during GAs, making the Occupiers aware of the various aspects of their occupied community.
At the GA, there is time allotted for committees or Occupiers to submit proposals, if they wish.
Hand gestures are used for people to show approval, the need to speed points along, request clarification, and show strong disapproval for a proposal that has been raised.
By showing such strong disapproval, the Occupier believes the proposal “either endangers the movement or the people” of whom it’s comprised.
The Occupier will have two minutes to explain to the Village why the proposal is dangerous. If there are several disapprovals, only three of them may address the group so the process can go quickly and smoothly.
If a speaker cannot be heard, anyone can call, “Mic check!” The speaker will then repeat what has been said with increased volume.
“Mic check!” is also yelled if people in the group begin talking among themselves, disrupting the entire group’s unity.
If a proposal needs more work or editing, a Breakout Session might be called, resulting in an open meeting for those wishing to attend after the GA. At the meeting, the proposal will be brought to resolution and heard in its new form before the group at the following day’s GA.
With varying procedures at occupations worldwide, GAs represent the Occupiers portrayal of democracy. Facilitators of the discussions are rotated, giving people equal opportunity to show their leadership ability.
Occupiers feel that “this is what democracy looks like.”
Shining a light, keeping it going?
“The Occupy Movement has been extremely successful in moving the public debate from a myopic focus on deficits and taxes to consider joblessness, debt, and particularly, economic and political inequality,” University of California Irvine (UCI) Sociology professor Dr. David Meyer told the Viễn Đông.
He added that though it has not come up with concrete proposals, or the “demands” the mainstream news media is looking for, the movement has broadened the public arena for other people to do so.
One of the reasons Occupiers lack proposals is they focus on base democracy, or large scale democracy, and consensus, Dr. Meyer continued. It is difficult to get people to agree on policy proposals, especially within a large group.
Though, the Occupiers can all agree that they wish to keep the occupations going.
“Dramatic actions, like the occupations, set the public agenda, but don't resolve it,” Dr. Meyer told the Viễn Đông, adding that once occupations have been cleared away he expects to see the movement’s effects as activists and mainstream politicians offer bold policy proposals that could inspire broad changes in government.
Such changes were experienced in the early days after the Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1980s), which gained legal equality for oppressed people worldwide.
Similar to the Occupy Movement, the Civil Rights Movement was political and had an emphasis on nonviolent civil protest.
Also like the Occupy Movement, in some instances, the Civil Rights Movement’s nonviolent protests were met with or incited civil unrest or armed rebellion, from police brutality to citizen violence.
Perhaps a difference, though, was the Civil Rights Movement’s focus on individual leaders who institutions could directly negotiate with, relating more readily to a familiar context for mainstream policy makers.
“The effectiveness of Occupy will depend upon how well the grassroots activists are able to work in concert with more institutionally-oriented groups and individuals,” Dr. Meyer told the Viễn Đông.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Artist views: corporate/business world, music, mainstream media

*This article was orginally published by the Viễn Đông on 6 December 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

NEW YORK, New York—Music and news media can be competitive arenas where the winners are determined by public approval.
Contestants with more money than others tend to receive more thumbs up.
Though, there are contestants attempting to change the criteria for approval, focusing on their talent and independent thought, rather than the profit their talent and thought may bring to them and to others they work for.
New York City (NYC) based hip hop artist and activist, Mr. Felipe Andres Coronel, whose stage name is Immortal Technique, is one such contestant.
Immortal Technique uses his music to passionately critique various social inequalities resulting from corporate greed worldwide, especially within the music industry.
He emphasizes that record companies, as well as artists’ managers and promoters, rather than the musical artists that work for them, make the most profit from the mass-produced and marketed music.
“A lot of these promoters are doing showcases, throwing events, and not even paying the workhorses[artists],” he raps on the song, “The Message and the Money,” off his 2003 album Revolutionary, Vol. 2. “You want me to go shopping, cook the food, and put it in front of you, but you won't let me sit down and eat with you?”
Immortal Technique adds that he refuses to “feed the machine,” or fuel an oppressive system.
“The more that mc's [hip hop artists], producers, dj's, and independent labels start to grasp the conceptuality of what their contribution to the business of hip hop is, rather than just the music, the more the industry will be forced to change,” he raps.
Changing in a different direction
As hip hop arguably started among people from low-income, minority, NYC neighborhoods during the 1970s, another NYC hip hop artist, record producer, entrepreneur, and actor Mr. Shawn Corey Carter has contributed to a change in the origins of hip hop by consistently rapping about the money and success he has.
However, Mr. Carter, whose stage name is Jay-Z, started his career at the bottom, growing up in an impoverished neighborhood and struggling as an artist.
He is now considered successful with numerous business accomplishments, including owning his own record labels and co-owning a sports bar in NYC.
In his song, “Mo’ Money,” from his 2004 album, Unfinished Business, Jay-Z mentions that he grew up disadvantaged and thinks of his struggle as motivation for making as much money as possible.
“Gettin’ this money, switchin’ my whips [cars] and my kicks [shoes] like I’m just addicted to difference,” he raps. “Get all the eyes when you gettin’ that money.”
Though, Jay-Z has gone beyond talking about just money in his commercial music and has used his influence, gained through success, to affect political change in the mainstream.
For example, in 2008 he was among artists who publically supported President Barack Obama for the 2008 Presidential election, performing shows financed by President Obama’s campaign.
Jay-Z is considered a leader in hip hop, a multi-millionaire who came from having no voice to being a voice.
Money talks.
Hearing the voice, the sound
Ms. Amy Goodman is an NYC based broadcast journalist, syndicated columnist, investigative reporter, and author who advocates for non-corporate, independent media that give voices to the voiceless.
“It is the responsibility of journalists to go where the silence is, to seek out news and people who are ignored, to accurately and clearly report on the issues-issues that the corporate, for profit media often distort, if they cover them at all,” she wrote in her book, Breaking the Sound Barrier.
To allow for the unheard voices to be heard, Goodman co-founded Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report, an independent program featuring global news, which broadcasts on radio, television, and internet.
Goodman believes the success Democracy Now! has independently achieved is due to the mainstream media not covering what people really want to know about, hence sending them to alternative outlets.
“What is typically presented as news analysis is, for the most part, a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong,” she wrote. “My goal as a journalist is to break the sound barrier, to expand the debate, to cut through the static and bring forth voices that are shut out.”