Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Police beat UC Berkeley students during protest. Why?

There are two issues on my mind as we approach Thanksgiving Day. One is why the great University of California at Berkeley would allow police to surround and beat defenseless students? The other is why we seem to applaud police brutality.

I'm chaffing a bit that some local San Francisco Bay Area columnists seem afraid to point out police misconduct, writing instead that in one case - the case of the BART Police officer who slammed the drunk BART rider's face into the window at West Oakland or at least seemed to want to do that - the police officer was "just doing his job".

The job of a police officer is dangerous, we know this. But to allow or expect police violence in that case - or in the more awful example of the police called in at Berkeley for the protest - calls the very values of our society into question.

This video set collected and presented at the blog Millicent and Carla Fran is what got me. The good news is that protesting students were only cited for trespassing but the images of clashes between police and student are jarring.

As reported in the excellent blog post, students were protesting the 32 percent increase in student fees and the custodial firings. UC Berkeley Police arrived to close off the Wheeler Hall and surrounding it. In the second video, Students are attempting to talk with police. In the third video, a female student falls under the yellow police tape, with weird results. In the final video, Professor Robert Dudley, a member of the Department of Integrative Biology at Cal joins the protest and is arrested peacefully:

All of this was happening as Cal Alums like myself who remember a time when students could afford to go to Cal, were playing touch football and just trying to have fun to balance our stressful lives. For us Cal is and has been a source of great joy and accomplishment. We were looking forward to the Big Game and the idea that someone was being harmed by police never entered our minds at the time. But I will say that's not what Cal's about. Even if it's part of Cal University History, it's not something any Cal grad is proud of.

The Cal police certainly have a hard job and have done some incredible public safety work, but it does not mean we can't question what they do when they're obviously wrong. But to put a finer point on it, many of the officer on hand were not Cal police, they were from the City of Oakland and had riot gear.

The problem of this fee increase is not going away. What's next? I hope not another protest like this one. I'm sure Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau would agree. He was happy to be able to enjoy the Big Game win Saturday:

In a closing note, one may wonder why I didn't take time to ask the Chancellor Birgeneau about the protest as were celebrating Cal's Big Game win. Well, I did think about it as we were celebrating and talking even though at the time I was unaware of the violence that took place the day before.

But frankly the reason I did not ask the Chancellor about the protest on camera was because he was kind enough to give me his time because I told him I wanted to talk about the win. We were happy and I didn't want to spoil it (in fact, not one bothered him at all). To do anything different would have been dishonest on my part.

That's not how I am.

In the past the Chancellor has been very nice to me and from my experience is a good person. I'm sure he would have liked to see a different outcome on Friday and is as upset about it and how students were treated as anyone of us.

Police brutality is not something to expect or defend. It is to be eliminated as a problem. We don't have to rubber stamp it and think that it's part of the police just 'doing their job.'

Adam Lambert AMA Video controversy - CBS blurs male kiss

Ok, the Adam Lambert AMA video controversy has gone too far. CBS blurred the image of Adam Lambert kissing his male guitarist, but would not blur two women kissing.

Here's CBS' explanation:

"We gave this some real thought. The Madonna image is very familiar and has appeared countless times including many times on morning television. The Adam Lambert image is a subject of great current controversy, has not been nearly as widely disseminated, and for all we know, may still lead to legal consequences."

"Legal consequences"? Like what? Communicating H1N1 via video? Oh, God.

What's all this kiss blurring stuff anyway? Look, I'm a straight black male but I really don't care that two men or two women were kissing on television. CBS' attempt to shield this aspect of society from a new media savvy, video saturated teenage culture (if that was the idea) is just plain nuts.

Perez Hilton is right on in pointing to a double standard I'm shocked to see in action. From where I sit, I thought good old male-to-female kissing was under attack to start with. Plus, as upset as Perez is about this, he should consider that it's almost as rare to see a black man passionately kissing a white woman on television even today. In fact it's more common to see a white man sucking face with a black woman on TV.

CBS - and mainsteam television (not cable) - could do itself a favor and show the World as it is, not as CBS thinks it should be (as if anyone asked them). There's a "straight white male ethic" at work which has a weird pecking order on television and sends this message:

1) Kissing between white men and white women is desired so we will show that to you.
2) While kissing between a white woman and another white woman isn't really that normal or desired, straight white men love it, so we'll show it to you.
3) A white man kissing a black woman or an Asian woman or a Latino woman is less desired than white men kissing white women, but the minorities are becoming the majority, so we'll show that.
4) Two white guys kissing is not desirable but because there are so many gays in power in entertainment, we'll show the scene but blur out the kiss.
5) A black man kissing a white woman is less desired because its threatening to white guys, so we won't show that on television if we can help it; Asian woman? Sure. Latina woman? OK, but dark-skinned. But, if it's Tiger Woods, we'll give him a pass because he's really good at golf. Heidi and Seal's ok because, well, Heidi's just plain hot.

That's the idea communicated on mainstream or Broadcast television today, at least on CBS. But then ABC booted Adam Lambert from Good Morning America, so it too has a long way to go. While Cable TV still has a distance to go in catching Broadcast TV, it's closing the gap; censorship as practiced by CBS may help close it. But even then, one can always turn to YouTube for the real image of 21st Century America.

One day, YouTube might replace both Broadcast and Cable TV. At least I hope so.

Stay tuned.

Members of Congress who voted for the Stupak ban are expressing “buyer’s remorse”

Members of Congress have been saying in public interviews that they didn’t realize the impact of Stupak's amendment before they voted for this proposal. Now that they have come to fully appreciate the impact of the Stupak ban they're rethinking their positions. Like President Obama, members of the House are indicating that the Stupak amendment went too far.

The Stupak ban would prohibit any coverage of abortion in the new "exchange," or marketplace, established by health reform. This ban would apply to both the proposed public option and to private plans.

Currently, a majority of private health insurance plans cover abortion care - even the one offered to employees of the Republican National Committee. But if your employer obtains your insurance in the future through the new exchange you will lose that coverage.

There is an alternative.

The Capps compromise, worked out by both pro-choice and anti-choice members of Congress, ensures that no federal funding would be used to pay for abortions while also ensuring that women do not lose the benefits they currently have. Under Capps, no federal funds would be used for abortion. The funds would be segregated from private dollars.

Thomas Hayes
is an entrepreneur, journalist, and political analyst who contributes regularly to a host of web sites on topics ranging from economics and politics to culture and community.

Oakland Taxi Problem due to Friendly Cab monopoly

Even though I pay attention to national cultural issues, I've not forgot about Oakland. I scanned the blog post on the Oakland Taxi Cab problem with a chuckle because neither the Oakland North newsite or A Better Oakland blog actually hits on the real problem.

(A momentary aside. It's time to call Oakland North what it is, a news website. It's not a blog. A blog contains opinions and adheres to a blogger's code of ethics. Oakland North is a site for journalists. I don't go there to get the views of one of their writers; I go there for the news. What's annoying is that as more journalists and journalism students discover new media, they call whatever they do online a blog. Wrong. I cry foul on this. If you're going to blog, let me know what you think, not what someone else thinks; but if not, then its a news website, period. Ok, back to the issue.)

The City of Oakland let Friendly Cab have a monopoly role in the industry in Oakland. Friendly Cab is the only active cab company in Oakland. It has all of the licenses for the city and has owned them for decades.

Oakland City Attorney John Russo tried to fix the problem 10 years ago when he was a councilmember and got nowhere. The problem still exists and there's zero political will to eliminate it.

The Oakland North blog post really focused on the parking ticket problems (which an initiative can fix) not the cab problems. But the real issue behind Oakland's Cab problems can be solved if the City of Oakland takes several steps:

1. Makes all cab companies lower the daily "gate fee" of $65 to $40 - This is a real problem and yes, I know it's $120 in San Francisco, but the Oakland fee to rent a cab from a company should be fixed by the City of Oakland. A cab driver has to buy gas and then make enough daily money to offset the cost to have the car for a day. At $40, a cab driver only needs to have four passenger pickups at $10 each per day to break even. A ride from Lake Merritt to 19th Street BART is $6.86 per day.

2. Lower the license cost to establish a cab business in Oakland to $10,000 - Why it's at reportedly $40,000 is beyond me and reads like a total racket in my view. The license cost is a barrier to entry into the cab industry at a time when people need to create employment for themselves. What the City of Oakland is doing here is just plain terrible.

3. End the Oakland Parking ticket problem - which can only be done effectively via the initiative process.

The City of Oakland should be working to help cab drivers build their business, not punish them for being in it. A better cab system will hopefully avoid incidents like the one I experienced here:

I understand that At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wants to jump in and solve the problem, but she's already behind the eight-ball because the City Council's putting her out there by herself. If she had a group of councilmembers with her, I'd say she's going to fix the problem, but there's no indication of a coalition of Oakland elected officials ready to change the state of affairs.

But it's clear from the number of cab drivers and people I've talked to that there's a perception the City of Oakland's allowed an organized scheme to keep one company - Friendly Cab - active to go too far. I'm not advocating the end of Friendly Cab, just some competition for it. That will lower fare prices and make cabs more abundant in Oakland.

Finally, I'll keep my car, thanks.

Adam Lambert AMA Video YouTube - Lambert "Got Carried Away"

 Adam Lambert likes girls too!

The Adam Lambert AMA Video on YouTube is viral, in fact when you think of all the versions of the video flying around the Internet and not just on YouTube, Adam Lambert's going to give Miley Cyrus a run for her money in the raunch department. Well, OK, he makes Miley Cyrus look like, well, a Disney TV show.

This is Adam Lambert in action in a YouTube video at the AMA:

But remember that woman who stormed the stage when Adam Lambert performed at his high school earlier this year? This scene that I talked about in my video:

I'll bet that woman's wishing she was on stage with Adam Lambert at the AMAs. Which gets to my point: such actions as the one that Adam Lambert performed at the AMA do impact what the audience thinks these artists are "about" and so causes more possible future "rush the stage" actions. If Adam Lambert's fans thinks he's that free and accessible, someone who's not wound tight will try that again or stalk him, or worse.

Look, I hope that does not happen, but again my point is such outlandish public actions don't happen in a closet: they impact society in different ways, some unpredictable.

I can understand Adam getting carried away with, er, himself and others, but it wasn't necessary. Does it get his name out there? Heck, yes! But think about what Adam Lambert just did. In a new media environment with this video going all over the place, Adam Lambert pushed the bar of what's acceptable taste to a higher level.

Or lowered it depending on your perspective.

Adam Lambert also, perhaps unknowingly, ushered in an era of sexual expression as performance art, but separated by sexual orientation. In other words, I'm waiting for the female performer to grab a male guitarist and push his head "down there".

Lambert said the female artists like Lady GaGa and Janet Jackson get away with actions wilder than his, but I have to totally disagree with him because no woman's ever done anything that tops his act. I've never seen a female singer do what he did at the AMA Awards.

But I'm betting someone will try. The question is who? My money's on Lady GaGa. What say you? Adam Lambert has started a 'sexual stage performance nuclear war' that has no end in sight, except possible the FCC.

But what's the FCC gonna do that stops this indecency battle in its tracks? The Federal Communications Commission hasn't shown the ability to put the breaks on visuals distributed via new media to date; I don't see them getting a handle on it without the help of companies like Google.

Stay tuned.

Ron Artest forgets clothes for Jimmy Kimmel Live

OK. I've seen a lot of stunts, but other than Adam Lambert on the AMA, this is one of the biggies. LA Lakers new star Ron Artest came on to the Jimmy Kimmel Live show with just his boxer shorts. He claimed he was late arriving to the show and was going to dress on stage.

Artest talks about how he talked to Kobe Bryant about coming to the Lakers, how he introduced Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian, who recently married, and his unique relationship with Lakers fans.

The video has become one of the most viewed on YouTube as of this writing today. Here's videos part one and two of Ron Artest on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Part One:

Part Two:

And on the matter of YouTube, here's my new video on the YouTube Community Roundtable:

Free Thanksgving Day Luncheon in Oakland at 410 14th Street

I received an email from Geoffrey Pete (the former owner of "Geoffrey's Inner Circle" Club) reporting that the Oakland Black Caucus is hosting a free Thanksgiving Day Luncheon at 410 14th Street, near Oakland City Hall, in downtown Oakland, California from 12 noon to 2 PM.

NBA stars Derrick Brown from the Charlotte Bobcats and Antonio Davis (who's retired) will be in attendance. Volunteers include Youth Uprising and The Oakland Tech Basketball Team.

The lunch event is for everyone, so come to downtown Oakland on Thanksgiving Day.