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COMMENTARY: San Jose Congressman Norman Mineta: The Reparations Hero for Asian Americans

Congressman Norman Y. Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II. He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

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On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte
On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte

By Emil Guillermo

When the Democratic candidates began the 2020 presidential campaign, there was a buzz about reparations for African Americans.

And then, the buzz died.

I mention that because last week, former San Jose Mayor and 13th District Congressman Norman Y. Mineta passed away at age 90.

Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II.

He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Think about that. Reparations, the BIPOC holy grail. After Mineta got it done in 1988 under Reagan, it’s never been replicated.

Looking back, it seems like a magic trick. But it wasn’t. It was just hard work and politicking.

That’s why we all should revere the man who died somewhat appropriately in the first week of May, the month now known as Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Mineta was one of the first Congressional boosters to stretch what was originally a week, and then coined it Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

His passing on May 3, 2022, is an important marker on the significance of diversity and representation at the highest levels of government, politics, and elected office.

Born in San Jose to Japanese immigrants, Mineta lived through every major moment in modern Asian American history.

For the barriers he broke, and the policies he established, he was simply the community’s father figure.

He was Mr. Asian America.

For a short-time, I got to be close to him.

In the 103rd Congress in 1993, I was Mineta’s press secretary and speechwriter.

I had been at NPR where I hosted “All Things Considered.” When I left that position, I thought as a Californian in Washington, I should at least get to know how democracy gets done from the inside. Ideally, I figured you can cross the line into the netherworld of politics once. You can even cross back from whence you came. Once. But Norm was no ordinary politician.

He was the embodiment of Asian America in public life.

He was our hopes and dreams. Our cries and sorrows. From the time he was a Cub Scout incarcerated with other Japanese Americans during World War II to the time he served in government, Norm was there for all of us.

He was our fighter and our redeemer when he co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that got justice for internees. More than $1.6 billion was paid out to 82,200 Japanese Americans, according to the New York Times.

That was always the difference maker. Norm was in the fight to rectify the historical transgression that gives Asian Americans our moral authority to this day.

There were other Asian American politicians, of course. But few had the career arc of Mineta, who first served locally in 1971 as mayor of San Jose. He was the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city.

In 1974, he was first elected to Congress, leaving in 1995, when the divided government began to shape up with an aggressive GOP led by Newt Gingrich.

But Norm re-emerged in government with more Asian American firsts, as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Cabinet, and then Transportation Secretary under G.W. Bush. Two administrations. Two different parties.

The Norm I knew was the 1993 Norm. The people’s Norm.

The Norm who drove a modest white Dodge Colt because he wanted an American car. I knew the guy who worked all day, then carried a huge bag of homework to read through for the next day. I knew the guy who was in the post-flow triumph of the Civil Liberties Act, always diligent, persistent, and searching for a way to make things better.

That’s what I learned about Norm the most. Remember, this was in the early ’90s. Washington was getting nastier, more divisive, and gridlocked.

But Norm had friends like the late Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. They met as Boy Scouts in Wyoming. One incarcerated at the internment camp, the other free. Later as congressmen, they stood for a kind of bipartisanship that is rare these days.

That was perhaps the most significant political lesson I learned from Mineta. Legislation is one thing, but we’re all still human beings. And the goal is to turn adversaries into friends and to have your friends stay friends. You keep the channels open. You create new alliances, like the ideal public-private partnerships.

The point is, Mineta was always seeking solutions, working together with others to make things better.

He passes as the country is bitterly divided on everything. His life should serve as a playbook on how to keep the fragile nature of our democracy whole.

Remember Norm Mineta. He was the Democrat who got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Today, that would make him a political Superman.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his talk show on www.amok.com Twitter@emilamok

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California Senate Gets Second Chance to Pass Prison Slavery Bill This Week

“One of the preliminary recommendations in our report was to support ACA 3,” said Los Angeles attorney Kamilah V. Moore, chairperson of Task Force. “The Task Force saw how that type of legislation aligns perfectly with the idea of reparations for African Americans.”

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Samuel Nathaniel Brown, at a Reparations Rally on June 12 at the state capitol in Sacramento, helped author ACA 3 while he was in prison. He was released in December 2021 after serving a 24-year sentence. (CBM photo by Antonio R. Harvey).
Samuel Nathaniel Brown, at a Reparations Rally on June 12 at the state capitol in Sacramento, helped author ACA 3 while he was in prison. He was released in December 2021 after serving a 24-year sentence. (CBM photo by Antonio R. Harvey).

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

On June 23, the California Senate rejected a constitutional amendment to remove language in the state Constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment to a crime with a 21-6 vote.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude with one exception: if involuntary servitude was imposed as punishment for a crime.

The state of California is one of nine states in the country that permits involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment.

Article I, section 6, of the California Constitution, describes the same prohibitions on slavery and involuntary servitude and the same exception for involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.

The number of votes cast in favor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 3, the California Abolition Act, fell short of the two-thirds vote requirement needed to move the bill to the ballot for Californians to decide its fate in the November General Election.

The Senate is expected to hold another floor vote on the legislation this week.

Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), who authored ACA 3 in 2021 while serving in the Assembly, said she focused the language in the bill on the slavery ban and vowed to bring it back for a vote when Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, asked her about it June 23.

“The CA State Senate just reaffirmed its commitment to keeping slavery and involuntary servitude in the state’s constitution,” Kamlager tweeted.

Jamilia Land, a member of the Anti-Violence Safety, and Accountability Project (ASAP), an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, said she remains committed to making sure slavery is struck out of the California constitution.

“All we needed was 26 votes,” Land said. “But we have made amendments to ACA 3 on (June 24). Now it could either go back to the Senate on (June 27) or Thursday, June 30.”

Five Republicans and one Democrat, Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), voted against the amendment.

He stated that the issue is “certainly a question worthy of debate” and “can be addressed without a constitutional amendment.”

“Slavery was an evil that will forever be a stain on the history of our great country. We eliminated it through the Civil War and the adoption of the 13th Amendment,” Glazer said in a June 23 statement. “Involuntary servitude — though lesser known — also had a shameful past. ACA 3 is not even about involuntary servitude — at least of the kind that was practiced 150 years ago. The question this measure raises is whether or not California should require felons in state or local jails prisons to work.”

Glazer said that the Legislative Counsel’s office gave him a “simple amendment” that involuntary servitude would “not include any rehabilitative activity required of an incarcerated person,” including education, vocational training, or behavioral or substance abuse counseling.

The Counsel also suggested that the amendment does not include any work tasks required of an incarcerated person that “generally benefit the residents of the facility in which the person is incarcerated, such as cooking, cleaning, grounds keeping, and laundry.”

“Let’s adopt that amendment and then get back to work on the difficult challenge of making sure our prisons are run humanely, efficiently and in a way that leads to the rehabilitation of as many felons as possible,” Glazer added.

Kamlager says “involuntary servitude is a euphemism for forced labor” and the language should be stricken from the constitution.

The state’s Department of Finance (DOF) estimated that the amendment would burden California taxpayers with $1.5 billion annually in wages to prisoners, DOF analyst Aaron Edwards told Senate the Appropriations Committee on June 16.

“These are facts that we think would ultimately determine the outcome of future litigation and court decisions,” Edwards said. “The largest potential impact is to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which currently employs around 65,000 incarcerated persons to support central prison operations such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry services.”

Right before the Juneteenth holiday weekend, the appropriations committee sent ACA 3 to the Senate floor with a 5-0 majority vote after Kamlager refuted Edwards’ financial data.

This country has been having “economic discussions for hundreds of years around slavery, involuntary servitude, and indentured servants” and enslavement still exists in the prison system, Kamlager said. She also added that a conflict was fought over the moral issue of slavery.

“This bill does not talk about economics. It’s a constitutional amendment,” Kamlager said. “The (DOF) is not talking about any of this in this grotesque analysis about why it makes more sense for the state of California to advocate for and allow involuntary servitude in prisons. I think (this conversation) is what led to the Civil War.”

Three states have voted to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude — Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska — and in all three cases, the initiative was bipartisan and placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of legislators, according to Max Parthas, the co-director of the Abolish Slavery National Network (ASNN).

ACA 3 is already attached to a report that addresses the harms of slavery. The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans issued its interim report to the California Legislature on June 1.

The report included a set of preliminary recommendations for policies that the California Legislature could adopt to remedy those harms, including its support for ACA 3. It examines the ongoing and compounding harms experienced by African Americans as a result of slavery and its lingering effects on American society today.

“One of the preliminary recommendations in our report was to support ACA 3,” said Los Angeles attorney Kamilah V. Moore, chairperson of Task Force. “The Task Force saw how that type of legislation aligns perfectly with the idea of reparations for African Americans.”

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COMMENTARY: Will Cassidy Hutchinson Shame Republicans to Tell the Truth?

The hearings are intended to help us understand what really happened when a mob nearly prevented a presidential election from being certified. But we can’t get to that until someone has the courage to tell the truth.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He has a webshow on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

We got our fireworks early this week at the Jan. 6 Select Committee Hearings in Congress.

And boy, did we need them.

The hearings are intended to help us understand what really happened when a mob nearly prevented a presidential election from being certified. But we can’t get to that until someone has the courage to tell the truth.

And it needed to be someone on the MAGA inside, like Cassidy Hutchinson, 25, a white female conservative Republican.

You want to know what it was like on the day of Jan. 6 from within the White House? Hutchinson was in the West Wing, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

And so, Hutchinson did what even her old boss has failed to do — cooperate with the committee.

At the hastily set up hearing this week, under oath, garbed in a white blazer, she was like a symbol of light.

She had the courage to break the Trump code and speak out.

We learned that the morning of the big rally on Jan. 6, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Hutchinson to “make sure we don’t go to the Capitol.”

The consequences? Hutchinson said Cipollone told her that “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”

Hutchinson testified it wasn’t the first time Cipollone mentioned that going back to the Capitol would look like they were obstructing the Electoral College count or generally inciting a riot.

But as the day of Jan. 6 evolved, Hutchinson said that Trump knew the crowd was violent and armed, and that once the rally attendees made it to the Capitol, Trump wanted to be there. Perhaps to admire his handiwork?

Hutchinson testified about an incident after the rally in the presidential limo, “the Beast,” when Trump was told by Secret Service chief Bobby Engel that they were going back to the White House and not the Capitol.

“I’m the f—ing president,” Trump said according to Hutchinson’s testimony. Then Trump tried to grab the wheel and physically threatened Engel.

Is any of this activity criminal? Let the Justice Department decide. Our lower bar as Americans is to ask if this unhinged man is a person who should have ever been president.

Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman

Before this week, two Black women emerged as the stars of the Jan. 6 Select Committee Hearings: former Georgia election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was falsely accused by no less than Donald Trump himself of being a “vote scammer.”

More than legalistic mumbo jumbo, the hearings have detailed the real victims of Trump’s lies. It’s regular people like you and me.

Moss and Freeman were called out by Trump and Rudy Giuliani in the former president’s manic drive to change the results of an election that he wrongly believed was stolen from him.

But as Moss and Freeman testified on June 21, their lives were turned upside down by Trump’s nonsense.

Moss had been an election worker for 10 years, happy to connect people with democracy. But once the false accusations were made, everything changed.

She told the committee she gained 60 pounds.

“I just don’t do nothing anymore,” she said, in tears. “I second guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a major way — in every way. All because of lies.”

Trump’s “Big Lie” destroyed a sense of self-worth for many in our democracy. People like Moss and her mother, known as Lady Ruby.

But we all knew that testimony alone isn’t enough to make all Americans understand just how wrong Trump and his cohorts were on Jan. 6.

We need people on the inside like Trump attorney Pat Cipollone and others who have either plead ‘the fifth,’ or totally ignored the committee, to have the courage to break the Trump code and tell the truth.

That also includes all Republicans who continue to support and see Trump as anything but the man who lost and lied.

For the sake of our democracy, they all need to have the courage of Cassidy Hutchinson.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He has a webshow on www.amok.com

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COMMENTARY: Trump’s Lies Destroyed Lives  

The Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings are proving to be an invaluable public service. Getting the truth is the first step in holding people responsible for the attack on our country — including Trump — accountable. Trump was repeatedly told that his claims were false. But he kept lying and inflaming his supporters to anger and violence without any regard for the country or the people he was hurting. 

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Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

By Ben Jealous, President of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania

“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”

Those are the words of Ruby Freeman, a Black woman and election worker in Georgia during the 2020 election. She and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss were falsely accused by Rudy Giuliani of rigging the election against Donald Trump. Their lives were virtually destroyed by the Trump team’s lies.

Thanks to the public hearings being held by the House committee investigating Trump’s effort to overturn the election, Americans got to hear about the racist threats that rained down on the two women after they were falsely accused. Trump supporters drove Freeman out of her home in fear for her life — and invaded the home of Moss’s grandmother. They testified that they still avoid even going to the grocery store for fear of being harassed by Trump supporters.

These are just some of the harms done by Trump’s endless lying about the election he lost.

In the case of Freeman and Moss, two people performing an essential public service had their privacy shredded and their lives turned upside down. Other election workers were singled out, lied about, and harassed.

The hearing reminded us of the alarm sounded by Gabriel Sterling, an election official in Georgia, against Trump supporters’ “Stop the Steal” frenzy. A young computer technician was getting death threats based on false claims circulating among Trump’s supporters. “Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” he warned.

“It has to stop,” Sterling demanded. But it did not stop. Trump has never stopped lying about losing the election.

Others who testified about the consequences of Trump’s lies were high-ranking Republican officeholders. By now, most of us knew about the phone call Trump made to demand that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” the number of votes needed to throw the election to Trump.

At the public hearing, we learned more about the threats and harassment experienced by Raffensperger and his family when he refused to break the law on Trump’s behalf. Some Trump supporters broke into his widowed daughter-in-law’s house.

Rusty Bowers, speaker of the Arizona House, testified that Trump and Trump’s attorneys urged him to abuse the power of his office to overthrow the election, while failing to provide him with any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Giuliani appealed to the fact that they were both Republicans. But Bowers refused to violate his oath to the Constitution.

In return for his courage and integrity, Bowers and his neighbors were harassed outside his home by Trump supporters, including at least one carrying a gun, while Bowers’ dying daughter was inside.

During his powerful testimony, Bowers cited his faith and read a passage from his personal journal in which he had written, “I do not want to be a winner by cheating.” Trump, of course, was desperate to be a “winner” and was trying to bully election officials into cheating on his behalf.

The Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings are proving to be an invaluable public service. Getting the truth is the first step in holding people responsible for the attack on our country — including Trump — accountable. Trump was repeatedly told that his claims were false. But he kept lying and inflaming his supporters to anger and violence without any regard for the country or the people he was hurting.

There’s another benefit to the hearings. In our partisan and polarized times, I believe it has been a gift to the country to highlight the testimony of so many Republicans. These were people who voted for and worked for Trump, but whose commitment to the country and Constitution were more important to them than their desire to keep Trump in power.

Their example is a reminder to all of us that we can and must find ways to work with our political opponents for the good of the country. I may have very different views on most political issues than Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, but I admire her willingness to withstand the intense pressure being brought against her by less courageous and less principled Republican leaders.

In our deeply polarized country, when common ground seems increasingly difficult to find, a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power to the president elected by the voters is a good place to start.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

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