JAN. 6, 2018

2017: A Rough Year for Immigrants; Great One for Community Events

To many scholars, particularly in liberal circles, they’ve held the belief that the U.S. is really a country run by corporate oligarchs and that the seat of the U.S. presidency is really a symbolic seat of power.  In 2017, this notion proved to be way off the mark and Americans discovered that the presidency is far from impotent. It took the election of Donald Trump to the presidency for Americans to realize that a president is no mere figure head.  Trump’s orbit of power has proven so overarching in 2017 that most of the year’s top stories were somehow connected to him.

The barrage of anti-immigrant policies -- Travel bans 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, the RAISE Act, the repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) -- and increased hiring of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, more arrests, massive deportations, the proposed building of the southern border wall, and dangerous scapegoating rhetoric have made 2017 a historically alarming year for immigrants. The immigrant community anticipated bad days ahead when Trump used anti-immigrant rhetoric in his campaign last year; what came as a surprise was how much influence Trump had just by using executive orders (EOs) to influence immigration. It is within Congress’ jurisdiction to legislate immigration laws; but Trump has used every ounce of his executive power this year to target immigrants any way he could, and is being challenged legally every step of the way.

2017 is a year that tested democratic systems and balance of power. In the U.S., Congress basically has given Trump the green light to advance his right-wing agenda for fear of reprisal by Trumpers or by Trump himself. In the last days of 2017, Americans saw the real reason the GOP played silent conspirator to Trump; Republicans needed a “Trump” to push through the corporate donor-pleasing Tax Bill. Now that this has been accomplished, will the corporate powers pull the plug on the populist autocrat? That is the big question for 2018.

On the Eastern hemisphere of the world in the Philippines, Filipinos had their hands full dealing with their own, more sinister version of Trump, President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs is believed to have claimed the lives of over 7,000 people. President Duterte also declared in 2017 martial law in the entire island of Mindanao. Originally, it was believed to be a short declaration to squash a tiny uprising, but it has been extended for an additional year.

2017 had notable celebratory moments as well. Locally, the Filipino community came together for several successful events: the 120th Anniversary of Waipahu Town, the 25th Anniversary of the Filipino Fiesta, the well-attended Pasko events in December, and the seventh musical production of Doctors-On-Stage, “Downtrodden.”

The Hawaii State Legislature and Governor David Ige made a historic move to pass the Kupuna Caregivers Program, the only one of its kind in the nation that assists working families care for their elderly with a $70 a day stipend.

In other good news, Medicare remained untouched and safe amid talks of turning it into a privatized voucher system; and millions of Americans who get their insurance through Obamacare also saw the program kept intact with the legislative failure of Trump’s American Health Care Act 2017.

Ongoing socio-economic problems -- Hawaii’s homelessness, housing shortage, the national opioids crisis, gun violence -- also made headlines throughout the year. New assaults to the environment (converting millions of acres of preserved land in the U.S.), and a rise in racial division and hate groups presented new concerns. Misinformation from the White House and fake news in the age of digital media made headlines. The biggest threat of 2017 involved Trump in his unorthodox dealing with North Korea and their nuclear-building program.

2017 also saw the rise of a coalition of people from all walks of life fighting back against the Trump tide. In 2018, this coalition will continue the fight to protect common decency and stand for the true values of our country.


Save Net Neutrality and the Free Flow of The Internet as We Know It

Given the importance of the internet, any major change to regulation is bound to be met with heated opposition. The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) recent 3-2 vote to repeal net neutrality protections puts in peril the future of a free, fair and open internet. The controversial ruling could just very well change the internet as we know it. To say the least, it is potentially a big game changer.

What is net neutrality? Approved in 2015 by the FCC, net neutrality requires that internet service providers (such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast) must treat all online content the same and cannot speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites or apps, nor can they put their own content at an advantage over rivals. Many in the online community welcomed net neutrality, claiming it gives smaller companies, upstart companies an equal playing field to succeed. So, not-so-popular websites, niche websites that cater to audiences from volleyball to coin collecting, from alternative news to educational forums (the list is endless), could potentially be stalled or even blocked should internet service providers decide to.

Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the five-member FCC who voted against the repeal, said “They (internet providers) will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle services and the power to censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have a pay-for-play arrangement and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”

A concern is that the internet will become like cable TV where set packages are sold to consumers at higher prices with limited services. It could transform the internet industry into an exclusively big corporation-friendly industry; and once again like in so many other industries -- push out of the market, small businesses that can no longer compete on equal footing. Small companies do not have the assets or liquidity to pay internet providers for faster delivery of content.

Consumers could be charged differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment or method of communication. There are so many other ways that internet service providers can charge internet users beyond current services like what occurs in the cable industry.

What this repeal does is open the door to online discrimination; and cannot possibly be better for internet users and consumers.

Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman who is a former employee of Verizon (internet service provider) favored the repeal as a way to get government from “micromanaging” and claims net neutrality hampers investments and innovation. Pai was appointed by President Donald Trump. The 3-2 vote was bipartisan. Pai and Republicans at the FCC claim ending net neutrality will allow companies like Verizon and AT&T to provide faster, cheaper internet to consumers.

But without regulation to keep the internet environment competitive as it stands today, what’s to keep internet providers from changing their minds as the environment increasingly change to their favor in the future?

The fight moves to Capitol Hill and the Courts

The fight to save the freedom of the internet has not ended by the FCC ruling. Supporters of net neutrality are urging Congress to halt the repeal, a move that has a slim chance to succeed given the current Republican majorities in Congress, unless a few Republicans join Democrats. The Congress has 60 legislative days to act on the FCC ruling. If they don’t, this issue is yet another signal for voters to change the political landscape in this year’s mid-term election.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, said “Because of Chairman Pai and the other Republican commissioners, there are no longer any rules in place to stop internet service providers from changing the internet as we know it. They are now free to block apps, slow websites, or even limit access to certain kinds of content. The best way to move forward is to turn our tweets and our comments into action.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard tweeted: “#NetNeutrality protects us from corporate censorship of information online. The FCC must not roll back this rule. We demand an equal, open internet.”

Legal challenge: Another option is for net-neutrality supporters to sue. New York is among the first states that have filed a lawsuit. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers.” Other state attorney generals are considering joining a class action suit; Hawaii’s attorney general Doug Chin should do the same.

Join consumer advocates and internet users in stopping the repeal of net neutrality. Call on your congressional representatives and senators to act before it’s too late and the free flow of the internet is changed. A world where access to information (which the internet provides) becomes increasingly available only to those who can afford it undermines democracy. Kudos to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for opposing the rollback of net neutrality and fighting on behalf of consumers.

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