Monday, April 23, 2007

The Cruelest Month

It was not surprising that the Virginia Tech massacre occurred in April. The poet T.S. Elliot knew about April back in 1922, when he wrote, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

It was on April 19, 1993, when FBI agents raided the headquarters of the cultist David Koresh in Waco, Texas, causing a fire which killed 72 people. Two years later, on the anniversary of the Waco Siege, a right-wing paramilitary zealot named Timothy McVeigh, bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring 800. Four years later, on April 20, two Littleton, Colorado teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered their Columbine High School and killed 12 students and a teacher.

Not surprisingly, on April 16 this year a mentally deranged Cho Seung-Hui, invoking the memories of Harris and Klebold, massacred 32 students and instructors at Virginia Tech.

April is cruel not only to the US but to other countries. On April 9, 1942, approximately 78,000 defenders of Bataan (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans) surrendered to the invading Japanese Army after valiantly defending their posts for three months. The Japanese then forced the survivors to march about 100 miles to Capas in the war crime known as the Bataan Death March. Only 54,000 soldiers reached Capas alive.

On April 9, 1948, Jewish armed factions including the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, attacked the Arab town of Deir Yassine in what was then Palestine, killing about 250 Palestinian men, women and children. Stories of how they were killed caused many Palestinians to leave their homes in a mass exodus, fearing that they would suffer the same fate, allowing the Jews to take over their lands and proclaim the state of Israel. Many believe the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has roots in Deir Yassine.

Before the Nazi genocide of six million Jews in WW II, there was the Turkish genocide of one million Armenians from 1914-1917. This first genocide of the 20th century began on April 24, 1914, when 250 Armenian leaders were arrested and subsequently executed by the Young Turks led by Mehmet Talat Pasha. What followed was the forced removal and deportation of all Turks of Armenian descent from Turkey. They were systematically slaughtered while they were being transported out of Turkey.

The last genocide of the 20th century also occurred in April, on April 24, 1994, when Rwandan Hutus began the systematic widespread killing of about 800,000 of their Rwandan Tutsi neighbors.

Why is April so cruel? Perhaps because “lilacs out of the dead land” carry the teasing promise of spring and rebirth, “stirring dull roots with spring rain,” but always fail to deliver on the promise.

Many of us will not soon forget where we were on April 16, 2007 when the early press reports identified the Virginia Tech killer as an “Asian man”. Let's be honest now. How many of us prayed that the "Asian man" would not turn out to be a Filipino? And how many of us then heaved a sigh of relief when it was announced that the lunatic killer was a Korean immigrant?

The fear that the American public would wreak its collective vengeance on all Koreans caused South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to immediately condemn the killings and offer condolences and support to the families of the victims. Candlelight vigils were held all over South Korea to express the sympathies of the entire Korean people.

Even though the 23-year old Cho Seung-Hui immigrated to the US when he was 8 years old and grew up totally immersed in American culture, the repeated press reference to him as a “resident alien” caused many to fear another upsurge in anti-Asian, anti-immigrant sentiment among the American people.

Many still recall that after the Oklahoma bombing in 1995, press reports that Arab terrorists had blown up the building caused a wave of anti-Arab hysteria in the US led to the killing of two Arab-looking men by Americans who wanted to avenge the killing of 800 people in Oklahoma.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the most popular button among Chinese and Filipinos was one that declared that they were not “Japs,” just in case people lumped them in the same category as their fellow Asians. In fact, the US government lumped all Japanese in the US in the same category as Japanese in Japan, incarcerating 110,000 of them in concentration camps throughout the US for the duration of the war.

Cho’s murderous rampage had nothing to do with being Korean or Asian but everything to do with being psychologically disturbed and having guns and ammunition readily available to even deranged individuals. The families of the victims can thank the National Rifle Association (NRA) for guaranteeing Cho Seung-Hui that constitutional right.

Our heartfelt condolences and prayers for the families of the victims.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Nursing Scandal

Starting this week some 10,000 Philippine nurses who passed the tainted June 2006 Philippine nursing board exams will be taking review classes, paid for by the Philippine government, to retake two sections of the nursing exams they already passed – a requirement imposed by the United States’ Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) for Philippine nurses who wish to work in the US.

The retaking the 2006 exams may not end the controversy which has damaged the reputation of Filipino nurses throughout the world. "The outcome of the ongoing scandal on the alleged leakage in the June 2006 Nursing Board Examination could make or break the future of Filipino nurses who intend to work abroad," the Philippine Daily Inquirer noted,

The controversy began with the discovery of a “leakage” of exam questions disseminated by two nurses review centers to their examinees in Baguio City and perhaps other locales. The examinees were provided with a list of 500 questions and answers in two of the exam’s five subjects (Tests III and V).

After the board exams were conducted, test-takers in Baguio City who heard about the leakage protested, claiming the leaks “tainted the results of the test, bringing to question the qualifications of all who passed.”

The Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) which administers the nursing exams with the Philippine Board of Nursing (BoN) conducted an investigation and learned that two BoN members were responsible for the leakage. According to one of the two members who were removed for “negligence,” she just inadvertently left copies in a Baguio copy shop where she was “xeroxing” her 500 questions. Others charged that the BoN members were bribed by the review centers to provide them with copies of their questions and answers.

According to Business World columnist Greg Macabenta, however, the leakage did not affect the outcome of the exam.

Macabenta’s analysis is based on the fact that there are five subjects in the examination: Nursing Practice I to V. Five BoN nursing examiners are asked to provide a list of 500 questions from each of their particular subjects of expertise, a total of 2,500 questions in all. From this batch of 2,500 questions, computers arbitrarily extract 500 total questions, 100 from each subject. This computer extraction of the 500 questions is done shortly before the exams are given to allow time only for the printing of hard copies.

Of the raw “un-extracted” test questions, Tests III and V were “compromised,” in the sense that 20 questions for Test III and 90 questions for Test V were in the list of 500 questions in the final exam.

The PRC decided to invalidate the 20 questions in Test III, recomputed the scores on Test V, and re-averaged the results before announcing the list of the 17,781 who passed the exam out of the 42,000 nursing graduates who took it.

Even assuming that all 2,500 questions were leaked to all the nursing examinees, instead of just 1,000 questions to those who attended the two review centers who obtained the leaked questions, the examinees would not have known which of the questions would be computer extracted for the final exam.

It’s as though I leaked to you the 100 questions and answers that I guarantee you will be asked in a US naturalization exam (which anyone can obtain from the immigration website, by the way), except that I can't provide you with the 10 particular questions that will be asked. I can similarly provide you with the list of all the questions and answers in a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) exam without knowing precisely which questions will be asked.

The examinees who attended the Gapuz review center and the INRESS review classes of George Cordero apparently obtained advanced access to 500 questions in Tests III and V that will in a pool from which the questions would be selected. But they didn’t know which particular 100 questions from each subject
would be asked.

Interestingly enough, of all the test centers in the Philippines which conducted the nursing exams, Baguio City, where the leakage originated, reported a 36-percent passing rate, the lowest among the 11 national test centers.

But the damage was done. Before the exams, the Philippines was lobbying the US-based National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to include Manila as a NCLEX exam site to ease the financial burden on Filipino nurses having to travel to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur just to take the exams. After news of the 2006 leaking scandal broke, Manila was removed from any such consideration.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reported that 7,768 nurses went to work abroad in 2005, down from 12,822 in 2001. There are 450 nursing schools in the Philippines, 50 of which the PRC would like to close down as nothing more than diploma mills.

The nurses also face stiff competition from Philippine doctors, 6000 of whom, according to The Asian Pacific Post, are studying to become nurses so they can find higher-paying jobs abroad. A physician employed in a Philippine government hospital earns only about 25,000 pesos (446 dollars) a month. A doctor could earn around 8,000 dollars a month while working as a nurse overseas.

On February 15, 2007, the CGFNS announced in its website ( that it would not issue VisaScreen certificates to passers of the “compromised” Philippine nursing licensure exam of June 2006. The organization urged the Philippine government to “provide an opportunity for retake” of the compromised test parts so the affected board passers may qualify for the VisaScreen.

“The integrity of foreign licensing systems ultimately affects the health and safety of patients in the United States, a primary consideration of CGFNS in its role in evaluating candidates under US immigration law," the commission stated.

The New York Times reported on August 21, 2006 that the Philippine nursing scandal threatens the country’s status as the world’s top producer of nurses, regularly supplying US, Canadian, UK and Saudi hospitals with several thousand RNs a year. This number was likely to increase in the US with the lifting of the cap on the number of foreign nurses that US hospitals can hire.

Already, Philippine officials reported, American recruiters are turning away nurses who took the tainted board exams, while those who remain in the Philippines are having difficulty finding jobs. Questions also have been raised about the integrity of previous nursing board exams.

Meanwhile India is rapidly producing more nurses to fill the nursing void in the US and other countries, threatening to surpass the Philippines in that category.

But it is in the category of cheating in elections and in the rigging of government contracts that the Philippines has been unsurpassed in Asia. It is this widespread perception that has fueled the nursing scandal even where, ironically enough, the attempt at cheating did not actually affect the results.

Monday, April 2, 2007

O Yee of Little Faith

When I was running for re-election to the San Francisco Community College Board many years ago, I met with the publisher and the editorial staff of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. With a reported circulation of 200,000, the paper’s political endorsement was and still is considered vital to the success of any political candidate.

“We’ve had very bad experience endorsing minority candidates,” Bruce Brugman, the 6’5” burly publisher of the Bay Guardian, candidly told me after I made my pitch for his paper's support. “The minority candidates we endorsed turned out to be major disappointments,” he said. “They were bought off.”

Brugman’s views were disgustingly racist and I told him so. He was tarring all minority candidates with the same broad brush, creating yet another negative stereotype. Brugman was declaring, in effect, that it was better to endorse white candidates because they have more integrity and can’t be corrupted as easily as minority candidates.

I was reminded of Brugman’s words this past week when I reviewed the actions of State Senator Leland Yee who denounced the City College of San Francisco for planning “in the dead of night” to construct a 17-story building for the
Chinatown-North Beach campus, across the 31-story San Francisco Hilton Chinatown.

The Chinatown Hilton is owned by Justice Investors, a group which has hired high-priced lobbyists to block the construction of the Chinatown campus because the views of its hotel rooms may be blocked, even partially, by the new building. According to Chinatown community leader Dr. Henry Der, a former California Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Justice Investors is waging “a mean-spirited campaign of deception to confuse and mislead the Chinatown community and general public” about the proposed Chinatown campus.

“This campaign of deception,” Dr. Der wrote in an AsianWeek op-ed piece, “has purposely made up unsubstantiated, wild-eyed allegations that City College is going to build a ‘massive high-rise’ that will negatively impact Chinatown parking, traffic and Portsmouth Square Park. To create the illusion of legitimacy to their campaign, these paid lobbyists have trotted out State Senator Leland Yee as a ‘community leader,’ rallying Chinatown against this "high-rise."

“What this campaign of deception does not disclose is that, according to public records, Hilton Hotel owners and their paid lobbyists and families have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Yee’s political campaigns. Knowing that Justice Investors and their lobbyists are capable of contributing more, Yee has easily, and not surprisingly, kowtowed to Hilton Hotel’s interests, at the expense of immigrant educational needs. Pure and simple, Hilton does not want any building to block its hotel window views.”

Even though he immigrated to the US from China when he was three, Yee has chosen to turn his back on his own community and to support the interests of the Hilton’s millionaire owners. To Yee, Hilton’s interests in preserving its hotel views are more important than the needs of his own community to build a campus accessible to the people who live and work there, a campus of 42 classrooms with language and science labs, computer training rooms and a culinary program.

At his Chinatown press conference, Yee claimed that the proposed 17-story City College building would cast a giant shadow over Portsmouth Square. Yee was aware that this charge was baseless as he had been provided with the results of a study which showed that the proposed building’s shadow would only affect a narrow sliver of the northwest corner of the park, and for a very limited period of time during the summer, and no later than 7:45 AM.

The truth did not stop Hilton’s paid lobbyists from spreading the big lie among various ethnic community leaders including Filipino American community leader Alice Bulos who signed a statement, prepared by Hilton’s lobbyists, charging that “the current plan would cast a shadow and obscure the major milestones of Asian American history.”

The height of hypocrisy here is that it is the 31-story Hilton Hotel Chinatown, across from Portsmouth Square, which casts the overwhelming shadow over the park, all day long and all year long. The Hilton’s paid lobbyists also claimed that the campus would draw 6500 “new” students who would descend on the campus at the same time, causing massive traffic jams and parking congestion.

"I was misled," said Rudy Asercion, a Filipino American Veterans commissioner. "The person who approached us said that there will be 7,000 students coming all at once and there would be no parking spaces. That is really not true because the classes are going to be staggered throughout the day and night and throughout the week and weekend."

Campus advocates also point out that about 90% of the students who will attend the proposed campus already live in Chinatown and will simply be walking to the campus or taking public transportation to get there, belying the parking congestion argument.

City College has wanted to build its own Chinatown campus for more than 25 years to replace the current inadequate facility, a former elementary school rented from the School District. But finding a site in the densest part of the city and obtaining the funds to purchase it were major problems until 1997, when San Francisco voters approved bond funds to purchase the Colombo and Fong buildings in Chinatown for the Chinatown campus.

Before that Chinatown campus project could get off the ground, however, suit was filed by the “Friends of the Colombo Building” to preserve the historic building. It turned out the lawsuit was funded by the owner of the adjacent Montgomery Towers building who did not want his towers’ views to be blocked by the proposed 9-story building which was to be built on two sites.

When it was time to get the bond funds from the City to complete the purchase of the buildings, then SF Supervisor Leland Yee, as chair of the Board's Budget and Finance Committee, held up release of the bond monies unless and until City College reached a settlement with the “Friends of the Colombo Building”. Because the funds were needed immediately or the purchase the property would be lost, the Board agreed not to tear down the Colombo Building and to seismically retrofit it at an added cost of $10-M.

But even after the Board yielded to his political blackmail, Yee declared that he still would not release the funds unless the College agreed to reimburse the attorney’s fees that the Montgomery Towers owner had paid to finance the lawsuit. The Board was outraged as the money to pay the $150,000 would come from the general funds of the College. Board members believe that the Montgomery Towers owner contributed heavily to Yee’s political campaign.

The Board then lobbied the other two members of the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee to vote to release the funds. But Yee said that, as chair of the committee, he alone had the power to “agendize” the item and if he didn’t put it on the agenda, it didn’t matter if the College had the support of the majority.

As he did then, as he is doing now, Yee has shown that he cares more about the interests of his financial contributors the interests of the people of San Francisco, especially those of minority immigrants.

O Yee of little faith in the people (and a lot of faith in the moneymen), you ’re making Bruce Brugman look good.