Bills Would Let Transgender People Seal Name-Change Requests

SEATTLE (AP) — You can change your name, but in many states you can’t completely shed your old one — something that’s of particular concern to transgender people and that legislators in at least two states are trying to change.

A bill in Washington would allow gender expression and identity as reasons to seal, or keep out of the public record, a future petition for a name change. And a California bill would require the sealing of petitions by minors to change their name and gender on identity documents.

In states where such petitions aren’t sealed, transgender people can be susceptible to cyberbullying or even physical violence because their previous names, and by extension their lives, are an open book in the public record, advocates warn. Students, for instance, can and do easily find and share such records when they are looking for background on a new kid in town, one advocate noted.

Maia Xiao, a University of Washington graduate student, has changed her name in that state and said the publication of a transgender friend’s name-change records in an online forum led to relentless harassment, including hate mail. She wrote last summer to Democratic state Sen. Jamie Pedersen to urge reform.

“It feels very close to me,” said Xiao, who would not disclose the name of her friend, citing privacy. “I don’t live a very online life, but it’s really scary to know that something so personal can be so easily accessed by transphobic trolls who want to cause harm.”

Pedersen is sponsoring the Washington legislation, which passed the Senate this month with bipartisan support and is expected to also pass the House. The bill is modeled on laws in New York and Oregon and would also extend records privacy to refugees, emancipated minors and people who have been granted asylum.

Currently, only people subjected to domestic violence can have their name changes easily sealed in Washington. Some other states, including California, also make exceptions for victims of crimes like human trafficking, stalking and sexual assault.

“This seemed to me like a simple action that could go a long way in making transgender people a lot safer in our state,” Pedersen said.

Some officials and law enforcement officers worry that criminals who request a name change could escape accountability under the proposals. The Washington bill would allow courts to unseal a name change file if law enforcement had reasonable suspicions, and sex offenders and incarcerated people would still be ineligible for a sealed name change.

“This is not the intent of the bill, and such cases would be rare, but there needs to be procedures in place to prevent it,” Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the Washington Association of County Officials, said in an email.

The approaches in Washington and California contrast starkly with recent and mysterious moves in Florida and Texas to compile lists of trans residents using public records, and as lawmakers in at least 39 states consider a torrent of anti-trans bills.

Republicans’ “disturbing” requests for data on transgender residents in some of those states add urgency to his proposal, Pedersen said.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last year requested data on how many people had changed the gender information on their driver’s licenses. The Texas Department of Public Safety found over 16,000 gender changes during the prior two years but didn’t turn over data because it could not determine the reason for each change.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked state universities last month for data on students who had sought or received treatments for gender dysphoria. Neither Paxton nor DeSantis explained why they requested the data.

Harassment from such disclosures can especially target young trans people who struggle with mental health issues or gender dysphoria, advocates say. The same internet forum that Xiao said had targeted her friend came under fire last year for instances of doxxing trans people, or maliciously publishing their personal information online, and has been linked to suicides.

Peers may search students’ names as they move to a new middle or high school and can easily find and share court records related to their petitions for a name and gender change, said Kathie Moehlig, executive director of the San Diego nonprofit TransFamily Support Services. She approached California Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Chris Ward with the idea for the bill after students she advises brought the trend to her attention.

Many families with trans children aren’t even aware such records are public, Moehlig said.

“Somebody’s gender identity is an innate piece about them — it’s intimate,” she said. “They deserve the right to the privacy around their identity.”

The California bill, which was introduced last month and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would require the state to seal any petition filed by a person under 18 for a change to gender and sex or to gender, sex and name in identity documents. Also sealed would be documents from a petitioner’s court proceedings.

San Diego lawyer Clarice Barrelet, whose 11-year-old son is transgender, said simply plugging his name into a search engine shows his legal gender change.

He had insisted by age 6 that he should not be called a girl and would grow up to be a man, Barrelet said. He came out as transgender at age 8 and changed the name and pronouns he used in school, even before his mom petitioned the court for a legal change to his identity documents.

Barrelet said she thinks those records should be sealed for children and adults to better protect their privacy.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein Announces Retirement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – California’s longest-serving senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will not run for reelection next year. 

The announcement was made Tuesday on Twitter and on her official website. However, the public announcement appears to have come as a surprise to Feinstein, according to multiple reports.

When asked about her retirement, she told reporters,“I haven’t made that decision, I haven’t released anything.”

Feinstein’s staffer injected telling the senator “We put out the statement.”

Soon after, Feinstein is heard on audio recording telling reporters that, “So it is what it is. I think the time has come.”

According to the initial announcement, Feinstein said she plans to remain in office through the end of her term, which ends at the end of 2024.

“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection …but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein tweeted. “Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives.”

At 89 years old, Feinstein is the oldest senator. 

She had been dogged by accusations in recent years that her effectiveness in the Senate has been hindered by her age.

Other Democrats had already jumped in to run for her seat, even before she made the inevitable announcement. 

Democratic Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam Schiff of Burbank launched rival Senate campaigns in recent weeks. Earlier this month, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would support Schiff if Feinstein did not seek re-election. 

Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland is expected to jump into the contest as well.

In recent years, questions have arisen about Feinstein’s cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness.

Feinstein was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Previously, she became mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of then-Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

Feinstein will be remembered for her fight against the “epidemic of gun violence.” She achieved the passage of the landmark, federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 and has advocated for its reinstatement since it expired in 2004.

In 2019, she introduced three pieces of gun safety legislation in the Senate: an updated assault weapons ban, the extreme risk protection order act to help states develop court processes that allow family members to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and a bill to raise the federal age to purchase assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from 18 to 21.

Click here to read the full article in FoxLA

Democrat Rep. Katie Porter Accused of Demoting Aide Who ‘Gave Me COVID’

That’s sick!

Democratic congresswoman was accused Thursday of retaliating against a staffer who the lawmaker said exposed her to COVID-19 this past summer after working in person while ill.

Sasha Georgiades, a Navy veteran who joined Rep. Katie Porter’s office in 2020 as a Wounded Warrior Fellow, told Reason magazine that she was relegated to working remotely for the last several weeks of her fellowship and never heard from her boss again after Porter lashed out.

“Why did you not follow office protocol on testing?” Porter, 48, allegedly asked Georgiades in a July 9 text message obtained by the news outlet. “It’s really disappointing”.

According to Georgiades, the “office protocol” required taking a COVID test the instant one felt even slightly unwell. She told Reason that she thought she was “just sore from exercise.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” an apologetic Georgiades responded at the time. “You’re right I should have done better. Just because I felt okay in the moment doesn’t mean that I was.”Porter, who was elected to represent California’s 45th District in 2018 and has been reelected twice since, contracted COVID-19 around the same time — she announced she had tested positive on July 11 — and became enraged, texting Georgiades: “Well you gave me COVID. In 25 months, it took you not following the rules to get me sick. My children have nobody to care for them.” 

“She never spoke a word to me after this,” Georgiades, whose fellowship ended in August, told Reason. 

In response to Porter’s claim about her children, Georgiades claimed that the single mother was supposed to be in Washington, DC that week, anyway – away from her three kids, who live in California.

“If she thought she was going to go the rest of her life without it, that’s impossible,” Georgiades said of Porter’s reaction.

In a statement, Porter’s office confirmed the authenticity of the messages, saying: “This former employee was not fired. She was a fellow in our office, and weeks before she breached COVID protocol in July, we had already mutually agreed on an end date in August 2022.

Click here to read the full article in the NY Post

The Golden State Needs a Course Correction in the New Year

As 2022 draws to a close, despite the positive bleatings of the politicians, this was not a great year for California.

The once-projected $100 billion surplus could have been used to reconfigure the state’s tax system, which is overdependent on the PIT — the personal income tax. It wasn’t. Instead, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office is predicting a $25 billion deficit beginning next July 1.

Everybody knows the PIT is like a roller coaster: revenue goes way up in good times, way down in bad times. It’s nosediving now. The latest among many high-tech companies suffering layoffs, from the San Francisco Chronicle, “Thumbtack, the San Francisco online services marketplace, is laying off around 14% of its staff.”

In the Legislature, Republicans not only failed to gain seats, they lost one in the Assembly, to 18 of 80; and another in the Senate, to 8 of 40. In both houses they’re well below the one-third needed to stop a tax increase. Even if you’re not a Republican, you might feel the effects of their impotence if the supermajority Democrats decide to increase your taxes to make up for that $25 billion deficit.

Democrats easily won all the statewide offices, beginning with the governor. Whatever the reasons for the GOP’s failure, one-party states don’t do well. Democracy only exists if there’s competition.

Republicans also lost a majority on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for the first time in five decades. Democrats also picked up a majority on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors The boards’ 3-2 Democratic majority will be entirely in fealty to the public-employee unions at a time when critical fiscal decisions will run against profound economic uncertainty.

Clearly, the party that ran San Francisco and Los Angeles into the ground isn’t doing so well at the state level, either.

Several of my friends have skedaddled out of California this year for the Volunteer State, with several others planning to go in 2023 or ‘24. They’re part of an exodus of another 250,000 this year to other states. That means the Golden State, which lost one House member after the 2020 U.S. Census, probably will lose another — or two — in 2030.

Contrast that with the 1980s, when I came here in 1987. The state gained 6 million in population and six House seats.

Gov. Gavin Newsom calls it the California Way. But for increasing numbers of people, it’s the way out.

The exodus hasn’t helped housing affordability. According to the California Association of Realtors, just 36% of households can afford to buy a home in Q3, compared to 42% a year earlier. Prices have dipped a bit, but of course interest rates have soared, and along with them mortgages.

The median home price in Orange County, where I live, still is $1.03 million. The only people who can afford those kinds of prices are millionaire entrepreneurs who haven’t left yet and tax-stuffed members of the public-employee unions.

One-party rule has also failed California’s kids.

Reports on schools post-pandemic showed test scores dropped sharply due to the excessively severe lockdowns. Approximately 84% of black and 79% of Latino students failed to meet state math standards. Even though the state, according to the June budget document, is spending nearly $24,000 a year per student.

Some of the few bright spots this year were when San Francisco recalled three nutty leftist school board members, then recalled radical District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Among Republicans, when a litany of problems with California is listed, someone is likely to crack, “Well, the weather still is great!” Indeed it is.

Click here to read the full article in the Orange County Register

Migrants are Dropped Near Vice President Kamala Harris’ Home on Frigid Christmas Eve

Three buses of recent migrant families arrived from Texas near the home of Vice President Kamala Harris in record-setting cold on Christmas Eve.

Texas authorities have not confirmed their involvement, but the bus dropoffs are in line with previous actions by border-state governors calling attention to the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

The buses that arrived late Saturday outside the vice president’s residence were carrying around 110 to 130 people, according to Tatiana Laborde, managing director of SAMU First Response, a relief agency working with the city of Washington to serve thousands of migrants who have been dropped off in recent months.

Local organizers had expected the buses to arrive Sunday but found out Saturday that the group would get to Washington early, Laborde said. The people on board included young children.

Some were wearing T-shirts despite temperatures hovering around 15 degrees. It was the coldest Christmas Eve on record for Washington, according to the Washington Post.

Laborde said employees had blankets ready for the people who arrived on Christmas Eve and moved them quickly onto waiting buses for a ride to an area church. A local restaurant chain donated dinner and breakfast.

Most of the arrivals were headed to other destinations and expected to remain in Washington only briefly.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment Sunday morning. His office said last week that Texas has given bus rides to more than 15,000 people since April to Washington, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, are strong critics of President Biden on his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of people are trying to cross daily, many to seek asylum. Officials on both sides of the border are seeking emergency help in setting up shelters and services for migrants, some of whom are sleeping on streets.

Republicans argue Biden and Harris, designated the administration’s point person on the root causes of migration, have relaxed restrictions that induced many people to leave their countries of origin.

Click here to read the full article in the Press Enterprise

What the ‘Twitter Files’ Say About the Future of Journalism

Twitter owner Elon Musk’s decision to share internal records with a trio of independent journalists spawned stories about how Twitter executives worked to invent justifications for content decisions they’d already made on ideological grounds.

But it also feeds into a story about how Twitter itself, and other platforms, like the subscription service Substack, have decentralized the media so effectively that individual voices can drive the news in ways once reserved for legacy outlets .

Journalists Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Michael Shellenberger each combed through reams of Twitter emails, message chains from the workplace communication tool Slack, and screenshots to publish five sets of analyses on Twitter. Their final products took the form of lengthy Twitter threads about how Twitter suppressed stories on Hunter Biden’s business dealings during the 2020 election and how the company ultimately decided to ban former President Donald Trump permanently.

JACK DORSEY GIVES PUBLIC MEA CULPA FOR CENSORSHIP

The journalists all had several things in common: They all run popular Substack pages, they have all written pieces in the past for legacy media outlets like the New York Times, and they all have large Twitter followings.

The least-followed of the three, Shellenberger, still had more than 357,000 Twitter followers before he posted his batch of the so-called Twitter Files. He now has more than 480,000. Taibbi started December with less than 750,000 Twitter followers and now boasts more than 1.5 million.

And perhaps most importantly, all three have been outspoken about what they see as the excesses of the Left on cultural issues such as speech and corporate influence.

“To me, the media’s response to the Twitter Files is itself a scandal,” Charles Lipson, political science professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, told the Washington Examiner.

“First, they are covering up their own failure to report the story in the past,” Lipson said, referring to the story about Hunter Biden’s business dealings. “And they are undoubtedly disturbed by Twitter choosing journalists not associated with their papers or TV networks to cover the story now — and in the case of Bari Weiss, someone who famously departed from the New York Times over, essentially, political censorship.”

Some prominent commentators and news outlets moved quickly to characterize the recipients of the records as right-wing ideologues — despite each of their affiliations with liberal ideas and publications.

The Washington Post labeled Taibbi and Weiss as “conservative journalists” in a report on Monday about the publication of the Twitter Files. Commentators across the ideological spectrum slammed the Washington Post for the label, which inaccurately describes both writers.

Taibbi has described himself as a “run-of-the-mill, old-school ACLU liberal” who for years championed ideas on the Left as a celebrated writer for Rolling Stone.

Weiss quit her opinion editor post at the New York Times in 2020 after encountering what she said was a culture of censorship and socially enforced ideological conformity that had devolved into bullying from her colleagues.

“I’m called alt-right. I’m called an apologist for rape culture. I’ve been called everything,” Weiss said in 2019 in an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m a centrist. I’m a Jewish, center-left-on-most-things person who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and, you know, is super socially liberal on pretty much any issue you want to choose.”

The Washington Post later removed the conservative label for Taibbi and Weiss from its Monday story without adding an editor’s note, according to Fox News, in a process known as stealth editing.

“Anybody who falls afoul of the left-wing orthodoxy immediately gets called a conservative,” Batya Ungar-Sargon, deputy opinion editor at Newsweek, told the Washington Examiner. “It’s very funny because the Left thinks it’s an insult. It’s not an insult. It’s just inaccurate.”

Musk’s choice of the independent, but like-minded, journalists as the recipients of key records represented a departure from years of powerful people choosing to leak their stories to legacy news outlets first.

Even distinctly right-wing figures, from members of the select committee empaneled to investigate Benghazi years ago to aides in the Trump White House, have placed records and information they want to disseminate in the hands of legacy media reporters at papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“Elon Musk is proposing a new way to dump documents — a huge departure from past leaks of this magnitude,” Brian Stelter, a veteran media reporter who previously anchored CNN’s Reliable Sources and is currently a Harvard University media fellow, told the Washington Examiner. “Leakers — in this case, Elon Musk and his brain trust — have an ever-increasing number of outlets and options. The traditional playbook, which entails leaking to a national newspaper, is just one of many now.”

Sharing records with legacy publications often conferred legitimacy on storylines that may not have reached as wide an audience had they debuted in conservative media first. It also reflected the market domination of outlets that no longer necessarily have exclusive rights to the most talented and high-profile reporters in political media.

“I have to say, there are no more legacy independent journalists than Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi. These guys are at the top of their field and decided to go independent, but they took their legacy-ness with them,” Ungar-Sargon said. “In a way, I don’t think this really represents a break.”

Taibbi said he had to follow two conditions to gain access to the Twitter records: He had to use the requested attribution “sources at Twitter,” and he had to publish the information first on Twitter itself.

“I was actually hesitant about the Twitter aspect of it because I’m a writer. I like doing long-form and explaining things,” Taibbi said during an appearance this week on Glenn Greenwald’s Rumble program, System Update. “But I actually think it wouldn’t work otherwise. There’s also a sort of delicious irony to using Twitter to basically defenestrate Twitter and also to sort of drop this enormous, fetid stink bomb in the middle of what used to be the private garden of mainstream journalists.”

The Twitter revelations generated intense interest in conservative media but stirred far less coverage at legacy outlets and networks.

A number of prominent journalists either ignored the story or argued its insights about Twitter’s decision-making did not reveal anything the public didn’t already know.

“It’s hard to think that those are legitimate news judgments as opposed to political judgments by the editors, publishers, and reporters,” Lipson said.

Stelter noted how little of the underlying material from Twitter was available for other reporters to examine.

“One factor that has hindered the Twitter Files is the relatively limited amount of raw information that has been released,” he said. “Journalists are trained to seek as much raw material as possible — for instance, the context of Slack conversations before and after the parts that were screengrabbed and shared in the Twitter Files.”

“That said, the parts that were shared are newsworthy on their own,” he added.

Still, the news brought significant attention to the reporters who broke the news.

Weiss, who started a Substack newsletter after leaving the New York Times, used the attention as an early launching pad for a media outlet, the Free Press, that will roll her existing subscribers into a new product with a larger staff and broader mission.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

“I think there’s a lot of people in this country who are politically homeless, who feel like the old labels — Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal — no longer fit them or no longer mean what they used to,” Weiss told Axios this week in an interview about her startup.

Ungar-Sargon said she believes there’s a market for hard reporting from independent journalists either self-publishing or building up from small teams on platforms like Substack.

Click here to read the full article in the Washington Examiner

Kevin McCarthy Wins GOP Nomination for House Speaker Amid Party Factions

 Republican leader Kevin McCarthy won the nomination Tuesday for House speaker, clearing a first step with majority support from his colleagues, but he now faces a weeks-long slog to quell right-flank objections before a final vote in the new year.

McCarthy has led House Republicans this far, and with the party now on the cusp of majority control, he has a chance to seize the gavel from Nancy Pelosi if Democrats are defeated.

The GOP leader won a 188-31 vote, with ballots cast by new and returning lawmakers, but the challenges ahead are clear. McCarthy will need to grind out support from no fewer than 218 lawmakers from his slim ranks when the new Congress convenes in January, leaving just a few votes to spare.

“We’re going to have the ability to change America,” McCarthy said, upbeat as he entered the private meeting.

He noted backing from right-flank Republicans Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as part of his “vast support.”

But Republican leaders are facing an intense backlash on Capitol Hill over their disappointing performance in the midterm elections, when McCarthy’s promises of a GOP sweep that would transform Washington collapsed. Instead, the House could have one of the slimmest majorities in 90 years, leaving McCarthy exposed to challengers.

The fallout is spilling down-ballot into other Republican leadership races and into the Senate, where Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will face a challenge from GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the party’s campaign chairman, in Wednesday’s elections. Scott announced his bid at a party lunch Tuesday.

The former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, announced he was challenging McCarthy, saying Americans want a “new direction.”

“The promised red wave turned into a loss of the United States Senate, a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, and upset losses of premiere political candidates,” Biggs said in a statement. “McCarthy does not have the votes needed to become the next Speaker of the House and his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion.”

Many in the Republican Party are blaming their losses on Donald Trump, the former president who endorsed hundreds of candidates, many of them far-right contenders rejected by voters. Trump is expected to announce his 2024 bid for the White House from his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Tuesday evening.

It’s not just McCarthy whose leadership is in question but his entire team. This includes Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the campaign chairman who traditionally would be rewarded with a leadership spot but finds himself in a three-way race for GOP whip that was forced into a second-round of voting.

The No. 2 Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, had an easier time, winning the majority leader spot uncontested, by voice vote. He pledged that House Republicans, if they win the majority, will launch “oversight necessary to hold the Biden Administration accountable.”

And one of Trump’s top allies in the House, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — the third-ranking House Republican and the first lawmaker to back Trump in a 2024 run — is working to fend off rival Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican from Florida seen by many lawmakers as a potential new party leader.

A self-described “Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Black man,” Donalds said after a closed-door forum late Monday he has enough support for the race with Stefanik to be close.

Trump backs McCarthy for speaker, but the two have had a rocky relationship, and even Trump’s support is no guarantee McCarthy will reach the needed 218 votes when the new Congress convenes, particularly if Republicans win the House with just a slim, few-seat majority that would leave him no cushion for detractors.

At least one Trump ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, said he’s voting no on McCarthy.

It’s a familiar dynamic for House Republicans, one that befell their most recent Republican speakers — John Boehner and Paul Ryan — who both retired early rather than try to lead a party splintered by its far-right flank.

McCarthy survived those earlier battles between party factions, but he was forced to back out of a bid for the speaker’s job in 2015 when it was clear he did not have support from conservatives.

The weeks ahead promise to be a grueling period of hardball negotiations with the Freedom Caucus and rank-and-file Republicans as McCarthy tries to appease them and rack up the support he will need in the new year.

In a sign of how desperate Republicans are to bolster their ranks, some made overtures to conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas to switch parties and join the GOP.

“They just said, ’name your price,″” Cuellar told reporters. “I’m a Democrat.”

The conservative Freedom Caucus lawmakers, who typically align with Trump, are prepared to extract demanding concessions from McCarthy before giving him their backing. They have a long list of asks — from prime positions on House committees to guarantees they can have a role in shaping legislation.

“I’m willing to support anybody that’s willing to change dramatically how things are done here,” Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and a Trump ally, said after meeting privately with McCarthy.

But even rank-and-file lawmakers are assessing their choices for speaker, a position that is second in line to the president.

“I don’t just automatically assume heir apparent, necessarily,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who said he is still studying his choice for House speaker.

“We are voting for somebody who is going to be two heartbeats from the presidency,” he said.

Click here to read the full article at FoxNewsLA

An Orange County House race has become an Asian American culture clash

The battle between Democrat Jay Chen and Republican Michelle Steel reveals the nuances of identity

Ngan Nguyen can’t stop, won’t stop dancing. It’s such a joyous Friday night for the 80-year-old retired cosmetologist, a chance to gather with so many friends from so many years of political activism here in a strip mall parking lot in Orange County’s Little Saigon. Tonight’s “Rock and Vote” party,with around three weeks to go before the midterm elections, isa major deal in the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. Nguyen’s got a jaunty fedoraand two large flags propped on each shoulder, so theyflap behind her like wings. She twirls and twirls, in the glow of signs from a nail salon, two law offices and an acupuncturist.

More than 200 people have shown up to register to vote or meet candidates for local office. There’s a choir singingthe Vietnamese national anthem and “The Star-Spangled Banner”; two crooners who look like Elvis;a troupe of teenagers in colorful silk costumes doing choreographed dances with flags and martial arts sticks; and one heartthrob who belts out a dual-language rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” with such passion you’d think he was auditioning for “The Voice.”

In a community of refugees like this, voting is always a celebration. Forty-seven years ago, when Nguyen was 33, she fled the only country she had ever known with her husband and three boys on the last day of the fall of Saigon. She never misses an election. The first ballot she cast as a U.S. citizen was for the president at the time, known for welcoming Vietnamese refugees: Ronald Reagan. Then George H.W. Bush. Then …

“We belong to MAGA group,” she says, proudly. “We vote for Trump and we vote for him again if he runs.”

That yellow-and-red-striped flag she’s carrying, along with an American flag? It’s for the defunctanti-communist country of South Vietnam. It has come to symbolize Vietnamese nationalism, and was spotted at the Capitol during the Jan 6. insurrection.

Nguyen’s also excited to vote again for Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican whoin 2020 was part of a trio who became the first Korean American women elected to Congress.

What about Steel’s challenger, Jay Chen, the Taiwanese American Democrat and active lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve? “No!” Nguyen says. “He supports the China communists. Anybody who supports communists, we don’t vote for them.”

That’s a falsehood perpetuated by Steel’s campaign against Chen. And it’s apparently sticking.

Never mind that Chen’s paternal grandmother fled from China to Taiwan to escape communism. Or that he’s a U.S. service member who is part of the 7th Fleet, the Naval unit that maintains freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait. “So that is part of my job, confronting the threat of communist China,” Chen says the next day when I meet him at his campaign office.

How have charges of communism become a key issue in a House race, 31 years after the fall of the Soviet Union?

The hotly contested race in California’s 45th Congressional District is a microcosm of Asian American identity clashes and how those tie to voting preferences. Here we have two Asian American candidates fighting for one of the only chances Democrats have to flip a seat to blue, in a midterm election cycle where they are predicted to have major losses. And it’s happening in a district where more than a third of the voters are Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) — the largest chunk of whom, by far, are Vietnamese, whose older generationstend to vote conservative, with lingering, traumatic memories of their family’s escape from communism.

Among countless attacks, Steel has distributed a flier showing Chen in front of a group of students, flanked by portraits of communist leaders such as Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, with a blackboard that reads, in Vietnamese, “Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classes.” There’s also a TV ad in which actors play communist intelligence officials crowing with delight about Chen’s candidacy. “He’s one of us!” says one. “A socialist comrade who even supported Bernie Sanders for supreme leader!”

Steel’s attacks all stem from Chen’s support 12 years ago, on a school board, for a program that would have taught Chinese in public K-12 classes. She accused her 2020 opponent, former congressman Harley Rouda, who is White, of being a communist sympathizer, too — and won, with support from Vietnamese Americans. (She declined The Washington Post’s requests for interviews.)

“If I had told you, without naming any names, that a Korean American was red-baiting a Taiwanese American about being friendly with Chinese communists in order to affect Vietnamese American voters, you’d think I was making it up,” says Tung Nguyen, a doctor and the founder of the Pivot Victory Fund, a SuperPAC that supports liberal AAPI candidates, including Chen. “I think it’s very cynical.”

Back in April, Steel threw the first accusation of racism in a race that has had many on both sides, saying Chen was making fun of her accent. Chen says a comment he said about her needing “an interpreter” was about her policy ideas being incomprehensible, and that she was using the moment as preplanned justification for her communism attacks.

Republicans clearly see Orange County Vietnamese Americans as a constituency worth investing in. Of the 38 “community centers” the Republican National Committee opened this election cycle, the first was in Little Saigon,with prominent party figures attending the launch. It’s in a strip mall office front, not labeled as an RNC hub. “But we all know what it is,” says Katie Nguyen Kalvoda, a board member of the AAPI Victory Fund.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants and their children, labeling someone a pro-China communist can strike incredible fear, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping recently secured his unprecedented third term, tipping the country as close to one-man rule as it has been since Mao Zedong, analysts say. Several Vietnamese “Rock and Vote” attendees mentioned that China was “trying to take over Vietnam,” referring to ongoing territory and maritime skirmishes, despite Xi’s extravagant welcoming of Vietnam’s Communist Party leader on Tuesday — and that they saw a vote against Chen as a way to stop it.

Like Latinos, AAPI voters are often viewed as a monolith voting bloc, lumped together for both positive reasons (strength in numbers can increase access to attention and funding) and negative ones (i.e., people in power can’t tell us apart). There’s a reason Asian women of different ethnicities often joke that we can swap IDs and no one would notice — and why it almost always works. But anyone who has stared at a demographics survey and been unsure of which box to check knows that AAPI loyalties and divides are more complicated than any poll or census can capture. When your family immigrated, what country they came from and how old you were can all shape political identity. Someone whose family left China before World War II is going to have a different relationship with communism than someone who emigrated from China in the past three years.

CA-45 is a chance to see those dynamics play out in real time.

Steel is 67 and was born in Seoul. According to previous interviews, her parents met in South Korea after leaving communist North Korea during the Korean War. Her father, a diplomat, moved the family to Japan for his job. After his death, Steel came to Los Angeles on her own, followed by her mother, who spoke no English, and Steel’s three siblings. They opened a men’s clothing store and a sandwich shop. She married Shawn Steel, a prominent Republican operative, with whom she has two kids, and has a long history in Orange County government, including the Board of Supervisors.

Chen is 44 and was born and raised in the United States by immigrant parents. His father’s side came to Taiwan in exilefrom China. His mother’s side is indigenous Taiwanese, going back generations on the island. In the United States, his parents ran an import/export business back when bird cages were all the rage; Chen often talks about how he and his brother grew up assembling the cages, because their fingers were so small. He has the dream résumé to impress AAPI voters: Harvard graduate, active-duty military, cute family with his wife, Karen, and their two boys, 6 and 8. He’s on the board of a community college, has a commercial real estate business and spent a year in Kuwait fighting the Islamic State.

Steel’scommunism charge sticks in partbecause many people read Chen’s last name as “Chinese,” which it is, without understanding that Taiwanese Americans generally come from a lineage that has been in constant conflict with communist China.

“Here’s the thing,” he tells me the next day in his campaign office, “I’m Taiwanese, but even if I was Chinese, that is still not a reason to doubt my loyalty.”

It reminds him, he says, of the persecution of Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwanese American scientist who was accused of being a spy for China by the federal government in 1999. Lee spent nine months in solitary confinement, at times shackled, before President Bill Clinton personally apologized and the New York Times printed a 23-paragraph editor’s note about “flaws” in its coverage. “And that’s exactly what [Steel’s] doingwith these scare tactics,” Chen says, “trying to otherize me based on my perceived heritage.”

Drive down the main drag of Little Saigon and you’ll see a shopping-center-long wall of colorful campaign posters, almost all bearing Asian last names. Tri Ta! Nam Quan! Kimberly Ho! Chi Charlie Nguyen! Mark Nguyen! Lan Nguyen! Duy Nguyen! Some have photos of the candidate in a cross-armed, take-charge pose. Some have Vietnamese translations.

Then, way up high on lamp posts, are a flurry of small signs that are not like the others: bright red with yellow lettering and a yellow star, to mimic the Chinese flag. They read, “China’s Choice JAY CHEN.”

The fine print — too small to read from the street — says “Paid for by Michelle Steel for Congress.”

“Good thing is, from afar, all you see is, ‘JAY CHEN,’ so my name ID is getting up there!” says Chen, getting a laugh from a crowd of 30 supporters on a lawn in Fountain Valley,a suburb lined with $1 million ranch homes that in Orange County qualifies as middle class.

The O.C. is an incongruous setting for a race this ugly. The weather’s perfect. Palm trees abound, as does, arguably, the best pho and bubble tea in America. Disneyland (the happiest place on Earth!), Knott’s Berry Farm and any number of TV-famous beaches (Laguna, Newport, Huntington — take your pick) are no more than 40 minutes away, depending on traffic.

It’s the afternoon before that “Rock and Vote” MAGA rally, and the congressional AAPI A-team has arrived: Judy Chu, who represents parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino; Mark Takano, from Southern California’s Riverside/Inland Empire region; and Grace Meng, who flew in all the way from Queens.

One by one, the representatives, who are Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese American, respectively, step forward to condemn Steel. Chu calls her tactics “offensive” and “unacceptable.” Takano calls them “despicable.” They all call them “racist.” They talk about Chen’s service record and how the government would never give him top-secret security clearance if he was a communist. (“All those documents at Mar-a-Lago, I can read them,” Chen says.) There are plenty of other reasons they’re opposed to Steel, given that she co-sponsored a bill that would create a federal ban on abortion and voted against gun control, protecting same-sex marriage and lowering the price of insulin.

This strangely C-shaped, entirely inland turf that is causing so much intra-Asian fighting was carved out in a redistricting shuffle last year specifically to empower Asian Americans. At about 37 percent AAPI, it’s about double the percentage in California and more than six times the share of the nation. It’s also about 36 percent White, about 23 percent Latino and about 3 percent Black.

Click here to read the full article at the Washington Post

Battle for Congress? Not here. Bay Area Democrats on Average Serve Even Longer Than Supreme Court Justices

The Bay Area has changed radically in the last few decades — new companies, new residents, new energy. But the people we send to Congress? They’ve stayed — remarkably — the same.

As Democrats and Republicans mount a pitched battle across the nation for control of the House and Senate, a Bay Area News Group analysis shows why our political inertia is all but certain to survive election day: Our region is by far the least competitive major metro area in the country for congressional races.

No Bay Area House race outcome is likely to cross the lips of cable news pundits on Tuesday night. Amid nail-biting across the nation, our cluster of the political map will fill in with the deepest blue — once again.

The current slate of 12 Bay Area House members — all Democrats — won their 2020 races by an average of 47 points. In the runner up region of Boston, victors in House races had an average 40-point margin.

And when it comes to job security, our members also come out on top, serving an average of 9 terms, or about 18 years, in office. Lifetime appointment? Well, no. But it’s even two years longer than the average time on the bench for every justice who ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is extraordinary,” said Dan Schnur, a UC Berkeley politics professor. “If California is a blue state, then the Bay Area is down right indigo.”

Five of the Bay Area’s 12 representatives have each spent more than two decades on Capitol Hill. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, long villainized by Republicans as an enduring symbol of Democratic control, is the longest-serving member of the Bay Area delegation: She won re-election in 2020 by 55 points and is running for her 19th term. Barbara Lee, the Bay Area’s maverick progressive, captured 92.6% of the vote in 2020 and routinely beats her challengers by about 80 points. The Oakland Democrat is running for her 14th term on Tuesday.

No other major metropolitan area in the country comes close to the Bay Area’s longevity. Six terms, or about 12 years in office, is the average for House members in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Seattle and Southern California’s Inland Empire, the news organization’s analysis found.

But it’s not just our House members who have record-long stays in DC. On Friday, Dianne Feinstein became the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history after crossing the 30-year milestone. At 89, Feinstein has stayed in office so long that even the Bay Area is now wondering whether it’s a good thing, with calls for her to retire over concerns her mental faculties have deteriorated.

Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, who shocked local Democrats by ousting eight-term Bay Area incumbent Mike Honda back in 2016, experienced full force what it’s like to fight against the Bay Area political establishment.

“Every endorsement was against me, from now-President Biden, to Speaker Pelosi, to every member of Congress,” said Khanna, who is facing a perennial Republican candidate — computer engineer Ritesh Tandon — whom he beat by 43 points in 2020.  “A lot of people were saying don’t run, it was disrespectful to run…. there was a sense that this was somehow not being a team player.”

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, stayed out of it at the time. But she pointed out that Khanna would now rely on the very same political establishment that attacked him in 2016 to defend him from a future challenger.

“Frankly, he would do the same thing [as Honda] and ask the party to defend him,” said Eshoo, who with 15 terms under her belt is the second-longest serving Bay Area representative. “When you are challenging an incumbent, you have to expect that, otherwise you are a political novice.”

While the challenge to find viable challengers exists in many parts of the country, the Bay Area has a particular issue: the Republican party poses virtually no threat to Democratic incumbents. Only 14% of voters are registered Republicans in our seven counties. In fact, there is no Republican challenger in three of the 12 Bay Area races this year. Republicans have not held a congressional seat in the Bay Area since Tom Campbell left the House in 2000 to launch an unsuccessful Senate challenge against Feinstein.

Campbell, a law and economics professor at Chapman University in Orange County, says that Republicans began to lose control in the region after the national party pivoted in the 1990s to emphasize conservative positions on social issues, such as abortion, gay rights and immigration, which were anathema to the region’s socially liberal identity.

“Many times, I would begin a [debate] answer by saying ‘Well, that’s the national party, not me,’” he said.

What’s just as rare in the Bay Area as an upstart like Khanna upsetting a same-party incumbent like Honda, is when incumbents say they are ready to retire. This year, incredibly, there are two: San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier and Stockton Rep. Jerry McNerney are both retiring after eight terms. They are the first vacancies in the Bay Area delegation in six years, when Sam Farr gave up his Central Coast seat after more than 20 years, making way for Jimmy Panetta whose father Leon Panetta held the seat for 18 years before Farr.

So, here, longevity begets even longer tenures.

“All the things that were supposed to cure all this, we did them,” said veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, referring to how the state tasked a panel of citizens, not politicians, with the job of drawing congressional districts and created the state’s open primary system that sends the top two vote-getters regardless of party to the general election.

And yet, the trend persists.

In many parts of the country, politicians complain of having to perpetually run for office. While that can force them to spend more time in their districts, tending to the needs of constituents, in today’s political climate it also can drive candidates to feel beholden to party bosses, especially as the GOP fractures.

So does it matter if our incumbent representatives can sit comfortably in office, sailing to easy 50-point wins year after year without even needing to campaign?

Khanna says it matters a lot — and it needs to change. Young challengers often have a better grounding in issues of particular interest to young voters, he argues, ranging from student loan forgiveness to tech reform to tackling climate change.

“Democracy depends on renewal,” said Khanna, who was co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Eshoo sees it differently. She says that constituents benefit from having long-serving members, who have the experience, expertise, and power to get things done in Congress.

“Someone is half my age, so they’re twice as capable?” she asked rhetorically. “In the Congress, seniority is empowering. The manifestations of that power, together with the experience, really cannot be diminished.”

That experience in crisis was on display in the January 6 hearings with behind-the-scenes footage of Pelosi front and center calling the governor of Virginia to send in the National Guard to quash the rioters overtaking the Capitol. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a San Jose Democrat first elected in 1994, has played a key role in some of the U.S. government’s most critical moments of the last half century, from her work as a law student helping the House Judiciary Committee draft impeachment charges of President Richard Nixon to her service as a manager in President Trump’s first impeachment trial and as a member of the House’s Jan. 6 committee.

How exactly the Bay Area has become so immune from competition is a matter of debate.

UC Merced political science professor Jessica Trounstine, whose work focuses on the impact of incumbency in large American cities, said that the lack of competitiveness in the Bay Area is explainable in part by the unparalleled exodus of lower-income people from the region.

Though gentrification has impacted major metros throughout the country, none have been as heavily impacted as the Bay Area.

That means that incumbent House members have an easier time crafting popular economic policies, since they don’t have to appeal to voters across a wide range of incomes, and thus have an easier time winning re-election.

“It’s not just abortion,” she said. “Anytime a politician can create even a small coalition, it amplifies their presence.”

Campbell says that another reason that California House members generally fail to leave office is that there is no room for advancement. California has 52 House members, but, like other states, just 2 senators. That imbalance leaves House members with few options but to seek re-election until retirement or launch long-shot presidential runs, as Dublin Rep. Eric Swalwell attempted in 2020. This year, Khanna has sparked rumors he’s testing the presidential waters by employing consultants in early primary states.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

Facebook, Instagram Posts Flagged as False for Rejecting Biden’s Recession Wordplay

Meta’s third-party fact-checkers have flagged as “false information” posts on Instagram and Facebook accusing the Biden administration of changing the definition of a recession in order to deny that the U.S. economy has entered one. This is yet another reminder that the project of purportedly independent fact-checking on social media is a highly partisan one, in which legitimately debatable opinions are passed off as objective truth.

Last week, the White House published an online article disputing the standard definition of an economic recession: i.e., two consecutive fiscal quarters in which GDP growth was negative.

“Both official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data—including the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes,” wrote the White House. “Based on these data, it is unlikely that the decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year—even if followed by another GDP decline in the second quarter—indicates a recession.”

This post has been widely shared—and in some cases, mocked—on social media. Graham Allen, an Instagram personality, posted a video reacting to the post in which he asked Siri to define the term recession. Siri’s definition: two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.

But Allen’s video is currently obscured on Instagram; users can still watch it, but they first have to click past a disclaimer that it contains “false information reviewed by independent fact-checkers.” A similar label has appeared on some Facebook posts that also take issue with the Biden administration’s wordplay.

The fact-checker is Politifact, a fact-checking website run by the Poynter Institute. Politifact is an official third-party fact-checking apparatus for Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram. This means that PolitiFact is not like any ordinary website that offers a critique of a political narrative: PolitiFact’s critiques are enforced by social media platforms.

In this instance, PolitiFact has rated as false the claim that “the White House is now trying to protect Joe Biden by changing the definition of the word recession.” PolitiFact acknowledges that the Biden administration’s efforts to spin current economic conditions as something other than a recession are political in nature. Nevertheless, the fact-checkers conclude that since the White House is citing the National Bureau of Economic Research’s official definition, the administration is on solid footing.

Phil Magness, director of research and education at the American Institute for Economic Research, thinks PolitiFact is playing games.

“In this case, PolitiFact’s ‘ruling’ is compounded by the fact that they have previously invoked the very same definition of a recession—2 consecutive quarters of GDP decline— in previous rulings to either provide cover to exaggerated Democratic claims about an impending recession or tear down Republican claims to the same effect,” he tells Reason.

In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Magness explained that the NBER is not the “official arbiter of recessions”; on the contrary, the federal government has often used the general definition preferred by most lay people, as well as Siri:

Mr. Biden’s economic advisers are certainly free to make the case for a revised determination. The NBER takes a more holistic approach, in part because some recessionary events are shorter than two quarters or manifest in nonconsecutive quarters. But this rationale works against the White House’s current argument, which seeks to delay acknowledging a recession even if a two-quarter decline is observed this year. The NBER committee has previously acknowledged recessions that fell short of a strict and sustained two-quarter contraction. This last happened during the 2000 dot-com bust, which played out in nonconsecutive quarterly drops.

While recognizing its limitations, the traditional definition of a recession provides a functional rule of thumb to interpret events as they unfold. The NBER determination is a rigorous and reputable historical indicator for dating the beginning and end of business-cycle troughs, but it isn’t suitable for real-time policy determinations.

This is hardly the first time that the social media fact-checking industry has failed to add clarity to a contentious issue. Last year, PolitiFact rated as false the claim that COVID-19 is 99 percent survivable for most age groups.

“Experts say a person cannot determine their own chances at surviving COVID-19 by looking at national statistics, because the data doesn’t take into account the person’s own risks and COVID-19 deaths are believed to be undercounted,” wrote PolitiFact.

Regardless of what “experts say,” it is certainly the case that individual persons can estimate their likelihood of surviving COVD-19 based on national statistics. The disease’s age discrimination is extreme: The overwhelming majority of young, healthy people are not at significant risk, especially when compared with elderly Americans. This was a curious fact-check, and it was hardly the first.

Science Feedback, another of Meta’s fact-checking partners, wrongly labeled as false one of my own articles about the efficacy of mask mandates in schools. Not only was the fact-check incorrect, but it also introduced a new error: The fact-checker suggested that my article had erroneously claimed masks don’t work to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. In actuality, my article had only asserted that there wasn’t much compelling evidence that mask mandates had made a difference. (A year later, this distinction is moot, since even COVID-cautious public health officials now admit the cloth masks required in most schools do practically nothing to thwart the variants.) After I pointed out the mistake to Facebook, Science Feedback removed the “false information” label.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com

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