Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reforming the Political Process

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Talking with Henrietta: Meet the Candidates - Part 2

Talking with Henrietta: Meet the Candidates - Part 1

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

When are we going to deal realistically with riotous conditions?

Fires and looting have hit the streets of London. As of today, London has experienced three days of rioting, which has caused England’s Prime Minister David Cameron to cut his vacation short and return to the city. When these types of disturbances occur, there is one key question that is always asked: Why? Why is the rioting occurring? The answer, which various community members in London give as seen in the above video, sound all too familiar.
Unfortunately, the scenes from the rioting are also all too familiar. They are reminiscent of the disturbances that swept several cities in the United States after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. They are also reminiscent of the Los Angeles riots that hit Watts, a decade ago, after the not guilty verdicts that were handed down during the prosecution of the officers who beat Rodney King.  It wasn’t long ago, when America was worried about “the long, hot summer” and the potential spark for a riot that the summer months brought.
After Dr. King’s assassination, the government ushered in the Voting Rights Act and the “Great Society” legislation to fight the “War on Poverty.” But over the years, there have been major cutbacks to that legislation, and we know how the “safety net,” spoken of by the Reagan administration, had major holes that too many of the poor fell through. With the high level of unemployment in this country, and cutbacks in social programs, this country probably has a greater level of poverty now than it did when the war on poverty began.
Whether it is in London, England or in America, the script for rioting seems to be the same and a theme throughout the script can be summed up in one word “frustration.” 
In previous years and in all too many cases, disturbances in America followed the fatal shootings by the police of men of color.  True to form, the current riot in Tottenham and in other cities in North London followed the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29 year-old father of four.  The police said that Duggan shot at them, but the latest investigation into the shooting revealed that Duggan did not have an available gun to shoot, since it was found in his sock.
Given the unanswered questions surrounding Duggan’s shooting, young people in the community are in an uproar and are protesting what they consider the harassment of young men of color by the police. As the above video excerpt shows, community leaders also cite widespread frustration over the lack of summer jobs, high unemployment, cuts in social services and glaring disparities between the country’s affluent communities and their impoverished neighbors.  There is frustration with the police and frustration over inequities in housing, employment, healthcare, income and education.

People who feel that they have a stake in their surroundings, don't burn things down around them. What is happening in London reflects a situation where high expectations are met with few opportunities for the fulfillment of those expectations.
Isn’t it time we find a way to change the same, old script that is playing out. It’s the same script, highlighting the same theme that has been around for decades. If the script stays the same, how can the public expect a different outcome? The Tottenham riot of 2011 could, obviously, have occurred in America. Fortunately, it is not occurring in this country. But we must learn the lessons of the past and find meaningful and lasting ways to change the conditions that spark riots rather than put Band-Aids or temporary fixes on riotous conditions. If you let certain conditions simmer, then certain outcomes should not come as a surprise. It will be interesting to see what the British will do to address the riots taking place in their country. This is London’s second major riot. So, how long will it take the British to learn the lessons from their past? The actions taken by our neighbors across the pond might be instructive

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lesson of Bell, CA

Voters turned out en masse in Bell, CA on Tuesday, March 8, and voted overwhelmingly to recall four top public officials in their city who were accused of corruption. In an impoverished city that was facing a huge deficit of $4.5 million, the four city officials, namely, the mayor, the city manager, the assistant city manager and the police chief were paying themselves between $376,000 to $787,637 annually. These salaries were among the highest for city officials in this nation.

Like East Palo Alto, the city of Bell is 2.5 square miles and its population, though, larger than East Palo Alto's, is similar in size. In spite of Bell's size and its budget difficulties, the city's former police chief was making, at $457,000 more than the police chief for the City of Los Angeles, whose salary is listed at $279,834. Los Angeles which has a population of 3.7 million, is the largest city in California. It has been said that the scandal that took place in Bell was a wakeup call for the city's citizens to pay closer attention to what is going on at the top levels of their city's government. It was certainly a wakeup call that captured the nation.

Not only should the residents of Bell pay closer attention to their city's politics and issues, but the same could be said for the residents of all cities. To paraphrase, the late governor of Arizona, Barry Goldwater, who was a presidential contender in the 1960's, "Vigilance is the price of liberty."

Enough can't be said about the importance of going to or at least following city council meetings, following the issues affecting one's city and keeping tabs on the votes of city officials and other political representatives. Because of the scandal in Bell, California's Controller John Chiang has a website that allows visitors to search for the salaries and compensation packages of public officials in all cities in California. His website is http://www.sco.ca.gov/compensation_search.html

So, here is a quick quiz. Do you know what your public officials are making? Do you know how they are voting or the legislation and programs that they are supporting? What they are making, how they are voting and the issues they are supporting might determine the future and the quality of life in your city. What happened in Bell rightfully captured much of this nation's attention. What happened in Bell should not be forgotten.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Making More Happy Endings a Reality

Happy endings are what most American movies are based on.  One can easily cite the movie The Blind Side, which tells the story of a young, homeless teenager who makes it big in football. Not only do Americans love stories with happy endings, but, maybe most people around the world are captivated by stories of people who survive and later thrive despite overwhelming odds. The story of the rescue of the Chilean miners captivated the world. Could our love for happy endings be part of why the story of Ted Williams, the homeless, talented panhandler, so quickly captured our nation’s attention?

As many people know by now, Williams was discovered standing by a thoroughfare in Ohio, carrying a sign, which said that he had an amazing voice. A local web producer challenged Williams to give a demonstration of his vocal abilities, and the video the producer made of Williams’ demonstration was uploaded to YouTube where it became an overnight sensation.

Williams has already appeared on national television shows and has signed several contracts to do voiceovers for leading national firms—a real turnaround for someone who has a rap sheet and has spent a good portion of his life fighting an addiction to cocaine and alcohol. The discovery of William’s talent gives us all an uplifting, heartwarming story with which to start the year.

But as uplifting as it is, Williams’ story also raises a serious question? How many other Williamses are there out there who are panhandling, homeless or living marginal lives of  simple desperation? How many other homeless are there on our streets who might possess amazing talents which could make positive contributions to society, if they could be supported and given a chance?

Ted Williams’ story is, obviously, exceptional. But it highlights the fact that there might be many, that are out there to be discovered, who are leading and living wasted lives. How can we reach more Ted Williamses? How can we assist them before they become panhandlers or develop a rap sheet? Of course, it needs to be said that the Ted Williamses of the world also have to do more to help themselves.

We can probably all name groups that are working with the homeless and the near homeless, that are working with those who have drug and alcohol addictions, that are working with school drop outs and with those in gangs. There are, fortunately, many groups working to help those who are just subsisting and in danger of falling over the edge turn their lives around. Many commendations should go to all of the organizations that are focused on making the happy endings, we love to see in our movies and on our computer monitors and television screens, a fact of life for so many of the desperate around us.

Since instant success has its own dangers, we can only hope that Ted Williams is successful in making the most of the opportunities he is now being given. His story highlights how it takes a village of caring individuals to save a soul. We must find more ways to extend that village of caring so that more people have access to the opportunities which make for the happy endings that so many of us love to see.