September 23rd, 2010

The Culture of Property

In a casual conversation with lawyer friends of mine, we were
discussing the current situation of displaced people in Haiti. It was
very interesting to hear how educated, well-traveled, sensitive
lawyers’ first reaction to the situation of the displaced in Haiti was
one of concern in regards with the purported landowners’ right to
property.

How about Haiti having 2 million individuals who lost their homes and
livelihood after the earthquake, who live in camps with makeshift
tents, tarpaulins or old sheets held by stones or cinderblocks on open
land, many without water or sanitary conditions, and where there is
widespread violence because of the lack of security? Isn’t this enough
to stop worrying so much about a rich minority’s purported property
rights and think about human suffering? I guessed not.

How about taking responsibility for a change? It is not only the
Haitian government’s responsibility, but it is ours in that we must
stop embracing this culture of property and individualism.

We must be aware, help the disenfranchised, and not value blindly
property rights over human suffering.

In a small effort to share with you the situation in Haiti, I am
including a link to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s
report “We’ve Been Forgotten”: Conditions in Haiti’s Displacement
Camps Eight Months After the Earthquake, that documents the findings
of an investigation regarding the conditions of displacement camps in
Haiti. http://ijdh.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/IDP-Report_Compressed.pdf

I welcome you to read the report, and ask yourself, will you not care
about the millions displaced and instead embrace a culture of
property?

By: Sarah Dávila-Ruhaak

September 10th, 2010

A Glimpse Into Brain Damage

Last night as my friend and I walked from dinner to coffee, ourconversation revealed to me a glimpse into what Professor Rosenbaum means whenhe refers to law students and lawyers as “brain dead.” Prior to attending lawschool, I was a performing artist (dancer), and worked in arts management (mostrecently as a booking agent). I met this friend while working in the industry,and she still works as an agent for theater and dance companies.
This portion of the conversation began when my friend askedme how I maintain a “can-do” attitude in an environment where we are constantlytold “you can’t” or “you’re not good enough,” as apparently 90% of first yearsare told. One of my responses was that I find it’s important to meet practicingattorneys to keep a perspective on the ultimate goal. By talking with practitioners,I can focus on the macro, rather than the micro (what the hell is the ParolEvidence Rule?? Okay, I know what it is now, but you get my point).
Talking about mentors, I thought of one in particular who isan attorney for AIG’s insurance arm (now called Chartis). She basically spendsher time finding ways to get AIG out of paying claims. My friend’s response tothis job description was, “how does she sleep at night?” And, my law studentbrain immediately began generating arguments to justify her job. Well, for ourjustice system to function, all parties need representation. And, a lawyer’sjob is to zealously defend her client. My friend responded, but aren’t therejust some companies that are bad, where representing them adds nothing good tothe world? And I started describing to her our first meeting of Law andLiterature.
I realized that, prior to law school, I would have just saidit’s wrong that insurance companies find every way to screw their clients outof coverage (and I still know that’s wrong). For example, post HurricaneKatrina, many insurance companies would not cover damage they determined to becaused by flood instead of the hurricane, if the homeowner only had hurricaneinsurance. This practice is just wrong. The right thing to do would have beento say, this is a natural disaster that only happens every few decades, and weshould not leave homeowners, who have been paying us for years, withoutcoverage on a technicality. But, of course, that would not be the correctchoice for the bottom line. And lawyers are standing up and arguing theinsurance companies’ side to this injustice.
Anyway, my friend immediately recognized that how insurancecompanies treat most of their clients is just wrong, without qualification. Whatprompted me to think of Professor Rosenbaum’s rant on the “brain dead lawstudent and lawyer” was the fact that I immediately began to think of argumentsto justify wrong behavior that to a non-law student was just wrong, noarguments from the “other side” needed.
By Maya Goree

July 29th, 2010

Visitation Rights for Convicted Genocide Perpetrators?

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On July 26, notorious (at least in Cambodia) Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek E=
av was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the deaths of 14,000 C=
ambodians. Eav’s conviction was met with widespread dismay and disappointme=
nt (See Seth Mydans, Prison Term for Khmer Rouge Jailer Leaves many Dissatis=
fied, The New York Times, A4, July 27, 2010).

One of Eav’s victims stated, “We are victims two times, once in Khmer Rouge t=
ime and now once again … His prison is comfortable, with air conditioning,=
food three times a day, fans and everything … I sat on the floor with fil=
th and excrement all around.”

Eav has something else that his victims did not have, certainty. He has cer=
tainty that he will not die at the whim of another. Certainty that he will n=
ot face torture. And certainty that he is free from persecution by those he=
harmed. And he doesn’t even have to apologize. Not a bad deal at all.

But atrocity is different. This punishment should be different. Eav’s sent=
ence amounts to just under one day per death. Not what Cambodians view as f=
air and just punishment. We can’t sentence genocide perpetrators to death, t=
he U.N. won’t allow it. But life in prison doesn’t seem to cut it. Too muc=
h ability for the wrongdoer to “put things behind them” and get on with thei=
r lives (if even in prison).

How can we remind them, every day, of what they have done? In a way, perhap=
s, that would make us want to keep them alive, so they will not forget.

Visitation. Yes, I said visitation. Why can’t the survivors, and even the f=
amily of Eav’s victims visit, every day, overstaying their welcome (perhaps e=
ven staying through lunch) to remind him of what he did, again and again, ov=
er and over, every day for the rest of his life.

Catharsis for the victims and their families, daily uncertainty and remembra=
nce for the perpetrator of genocide. Moral justice?

-Dave.=

July 27th, 2010

Peace in Afghanistan? But at What Cost?

A topic that has been percolating in the news forthe past few months has now come to a head; a proposal to have the Afghanistangovernment meet with Taliban leaders to work out a peace agreement to stop theviolence in Afghanistan. This morning, a news report on NPR brought adisturbing trend in the peace talk preparation to light; that women’s rightsare possibly being ignored for the sake of an expedient deal.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128493070
The article, albeit brief, mentions that Afghanwomen’s rights and protections that they enjoy under the constitution ofAfghanistan are likely being ignored or are being bargained away as PresidentHamid Karzai plans to meet with the most militant and radical members of theAfghan Taliban. Let’s not forget the atrocitiescommitted against women while the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to2001. New stories are replete withstories about victims in Afghanistan regions where Taliban insurgents are incontrol. For example, in 2008, Talibanmilitants sprayed acid on the faces of Afghan girls who were on their way toschool. These types of attacks aredesigned to intimidate and demoralize the women of Afghanistan so that theycomply with the notions of the most radical members of the Taliban. Would you really trust these same peopleunless there were strong provisions in any agreement that protected the rightsof women? So far, these provisions seemto be lacking.
Coupled with the problems inherent to the internalpeace talks, is a perceived decreased involvement of the United States andEuropean member states in said peace talks. In fact one reporter, commenting on the United States’ decreased roleand Pakistan’s increased involvement, stated something to the fact that itmight be politically good if the United States had a decreased role in thepeace negotiation so President Obama isn’t perceived as the President whonegotiated with the Taliban. This wouldbe a regrettable event if it were to actually take place. If the United States were to extractthemselves from the peace process, then at best, a strong voice for women’sright will have been lost. At worst,women in Afghanistan will return to their second class citizen status and livein fear under oppressive rule. As Fawzia Kufi, a member of the Afghanparliament stated “”It’s always easy to forget women, because they don’thave weapons, they can’t fight. That’s an easy compromise.” I hope the United States and other members ofthe coalition in Afghanistan remain engaged and do not compromise for the sakeof an expedient withdrawal.

July 26th, 2010

Relativism and the N

I tend to have differing political views than most New Yorkers (well, at least those New Yorkers that I come into contact with at work and at school). For instance, I did not (gasp!) vote for Obama in the recent presidential election and I am not enamored with him — not as a man and certainly not as the president. Nevertheless, I don’t attack those who adore him, and I never did. I never asked his supporters how they had the nerve to support him and his views. I never insinuated that a vote for him is a vote for the downfall of America. The other side all too often failed to reciprocate, and I typically didn’t care. Until…

I was having dinner with friends a few weeks ago and, for better or worse, the conversation strayed into the land of politics. Someone relatively new to the group (or at least new to me) asked me something about a recent political event — I don’t particularly remember the topic — and before I could muster a response, another group member (a closer friend) blurted out “don’t you know, he’s a republican!” This led to exasperation and about five minutes of questioning. I let them know that I am, in fact, not a republican or a democrat and that I run with who I think will do the best job running the country. I am conservative but also believe in gay marriage and stem cell research, am pro-choice, etc. Ultimately, frustrated, I changed the conversation, and that was that.

Later, I got to thinking how being a republican/conservative (or at least not being a liberal/democrat) in New York City is now deemed morally reprehensible. Despite being an obvious part of the U.S., our NYC culture — or at least my NYC culture — has become a one-trick political pony and the great citizens of NYC seem to think it is acceptable. Obviously, I disagree, but feel like I’m in the minority.

-Colin F.

July 25th, 2010

THE FALLACY THAT IS SKIN COLOR

The rumor mill in the White House is just as extensive as the one in
Hollywood.  It’s astonishing how one video clip of an FDA employee who
happened to be dark skinned, talking about a light skinned family,
posted on a conservative blog by Andrew Brietbart as proof of this
employee being racist, during the tea party vs. white house debate as
to who is more racist, would result in the forced resignation of this
employee, Shirley Sherrod, before anyone considered that the video was
just a clip and not the entire speech.  Now I could take the time to
talk about this incident more thoroughly, who she is, what she said,
what “they” said.  But I’m not going to do that.  You can just do what
obviously many pushing her to resign didn’t do, google it.  For me,
it’s shocking that things even got this far.  Ironically the full
video that the clip was taken from was actually about racial
reconciliation and not racial discrimination.  So what I’m going to
talk about is the stupidity of a false cultural, or actually, a false
race indicator that has led to wars, deaths, laws, and the resignation
of Shirley Sherrod.  Please see this link for the full video.
http://www.naacp.org/news/entry/video_sherrod/

Racial discrimination.  I know, that’s not a complete sentence.  But
it is a term that can fill the mind with a multitude of ideas,
experiences, stories, historical dates, etc.  A term that opens the
door to so many levels of ignorance.  It is amazing that in a
civilized society with nothing but mixed races this still exists.
Even more amazing, is that grown men and women in political roles that
manage such a society continue to use this as a way of political
manipulation.

Maybe I’m idealistic, or just absolutely insane, maybe even
idealistically insane, but I have never understood how the labeling of
one’s skin tone was ever to be an indicator of one’s race.  Especially
in a country that has evolved into one of immigrants from all over the
world, with different skin tones, accents, and physical features.  I
can’t remember the last time I looked at someone and said “Oh, they
must be Mexican.” Yes, I said Mexican on purpose.  That is one of my
favorites, because I am consistently confronted with people in the
restaurant business who think Mexican’s have specific skin tones and
physical features.  I speak Spanish, and many of the employees who
work in the “back of the house” are at least second generation
American, or Peruvian, or Guatemalan, or Ecuadorian, or human being.
Yet, even people in an authoritative position will call “them”
Mexicans.  Even I have to separate “them” to make this point.

It is absolutely ridiculous to consider a group of people separate
because of the way they look.  The common thread between them being
what again?  Because if I remember correctly we all have the same main
components.  The reality is you can have a fair skinned or dark
skinned Mexican, Guatemalan, Peruvian, African, French, Chinese, all
of the above, or again, just simply a human being.  Absolutely
shocking to consider that we are all human beings who simply have
different skin tones, hair types, eye colors, heights, and
geographical locations that we were born in.

Now, I hope it isn’t too obvious that I distinguish skin by tone and
not color considering the fact that black is not a color, and although
white is a combination of all colors in the color spectrum and has
been argued as technically being a color, I have never met someone who
actually matches the Crayola crayons of white or black.  We were all
born on the same planet.  I know it sounds hippiesh, but it is
nonetheless a fact.  And yet the separation of land is a
distinguishing factor of laws, culture, living standards, and skin
color?  Does skin color have anything in common with the words laws,
culture, living standards?  Did I mention that skin color does not
actually exist, but instead what people are referring to is skin tone?
 This is important because when you start realizing that there is no
skin color, but only skin, that has different tones you realize that
we all have the same thing, coming in one package that is either
lighter or darker, with freckles or without, hair or no hair, rash or
no rash, etc.

For some reason the words skin and color together have a place in many
people’s minds.  I don’t get it.  I never will understand how people
can be so ignorant to how the world has evolved, how people have mixed
together, how a person can have European, Asian, African ancestry and
yet have the lightest to darkest skin tone.  Maybe I’m rambling, and
this has no place on this blog.  But when I think of culture and the
law I can’t help but make the mistake that so many others make and
fall into the race card.  I can’t help but notice how culturally we
are constantly bombarded by this idea of skin tone being a color that
distinguishes race.  For me, I’ve never seen black, white, light,
dark, those factors are not an automatic trigger to any thought
process I have ever had.

I appreciate culture.  I don’t just appreciate it, I eat, drink, and
experience culture.   But I don’t get why so many are unable to
appreciate these differences and instead have a fear of these
differences to the extent that labeling them is a necessity.  To the
extent that our own white house hears a dark skinned woman talking
about a light skinned family and doesn’t take the two second click of
a button to pull up the entire video and hear her say it’s about the
poor vs. those who have, and not about black or white.

Liana E. Reyes

July 22nd, 2010

Making Money From Misery: The New Norm?

In July of this year Goldman Sacs announced that it would be paying over five hundred million dollars SEC to settle an investigation alleging that Goldman defrauded and misled customers by marketing funds that it anticipated to collapse and little of the subprime mortgage crisis. Goldman intentionally marketed it’s Abacus fund which was comprised of contracts of bad mortgages to investors while having knowledge that the investment fund would collapse as a result of the projected rate of default on the mortgages.

Goldman Sacs purchased insurance against the Abacus fund in hopes that when the fund did fail they investment firm would recoup more capital on the insurance then what the fund was initially worth. From Goldman’s perspective their success depended on the demise of their clients investments; the more money that was invested in the fund from the clients the higher the insurance payout to the firm if and when it collapsed.

Goldman Sachs wasn’t the only corporation during the subprime mortgage to take advantage of other people’s misfortunes it was merely one of many that have gained billions of dollars by relying on the failure of others. In the housing market there was a large public outcry against the “misery profiteers” but the housing market isn’t the only sector affected by this form of profiteering. More and more companies are seeking ways to exploit the misfortune of other human beings and citizens.

It seems as if society has acquiesced to the fact that it is an accepted business practice for companies to profit from the downfall of the general public. There are even companies that have started to develop trading practices in life insurance policies. Companies purchase life insurance from elderly and ailing people at a discounted rate to collect the full amount of insurance policy when the policyholder dies. This type of profiteering from misery is becoming all the more common in today’s society with little objection from the public.

The professionalization of society has reached a point that there are arguably no sectors of business that are considered immoral to the general public. It is this form of degradation of society that makes human rights violations much easier to occur in a modern world because general public’s detach themselves from a moral mindset when it involves areas of business.

The concept of having life insurance is to ensure that those who care for you are taken care of after you pass away. Instead life insurance policies are now being used to benefit big businesses. A point of concern for the general public is that businesses may start targeting some of the elderly sellers of life-insurance policies because they are more vulnerable to being persuaded.

There was a time when there was no separation between the individual’s morality and what they did for living. In pursuit of money society has separated what we do for money and our morality but are we sacrificing just the notion that morality is attached to a profession or are we sacrificing our society’s morality as a whole?

By: Andre Philogene

July 21st, 2010

Roman Polanski: Poet and Pervert

Switzerland’s refusal to extradite Roman Polanski for his rape of a 13-year-old girl 33 years ago has elicited mixed reactions. Some allow Polanski’s genius as an artist and award-winning director to eclipse his heinous crime, choosing instead to characterize it as a minor lapse in judgment. Others continue to demand a pound of Polanski’s flesh and decry his celebrity as the real reason that Switzerland chose to fly in the face of its extradition treaty. Woody Allen, perhaps feeling a special kinship with Polanski because of their creative ties and his own sex scandal, recently rallied to the 76-year-old’s defense, arguing that he had already paid his debt to society and earned his freedom.

There is no question that Polanski is a cinematic poet and perhaps on the surface it is hard to reconcile his talent with his admission that he plied a young girl with alcohol and then sexually assaulted her despite her protestations. Polanski accepted a plea agreement and plead guilty to the lesser offense of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor but that doesn’t change the fact that what he did constituted rape. Just because Polanski gave his victim Quaaludes and champagne and assaulted her in a posh Los Angeles mansion rather than violently in some dark alley, doesn’t change the inherent brutality of the offense itself. Dismissing the crime as a minor blip on one’s moral radar fails to acknowledge the serious emotional and psychological effects of sexual victimization.

While Polanski’s celebrity status may have influenced Switzerland’s decision to set him free, the Swiss are pointing the finger at US courts regarding ambiguity over whether Polanski already served his sentence.Polanski had been interned in a state prison for forty-two days for psychiatric evaluation prior to formal sentencing but fled before his punishment could be meted out so wherein lies the ambiguity? Forty-two days is hardly a punishment befitting the severity of his crime-a crime that was further exacerbated by his escape and ongoing absentia.

One of the tragic ironies in all this is that Polanskireceived the plea bargain not as a result of administrative convenience as is usually the case, but rather because the victim’s mother did not want to subject her daughter to the scrutiny and turmoil of a public trial. In the end, however, Polanski’s self-serving escape served to drag the drama out over the course of over three decades, robbing the victim of closure- one of the key things initially bargained for.

The victim, Samantha Geimer, claims that this latest development in the ongoing saga has resulted in a severe disruption of her life and that every headline causes her to relive an experience she has worked hard to forget. She has gone on record several times asking American authorities to drop the case against Polanski andperhaps this most recent development will mark the final chapter in this controversy. While I feel that Polanski should have paid for his crime and that no one despite their brilliance or affluence should consider themselves above the law, I feel compelled to give deference to the victim in this case. Too often the concerns, desires and expectations of victims are subjugated by our legal system and allowed to fade imperceptibly into the background. Now that Samantha Geimer is old enough to speak for herself, we owe it to her to listen.

By: Annette M. Juriaco

July 20th, 2010

DEATH PENALTY DEBATE AND FORGIVENESS

Currently, only 58 nations actively practice death penalty, and 134
countries virtually, legally abolished it. The position about death
penalty can vary on the basis of cultural, political and religious
background. In the European Union member states, Article 2 of the
Chart of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of
death penalty. However, the People’s Republic of China, India, some
states of United States apply the death penalty. It is still a matter
of active controversy in many countries including S. Korea.
The death penalty debate in S. Korea has been based on its
political misuse. The abolitionist movements seem to be a result of
political leadership. In February 1998, President Dae-jung Kim(the
Nobel peace prize winner) who had been sentenced to death in 1980 for
a political reason declared an unofficial moratorium on execution. 23
people were executed in December 1997. That was the last executions in
South Korea. As over 10 years, there was no execution in S.Korea, S.
Korea became one of the virtually death penalty abolished nation in
December 2007.
The abolitionist movement is based on the possibility of
misjudgment, the reformation of the criminal and the prevention of
crimes etc. To me, the abolitionist’s opinion seems to be
well-grounded and reasonable. But, then, what about suffering of the
victims and their families?
One Korean movie makes me hesitate to choose the abolishment of
death penalty instantly. It is the movie, “Secret Sunshine” (“Milyang”
in Korean). Do-yeon Jeon won the Best Actress award at the 2007 Cannes
Film Festival for her performance in this emotionally gripping drama
by director Chang-dong Lee.
In this movie, her little boy was kidnapped, killed and she
devastated. She tried to get over the suffering with religion, the
Christian. She seemed (or pretended) to get peace of mind and
salvation in the name of God. So she went to the prison to meet the
murderer and said that she forgave him according to the “God’s will”.
When they met, the murderer said that he had already got the
forgiveness and salvation in the God. Hearing his word and watching
his regretless manner, she got shocked and began to struggle against
“God”, crying “Before I forgive him, who can forgive him? “. She
denied the God and she tried to reveal the hypocrisy of the
Christians.
For over 60 years, the German has continuously apologized for the
Holocaust. Germany has been desperate in its desire to be forgiven.
But, do their continuous acts of national atonement and corporate
redemption give them the forgiveness? Is the mass murderer, Germany
entitled to require the forgiveness ahead of victims? Who are entitled
to forgive them?
I am not sure, in “Secret Sunshine”, whether she could get the
salvation or not and where the forgiveness comes from. I am not sure
what the justice is (the death penalty or forgiveness).
I just hope you to consider the human rights and suffering of both
criminals and victims sufficiently, before choosing the abolition of
death penalty

By Eun Jung Kim