Friday, January 6, 2012

National Defense Authorization Act could violate U.S. citizens’ rights

This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 6 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—President Barack Obama has agreed to possibly take away any U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights to a fair trial.
On 31 December 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), which-based on the interpretation of the acting president- could give the government power to militarily and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents on U.S. soil, if such people are suspected of terrorism or aiding a terrorist.
The 14 December 2011 House of Representatives vote for the NDAA was equally split among Democrats yet overwhelmingly supported by Republicans. Though, California’s Congressional District (CD) 40 Republican Representative Ed Royce opposed the legislation while the State’s CD 47 Democrat Representative Loretta Sanchez did not vote.
At the time of this article’s publication, the Viễn Đông did not receive comment from either Representative Royce or Representative Sanchez as to why they voted the way they did.
The Senate passed the NDAA, or HR 1540, on 15 December 2011, both California's U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer supporting it.
“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog reads. “Any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA.”
Citizen fears
Ms. Sara AbiBoutros, who has been involved with the international, political and socioeconomic Occupy Movement, told the Viễn Đông that under the NDAA and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) definition of “terrorist,” her role as an Occupy protester could lead to her being indefinitely detained.
Since November 2011, the Viễn Dông has covered the Occupy Movement, which began in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco in September 2011, culminating into international civic disobedient acts including marches, city hall and home occupations, as well as port shutdowns.
“My biggest concern is the vague language in defining what constitutes being a terrorist,” Ms. AbiBoutros told the Viễn Đông of the NDAA’s language, adding that though the NDAA does not necessarily define terrorist, as the FBI does, it gives the government permission on how to treat such people. “The FBI’s definition of a terrorist is laughable.”
Although the FBI recognizes that “there is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism,” it defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Anyone participating in such activities is considered a “terrorist.”
Ms. AbiBoutros added that the NDAA is also unclear about what it means for someone to “aid terrorists.”
For example, she continued, if she were to create a blog and a terrorist organization saw it and decided to use the information she displayed, she could be considered as aiding a terrorist.
Further bills
Although California's U.S. Senator Feinstein, who is also Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, supported the NDAA, she had objections with its indefinite detention provisions and offered an amendment that would clearly state that military detention is only applicable to suspected terrorists captured outside of the United States.
Her amendment was struck down by a 55-45 vote in the Senate.
On 14 December 2011, she introduced legislation to Congress that could keep U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are seized domestically from being detained indefinitely by the military.
Her bill, “Due Process Guarantee Act”, or S. 2003, could ensure that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have their right to a fair trial.
“The argument is not whether citizens such as Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla-or others who would do us harm-should be captured, interrogated, incarcerated and severely punished. They should be,” she was quoted in a press release. “But what about an innocent American? What about someone in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
Congress has yet to vote on S. 2003.
Regarding the NDAA, the ACLU is depending on an eventual U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the authority Congress has to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, arrested in the United States.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What is democracy to the minority among the majority?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 4 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—The GOP 2012 Presidential primaries and caucuses have given “the minority” some chances at making their issues heard on the national level.
As Democrat President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he represented the majority of Americans who voted him into office.
The Republicans represented the minority.
However, since the summer 2011, the Viễn Đông has reported on Republican-corporate alliances, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that are believed to support bills promoting business success at the expense of the American people-the majority.
Since fall 2011, the Viễn Đông has also consistently reported on the Occupy Movement, its protesters working toward what they feel democracy should look like: rule by the 99 percent, or the masses-the majority, as opposed to rule by the 1 percent, or the wealthy and corporations-the minority.
Yet, as the election of President Obama supposedly proved, their vision for democracy is already in effect.
Although the democratic election of President Obama represented the majority of U.S. voters, the Occupy Movement and ALEC exposure have led to insight into how much weight the minority actually holds.
The term “democracy” commonly meaning “rule by the people” comes from the ancient Greeks, who only gave one in five people the right to vote, University of California Irvine (UCI) Director for the Center of the Study of  Democracy and Sociology Professor David Meyer told the Viễn Đông.
“In contemporary discourse, democracy is supposed to allow the majority to rule,” he continued, adding that it is also supposed to protect the rights of all minorities as they try to become majorities by using their civil liberties and persuading others to join and push for their cause.
Though, he also told the Viễn Đông that it is common for democracies to “stomp on the rights and well-being of minorities.”
“Look, virtually all of the elected officials in the American South supported segregation,” he added, mentioning pre-1964 Civil Rights practices, including separating people’s meeting places by their race. “They had to if they wanted to be elected.” 
American slavery, institutionally ending in 1865, resulted in a system where Blacks were viewed as the “minority,” submissive to Whites. Especially prevalent in the American South, the rights of Whites were considered more important than the rights of Blacks and Whites representing the “majority” did not want to give up their privilege or perceived entitlement.
Civil Rights legislation only resulted from the federal government intervening and “imposing solutions over the objections of the majority,” Professor Meyer continued.
Minority-majority coalition
Mr. David Ajasin, who graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh with a Political Science degree, told the Viễn Đông that minorities have historically been represented by gaining support from the majority.
“The Civil Rights movement may not have been as successful, as it turned out, had it only included minorities,” he continued.
However, the motives for including minorities into democratic representation are not always pure, he added, like when politicians do everything they can to gain support in minority neighborhoods just so they can get elected.
He used another example of a Black woman’s, the late Ms. Rosa Parks, arrest for sitting in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama bus and refusing to give up her seat to a White person.
In 1955, the Montgomery Bus Service was legally segregated, designating the back of the bus for Blacks and the front of the bus for Whites.
Ms. Parks’ arrest spurred a mass protest called the Montgomery Bus Boycott, resulting in Blacks choosing not to ride the city busses.
After city officials realized the boycott was causing the city to lose money, as Blacks were the majority of the people riding the busses, they allowed Black people to sit anywhere they wanted on city buses.
However, Mr. Ajasin told the Viễn Đông that unlike what inspired the city of Montgomery’s decision, there have been more pure motives behind majority support of minority causes, like the mixture of White and Black supporters in the crowd at Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
“It seems like minority representation is based on uniformity between all communities,” he added.
Minority wins majority
As a Black male in the United States, Mr. Ajasin recognizes his gained opportunity for civic engagement though “it’s almost numerically impossible for a Black male to win a majority decision, especially on issues pertaining almost exclusively to Black Folks,” he told the Viễn Đông.
“It’s similar to feeling somewhat left out within an arguably ‘inclusive’ governmental system,” he added.
Though, President Obama was elected as the first Black President to the United States of America.
“People wanted change and voted him in,” Mr. Ajasin told the Viễn Đông, though, “unfortunately, he is frequently used as a reference to ‘prove’ that racism does not exist” and the minority is being sufficiently represented.
Although President Obama’s election “brings minorities a step closer, we still have a long way to go,” he added.
Mr. Ajasin shared with Viễn Đông a common phrase he remembers children yelling when he was a youngster, “majority rules!”
He laughed, “How ironic for a minority.”
Asian American community: minority or majority?
In September 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the Republican National Convention (RNC), including comments California Board of Equalization (BOE) Vice Chair Michelle Park Steel made about the Asian American community’s seemingly natural alliance with the GOP party.
She told the Viễn Đông that most first generation Asian Americans do not want the government handling their money and want less government involvement in their lives, typically views also shared by GOP party members.
As Asian American community members are considered to be ethnic “minorities” in the United States, their mostly GOP membership could position them to be in the “majority” depending on the results of this year’s Presidential election.
Or, like ALEC and the Occupy Movement appear to reveal, the Asian American community might already be among the majority when it comes to U.S. democracy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates for now

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 3 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

GARDEN GROVE, California—A recent court decision has helped save Pharamcist Thư-Hằng Trần's pharmacy, along with others across the state.
At least for now.
On 29 December 2011, the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, in Los Angeles (LA) granted an injunction-or stop- to plaintiffs opposing the 2011-2012 State budget trailer bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 97, which would have made 10 percent cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates statewide.
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that providing the proper medication for her patients under AB 97, could have eventually led to her closing down her pharmacy, as she would not have received enough State funding to break even.
To keep her pharmacy open, she would have had to offer her patients less expensive, generic medications, rather than provide quality medication for them.
Since the summer 2011, the Viễn Đông has reported on proposed cuts to Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. It covers low-income families with children, seniors, foster children, pregnant women, and people with specific diseases including breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.
The State provides funding to Medi-Cal providers so they can offer less expensive, yet quality services to such individuals.
Passed in March 2011, AB 97 cuts were supposed to go into effect on 1 June 2011 as a way to help the State balance its budget, however the State had to wait for federal approval to enact them.
On 27 October 2011, the federal government approved over $623 million in cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates, spurring a lawsuit from plaintiffs, including the Medicaid Defense Fund which represented Pharmacist Trần's pharmacy, Tran Pharmacy.
AB 97 would have made cuts to more than just pharmacy services, including adult physicians and clinics, therapy, optometry, and dental. Nursing home nurses and adult sub-acute care nursing home facilities would have also experienced 10 percent reductions in provider payments, while acute care nursing facilities would have received 10 percent reductions in provider payments as well as a rate freeze.
However provider cuts would not have applied to child physician and clinic services, home health services, hospital based sub-acute care facilities, or outpatient hospital services.
“It affects everybody,” Pharmacist Trần said of AB 97, adding that many employees working at outpatient services experiencing the cuts would have lost their jobs as their employers would not have had enough money to pay them.
She continued, saying that the AB 97 injunction is similar to the 2008, 2009, and 2010 court decisions that also blocked cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates, originally passed by the California legislature for the 2007-2008 budget.
As a response to the U.S. District Court in LA block in 2008, California appealed the decision with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, losing both times.
However, the AB 97 injunction case is different from those past cases because California did not have federal government support then as it does now.
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that California will probably appeal the newest AB 97 injunction, which will only spur appeals from plaintiffs seeking to block cuts.
“It will go back and forth,” she said.
Though, the Ping-Pong-like drama could be stopped if a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to be decided by June 2012 rules against plaintiffs.
Douglas vs. Independent Living Center of Southern California
In October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on first U.S. Supreme Court case of its new 2011-2012 term, Douglas vs. Independent Living Center of Southern California.
The case focused on whether or not people receiving Medi-Cal, their providers, and their advocates can sue California and stop its cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates.
Pharmacist Trần was a plaintiff in the case and traveled to Washington D.C. to offer her presence as support.
“If you don’t have the right to sue, the court will not accept your case,” Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông in October 2011, adding that this case will affect decisions regarding similar lawsuits in the future.
She continued, saying that if the plaintiffs win the case, there will be similar lawsuits against states throughout the country.
However, if the plaintiffs lose, doctors and patients may never be able to sue the government again.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Treatment of women in Latin America, a process of progress

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 2 January 2012. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic— The man on the bus reached over and caressed her bare thigh, warm from the sun’s heat after a day at the beach.
Yet, she had not asked him to, at least not knowingly and certainly not verbally.
She felt violated, uncertain of her place despite her prior confidence. He smiled at her, desire seemingly in his eyes.
Staring back in shock, she focused on her peripherals, hoping someone would interfere.
No one did.
“In Latin America in general there is a sense of machismo,” Ms. Gabrielle Equale, who spent time in Chile and Mexico while studying Latin American studies, told the Viễn Đông. “It’s a very cultural habit.”
Machismo is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a strong sense of masculine pride,” and an “exaggerated or exhilarating sense of power and strength.” It is considered to be a deeply rooted and acceptable attitude in countries-like the Dominican Republic-displayed by competitive actions among men, including their sexual conquests of women.
Ms. Equale told the Viễn Đông that she did not notice machismo in Chile as much as she did in Mexico, though “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.”
“Women in general are seen as inferior,” she told the Viễn Đông of her experience in Guadalajara, Mexico, adding that she noticed women walking behind men and men ordering for women at restaurants.
During Ms. Equale’s stay in Chile, bà Michele Bachelet was the country’s president. Women were treated better in Valparaiso, Chile than in other countries Ms. Equale had traveled to, she told the Viễn Đông.
Though, “there was a larger difference between men and women in the lower social classes,” she continued, adding that the richer people lived closer to the water while the poorer people lived in the hills.
Latin America: brief history
As of the 2010 census, there were over 590 million people living in Latin America.
Before mostly Spanish, Portuguese, and French people began colonizing the region in the 16th century, numerous Indigenous peoples inhabited the area now known as Latin America. Some of them, like the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, developed advanced civilizations.
As Indigenous populations began dying off from disease, slavery, and wars, the Europeans brought Africans to the region as replacements to do the slave work. The mixture of Indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans is still prevalent in Latin America’s racial diversity as some countries reflect the mixed genes and other countries are populated with mostly one ethnic group.
Though, still influenced by their colonial past, Latin American countries have gained independence, mostly resulting from movements and wars from the late 18th through 19th centuries.
Latin America has been considered one of the most unequal regions in the world in terms of socioeconomics, stemming largely from institutions put in place during colonial times that generally kept people of color, women, and poor people from attaining social status.
Although, there are deeply rooted ideologies-like machismo- prevalent throughout Latin America, there has been progress made in certain social areas, specifically regarding women.
Progress a process for women
In 2009, the magazine Dissident Voice published an article that called the political left shift in Latin America positive for women in the region.
For example, Venezuelan Socialist President Hugo Chavez has been self-proclaimed as a feminist, his voter base in every election since first running for presidency in 1998 being poor women.
Most people living in Venezuela are reportedly living in poverty, 65 percent of households are headed by single women, many of whom support President Chavez’s social welfare programs-including care for women who have suffered domestic abuse.
Under the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, women are guaranteed social, political, and economic equality with men. The Constitution recognizes that housework is an activity that stimulates the economy, thus giving social security benefits to housewives.
However, not all Latin American women are supportive of left-wing ideologies and social programs, as there is also a right-wing middle class segment of women who are not necessarily struggling for the same rights as their poorer sisters.
Women’s movements that center on economic difficulty will more likely include women and men in the lower classes than women along class lines. Also, there is not always unity in organizing among women of Indigenous or African descent and women of European descent, as some movements also focus on race.
Indigenous women, for example, receive triple discrimination as they are women, non-white, and largely poor. In Bolivia, where Indigenous people are over half the population, women are struggling to preserve their country’s natural resources as their land is subject to devastation for commercial purposes.
Abortion is illegal in Bolivia, unless the woman is a rape victim or could have a life-threatening pregnancy. Still, the country has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, though lower than it could be since there is a fee of $150. That kind of money is often difficult for the women to come by.
In Chile, abortion is completely illegal, no exceptions. Though, former President Bachelet did expand contraception access, including a policy that distributed the morning after pill for free in public health clinics.
Though, Ms. Equale remembers women being respected relatively strongly in Chile, she does recall being treated differently herself during her stay.
“It could have been that I was seeing things or being treated differently because I was there as a foreigner,” she told the Viễn Đông, adding that people often treated her as though she understood little. “[It] Could have also been because I was a woman.”