Monday, May 03, 2010

NY Times: Attacks on Asians Highlight New Racial Tensions

An article by Gerry Shih discusses racial tensions between African Americans and Asian Americans in San Francisco. Prejudices on both sides must be combated:

George Gascón, the San Francisco police chief, announced last week the emergency deployment of 32 additional beat officers to the Bayview-Visitación Valley neighborhood. Although “crime numbers have not gone up,” Chief Gascón said in an interview, he wanted to address the “tremendous amount of fear and apprehension” among Asians.

It is these historically black neighborhoods in southeast San Francisco that have undergone the sharpest demographic changes in the city in the past 20 years. Decades after Koreans transformed the Fillmore district from what it once was — the “Harlem of the West,” its blocks lined by the swaggering, smoky haunts of jazz lore — Chinese started moving to the Bayview in large numbers.

Community leaders predict that the 2010 census will show the Asian population, almost all Chinese, now making up 40 percent of the Bayview’s residents and as many as 60 percent of Visitación Valley’s.

“At one point, one group may emerge because they’ve got greater population and another group feels pushed out — feels like they don’t have any voice anymore,” said the Rev. A. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church. “It involves a kind of power shift. That, of course, creates some of the tension.”

The rapidly deteriorating climate has alarmed local leaders. The president of the Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, noted that on Wednesday, hundreds of Chinese lined up at a board meeting to tell stories of assaults and intimidation, sometimes without clear motivation, by young African-Americans.

Two days later, a young black man, Amanze Emenike, 21, said he was 12 when he heard older boys talking about why they singled out Asian and Latino immigrants: they would not report the crime and had no gangs to back them up. On Friday morning, on a Hunters Point hilltop with a breathtaking view of the Bay, Mr. Emenike and his sister, Sherry Blunt, 22, recounted their “spree” of crime against Asian and Latino immigrants several years ago.

By the time he was 15, Mr. Emenike said, he and his brother, Armani Bolmer, would get up at 5 a.m. to rob Mexican day laborers who got off the 23 Monterey bus from the Mission district.

They began to single out Chinese, he said, because they had more money. In 2006, they stalked a Chinese man at the last Muni stop, robbed him, and were arrested hours later.


But at these Chinese rallies and vigils, beneath the megaphone-amplified din of positive rhetoric, there are worrying murmurs about revenge, said Henry Der, who was the executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, an influential Chinatown organization, for more than two decades.

“I’m getting e-mails saying, ‘We need to retaliate, it’s time we pick up arms,’ ”Mr. Der said. “And these are from grown, supposedly responsible adults.”

At such a fraught time, leaders like Ms. Tan say they must tread a narrow path between irresponsibly amplifying racial tensions and dishonestly ignoring them.

Part of the frustration, some say, is fueled precisely by the reluctance — both among Chinese and among San Franciscans generally — to discuss such issues.

“Because San Francisco sees itself as very progressive, people just don’t want to talk about these issues,” Mr. Der said. “But that’s how people feel about it. You can’t argue it away.”


Mr. Emenike and his sister, Ms. Blunt, said the teenagers involved in the recent attacks were following in his footsteps, as he had followed older boys.

“It’s not ‘this is an Asian person let’s get him,’ ” Mr. Emenike said. “It’s we thinking, ‘this Asian person is probably carrying a large amount of money. And this is our neighborhood, this is our home, why not?’ ”

But if the motivations were largely strategic, and not out of unadulterated racial hatred, they were also influenced by complex emotions and a wariness of change.

“I wake up and I’m hungry, my stomach growling,” Ms. Blunt said. “Why am I just getting by when there’s this Asian walking out of the house with a laptop going to the cafe?”

There is also the frustration at perceived prejudice by Asians. Ms. Blunt still recalls a Chinese classmate in junior high ignoring her requests to borrow a pencil.

“You approach them, and they just keep giving you the cold shoulder,” Ms. Blunt said.

Emenike and Blunt are both to be commended for their candor. At the same time, it is counterproductive for both sides to downplay the role that historical racial tensions have played. In any case, Emenike's essay can be found here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Social insurance is not outdated

I was told by a friend that Rep. Paul Ryan, a rising star in the Republican party and a fiscal hardliner, remarked that social insurance systems, such as Medicare and Social Security, were outdated. Indeed, Mr. Ryan has offered privatized alternatives: replacing Medicare with a voucher system and allowing Social Security beneficiaries to invest up to 1/3 of their account values in IRA-like investment accounts with a government guarantee of minimum value.

The CBO responded that Mr. Ryan's Medicare vouchers would not keep up with the costs of medical price inflation. After several decades, the vouchers would cover only a fraction of the cost of insurance. As to his Social Security reform, the CBO said it would actually be more expensive than the present arrangement.

Social insurance is not outdated. The alternative, private savings, has already been tried and it failed. Before the New Deal, many elders were in poverty. Before Medicare, access to health insurance ceased for most retirees. Social Security and Medicare substantially eased those problems. Both programs could stand to be improved. Medical costs need to be controlled. Social Security's funding shortfall is a secondary but fixable problem. Taxes will have to be raised and benefits might be cut modestly. Additionally, given the expected decline in the number of workers relative to retirees, it is worth considering investing some of the trust funds in a pension fund arrangement, much as the Canada Pension Plan now does.

Medical and long-term care costs vary a great deal from person to person. If we relied on savings, many people would be bankrupted and a minority would over-save. In addition, socioeconomic disparities in impoverishment and access to care would be reminiscent of countries in the Global South. If we relied solely on savings for retirement security, the same thing would happen - instead, Social Security makes benefits for lower-income people more generous per dollar of tax they pay than for higher-income beneficiaries (i.e. richer folks cross-subsidize poorer folks). In addition, Social Security allows us to pool mortality risk over the entire country, meaning that we can guarantee everybody a stream of income that lasts until they die, plus survivor benefits for spouses and dependent children, plus disability insurance.

Ryan's reliance on a savings system would do none of that. It is his proposal that is foolish and obsolete, not social insurance.