Sixty-Eight years old Former Democratic Nominee for Presidency and presently Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was invited for breakfast at the home of Dr. Rizwan Naeem of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA). Earlier on Monday, March 10th, 2008, Senator Harkin announced his bid for Re-Election.
Present on the occasion were of course the hosts Dr. Rizwan Naeem and his wife Dr. Rubina Naeem, both of APPNA and Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Asaf Qadeer and Dr. Azam Kundi of APPNA, Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg, Democratic Party Activist Sue Davis, Boeingâ€™s Mohammed Nasrullah, Coalition of New Americans (CONAC) Arif Gafur, Afaq Durrani, Farhan Shamsi, Syed Qaiser Imam and others, the Houston Police Department Officer Muzaffar Siddiqui, the City of Sugar Land Council Candidate S. B. Gaddi (who got endorsement from Senator Harkin), Attorney Naomi Hussain of John Edwards for President, Former Two Times Delegate to Democratic National Convention (DNC) Zafar Tahir, Mohammad Zaheer of Muttaihidah Qaumi Movement (MQM) Houston, Dr. Mubashir Chaudry Freelance Writer, and many others.
Dr. Sarah Rizvi, Assistant Professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and Pediatrician, asked a touchy question about the hundreds and thousands of Houstonians and Americans without health insurance, especially the children. Senator Harkin said it actually dismays him immensely that many children in USA are uninsured, which may unfortunately mean less healthy future generation. He said when the universal health system proposed by the then First lady Clinton got derailed, at least the portion about the children should have been accepted and implemented and discussion on that piece can still be revived with a fresh Bill in the House: This is a most important matter of national interest and future of America.
Mohammed Nasrullah of Boeing asked the Senator to favor the House Bill of Congressman Nick Lampson about increasing the budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Senator Harkin said he has some difference of opinion as to how NASA is being run and he has always favored the original Apollo Plan of NASA. He said he understands the need for scientific development and will consider favoring for money increase for NASA, but then there should be proper debate on how much this increase should be.
Arif Gafur and Afaq Durrani of CONAC made a power-point presentation to the Senator to explain how the political activists from the South Asian community came together to understand the nuts and bolts of the US democratic and political process and now are reaching out to he other communities like Nigerian, Hondurans and others. This effort of CONAC has resulted in most knowledgeable organizers form these communities to be joining the Democratic Party and enhancing the strength of the Party. The same effort is being pursued in the Republican Party. Later on Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg also applauded the efforts of CONAC. Senator Harkin was impressed by CONAC as they do not want to restrict their work to one group, but want to reach out. He applauded their assistance in positive manner to re-organize the Democratic Party at local level. He promised that he will take their request back to DNC, so that this group can get their deserved place during Denverâ€™s DNC: Possible a special desk via which CONAC can reach out to other communities at DNC.
Dr. Rizwan Naeem and Dr. Azam Kundi raised questions about the hardships being faced by well qualified and able doctors and other professionals not able to come to USA from abroad because their background checks and other things are taking so long that the job offers and internships these excellent individuals receive get annulled due to long waits. They emphasized that eventually it is the loss of the American Society not getting such capable people. Attorney Naomi added that just like in some other visa categories an expedited fee is charged to have the paperwork finished quickly, the same thing can be don, where the applicants can pay an extra $500 to $1,000 fees to have the background checks done within a month.
Senator Harkin agreed that there should be better procedures in place by the Department of Homeland Security, as how much background check one needs of a person and it should not really take that long. Hiring new staff with expedited fees to do the background checks quickly as suggested by Attorney Naomi was something Senator Harkin said he never thought about and he will discuss this policy issue with his colleagues in the Senate.
Answering a philosophical question of D. Asaf Qadeer that if Senator can consider himself being a Muslim and hearing all the negative news and propaganda around him, what will he do and suggest to the community, Senator Harkin said he is a fourth generation Slovenian in USA and can understand to some extent the agony the law abiding ands societal contributing Muslim community may be facing. He said the way out of the situation is to become more pro-active in the public life, be more visible in every sphere of life especially in the field of education, and have excellent institutions providing humanitarian and other societal services and so on. Countering any negative criticisms with positive action is what is needed from the Muslim Community.
Senator Harkin asked everybody to visit his website http://www.tomharkin.com/, so as to understand the issues he is bringing forth.