This Week in Lake Wobegon

transparency

It’s been a week since a story broken by a local media outlet here in New Rochelle went national. According to a video posted, New Rochelle Police approached and drew their firearms on black teens having a snowball fight. We have since learned that the police were responding to a 911 call about someone brandishing a gun. In a week’s time, that’s about all we know.

This has become an all too familiar story unfortunately. What’s also become all too familiar are the responses to stories like this. There are the knee-jerk liberals who immediately decry police brutality and knee-jerk conservatives who blindly support law enforcement. Facebook as usual devolved into either name calling, veering off to non-relevant topics, or both.

To me, there are too many outstanding questions to come to any conclusion. They include:

  • What did the person who posted the video know about the situation and what was the purpose of posting?
  • Why hasn’t the police released the 911 call or provide its transcript?
  • Why was the mayor calling for a further investigation while the city manager said no further investigation was necessary?

As responsible citizens, we must advocate for full transparency, leadership from elected officials, demand of our fellow citizens that conclusions shouldn’t be made until the facts come out. As a black American, I’m concerned that we don’t jump on every perceived slight because then we can become the boy that cried wolf. There are the intransigent members of society that will never see any issue. They are not in my radar, it’s those that would be supportive when cases that merit our outrage actually occur. No need to go down rabbit holes.

On the other side, despite contrary belief, the police are not under siege. What we are asking for is accountability. It does our society no good if law enforcement operates with impunity. All aspects of our government should be questioned.

Join me in asking for transparency from our elected officials while denouncing those that what to relegate any discussion into name calling.

Jeffrey Hastie
jeffrey@freevoter.com
@jhastie963

Advice for the 114th Congress

US_Capitol_Building_at_Night_Washington_DC

This week marks the beginning of the 114th Congress. It’s been documented how drastic a change this will be from the 113th and how historic (biggest Republican majority since 1929, hope that’s not a bad omen). What’s been said of the 113th is that it is one of the productive of all time. They passed 279 bills, the second fewest in history. In my book, that’s a home run. I’d rather not have Congress passing any more bills than is absolutely necessary to run the Federal government. Legislation needs to stay on the books long enough to generate a history of whether it accomplished its task or not. I’m a small business owner so their impact isn’t as significant to me as say a medium to large-sized business or one that is a heavily regulated industry. Leave what we have in place and let’s see how things pan out.

That’s my first advice. My second is for every member of Congress to Brené Brown speak on vulnerability. I’m a big fan of TED Talks. If you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you check out their website. They are an organization that likes to spread ideas and to get people talking. They bring interesting people to discuss their history, viewpoint, research, or anything else of interest. Brené studies human interaction. Her talk on relationships and vulnerability, of value to all, would be particularly suited for those in Washington. I’ve provided a link below.

http://goo.gl/M1ZDYG

Would love to hear your comments. Please share them below.

Jeffrey Hastie
@jhastie963
jeffrey@freevoter.com

Disheartening

Disheartening is about the only word I can think of to describe my feelings from the events of the past two weeks. One of my first posts on this site was about whether we were in a post racial society. It’s clear we are not judging by the reaction to the decisions.

In two weeks we’ve seen two police officers who have caused the death of two African-American males not be indicted for murder or a lessor charge. Each is problematic in its own right.

So much has been discussed about both these cases that there is nothing new I can add. However, freevoter.com is about sharing independent thoughts and ideas and I think this is a perfect forum to talk about what we can learn from both of these cases.

Ferguson

What’s disheartening about this case is not the lack of indictment but the response from the community. Rioting and looting serves no purpose and only feeds into the stereotypes some have of the African-American community. Social media was no help in the matter. I have friends, like most I hope, that span a wide political spectrum. Most were thoughtful, engaging, and truly inquisitive. Some unfortunately used it as an opportunity to spew the vile that only surfaces at times like these. To be clear, I’m talking about those on both sides.

In every race & ethnicity there are those that feel that they have to defend every member no matter what they do. While I empathize with the plight of the citizens of Ferguson, destroying the neighborhood only deepens the gulf between them and those who do not care about their future. If we truly care, actions and discussions would focus more on the future than wrongs of today or the past.

On the flip side, those that ignore that a community that has been neglected, at best, would react in such a dramatic and self destructive manner has never understood what true despair is. Chants of ‘thugs’ and ‘get a job’ show no regard for the situation in which folks in places like Ferguson find themselves.

Staten Island

What’s disheartening about this case IS the lack of indictment. First there is video record that clearly shows that Mr. Garner had his hands up. Second, unlike Ferguson, there were five cops there to subdue the suspect. Third, the hold placed on Mr. Garner was classified as illegal by the officer’s own police force. Lastly, the medical examiner classified Mr. Garner’s death as a homicide.

The response in New York in contrast to Ferguson was civilized. This is due in large part to the economic opportunities afforded to all in NYC and to the work by NYPD in building relationships with those they police (and the police being more representative of the city demographics).

Grand Jury

It’s clear that we have a broken judicial system. The purpose of the grand jury is to be a check on the prosecutor in bringing charges at will on alleged perpetrators. In brining matters to a grand jury, the prosecutor relies on evidence gathered by the police. So when it’s time to convene a grand jury for a police shooting, police cooperation is not a factor. But pursuing an indictment against a police officer won’t help the prosecutor in future cases where their help will be needed.

In addition, a grand jury’s sole job is to determine whether there is a enough evidence to justify a trial, not to determine guilt or innocence. As an outsider who hasn’t seen what was presented to the grand juries in either case, it seems that the jury was focused on whether a conviction was possible. And it appears both prosecutors metaphorically had their thumbs on the scale. In Ferguson, there was enough inconsistencies in witness statements to justify a no indictment decision. However, I would suggest that shooting 18 rounds, 12 of which connect, would appear excessive. That would be enough for me to allow the case to proceed to trial.  Lack of indictment in Staten Island is absurd and doesn’t merit further conversation.

We need an independent prosecutor to specifically bring cases involving the police. As long as we continue with the system in place, we will never be able to hold the police (most of whom do the right thing), accountable.

And by the way, those body cameras, meaningless. Refer to the Staten Island case.

Net Neutrality – Simply

netneutrality-contentblockedToday, President Obama is going to lay out his approach to immigration reform. I’ll wait to see what he has to say before commenting. This post is about his weighing in on the proposed net neutrality ruling under the Federal Communications Committee (FCC).

Before getting in to the proposals the FCC is weighing, a little background on what net neutrality is and how we got here.

BACKGROUND

Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not discriminate based on content, user, application, site, platform, or any other distinguishing characteristic. It’s a term coined by a Columbia University Media Law professor Tim Wu. Others call it the open Internet as a means of being more accurate in addition to rebranding.

In 2010, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order which barred the practice of ISPs of charging fees for speedier access to content providers such as Netflix. In January of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. struck down key provisions of the FCC’s ruling thereby weakening the agency’s attempt to keep the Internet open. This opened the door for Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to charge Netflix, Hulu, Google, and others for faster access to their networks and customers. Subsequently, the commission decided to write new rules to preserve its desire for an open Internet. If ISPs are allowed to differentiate access by content provider, consumers will lose out if they cannot afford to pay for greater access or a content provider cannot or will not pay for high-speed service on the ISP’s network.

Next, let’s discuss the pros and cons of net neutrality.

PROS

  • The founding proposition for the Internet was for free and unfettered access to information from anywhere. That’s why the “father” of the Internet and the creator of the web, Vincent Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee have spoken in favor of net neutrality.
  • Innovation and experimentation will be stifled should a tiered model for content providers as that would effectively create a barrier to entry.
  • Prevents ISPs that are also content providers (think Comcast and Time Warner) from potentially creating a system that favors their content to that over a competitor. (If you don’t think this is possible, read this article).

CONS

  • By disallowing ISPs to charge content providers for higher speed access, they will limit or discontinue investment in underserved areas in the U.S. (See this)
  • Ability to recoup their cost of investment in providing the broadband service  would diminish or possibly eliminate the Internet Service Provider’s ability to recoup its investment.
  • Less rather than more regulation is necessary.

The FCC is considering two approaches to the issues raised by the court ruling in January, regulating ISPs under section 706 or Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Currently, FCC classifies ISP as information service providers which are governed under Title I of the act.

Section 706

Since the section is short, basically two paragraphs with the second defining how inquiries into the enforcement of paragraph one, the entire paragraph is below.

The Commission and each State commission with regulatory jurisdiction over telecommunications services shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans (including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms) by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

Title II

Gives the FCC the authority to treat ISPs as a public utility. There are over 100 pages of regulations with this title many of which would not apply. The relevant portion is Section 202 which delineates that broadcast providers cannot discriminate against non-affiliated broadcasters. In other words, cannot charge more to a content provider that is not a part of the ISP’s content production.

A third alternative would be to create new rules and regulations that would specifically apply to the Internet, but we know that is not going to happen so we have these two inelegant approaches.

President Obama weighed in by urging the FCC to adopt the Title II approach over Section 706.

Neither one of these solutions works for me. Providing access to the Internet is an animal of a different color. However, I’m loathe to suggest new rules and regulations, we have enough of them. Instead, I’d like to see Title II streamlined and be less technology & platform specific. Barring that, I’d have to lean toward Title II as the proper approach. The elegance of Section 706 is appealing but I fear the language can be used to force ISPs to provide equal access to rural environments without the ability to recoup its investment. (Which in some circles is what net neutrality is all about.) Title II while over 90% is not applicable to Internet service, Title II is a better fit because its focus on leveling the playing field for content providers by protecting them from the service providers.

For fans of David Pogue and John Oliver, here is a link to their description of net neutrality and its impact (I highly recommend the John Oliver video):

David Pogue

John Oliver

jeffrey hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

Charles Barkley Doesn’t Speak For Me

charles-barkley

I can’t decide whether it is Black leaders who feel they must speak for all of us or the media industry that is always looking for the one person to go to. As with everything, it is a little bit of both.

Recently, Charles Barkley stated in an interview to a Philadelphia radio station that successful Blacks biggest problem is unintelligent Blacks. This statement has so many problems on so many levels. First, is this only an issue for Black people? So successful White people, Latino people, Asian people, etc (fill in your favorite ethnicity) don’t have the same issue? Second, the statement assumes that successful people are intelligent and unsuccessful are not. Depending on how you define successful, there’s an argument to be made that intelligence or the lack thereof exists on both ends of the success stratum. Biggest problem? Not institutional racism, the economy, the effects of government policies, or anything else, just unintelligent Black people. In his quote, he states he tells his White friends this. Sounds to me he’s trying to be accepted by his White friends. I was alerted to his comments by my friend George Alexander who has a piece in Huffington Post about high-tech summit held at his alma mater, Morehouse College.

The problem is that no one person can speak for an entire ethnic group. Every group has a wide range of expectations, desires, beliefs, and philosophies. I’m sure Mr. Barkley represents a segment of the Black community, so too Dr. Cornell West, or Jesse Jackson, or Tavis Smiley, or Dr. Thomas Sowell. In the Latino, I’m sure there are equivalents.

As much as I would like for the media industry to provide balanced coverage to issues in matters of race, I know it won’t happen. All I can ask is that we as thoughtful citizens be mindful that what we are hearing is one person’s view and not that of an entire community. As with any politically expressed viewpoint, seek out the opposing view. That’s what Free Voter readers are all about.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963

A thousand words and then some

A picture is worth a thousand words as the saying goes. The entertainment and media industry knows that well. That’s why when I came across this image in my Facebook feed, I was disheartened. If it is not readily apparent what is concerning about this, unfortunately you are in the majority. Take a closer look and you will see the distinction. The African American mother is by herself while the Caucasian mother is with what is presumed to be her husband.

Pardon me while I check my calendar to make sure it’s 2014, not 1814.

Apparently, the Mad Men of today are no different than the ones depicted in the hit AMC series. Speaking of television, it’s no better. Matter of fact, it’s worse. Predominantly black tv shows were in either one of two categories: the poor family trying to get by (e.g. Good Times, Sanford and Son) or the pompous, showboat black male (e.g. The Jeffersons). In my view, The Cosby Show was successful mainly for the fact that it portrayed a black family dealing with issues that middle class families all deal with, regardless of race. Sure, it had its episodes that dealt with race, but that was not the basis of the program.

And if you don’t think images matter in entertainment or advertising and people aren’t paying attention, think back to the backlash Cheerios experienced over its ad with a biracial couple last year.

Image is a powerful medium. It’s how we judge others and others judge us before one word is uttered.

So, yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s be careful as to which thousand words they are.

jeffrey hastie
@jhastie963
jahastie@gmail.com

What do Jellyfish and politicians have in common?

polls_mike03112008_0337_300605_answer_1_xlargeTwitter is such a useful tool. Great source of information and fun facts. As one social media consultant said in a presentation “Facebook is for hugs, Twitter is for news.” A recent tweet made me chuckle but think. Uberfacts tweeted:

The opening for the mouth and the anus on a jellyfish is the same.

To which a follower replied:

Hey Uberfacts, you spelled politician wrong.

It used to be that running for public office was pursued by those of noble cause. Now it’s seen with such disdain that the trust in a politician is lower than a used car salesman. Running for office is no longer about governing as it is about the constant chase for donations. No sooner is a member voted into the House of Representatives than he or she is back on the trail looking for money for the next campaign.Their constant chase for the almighty dollar has caused most, not all, politicians to say whatever it takes to separate a donor from his/her money.

Besides chasing dollars, many chase polls. The prevalence and prominence that polls take these days is mind blowing. The proliferation is so great that now we have polls that aggregate polls. Andrew Cuomo was on WNYC Friday morning and when asked by Brian Lehrer about whether he struck the right balance between public safety and civil liberties with his latest quarantine policy, he started his answer by quoting a recent poll stating that 84% of New Yorkers agreed with him. Don’t know about you, but I look to my leaders to lead, not follow. Let’s take an example from the business world about leadership. Apple is famous for developing products that consumers didn’t know they needed (okay, wanted). They recently have lost their way in that regard as evidenced by the ridicule Samsung first received for their big screen phone, now Apple has copied them due to Samsung’s suggest. If Apple and Samsung were strictly guided by what consumers say they wanted, we’d all still be caring flip phones.

Shows like The West Wing and Madame Secretary are popular not because of the political stance they take, but because of the moral stance they take. We desperately long for leaders that lead from their gut and not from a poll. Click on this link from The West Wing to see an example of moral character.

Jeffrey Hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963