Monday, August 07, 2006

Raj Answers Sepia Mutiny Questions

Following his interview Raj interacted with Sepia Mutiny’s audience.

Thanks to all for your questions and kind words.

Chick Pea,

1. The problem of excessive litigation against good doctors is huge in my congressional district. It is an issue about which I am especially passionate. There are a variety of reforms that have promise to solve this problem, one of which is to cap contingency fees for lawyers who take these cases. Another is to place caps on non-economic damages.

2. One of my goals while I’m in office is to work on defense and foreign policy. I spent much of my time at Boston College studying the history of diplomacy.
Serving in Congress would be a suitable post to work on that issue.

3. The federal government has a hand in anti-crime policy, since many local law enforcement agencies get homeland security funding. I want to make sure that such funding, as well as programs like C.O.P.S. which funds the hiring of many police officers is kept sufficient.

4. I’m very proud of what Bobby Jindal has done as a Congressman from Louisiana and my campaign has valued his council greatly.

5. I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. The man believed in and exemplified a robust but realistic foreign policy and a domestic policy of clean government. He gave the GOP a proud tradition of respect for the environment, a tradition that we must reclaim.

6. I shop for my bowties at some big- name stores like Brooks Brothers, but I also have gotten some from a specialty store in Middlebury, Vermont that I rather like.

Amardeep,

I believe that we must suppress the insurgency in Iraq. That said, if I were in Congress when the resolution for war in Iraq was voted on, I would not have voted for the war. But nations like ours and Israel’s must recognize the threat of terrorism when it approaches, and there is, I believe, work to be done in the Middle East before a U.S. withdrawal. But we need to be thinking out of the box on these things. I fear that the administration is caught in a spiral. I’ll be speaking about this quite a bit in my campaign. I think we all must remember that no matter what we think about the war we must support the troops. My campaign recently held a fundraiser for the troops which was quite successful.

Badmash,

Our alliance with Canada is arguably the strongest that we in the U.S. enjoy. Our relationship on trade should not be imperiled by squabbling from either side. Our policy should be to knock down trade barriers on both sides, so that trade is both free and fair.

P.G. Wodehouse,

I am utterly opposed to arrests made on the basis of race. If this is proven decisively to have happened in “Operation Meth Merchant”, it will not be met with approval by me.

Also, you inquire about I identify myself. Quite simply, I am Indian-American, I am Irish-American, and foremost, I am American. I believe none of this is mutually exclusive.

Yo Dad,

1. My biggest differences with President Bush center on the question of Iraq. He has demonstrated a degree of courage, which is admirable, but the situation in Iraq required greater realism than he was willing to give it when he made his push for war.

2. I believe that America retains much strength in the world. We will keep up that strength only by being more cautious before stepping into perilous conflicts like the current one in the Middle East.

Dasichist,

On the immigration issue, it is important for the United States to bring in more of the best and brightest from around the world by increasing H-1B visas, student visas, and the like. Immigration is the lifeblood of America, and we should have a policy that reflects that while still strenuously controlling our borders so that immigrants come here legally.

Desitude,

I have taken a strong stand against the stereotyping of Indians in America since the beginning of my campaign. I voiced particular displeasure at Senator Biden’s comments implying that we are exclusively convenience store owners.

Not about to be played,

I am very proud of the support AAHOA has given me. Their goals are ones that I certainly value, since I am a hotelier of Indian heritage. Their priorities are to oppose discrimination and to keep taxes, regulations, and other hindrances to Indian hoteliers in America from disallowing us to realize the American dream.

This speaks, I think, to the reason why Indian Americans can and should support each other politically. Our values of family, industriousness, and education are shared amongst the vast majority of our community.

Sriram,

You are quite right to raise the importance of environmentalism. This is an issue on which my party, the Republican Party, must get back to its roots. We need to work on developing alternative sources of energy so that we can wean ourselves off of our addiction to oil. I support efforts in Congress to jumpstart these promising new technologies like solar energy and biofuels.

You are also correct to view climate change as one of mankind’s greatest current environmental challenge. To address it, I believe Congress must enact tough standards on carbon dioxide emissions that will bring our country into line with other nations that have addressed this issue.

Dave,

I believe that rashly calling for the impeachment of judges is a wrongheaded approach to keeping our judiciary independent. I strongly oppose the Kelo decision which expanded the governments reach on imminent domain, but I believe legislators responded to the ruling constructively, but acting themselves to curb imminent domain. I must also emphasize that I, as a congressman, would not be involved in the confirmation of judges.

Gautham,

1. I support multilateral talks to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. With regard to the nations you have mentioned and their ties to terrorism, the United States must bring multilateral diplomatic strength to bear and force their hand without resorting to military conflict at the moment. Because of Iraq and prudent consideration, another military conflict is not a viable option.

2. I stand by the U.S.-India nuclear deal 100 percent and believe that it holds much promise to improve relations between America and India. My opponent unfortunately voted against it.

3. I believe that we as Indian-Americans must stand together and bolster our shared values of family and equality. If the various Indian communities in America stand together, we can be a strong force for anti-discrimination. We can also become a powerful force to bring together the two great democracies of the world and have the American people overall recognize the tremendous contributions we’ve made to this country.

4. I believe that the relationship between Israel and the United States is rightly valued and should be continued.

Alfie,

I appreciate your perspective on this matter. I must submit that bringing excellent students from abroad into America is not merely a matter of removing any cap on visas, but also of providing the right incentives for students to come. We need to make sure that students here on visas as well as workers here on H-1Bs do not only come here to work or study for a bit, but to stay. The temporary nature of many visas is such that many who take them leave after working or studying for a short time in the U.S. This must change. America must maintain its ability to bring the best and brightest to our shores.

Raj's Interview with Sepia Mutiny

Below is Raj’s interview with Sepia Mutiny. The interview occurred on Monday.

This morning on Sepia Mutiny we are going to try something new. One of the reasons we started SM was to see if we could get more members of the South Asian American community involved with politics and in shaping the national agenda/discourse. One of the many ways to try and accomplish this is for some of you to run for elected office. As you know, we often feature desis from both sides of the aisle who are seeking elected office at a variety of levels from very local to national. Today we are interviewing the Republican congressional candidate for Pennsylvania’s 13th District (near Philadelphia), Raj Peter Bhakta. Most of you are familiar with Bhakta as a former contestant on NBC’s The Apprentice. He is running against first term Democratic incumbent Allison Schwartz. Bhakta’s website lists the campaign issues most important to him and he also has a blog where he writes down thoughts about the race and his district.

So here is the twist. SM isn’t a newspaper nor do we want to be. I am not going to just ask questions and have Bhakta answer the few that I think are relevant. His campaign is asking for help from all quarters including the South Asian American community. He needs both money (his opponent has way more than him) and volunteers. So why don’t you all interview him. Questions from Philly area mutineers are especially welcome. He has kindly agreed to check this website several times today and answer some of your questions directly. Myself and the other bloggers will moderate. This means please be polite and respectful to our guest. Hopefully we get this kind of direct interaction with others in the future and it would be a shame to set a bad example here.

Last week I sat down with Candidate Bhakta (and when I say “sat down” I mean I emailed him some questions and he emailed me back) just to get us started. Think of this as our own version of Meet the Press.

Abhi: I believe you are just over thirty years old and are running for a Congressional seat. That is roughly the same age as a good portion of our readers. What made you decide that you wanted to run for U.S. Congress as opposed to starting out locally and gaining experience with a position in Pennsylvania’s state government first?

RPB: It’s always been my intent to run for political office. When I graduated from high school, I promised myself that I would run for office by the age of 30 - I also had a caveat to run earlier if I made a great fortune before 30. Well, 30 came first.

On a more serious note, I am running hard now because I am convinced that if we don’t have more responsible leadership in Washington - the promise of the American Dream, of which I am a product, will begin to fade. If it does fade, so will America. And I won’t let that happen without one hell of a fight.

As far as experience goes, it is an asset not coming from a long background of spending the people’s money. I am proud to have been making a living, and paying taxes instead of living off the back of the taxpayers.

Finally, as for age, if you ask me, I’m feel like a running a little behind schedule. Life is short and there is much to do.

Abhi: Many political candidates running for office like to put their wife/husband and their 2.5 children in front of the camera as often as they can in order to come across as “wholesome.” Do you think that being a bachelor (with a bit of a reputation as a ladies’ man) puts you at a disadvantage?

RPB: People are tired of phony politicians with their scripted phrases and staged family campaign shots. Many of these folks who make such a strenuous effort to make it look like they have a perfect family life are engaged in a giant farce - before themselves and before the voters.

People want their elected leaders to be sincere, and I have had no more deep and sincere that to provide every American, whether first generation or seventh generation, a fighting chance. That is America’s sacred mission in my view and I’m committed to it.

And if people think it is improper for me, a young single man, to have asked Anna Kournikova out for date - well, what can I say? It is precisely correct behavior in my view. As I said on the show, there are no points awarded for not trying. None.

Abhi: What is the single most important local issue (within your district) that concerns you? What is the single most important national issue?

RPB: My district faces the scourges of sprawl in the suburbs and crime in its urban areas. Local officials entrusted with our quality of life have not done their part to safeguard it. I hope to provide leadership in Congress on that front. An important national issue that is of great importance to my district is medical liability reform. We desperately need to keep excessive lawsuits from destroying the practices of many good doctors.

Abhi: In your opinion/experience do South Asian Americans contribute enough money to political campaigns? If not, then why not? Do you think they are just uninspired by candidates or are they uninterested in politics in general?

RPB: I think the process of Indians and other South Asians in America gaining interest in politics is certainly taking shape. We are a group of mostly new Americans who have largely done very well at achieving the American dream. If fact, it is a source of tremendous pride for me to be part of one of the most successful immigrant communities in the entire history of this country.

Think of what we have achieved in a basically a generation. It’s a staggering achievement. Though patriotism isn’t in vogue in many circles these days, it’s a tribute to our community and it’s a tribute to America.

It is only a matter of time before we be become a great political force.

We’re getting more and more engaged. And the yawning gap between our economic success and our political infancy will begin to close. I’m doing all I can to that end.

But I’d be lying if I told you I’m not at times disappointed with our community’s lack of enthusiasm for politics. But it’s changing and it will continue to.

Abhi: To the best of your knowledge are there any particular issues that South Asian American voters in your district care about more than the average voter? Are there any issues that you have a position on that you feel might inspire South Asian American voters from outside of your district to contribute to your campaign?

RPB: One important action the government needs to take, which I have championed, is to allow greater numbers of bright, skilled immigrants to come to our shores. South Asian Americans have brought so much excellence to this country, we should not be hindering more of them from doing so.

Abhi: What one point of concrete advice can you give our readers who might want to run for a Congressional seat of their own someday?

RPB: Go for it! And then stick with it. Put on your battle armor and hammer away. Persistence pays.

Abhi: The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll suggested that voters, by a nearly 3-1 margin, are thinking of voting for a Democratic candidate this November. You are running against a Democratic incumbent in a political system that is rigged in favor of the incumbent. What is it about the Republican Party (e.g. issues or ideals) that most compels you to identify as and run as a Republican rather than as an Independent or a Democrat.

RPB: The Republican Party is doing a flat-out awful job of sticking to it’s principals, but in it’s ideals I believe: I have faith in the American individual over government bureaucracies. I believe in small government, and clean government, I believe in teaching people how to fish in indeed of giving them hand-outs day by day. In this sense, I’m a Republican.

This having been said, too many of those attributes I’ve named have not been adhered to, and, in the realm of foreign policy, we’ve recently pursued a course far more radical than conservative. And the results have not been favorable.

Abhi: Can you give us just a couple of examples of the media sources you read to keep well informed about the issues relevant to your campaign (i.e. do you have a favorite magazine or newspaper or website)? I am sure most of what you need to know you learn from talking directly to the voters, but where do you turn to get smart on the rest, especially national issues?

RPB: I read the local papers. For national news of the day, I generally check out the Drudge Report.

Abhi: I noticed that a video on your website accentuates the high energy aspect of your campaign. Is this an important distinction you are making between yourself and your opponent?

RPB: This is certainly a high-energy campaign, but I wouldn’t say I’m making the distinction, so much as Allyson Schwartz is making it for me.

She’s old and phony, and largely absent from the district and I’m the exact opposite. And people are catching on.

Abhi: Has Donald Trump contributed to your campaign yet or is he as cheap as some of us suspect?

RPB: Donald Trump has been tremendously supportive, he’s done a campaign video and I suspect he’ll be even more helpful in the future.