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 Further, the ability of Japanese immigrants (non-citizens) to own property in the US was revoked entirely.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.


Unholy Union, or Savior in Disguise?

Update: After a conversation here in our office, I feel like I should add another thought about this.  I can't really imagine Wal-Mart ever being a faithful actor in this policy debate.  But on the other hand they clearly do not want to pay for their employee's health care.  Can the greed of Wal-Mart be turned into a weapon in the hands of advocates for single-payer, universal health care?

If you haven't yet heard the news, SEIU and the Center for American Progress have joined with some unlikely allies to push for universal health care:

SEIU and CAP helped to launch what is potentially one of the most
transformative coalitions on the field today–a network of business,
labor and public policy thinkers dedicated to building a new American
health care system with quality, affordable coverage for all by the
year 2012.

For the first time, companies like Wal-Mart, AT&T, Intel and Kelly Services, unions like SEIU and the CWA, and public policy groups like CAP, the Howard Baker Public Policy Center, and the Committee for Economic Development have joined together to push for universal health care and a more rational and efficient health delivery system.

There's lots of movement in health care reform lately, from the Governator's plan to extend coverage in California, to ex-Governor Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusettes.  And judging the statements of the Democratic candidates,  a Democratic president in 2008 would certainly lend his/her weight to achieving the goals of this unlikely coalition. 

It will be a great thing if they could expand access to health
care to all Americans.  We'll see what they can accomplish. 

Here's SEIU president Andy Stern explaining his involvement and hopes for the coaliton:

Separate and Unequal Transport

Doors of Opportunity (no text)At the end of December, three advocacy groups in San Francisco released MTC, Where Are Our Buses?, a report about disparities in transportation funding which adversely affect people of color and low-income populations.  Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) have labeled the Bay Area's transit system "Separate and Unequal," and provide compelling evidence to support their claim.

Released on the 50-year anniversary of the civil rights campaign to integrate bus service in Montgomery, Alabama, the report details recent funding and route decisions made by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and how they have impacted the local population.  At issue are the differences in subsidies provided to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Caltrain (both of which service primarily white suburbs), and AC Transit buses to the East Bay area (a region in which 80% of the residents are people of color).  According to a press release by Urban Habitat, the report "details both the sizeable funding disparities per passenger, and the resulting disparities in transit service as BART and Caltrain services have more than doubled, while AC Transit service has contracted by 30%."  Further, the report provides data that "public dollars subsidize the trips of BART and Caltrain commuters, who are disproportionately white, at three to five times higher levels than the trips of AC Transit’s mostly minority ridership."

The report also discusses local efforts to hold the MTC accountable, from a class-action law suit filed in federal court, alleging racial discrimination, to the MTC Minority Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s (MCAC) which has issued a series of recommendations on improving environmental justice.  So far, the MTC has yet to institute any changes in its policy.

According to AJ Napolis of Urban Habitat, "At stake is not only the access of low-income bus riders and their families to economic and educational opportunities, but the vitality of our communities," citing a study that a cut in transport funding can cost a community ten times more in travel costs and lost income.

The State of Opportunity - An Update

Over at, our Executive Director Alan Jenkins has a column about Bush's State of the Union and the State of Opportunity in America:

During his State of the Union speech last month,
President Bush used the word “opportunity” nine times, to talk about
our nation’s economy, public schools, immigration policy, energy needs
and health care system. The president is correct in suggesting that how
opportunity fares is a crucial measure of our nation’s condition. So
just what is the state of opportunity in America?

Read the full column.

Framing Immigration in the New York Times

The Gray Lady is running an article on immigrants today that contrasts starkly with most media reporting of the issue, and offers us a chance to see what well-framed media coverage of the immigration debate might actually look like.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy

The article focuses on the challenges that many immigrant entrepreneurs face - competition from other immigrants, byzantine city regulations, language barriers, and lack of access to connections and infrastructure that help small businesses grow - yet the message is very much one of the positive impact that immigrants have on our cities:

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from
New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the
Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization
that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned
decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades.
“These are precious and important economic generators for New York
City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

In this story, immigrants are the drivers and revivers of urban economies.  They are net positives for society as a whole.

To be sure, there are faults with the framing in this article.  By focusing on these successful immigrants who have bootstrapped themselves to success - despite many barriers - it reinforces the idea of the immigrant "striver," and promotes a conservative frame of individual responsibility ("If these immigrants can succeed, it must mean that those who don't aren't really trying to help themselves").

Never the less, it is a piece that highlights the value that immigrants bring to our society, and frames them in a positive light.  A good piece to think about as we work towards moving public opinion on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.

Grading the Rebuilding Process - January Report

Reconstruction Map: January

Over at, Kevin Whelan and Toni McElroy have a great op-ed about the President's disappointing lack of commitment to rebuilding New Orleans - vividly symbolized by his failure to mention New Orleans or Katrina even once in his State of the Union Address - and what the state of the Gulf says about our nation.  Some good excerpts:

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, it exposed
America’s dirty little secret—that poverty not only still exists, but
is an intergenerational way of life for many of the country’s
residents. It would have been inconceivable that tens of thousands
could be left behind to fend for themselves in the storm, except it
played out on live television. For a time, public discussion again
focused on the fact that the poverty of New Orleans, far from being an
isolated situation, exemplifies a national problem.

The reasons such poverty still exists in a rich country aren’t
really hard to find. Years of under-funded public services, low wages
(10 years and counting without an increase in the federal minimum
wage), unaffordable housing, troubled public schools and suppression of
union-organizing have contributed to the decline in earning power of
working families and the rise in poverty.

The article goes on to note the many challenges facing the residents of New Orleans in rebuilding their lives.  These barriers to opportunity that many New Orleans residents - those still displaced and those who have returned - are starkly illustrated in the new Rebuilding Report Card put out by the Center for Social Inclusion.  Readers may remember that last month we posted the first of what will be monthly reports cards grading the rebuilding process.  The new report is out (pdf), and unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) the situation has not improved:

  • 17 months after Katrina, the Lower 9th Ward is the only planning district without full electric and gas service .
  • The Recovery School District turned away 300 students due to a lack of facilities
  • After promising 500 grants a day in January, the Road Home Program has averaged fewer than three approvals per day.

Report Card: January

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