Emil Guillermo: More debate, not more bombs, needed 13 years after 9/11
September 11, 2014 12:54 PM

Thirteen years later, we all have learned at least this key lesson: Al-Qaeda is not Iraq.

But after President Bush's faulty logic used the terror attacks of 9/11 to justify war in Iraq, it seems President Obama is willing to make a similar mistake again.

By announcing to the nation on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary his intention to use airstrikes against ISIS--the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria--President Obama has combined the emotional power of history with the more recent memory of the beheading of American journalists.

And it's all intended to power his way to the brink of war.

As Joan Rivers might have said, "Can we talk?"

The president said he's looking forward to working with Congress.

But shouldn't he seek Congressional approval?

Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, tweeted:
There is good reason to have more debate now rather than later. Talking now may lead us to the possibility of a better solution. Later, we may be left with only the option of "endless war."

From all accounts, ISIS is a far worse enemy than Al-Qaeda ever was. It's more organized, better financed, and sees itself almost as an imperial force.

ISIS wasn't responsible for 9/11, but it's very capable of a sequel.

The beheading of two journalists is just a horrific preamble.

Should we get behind the president wholeheartedly? Even those of us with pacifist tendencies?

My fear is that once the president's air strikes begin, the public will hope that we are in a video game war and expect to see the words  "game over" quickly flash on the screen.

But this may well be just the start of a much longer engagement. We almost certainly will have to consider "boots on the ground."  Our young men and women will have to enter. As "advisors" only?

The U.S. has had a terrible history in the region. We've seen boots on the ground, then removed. Our leaders have cried out, "Mission accomplished," and then sent troops back in for clean-up. They're re-deployed, then yanked again too soon.

The yo-yo may be a great Filipino weapon. But it makes for a lousy military strategy.

After the speech, Raed Jarrar, policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told the Institute for Public Accuracy why he wasn't buying into the president's plan.

He said that bombing Iraq and Syria into moderation and stability is one of the main underlying assumptions of the president's strategy. While this seemed like an easy way to get rid of extremism, it wouldn't work.

Jarrar said the U.S. tried it before and failed when the U.S. had over 100,000 boots on the ground in Iraq. U.S. troops were able to weaken but never defeated ISIS.

This is also a time when it's not so easy to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys." Jarrar called our Iraqi partners "brutal, corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional."

The fear there and in Syria is that there are relationships among all the players.

"Rather than attempting to draw a wedge between them and ISIS, the President's plan will end up uniting them," Farrar said.

Indeed, preemptive strikes may not deter the possibility of war, but create a far more dangerous situation in which a full-fledged war is inevitable.

There is only one way we should proceed at this point.  

The president must make sure that Congress is involved every step of the way.

This seems to trouble a few members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. They tend to feel that any military vote could upset the results of the upcoming midterm elections.

But money will be needed to fund whatever happens next. Airstrikes plus? $500 million?

We already know that Iraq has cost us more than $3.5 trillion, according to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz. Anything new won't be cheap.

Maybe Obama actually believes airstrikes will limit involvement--like a few well-timed smacks on the head. But this is a region that considers airstrikes child's play. The Middle East is a region where they don't have the NFL. They play war for real. For hundreds of years at a time.

It may just be Obama running out the clock until his lame duckness is over. Then a new president will have to consider a more serious plan.

The debate really needs to start now. Midterm politics may not allow it, but the people should demand it.

If history is our guide, we know what happens.

After the airstrikes come our sons and daughters. For their sake, our voices need to be heard.

Congresswoman Lee's tweet wasn't some knee-jerk reaction. It was the proper response to the president's proposed "strategy."

There are many things that would make sense for the president to do on his own. Immigration reforms come to mind.

But to authorize what amounts to airstrikes without Congress only shows we haven't learned from the past how to navigate a post-9/11 world.

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Emil Guillermo: President Obama's immigration delay
September 8, 2014 2:31 PM

I found this in my hamper today.

It was a reminder of an event I covered on one of the coldest days I've ever experienced--January 20, 2009.

That's when "Hope and Change" supposedly had come to Washington.

obamaTshirt.jpgFive years later and we're still out in the cold--especially this weekend when President Obama announced his immigration delay.

In my mind, there are only three types of delay: Good, bad and Tom.

The former indicted GOP congressman and "Dancing with the Stars" contestant aside, it's hard to imagine too much good from a delay of something positive.

For lawyers and those who fight for justice, a good delay may be one that wards off some inevitable loss or a negative, like an eviction or a wrongful execution. Drag on!

But when it comes to changes in immigration policy, delay can only be a bad thing.

Every day the president mulls over the proposals that have long been before him, the anxiety and misery increases for thousands of families who could benefit now---if only the president took action.

The president told NBC's Chuck Todd that he wanted to make sure all the "t's were crossed and the I's were dotted."

Mr. President, there are three I's in immigration, and just one T.

Now what?


Oh, yeah that. We all should have known better.

In 2008, when then-candidate Obama was looking for votes, he dangled immigration reform out there to coalesce Latino and Asian support.

But then came 2009, Obama was inaugurated, and almost immediately there was a shift. Health care had eclipsed immigration and took up the bulk of Obama's political capital.

In the last two years, the issue has come back more prominently. Following Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for undocumented youth, this was to be the year of real immigration reform. It might have been enough to make us forget his militarization of the border and the record deportations taking place under his watch.

The iterations of the immigration bill haven't been perfect either. Asian Americans wanted to retain family categories and a provision to clear the backlogs for legal immigration, which have resulted in over 10-year waiting periods for some family members in Asia.

But when immigration legislation seemed doomed by politics, the focus turned to what the president could do on his own. And even the president suggested that by the end of summer there would be reason to cheer.

On Saturday, when the administration announced it would wait until after the November midterm elections, the cheers turned to groans and wails.

Last weekend, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, which borders on such electoral hotspots as Arkansas and North Carolina, where immigration could be turned into a wedge issue to alienate voters. I was attending a convention of the Society for Professional Journalists, and if they'd heard news of the delay, there was just passing concern. To them, it must have been all just part of the process.  

Disappointment? They didn't have to rely on green cards or work permits.

There were bright moments at the SPJ awards banquet. I was privileged to see NPR's Michele Norris get pinned as a fellow in the society for her decades of journalism, including the "Race Card" project that she created.

I've worked with Norris' producer Walter Ray Watson and know of their groundbreaking work. Earlier at a panel on race coverage over the last 50 years, I had to tip my cap to Michele for mentioning diversity and expanding issues of race. It's more than just black and white; it must also include Asians and Latinos. Implied was the notion that we still had a long way to go.

Also at the dinner was Kathryn Foxhall, who fights for the rights of public and private employees to speak to journalists without fear of reprisals from their employers.

Foxhall, a white journalist who grew up in segregated Selma, told me that growing up in the '60s in Alabama and knowing what was overcome continues to inspire her reporting work advocating for free speech and press issues.

"I know that millions of people can be wrong," Foxhall said.

It's the same uphill optimism that immigration advocates should muster as they keep fighting, despite feeling burned by the president.

Just remember the president's promise of something after the elections is as meaningful as all his promises to date. Don't trust it. If the president's calculations are wrong, the climate for executive action will be no better in the future than it is now.

And if the Democrats win, who knows what new thing will come on the scene to distract attention from the immigration issue. ISIS/ISIL? The Ukraine?

In the meantime, there are families out there who will be hurt every day of this delay.  

Many of them heard the promise of hope and change in 2008.

Six years later, some of them don't even have a lousy T-shirt.

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Emil Guillermo on PETA's Virtual Reality: What's good for chickens may be good for stopping racism
September 3, 2014 1:38 PM

Andrew Peng, 20, looked like any other Asian American student. Only deep in his heart, he knew he was a chicken.

Especially with his special virtual reality goggles on. 

andrew2.jpgAt UC Berkeley, one of the most Asian American campuses in the nation, students were lined up for a unique demonstration--to experience the first virtual reality study to go cross-species.

Most scientific applications to date have involved humans, especially in empathy studies. But this one set up by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) attempts to see whether a sense of empathy can be developed between you and the animals sent off to be slaughtered and eaten.

Would you, could you, order that General Tso's Chicken if you clucked a mile in the chicken's shoes?

Would you exhibit noticeable dietary changes after two minutes wearing some high-tech virtual reality goggles that are, incidentally, cooler than the Oculus Rift virtual reality gamer goggles that Mark Zuckerberg just bought for $2 billion in June? The Oculus goggles are tethered, connected to a computer. PETA's are wireless to give you that free-range experience.

And though you're in an animated world, similar to one created by PETA's benefactor on the project, The Simpsons' co-creator Sam Simon, this is no video game.

"People actually experience what it's like to be a small bird in trouble," said Kenneth Montville of PETA. "You develop empathy from that first-hand experience and take it to the real world."

I saw Peng put on the glasses and flap his wings.

"It was pretty weird," Peng said after he took his glasses off. "It made me feel the fear of the chickens as they're going off to die."

The experience ends when you, as a chicken, ride with others in a truck to a slaughterhouse.

Peng said he'd definitely think about things before he eats another chicken wing.

Another student, Rachel Kang, 21, had been vegetarian, even a vegan. She started eating meat again but said the PETA virtual reality experience made her more aware of what's at stake when she eats chicken. And much more empathetic.

"Oh my gosh, yes," said Kang. "The part where you follow your best chicken friend really got to me."

When I put on the glasses, I didn't know what to suspect. I kept falling into a little pond and could never get close to the other chickens I saw. But then we were put in the truck to be taken to slaughter. It does make you think of the nine billion chickens killed in the U.S. every year. That's right, nine billion a year, about 26 million chickens a day.

Full disclosure, my wife works for PETA, but not on this project. We eat a lot of tofu.

All the tofu I eat pretty much assures I don't need virtual reality to address the ethics of my diet.

But as I stood in line to try on the goggles, I wondered whether the same virtual reality techniques could be applied to help people develop empathy toward persons of a different race.

Andrew Peng, one of the students I talked to, told me he came to the U.S. from Beijing 14 years ago and still gets racist reactions, even in Berkeley. Especially when people hear his accent.

"People look at me as strange," he said. "It does happen a lot."

What if, by virtue of the goggles, a little empathy could be developed for Andrew the Asian American?

Or to use a more recent example in the news, what if the goggles could give you the experience of a black man in a place like Ferguson, Missouri, walking to the police with your hands up?

Would that change your perspective on race and humanity?

Last week in San Francisco at a digital conference, Hillary Clinton talked about Ferguson for the first time and rhetorically used a bit of virtual reality:

Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely as black drivers to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences ten percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men--just look at this room and take one-third--went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans in so many of the communities in which they live.

The key word is "imagine."

Fighting for people of color will take more than fighting ignorance with more information.

For empathy's sake, it may be more a matter of imagination--or the lack of it.

To solve that problem, virtual reality goggles could help.

But they shouldn't be necessary in a truly compassionate society.

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Emil Guillermo on Labor Day, CNN, NPR, and a cross-country drive in the media
August 29, 2014 12:03 PM

As we approach Labor Day, I ponder the map of my labor life, my resume, and realize it is the history of the boom and bust of the American economy.

Hired in good times, reduced in recessions. And, because I'm an Asian American, it all works in conjunction with that time honored employment lament, "Last hired, first fired."

I worked at NPR when it was on M Street in D.C. Now it's in the new NoMa district (North of Massachusetts), and it looks like a tech startup.

These days, while some tech folks may experience an economy on the rise, the indicators for journalism and the media business in general are not so bright. Last week, CNN's Jeff Zucker announced that the cable network will have to do "less with less," which means for some, just a slice of Don Lemon may have to do. The network announced the potential of layoffs among its 9,000 U.S. employees. How many get zapped will likely come after the success of the "voluntary buyout plan," which encourages those over age 55 to leave.

It's not exactly "forced retirement." It's more like, "you go first."

Then the long knives appear.

Admittedly, I prefer getting my news on CNN. But all the corporate networks are beholden to the almighty dollar. That's especially true for CNN after staving off Rupert Murdoch's takeover bid for its parent company, Time Warner. Suddenly, CNN's on a new mission. Now it must show shareholders it can surpass Murdoch's rejected takeover bid of $85 a share.

Maybe it can happen without enlisting a Kardashian. Or a news show in the nude.

It's not a good sign for the news business--especially for diversity in the news business. People of color are always affected first. Of course, a few hood ornaments will remain in full view at the different networks, with the notable exception of the de-ornamented Ann Curry. (Has anyone seen Ann lately? At Brad and Angelina's wedding? At NBC? Anywhere?) With fewer veteran minorities employed, there are fewer advocates for news stories on diverse communities. "Doing less with less" isn't just about shrinking news holes. It's about the shrinking diversity in coverage and employment.

I lamented this fact at the recent Asian American Journalists Association convention, when I realized after some quick math that it had been 25 years since I was named a senior host of NPR's "All Things Considered."

It's a modest achievement: the first Asian American to host NPR's flagship program and the first Asian American male to host a regularly-scheduled national news show. But when Asian American invisibility is still a modern media issue, it may as well be like walking on the moon.

At the AAJA convention in Washington, I certainly wasn't expecting a red carpet at the reception I attended in NPR's brand spanking new hi-tech broadcast palace. But my hire had been a breakthrough for the broader Asian American community and for diversity. And it was due to the leadership at NPR at the time, Adam Clayton Powell III.

I stayed at NPR for two years (Powell was gone soon after I was hired). But since that time, as I spoke at the conference, no one present (not even an NPR reporter) could think of another Asian American who had been a permanent host of "All Things Considered." Or if such a person exists, they certainly were keeping it a secret. Indeed, Arun Rath was named a host late last year, but that no one at a convention of Asian American journalists knew it says something.

This is not to say diversity hasn't advanced at NPR and in public radio in general. There are actually more people of color than ever doing great work these days. You can actually hear genuine stories of accented communities.

But you can also still hear the other variety: white reporters giving their response/translation to diverse issues, as if such stories were true revelations.  

Journalists of color live those stories. If they were employed in greater number in all media, the audience might know how all these "different" stories only show how much we all have in common.

But we're still travelling in the slow lane.

Diversity is much harder to achieve with corporate induced shakeouts, buyouts, and layoffs.

Incidentally, that's what happened to me. In the parlance of NPR, I was "riffed." That's the verbified acronym for "reduction in force."

As a Labor Day treat, I wanted to share with you, my reader friends, my first and last stories at NPR.

The first was an essay on my cross-country drive with my infant daughter, the dog, the rat, and animal rights spouse. 

My final words were on the subject listeners really wanted to know more about---why I pronounce my last name the way I do.  

And just to show how long the fight for diversity has gone on, and how the fight and the media have changed, here is a link to the very first town hall held at the now defunct Freedom Forum in Arlington, Virginia. It was the house that Gannett and its late top exec Al Neuharth built. At the time, the traditional media was flush with cash. Diversity actually looked achievable in short order. 

More than twenty years later, it's been a long haul. And we're still fighting, as we approach another Labor Day and take time off to think about how the barriers and limitations we still face can impact every aspect of our lives.

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Ferguson, the First Amendment, and the Asian American Journalists Association
August 15, 2014 12:04 PM

The spectre of the U.S. Justice Department coming down on the First Amendment rights of reporter James Risen should have been bad enough. (See my blog post on Risen here.)

But as the Asian American Journalists Association convened in Washington, DC this week, the situation in Ferguson, Missouri was degrading further after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of police.
It was like a double shroud over a convention intended to herald journalism and diversity.
And then came the news that two journalists in Ferguson had been detained by police.
The aggressive policing against a young African American like Brown is one very serious matter. 

But when police start going after reporters, a prevailing "cowboy law and order" mentality is out of hand.

Reporters Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post tweeted they were told to stop reporting and were taken into custody.

Reilly was told that they were arrested for "not packing their bags quick enough":

Both reporters have now been released.

But I know what it's like to be detained.

It's happened to me three times in my career, twice on foreign soil. In the Philippines, I was carrying my video gear from the airport to cover the assassination of Benigno Aquino over 30 years ago. The police stopped and questioned me and also checked my gear. Then they let me go.
The other time was in Hong Kong, where I gave my pocket knife/key chain to a Chinese security guard at a metal detector at a function with Chou En-lai and Bill Clinton. It was pre-9/11, early in 2001. I thought I was being proactive by removing my keys before entering the screening process.
Not so fast.
It was serious enough to make the HK tab, The Standard, which dubbed me the "Knife Journalist."
I was held in a small room, questioned, and then released.
These incidents made me appreciate my role as a journalist here in the states. That kind of stuff never happens here, right?
Just ask Lowery and Reilly.
Suddenly, there are roadblocks to freedom.
Still, that's minor when compared to what happened to Michael Brown, who was gunned down. He paid with his life.

I've lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and have always known it as a place where segregation has evolved. But not by much.
And when it comes to race and law enforcement, it doesn't surprise me at all if the cops had a "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude.

Your freedoms are robbed when the police officer has a gun and you don't.

Recently in Kentucky, I nearly was arrested. I was at a rental car facility in Hebron, and a routine visit turned into a major debate.
An incompetent manager wasn't aware of a special code to make a change in my reservation. But my battle over consumer rights became a civil rights one when he told me to wait.
He then came back with two sets of policemen and their squad cars, ready to do battle.
These were airport cops, but they had guns and badges and were duly deputized to shoot me at their discretion.
I asked them what I had done and if I were under arrest.
They said I wasn't. But they did want to see my ID.
They could have said "Let me see your papers." I was brown, but they could tell by my non-accent that I didn't sneak in over the Ohio border.
The situation was right up to the line. I could see any "false" move I made could be misinterpreted and seen as a threat. Or in their eyes, "disorderly."
At this point, I was only the uppity Filipino, possibly a Chinese man, or as they would say, an "Oriental."
It was four versus one. And besides, they had guns. Their interpretation wins.
Of course, I could have refused to give them my ID. But what would that have done? Raise suspicion of my knowledge of freedom and the constitution?
So I handed it over. But I did again ask for clarity: Was I under arrest?
The officer said no.
But I wasn't going anywhere. I was detained.
After a quick check of my driver's license, they didn't arrest me. But they escorted me by publicly-paid taxi---the squad car, where I sat in the back of the cage--to another rental car place.
I wasn't arrested; I was removed.

So I understand Ferguson. Any person of color especially should understand Ferguson.
Law and order too often likes to take it right up to the line.
Then, any little thing makes the wrong thing happen.
It shouldn't be that way, as President Obama responded on Thursday.
"There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting," Obama said.

"There's also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protesters or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights," he said in remarks broadcast from Edgartown, Massachusetts, near the location where the president is vacationing.

But he was adamant about the reporters.

"Here in the United States of America," said the president, "Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people what they see on the ground."

The president went on to remind us that "We are all part of one American family, we are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law."

Somehow after Ferguson, it just sounded hollow.

With Risen, the death of Michael Brown, the aftermath in Ferguson, and the militaristic police actions, including the arrests of journalists, is there any question the First Amendment is in more trouble than we imagined?

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