Tag Archives: government

Uh-Oh. The Pentagon Considers Well-Traveled, Broke Indian American Women Threats

by Guest Contributors The Aerogram Editors, originally published at the Aerogram

threat-level-high

The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge recently introduced readers to “Hema,” a character in an online training given to Pentagon employees to teach them how to identify “insider threats.”

Writes Sledge:

A security training test created by a Defense Department agency warns federal workers that they should consider the hypothetical Indian-American woman a “high threat” because she frequently visits family abroad, has money troubles and “speaks openly of unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy.”

As you can imagine, reading that line caused all of us here in The Aerogram’s headquarters to have a “Hey! That sounds like me!” moment.

Sledge goes on to say that the training was designed to help catch future Bradley Mannings and Edward Snowdens, who are both white men. (Editor’s note: We think the training would have been much more true-to-life if Hema had been the child of a Welsh immigrant a la Manning.)

Visits twice a year; inadequate work qualityBecause the training is declassified, anyone can now take it here. Examining the slides, we were struck by the fact that a character that regularly plays high-stakes poker was considered less of a threat than Hema, and that Hema’s propensity of travel made her as much of a risk as a recently divorced man mired in debt who openly worries about paying child support. Hema’s foreign travel, the slide notes, is a threat because it “gives foreign agents a chance to contact foreign intelligence services. She also demonstrates possible divided loyalty and financial difficulties. She is a high threat.”

Emphasis ours. Let’s break down exactly why labeling Hema as a threat to security is problematic. Using this training’s criteria, in order to be classified as low risk (0 indicators) by the Defense department, one would have to:

1) Estrange oneself from family and friends, not to mention cultural connections and heritage by not going back to India regularly. (Besides, who needs grandparents or your aunties when you have Uncle Sam?)

2) Be politically apathetic or somehow always support U.S. foreign policy, even though that policy could vary wildly from administration to administration. But never mind that. U-S-A! U-S-A!

3) Be financially well off. (But don’t you dare spend any of that money on foreign travel or political causes, like other well-off people do. Always remember: brown-skinned individuals have to be extra careful.)

For us, the strangest part of seeing someone like the fictional Hema classified as a high risk threat is that traveling internationally, exercising the rights to free speech and having political opinions are generally indicators of a well-rounded, actively involved citizen. Couldn’t the government use more inspired young people who know that the world is a big and complicated place? Why are these traits considered undesirable and threatening when the person possessing them is a South Asian American woman?

Private Danny Chen, and why I will never again reach out to OWS about something that matters to me

By Guest Contributor Esther Choi, cross-posted from Some Thoughts …

I can’t stress enough that the following article only represents my opinions as an individual, and are not to be affiliated with any other person, organization or community.

December 15, 2011

Tonight was the march and vigil for Private Danny Chen, who was killed in the army on October 3, 2011. We don’t know how he died. The army is withholding all evidence, which it owes to the family, that could answer this question. What we do know is that he did not die in combat. We know he was constantly harassed and discriminated against by his fellow soldiers for being Chinese. We know some really twisted, violent hazing was committed against him by his superiors, right before he was found dead. We decided to hold a march and vigil because the army is currently carrying out an investigation, and we have to show them that the public is watching and that they cannot get away with another cover-up.

Just yesterday, board members of OCA-NY along with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Council Member Margaret Chin went to the Pentagon to meet with high-ranking army officials, where they made demands that may fundamentally transform the way that hazing and bias crimes are dealt with in the military. We need them to know that the public and the media are watching, and that if they do not meet our demands, we will redirect our campaign to focus on our young men and women who are thinking of enlisting. These young people need to know before they enlist, the Army will not protect them from harm by fellow soldiers.

Before the vigil, we reached out to many organizations to support, and 36 signed onto our cause. We also reached out to Occupy Wall Street because justice and government transparency are in its mission, and we thought we could use the numbers and networks in OWS to bring out more support for our vigil, and we also wanted to show our solidarity with OWS.

So imagine my surprise when protesters from OWS showed up with OWS signs, not to stand with others lining up for the march to Columbus Park in support, but to stand in front of everyone, trying to direct them. These people, who had not, until that very moment, put in one bit of effort into organizing this action, who had no idea what the plan was, who had no idea who we were or who the family was, decided that they were going to make this an OWS event.

Conflict erupted when one of the OWS-affiliated protesters came with a giant Communist Party of China flag. This white man decided that he was entitled to represent us, at this protest for an American soldier, with a flag that has been used by this country to vilify the Chinese American community. When people began asking him not to demonstrate that flag because it was not the purpose of the event and we were in no way representing China or political parties, he began screaming at us about how we were ANTI-COMMUNIST and trying to take away his first amendment rights. We told him that Danny Chen was an American soldier and we wanted to respect the family and their wishes, but he continued screaming violent accusations at us at the top of his lungs and disrupting the event, until one of Danny Chen’s family members, on the verge of tears, finally convinced him to leave. Continue reading

Voices: Reflecting on Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2011

Monday, February 7, was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  Below are two writers on the continuing conditions perpetuating HIV infection in Black communities and how to combat them.–AJP

Black AIDS Institute’s chief executive and president, Phill Wilson, wasn’t exaggerating when he said that “AIDS is the fire that is ravaging the black community.”

So what exactly is fueling the flames?

There is no one answer. It’s a combination of many factors: Poverty and economic instability. Institutionalized racism. Lack of quality health care, poor access to health care in general and mistrust in the medical system. Gender inequality and domestic violence. Homophobia. Intravenous drug use and the lack of needle-exchange programs. Poor health literacy. High rates of incarceration. Untreated sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and gonorrhea, which make people more vulnerable to contracting HIV. And people having unprotected sex while unaware that they are positive, and who thus go untreated while they’re highly infectious.

The slow response by the federal government has played a role as well, as has a lack of funding. Thirty years into the epidemic, and it was only just last year that the U.S. government finally released a national HIV/AIDS strategy.

But most importantly, the black community’s own slow response to the epidemic has had a profound impact. Minus a few exceptions, most black media publications, churches and community leaders set the tone early by turning a blind eye to HIV, believing that this epidemic was not their problem and that HIV was a moral issue as opposed to a public health crisis. In the end, we have all paid a price for their unwillingness to address the disease early on.

Don’t get me wrong: Over the years, we have seen some progress in having public conversations about HIV, and the importance of getting tested and practicing safer sex. But we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, too many current conversations about HIV — especially in the black media — are either met with resistance, treaded lightly or saturated with inaccuracies (think: everything about the down low).

~~Kellee Terrell, “HIV/AIDS in Black America: The Uphill Battle

In the late 1990s, right about when taxpayer-developed lifesaving drugs hit the market and America declared victory over HIV, the epidemic split: Black diagnoses continued climbing as a share of overall diagnoses, while white diagnoses plummeted. In other words, in the part of America where people had access to care, the epidemic changed dramatically; elsewhere, it didn’t.

There are many, complex factors driving the black AIDS epidemic, from the much discussed stigma to the much less discussed basic access to meaningful health care. We’ll be parsing these throughout the year. But in the end, as the graph above suggests, today’s epidemic is also shaped dramatically by one factor: whether our government takes it seriously enough to end it, in all parts of our society.

~~Kai Wright, “One Question on Black AIDS Day: Do We Care Enough to End It?”

Image credit: CBS Minnesota

California Apologizes to Chinese Americans

By Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

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Last week, the California legislature approved a landmark bill to apologize to the state’s Chinese American community for racist laws enacted specifically against Chinese immigrants as far back as the mid-19th century Gold Rush: California Apologizes to Chinese Americans.

The laws, some of which were not repealed until the 1940s, barred Chinese from owning land or property, marrying whites, working in the public sector and testifying against whites in court. The new bill also recognizes the contributions Chinese immigrants have made to the state, particularly their work on the Transcontinental Railroad.

It’s about damn time. Thankfully, the resolution moved relatively quickly through the state legislature since it was first introduced in February and promoted heavily by state assembly member Paul Fong.

Unfortunately, most of the direct victims of the laws in question have already passed away. Fong’s grandfather was held for two months at Angel Island, the immigration station near San Francisco where several hundred thousand Chinese immigrants were targeted and detained from 1910 to 1940.

Now, with the resolution passed, Fong plans to take the issue to Congress, where he’ll request an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only federal law ever enacted to deny immigration based exclusively on race or nationality. I fully support this effort, and hope Assemblyman Fong takes the issue all the way to passage in Washington.


Photo from ChinaDaily.com.cn of Chinese and Japanese women and children waiting to be processed as they are held in a wire mesh enclosure at internment barracks in Angel Island, California.

Open Thread: Homeland Security and Racism

by Latoya Peterson
While skimming through my news feeds, I noticed this article in the New York Times:

After federal border agents detained several Mexican immigrants in western New York in June, an article about the incident in a local newspaper drew an onslaught of vitriolic postings on its Web site. Some were racist. Others attacked farmers in the region, an apple-growing area east of Rochester, accusing them of harboring illegal workers. Still others made personal attacks about the reporter who wrote the article.

Most of the posts were made anonymously. But in reviewing the logs of its Internet server, the paper, The Wayne County Star in Wolcott, traced three of them to Internet protocol addresses at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border protection.

Yeah, now I feel *really* secure.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

A Quick Guide to Government Graft

by Latoya Peterson

According to the New York Times:

The Army official who managed the Pentagon’s largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve paying more than $1 billion in questionable charges to KBR, the Houston-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops.

The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Smith said that he was forced from his job in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.

In a nutshell KBR, like a few other companies, were responsible for providing needed on the ground services in Iraq. In order to get these kinds of contracts, you have to bid for them and show your pricing and an estimated cost for the full job. The government then evaluates these bids and selects the one that will get the job done and save taxpayers the most money. (In theory, that is.) After the contract is awarded, the contractors must submit invoices to be paid. If the invoices are accurate, the payment is processed – if the invoice is incorrect or for a higher amount, the government can stop services and investigate why this is happening.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened.

Army auditors had determined that KBR lacked credible data or records for more than $1 billion in spending, so Mr. Smith refused to sign off on the payments to the company. “They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn’t justify,” he said in an interview. “Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

But he was suddenly replaced, he said, and his successors — after taking the unusual step of hiring an outside contractor to consider KBR’s claims — approved most of the payments he had tried to block.

Other Army officials claim that they removed Charles M. Smith for other reasons. They also claim that disrupting service to KBR would have cut off needed services to the troops that would compromise operations. But KBR was warned well in advance of the issues with their invoices, as confirmed by an internal audit. And in situations like this, the government tends to hold the upper hand – a contractor who is not cooperating and does not provide accurate record keeping can be banned from bidding on any future government requests, which for most businesses could be devastating. Most contractors quickly come into compliance, or find their contracts terminated. So why wasn’t KBR scared?

Ever since KBR emerged as the dominant contractor in Iraq, critics have questioned whether the company has benefited from its political connections to the Bush administration. Until last year, KBR was known as Kellogg, Brown and Root and was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the Texas oil services giant, where Vice President Dick Cheney previously served as chief executive.

Oh, right. Continue reading

White Supremacist Wants to Take the Bench in LA

by Latoya Peterson

Readers in LA – tomorrow, on June 3, you will have the opportunity to elect a L.A. Superior Court Judge – who wants to see you or your friends deported, even if you are an American citizen.

Reader Ike M. pointed us toward this Angry Asian Man post, which reads:

In the race for Los Angeles Superior Court judge, if you’re not careful, you could be voting for a bona fide racist—a racial separatist who once called for restricting U.S. citizenship to persons “of the European race” and deporting blacks, Asians, Latinos and others who don’t meet his racial criteria. The candidate is Bill Johnson: Stealth election.

Under the name James O. Pace, he wrote the racial exclusion as a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a 1985 book supporting it. That’s racist! But wait, there’s more. Under the name Daniel Johnson, he ran a losing race for Congress in Wyoming in 1989 with a Ku Klux Klan organizer as his campaign manager. As William Johnson, he ran losing race for Congress in Arizona in 2006.

Continue reading