Get the kids talking about diversity!

Back in December when the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in the school integration cases, diversity in our public schools was a hot topic. Guess what, it still matters. The level of diversity in our schools is helping to guide the futures of so many children. Let's be honest: children learn so much in their schools besides what's in the textbook. Let's allow children to learn from one another the richness of our many cultures and backgrounds.

The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights has a writing contest for kids going on right now. I just found out about it, but there's still time to join. They're calling for essays from kids ages 12 to 17. Children under the age of 12 can participate by submitting a quote. The contest simply asks America's children: "Why is diversity important in our public schools?"

For more information on the contest follow this link!

Many Voices, One Community

I was very happy to see this article in the New York Times on Tuesday. I'm so proud that we're seeing gains in representation of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) community among elected officials. It is especially crucial that APIA voices be heard in California, where APIA residents constitute the second-largest minority group. These gains are impressive steps toward building a truly representative government, but minorities remain vastly underrepresented in government and other sectors. What stood out most to me was the following:

Should the number of Asian-American elected officials continue to grow, the issues many of them have pursued — bilingual language assistance, equitable admissions standards at state universities and affordable health care — will become increasingly visible.

It stood out because these issues are issues that so many Californians (and people in every other state) care about. People all over care about equal access for limited-English speakers, to a high-quality education, and to affordable health care. Communities far and wide share many of the same concerns. More importantly, we all share the same drive for improvement and solutions. More diverse voices highlight the fact that we have more in common than we think. I believe that the best and more comprehensive solutions to these common concerns will also come from incorporating everyone's voices in the process.

Also this week, Congressman Mike Honda issued a statement titled the "State of APIA Community" that has some really interesting information. I first found the statement through New America Media. This brief overview of the APIA community is a great tool, especially since it can be hard to find detailed statistics about this community. For example:

In education, APIA students are still underserved, and 24.7% of the APIA population is linguistically isolated. When disaggregated, the percentages are even greater in the Southeast Asian community: 45% of Vietnamese Americans, 31.8% of Cambodian and Laotian Americans, and 35.1% of Hmong Americans are linguistically isolated.

It's important that we pay attention to disparities within the larger numbers. Disaggregating data the way it is done here will ensure that all people are being considered. Looking at averages across communities can be dangerous because it becomes easy to neglect the most vulnerable.

Revisiting The President’s Budget

Early last week, Mike blogged about the President’s budget. In particular, we saw that the budget endangered the sustainability and success of public health care programs like SCHIP and Medicaid. Families USA has created some more specific analyses of the proposed budget’s impact on these programs. They offer very straightforward notes on the proposed expenditures and expected savings. Check them out if you have trouble speaking “budgetese” like I do.

A story in today’s Washington Post shows just how crucial an adequate budget is. Not only is it imperative that SCHIP receives enough money to continue covering kids, but the program also needs the funds now. In just a few weeks, families across the country could lose the resources to keep their kids healthy due to budget shortfalls.

“The situation is most severe in Georgia, where officials plan to stop enrolling kids in the state's PeachCare program starting March 11 because of a $131 million shortage.”

Georgia isn’t alone:

“An Associated Press survey found that at least 14 states could face a shortfall of children's health insurance funds before the next federal fiscal year begins in October.

Besides Georgia, the other states are Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Alaska.”

If we’re honestly aiming for shared responsibility, particularly when it comes to health care, then the government and our elected leaders need to hold up their share. Parents are upholding their share by enrolling and seeking care for their children. State governments are upholding their share by being flexible and expanding the program as they see fit. I think SCHIP is a success in part because it allows state governments to adjust the program to respond to their constituents. A budget that limits the states’ authority to do so (as the President’s budget proposes) will only hurt more families. A congress that doesn’t act quickly on the budget will do the same. Who isn’t taking responsibility for their share now?

Building Bridges Between Immigrants and African Americans

Our Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, has another post up on Tom Paine:

When immigrants took to the streets last year to
protest a punitive anti-immigrant bill in the House of Representatives
and to seek a pathway to citizenship, the public conversation focused
in part on the relationship between African Americans and immigrants.
And much of that conversation was framed in terms of competition and

That framing was no accident. The mainstream media have fixated on potential points of black/immigrant tension, looking for a conflict storyline.
And that storyline has been amply fed by conservative anti-immigrant
groups intent on driving a wedge between the two communities. The website for Team America, founded by Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and chaired by Bay Buchanan declares.

You can read Alan's call for a new vocabulary that builds bridges between these two communities here.

Second Chances for A Better Life

Today's New York Times features an article highlighting the importance of mobility and redemption in attaining opportunity:

Job Corps Plans Makeover for a Changed Economy

LAUREL, Md. — Over the last four decades, even as failed experiments
and partisan disputes took the luster off the war on poverty, the Job
Corps, the government’s main effort to give poorly educated youths a
second chance at a diploma and a trade, was widely seen as one of the
few success stories.

But now, as the economy has
turned against those with low skills and researchers have questioned
the long-term impact of the Job Corps on the lives of its graduates,
this remnant of the Great Society is facing an urgent need to reinvent

“Once you could go into the Job Corps and get a G.E.D.
and go out and make a living,” said Esther R. Johnson, a career
executive in the Labor Department with a doctorate in education who
took over the corps last March. “You can’t do that anymore.”

Dr. Johnson wants the Job Corps to aim higher, helping graduates into careers with a bigger paycheck.

Job Corps is a perfect illustration of the positive role government can play in safeguarding and providing opportunity for citizens.  Many of the participants have dropped out of high school in an age where a college degree is the minimum barrier to entry into a shrinking middle class, and many more require a second chance to restart their lives after going astray in their  youth.  Job Corps - and other similar programs mentioned in the piece - provide for that, to the benefit of the participants, their communities, and the nation:

With better training, high school diplomas or, better, degrees from
community colleges, many graduates of such programs, it is hoped, will
become chefs instead of hamburger flippers; plumbers, electricians or
carpenters instead of pickup laborers; nurses instead of health aides.
A newer course at the Laurel center trains students to install cable
and other electronic systems.

A study published in
2001 that surveyed Job Corps graduates and a control group, conducted
by Mathematica Policy Research for the Labor Department, found that the
program led to significant increases in self-reported earnings over
four years and to lower arrest rates.

Michael Whitfield, a subject of the Times' article, says it best:

Now 19, he has been accepted by a two-year college where he will study
criminal justice to become a police or parole officer. He credited the
Job Corps with helping him straighten up and discover his goals. “I
really can’t see people making it these days without a diploma,” he
said. “I was lucky; I had a second chance.”


Remembering Japanese Internment

Sixty-five years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the wartime removal and incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans.  This single act has had endless ramifications on the lives of Japanese-Americans and is undeniably one of the worst chapters in American history.

In the decades leading up to World War II, there was a good deal of institutionalized discrimination against Japanese people in the United States. Japanese immigrants could not legally naturalize.  Children born in the US were granted citizenship, but immigrants themselves were unable to become citizens. Further, the ability of Japanese immigrants (non-citizens) to own property in the US was revoked entirely.  It had been legal, previously.

When the Japanese military forces attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, pandemonium and fear broke loose.  American media coverage painted the Japanese to be a threat of unprecedented scale, quoting blatantly racist remarks by military leaders such as the assertion that the Japanese were going to 'overtake' the West Coast with help from the local Japanese population. The US was also at war with Germany and Italy, but somehow only the Japanese were thought to be a danger to national security.

On February 19, 1942, FDR ordered that everyone of Japanese descent living on the West Coast be 'evacuated.' These 110,000 people were given a certain number of days to liquidate their possessions, which essentially meant selling everything they owned, land included, to their non-Japanese neighbors for dirt-cheap prices.  Once transferred to the camps, many families occupied what were formerly horse stables, a frightening gauge of the dehumanization to which they were subjected.

When the camps were finally closed in 1944, evacuees were sent home with three items: train fare, $25 each, and a pamphlet advising them on how to readjust to society. Many families have never recovered the economic gains they had made before the war. Much of what they had put into storage before heading to the camps was long gone. There were a good number of college-educated Japanese professionals in the camps, who had an extraordinarily difficult time finding employment after their stays in the camps. Similarly, Japanese students struggled to be admitted to universities.  Many went eastward for greater opportunities

While the US government made an official apology for its actions in the 1980s, its attempts at reparations have been insufficient compared to the damage done to so many of its own citizens and their families.

While it is true that no one was tortured or killed in the 'internment camps' (not to be confused with 'concentration camps'), it’s worth a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with this situation in mind. While the UDHR was adopted in 1948, after the camps opened and closed, it has become a standard reference point for assessing human rights violations – and it provides a clear illustration of how many basic human rights were violated by the incarceration order.

For further resources, see NAATA’s educational website.

Government: Providing the Boots to Bootstrappers Everywhere

Comedian Al Franken announced his candidacy for the  United States Senate yesterday (like all new candidates) via a YouTube video.  Whatever you may think about the Air America host and x-Saturday Night Live writer, you can't argue with his language.  Franken's announcement is an embodiment of the power of the Opportunity Frame  over the conservative frame of individual responsibility.

This comes through most vividly when Franken is describing his wife's family's climb out of poverty, and how government programs such as Social Security Survivor Benefits and Pell Grants gave them the tools they needed to lift themselves up. 

Best quote:

Conservatives say that people need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, and I agree.  That's a great idea.  But first you've got to have the boots.  And the government gave my wife's family the boots.  That's what progressives like me believe the government is there for.

It's very reminiscent of the messages we produced during the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  Government is there to help provide the basic tools that we need to secure opportunity for ourselves and our families.  To provide the resources to start over when misfortune befalls us.  It's a great message, grounded in our notion of America as a land of opportunity, where everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and its a great speech by Franken.  You can watch the whole speech below.

Blackosphere vs. the Whitosphere

There is a fascinating discussion going on over at MyDD about race in the blogosphere.  Why is it that the two most influential "progressive" blogs are 97% white.  Why does a vibrant, primarily "black" blogosphere exist in parallel to the "whitosphere?"  What does it say about the progressive movement that there is little connection between those two blogospheres?

The conversation veers into presidential politics, but this is a fascinating self-examination of how race is playing out in the new tools of a supposedly more participatory democracy.

Health Care Tug-o-war: Bush v. America

The New York Times today continues its coverage of the tug of war between the Bush administration and the states over health care.

States and U.S. at Odds Over Aid to Uninsured:

In the absence of federal action, governors and state legislators
around the country are transforming the nation’s health care system,
putting affordable health insurance within reach of millions of
Americans in hopes of reversing the steady rise in the number of
uninsured, now close to 47 million.

But the states appear to be
on a collision course with the Bush administration, whose latest budget
proposals create a huge potential obstacle to their efforts to expand

The piece also has a nice rundown of various state initiatives to increase coverage of the uninsured - particularly children:

In New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer,
a Democrat, has proposed raising the state’s income limit to 400
percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. A family of four is
considered poor if its annual income is less than $20,650. Arizona and
Wisconsin are also proposing raising income ceilings.

In California, as part of a plan to cover all state residents, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican,
proposed increasing the income limit for the children’s insurance
program to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich
of Illinois, a Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s proposal “would seriously
hamper the efforts of Illinois and other states” to ensure that all
children had coverage — the goal of a state law he signed in November

. . .

Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee have new laws
and programs to reduce the cost of insurance for small employers.

and Vermont passed laws in 2006 to achieve universal or nearly
universal coverage, while addressing the cost and quality of care.

states, including Colorado and Delaware, are requiring insurers to
cover young adults, the fastest-growing segment of the uninsured

The Real Costs of Bush's Budget

An editorial  in today's New York Times takes a closer look at Bush's '07 budget, and notes that programs designed to increase access to health care among low-income Americans - particularly children - are the latest casualty of Bush's crusade to lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

The most shortsighted restrictions would come in the highly
acclaimed State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which uses federal
matching funds to provide coverage for low- and moderate-income
children who are not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. The
program has been enormously successful in reducing the number of
uninsured children. Yet now the administration wants to reduce its
matching rate and limit enrollment to children in households earning no
more than twice the federal poverty level. That would undercut programs
in 16 states that have expanded coverage to children above that level.

Although the administration’s budget would grant the children’s program
a small $5 billion increase spread over five years, that’s less than
half, and possibly only a third, of the amount needed just to maintain
current enrollments and participation rates.

As Families USA notes in a press release, this is contrary to previous statements by Bush:

“America’s children must also have a healthy start in life.
In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of
poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s
health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or
information, to stand between these children and the health care they
need.” (President George W. Bush, Republican National Convention,
September 2, 2004)

Families USA also notes that, besides funding SCHIP at a level inadequate to retain current enrollment numbers, the president's plan will actually reduce SCHIP eligibility in 18 states including California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and
West Virginia.

Hundreds of thousands of children in these states will lose their coverage and enter the ranks of the uninsured.  The move is a stark contrast to current public opinion, as well counterproductive to new policy initiatives that seek to expand coverage for children at the state level.

Health care is a human right.  Until we provide a fair, equitable system that provides access to those most in need, our nation will never live up to its full potential as a society of equal opportunity for all Americans.  President Bush's proposed cuts to Medicaid and SCHIP, which will put hundreds of thousands of children at risk for unnecessary health complications, moves us further away that ideal America we all want to achieve.


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