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.