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Friday, November 28, 2008

How To Stop Racial Profiling?

Last week our police chief resigned in a flurry of controversy and media disapproval - after she stated at a community meeting that she had directed her officers to stop African American men in a "congenial" and "consensual" way to find out what they were doing in Palo Alto. The meeting had been called because of citizen concerns in the wake of 19 recent assaults and robberies - most of which had been perpetrated by African American men. Only about 3% of Palo Alto's population is Black. Needless to say, this blatant directive for racial profiling did not sit well for African American men who live here, or the many African American men who work in town. Nor for the many African Americans in neighboring East Palo Alto who come here to shop. There's not a single large grocery store in East Palo Alto, and Palo Alto is the destination for a lot of hard-earned dollars by minority neighbors.

Civic leaders in East Palo Alto organized a march to the Palo Alto City Hall and also spoke out at a Palo Alto city council meeting and a Human Relations commission meeting. Many recounted frivolous traffic stops by Palo Alto police over the years and many said they try to stay out of Palo Alto to avoid problems. The Palo Alto officials were extremely apologetic for the wayward remarks and policy, expressing a zero tolerance for racial profiling. All parties expressed the need to keep a dialogue going.

It's not easy to find concrete guidelines for police practices that avoid racial profiling, though they are desperately needed. The Palo Alto city manager needs to to hire a new chief who is fluent in methods that eliminate or greatly limit profiling, but do such chiefs exist? If you are familiar with any leaders and practices in this area, it would be great to hear from you.

How can police avoid it? The police are expected to keep residents feeling safe and when a crime wave hits they are under greater pressure to be proactive. When most of the suspects are Black, in a largely White and Asian community, it's easy to see how cops might multiply their traffic stops of minority persons in the hopes of turning away or maybe even catching the few criminals they are after. The cops are like industrial fishing outfits that cast a large net even if they end up throwing away many of the fish they capture. Only, in this case the practice leaves a trail of humiliation, resentment and inequity for a lot of innocent people.

It's similar to the way police will park outside of bars at closing time and stop drivers who emerge from the parking lot with a faulty taillight or an expired tag in the hope of netting a drunk driver before they hit the road. They are playing the odds; using their powers strategically. But these are not the rules of the game we want them to play by. These are Orwellian rules that make many law abiding folks feel that Big Brother is watching them.

Recognizing and talking regularly (not just at an annual diversity workshop) about our prejudices and biases is a valuable start for any police force (and community). Keeping stats of every traffic stop and who was in the car is also good as a starter. But without training in clear-cut procedures and practices that are alternatives to profiling, those statistics and dialogues don't change much. Palo Alto instituted the statistics-gathering a few years back after the"Driving while Black or Brown" movement made a convincing case for them. The stats became a hard-to-interpret footnote of quarterly Human Relations Commission meetings and no actions followed those reports. In fact, the Chief had successfully lobbied for fewer reports and fewer stats to collect.

The City Manager has proposed a $20,000 contract to a police auditor firm to review our department's practices and suggest better ones where appropriate. At $200 an hour, that will buy a week of evaluation of Palo Alto practices, study of alternative practices, and a report. Hopefully those alternative practices are more prevalent and easy to find than I imagine them to be.

Obama's Secretary of Spirit

Thanksgiving. Both sons are here from their respective homes in San Diego and Santa Barbara. A hike with Deborah, their mom, around the 4 mile vista point Stanford "Dish" as we have done so many times before.

Like so many millions of us who are wanting Obama to succeed in his upcoming presidency, we found ourselves sharing our hopes for him and for the transformations we hope to see in our country and world. Deborah said that along with all the other cabinet positions Obama is appointing, he should appoint a "spiritual adviser" like the Dalai Lama, to help him stay internally strong and genuine amidst the flurry of advice in every political and policy arena that he'll be deluged with daily.

Given my recent blogs picking cabinet secretaries for Obama, I wanted to share Deborah's idea. Maybe he should pick Alice Walker who wrote the internet-distributed open letter to him about taking the daily time he needs for himself and his family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who's Really Buying Us a Bailout Now?

I wish the bailout terminology were more accurate for those of us non-economists who are trying to keep things straight. How can it be a "taxpayer bailout" when:

Whether you look backward or forward a couple of years, we are getting tax CUTS not tax hikes.

It would just make more sense if - at least periodically - they reminded us that this bailout is being brought to you by foreign creditors who are buying a trillion or so in new treasury bills.

At some point, it will be us taxpayers who pay back the loans to these creditors like China and at that point, we will owe them a chunk of interest in addition to the 1 - or is it 2 - trillion we've just borrowed over the past couple of months. Will these creditors ever get tired of buying our treasury bonds? Will they ever get surly and start breaking legs if we don't stay on a payback schedule?

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Cabinet Picks

More Fantasy Cabinet Picks - to add to those I made in the last entry.........

Secretary of Agriculture: Michael Pollan
author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma"; he would end the farm bill subsidies that has the Agribusiness growing corn to go into everything from poptarts to doorstops. Pollan would find ways to revitalize and bring back the family farmers to provide food for the folks nearby.

Backup pick for Secretary of Agriculture: Frances Moore Lappe,
author of "Diet for a Small Planet" and "Democracy's Edge"; Director of "Food First" and "Center for Living Democracy." She knows how to "spread the wealth" worldwide while engaging our highest citizen-selves.

One last backup for Secretary of Agriculture: Wendell Berry. We need a poet in the cabinet and why not this eloquent, champion of rural America, poet-farmer.

Secretary of Commerce: Van Jones, the founding president of Green For All and author of "Green Collar Economy." This amazing orator from Yale, would catalyze a win-win formula for renewable energies, energy conservation, and jobs for the urban poor. He recognizes the overwhelming urgency of global warming and the parallel urgency to create jobs and equity for the health of our cities and the evolution of our country.

Press Secretary: Bill Moyers, hands down - the greatest journalist of our time and one who will always put integrity above spin.

Secretaries of Music: We need a duo for this new Ambassadorial type of Cabinet position. Carlos Santana and Michael Franti.
Carlos is the guitarist who could make even a tyrant weep and bring comfort and joy to every corner of the globe, and Michael, the courageous visionary whose lyrics can get us all moving in one dance across every conceivable border.

Secretary of Education: Jonathan Kozol, author of "Savage Inequalities." No more rich districts and poor districts as a fact of life. All children deserve an equal investment of education resources.

Still puzzling over Secretary of Transportation as well as Health and Human Services.
Would love some suggestions......

Can we all agree to deep six the Secretary of Homeland Security post?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Journalists with Superiority Complex

An article in the Washington Post (11/16) about the world leader economic summit held in D.C. last week, said that "the gathering in Washington for the nearly two dozen nations - from every region of the world - reflected the new balance of power emerging in the aftermath of a financial crisis that has devastated even well-run economies..."

Journalists Glenn Kessler and Anthony Faiola would do well to check their chauvinism at the "fact-check-door" before their next article. If the U.S. and Western European economies were so "well-run" why would we be bailing them out for enabling a greedy, short-sighted financial sector (complete with an army of lobbyists, "Enronistic" executives, and happy-to-please government officials) putting profit-orgies above every human and environmental value?

Fantasy Picks for the Cabinet Team

Surely there must be a "fantasy cabinet league" started yet for the Obama Administration. If so, here are my first picks.

Secretary of Energy : Al Gore
guaranteed to get us back on track starting with signing the Kyoto Treaty on greenhouse gases and the Bali Agreement;

will reintroduce the term "global warming" to the national agenda as the biggest reason of all to restructure our economy. (this somehow got virtually dropped in all the presidential debates in favor of "reducing our dependence on foreign oil".)

Secretary of State: Samantha Power - Professor of Public Policy at Harvard
she wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning: "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"
She'd hold fast to the commitment to do something in Darfur.
Unfortunately, she was the Obama adviser that got dropped after she was quoted calling Hillary Clinton "a monster."

Backup Pick for Sec of State: Hillary Clinton
If she can take Obama's direction to talk to every world leader - friend and foe - you can trust she's powerful and brainy enough to come away with something big.

Secretary of Treasury: Jeffrey Sachs
Economics and also Public Health Professor at Columbia
Author of "The End of Poverty" and "Common Wealth"
You can actually understand him when he explains macro-economics and how to restructure.

Backup Pick for Treasury: Paul Krugman
New York Times columnist and Econ Professor at Princeton and Nobel Prize winner
He would not be writing blank bailout checks to banks without significant reform conditions.

Secretary of Peace: Dennis Kucinich
oh, we first have to create this new position in the cabinet

Secretary of Defense: Colin Powell
He'll definitely want to redeem himself and reestablish his reputation for integrity after the big lie he made at the UN regarding WMD in Iraq.

I have to review the draft pool for the other positions. To be continued.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Prop 8 and other Anti-Marriage Laws

Last week California voters overturned the State Supreme Court ruling that allowed same sex marriages as an equal civil right. Hopefully the courts will step in again and rule that civil rights aren't for sale. In 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom approved gay marriages within the city, our Palo Alto PTA executive committee wrote a statement of support. That unleashed a furor among some parents and a PTA general meeting was called to discuss and vote on the action. There were many eloquent speakers, but I won't forget one Asian-American woman who told the group that before 1948 she would not have been allowed to marry her Caucasian husband in California or many other states. A lot of people hadn't even realized there was such a law and it was not something they would ever countenance. But a room full of PTA parents in 1947 would have probably stood firm behind those laws - fearing what would happen if whites started intermarrying and bearing children with non-whites. I think some people saw the parallel to same sex marriage when this well-respected Asian-American PTA Mom spoke up - realizing that in a generation or two, the community will have a hard time understanding those who tried to prevent two gay persons from marrying.

Many states dumped their anti-miscegenation laws in 1948 when Asians were allowed to marry Whites in California, but there were still 16 states who banned Blacks and Whites from intermarrying as late as 1967. Finally, all such laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. I was 14 years old, so it's far from "ancient history" for me. In fact it's later than the voting rights act; much later than the integration of public schools and Brown vs. Board of Education; later even than the emergence of the Beatles. But if you'd have held a popular election in many of those states, just imagine how it would have ended up. A 1968 Gallup poll found that 72% of Americans disapproved of marriage between Blacks and Whites (as opposed to only 23% since 2003). Sometimes it takes a court to get people on the right track and over time the prejudices and fears slip away.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"President Obama!" Say it loud and it's music playing....

There are so many reasons to be excited and hopeful about electing Barak Obama our next president. Even as we bite our nails til election day, hoping those voting machines aren't Republican, we can taste his victory. A man of color leading and representing the U.S. after 232 awesome is that milestone? And after 8 years of a man who can barely put together a coherent sentence, we so deserve a man who speaks eloquently, thoughtfully, and genuinely. After 8 years of marching to a neoconservative script, our soldiers fighting and dying in the wrong place for the wrong reasons; our planet withering as we were afraid to stop stoking our economy that sullied it........we are so close to having a leader who will know better..........a leader whose values will connect US policy to the planet we live on and the many peoples we share it with. It's been so long since I didn't rush to change the channel whenever I saw the president speaking.

I know there will be plenty of work for those who want to see progressive change during an Obama presidency. I know there are things in his platform that worry me. But I trust in his leadership qualities more than I have ever trusted before in a U.S. president. It just has to happen this Tuesday.