Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Strike is Done!

Tourists visiting NYC in the near-future weeks let out a sigh of relief along with the producers and stagehands of Broadway last night as negotiations came to a conclusion, Campbell Robertson of the New York Times reports (November 29, 2007). Again, the red curtains will be drawn, the music will start up, and the show will go on. But was the near-month of striking worth the estimated $40 million dollar loss to Broadway and the wage loss to the stagehands?

A brief glance at the strike situation would suggest that the strike would not have continued for so long if both the stagehands and the Broadway league did not consider the monetary loss worth their hope of striking victory, but the a closer look at the strike may suggest otherwise. The strike, "the first in the union’s 121-year history, darkened 31 theaters, shuttering 27 shows and one Duran Duran concert" and yet only "350 of the 2,200 active members of the union participated in the walkout." The 350 members who participated in the walkout obviously considered the strike worth their efforts, which the voiced clearly, but what about the 1,850 who did not walk out? Though the stagehands initially unanimously voted for a union strike, they could not have predicted a strike that would continue for a long 19 days. For those who would have wanted to return sooner, they could not without running the risk of being "black-listed" and possibly removed from the union, leaving them without work. They were left without much of a choice, no active voice, and no pay.

As for the Broadway league (which consists of owners and producers), they took many steps to accommodate the union's request in order to end the strike. The league held three marathon negotiation sessions in which it continued to agree to more and more of the union's requests. As Robertson reported, the "officials on the union negotiating committee seemed happy with the terms of the five-year contract" and as well they should be. The union walked away from the negotiations with yearly wage raises "well above the 3.5 percent that the league had been offering."

Unions were created during a time in history where the "little guy's" voice could not be heard and many unjust actions were being taken towards workers by a vast majority of employers. The unions were for the masses, a place where everyone had a voice. Today, most employers see the benefit of having happy workers who are content with how they are being treated, and unions are not nearly as necessary as they used to be. And unfortunately, they sometimes hurt the "little guy" who would like to go back to work without being black-listed. While the masses are rejoicing now that the negotiations have ended, the already-quieted voice of the individual is being drowned out, a price that wasn't worth the cost of the strike.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Murders Afraid of Capital Punishment?

As if there wasn't enough to debate, Adam Liptak from the New York Times reports that "for the first time in a generation, the question of whether the death penalty deters murders has captured the attention of scholars in law and economics, setting off an intense new debate about one of the central justifications for capital punishment" (November 18, 2007). More than a dozen studies were conducted in a number of jurisdictions, comparing the homicide rates over a period of time. On the surface it appears that when execution rates rise, homicide rates lower. This seems to make complete sense; people have the idea of execution as a punishment fresh in their minds and therefore are in greater fear of consequences. Lawyers and economists, however, seem to disagree on the issue, not necessarily that people respond to incentives, but on the analyzation of the research.

The economists' view is based on the logic of incentives. Liptak explains the economists' point of view as such: "To many economists, then, it follows inexorably that there will be fewer murders as the likelihood of execution rises." Because the numbers in the research do reveal that homicide rates dropped when execution rates rose, the economists' stand by their point. But the lawyers' point of view is that there are too many other factors that have not been equated into analyzing the research done in jurisdictions where capital punishment applies. These factors give the lawyers reason to not believe that capital punishment deters people from homicide.

Regardless of where a lawyer or economist stands on the issue of research, what is most surprising is the lack of reliance on personal values and morals in deciding whether or not the death penalty should be used. Instead of worrying about what they believe to be the best moral actions, the economists and lawyers researching and debating this issue are basing their stances on what the research is revealing. Joanna M. Shepherd, a professor at Emory with a doctorate in economics states, “I am definitely against the death penalty on lots of different grounds, but I do believe that people respond to incentives.”

The debate between all kinds of people--lawyers, economists, students, parents, everyone--should not be "what does the research show," but rather "what does my faith/soul/values tell me is right". While this does lead to a difference in opinion, the majority opinion will rule and people can choose to accept it or leave it. American laws cannot decide the right actions to take simply because of research; cutting off a man's hand because he stole would obviously make other afraid to steal, but America does not practice this kind of punishment because it was decided to be immoral. Of course, capital punishment deters people from murdering others, but that does not mean it is right.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

2,000 Lawyers Can't Be Wrong

Protests have erupted in Pakistan, consisting of thousands of angry men and women, New York Times columnists Jane Perlez and David Rhode report (November 5, 2007). But these protesters are not from any particular party faction, nor are they the average Joe and Jane citizen. They are not trying to put someone into office or create chaos for chaos's purpose. No, these protesters are the highly-educated, well trained lawyers of Pakistan who have taken to the streets in outrage to Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, and his actions imposing emergency rule.

While some presidents would consider turning a listening ear to a massive protest by the educated of the country, General Musharraf instead reacted with a police round-up and arrest of the protesting lawyers. Those of the lawyers who were of high-acclaim were generally not jailed but put on house arrest.

There is an obvious difference of opinion between the lawyers and the President of Pakistan, but who in this situation can claim the majority interest at heart? Is General Musharraf's actions of emergency rule due to selfish motives or wise judgement? Do the lawyers have good enough reasons to protest? In order to genuinely asses the situation, "emergency rule" must first be defined.

As the articles explains, emergency rule is not martial law:

"The main points of General Musharraf’s emergency order were the suspension of the Constitution, the dissolution of the Supreme Court and the four provincial High Courts, and the silencing of privately owned television news channels."

Apparently, Musharraf thought emergency rule would be easy for the democratic-seeking citizens (lawyers greatly included) to swallow. Or perhaps he just could care less. Although Musharraf has not fully declared martial law (he has not shut down Parliament), he has taken away the freedom of speech and the right to a trustworthy judicial system from the people. It is not only not surprising but only seems correct that the lawyers of Pakistan took to the streets. Their rights have been completely stripped from them as well as their judges dismissed. Their Supreme Court has been abolished. Their livelihood is at stake if they don't follow Musharraf's dictatorial laws. And Musharraf doesn't care about their well-being nor does it seem that he cares about the well-being of the majority of Pakistan.

There is something to be said about a mob's mindset in that it is often a temporary, dramatized grouping of passion that is often in the wrong, but in this situation the mob is correct and the individual is wrong. The mob is fighting for the very rights that they are naturally endowed with and should be given under a democratic government (which no longer seems democratic). As the now-fired Supreme Court Justice said in response to Musharraf's emergency rule done under his apparent idea of democracy:

“The United States is a democratic government, and democratic governments should work for democratic values across the globe,” Mr. Bhagwandas said. “Pakistan is no exception.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hillary: The Scary Candidate

In this time of America's growth as a nation, America needs a president who has good moral character. America needs a president who isn't worried about pleasing every citizen but focuses on what is best for the nation as a whole. America needs a president who is honest about where they stand on issues and who won't change with the opinionated tide of the people. What America does not need is a politician, and in Tuesday night's Democratic party debate Hillary Clinton confirmed what many people feared: Hillary is the most frightening politician.

The debate, reported by Marc Santora in the New York Times, took an unfortunate turn for Hillary when the democratic candidates were asked to state their views on granting illegal immigrants licenses (November 1, 2007). As Santora reports, Hillary "at first seemed to defend it, then suggested she was against it, until finally, pressed for a direct answer, she accused the moderator, Tim Russert, of playing 'gotcha.'" Her opponents, Barack Obama and John Edwards, however, did not seem to find the question difficult to answer and were quick with displaying their support of the issue. So why was it so hard for Hillary to say where her loyalty lay? As Santora explains, Hillary is trying to appease two opposing sides: the democrats and the union workers. Giving Hillary the benefit of the doubt, it must only be on this issue that her loyalty is so divided, right? Many of her opponents seem to think otherwise.

Obama stated after the debate that Hillary "left us wondering where she stood on every single hard question from Iran to Social Security to drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers.”

Edwards claimed Hillary said “two different things in the course of about two minutes.”

Rudolph W Giuliani, her possible Republican opponent, commented that “I know there are some politicians like Hillary. , They say different things to different people. They use different accents in different parts of the country. I’m used to that about her now. I had never seen it happen all in one place, in one minute.”

Granted, her opponents are not the most likely to be praising her debate performance, but when given the chance to clarify her stance, Santora reports, "the wording of the statement was murkier than what many of her opponents have said in either supporting or opposing Mr. Spitzer’s initiatives."

To make things worse, Hillary resorted to mocking Obama's political theme of "the politics of hope."

Hillary is obviously trying to climb out of the hole she has deeply dug herself into, and at the current moment for the Democrats, the presidential nomination is anyone's ticket, so why focus on Hillary's blunders and terrible political tactics? Why not focus on the good qualities of each candidate? Unfortunately, it is the bad characteristics that citizens of America need to recognize in the possible future presidents. Each candidate has a number of good qualities, but it is the bad qualities that will make the biggest difference. As of now, it is Hillary's bad qualities which would make her the worst candidate for President. She could not take a stand on a very controversial, which could greatly hurt America if she was ever put into office. America is in a time of change, and if she has a president who cannot decide which way to go, her growth will be stunted. Also, when backed into a corner, Hillary lashes out rather than taking responsibility. As seen in past presidents who acted in a similar way (one ironically being her husband), it doesn't end well for the president nor for the nation.

There is still a long way to go before the election, but right now things aren't looking good for Hillary's character. Proving recently that she is truly a politician, she will probably find a way to snap back into the public's favor, but as a nation it would be to America's benefit if she did not. Personally, I don't find it a coincidence that this debate occurred a day before Halloween. For all of our sake, I hope Hillary's actions were just a way to scare us because of the holiday rather than her actions being a good future prediction of how she will handle controversial issue that America has to face.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

History: It's all Politics

Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, has backed down from her campaign to persuade Washington and Turkey to recognize the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide, reports New York Times' Calr Hulse (October 18, 2007). Pelosi did not give a direct reason as to why she is reconsidering her pledge, but rather gives a vague statement saying, "Whether it will come up or not and what the action will be remains to be seen."

What caused such a great change in Pelosi? Has Pelosi simply become bored of this pledge that she so thoroughly sought after up till now? Or are there more intricate matters where the consequences of her crusade would be too great in comparison to correcting history? With further investigation, Hulse reveals that Pelosi's decision was based off of the latter. Her actions had "angered Turkey and raised fears that the Turkish government could reduce its strategic cooperation with the United States", and even President Bush (who criticized in 2000 the genocidal campaign against the Armenians) responded to Pelosi's actions negatively:

"“With all these pressing responsibilities, one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire [...] Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that is providing vital support for our military every day.”

What appears striking, however, is that Washington welcomed the Dalai Lama this past week, risking upsetting China with its "expression of support of human rights and democracy (Hulse). So the pressure put on Pelosi to reconsider her pledge could not have stemmed from a diminishing support of human rights since the America government has shown its continuing support through inviting and welcoming the Dalai Lama. So where does this passion against Congress "sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire" come from?

The answer is politics. As Bush explained, Congress has "important work to do,[...with] a democratic ally in the Muslim world." In short, don't upset the apple cart for just a little bit of history. Turkey is an important ally in the war in Iraq, America can't afford to lose their support, so forget the past and let's all move on. But this attitude does not put the correct amount of emphasis on needing an accurate account of history, something the American government has not necessarily supported before. When the President of Iran claimed there was no Holocaust, Bush quickly condemned his comments. When Japan denied using women from occupied territories as sex slaves in WWII, Congress refused to drop the matter even after angering Japanese officials. Both situations remain oviously similar to the issue with Turkey today, excepting one fact: neither Iran nor Japan was a political ally of America concerning a controversial war where America could not afford losing any of its allys.

It is easy to shrug off a situation such as this saying simply, "It's politics," but unfortunately when history is not acknowledged nor corrected it repeats itself, genocide being the worst kind of repetition. And Washington refuse to fight for the recognition of the Armenian genocide because "it's politics." Granted, considering Pelosi is the House Speaker and is deep into politics, there is a great possibility that her motives were not simply to persuade Turkey into understanding te necessity of recognizing the past. Her timing is too perfect for her actions to be so innocently motiveless. But that doesn't mean that Turkey shouldn't take action in acknowledging accurate history. Hopefully, Turkey will not have to be forced into recognizing history if given enough time to reconsider their county's past actions. Hopefully, America will not need Turkey as an ally for so long that it loses its chance to assist Turkey in acknowleding the past. Hopefully, history is understood before it repeats itself again. Hopefully...but then again, its politics.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Schwarzenegger Speaks Up on Immigration...Sort of

Randal Archibold reports in today's New York Times article "State Strikes Balance on Immigration" that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has created balance with his case-by-case judgements on immigration bills (October 14, 2007). Archibold reports that "Mr. Schwarzenegger, pleasing immigration advocates and Latino groups, signed a measure that prohibits cities from requiring landlords to check whether tenants are in the country legally" while he also "vetoed a bill to allow new citizens to register to vote on Election Day if their naturalization ceremonies were held less than seven days before an election." Right-winged and left-winged advocates seem to be harolding Scwarzenegger's praises for creating harmony with his approach on immigration, but is his split loyalty's (also seen as a "fair approach") long term affects going to harm California rather than help it?

His elected officials and political analysis boldly state the short-term happiness:

“I think the governor signed this bill for the right reason,” said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, the Los Angeles-area Democrat who sponsored the landlord bill, “but clearly it was a tactical move on his part. This allows him to say, ‘I am not anti-immigration because I signed the Calderon bill.’ It’s great cover for him.”

While it is wonderful for Schwarzenegger and his officials, is the only reason why he signs certain bills is because he wants to have a "great cover"? While politics is largely about making the choices that please the people, it is also about making the choices that are better for the people regardless of what the passionate mob might be chanting. Schwarzenegger is trying to appease the crowd, as Archibold says, "giving a little to both sides," but the question still remains, what about the long-term affects of Schwarzenegger's approach?

At some time there will come a point where Schwarzenegger will give too much to one side and will slip up. One side or the other will claim he has not given enough and Schwarzenegger, aiming to please, will give over too much in order to make up for his mistakes. And in his effort to take on the bills in a case-by-case scenario, how can he and his officials keep track of the decisions they have made either for or against immigration? Even if they were able to keep track, how can the monitors those bills that support immigration that might contradict those which are against immigration?

Arnold Schwarzenegger has done a grand job in making sure he has established himself as for and strict against immigration. But that leaves the people, who elected him because of where he stands on issues, wondering where he stands on immigration. They cannot predict how he will "judge" a bill unless they too are monitoring how he just signed the last immigration bill that approached his desk. Schwarzenegger needs to not "play fair". His collection of "pro-immigration" bills are going to collide with his "anti-immigration" bills like medicines that don't mix, leaving California in a frenzy to clean up his citizen-pleasing mess. Schwarzenegger can pick to be for immigration or against immigration, he just needs to decided on a side.

Schwarzenegger also needs to realize that allowing illegal immigrants to rent a home is quite different from letting naturalized citizens vote or not vote right before the elections. One is naturalized and one is "illegal", and the two are very different. There was no balance in how he treated immigrants when he vetoed one bill and passed another, and in fact his allowing of illegal immigrants to move into homes without needing to show identification is more like a slap in the face to the immigrants who went through the trouble to become naturalized.

Schwarzenegger's efforts to create a balance by being a governor for both sides of the immigration battle is incredibly unbalanced. He treats illegal immigration with lazy control, and yet restrict the immigrants who are now naturalized. Sooner or later this kind of case-by-case judgement and unharmonious collaboration of decisions will come to haunt Schwarzenegger as Californian residents begin to realize the consequences of not having a governor who stands with a foot on each side of the issue. And as most often with politics, this will happen sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Who is to Blame?

As announced by The New York Times, the Phoenix police have released the video recordings of the arrest of Carol Gotbaum, the woman who was found unresponsive and not breathing in one of Sky Harbor's holding cells (John Eligone, October 5, 2007). Upon first hearing a story of this nature, it would appear that Gotbaum had been the victim of negligence, bad conduct, and even amybe abuse by the Sky Harbor Internation Airport police. An employee of the airport who chooses to remain anonymous describes "Ms. Gotbaum as being unconscious before she was taken to the police holding area." When finally entering the holding cell, the police found Gotbaum "dead in the holding room with the shackle across her neck." While they tried to resusitate her, it was too late. But are the police really to blame in Carol Gotbaum's death? Or is too soon to be pointing fingers, blaming others simply to have someone to direct anger towards? And is there any chance that Carol Gotbaum is responsible for her own death?

The released videos shed an interesting light unto this shocking situation. Gotbaum was trying to catch a connecting flight to Tucson where she would be attending an alcoholic rehabilitation center when her disorderly conduct (supposedly from alcohol she drank on her flight into Phoenix) caused security to ask the police to calm her down. Gotbaum being an average woman of average height and weight, it seemed ridiculous that three male officers were needed to restrain her. Once viewing the video, however, the three officers almost seemed too little of a number. Eligone describes the difficulty of the arrest with such phrases as "a struggle to get her arm out from beneath her torso to cuff her behind her back...with her legs very stiff, forcing the officers to pull her along...leaning back with her legs seemingly locked." The police officers were doing their job while Gotbaum resisted passionately, making the police handle her somewhat roughly. But even so, though it was not necessarily the police's fault in how they handled her to the holding cell, what about Gotbaum's death? Was it their neglect that caused her to slip into a frenzy that resulted in her suffocation? That could be one scenario, but her husband brings about another possibility.

After being notified that his wife was being arrested at Sky Harbor, Mr. Gotbaum told the operator that "She is suicidal". The operator was unable to reach the security, and it is still unclear as to whether or not security received the message before they found Gotbaum dead in the holding cell. What is clear is that when they found her, her handcuffs were up around her neck.

So what is to be made of this untimely and startling death? Did Carol Gotbaum commit suicide, driven to the edge by unreseolved issues, an embarrassing arrest, and the thought of her family discovering she had been drinking on her way to a rehabilitation clinic? And if so, are the police somewhat at fault for her drastic reaction? Could they have handled her arrest in a fashion that would not have caused her to panic and resist? And if Gotbaum did not commit suicide, then whose neglect or abuse killed the mother of three children and wife of a now widower? Her cause of death remains unclear (which could lead to the instalation of cameras in airport holding cells) and Gotbaum's death remains tragic, but with so many unanswered questions it is too soon to blame any single party. Whether suicide or murder, more investigation needs to continue. Otherwise, the death of Carol Gotbaum will create more than just one victim.