Friday, May 29, 2015

One Asian American View of Affirmative Action

This piece first appeared in Asia Times.

Elite Ivy League schools belong to the elites, right? Turns out the answer is complicated. The lawsuit filed by a consortium of Asian American organizations against Harvard’s admission policy last Friday is attempting to address one facet of this question.

The suit contends that Asian American applicants for admission with same noteworthy academic achievement and evidence of leadership as applicants of other races are more likely to be rejected. If admission criteria were race neutral and based merely on merit, this situation would not exist, so claims the suit.

Asian Americans make up about 5.6% of the U.S. population and 21% of Harvard’s incoming freshman class, but the suit contends that without a quota restriction, the rate of admission for Asian Americans would be even higher. In the case of the University of California where race based quotas are not legal; the presence of Asian American is far higher. At UC Irvine, Asian makes up the majority of the student body.

Aside from not wanting a venerable institution of higher learning that dates back to the 17th century, like Harvard, overrun by Asians, the admissions office of Harvard and fellow Ivy Leaguers face a real conundrum.  

Some of the seats have to be reserved for the so-called legacy candidates. “Legacy” usually means offsprings of alumni who have been important financial donors to the school. Any student arriving for first day of school in a Ferrari could be presumed to be a legacy admission.

Others in the name of diversity and affirmative action are set aside for ethnic groups that are otherwise under represented, meaning the blacks, Hispanics and native Americans. These applicants would not qualify for admission if based purely on their academic and school activity records.

Unfortunately lowering the bar to admit students without the necessary grounding and academic preparation may not be doing these students any favors. Getting overwhelmed by the rigors of academic demands, they risk dropping out disillusioned and disappointed and never recover from the loss of self-esteem.

It’s fundamentally counter intuitive that under privileged kids subject to 12 years of under preparation and poor academic training can be expected to suddenly catch up and do well when plunged into an elite university. 

Just as not all kids driving a Ferrari got in the back door with a lower bar, not all blacks and Hispanics got in because of special dispensation. Unfortunately for them, others will always wonder if they got on campus on their own merit.

Admittedly questioning that sort of ambiguity is far less consequential than having an affirmative action policy in college admissions—If admitting some under qualified students can give the American society the cover to stop feeling guilty over the social injustice of depriving the kids in the ghetto a chance for a quality K-12 education and a better life.

The real solution, of course, is not at the college admission level. The real solution has to begin at early levels of education. We have to be willing to invest in quality schools at every neighborhood and for every child and give everyone an equal opportunity from the beginning.

If that goal is not realistic and realizable, a compromise solution is to establish a special preparatory school for under privileged students with real potential and desire to succeed. Let these students study intensively for one or two years and be properly primed to succeed in college.

The mission of an elite school is to attract exceptional students and generate outstanding graduates. That’s how they will maintain their reputation as a top school.

Ultimately, whether it’s a Barack Obama or a Jeremy Lin walking on campus, it’s being American to presume that they walked in the front door and belong there.

Full disclosure, my daughter, Denise, attended Harvard and majored in premed biochemistry. However, I don’t think she faced any reverse discrimination because there weren’t as many Asians applying then (about 35 years ago). After Harvard she did go on to medical school but then took on a successful career in public health.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

My response to Carly Fiorina

Bloomberg Politics reported part of the speech aspiring presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina, gave in Iowa. My friends and blog readers are quite upset over this and urge me to come up with a response.

Here is what she said, "I've been doing business with the Chinese for decades and I will tell you that yeah the Chinese can take a test, but what they can't do is innovate. They're not terribly imaginative. They're not entrepreneurial. They don't innovate—that's why they're stealing our intellectual property."

Every American politician worth twenty-five cents or more knows full well that trash talking about China is a way to achieve a dollop of notoriety. Carly is not being innovative nor imaginative when she copies that approach to show her credentials as a nascent politician. On the other hand, there isn't much intellect in the property she commandeered. 

Carly's last real job as CEO of H-P was to transform heretofore the most admired iconic company in Silicon Valley into a steady decline towards mediocrity. She definitely left the company in much worse shape than she found it. Even so, she surely should have noticed that H-P and for that matter all the companies in Silicon Valley would be mere shadows of their robust selves if all the Chinese staff were to disappear.

It's a bit startling that for all her education that she had not heard of the Chinese inventions such as paper, gunpowder, compass, iron plough, movable type and many others that were hundreds if not thousands of years ahead of the West. I suspect she was pandering to the farmers of Iowa; it will be interesting to hear what she will have to say when she comes stumping in Silicon Valley. Then again, her campaign may not last that long.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chinese Americans continue to be victimized by racial profiling

This piece first ran in Asia Times and re-posted in China-U.S. Focus.

America welcomes immigrants and they come from all over the world. For Chinese Americans, the dark side of this land of opportunity is that they continue to be victimized by the law enforcement’s hair trigger inclination to prosecute according to a racial profile.

Rather than compiling evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the FBI and fellow practitioners will jump at any flimsy thread of possible wrong doing, make a public arrest, sent out a press release on their accusation and put the hapless Chinese American in detention.

When their findings are then subject to scrutiny and fail to pass muster, the charges are quietly dropped. By then, of course, the reputation of the person is in tatters and the victim’s life and finances are in ruin.

The latest such victim was Sherry Chen, a hydrologist working for National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration. The headline of the New York Times article said it all: “Accused of spying for China until she wasn’t.”

According to published sources, Ms. Chen is from Beijing who immigrated to the U.S. and became a naturalized American citizen in 1997. The second piece of damming evidence against her is that she goes back to China every year, allegedly to see her aging parents. The third piece of evidence is that she has a classmate who is now a vice minister at the Ministry of Water Resources.  He apparently told her that he would like to know how the repair of old dams is financed in the U.S.—a threat to homeland security if ever was one.

She was caught red handed when she promised in her email to see what public information is available on the subject. By any generally accepted definition, public information is non-confidential and non-proprietary and cannot be intelligence related to national security. Unfortunately for Ms. Chen, she asked to borrow a password from an acquaintance to access the database on dams in America.

Worst of all, when she was asked the year she met the official at the ministry, the answer she gave was off by one year. She claimed she was confused. Since she goes back to Beijing every year, the prosecution could have allowed for her confusion but instead they accused her of lying.

As of the date of this report, all the charges against Ms. Chen have been dropped and she is apparently seeking to return to her job at NOAA, a job for which she has received awards and commendations. There was no public information on whether she will seek redress to the injustice done to her.

Anyone thinking that Ms. Chen is entitled to compensation for the shameful government conduct do not know that the scale of American justice is overwhelmingly tilted in favor of the government, misconduct or not, and the wheels of justice grinds at a snail pace.

Take the case against Dr. Bo Jiang. After his PhD degree, he found work as a NASA subcontractor. When his contract expired and he did not get permanent residence to remain in the U.S., he bought a one-way ticket to go home to China--the feds tend to regard a one-way ticket as a tell tale sign of sinister intentions.

The then Congressman Wolf’s gut was convinced that Jiang must be a spy and had him yanked off the plane and incarcerated. Despite violating his civil rights and finding not a shred of evidence to justify putting Jiang in jail, he was released only after agreeing to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count in exchange for the seven weeks of jail time he already served.

He saved the U.S. government’s face but it was doubtful that he got any thanks for his generosity. He won’t be allowed to come back to the U.S. though it would be doubtful that he would want to.

In a June 2013 press release, FBI Executive Assistant Director Richard McFeely expressed satisfaction at their effort to catch spies. He said, “Since 2008, our espionage arrests have doubled, indictments have increased five fold, and convictions have risen eight fold.”

McFeely did not explicitly tie his remarks to Chinese American spies but the release was in the context of trade secret dispute between an American company and one in China. By his way of accounting, Bo Jiang’s conviction would have counted as a win for the FBI. Missing in his remarks was any indication of their record of wrongful arrests.

Dr. Haiping Su came to the U.S. for graduate studies and became a naturalized citizen in 1991. After various job changes, he came to Silicon Valley to work as a NASA subcontractor. The security chief for NASA in Mountain View decided that Su looked suspicious and had him abruptly removed from the Moffat Field premises.

In Su’s case, he sued NASA and the federal government for violating his privacy and civil rights. Amazingly enough, after 6 years of legal wrangling, he actually won his suit and a pittance of a compensation that could hardly compensate him for the mental anguish he endured.

The irony is that Chinese Americans have been punching far above their weight. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “Compared to the overall foreign- and native-born populations, Chinese immigrants are more highly educated, more likely to be employed, and have a higher household income.” Among the approximate 2 million Chinese Americans in the U.S., 47% have bachelors or higher college degrees as compared to 30% for native-born Americans.

According to the Department of Homeland Security Yearbook for 2013, the latest available year, the number of Chinese given lawful permanent residency in the U.S. for the decade from 2004 to 2013 was just over 745,000, second in number to those from Mexico and make up close to 7% of the total granted a green card for the decade.

Yet for the same period, slightly less than 340,000 from China went on to become naturalized citizens, representing only 4.7% of the 7 million plus that became citizens. Between Mexico and the five major Asian countries of origin (India, Philippines, S. Korea and Vietnam), China was the only country with a significant drop in relative percent and failed to maintain their pro rata share of newly naturalized citizens.

It’s not possible to draw too many conclusions without further study. We can speculate, however, that even though Chinese Americans enjoyed on the average a household income 30% higher than national average, many felt the sting of being regarded as perpetual foreigner and potential spy and eventually choose to go back to China.

It may not be as brutal as being shot in the back but those that have been victimized by wrongful arrest and put through the psychological wringer for months can tell you, it’s no fun to see one’s professional career destroyed in one sudden capricious moment.
In a follow up story (5/21/15), the New York Times blog reported on the Congressional letter led by Congressman Ted Lieu and 20 some fellow Congressmen and Congresswomen asking the Attorney General to investigate whether systematic racial profiling is part of the operating practice inside the Federal Government. You can find coverage of the press conference here.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Relatively speaking, the Chinese do not become American citizens, how come?

According to official government statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, 2013 Yearbook (the latest available), for the decade from 2004 to 2013, the number granted legal permanent residence was 10,763,477 and the number that became naturalized citizens was 7,146,220.

The largest countries of origin, i.e., where these people came from, were Mexico and 5 Asian countries, namely China, India, Philippines, Vietnam and South Korea. Here is where it gets interesting as shown by the table below.

Permanent Residents and Naturalized Citizens in the U.S. from 2004 to 2013
Country of origin % of total permanent residents % of total naturalized citizens
Mexico 14.66 14.75
China, PR   6.92   4.74
India   6.27   6.82
Philippines   5.63   5.76
Vietnam   2.83   3.88
S. Korea   2.18   2.32
Source: 2013 Yearbook, DHS

Four of the six major sources of immigrants maintain more or less the same ratio between permanent residents and those that went on to become naturalized citizens except Vietnam and China. Around 70% go on to become naturalized citizens but over 90% for Vietnamese and around 45% for Chinese.

In the case of Vietnam, more relatively speaking became naturalized citizens than one would predict from pro rata of number of permanent residents. Since most of the Vietnamese came to the U.S. as refugees after the end of the Vietnam war and return to their homeland is not a viable option, this is understandable.

What's notable is the significantly lower number of Chinese that elected to proceed and become American citizens. There are two non-mutually exclusive explanations that could account for the apparent lack of interest in becoming citizens. 

Because of China's rapid economic development, certain portion find opportunities in their country of origin and may find keeping a green card convenient but not necessary to convert to American citizenship.

The other reason is that they feel like perpetual foreigners when they are in the U.S. and they face the threat of being racially profiled by the FBI and become another hapless victim of government harassment a la Wen Ho Lee.

The other note of interest is that judging by the relatively higher number of Indians that opt to become naturalized citizens, one may conclude the anticipated rise of India is not yet appealing enough to convince Indian nationals to go back.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Racism and Xenophobia alive and well in America

New York Times has this to say:

A National Weather Service flood forecaster in Ohio faced federal economic espionage charges, until her case was dropped as abruptly as it had upended her life.

Until friends called the NYT article to my attention, I was not aware of this particular case. I hope the victim in this case will file suit against the FBI and whoever else involved and seek redress.

We continue to experience repeated offenses by law enforcement agencies depriving loyal Americans of Chinese ancestry their civil rights, even as these Americans make outstanding contributions to the national well being of America.

The only way to put a stop to this kind of racial bias is to make noisy protest and take legal action against the perpetrators. Dr. Haiping Su did just that against NASA and won, a small victory in monetary terms but a major landmark case because he took on the U.S. government and won a verdict.

The victim in this case is Ms. Sherry Chen, originally from Beijing. Until she had her run-in with the law, she had been a recipient of commendations for her service to America. According to NYT, the person that first intimated that Ms. Chen could be spying for China was a Ms. Deborah Lee. I looked up Ms. Lee's bio and press release. For what it's worth, she is not an Asian but White.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What's wrong with Obama in bed with Abe?

This commentary first appeared in China US Focus.

            Washington rolled out the red carpet for Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Abe and President Obama made mutually cooing noises as if they were the best of buddies. While both protested that their mutual admiration has nothing to do with countering China’s rise, their aim to the contrary was transparent to anyone paying any attention.

The question now is whether an alliance with Japan is in America’s best interest. From every perspective, past, present or future, this alliance with Japan does not make sense, except as another foreign policy blunder added to Obama’s legacy.

The Past

Despite Abe’s pro forma “deep remorse” for American lives that were lost during the WWII, Abe typifies the worst kind of Japan’s amnesia and denial. Their forefathers felt no guilt in slaughtering innocent civilians wherever they invaded and their descendants lack the backbone to face history honestly.

Abe can’t tell the difference between organized rape ordered by the Japanese generals and spontaneous random assaults by soldiers acting on impulse. American soldiers may have been guilty of the isolated sexual assaults on Japanese civilians during their occupation of Japan but that cannot be equated to organized war crimes committed by Japanese military on a massive scale.

No other nation was as systematically brutal as the Japanese troops in Nanjing. There, Japanese troops went into schools to drag out young girls for gang rape and then used them for bayonet practice.

No other country made a contest out of a race to see who can take 100 civilian heads first. Two Japanese officers wielding their samurai swords did just that in Nanjing in front of cheering fellow soldiers.

No other country systematically and forcibly conscripted women from all over Asia to serve as sexual slaves in military “comfort stations” in the name of boosting morale.

No other country conducted live vivisection and biological experiments on human beings as if the victims were no more than some laboratory rats. Throughout the war, Japan operated camp 731 in Harbin China in secret to that end.

According to the Potsdam and Cairo Declaration, the terms of Japan’s unconditional surrender to end WWII included giving up all claims to any offshore islands outside of the four main islands of Japan. There should have been no grounds for Japan to claim ownership of any islands on East China Sea.

Yet thanks to the U.S. confusion (deliberate or not) in handing administrative control over to Japan, Abe and other leaders in Japan have found a way to vigorously defend their claims to territories Japan had given up when they surrendered.

Twenty-five years later when the U.S. handed control to Japan, neither governments of Republic of China in Taipei or Peoples’ Republic of China in Beijing were invited to the conference.

Abe obviously would like to forget about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s role as the aggressor, but what sort of confidence can U.S. place on an alliance with an ally that cannot face its past?

The Present

As for the present, America’s most challenging problem outside of Middle East is how to denuclearize North Korea. The U.S. has two alternate partners in confronting North Korea. We can work with South Korea and Japan or we with South Korea can work with China.

Japan has no standing with North Korea, and South Korea, unlike we Americans, will not trust a leader who cannot admit to atrocities committed in Japan’s past. Japan can add no value to any negotiations with North Korea.

On the other hand, China shares the same antipathy to Abe with South Korea. China is South Korea’s biggest trading partner and China is the largest recipient for South Korean foreign direct investments. They have and can work together.

Though limited, China also has more influence on North Korea than any of the other principals. If there is going to be any light at the end of the tunnel with North Korea, China will have to light the way.

The Future

Looking into the future, America’s goal is to solidify our presence in Asia in the coming Asian century. We are counting on Japan to support American leadership, a doubtful proposition if there ever is one. 

U.S. and Japan couldn’t be more diametrically opposite in national character and personality. Whereas we welcome immigrants from around the world, Japan couldn’t be more xenophobic. Even their own nationals returning from overseas assignments are regarded as gaijin, i.e. outsiders, tainted by foreign values.

During the last trade dispute between the U.S. and Japan, the Japanese government even claimed that Japan could not import California rice because the Japanese intestines were not built to digest rice grown outside of Japan. Now for the sake of Trans Pacific Partnership, is Abe going to be able to convince the Japanese farmers that American rice is okay for Japanese gut?

Ostensibly the goal of TPP is to raise the standard of free trade and make China toe the rules more to America’s liking. Whether China will want to apply for admission to the as yet undefined TPP remains to be seen. In the meantime, TPP will need to struggle through the domestic politics of Washington and Tokyo and completion of this free trade agreement is not assured.

To varying degrees all Asian countries have suffered from Japan’s brutality. They too cannot trust a Japan that will not own up to its past. The last time Japan proposed sharing co-prosperity with the rest of Asia, the local people only tasted soldiers’ boots and bayonets.

In contrast with Japan’s approach, China’s recent Silk Road Initiative won the immediate acceptance of the countries that stand to benefit from the infrastructure projects. These countries may be wary but they respect China’s policy of making mutually beneficial investments with win-win outcomes.  

So the choice for America is clear. Do we really want to partner with a nation whose culture is to treat women as second class citizens, encouraging increasing numbers to remain single, and consequently leading to a population getting older and shrinking?

Or, should we partner instead with China? While they do not want to play strictly by our rules, they are busy going around the world making friends with the their accumulated resources. Does it not seem obvious that China is more likely to have the kind of worldwide influence that would compliment our military strength in the mutual quest for stability and world order?