The US has already tried registering Muslims. It didn’t work.

I reported on a Muslim registry in the US almost 15 years ago, after 9/11. It never occurred to me, once the Bush administration quietly stopped pursuing the program, that I would have an occasion to report on it again.

But here we are. Since this story ran, the Obama administration has taken the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), essentially a profiling program for male non-resident immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, off the books. But it was a program that was implemented by executive order, so if Trump so chooses, it will be easy to begin again. In fact, one of Trump’s immigration advisors was a chief architect of the original program.

I reported this story to help people better understand what “extreme vetting” and “Muslim registry” actually means. Read and listen at PRI.org.

Supreme Court hears immigration case — and starts with tough questions for lawyers

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents program, commonly known as DAPA, was scheduled to start in May 2015 and would have granted certain undocumented parents, like Bilbao, temporary relief from deportation and employment authorization. But the program was put on hold by a federal court.

The case was argued April 18 in the Supreme Court. The New York Times reported that lawyers were facing tough questions about their cases from the justices.

“It’s as if the president is defining the policy and the Congress is executing it. That’s just upside down,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said to Obama’s top lawyer.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February has added an extra layer of uncertainty for those awaiting a ruling. A tie, which is now more possible, would let stand an appeals court ruling that blocks the expanded DACA and DAPA program from taking effect.

More at PRI.org.

Changing the China News Narrative

“China is a breeding ground for heroes,” Foreign Policy contributing editor Christina Larson said at a roundtable discussion at the University of California, Irvine hosted by The China Beat yesterday.

Larson has done a lot of reporting on China’s environmental movement, where she has found great stories about a dynamic country. Environmentalists in China, she said, have created a legal space for their advocacy. Registered environmental nongovernmental organizations now make up the largest sector of civil society in China.

“None of these people think of themselves as dissidents,” Larson said. They are working to enforce existing laws, not make the current regime crumble.

But the China news narrative in the United States is often dominated by stories about dissidents and victims, corruption and communism, painting a narrow picture of what activism and political engagement can mean there.

Life at the Speed of Books

I’m spending most of this month and last looking over the Hudson River, from Jersey City to New York. It’s a good vantage point to be an observer of global interactions and politics. It is from here that I read wrote most of the books I have reviewed so far for Zócalo Public Square.

Three of those books have been about American foreign policy in the Middle East. To be sure, the three were very different in style and content, but in so many ways they all underscore the simple need for context.  It is a desperate need in these days of information overload and soundbite news. While the foreign policy histories and opinions in the books that I reviewed are essential for thinking about monumental existential issues like national security, the act of consistently reading books is a reminder to take more time to think about, well, everything. Sometimes it’s best that life move at the speed of books.

Here are some excerpts and links in case you’re interested.

best boss ever?

As I continue freelancing and working on projects while I spend time with my family, I am also job hunting. Apparently, so is my close-to-retirement father.

Thanks, Dad, for pointing this out to me. If as many people are excited about Barack Obama’s new job as it seems they are, this might be the best opportunity ever. Not to mention that the inital application is exceedingly simple. I hope for my dad’s sake that they’re looking for an engineer who designs water systems for a cabinet position. I wonder what kind of boss Barack Obama would be — I’ve already had the best boss ever, but I won’t discourage my dad from working with Mr. President-Elect until I know more.

Good luck to the hopefuls!

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Election day pre-game

When I lived in Singapore I watched the presidential debates and conventions online. I used to sit in our living room, lounging on the rattan sofa in my Thai fishing pants, and enjoying the wifi generously shared by the fellows downstairs. Sometimes on the Sundays that I stayed in town I would sit there for hours, unaware of time going by, taking in my Americanness and trying to stay connected to home once in a while.

My roommate, who still lives in the flat, would go out in the morning — for muy thai or ballet lessons because she is a very active person in that way — and come back in the afternoon only to find me sitting the same place, mugs and plates for snacks piling up around me. And I would absently make a comment — “That was a really solid speech,” or “I don’t think this is true,” or “What do you think of their approach to Asia?” — to which she would blankly stare or just continue with her activities.

Sometimes though, when I wasn’t spacing out, we had really interesting conversations. It’s really interesting to think about American politics from international perspectives. My old roommate is from a town outside of Hiroshima, Japan. Politics in Japan are very different, she told me. She was baffled at Americans and the way they watch politicians and listen to them speak.

Japan has had four prime ministers in the last three years; after the charistmatic Junichiro Koizumi’s almost six years in office (which is three terms in Japan), Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda took the post and then resigned under political pressure before their terms ended. The current Prime Minister, Taro Aso, just postponed until January a general election in which he and his party would have to defend their position. Add to this the financial crisis, and it seems like a good time for political news in Japan.

But young people in Japan and the mass media don’t give politicians the airtime that American politicians get here. They are not seen as the people who directly affect lives, and since Koizumi, they are not particularly interesting to watch. The dynamism and hustle of this year’s political race in America was something new to my roommate.

So we watched the conventions together, testing my ability to explain some of the more absurd elements American politics and punditry and my roommate’s ability to follow some pretty complex English.

Now that it’s election day, I wonder what she would think of the campaigning and media duke-outs — even I am a bit in awe of the Superbowl-like energy, even though I am really excited (I voted!). I’ve never seen CNN get so excited about a multi-touch screen (they need more applications for that, so its not John King doing the same demonstration over and over again), and The New York Times plug its own tech-saavy so heavily. Even the Japanese press are getting excited.

So here’s my election night game-plan: 4pm, CNN and local news on television. Online, I’ll be following the Los Angeles Times for my local fix (see this interesting graphic on the historic fundraising for Proposition 8 campaigns), The New York Times and their ticker that shows when major news outlets call races, and some papers in Asia. Many are relying on wire service reports or The New York Times, but I’m finding interesting real-time perspectives so far in the Straits Times of Singapore, the Jakarta Post in Indonesia, and The Times of India. In social media, I’m looking at Global Voices’ special election section and Twitter’s election ticker.