Roundtable: Phil Jackson, Smoking Bans

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Topics on Wednesday's roundtable include: Phil Jackson's return as coach of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers; the possibility of a smoking ban in one city's public housing; and whether 16-year-olds are too young to drive. Guests: Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Yvonne Bynoe, author of Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; and George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's Roundtable, should the government dictate what you do in your home if your home is government property? Also, Texas developers are creating a sex offender-free neighborhood. And why can't Kobe and Phil just get along?

Joining the discussion from our New York bureau: Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Yvonne Bynoe is author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture" from NPR headquarters in Washington, DC; and George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, comes to us from Laurel, Maryland.

Thank you all for joining us.

So let me start out with you, George. In New York, there's a proposal to ban smoking at public housing. Proponents say they want to protect non-smokers and children. Proponents say that's not the role of government. This is proposed by a Democrat, opposed by a Republican. Is the government overstepping?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor In Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association): I think so, as a person who grew up in public housing, as a person who does not smoke. I think it's a very bad idea. They're talking about banning public housing, smoking in public housing. There's another proposal that would ban it in college dormitories. I mean, where's this thing stop? I just think that there are enough problems for lawmakers to focus on and just leave people alone in their homes.

CHIDEYA: But, George, the Democrat who's proposing this says that it's all about second-hand smoke. So maybe your neighbor is smoking and you just are getting all the blow back through your vents. Isn't that a laudable goal?

Mr. CURRY: It's a goal to get people to stop smoking, period. We have not had much success at it, but it's a goal, it's an important goal. I don't like second-hand smoke, and it's banned in some of the dining areas, and I think that's appropriate. But I just don't think it's appropriate to be really worried about what goes on in a person's home.

CHIDEYA: Yvonne, on this show we talked at various times about how far government can go in dictating the lives of people on public assistance or in public housing. Do you think that that's really the issue here or is it a health issue?

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, "Stand and Deliver"): I think it could be some of both, but I have to agree with George from the standpoint I do think this is overreaching. We have to realize that people within public housing, that the vast majority of them are paying some rent. It's not like they're getting a total free ride from the government. Certainly, it's below market price, but there is some money coming out of their pocket to stay there, so I'm not a smoker, but, again, I don't agree that this should be something that the government gets in the way of. Because I'm not clear what the regulation would be. At what point would people be evicted? What are the penalties? What happens if they have guests? I think it's too much of a process to get into over smoking. Certainly, it's a health concern, an important one, but I don't think this is the role of government.

CHIDEYA: Now, Michael...

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): (Unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: ...you're in New York, and New York, of course, citywide, has a ban on smoking in public places now. All of these people got upset, in a furor, in the past couple years when the law was changed. Do you think that New York is ready for another ban?

Mr. MEYERS: All these people did not get upset. Most people support the no-smoking ban in public accommodations, particularly restaurants. We have no-smoking hotel rooms, we have no-smoking restaurants, we have no-smoking offices. Yeah. No-smoking housing. It is either about time or it's an idea whose time has come. I don't agree with George and I do certainly don't see any constitutional right to smoke indoors.

So government does have a role here to take the health and safety of other tenants and other tenants have rights. People may--don't have a constitutional right to have a dog, for example, but people do have dogs in their developments and it seems to me that people can say, `We don't dogs because they make noise. We don't want noisemakers.' You have the right to have a party, but you don't have a constitutional right to make noise.

So it seems to me that when you have--well, what you call blow-back smoke coming through your vents--and I don't know if you've ever been to a smoking area or a smoking building, it's awful. I can't stand it. People have sinuses, they have health problems. I don't smoke. I don't want to smoke. And I don't want to smoke your smoke.

CHIDEYA: But what's the regulation on that? Are people going to come in with a meter to my apartment and decide whether or not there's smoke? If I have a guest, you know--I--that's what I'm not clear on. How are you going to enforce this without getting into people's personal business?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, that's a good question. How do you enforce no-dog policies? How do you...

CHIDEYA: Well, you see a dog. You can see a dog clearly. You can't...

Mr. MEYERS: No, you can't always see a dog. People have a way of sneaking dogs in.

CHIDEYA: Well, I mean, if your--but if your issue is that the dog is making...

Mr. MEYERS: But if you hear a dog, it might be a TV. I will grant you there may very well be enforcement problems.

CHIDEYA: Very well? No, it's going to be--yeah, because you get--but...

Mr. MEYERS: But, you know, you have to ask--you have to have good faith on the part of people who are living with other people.

CHIDEYA: But if...

Mr. MEYERS: And if there's a no-smoking policy, people shouldn't be smoking.

Mr. CURRY: All right, anyway...

CHIDEYA: All right, Yvonne and Michael, let me redirect you because I think that if you're this hot about that, you're going to get even hotter about this issue. Now in Texas, this is another housing issue. You've got a situation where developers in Lubbock, Texas, want to create a no-sex offender zone. They're going to have a covenant that basically says you cannot live in these houses if you're a sex offender. You cannot buy or sell a house to or from a sex offender. Yvonne, what do you think about that? You know, there have been restrictive covenants around race, which are now unconstitutional, even though some of them are still on the books. Should there be a covenant around sex offenders or any kind of offenders?

Mr. MEYERS: You're not comparing sex with race, are you?--sex offenders to race? I hope.

CHIDEYA: What I'm talking about is the idea of covenants that block certain people. This obviously is a different situation. It's not protected, it's not a federally protected category. But sex--some people argue sex offenders have to live somewhere. Michael, what do you think about that?

Mr. CURRY: Farai, let me jump in here because I've been excluded from the conversation...

Mr. MEYERS: Well, I...

CHIDEYA: Oh, come on, George. Come on in, George.

Mr. CURRY: ...I have to say. I think that this is a false sense of security. Even if you favor it or don't favor it, you try to have a no-sex offender zone, nothing prevents them from living in neighborhoods around them, and so that it really doesn't give you the security that you're seeking so even if you want to do it, I don't think you're really having an impact because people will still be proximity of your homes.

Mr. MEYERS: My view is this, Farai, that, you know, it calls to mind that delightful movie "Gypsy," and in that movie there's a great line that says, `You gotta have a gimmick.' Now this is a developer's gimmick. This is a marketing tool. We have drug-free zones. We have noise-free zones. We have Disneyland and Neverland. We live in an open society. And we can--you can try and have a gimmick, but with respect to sex offenders, people don't walk around with sex offender signs on themselves, and sex offenders are not generally known as such, and, in fact, they're usually people whom you know who already live in your community or a relative or something like that. So I think it is just that, a gimmick, it's a marketing tool.

CHIDEYA: In some ways, the developer even admitted that. He said, `You've got to think outside the box to differentiate yourself from other developers.'

Mr. MEYERS: It's like the no-smoking policy.

CHIDEYA: It's a gimmick. Well, Yvonne, let me re-target this a little bit to you. What about the whole idea of registered sex offenders? Part of the reason that these developers can create this is because there are laws now which say that communities have to be notified when a sex offender who's been convicted is in their neighborhood. You can create these covenants. What if every neighborhood tried to create them? And where would the sex offenders go? Do you see any merit to the `not in my back yard' policy, or do you think that neighborhoods have to absorb people who are sex offenders back into their communities?

Ms. BYNOE: Just speaking purely as an individual with some grave concerns about sex offenders, I think that neighborhoods and communities have to make the decisions for themselves what's going to work. I think part of the problem--we have these sex offender registries but studies are showing that they don't know where these people are half the time, that they are not registering...

Mr. MEYERS: Who they are.

Ms. BYNOE: ...rather, exactly, or who they are. So these registries are, frankly, not working. I think George makes an excellent point, too. A lot of the people are not even in the registry. They are your neighbors. They are family members, they're your acquaintances.

Mr. MEYERS: That was Michael's point.

Ms. BYNOE: I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Michael. They are people that are not even in this system. So I think, number one, this is a gimmick. I don't think that there's any surefire way, even with this covenant, to secure a community, but, that being said, I think if a community wants to try something to exclude people, I think that's their only other option. What I've heard over and over and over is rehabilitation. We have no studies, we have nothing to show that that works in the majority of cases. We had the civil libertarians talking about, you know, other things like anklets and ankle bracelets and so forth being against people's rights. If you've done the time, you know, that should be the end of your story. But, again, this is a serious crime for people who have been caught and convicted. We still don't have any surefire way of keeping them from preying on children again. So I think it's up to each community to decide what's best for them.

CHIDEYA: And, Yvonne, you're...

Mr. CURRY: I want to go back to an earlier point.

CHIDEYA: Go ahead, George.

Mr. CURRY: I want to go back to an earlier point, and that is that a third of these cases, according to the Justice Department, involve relatives, kind of like homicide. A third of them involve relatives, and people got all excited about the two cases down in Florida. One of those cases, one of the teen-agers, was her mother's former boyfriend. So you still got a major problem here of people being related to you, committing these kind of heinous crimes, and this certainly won't solve that.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Well, let's move on to something a little more upbeat...

Mr. CURRY: OK.

CHIDEYA: ...the Lakers. Phil Jackson, Kobe, together again. Michael, what do you think?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, my reaction to this Jackson story was the same as my reaction to the other Jackson story, the Michael Jackson story, and my reaction is ``Boy, oh, boy,' and I think both Jacksons are thrilled to be back home, although these stories both have a--to me, a Neverland quality to them. And both stories involve a boyfriend, Phil Jackson being the longtime boyfriend of the Lakers' owner's daughter. But men who coach--men who play with balls, that's out of my pay grade, so I'll defer to my other panelists.

Mr. CURRY: Well, it's not out of mine. I used to do--I started my career at Sports Illustrated. I never seen a story like this. In LA, the LA Times had a headline called ...(unintelligible) Re-Philing the Lakers. What is interesting is that two weeks ago Phil Jackson had told his agent that he didn't think that he wanted to coach, and then within, you know, 48 hours, he's back saying he's going to do it. You know, I think that what the Lakers were shocked by was last year they had more losses than wins and their record was even worse than the Clippers, and that's pretty hard to beat. And so they're willing to do anything to get back to that stature of paying him $10 million a year for three years, the highest contract in sports. But the Lakers without Shaq is a different kind of team. And so we're going to see whether Phil and Kobe can coexist, but without somebody as dominant as Shaq, they still won't get back to the finals.

Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, I think it's going to be interesting because they made the decision that Kobe was the future and Shaq, despite his record, was the past. And they let Shaq go to Miami. But, as George has said, the season was dismal and I think that they are bringing Phil back with the idea that Kobe better get on board and get along with it--you know, get along with Phil this go-round so they can win some championships because, clearly, him alone was not enough to get them another ring.

CHIDEYA: But, Yvonne, is this kind of a perfect storm in the sports world where you have, obviously, the issues of how well the team is performing but you also have this crazy interpersonal drama between these two individuals, one of whom, Phil Jackson, wrote fairly disparagingly about Kobe in his book. It seems like this is not just a sports story, it's also some kind of metaphor for how people get along in the workplace.

Ms. BYNOE: I think we can look at it that way. I mean, that's certainly a higher-level thinking. I think that, ultimately, what we're looking at is business, that these guys, all three of them, whether we're talking about Shaq, Kobe or Phil Jackson, they're about the dollars at the end of the day. They're about winning. And, again, the Lakers made a calculated decision that, you know, `We're gonna go with Kobe despite all his personal problems, that he was a superior ballplayer, and that we're gonna get behind him.' And, you know, that decision may or may not have been good, but, given the team that was surrounding him, it--they couldn't win, so they're bringing back a force that they've worked with before, they know what his track record is and they want to win...

Mr. MEYERS: OK, but winning is about...

Ms. BYNOE: ...so they're going to have to get along or somebody else is going to be leaving out next season. Now that would be decided later.

CHIDEYA: Michael?

Mr. MEYERS: But winning is about chemistry and winning is about teamwork and the capacity and the willingness of team--people who are playing on a team, to work together and to accept instruction and coaching and to like your coach or at least respect your coach, and the coach respecting the players. If this is not going to be good chemistry between Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, bringing in a coach that has won in the past is not going to be the quick fix. It's not going to be a miracle. Maybe if you bring all three of them back and then put in some more multimillion dollar players on that Lakers team, maybe you might win some games then, and some championships, but one coach doesn't win a championship.

CHIDEYA: Are any of you guys Lakers fans?

Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, yeah, this...

Mr. CURRY: Well, this one does. This one does. This one does.

Ms. BYNOE: And also...

Mr. MEYERS: We'll see.

Mr. CURRY: They did not win without him. Even with the same--hold on--players, they had not won until he got here. He's a proven winner, but he still--there's a question--everybody knows salary caps so the question is: Who can they bring in to be dominant? They won't be a Shaq. He's the most dominant player in the NBA. But who can they bring in given that limitation? I think if Phil Jackson had not been dating Jeanie Buss, I don't think he would have ever signed on to this deal.

Mr. MEYERS: Or gotten the job, you mean.

Ms. BYNOE: And also where's Kobe going, you know? If he can't make it in LA, I don't know that, you know, we have--time will tell. But I don't know that people necessarily are clamoring, especially with the salary cap, so whether they--even if they wanted him whether they could afford him. So I don't think--I think he's between a rock and a hard place so I think chemistry certainly is preferable, but I think that when people want to keep a job and win, they'll compromise and do what they need to do.

Mr. CURRY: And who knows, maybe Kobe's grown up. I mean, after having a terrible season, I mean, he's all--as you said, they're all competitive. They want to win. And he know he couldn't win without that. Maybe he may be more receptive. We'll see.

CHIDEYA: Well, the Lakers did so poorly that they are actually going to get a draft pick. What kind of player do they need?

Mr. CURRY: They need a big person. They need--I mean, there's no question about that. They need somebody in the center, and somebody who's young and dominant and those are not easy to find.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me just redirect this a little bit. It seems to me that there's some sports teams in America that people love to hate. A lot of people love to hate the New York Yankees. And I think a lot of people love to hate the Lakers. Do you guys agree or do you get that feeling?

Mr. CURRY: No, I don't agree with you at all. I don't agree with you at all. I mean, when you think back to Magic and Kareem and Jerry West, I mean, it's a glitzy--when they moved from Milwaukee--it's a glitzy team that's really good. I mean, this is--you don't hate them...

CHIDEYA: Oh, I mean they hate them because they're successful.

Mr. CURRY: Well, they...

Mr. MEYERS: Well, people like...

CHIDEYA: But now that they're not that successful maybe people don't hate them anymore.

Mr. MEYERS: People like this...

Mr. CURRY: Well, they must love them now then because they're certainly not successful.

Mr. MEYERS: Exactly. People like winners.

CHIDEYA: All right, I'm gonna--the speed round. Should teens be allowed to drive? A lot of people are saying that there are so many bad teen drivers, so many fatalities. We've only got a few seconds for each of you. Do you think that the driving age should move up to 18, for example? George?

Mr. CURRY: No, I don't. No, I don't. No, I don't. I think we should be requiring them to take safety courses like a lot of states have. But then they're probably as good as any of these old people I see on the highway, and I'm not knocking old people since I'm getting there pretty quickly, but, no, I don't think they should raise the age.

CHIDEYA: Yvonne?

Ms. BYNOE: I don't think that that age should be raised either because we do have a lot of rural areas, but I do agree with George, that we need to have more driver's ed training before they can get on the roads.

CHIDEYA: And what about you, Michael?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, the case hasn't been made for raising the age. I mean, you raise it from 16 to 17, 17-year-olds are involved in accidents, as well, 18-year-olds are involved, 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds, 80-year-olds, as George says. The case hasn't been made. And you shouldn't stereotype and discriminate against people based on age. The question is skill. And the question is ability. And the question is education, and making people--and getting people in a position when they get behind the wheel to know the rules of safety and that includes speeding, and not being drunk when you're driving...

CHIDEYA: All right. On that note...

Mr. MEYERS: ...at whatever age you are.

CHIDEYA: ...from our New York bureau, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; from NPR headquarters in Washington, DC, Yvonne Bynoe. She's author of the book "Stand and Deliver" and co-founder of the Urban Think Tank; and George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service from Laurel, Maryland.

Thank you all for joining us.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you.

Mr. MEYERS: Thank you.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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