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        Kent Wong
        Asian-American Studies
            

            By any measure of the word, UCLA Professor Kent Wong is a radical.  Moreover, it is an all-encompassing radicalism, not a political cloak that Wong puts on and takes off as the mood strikes him.  His job, his politics, indeed, even his educational background, all are part of his struggle for ‘the people.’

            Kent Wong’s father is Judge Delbert Wong, perhaps known best for his tangential role as a “special master” for defense evidence in the O.J. Simpson case.  However, Wong actually holds a far more important place in history as both the first Chinese-American California Deputy Legislative Counsel in the United States and, upon his 1959 appointment by Governor Earl Warren, the first judge of Chinese descent in the continental United States.  Wong also served with distinction as a U.S. Air Force B-17 bomber navigator in World War II.  But despite his trail-blazing role, race was not always first in Judge Wong’s mind.  In fact, reflecting upon his days at law school, Wong notes, “it really didn’t occur to me that I was a minority.” 

            That kind of race-blind attitude is a far cry from the political outlook on which his son Kent Wong has built his academic and political career.  Their respective choices for legal education go a long way in explaining the difference.  After his service in WWII, Delbert Wong was admitted to Stanford Law, and became in 1948 the school’s first Chinese-American graduate.  Kent Wong, incredibly enough, ended up attending (presumably by choice), the radical Los AngelesPeople’s College of Law.” 

Stanford Law, in the 2006 U.S. News and World Report rankings, weighs in at #3, trailing only Harvard and Yale.  What of the People’s College of Law?  One hardly knows where to begin in describing this abomination of a law school.  Located in an unfashionable area of Los Angeles in a converted warehouse, the school was founded in 1974 by the radical National Lawyers’ Guild, with the assistance of the Asian Law Collective, the La Raza National Lawyer’s Association, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers .  But despite the backing of all that legal muscle, there’s one big problem with the PCL: it’s not accredited by the State Bar of California or the American Bar Association.  Furthering the slap-dash nature of the enterprise is the fact that most of the classes are taught by volunteers, mostly PLC alumni or old-line National Lawyers’ Guild radicals.  As proof of the low esteem in which the school is held, the State of California requires that PCL students, at the end of their first year of study, take the so-called “baby bar” known as the State Bar First Year Law Student Exam

 This exam serves to prevent hopeless students (or students made hopeless by a hopeless education) from wasting any more than a single year on an education that won’t put give them a reasonable chance at passing the actual bar exam.  The exam, which is not required of accredited law schools such as, say, Stanford Law, is essentially a regulatory vote of no confidence.  The state literally does not trust the People’s College of Law to provide a proper three-year education without double-checking after the first year.  As proof of the ignominy of the test, research shows that there is one other significant group that takes the baby bar: would-be lawyers doing direct study with a legal mentor, students who literally do not attend law school at all.  That, as well as anything, illustrates the tier of credibility on which the PCL operates.

            Wong, in many ways, is the PCL personified.  Thus, to read the PCL website’s explanatory question-and-answer page gives a clear picture of both Wong, and the PCL’s, activist, highly ideological nature.  The PCL’s stated goals “are to advocate [for] people before property, [for] human rights, women’s rights, tenants’ rights, consumer rights, workers’ rights; to fight discrimination, economic and political oppression; and to enable and empower those who have been historically denied legal resources and protections.” And just so you’re clear, Whitey had better not come a-knockin’ unless he’s looking to atone big-time.  As the website FAQs warn, “If you seek to become a lawyer or advocate for those who already control the economic and political power in our society, look elsewhere.”  With that pugilistic attitude in mind, the PCL’s application requirements (or more precisely, lack thereof) begin to make a lot more sense.  While interested students must “be able to demonstrate a commitment to progressive social change,” the Law School Admissions Test, the most basic prerequisite of any accredited law school, is not welcome at the PCL.  Indeed, the “PCL recognizes the cultural and sociological limitation of tests such as the LSAT, and does not consider it helpful or necessary in screening viable candidates for the PCL juris doctor program.”

 

            All this vitriol, however, is heaped on a test which has risen to levels of near self-parody in attempting to be culturally and sociologically sensitive.  Any serious test preparation company for the LSAT will warn students that the test goes to nearly comic lengths to be politically correct and multiculturally sensitive.  At least one out of every four reading comprehension writing selections will be about a minority group’s history, literary contributions, scientific discoveries, or the like.  Selections about historical footnotes like the Harlem Renaissance or Chinese labor during the California Gold Rush period are typical.  Moreover, environmentalism (which would presumably be familiar ground for a PLC candidate committed to ‘progressive’ goals) receives heavy-handed emphasis.  On the LSAT, mankind (often in the specific form of corporations) is portrayed as an ever-present bogeyman responsible for repeated environmental depredations. 

 

And despite PCL claims of ‘cultural limitations,’ nowhere in the test are there questions about regattas, topsiders, cotillions or brandy snifters.  The LSAT, in short, is everything people from the PCL crowd should want in a test.  The source of PCL’s disregard is two-fold: first, nobody with any ambition or preparative drive applies to a school like PCL.  Taking the LSAT requires time, forethought, and around $150 in fees.  Were the PCL to make students jump through those kind of hoops, their applications might drop to zero.  Second, and more importantly, avoiding LSAT scores eliminates the embarrassment of a numerical paper trail.  There’s enough embarrassment to be found in the school’s results from the past three years of state bar examinations.  To wit:

Date                             First time          Pass                 Retake             Pass

July 2005                     0                      0                      12                    0


February 2005             1                      0                      10                    0


July 2004                     3                      0                      5                      0


February 2004             0                      0                      8                      0


July 2003                     0                      0                      10                    0


February 2003             1                      0                      8                      0


            Admittedly, the bar examination is a difficult hurdle even for intelligent students.  So what aout the PCL student passage on the aforementioned baby bar?

Date                             First time          Pass                 All takers          Pass

June 2005                    1                      0                      11                    1         


October 2004              0                      0                      7                      0


June 2004                    7                      1                      14                    2


October 2003              0                      0                      14                    0


June 2003                    7                      1                      15                    2


October 2002              2                      0                      8                      0


            As they say in the courtrooms in which most PCL students will never practice: res ipsa loquitur.  And PCL’s record most certainly does speak for itself.

            While an abysmal venue for legal education, the PCL is world-class at creating people of Kent Wong’s ilk: radicals who combine politics, academics, and employment.  Indeed, the philosophy of ‘the political is personal’ suffuses the institution.  The worldview of the PCL’s heavily low-income students (tution is still only $4,000 per year), is shaped by the Marxian worldview of us vs. them, oppressors vs. oppressees.  Typical is third-year student Magda Madrigal, who explains the no-LSAT requirement by stating, “If you grew up with a nanny and a tutor and all the comforts of life, you would probably do better than the lady next to you who worked all her life.  We would be keeping you in and her out, further marginalizing the community.”  “The community,” of course, is a radical code word for “poor people” or “minorities.”  The result of this race- and class-based thinking is clear.  According to Mike Love, the current chairman of the PCL Community Board, PCL students learn that that as legal advocates, “If it takes lying in the street to get your point across [during a protest],” the PCL would “encourage that.” 

For such a small, desperately inadequate educational institutions, the PCL has managed to turn out a great number of Los Angeles’ usual radical suspects.  Joining Wong at the PCL after his Berkeley graduation were two UCLA alumni (of sorts): now-Los Angeles major Antonio Villaraigosa, and now-California State Senator Gil Cedillo.  Both Villaraigosa (then known simply as Tony Villar) and Cedillo were members of the campus chapter of the radical Hispanic student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan).  While Villar and Cedillo eventually earned their juris doctorates from the PCL, both became union activists and then politicians; not, it should be pointed out, lawyers of any sort.  Villaraigosa, as has been noted, had originally left UCLA in 1975 to take a union-organizing job, only returning later under murky circumstances to claim his degree, supposedly in 1979.  Villar’s education from PCL was similarly futile: his four tries at the bar exam yielded four failures.  Cedillo’s own record is unknown, but given that Cedillo has never been recorded as a member of the California Bar Association, his ambitions were evidently the same as Villar’s.  Wong, by contrast, at least passed the bar exam (in 1984), although he has been on “Inactive” status since joining the UCLA Labor Center in 1992. 

Following his graduation from PCL and his 1984 bar passage, Wong was hired as the first staff attorney of the fledgling Asian Pacific American Legal Center for Southern California (founded in 1983).  In time, Wong moved up to a staff attorney position for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 660, one of the more powerful union locals in the state.  After starting work with UCLA, Wong also helped organize and served as the first president (from 1992-1997) of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the first national labor organization for Asian Americans and a unit of the AFL-CIO.  

Much as in the case of UCLA Law Professor Gary Blasi, one wonders how a powerful radical activist came to be viewed as the best possible choice for a UCLA academic position.  Admittedly, Wong was not hired into a tenure-track position (nor should he have been), but given his PCL J.D. and less than a decade of experience as a labor union staff attorney, there was little that argued for Wong to win the position at all.  Nonetheless, Wong was hired by UCLA in 1991 to serve as Director of the UCLA Labor Center.  The answer for this seemingly random choice lies in Wong’s promise as a potential activist academic.  For UCLA, it’s increasingly not just a naughty thrill to pick a candidate with no traditional academic background, it’s an actual necessity imposed by the activist nature of the position being filled.  As with Blasi, Wong was not assuming a traditional academic position but was instead tasked with helming a program which was activist and ideological in its very concept.  UCLA understood and accepted that Blasi would bring in a one-sided conception of “public interest law” (essentially, negotiating with the regulatory bureaucracy to claim entitlement funds).  Likewise, the UCLA Labor Center was entirely one-sided in its conception and goals.  In a way then, the blame for outlandish radical behavior falls not on these extremist employees, but the bureaucrats, politicians and decision-makers who allowed UCLA to inaugurate programs that by their very nature would operate as one-sided ideological machines.

Wong’s new position at UCLA did not make him any more outspoken or politically radical, it merely gave him a very respectable pedestal from which to trumpet his views.  No longer was he Kent Wong, a union staff attorney, he was now Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.  Nothing changed except Wong’s title – but in a way, that changed everything.  Now, when members of the media came calling (and they did, in droves), they reported Wong’s rabidly pro-union views as if they were the considered opinions of a thoughtful academic.  The problem is that Wong had made no effort to become any less of a partisan, despite his new position and new responsibility to his ultimate boss, the taxpayers of California.  In a way, who could blame Wong for exploiting the situation?  He had not hidden his radical light under a bushel.  He had never promised, and UCLA’s decision-makers had never demanded, that he be anything other than Kent Wong the ideologue.

Perhaps most disappointing in all of this is how easily Wong got away with talking out of both sides of his mouth.  While the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other sources carried his relatively non-partisan observations about the 2003-2004 Southern California supermarket strike, Wong was in other outlets a partisan mouthpiece for the unions – if only anyone had cared to notice.  In the February 4, 2004 issue of the radical Manchester, U.K. based Guardian, Wong cast the grocery stores’ lockout and subsequent worker strike as “a major assault on unions and healthcare benefits.”  In an interview with the UCLA school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, Wong piled on the abuse, claiming that “the supermarket corporations forced this strike.”  The grocery stores, Wong claimed, “came in with a very harsh proposal calling for wage freezes” with the end goal of “depress[ing] their workers’ wages and benefits.”  By contrast to the dastardly supermarkets, all was rosy with the unions, who had generated “broad-based community support, getting [other] unions to support and respect its cause, and making appeals to the public.”

            The supermarket strike was far from the first time that Wong had voiced one-sided support for unions.  During the 1995 dispute over the unionization of UCLA teaching assistants (an on-and-off battle that has raged for years), Wong (inexplicably) excoriated the campus as a “bastion of anti-union activity,”  and denounced the current treatment of the teaching assistants as “not fair.”  And in 2005, Wong appeared at a Student/Labor Action Teach-In co-sponsored by his own UCLA Labor Center and by the radical General Representatives of the Undergraduate Student Association Council.  While official descriptions noted a focus on “education and coalition building among students, workers and unions, and community organizers,” a far more telling description of the content and message of the teach-in came at the lede of the Daily Bruin article about the event. http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/news/articles.asp?ID=32134

 The article opened with the atmospheric description of a room filled with 200 college and high school students and adult union activists chanting the old labor slogan “Si se puede!  Si se puede!” in unison.  As the writer wryly noted, “one could have mistaken Ackerman Grand Ballroom for a union hall.”

            Not surprisingly, Wong’s activism on campus has extended to the issue of affirmative action.  Like his other political beliefs, Wong boils the controversy down to rich vs. poor, white vs. minority, us vs. them.  According to Wong, “From Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ to George Bush’s ‘Willie Horton’ ads, conservatives have successfully used ‘wedge’ issues, particularly those with racial subtexts, to court undecided voters who would normally be opposed to the Republican Party’s pro-corporate and anti-worker agenda.” 

 Speaking of wedges, what better example than Wong’s artful code phrase, “anti-worker agenda”?  Although it hardly bears reiteration, there are very few people in this world who are not working in some capacity.  However, Wong’s description does not apply to this 80% or more of the population.  Instead, this defense of so-called “working people” is really only a reference labor union members.  But by appropriating the broad term “working people,” its users invoke natural sympathy for the underdog, with the natural resentment people feel about being subject to someone else’s will and command.  Wong’s charges of an ‘anti-worker’ agenda recasts anti-union as anti-worker; an important, if not particularly subtle rhetorical shift.

            As is typical in Wong’s career, he has matched words with action, appearing at an October 22, 1998 anti-Prop. 209 rally with the estimable likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, ‘60s radical and then-State Senators Tom Hayden and Richard Polanco, and Tom Saenz of the Ford Foundation creation known as MALDEF (Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund).  At the rally, Wong told the crowd of 500,  “Affirmative action has made UCLA a stronger institution,” and scolded, “When they talk about eliminating affirmative action, they’re talking about rolling back all our gains from the civil rights movement.”  Then, reflecting on UCLA affirmative action’s role in launching the careers of his PCL classmates Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo, Wong declaimed, “They got in because of affirmative action.  And [people] will tell you they weren’t qualified?  Give me a break!”  The biggest danger, as far as Wong could see, was that “Taking away affirmative action is taking away from the future Cedillos and Villaraigosas the chance to succeed.”  Whether Villaraigosa or Cedillo are qualified for anything is debatable.  The harm caused by their irredentist Hispanic political commitments (Cedillo’s illegal immigrant driver’s license scheme being one example) is not.  If only it were true, as Wong claims, that a mere California ballot proposition could stop future Villaraigosas and Cedillos before they have a chance to wreak political havoc in this state.

            As it happened, all the keening of the racial left, from Reverend Jesse Jackson to Dr. Kent Wong, was all for naught, as Prop. 209 passed handily in 1996.  Rather than accepting defeat and moving on, Wong and others have kept up a steady campus drumbeat on the issue.  At an October 27, 2005 rally in favor of restoring affirmative action, Wong told the crowd of 100,  “Our students are being cheated; qualified students are not gaining access.  It’s time for us to take action.”  Wong might get a lot more support for his call to action if his views weren’t so patently ill-informed.  Wong speaks of “qualified students,” as if qualification to apply were the same as qualification to attend.  No doubt in this and past years, many qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants were turned away at UCLA.  But, provided an applicant graduates in the top 12.5% statewide, or the top 4% of their individual high school, the student is guaranteed a spot at one of the University of California campuses.  Membership in one or both of those groups, however, is not a guarantee for acceptance to UCLA; far from it.  Moreover, if Wong wants to talk about abusive admissions practices in which qualified students are turned away, he need only look at the numbers from the 2002 freshman class at UCLA in which 525 students were admitted with a sub-1000 SAT score, while 1,646 students with 1400+ scores were rejected. 

            And speaking of being “cheated,” consider the 191 rejected applicants with an SAT score of 1500+ - a score that the College Board places in the “99+” percentile.  1500+ is a score so rare that out of the 1.4 million high school test-takers in 2004, less than 20,000 scored in the 750+ category for verbal, and fewer than 25,000 scored in the same category for math.  The number who were able to do both and notch a 1500+ score is undoubtedly even fewer.  The question must then be: who are the inadequate students getting in; who are the overqualified students being turned away?  The evidence points clearly toward a massive gap in black/Hispanic and white/Asian achievement.  In 2004, white UCLA admits average a 4.13 GPA and a 1325 GPA; their Asian-American counterparts average 4.17 and 1328.  Contrast that to African-Americans (3.67 and 1091) and Hispanics (4.00 and 1128).  It may very well be time to “take action” as Wong urges, but a proper resolution to the inequity in question would be unlikely to please Wong.

            Regardless of the overwhelming evidence of continuing racial preferences in the UC system, Wong continues to engage in political demagoguery.  Appearing at the 2003 California Faculty Association’s Equity ConferenceWong blasted President George W. Bush as a “beneficiary of affirmative action…for the wealthy white elite.”  Wong makes this argument by delving into Bush’s Yale application, which carried a combined SAT score of 1206, 180 points below the average for the 1964 freshman class.  Doing the math, we find that Bush’s score was 87% of the class average (1206/1386).  Let’s fast-forward to 2004 and compare this to the results of the affirmative action (masquerading as ‘comprehensive review’) at Wong’s own institution.  Lacking any clear way of calculating a 1964 score in 2004 terms, this percentage-of-the-median measure is the best and simplest means of comparison.  African-Americans in the 2004 UCLA freshman class scored an average 1091 SAT, while Hispanics scored an 1128.  The average for the entire 2004 freshman class is a 1290.  After calculations, we find that the average African-American UCLA freshman in 2004 had an SAT score at 84.5% of the class average, and the average Hispanic applicant tallied an SAT mark that was 87.4% of the class average.  Both of these percentage-of-the-median scores are virtually indistinguishable from Bush’s 87% measure. 

What does all this tell us?  First and most importantly, it neither proves, nor disproves, Wong’s thesis that Bush was a beneficiary of affirmative action “for the wealthy white elite.”  However, Bush no doubt had many skills that were already becoming evident during his prep school years.  Indeed, one hardly becomes President of the United States of America without a strong set of marketable non-academic talents.  By the numbers, there is no doubt that Bush fell at the lower end of Yale admits his year.  Just the same, the numbers also show us that the average minority UCLA enrollee these days falls an almost identical percentage below Bush’s gap below the Yale class average.  Thus, Wong’s argumentation thus cuts both ways.  If, in context, Bush was unqualified to attend Yale, then by the same standard, slightly more or less than 50% (depending on exact numbers) of UCLA’s Hispanic and African-American freshman are unfit to attend UCLA.  Is this really the argument Wong intended to make?

            Just as predictable as Wong’s disdain for Bush is his hatred for corporations.  As a unionista, Wong’s dislike for corporations is to be expected.  In his view, “corporations are preying on the desperate poverty of working people in other parts of the world, undermining worker rights, polluting the environment, and violating human rights based on the fact that they can get away with it.”  Much of this dislike comes from his fundamental ignorance about economics.  Commenting in a May 20, 2000 San Francisco Chronicle article on the unfortunate plight of a poorly-paid Silicone Valley janitor, Wong complained, “In this time, in a booming economy, there’s something very wrong when people who do an indispensable job in the economy are not benefiting from the wealth that's being created.”  Wong either doesn’t understand, or chooses not to believe, in the central truth behind menial jobs like custodian.  At bottom, these occupations do not require education nor any specialized training or knowledge, and can be done by just about anyone willing to exert themselves physically to complete basic tasks.  Most importantly, custodial work is a job with almost no barriers to entry. 

This is illustrated perfectly by the subject of the story in which Wong’s comment appears.  Alicia Sosa, the article notes, is “an immigrant from Mexico…doesn’t have a college degree and – like most janitors in the union…doesn’t speak much English.”  What exactly about Sosa is anything other than utterly dispensable?  As hard as the work may be, Sosa’s job is emptying trash cans and mopping bathrooms.  She is not creating wealth in anything other than the most indirect fashion.  Given her lack of education and limited English skills, she may not even understand how wealth is created.  Wong’s statements, in their own way, betray an identical ignorance. 

            In addition to his work with unions, Wong has been heavily involved with the fledgling “living wage” movement.  As befits someone with no apparent understanding of economics, Wong is all for this command-economy style scheme that requires employers to pay a wage such that an employee working no more than 40 hours per week would be able to afford housing, food, utilities, transport, health care and recreation costs for an entire family.  A living wage is, without exception, significantly higher than the prevailing state or federal minimum wage.  While the idea finds predictable support among labor unions, many economists oppose a living wage requirement on the grounds that, by depressing hiring and driving business from the area, it actually harms the poor it means to help.

            None of this, of course, matters much to Wong.  Entranced by the chimera of full employment, his head dancing with visions of happy ‘working-class’ families right in his own backyard, Wong joined the group Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism (SMART), which successfully put Measure JJ before a vote of Santa Monica residents in November 2002.  The measure applied to businesses with revenues in excess of $5 million per year located in the narrowly-bounded “Coastal Zone” and “Downtown Core”.  Given the highly-constrained map and high revenue requirement, it was transparently obvious that the measure was aimed solely at the city’s hotel industry.

            The rhetoric, while it lasted, was white-hot.  Wong showed up at a August 18, 2001 “Living Wage BBQ” held by SMART and told the crowd, 

            “Los Angeles County is home to some of the wealthiest businesses and individuals in the             country.  There is also tremendous urban poverty.  It is a crime to pay the workers in                 this community poverty wages.  People all over the country are looking to see what is                 happening in Santa Monica.  We will defeat the hotels through unity and strength.”

            Whether from a lack of unity, strength, or some other intangible, the end result was the failure of Measure JJ.  In response, SMART held something not often seen since the 1960’s – a mock trial.  Officially titled “A Hearing To Examine Conduct of Anti-Living Wage Campaign,” it featured a so-called “Blue Ribbon Commission” that heard testimony about alleged abuses by Measure JJ’s opponents.  Wong appeared as a star witness, and in a Hillary Rodham Clinton-esque turn, blamed a vast conspiracy led by the opponents’ consulting firm, The Dolphin Group. 

 Deploring the company’s alleged “deceptive tactics,” Wong delved into the firm’s history, including the Willie Horton ad run against Massachusetts Governer Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign; Propositions 13 and 188; the successful elections of California Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson; even the recall of three State Supreme Court Justices.  Ever the classroom lecturer, Wong laid out four alleged characteristics of Dolphin campaigns: deceptive initiative language, petition gathering under false pretenses, creation of fake grassroots groups, and sensationalistic public appeals.  In sum, Wong darkly concluded, “The Dolphin Group and their allies are doing everything they can to undermine democracy.”

            Wong also involved himself in the recent November 2005 special election called by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, signing a public declaration of opposition to Propositions 74, 75, and 76, labeled in order on the opposition website as the “Blame Teachers Act,” the “Paycheck Deception Act,” and the “Cuts School Funding” Act.  Proposition 75, which would have required union members to opt-in before their dues could be spent on political activities, earned Wong’s particular ire.  Wong attacked the measure as “Schwarzenegger’s attempt to weaken the public workers unions’ political power,” and “silence the voice of the public worker.”  In response to a California State Polytechnic University, Pomona student’s question, Wong even dove into public policy and foreign relations, arguing, “We need to put more political power back into the hands of the unions in order to control the outsourcing of jobs and exploitation of foreign workers.”  Summing up the situation, Wong blared, “Governor Schwarzenegger is committed to attack public sector workers, public sector unions and the last hope for social and economic equality in this country.” 

Wong’s other comments, while seemingly tangential, give a window into understanding Wong’s permanent state of rage with the world.  While most radicals have only caustic insults for political nostalgia, Wong mythologizes the world of 1975.  According to the Poly Post’s paraphrase of Wong, “30 years ago [the] largest company in the country was General Motors which provided solid union jobs with good wages and good benefits.  They helped working families in the middle class by providing full family medical benefits, sick pay, vacation pay and a guaranteed pension at end of the worker’s career.”  Wong pines for a lost world built on unsustainable economic premises.  Wong’s speech is also deliberate misrepresentation.  Long before his November 8th speech, it was a well-known fact that General Motors was a car manufacturer under attack, staggering under the unsustainable burden of financing the very things Wong holds up for such praise: “full family medical benefits, sick pay, vacation pay.”  Worst of all, of course, is that the promised medical benefits continued through retirement, along with a bloated pension that delivered a constant stream of money to retirees who could live longer and longer – thanks in large part to GM’s full medical benefits.  In short, GM set up a financially unsustainable system which, much like Social Security, requires increasingly large amounts of money to stay solvent. 

In light of Wong’s nostalgia for the GM union jobs of yore, his vitriol for the current American economy begins to make a lot more sense.  Since any passion play must have a villain, Wong has chosen Wal-Mart to represent all that is supposedly wrong with our country today.  In Wong’s eyes, “Wal-Mart represents a national threat because it is the largest employer and it pays such poor wages and offers such substandard benefits, including a very meager health plan…Wal-Mart sets a very bad example in the retail industry where it is the largest employer, and the way Wal-Mart conducts its business makes it “acceptable” to pay workers bad wages.” 

 Wong’s kicker about bad wages again returns us to his basic misapprehension of economics.  Whether it’s a Latina pushing a broom at a Silicon Valley software manufacturer, or a Russian emigrant sliding toiletries across a drug store’s UPC-scanner, Wong has the warped view that mere proximity to wealth entitles one to a healthy share of it.  But Wal-Mart is not the villain here, only basic economics. 

Wong has been a prominent voice in the anti-Wal-Mart chorus for the past several years.  Most prominently, the UCLA Labor Center held a conference titled “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” on June 4, 2005.  According to the Labor Center’s website, the conference “was the culmination of a six-month Community Scholars class during which a dozen labor and community leaders worked with UCLA graduate students on a research project to determine the impact of Wal-Mart on the national and international economy.”  That all sounds very proper and academic, but remember that this is Kent Wong’s Labor Center we’re talking about.  A review of the conference program confirms the natural suspicion: this was a one-sided, taxpayer-funded hatchet job on Wal-Mart.  Attendees included  representatives from groups like “Students Against Corporate Misbehavior,” officials from unions including United Food and Commercial Workers, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE).  The groups involved discussed predictable topics, including “Is the Wal-Mart Business Model Good for America,” “Wal-Mart Issues of Race and Gender,” “Wal-Mart: Squeeze on Ports and Trucking,” “Wal-Mart: Sprawl, Development, and the Environment,” “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: An Analysis of Wal-Mart,” “Southern CA Community Struggles Against Wal-Mart: What Works and What Doesn’t," and “Organize Wal-Mart: Strategy for Change.” 

This wearying drumbeat of anti-Wal-Mart topics and speakers was capped off by what the program simply noted was a “Film Trailer on Wal-Mart,” presented by Jim Gilliam of Brave New Films.  The film in question, it turns out, is none other than the notorious agitprop film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices,” which was, interestingly enough, not brought to movie theaters until five months later on November 4th.  Overall, the conference was so jam-packed with anti-Wal-Mart material that radio station KPFK, the Los Angeles affiliate of the deeply radical Pacifica Radio Network sells complete conference footage on DVD for $35.  As the description in their online catalog notes, the 6 hours and 10 minutes of material are “A great organizing tool!” 

            Why was Wong’s Wal-Mart conference, putatively interested merely in discussing the corporation, seen as such comfortable turf for bashing the chain?  As Cynthia Lin, director of corporate affairs for California Wal-Mart pointed out in a May 26, 2005 Daily Bruin letter to the editor, the only speakers in favor of Wal-Mart’s very existence were scheduled for a brief lunch-time debate.  So while Wong’s Labor Center technically invited Wal-Mart to the conference, it was only to participate in the lunch-time debate; the other ten workshops were off-limits.  Lin also noted, “we were never contacted by any of the event’s organizers as they developed the conference agenda, nor by any of the professors teaching the courses studying our company.”  Wong fired back (after a fashion) on May 31st, noting that Wal-Mart was still invited to attend, but admitted that their participation was still limited to lunchtime debate.  Wong also conceded that many of the “Community Scholars” (adult union and radical activists) which organized the class “are opposed to Wal-Mart’s policies which they believe involve a failure to pay a living wage, degradation of the environment and perpetuation of global sweatshops.” 

Wong then took a parting shot by highlighting the supposed irony of Wal-Mart’s complaints of exclusion, noting “many community and labor leaders complain that they have never been included in Wal-Mart’s planning processes when Wal-Mart enters their communities, drives out small businesses, harms the environment and pays workers low wages.”  Taking out our Kent Wong translation guide, we find that “community and labor leaders” actually means “me and my labor union comrades.”  But even granting Wong his euphemisms, the comparison fails on the merits.  UCLA is a public institution supported by individual and corporate taxes.  The presumed authority, and UCLA’s responsibility, is to the public.  Not so for self-appointed “community and labor leaders” living in the area in which Wal-Mart wishes to locate a store.  In that case, the relevant authorities are city leaders and the owner of the property Wal-Mart.  While other parties are free to raise concerns and provide input, there is no presumed “community” input other than what relevant statute provides.  Wal-Mart was only asking the Labor Center for what was fair.  The same cannot be said of the self-appointed community czars to which Wong refers.

Ironically enough, while Wong is a die-hard for ‘worker’s rights’ and a ‘living wage,’ he has simultaneously made common cause with Communist China.  This feat of politics is accomplished more as a backlash against perceived racism than as an endorsement of the inevitability of globalization.  In a Z-Magazine editorial co-written with Elaine Bernard, Wong claimed the labor movement’s XXXX attempt to block Permanent Normal Trade Relations status for China was “fuel[ed] cold war politics, encourage[d] an unholy alliance with the right wing, and has resulted in racially offensive messages.”  Just as bad, “the campaign has weakened the strong anti-corporate and national solidarity focus coming out of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle and dissipated some of the positive momentum from the Seattle action.”  It would indeed be a shame, as Wong helpfully warns, to let all those broken Starbucks windows go to waste. 

Wong then challenged the very underpinning of concern over the grant of PNTR with China, namely, that by making granting permanent trade relations, it eliminated our most valuable foreign policy pressure point.  Pointing to America’s supposed “deplorable track record of supporting repressive regimes,” Wong scoffed, “For the U.S. to challenge China’s entry into the WTO because of political and human rights abuse amounts to hypocrisy.”  Without a trace of irony, Wong warns that “China should not be singled out for some of the very same human rights abuses that occur in the U.S., such as widespread use of prison labor.”  Truth be told, when people talk about repression in China, they’re thinking about tanks rolling into Tiananman Square and one-baby laws enforced through involuntary abortions.  In America, the people who complain about “repression” by the government are the same ones able to freely protest, to engage in political theater like blocking traffic, or, in more extreme forms, breaking shop windows in brave displays of anti-corporate zealotry.  Such protestors are at worst jailed briefly, not (as in China) slaughtered in front of TV cameras, or sent off to political re-education camps after kangaroo court proceedings.  China kills political dissidents, America coddles them.  If Wong can’t grasp this essential difference, then there’s no hope for him at all.

Besides making the ridiculous claim that America’s human-rights record is no better than that of Communist China, Wong cast organized labor’s anti-China campaign as essentially racist.  Not only did the campaign involve, at various points, evil incarnates Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer, but, Wong also reports, “Unionists [at an April 12, 2000 anti-China labor rally] wore T-shirts demonizing China and Chinese people, promoting an image of Chinese as ruthless killers and torturers.  Wong airs similar concerns in the September/October 2005 issue of Dollars & Sense Magazine about the “China Dolls” cover story in the International Association of Machinists’ journal.  Wong huffs about the “offensive reference to Chinese women – whether fashion models or sweatshop workers – as “China Dolls,” and calls for this virulent strain of “nativism” to be rooted out.  Sounding like Marx himself, Wong declares that the labor movement needs “more global labor solidarity, fewer Cold War policies, and less xenophobia.” 

As Wong sees it, labor unions have a lot to answer for, given that, “For decades, the State Department funneled tens of millions of dollars to the AFL-CIO to support U.S.-backed trade unions throughout the world in active opposition to liberation movements and socialist countries.”  Furthermore, the IAM has sinned in particular because its journal “uncritically cites Defense Secretary Donald Rumself on the growing military threat posed by China.”  Understanding that Wong hates the idea of any alliance with the right, he might do well to remember that not everything one’s enemies say is false by definition.  By Wong’s standard, Rumsfeld’s declaration that the Earth is round would send Wong scrambling to write an op-ed in favor of growing the flat-earth movement.

There’s little doubt that a great amount of Wong’s ardor for China stems from his two state-sponsored visits to the country.  Wong and a delegation that included Elaine Bernard (with whom Wong would eventually write one of the above-referenced articles defending China) and a number of other labor academics and union officials, were invited by the state-run All China Federation of Trade Unions for a nine-day trip beginning March 20, 2002.  Wong apparently got along so well with the officials of the Communist-run union that he was invited back a second time (in October of 2002) heading an all-star group that included California Labor Federation president Tom Rankin, SEIU national president Andy Stern, and two other labor union officials.  On this trip, Wong and Co. were favored with an audience by Wei Jianxing, ACFTU chairman and member of the Politburo Standing Committee.

When Wong is not busy meeting with the Chinese Communist hierarchy, you might just find him out on a street corner denouncing the War on Terror.  On March 19, 2005, Wong appeared as a speaker at a Hollywood protest march organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism-Los Angeles (ANSWER-LA), alongside a virtual who’s who of the Los Angeles and national radical left. 

 The long and fragrant list of participants “included contingents from the labor movement, youth and students, Palestinian and Arab American community, the Philippino community, Cuba and the Cuban Five, immigrant rights movement, the women's equality movement, and many other organizations and communities.”  And, if it wasn’t self-evident, emphatically no representatives from the Republican movement.  Wong appeared on January 20, 2005 at a ANSWER-LA rally at the Federal Building.  The building sits at the intersection of Veteran Ave. and Wilshire Blvd., an ideal traffic choke-point.

 For Federal Building protests of this scale, police will typically shut down the intersection and surrounding streets.  This has, for radicals, the not-unwelcome effect of paralyzing the entire Westside of Los Angeles, including the already nightmarish 405 freeway’s rush-hour traffic less than a quarter-mile away.  While history fails to record Wong’s particular words at the March 2005 rally, Wong was in fine form the night of Bush’s inauguration.  The Daily Bruin noted in particular his “fiery speech” and that his mocking nickname for the President, “King George II,” was delivered to a “loud ovation.” 

            Given his speeches for the Los Angeles chapter of the Maoist group ANSWER, it’s safe to assume that Wong doesn’t identify politically with the typical mainstream Democrat.  Wong is more likely to show up at fundraisers for the Democratic Socialists of America…which is exactly what he did in his appearance at a July 27, 2005 “House Party for DSA” in Oak Park, Illinois. 

 The DSA, in their own words, “believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically – to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.  To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”  Remarkable: the DSA is like Kent Wong in the form of a political party. 

According to an advertisement for the July 27th house party, the funds raised would enable the DSA to fight back against “false and malicious charges made by the right wing.”  The DSA’s problems, and the need for funds to mount a legal defense, arose from an Internal Revenue Service investigation for repeated violation of regulations against non-profits engaging in partisan political activity.  Wong, as a partisan in a supposedly non-partisan field, no doubt had natural sympathy for the DSA’s difficulties. 

Besides the house party, Wong also appeared at the DSA’s national convention, held November 11-13, 2005 at the Radisson Wilshire Plaza Hotel.  Wong, along with a “Representative of Brave New Films” (translation, the anti-Wal-Mart movie people) and Wade Rathke of the militant group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), were the convention’s three featured speakers.  The most amusing aspect of the convention must be its swanky environs.  The lifestyle hypocrisy of liberals who fight The Man from their Beverly Hills mansions earn them the derisive nickname of ‘limousine liberals.’  The same derision should well apply to socialists who hold events in upscale capitalist accommodations.  Sure, they still want to burn it all down, but until that happens, could you pass the cheese plate? 

Given his political identity as a socialist or worse, Wong’s hatred for Republicans is to be expected.  Wong still nurses a grudge against former California Governor Pete Wilson, who he claims “saw unions as a threat to his agenda and the Republican Party.”  Tt the height of Newt Gingrich’s popularity as head of the so-called Republican Revolution, Wong wrote a February 4, 1995 opinion article for the New York Amsterdam News arguing that the Contract with American was nothing less than anti-immigrant, anti-Asian and anti-worker.  The article abstract paraphrases Wong’s predictable contention that the Contract with American “will harm all Asian Pacific Americans struggling to become economically secure.”

While Wong resents Republicans generally, he takes particular issue with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite the fact that many of his stances would not be out of place in the Democratic Party.  According to LaborRadio.orgWong characterized the Governor’s recent ballot initiatives as representing the will of corporate interests, the wealthy, the elite.  In short, just about anything other than Wong’s beloved “working people.”  But while we know that Wong hates Schwarzenegger, it’s not entirely clear why.  The answer, even though Wong is a socialist, still boils down to money. Specifically, the $3.8 million that Schwarzenegger cut from the UCLA Labor Center’s budget through a line-item veto on the 2005 California budget. 

 While it is now nearly impossible to determine who started this fiscal tussle, most evidence indicates that Wong’s Labor Center had simply tweaked too many powerful noses and pulled too many important tails.  There is no denying that many other parts of the UC that are just as noxious as the Labor Center, but these other ventures keep a comparatively low profile.  Not so with Wong’s Labor Center.  As was well documented by both the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and by the Pacific Research Institute, and as this profile clearly demonstrates, both the UCLA Labor Center and its director were deeply committed to pairing radical pro-union ideas with action.  Thus, whether or not Schwarzenegger’s budget cut was “fair,” by no stretch can Wong or the Labor Center claim to have been surprised the action, or profess ignorance about what brought it on.

            None of this, of course, stopped Wong and Co. from putting up a fierce battle.  Cursing the cuts as “grossly unfair,” a “threat to academic freedom,” and “a dangerous precedent,” Wong argued that the $3.8 million for labor related academic study was miniscule by comparison with “UC programs that address corporate research and education interests.” 

 This characterization of general business-oriented education as the flip side of labor studies is a woefully misleading comparison borne either of ignorance or willful self-deception.  The comparison might be valid if, for example, the UCLA Anderson School of Management offered anti-labor, or perhaps union-busting, studies.  But while Wong’s Labor Center boasts an entire “Union Summer” program for aspiring labor organizers, and offers an entire set of academic degree-granting programs, the Anderson School doesn’t even offer a single labor-related course from the perspective of corporations.  Wong’s underlying mistake stems from the ‘us vs. them’ mindset inherent to his past and current labor union work.  In his mind, a corporation (in fact, anyone working in management) is the logical counterpart of a labor union official.  But ask the typical corporate manager about his duties.  Labor issues and contracts may be his occasional top priority, but, unlike union officials, labor issues are not the first and essentially only concern on his mind.

Despite his dislike for businesses and corporations, Wong still occasionally demonstrates business acumen.  For example, Wong has latched on to illegal immigration as a winning issue for the labor movement (particularly in California).  Now, there’s some natural difficulties with the issue, primarily in the “illegal” part of “illegal immigration.”  But Wong and his ilk are already making significant progress.  Thanks in large part to their hard work, there is no longer any verbal distinction made between legal and illegal immigration in labor/radical circles.  It’s a good bet that when someone like Wong talks about “immigrant rights,” or “immigrant communities,” you can mentally add “illegal” in front of the phrase.  Having already raised the consciousness, so to speak, of their partisans, the labor and open-borders movements have begun a steady attack on the few remaining barriers to a de facto legal existence for illegal immigrants. 

A major stepping stone toward that ‘legal illegal’ status was the emergence of the SEIU “Justice for Janitors” unionization effort.  This mass addition of new workers was, in terms of pure numbers, an exemplary success.  But it also represented a new front in the labor movement toward organizing workers in low-wage jobs, ones populated in particular by “immigrants” (which, if we remember our Kent Wong translation guide, means “illegal immigrants”).  However, in tacitly accepting illegal immigrant workers as an untapped market to for unionization drives, Wong and the labor movement as a whole have sealed a Faustian bargain. 

Remember that Wong has spoken stirringly of the numerous union jobs in the ‘60s and ‘70s which paid a solid middle-class wage without requiring that workers have an extensive education.  However, Wong stops well short of telling the whole story.  In fact, the unionized middle-class status of many jobs was destroyed by illegal immigration.  Apropos of the “Justice for Janitors” unionization, we can look at the history of unionized custodians.  In the case of janitorial work and many other jobs with low barriers to entry, labor supply is the paramount determiner of wages.  It’s not surprising to find, then, that the massive illegal immigration of the ‘80s and ‘90s paralleled the rapid decline in wages, and near-total de-unionization, of these industries.  It seems fantastical now to read of $13 an hour wages (equivalent to $29 per hour now) for union janitors cleaning Los Angeles high-rises.  Yet in the early 1980s, before a union strike, subcontracting, and illegal immigration induced a race to the financial bottom, that’s exactly what many were earning.

The disregard for this labor union disaster by a radical like Wong is even more ironic given that a majority of those janitors were African-American men.  These were the primary breadwinners of their families, men who could least afford to lose their essentially unskilled job to the undercutting of illegal immigrants.  As the human tide continued to roll across the border, employers were quick to hire from this growing population that showed no particular interest in joining the existing unions and worked for less pay than American citizens.  Meanwhile, there was no concerted effort by law enforcement which would end the party.  Employers sensed, and encouraged in both Republicans and Democrats, a reluctance to enforce border policy.  Staggering from the double punch of wage undercutting and lax border enforcement, the old janitorial unions of metropolitan America were crippled or destroyed.  Yet despite having personally witnessed this destruction, Wong decided to cast his lot with illegal immigration.

            In fact, Wong was one of the cheerleaders for the pro-illegal immigrant movement that resulted in the AFL-CIO reversing its long-held opposition to (illegal) “immigrant workers” in 1999.  Following the change, Wong was nearly beside himself with the possibility for a new borderless, minority-friendly union movement, calling the change in policy “historic,” and hyperbolically deemed it “an attempt to reclaim the civil rights movement,” explaining, “Some of those same themes are present today with regard to treatment of immigrant workers.”  Such a claim is a monstrous instance of moral bankruptcy, given what we already know about the effect that illegal immigration had on unionized jobs primarily held by African-Americans.  Wong, however, was less concerned with moral honesty than with joining the winning team, going so far as to sigh impatiently to the Associated Press on May 5, 2000, “If [the government] should by a miracle eliminate the undocumented work force in California, the economy would collapse.”  The solution, in Wong’s view, is to let legislators like his old PCL classmate Gil Cedillo (he of the illegal immigrant drivers license) create an entire extralegal system which would regularize, if not actually naturalize, the illegal immigrants of California.  Once the state had recognized the grey-market status of illegal immigrants, and had secured the proper permissions, labor unions could go about unionizing these people.  After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em.