Claire Light

Save the American Middle Class!

Sorry about all the action alerts (especially when it's not on my blog day) but there's a spate of scary legislation being voted on right now. I just received an action alert about the bankruptcy bill currently before congress. It's being voted on tomorrow (Wednesday) so call your representative tonight and leave a message. Below I've pasted what says to do, and below that I've pasted a NYTimes article on the bill.

Today the Senate is expected to vote to limit debate on a bill that toughens the existing bankruptcy law, probably ensuring the bill's passage. A solid bloc of Republican senators, assisted by some Democrats, has already voted down a series of amendments that would either have closed loopholes for the rich or provided protection for some poor and middle-class families.

The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies, and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable. But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, calls ''risk privatization'': a steady erosion of the protection the government provides against personal misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic insecurity.

The bill would make it much harder for families in distress to write off their debts and make a fresh start. Instead, many debtors would find themselves on an endless treadmill of payments.

The credit card companies say this is needed because people have been abusing the bankruptcy law, borrowing irresponsibly and walking away from debts. The facts say otherwise.

A vast majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States are the result of severe misfortune. One recent study found that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies. The rest are overwhelmingly the result either of job loss or of divorce.

To the extent that there is significant abuse of the system, it's concentrated among the wealthy -- including corporate executives found guilty of misleading investors -- who can exploit loopholes in the law to protect their wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.

One increasingly popular loophole is the creation of an ''asset protection trust,'' which is worth doing only for the wealthy. Senator Charles Schumer introduced an amendment that would have limited the exemption on such trusts, but apparently it's O.K. to game the system if you're rich: 54 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the Schumer amendment.

Other amendments were aimed at protecting families and individuals who have clearly been forced into bankruptcy by events, or who would face extreme hardship in repaying debts. Ted Kennedy introduced an exemption for cases of medical bankruptcy. Russ Feingold introduced an amendment protecting the homes of the elderly. Dick Durbin asked for protection for armed services members and veterans. All were rejected.

None of this should come as a surprise: it's all part of the pattern.

As Mr. Hacker and others have documented, over the past three decades the lives of ordinary Americans have become steadily less secure, and their chances of plunging from the middle class into acute poverty ever larger. Job stability has declined; spells of unemployment, when they happen, last longer; fewer workers receive health insurance from their employers; fewer workers have guaranteed pensions.

Some of these changes are the result of a changing economy. But the underlying economic trends have been reinforced by an ideologically driven effort to strip away the protections the government used to provide. For example, long-term unemployment has become much more common, but unemployment benefits expire sooner. Health insurance coverage is declining, but new initiatives like health savings accounts (introduced in the 2003 Medicare bill), rather than discouraging that trend, further undermine the incentives of employers to provide coverage.

Above all, of course, at a time when ever-fewer workers can count on pensions from their employers, the current administration wants to phase out Social Security.

The bankruptcy bill fits right into this picture. When everything else goes wrong, Americans can still get a measure of relief by filing for bankruptcy -- and rising insecurity means that they are forced to do this more often than in the past. But Congress is now poised to make the bankruptcy law harsher, too.

Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a ''sharecroppers' society'' than an ''ownership society.'' But I think the right term is a ''debt peonage'' society -- after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

And any senator who votes for the bill should be ashamed.

Save an Undocumented Immigrant!

Ever wanted to be a superhero? Me too. ...

Short of that (and aren't we all?) there are small things we can do to save people's lives and change the world. Really small things, like writing letters and making phone calls to our representatives. There's an opportunity in the next few weeks to save a few people who might otherwise--because of cynical government policies--be sent back to imprisonment, torture and death as political prisoners in their home countries, or to save a few of our law-abiding neighbors from being deported, or keeping undocumented immigrants on our legal radar--where they have a chance to become law-abiding neighbors.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Asian American Movie Madness

In my six years of going to the San Francisco Asian American film fest, I've developed some bad habits. The first is not buying tickets until the day before the fest starts, even though I'm always a member and get discounts and preorder opportunities. Every year I promise myself that this will be the year that I'll actually get tickets to opening and closing night, and every year I have to hang my head in shame as the box office staffer looks at me incredulously and says, "It sold out weeks ago!"

Vote for Your Favorite Asian American Love

Okay, I know you guys are sick of hearing about the speed dating on the blog so I won't blog about it. (It went very well, thank you. Shout out to the Hyphen staff for working like clocks.) So tomorrow is Valentine's Day and the whole world has hooking up on the brain. I woke up this morning, slightly hung over (organizing has a hangover as well as drinking -- last night I did both) and opened my Sunday NYTimes to find this article on the cover. Arranged marriages the wealthy New Yorker way! Orange you glad you have Hyphen speed dating?

Nazis vs. Hmong

Sorry to bust in on your day, Mel, but I missed this one last week:

A Minneapolis-based Nazi group was posting fliers last week with pictures of the slain Wisconsin hunters and a caption asking if "diversity" was worth even one American life. Scary, since I usually trust my fellow humans to reject the rhetoric of the extremists, but in these times ... I don't know. Read more here.

Unfortunate Philadelphia Asian American Representative Not Shutting Up Yet

Ah, the joys of non-Asian family. At Christmas dinner this year my Uncle X (clearly not his real name) asked me if we named our magazine "Hyphen" because we wanted to create a special hyphenated identity for ourselves - in essence make ourselves special rather than just assimilate into the mainstream like good Americans. In his defense, he *is* a thousand years old and he *did* use to work for the CIA. Wait, that's not really in his defense, is it?

Catching Up On News

One more reason to hate the holidays -- and I suspect this is probably the main reason, though people rarely articulate it as such -- is that everyone's life must come to a halt for three weeks, willy, nilly, or chilly. Doesn't matter if you observe any holidays at all; everyone else does, and you'll find it hard to play ball -- or even catch -- without someone on the other end wearing a mitt. So basically, you get to twiddle your fingers for nearly a month, while your pet projects go as sour as the produce in your fridge.

Sick as a Dog

That confuses me. What is sick about dogs? Dogs aren't normally sick. Whatever. In any case, those of you who are as sick as I am with this cough-y flu-ey thingy (this is how sick I am: I watched The Princess Diaries II twice. By CHOICE) might want a good laugh right about now, especially if you, like me, postponed Christmas shopping until this week and then had to spend the week at home moaning at low volume and occasionally giving a little whimper. Then again you might not want a laugh, considering the full, juicy bout of coughing a laugh might bring on. Your choice. Check it out: Top Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials.

Ho, ho, h-- *hack* ... *groof*

Sticks and stones and bullets

An article I read this week, from the online edition of the British paper The Guardian, brought some recent news to a point for me. "No offence, but why are all white men so aggressive?", by British writer Gary Younge, "flips the script" on offensive questions to people of color by posing a series of similar questions to white Brits. Younge writes:

Know Your Rights, Pick Your Fights

The past several months have made a few things clear to me: 1) I really need to lower my cholesterol, 2) Reality TV is not as entertaining as a car accident, 3) I don't actually know what my rights are anymore, and 4) I don't know where to go to "get involved." The first two are self-explanatory, but for someone who has, through Hyphen magazine, publicly protested the loss of civil rights through the PATRIOT ACT, how can I not know exactly what rights were lost? For someone who calls herself an activist and has given 20 hours a week to nonprofits for the past six years, how can I not know where to turn to get organized to turn out the vote -- or whatever issue will be exercising me in the next coupla years?

Well, sometimes it takes a while both to sort out the implications of new public policies, and to see which options are really enforceable. By the time the fights have died down, public (and my) attention has turned elsewhere. And when it comes to knowing where to turn when you want to act, I found that when I turned to my very active friends, or went to my trusty internet, I ran up against a lot of blank looks and dead ends. Frankly, not a lot of people or websites have a handle on the vast and diverse landscape of community organizing. There's no single clearing house for lefty/liberal causes, and the most well known organizations tend to use their "take action" pages as a way to get you involved in ... well their organization only. So I went looking a little this week and here's what I found. Please let me know if there are better resources out there:

Hyp Hen Retreats! YOU advance!

As if we didn't have enough meetings and retreats, today wuz the Hyphen ("hip hen" to those in the know) editorial retreat chez Todd in San Jose, which Stef really didn't know the way to. As I explained to a newbie, the Hyphen organization is actually 2 years and 9 months old, but we spent the first eight months of that essentially in one long editorial retreat. This is the first re-envisioning of our editorial scope since then. 'Bout time too.

We didn't make any radical changes, just dropped some sections we'd already long ago dropped, consolidated a couple of sections, gave more space to the creative friters and the visual fartists (yay more space!), disagreed rather less than usual (but rather more than not at all), and fixed our schedule of themes for the next three issues. No, I won't tell you what they are. Subscribe and find out!

What I Took Away With Me (*sniff*): some genius laid out all five issues in a row along one wall, a display I had somehow never seen before. I was completely taken aback at how many issues we've put out in the past year and a half (five!) and how substantial five (5!) issues all look together. When you lay out five (five!) covers in a row, an overall picture or brand image really does emerge. I've been too close to the process, and the product, to see it until now. I'm proud, I say, proud. And that's only marginally facetious.

Most importantly, we did all agree that we are targeting a broader range of readers than just Those Like Us, and that our focus needs to broaden. We need to recruit more good writers (no mean feat, since we still can't afford to pay) in more places than just San Francisco and New York. This is where you all come in. We need quirks and straight stories, fun and games, trauma and oppression, and things nobody but you knows about. Let us know who you are, let us know what you know, let us know who you know. Hyphen is a community effort. You're the community. Help us shape our magazine.

And if the spirit moves you, drop us a little cash, too!

Where To Get Published Asian American Style

Inspired by an email from Joseph O. Legaspi, whose poem "First Cigarette" appeared in Hyphen #3, I thought I'd get a list started of Asian American markets, competitions and awards for creative writing. What I'm posting here is distinctly non-exhaustive (and maybe a little restive will cure that) so please feel free to post your own tips below. All Asian American all the time only, though, please.

Stopping By Woods On A Bushy Evening

The woods are dark and deep, full of scary predators, and we are just bare-kneed innocents, our little shaking hands occupied protecting the precious contents of our baskets. But, as Robert Frost never intended to remind us, the woods are lovely as well, seductive as a place of thrilling terror, and no fairy tale is complete without an all-expenses paid trip through the heart of them. The dark, fanged woods are an archetype, the place we go when our fears overwhelm us and we become blinded to their shape and extent, where we go to face a monstrous enemy whose tentacles seem to reach beyond the limits of our vision. In fairy tales, we enter the woods; in movies we hide under the covers, screwing our eyes shut; in parable, we stick our heads into the sand; and in reality, we demonize the administration of George W. Bush.

Cultural Sensitivity, Schmultural Sensitivity

I'm the type whose hackles go up whenever someone--almost always a white someone, ya notice?--pooh-poohs political correctness. Yeah, folks, it's really fascist when Asian Americans demand to be called what we wanna be called rather than what ignorant you wanna call us. I tend to think that political correctness is a justice purely on the level of social revenge: if you get to remind me that I'm Asian American all day long, then I get to remind you that you're an ignorant fuck. Yeah, all day long, Hairdo. Me so angry.

Surprisingly enough, Frank Chin is nicer about this than I am.

Time Served in Asian America

Yesterday I spent fourteen hours in Asian America, or at least gazing at the two facets of Asian America that I know best: organizing and karaoke. That is to say, yesterday was our annual HYPHEN staff retreat! At my house, so of course no one told me the time had been moved up, and of course Jason showed up early, while I was still in my jammies, and of course Audrey came with a posse, bagels, and a paper jug (no joke!) of coffee to save the morning. Ernest Mark -- longtime community nonprofit consultant and all around good guy (yes! you can hire him! ) facilitated the retreat, so the drama and bitching and slamming things down on the table, screaming "fuck you!", and marching out the door (yes, I know that's just me) were kept to a minimum.

The result? We decided, 19 to nothing, that we really stood behind our modified collective staff structure -- with a few caveats -- and recommitted to busting our butts in five hour meetings with no pay. What's up next for us? Well, when we get the meeting notes in our inboxes, I'm sure we'll remember, but after the six hour home karaoke marathon, using Stef's extremely phallic Filipino-made magic mic , and after Stef's not-so-harmless ice-breaker drinking games, and Andy's toxic sea breezes, and a few ill-considered minutes alone with Yuki's voice mail ... well, all policy-making is a blur.

What Comes After Post-Modernism?

Oh Waily, Waily! Derrida is Dead! No more lectures! No more glosses! What we have is all that we'll ever get! Will everyone take advantage of the lapse and not bother to understand deconstruction now? Will we continue on our reactionary, creative-writing-workshop-Margaret-Mead-did-it-best-hagiography-as-trash-compacter-tainted way? Will Bush win the election? Will Jacques have failed?

Or will his passing bring him the mainstream prestige he never acquired (nor sought) in life? Will deconstruction become part of high school curricula? Will Asian American writers, en masse, suddenly stop writing first-person, thinly-veiled autobiography about their grandmothers, and talk excitedly over their cigarettes about L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets? Will Fil-Am community performers cease invoking Bulosan in favor of Myung-Mi Kim? Will we all finally just understand that everything is meaningless anyway so we might just as well read REPUBLIC OF FEAR over our soju of a Sunday evening as watch a re-run of "Alias"? Will John Kerry have an acid flashback to when he still had balls?

Here are some things that Jacques could have affected if he had but died earlier (Waily!):

• Perhaps Dead Derrida could have convinced those responsible for subcontinental tensions that "Kashmir," "religious conflict" and related issues are really all just "text." Perhaps they'll yet learn to treat Indian American protest as mere "intertextuality."

• Dead Derrida could have helped (and could yet!) Vietnamese Americans to understand that all language is inexact, confusing, and full of contradictions; therefore "Bush" and "Kerry" are really the same word. Moreover, to vote for "Bush," one must actually cast one's vote for "Kerry," creating a seemingly opposite effect that would bring all right (or wrong) in the end. ... Only, once the meanings reversed themselves, wouldn't it start all over again with 71% voting for Bush and only 27% for Kerry? Now I'm confused. Waily!

• Dead Derrida would have rendered the conversion of a US military base into an Indian American-owned technology park a non-event because really, did anything there change except the words?

• Dead Derrida could spread yoga beyond the liberal three coasts by making it clear that body and movement are also text, and therefore meaningless, contradictory, layered, and ultimately an expression of family values and an incredibly effective gay-bashing technique. Rather than lobbying Congress, Christian conservatives could down-dog the *&$%@ out of those Godless perverts, setting up their sticky mats in front of Sen. Rick Santorum's office and rounding out each session with a rousing "Kumbaya," whose lyrics could also be interpreted to mean "anti-bunker nukes are worth your pocket change," "punish the homeless," or "rock me, Amadeus."

Fumiko Chino's Mom Has a Posse

Houston-based artist taps into her maternal instinct

Fumiko Chino wants to put her mom on your chest. Or, if you prefer, on your shoulder strap, the flap of your purse or wherever you like to wear button pins. For the past two years, Chino has been putting moms’ faces (her own mom and others’) on buttons and giving them away. You, too, could have one.