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Atlanta massacre sparks a political awakening in the Korean church

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Atlanta massacre sparks a political awakening in the Korean church

Churches can no longer stay silent about racism, said Pastor Han Byung-chul from the Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, who recently formed an anti-AAPI hate group in the city with 11 other religious leaders.

“It should be a time that Asian Americans reflect on their indifference and irresponsibility,” Han said in an interview, using language striking for its rebuke of his fellow Asians. “This is an awakening moment for Asian Americans.”

Pastors are reluctant to align themselves with a party. And right now, their efforts are in the very early planning stages. But they’re making it clear they intend to be a force strong enough to pressure lawmakers and political parties into addressing the needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

“It’s not about specific politicians or political parties. We want an overarching understanding that we need to create a society where immigrants and Asians aren’t discriminated [against],” said Pastor Lee Jun-hyup from Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga. “Korean churches and Asian American groups will likely put more pressure on lawmakers to implement systematic changes to address these issues.”

A similar political awakening is gaining momentum across the United States. Last week, Pastor Choi Byung-ho, president of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, sent out instructions encouraging pastors around the country to incorporate anti-racism messages in their sermons.

Lew Jae-duk, the president of the Korean United Methodist churches, put out a statement that both condemns hate crimes and criticizes xenophobic lawmakers: “I think politicians who have used Asians as a scapegoat are partially to blame,” he said. “Because the country is struggling, they’re fueling hate against immigrants, minorities and other countries to court the support of the far-right.”

Ultimately these pastors say they want to work with lawmakers to enact policy change protecting Asian Americans from further violence, said Pastor Michael Lee of All Nations Community Church in Bellevue, Wash. Law enforcement must improve both the way it tracks hate crimes and the way those crimes are prosecuted, Lee said. But that can only happen by ensuring all police departments carry a hate crime unit, which can help expedite the investigation of these incidents. He also emphasized the need for oversight committees to monitor law enforcement’s handling of hate crimes.

“All this hype without policy change is just hype. It’s just emotions,” Lee said. “And so I think the only way to make lasting changes is through policy changes. Having a seat at the table with lawmakers, with elected officials locally, statewide, nationally … that’s absolutely essential.”

Like other ethnic groups, Korean Americans often split along generational lines. First-generation immigrants tend to align with conservatives on matters like abortion and the economy; many Korean Americans, for instance, are small business owners who despise taxes and red tape. But younger generations are more likely to tell pollsters that the Republican Party, dominated increasingly by white identity politics, doesn’t represent them.

An invigorated Korean community, pushed to action by Korean churches, could be good news for Democrats, who have been losing ground with the Korean community in recent years, according to early poll data. Although nationally, 57 percent of Korean Americans said they would vote for Biden pre-election, an exit poll conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that only 39 percent voted for the current president. While the numbers are still incomplete, it shows that Democrats need better outreach to the community to secure their vote in future elections.

It’s why the current galvanizing around racism works in the Democrats’ favor because Korean Americans approve their handling of the issue: In a September survey by AAPI Data, a demographic data and policy research organization, 63 percent of Korean Americans said they thought Democrats did a better job at addressing racism than Republicans — the highest rate out of all ethnicities polled and 14 percent above the overall Asian American average.

What’s more, this spark in activism among pastors is bridging the generational gap in civic participation for the community. Young second- and third-generation Korean Americans are mingling with older first-generation immigrants at protests against racial discrimination. Korean culture is very family focused, so this multigenerational approach will likely inspire older, first-generation immigrants to stay engaged, activists say. And that, in turn, will likely translate to then having a united voice on issues, fostering higher voter turnout.

“That’s what it feels like for the Asian community: That finally, after all these years of being silenced and minimized and demonized, we have this window,” said Hyepin Im, president and founder of Faith and Community Empowerment. “It feels like we’re finally given this platform for us to speak.”

Until now, these populations have shied away from speaking out about racial issues or even being a part of political movements. Part of that is due to cultural and language barriers, as well as a deeply ingrained belief that religion should not be a part of secular activities, such as politics or protests.

But churches have long held a prominent role in fighting against racial injustice, especially within the Black community. Black churches were the epicenter of the 60s civil rights movement — led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and his network of fellow preachers across the South — as they hosted community meetings, organized mass marches and provided spiritual support.

Korean churches today are following in that tradition, said Omar Wasow, a politics professor at Princeton who tracks political movements. And he sees many of the same patterns playing out in the Korean community today.

“Young people were perceived as too militant and older generations were like, ‘We need to keep our heads down in the context of civil rights activism,’” he said. “Some of what brought an older generation along was the Black church and leaders there who could kind of bridge these more traditional institutions and a more activist kind of wing in the community.”

These churches will likely act as a safe space for first-generation immigrants who have historically felt they’ve never had a platform to voice the discrimination they feel, Im said. It’s the best way to keep this population — which has long been coveted as a “silent giant” among local organizers who see the group’s potential — engaged despite their long-held wariness of civic participation due to cultural and language barriers, she added. Organizers had already been targeting this group because of its sheer size: 70 percent of Asian Americans in Georgia are foreign-born.

As the number of politically engaged Korean Americans grows, with church pastors at the forefront, the group will likely have “to actually search what they want to fight for” beyond fighting racial injustice, Wasow said. Surveys already show that Korean Americans are heavily invested in the economy, environment, education and national security, and the current burgeoning political movement will likely encourage members to speak out more publicly on these issues than ever before.

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a legendary business professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Management, has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with. What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about is, increasingly incompatible, he says.

“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide — which used to be fringe in the GOP — has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”

Over the weekend, Sonnenfeld hastily organized a Zoom conference with roughly 100 major corporate executives to talk through the voter restrictions being considered by state legislatures throughout the country, and about the way top Republicans like McConnell and Ted Cruz are responding with attacks on businesses that speak up in opposition.

Most of the CEOs on the call were Republicans; Sonnenfeld himself has been an informal adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, but he has a longstanding relationship with McConnell, and spoke at the senator’s wedding to Elaine Chao. The CEOs “ranged from amused to outraged” in their reaction to the GOP attacks on businesses, says Sonnenfeld. “Their comments ranged from talk about ‘taxation without representation’ to the paradox of ‘cancel culture’: It’s OK if they speak out, but only as long as they stay on script?”

As the GOP tries to position itself as the home of “working-class values,” capturing loyalty with a steady campaign against the perceived excesses of progressive culture, it’s running afoul of a business community that can’t simply silo off “culture war” topics. In the eyes of major corporations, issues like voting rights, immigration and transgender-inclusive restrooms have economic impact, too. The millions of people alienated by those fights aren’t just their future customers, many of whom expect to support brands they believe in, they’re the companies’ employees.

“The bad news for Republicans is that they seem to have a 1920s view of who big business’s workforce is,” says Sonnenfeld. “That workforce is, at a minimum, highly diverse — and they get along. Trying to stir that up is misguided.”

The new Republican penchant for mocking corporations for being too socially aware — for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter threat to use the power of the state to harm Major League Baseball’s business, signing the message off with “go woke, go broke” — fundamentally misunderstands what matters to business in the 21st century, says Sonnenfeld. “Basically, business leaders believe that it’s in the interest of society to have social harmony… Divisiveness in society is not in their interest, short term or long term.”

If the marriage between the Republican Party and the business community is on the rocks, what does that mean for politics? What do we misunderstand about what really matters to CEOs? And why aren’t business executives more afraid of boycott threats from the right?

For answers to all of that and more, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Sonnenfeld this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

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Pence has pacemaker implanted – POLITICO

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Pence has pacemaker implanted - POLITICO

Former Vice President Mike Pence had a pacemaker implanted on Wednesday, his office announced in a release Thursday.

After being named to Donald Trump’s ticket in 2016, Pence disclosed that he had been diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, he said. In the past two weeks, Pence’s office said he had begun to have symptoms related to a “slow heart rate.”

Pence then had the pacemaker inserted in a successful “routine surgery” at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va., his office said in the statement. Pence is “expected to fully recover and return to normal activity in the coming days,” the statement said.

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Yang tweets about street vendors — and ignites fury on the left

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Yang tweets about street vendors — and ignites fury on the left

“No one is saying this but you,” the NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has not endorsed in the race, tweeted Sunday. “We don’t need more cops arresting street vendors.”

The fight over street vendors in New York City encompasses multiple hot debates — from aggressive policing of women selling churros in subways, to the onerous fees lunch cart operators, often immigrants, pay to permit holders. Food trucks and carts are primary sources of income for many immigrants, and granting more permits to halal carts, hot dog stands and churros vendors has long been a fraught political battle — more so now as brick-and-mortar restaurants struggle to come back from the pandemic.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose mayoral campaign so far has been lagging in the polls, headed to Queens Monday with leading Latina supporters to denounce Yang’s support for more enforcement.

“He wants to start a crackdown on vendors and send enforcement after the immigrant communities that powered us through the pandemic,” Stringer, a career politician running as a progressive, said at Corona Plaza, a popular spot in Queens for Latin American food vendors.

“How can you claim to love New York City and want to throw hardworking New Yorkers who make a living in jail? What is that about? Maybe he just wants to take their carts away, send them home with $10,000 fines they can never pay off,” he said. “This is a criminalization of poverty.”

He was joined by state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, two politicians popular with progressives who have endorsed his campaign.

Ramos (D-Queens) said she was “hurt” and “offended” by Yang’s comments. “You can’t be mayor of the city of New York if you don’t know how the city of New York works,” she said. “It is not that [vendors] do not want a permit, it is that they can’t obtain a permit because there is a BS cap on the limited number of vending permits that are given out.”

Yang said Monday he regretted the tweet and his intent was not to antagonize street vendors.

“I love street vendors as many New Yorkers do. And I’m supportive of the measures to try and increase the number of licenses,” he said when asked to respond to the criticism at an unrelated campaign event. “I think we’re all actually aligned on the policy side. And I regret that I took on such a frankly complicated and nuanced issue on that medium. It wasn’t the right medium for it.”

The street vendor flap followed an onslaught of criticism Friday and Saturday, when a clip from a February 2020 interview surfaced on Twitter showing the former presidential candidate saying, Democrats shouldn’t be “celebrating an abortion at any point in the pregnancy.”

The clip did not include the question Yang was responding to, which was how he would win more political support for reproductive rights.

Much of the heat against Yang has come from rival campaigns. But POLITICO reported Monday that Gabe Tobias, head of the progressive political action committee, Our City, wants to “make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang.”

Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have come in first and second respectively in early polls. Both are running on a platform that appeals to more moderate Democrats.

In Adams’ case, the former NYPD captain is emphasizing the importance of public safety and has rejected calls to defund the police. Yang has appealed to the private sector, specifically small businesses, and cautioned against raising taxes further on the city’s highest earners.

“We are more concerned about progressives voting for Andrew Yang than we are about them voting for Eric Adams,” Tobias said.

The street vendor issue is made more complex by brick-and-mortar restaurants and retailers devastated by the pandemic as city tourism dried up.

“The political commentators can dissect the Twitter debate but the fact is the vending system is broken and it comes at the expense of vendors, brick-and-mortar businesses and the public,” said Andrew Rigie, head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance which lobbies for restaurants. “The city recently passed a law increasing the number of vendor permits and creating a dedicated enforcement and support office, but we cannot debate the fact that the public deserves to expect safe food no matter where it is sold or by whom.”

The City Council voted in January for a sweeping overhaul to add 4,000 new street vendor permits over more than a decade. Many street vendors have long operated illegally or used expensive black market permits because they can’t get permits directly from the city, which has capped them at 5,100 since the 1980s.

Yang on Monday emphasized his support for that measure and pointed to his endorsement by City Council Member Margaret Chin, who sponsored the street vendor expansion.

“The goal should be to try to increase the number of licenses and support these vendors and bring them more into the formal economy,” Yang said. Still, he said the city should be more responsive to individual business owners’ complaints about unlicensed vendors.

“If the owner of a small business thinks that an unlicensed street vendor is somehow a nuisance to customers in some way, then that should be something that they can actually seek the city’s help with without doing anything untoward towards the street vendor, who could in many cases simply move like 500 feet, or in one direction or another,” he said.

Janaki Chadha and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.

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