Thursday, December 31, 2009

Asian Pop's 2009 Year in Review: From Bad to Verse (with apologies to Clement Moore)

Thanks to all of you who shared your suggestions and thoughts with me for this year's "Best and Worst in Asian Pop"! I was so inspired that I ended up writing my column entirely in verse. (Yeah, it was that kind of a year.) Look forward to seeing you all in 2010, which hopefully will be a better year for us all...

From bad to verse: Asian Pop's 2009 year in review  

By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate  
The general rottenness of the past 12 months puts Jeff Yang in a poetic mood....

'Tis the day before New Year's, a date that reminds us 
Of all that we saw in the year that's behind us 
So to give an assessment that just can't be ducked 
Two-thousand-and-nine? Well, mostly, it sucked  

Recession, rescission, Iran and Iraq 
Swine flu, banker bailouts, and plummeting stock 
Ponzi fraud, acts of God, sky-high unemployment 
Not a lot to look back on with too much enjoyment 

In fact, all in all, we'd much rather forget 
This horrific year; is it January yet? 
Oh well, it's our duty, so let's start at the top 
And review '09's "Best and Worst" in Asian Pop...

[and much, much more]

Sidenote: I was on NPR's "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin today recapping 2009 and looking ahead to 2010—here's a link, check it out!

Posted via email from OriginalSpin

Maybe Rush Limbaugh was brought down by these?: Spam-flavored macadamia nuts! Only in Hawaii...

(credit: The Tasty Island, via John Book)

This goes straight to the top of horrifying but can't-look-away food creations of 2009. Hawaii, as you probably know, is the (non-email) Spam capital of the United States; they've created an entire subcuisine around the potted pork product. And I must admit to enjoying Spam musubi now and again myself. But Spam-flavored nuts? (SFX: gentle gagging / throwing up in mouth)

I have this theory that the use of meat as a condiment is one of the more obvious signs of our coming apocalypse. Between bulgogi hot dogs, pastrami hamburgers, bacon everything, and now this, maybe those ancient Mayans were onto something....


(note: Love the Spamnuts musubi concept! Very pomo.)

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Awesome: Stockton, CA resident Scott Inoue finds an old 3rd-grade picture with pal "Barry" Obama: "Hey—whatever happened to that guy?"

(credit: Scott Inoue)

Sweet pic! And what a fantastic grin on that Barry, eh? You can tell that even back then, he had some pretty smooth political instincts. A little pre-New Year's reminder that our Pacific president is closer to and more comfortable with Asian Americans than any other in our history. 

Maybe more so than many Asian Americans are, for that matter...

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy holidays from all of us here at Yang Central: Jeff, Heather, Hudson and Skyler

We at Chez Yang are too cheap, lazy and/or ecologically sensitive to lick stamps and stick 'em on envelopes, so we usually send e-cards instead of paper season's greetings. Here's the latest Yang holi-mashup, featuring our two kids—six-year-old Hudson and 22-month-old Skyler.

And with that: Here's wishing that your holiday of religious or secular choice is bringing a smile to all those you love, in what was, generally speaking, a pretty crappy year!

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

A holiday reminder that reform is a process, not a goal: Turning the "ugly duckling" of this HC bill into a swan, in 2010 and beyond

Happy holidays, everyone! As the new year arrives, here's an astute set of posts from Daily Kos diarist Norbrook, underscoring the need to set aside disagreements about the current state of the health care bill and look toward continuing the fight to pass and improve this historic piece of legislation -- not just in the Senate-House conference it's currently about to face, but afterwards, in the years and decades to come. 

He cites by way of example the Clean Water Act of 1972, which initially exempted agricultural and industrial runoff (leaving what, exactly?!) -- and, along with the Clean Air Act of 1963, became the foundation of all future environmental protection legislation. Oh, and the latter bill, in its original enacted form? Well, it didn't contain any mechanisms for active enforcement or punishment of its strictures; that came later, in subsequent extensions. 

Both his posts -- the first, Damn, That's an Ugly Baby! and its followup, All Swans Start Out as Ugly Ducklings -- are worth reading, as reminders that every journey starts out with a single step...and we can't let ourselves slow down now. (Or kick off our shoes and go home, for that matter.)

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jane Hamsher has lost it.

Common cause with the despicable Grover Norquist to demand Rahm Emmanuel resign, while accusing the White House of "massive corruption"?


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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PLEASE READ & RT—from the WHY HC REFORM WILL STILL EVOLVE DEPT.: Harkin—P.O. to be revisited next year; Sanders's sneaky path to Single Payer

For everyone who's been running around with their hair on fire because this bill is far from perfect, here are some reminders that there's still plenty of work to be done -- and the energy being poorly spent to "kill this bill" should be going into doing it. THIS IS JUST SQUARE ONE

The uncomfortable truth: Those who are attacking the bill because it's flawed from the get-go are acting like, well, creationists. (Or at least "intelligent designists.") They're maintaining that ideal legislation should spring into being wholly formed, in the image of Divine Perfection, 

That's just not how legislation of this scale works, given our broken political system. Like Civil Rights, like Medicare, like Social Securitymajor, game-changing legislative initiatives in our nation almost always begin with incomplete bills that get enhanced substantially as time goes on -- it's an evolutionary process.

And we on the Left should be putting the pressure for reform to keep evolving -- not trying to cut it off at the knees when we're on the verge of taking a truly historic first step. Fortunately, there's evidence that there are, indeed, smart, progressive legislators who are already looking ahead to that future evolution:
  • Sen. Tom Harkin says: Public Option will be "revisited" next year as separate legislation. This is what Intelleftual supporters of the bill have been saying all along: Pass this meh bill, and take the stuff we want and put it into future bills -- potentially passed through reconciliation (which requires just 50 votes plus Biden); the P.O. and Medicare expansion are ideal candidates for reconciliation passage, while all the other important change in this bill (eliminating denial for pre-existing conditions! stopping the practice of rescission! huge, huge, huge progressive subsidies for those who can't afford insurance!) is completely locked out from the reconciliation process, due to Byrd guidelines to that effect. 
  • Meanwhile, anti-bill progressives are overlooking the major stocking-stuffer that Sen. Bernie Sanders slipped into the Senate bill: $10 billion in additional funding for Community Health Centers (there's already $14 billion in the House bill). The additional CHCs will provide quality, nonprofit pay-what-you-can-afford dental, mental and primary care services AND low-cost prescription drugs to 10,000 more communities, or up to 25 million more Americans. It's what they have in Vermont (the state Sanders represents, and that Howard Dean used to govern) -- and people in Vermont love them
They're not just used by poor and working class individuals, either; CHCs have become the mainstream day-to-day healthcare solution for nearly all Vermonters outside of major city centers. They're amazingly cost effective: Per Dan Hawkins, SVP for Public Policy and Research at the National Association of Community Health Centers, in 2008, CHCs "pulled down $3 billion from the Medicaid program and sent back more than $6.5 billion to the government for care provided to Medicaid beneficiaries." They also put a major focus on prevention: Since checkups are so cheap (and free to those on Medicaid), chronic illnesses and treated before they become major health problems, while acute ones are caught early before they become life-threatening; meanwhile, the healthy are encouraged to drop in for wellness visits (it's much cheaper to keep people healthy than to treat the sick). But the real reason why people should be excited about any additional funding to CHCs? 

One word: Saskatchewan. That's the Canadian province that turned a similar program into such a success that patients in the rest of Canada demanded it be expanded to their regions as well. 

And guess what? Bernie Sanders also slipped into the Senate bill language that allows states to obtain waivers from participating in the national health care infrastructure if they can create an alternative that meets the same goals and benchmarks for care and cost savings. 

Now, the Republicans couldn't possibly hate that, right? It's essentially an opt-out for the states (assuming they can figure out other, better ways to provide universal care). But the reality is, very few alternatives to what's in the current bill could ever meet the bill's benchmarks -- other than more progressive, say, single payer

Sanders has not hidden the fact that he's pushed the waivers so that single-payer could be put back on the table at the state level. His language is now in the Senate bill and Sanders is working with Sen. Ron Wyden to strengthen it (Wyden is also pushing for an expansion of his employee choice language, allowing a bigger percentage of working Americans to participate in the health insurance exchanges -- another significant advance). It's not currently in the House bill. And my guess is that Sanders and Wyden will demand that it be put into the combined end product. 

Which would give rise to the very real possibility that Vermont, with its preexisting CHC infrastructure, could rapidly evolve into America's Saskatchewan. And we'll just see what neighboring Maine, land of Snowe and Collins, thinks of that.

Bottom lineWe need to come together to pass this bill. And then we need to stay together to pass further reforms. We'll get there -- but only if we stand united and move forward...not back. Isn't that, after all, what "progressive" means?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

INTELLEFTUALS: My progressive-pundit honor roll for 2009 (must-reads and should-listens--heavy on the wonks)

What's an Intelleftual

It's a term I've coined for a smart set of progressive thinkers (and those who listen to them), whose ideas and positions are unquestionably liberal but also undeniably pragmatic — and more importantly, rooted in real numbers, sound ideas and legislatively and socially practical policy

They tend to travel in a social-media pack (see how often these guys link to each other — sometimes in circular fashion!), but I think of this as more "birds of a feather" than "echo chamber," since when need be they also disagree with one another — sometimes vociferously, but never using the kind of toxic and corrosive language that has dominated contrary discourse in the past few years. They also tend to be broad-spanning in their interests (Ezra Klein is a wannabe cook; Nate Silver was a sabremetrician before a poli-wonk; etc.) and perhaps most importantly for anyone trying to translate complicated issues into lay-comprehensible language, they tend to have great senses of humor and a deep immersion in popular culture

As a result, they've become my morning reads on domestic policy issues, and they're often smart on foreign/global topics as well, particularly when the subjects involved are anchored to statistically assessable outcomes. For example, many of these are among the smartest and most reasonable voices out there on climate change, immigration, trade, et cetera. So, if you haven't yet — consider adding these guys to your feeds and making them must-reads. They're a breath of fresh air in an environment for punditry polluted by antiintellectualism, rudeness and knee-jerk ideology

Data Hounds:

  • Ezra Klein: One of the Washington Post's few non-heinous columnists, and the clearest and brightest voice on healthcare reform through the long, dark journey from January to now
  • Nate Silver: Stats junkie and pollwatcher extraordinaire; made the 2008 campaign make sense, and has continued to use data the way it oughta be used ever since
  • Paul Krugman: Nobel Prize-winning economist, uh yeah, maybe you've heard of him.
  • Brad DeLong: A Krugman pal and UC Berkeley economist, and like Paul a smart,  
Talking Heads:
  • Matt Yglesias: Overtly political (sometimes shrilly so), but not afraid to take contrarian positions as needed, and invariably thoughtful in even his most opinionated writings
  • Josh Marshall: Like Yglesias, a political animal, but driven by reality and real information; heads up Talking Points Memo, which has done some of the best investigative work and issues-tracking in the blogosphere; their Health Care Wire has been a necessary read
  • Jonathan Cohn: A critical voice on healthcare, and the author of Sick
These are the big guns. I'll add more as I think about some of the voices I'm on the fence about. Until then, Happy Poli-Holiday reading!

Posted via email from OriginalSpin

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why my respect for Obama has grown, not ebbed, over his first year in office

As 2009 closes, I think I'm the only self-described progressive I know whose respect for Obama has, in a sense, grown over the first year of his office—if only because I never expected him to magically make everything better. 

He came into the job clearly defining himself as post-partisan by preference, pragmatic by nature, and focused on the long-term good of the nation (and, I might add, the world) over short-term political victories. 

Since then, he's taken a fusillade major hits, first from the right and more recently from the left—yet generally maintained composure and a clarity of purpose. 

Undoubtedly, he has been disappointing on a range of issues, first and foremost the failure to stem the bloody and costly wars in which we remain entrenched, but also on Guantanamo, intelligence transparency, LGBT rights, among other matters. In 2010, now that the economy has somewhat stabilized and his signature domestic policy item, healthcare reform, is moving ahead, he has to return to other things he committed to change, and follow through on his promises.

But I don't think Obama has gotten the full credit he deserves for the really enormous things he's accomplished in his first year to date: The stimulus and bank bailout, which almost certainly saved us from total financial meltdown; refocusing U.S. attention on the environment and preserving and advancing global dialogue towards a deal on climate change; and yes, a healthcare reform act that, while far less than we wanted, is far more than we could have expected a decade ago—and that I firmly believe will only get better. 

He took on the presidency of a nation in near economic collapse, simultaneously fighting wars on multiple fronts, facing threats of pandemic illness and domestic terrorism, and while his results have been mixed, I think he has demonstrated the willingness and ability to thoughtfully adapt—and I believe that the years to come will be evidence of what he's learned from his mistakes and successes alike. 

Simply put, I'm proud Barack Obama is our president, and remain firm in the belief that history will judge him kindly—far more kindly, it's sad to say, than have many of the people who helped get him elected.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yankees cut ties with oft-injured Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang

Heartbreaking. It's easy to forget that Wang was the winningest pitcher in the AL from 2006 through mid-2008, when he went down with a foot injury and then re-injured his already-surgically-repaired shoulder due to mechanical problems stemming from that injury. The Yanks offered him a minor league contract, promising to promote him to the majors once he proved his shoulder was serviceable; he refused, with his agent suggesting that Wang was ready to "turn the page." Too bad: In his 2006-2007 prime, Wang had back to back 19-win seasons with sub-4.00 ERAs, and had established himself as the Yankees' ace. Now he'll look to prove that the Yanks' lack of faith in him (and his shoulder) was unwarranted.

I met him when he was a short-season rookie on the Staten Island Yanks—he seemed like a nice guy, albeit a little lost in his surroundings. The next year, he had to have arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder. In 2002, he returned to the SI Yanks and racked up the second-lowest ERA in the team's history. In 2007, after Wang's third season in the bigs, the SI Yanks retired his number—41.

Wang's number being retired:

Goodbye, Chien Ming, and good luck: We'll miss you.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why conservatives will love Disney's THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Seriously.

It's not an exaggeration to say that, when the curtain formally goes up on Disney's The Princess and the Frog this weekend, the patient hopes of millions of African American girls (and not a few African American women) will have finally come to fruition. Seventy-two years, the span since Disney unveiled its first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsis an offensively long time to wait for the company to finally release an animated film with a black lead protagonist (and no, Song of the South does not count). 

But better late than never, certainly. And as I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, Disney has pulled out all the stops in making this film—it's an animated tour de force at least equal to any in the grand Disney tradition, replete with jaw-droppingly beautiful graphics, razzle-dazzle musical numbers, snappy dialogue, and engaging vocal performances from top to bottom. And yes, it features Disney's first-ever black animated lead and first African American member of the exclusive "Princess" sorority—a strong, beautiful and self-reliant heroine named Tiana, played with verve and grace by Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose

Here's the interesting thing: During the five-year runup to the movie's ultimate release, conservative critics have regularly lambasted the project as an exercise in political correctness and knee-jerk, quota-driven multiculturalism. Well, the film's here—and as much as I enjoyed watching it, I have a sneaking suspicion that far from being rejected by the Right, the movie's going to end up as a GOP cause celebre.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, because this is a film that really should be watched through eyes sparkling with innocent wonder. But the way the movie's key themes and plot points map out to Republican talking points is really pretty stunning
  • Tiana is a bootstrapping entrepreneur who refuses to ask for charity, preferring to work two jobs to make her small-business dreams come true.
  • She castigates those who rely on others for welfare, and only changes her ruggedly individualist outlook when she's pointedly reminded of the importance of having a family—and finding a suitable partner in life. 
  • There's an amazing Messiah-metaphor moment that the Christian Right will swoon over—a moment that I will not ruin by describing, for those of you who prefer to ignore literary/political subtext. (Let’s just say that for the savvy, the name given to a particular heavenly entity in the film should be a dog-whistle foreshadowing of what happens at the film's climax.)
  • And here's the kicker. The primary bad guy in the picture is a thin, jug-eared, light-skinned black man of mysterious origins who practices an "exotic" religion, manipulates reality to suit his ambitions, hides his true nature behind a charming and verbose exterior, and literally bleeds the elite to lift up the underclass. Furthermore, in the exercise of his villainy, he manages to run up a debt of cosmic proportions—a deficit he decides he can't repay without, uh, stealing from the rich
Cue the horrific teabagger parodies now.
In the half-decade that Princess and the Frog was in development, its creators repeatedly rewrote its storyline and revamped its character descriptions to accommodate both those who were invested in Disney delivering an inclusive, authentic and empowering depiction of black America, as well as those demanding that Disney make good on its  family-values promises. The decision they ultimately made was to seek a middle ground between these progressive and reactionary agendas, which is usually a recipe for disaster

It's a testament to John Lasseter and co.'s incredible skill that the movie not only works as a piece of classic entertainment—it's also a work that both Left and Right are likely to end up embracing, each seeing it as a validation of their respective beliefs and a thumb in the eye of the other ideological side. Now that's some real Disney magic. 

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My new SF Chron column looks at Disney's gameplan: Step one—first black princess; Step two—?; Step three—profit!

For those of you who've been waiting patiently for months (or years, or decades): The moment has finally arrived. The Princess and the Frog, Disney's first animated feature featuring a black female protagonist, also heralds the coronation of Frog heroine Tiana as the first-ever African American member of the Disney Princess sorority (good ol' Delta Pi!). I look at why there's more behind Disney's decision to integrate the Princesses than just social justice, and why Tiana is different from Disney's other royal ethnics (e.g., Jasmine, Mulan, and Pocahontas).

This week's column also has my abbreviated Asian Pop Gift Guide for 2009 — in case you're still shopping for that Asian American special someone....

Read the column and forward/retweet it if you can—with enough page views, this could end up being tomorrow's main story on SFGate. 

Disney crowns a new princess

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Monday, December 07, 2009

The solution to this whole healthcare reform debacle? GIVE PEOPLE THE OPTION OF BUYING INTO MEDICARE AT *ANY* AGE.

Why is this the answer?

1. IT'S A POLITICAL DAGGER. The GOP has been hypocritically building a fortress around Medicare cuts, even though they fought against its creation and still continue to attack "government run" healthcare out of the other sides of their mouths. So how could they attack a policy shift that allows younger American citizens to *support* Medicare by including their likely healthier selves into the Medicare risk pool and paying in a steady stream of premiums? 

2. IT ELIMINATES ATTACKS REGARDING CREATING A "HUGE NEW HEALTHCARE BUREAUCRACY". You're working with a system and an infrastructure that already exists. Yes, it'll get bigger--but you're not inventing anything new.

3. IT BENDS THE COST CURVE LIKE NOBODY'S BUSINESS. Medicare has more buying power and greater efficiency than the best private insurance. And heck, Medicare rates are 5% better, obviously, than "Medicare + 5" (the "robust public option". You'd have to find ways to support providers in rural areas and build in more preventive care of course.

This is fiscally prudent for the nation--addressing one of the biggest cost problems we face down the road. It helps seniors by strengthening Medicare. And it gives everyone a *real* public option to buy into if they can't afford a private policy.

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