Marissa Mayer and The Remote Employee Fiasco

At the age of 37, Marissa Mayer left her post as a Google vice president on July 16, 2012, to take over as Yahoo!’s new CEO. The young executive was charged with the arduous task of reviving the struggling Internet company and focusing employee efforts on core competencies. So far, Wall Street has been impressed with her work, boosting the stock price up by $5.52 (35.39%) per share to a 52-week high of $21.16 since the announcement she would grab the reins.

Mayer continued to make waves earlier this week when she declared that full-time employees working remotely and telecommuting would have to physically come into the office starting in June. Previously, Yahoo! had a very liberal policy giving workers flexibility.  In a memo to employees, the human resources department declared:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

Outside reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. People argue that these employees, some who took the position assuming they could work from home, have to pick up in a matter of months and move their families to the Bay Area. Furthermore, they propose that face time in the office does not directly correlate with productivity, and the only result will be lowered morale. Yahoo! employees as a whole aren’t coming out in support of the initiative, either. Many sources have sent tech reporter Kara Swisher snarky comments taking jabs at the new policy.

The company would not elaborate on the number of employees the move will affect. However, it is believed that many employees telecommute at least one day a week in addition to the hundreds of workers that work from home full time. Yahoo!’s old policies on telecommuting were very similar to other tech companies, allowing employees to use their discretion. But the practice is not exactly encouraged across the sector. Google CFO Patrick Pichette spoke about his company’s view recently: 

“The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’ … There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?’ These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.”

Though the policy change might seem drastic, Mayer needed to take swift action to help get Yahoo! back on track. The Internet company once stood as a market leader. In fact, Yahoo! was founded three years before current industry-leader Google. However, the company has remained stagnant as other players have shown tremendous growth. The lack of success can be attributed heavily to a shortage of innovation and a culture of disparate efforts. A few former Yahoo! employees have confirmed that many were taking advantage of the work-from-home policy. Managers could not be reached for guidance. Some were dedicating time to other ventures while on the clock.

When employees are not in the office consistently, it creates a whole host of problems. Because employees are not interacting face-to-face on a daily basis, there is not a sense of camaraderie. Workers do not feel part of a larger organization, and they are not as motivated to pour their heart and soul into value-creating activities. Furthermore, impromptu idea sharing does not take place in cubicles, cafeterias, or at the water cooler. The creative process is limited to scheduled meetings, which makes it difficult for Yahoo! to introduce and cultivate innovative new initiatives. Last but not least, productivity suffers. Workers stationed remotely are likely to begin their day later, be distracted by a variety of chores, and call it quits earlier than they would if they were in the office. Marissa Mayer has a duty to her employees to create an exciting place to work. Morale is an important component, but it can’t be the sole focus at the expense of productivity and efficiency. It’s obvious that the previous policies were being abused, and she deserves credit for trying to infuse accountability and cohesion into Yahoo’s fabric as they look to regain prominence.

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Sports Wagering and the Legalization Proposal

Anyone keeping tabs on the current state of affairs knows that these are dire financial times. The deficit continues to widen as tax intakes pale in comparison to the mounting cost of providing governmental services. Naturally, elected officials are searching for viable options to produce new revenue streams. Several choices are on the table, but politicians must be cautious when implementing new policies. Laws and regulations shape public behavior, and it would be foolish to promote unsavory activities for the sake of a dollar. One of the more controversial proposals took center stage in early February when California State Senator Roderick Wright introduced Senate Bill 1390 to legalize sports betting at locations in California that already have a gaming license. Passage in California’s legislature is only one of the hurdles to clear before gambling on sports will be allowed in the Golden State. A federal law, which takes precedent over any state decree, was passed in 1992 that prohibits wagering on sporting events except in Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. These states were grandfathered in because they already had the practice in some form in place. Generally, the federal government defers to states on hard-to-enforce matters like marijuana use, and sports gambling should not be an exception. As Nelson Rose, an expert on gambling law points out, “It’s completely irrational. “It’s as if in 1929 Congress had decreed that a dozen states would be allowed to have sound in their movie theatres and all the other states would be able to show only silent films.” (Surowiecki) In order to clear a path for state regulation, the federal government should repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act because public perception of sports wagering has shifted, and it would allow states to capitalize on the profitable industry by collecting needed tax revenues.

Some are quick to shoot down the legalization proposal on moral grounds. After all, wagering on sports interferes with the idealized view of athletic competition dating back to the days of the ancient Greeks. Purists argue that sports are about pushing physical limits in training, performing incredible feats, playing for the unbridled love of competition, and bringing honor to oneself. With such noble aspirations instilled in athletes, why would anyone allow a marriage between such a pristine activity and the allegedly degenerate world of gambling?

In reality, it is naïve to stand by this romanticized view of athletics. Like everything else, sports have undergone a drastic change. Unlike in ancient times, commercialization is a huge aspect of the game. Viewers are inundated with advertisements, and some teams even wear sponsors on their jerseys. The athletes command such exorbitant salaries that fans are left to question how many of them actually play for the love of the game. Furthermore, scandals rife with steroid use and misconduct have arisen so often now that most people are numb to them. William Morgan, a USC professor of ethics in sports, writes in his book Ethics in Sports, “…the moral standing of contemporary sports at all levels leaves much to be desired. Nor am I saying anything new when I decry the depressingly sorry moral state in which sports presently find themselves; the fact is, they have been feeding at the moral bottom for some time now.” That is not to say that sports don’t play an important role in our lives, but we should reconsider why we find them so entertaining and pervasive in today’s society. As Ernest Cashmore notes in his book Making Sense of Sports, humans are drawn to the confrontation with conflict it creates. “Challenge is important to the human condition: it’s one of the oldest preoccupations. Where obstacles—natural or artificial exist—we attempt to surmount them. And, where they don’t exist, we invent them.” Wagering on sports is not some immoral activity that poisons the very essence of sports. It is simply yet another challenge that appeals to the human psyche and a complement that enhances our interest in various contests. People find entertainment in trying to use their knowledge to beat the sports books, which employ some of the brightest statistical minds to handicap games.

While sports are on the decline morally, there is little doubt that the public perception of gambling is on the rise in America. It used to be a taboo subject that people were vilified for participating in, and many associated it with organized crime. Now, many adults participate in the activity and support its legalization. Forty-eight states host some form of gaming, and 80 percent of Americans find the practice acceptable. In California, a 2012 Field Poll found that 58 percent of registered voters support legalizing and taxing the sports wagering industry.

With the improved moral view of sports gambling, the practice has seeped into the mainstream and grown in popularity. Now, signs of sports gambling are ubiquitous. Open up the sports section of the newspaper and you will find a list of odds for the day’s contests. Watch the ticker on ESPN and note the point spread accompanying the time of the game. In addition, advanced technology has given gamblers reason to take even more interest. Websites such as Basketball-Reference contain a litany of statistics to plug into a regression model and help predict outcomes. Once a wager is made, bettors can follow the action on one of the hundreds of networks that carry virtually any athletic contest of importance taking place.

From a dollars-and-cents point of view, sports wagering is a fantastic industry for government entities to tax. Betting on sports is the largest form of gambling in the United States, and the industry has seen tremendous growth over time.  From 1974 to 1994, the amount of money bet legally skyrocketed 2,800 percent. In 1998, Las Vegas casinos booked $122.5 million in gross gambling revenues alone; they accepted a whopping $2.4 billion in wagers in 2009. The large revenue numbers translate into robust tax for the state of Nevada. Oregon has also benefitted greatly from including wagering on NFL games with its state lottery. The niche game allowed the state to pledge $2.5 million towards scholarships in 2002. The proceeds are enough to fund four years of education for 40 in-state students.

The financial data reported by Las Vegas and Oregon represents only the tip of the iceberg. Analysts believe legal wagers represent between one and three percent of all action nationwide. A National Gambling Impact Study Commission conducted in 1999 estimated that the scope of illegal sports betting in the United States ranges anywhere from $80 billion to $380 billion annually. Furthermore, it is believed $2.5 billion was illegally bet on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 1995. The underground gambling market is not confined to physical transactions, either. Offshore websites, often based in Latin America, have gained immense popularity. Over $300 million was bet online in 1998, and Costa Rica earns roughly three times as much as Las Vegas.

Gamblers, faced with a dearth of legal avenues to lay down a wager, seek out illegal bookmakers to take their bet. Projections indicate as many as 20,000 bookmakers run illicit operations in New York City alone. These unscrupulous organizations have been known to charge absorbent interest rates on outstanding loans or resort to physical violence to collect debt, creating public concerns. Legalization would push many of these illegal wagers into the lawful realm and solve market inefficiency. The demand for betting is immensely high, as evidenced by the billions of dollars placed on the line. However, there is a tremendous shortage of trustworthy places for gamblers to conduct their business. With local bookmakers, bettors worry about the company they are associating with. In the online realm, many have complained about inconsistent payout policies. Thus, it is reasonable to believe a sizable portion of the underground market would flock to state-regulated operations. The convenience and reliability offer a superior advantage over the competition, and both parties gain as states see a spike in tax revenues.

As with any public policy decision, a thorough discussion must include a study of the social impact in addition to the fiscal impact. Opponents of sports wagering argue that the practice threatens the integrity of the matches.  In an imperfect world, sports provide an escape full of entertaining competition where athletes put forth their best effort to secure a victory. Fans sit down to watch athletic contests anticipating that the playing field is level and the outcome has not been predetermined. However, sports fall down a slippery slope when there is doubt and suspicion that the outcome of the game was not completely decided by the players on the field. Brian Phillips of Grantland sums up the quandary best:

“You can still have sports if players are cheating. You can still have sports if fans are fighting in the parking lot. Those are problems, big problems, but they can be addressed without threatening the basic concept of the game. When the outcomes of matches are being dictated from the outside, though? You no longer have a game at that point. You have something else, a weird simulacrum, pro wrestling without the feather boas. (And, almost as crucially, without the fun.) The essential idea of athletic competition — let’s both show up and try to win — is no longer operating.”

The fears of match fixing are well founded. History has seen countless cases of scandal involving gambling on various levels. Dating back to 1945 when Brooklyn College basketball players admitted to throwing a game against Akron, the college ranks have seen over 30 documented cases of point shaving or game fixing. Furthermore, a 1992 study indicated that four percent of college basketball players surveyed admitted to betting on their own team. Less than one percent acknowledged they had accepted money to not perform well. The professional leagues have not been immune from scandal as well. The baseball world was turned upside down in 1919 when eight players on the Chicago White Sox intentionally lost games in the World Series. In 2007, the New York Post broke the story of NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s involvement in a betting operation with organized crime. Donaghy was accused of altering his calls to produce favorable outcomes. Most recently, INTERPOL revealed it found 680 possible instances of match fixing in soccer from 2008 to 2011, and the extent of the scandal is shocking. Some matches carried little importance, but others played a role in determining the winner of the prestigious UEFA Champions League or who qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

Conventional wisdom dictates that legalizing wagering on sports will only decrease the public’s confidence in the integrity of sports. All of the sports leagues subscribe to this theory, and they are staunchly against legalized gambling. Commissioners worry that scandal will harm their brand and affect the bottom line. They believe fans are less likely to buy tickets or purchase apparel if a cloud of match fixing hangs over the sport. While their fears are well intentioned, the relationship they draw between legalizing sports wagering and an increase in match fixing is unfounded. League executives argue that as the convenience of placing a legal wager increases, the temptation for people to alter the outcome of the game and bribe participants will only grow.

In fact, legalizing gambling on sports will make it easier to detect corruption and serve as a deterrent. Currently, the majority of gambling corruption flies under the radar. Since there are few places to place a wager legally, most of the money bet on sports is done underground. There is little, if any, record of it, and the police are charged with the impossible task of trying to uncover fraud with few leads and often no evidence.  By contrast, legalized sports books in Las Vegas are equipped with sophisticated software. They can detect suspicious betting patterns and match them with statistically improbable outcomes to raise red flags about the legitimacy of a game. Thus, the casinos have been a valuable resource to the authorities in providing leads on illegal activities and exposing gambling fraud.

Though legalizing sports wagering offers a new stream of revenues, the proposal is not without fault. Gambling—like alcohol or drugs—can be incredibly addictive. Bettors, who often have very competitive personalities, can fall into several traps. Some win large sums of money early and believe their luck will never run out. Others lose early and continue to chase their bets unwilling to accept defeat. Whatever the cause, addicted gamblers can’t control the urge to gamble, even if they are aware of the harm it is causing. Gambling addiction can launch people into severe debt and force them into a dire financial situation. Some feel so trapped by the debt that they resort to drastic measures to deal with their problems. Moe Pergament, 19, ran up $6,000 in debt betting on the 1997 World Series. The teenager felt so awful about the money that he drove around erratically in his car brandishing a toy weapon so that the police would shoot him out of his misery. Keith Tubin robbed $89,000 from eight Las Vegas banks to cover his debt. These are just two examples of the destructive behavior caused by gambling. It can also strain personal relationships and cause people to lose their houses.

Gambling addiction is not a problem that effects a minute portion of the population. In fact, the statistics are alarming. Ten million people—roughly three percent of the population—are believed to have a gambling addiction, and that number is expected to grow. Research suggests that the problem starts early, and the profile of the typical gambler continues to get younger and younger.  Nearly fourteen percent of high school students have or at risk of developing a gambling addiction. Five percent of college students are compulsive gamblers, and the average age of people seeking help at Gamblers Anonymous has fallen from fifty to thirty over the last twenty years.

Legislators need to include several provisions in the bill to put safeguards against destructive behavior in place. First, they need to require sports books to pledge a certain percentage of their revenues towards gambling addiction education and recovery programs. These locations should also be required to post numbers for anonymous hotlines, hang signage with warning signs, and provide pamphlets that offer suggestions for dealing with the problem. Furthermore, betting windows should only accept wagers in cash. Requiring cash to place a wager provides a few advantages over credit cards. Hopefully, the policy would prevent bettors from wagering with money they do not have. They could conceivably go out and get a cash loan, but that would be very hard to come by. Meanwhile, gamblers could max out credit cards and use funds they do not have assets to back. In addition, ATM withdrawal limits would force customers to walk into a bank branch during working hours to withdraw large amounts of cash, which could dramatically limit impulse bets. Most importantly, parting with cash is psychologically more significant than swiping a credit card. Bettors are forced to physically peel off bills and see the magnitude of their wager.

With thoughtful and responsible implementation, sports gambling is a fruitful source for states to derive revenues. The industry attracts a notable percentage of the population’s discretionary dollars, and the profit potential will continue to rise. Currently, the federal government is arbitrarily preventing 46 of the states from regulating the practice. Societal norms have clearly changed. Surveys indicate that more people view gambling as an acceptable practice than ever before. Furthermore, there is no proof that changing the laws will interfere with the integrity of the matches being played. The proposal put forth by State Senator Wright is not perfect, and states must work in conjunction with betting operations to combat addictive behavior. However, it is a progressive step towards creating viable and sustainable options for curbing the mounting fiscal deficit, and the time has come for Capitol Hill to allow states to choose whether they want to offer sports gambling. 

LAPD and The Shoot-First Mentality

The Los Angeles Police Department rapped up the biggest man hunt in the region’s history earlier this week, causing Angelenos to breathe a collective sigh of relief. People felt more at ease now that Christopher Dorner–an ex-LAPD officer who promised to murder police officers to avenge his dismissal from the force in his manifesto–had been neutralized.

Despite an ending many hoped for, the search provided two incidents that stirred up even more fear and caused people to question the police’s actions after they shot first and asked questions later. Most notably, two Hispanic women–47-year old Margie Carranza and her 71-year old mother Emma Hernandez–were driving through Torrance in the early morning delivering newspapers. LAPD squad cars rolled up behind them, opened their doors, and seven officers opened fire on the unsuspecting truck.  Both women sustained gun shot wounds, though they are expected to make a full recovery.

Police Chief Charlie Beck lamented, “Tragically, we believe that this is a case of mistaken identity by the officers.” Calling the incident a case of mistaken identity is an interesting characterization by Beck. That implies the officers even made some sort of attempt to identify the vehicle or the victims in question, but the facts do not seem to back up that assertion. Officers were looking for a gray Nissan truck, but the women were driving a blue Toyota pick-up. A quick glance at make of the vehicle would have alerted the officers to the fact that this was not Dorner’s vehicle. On top of that, these women did not resemble a 270-pound African-American male in the slightest. One resident begged the obvious question:

“How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?” said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.

To mitigate the situation, Beck offered to replace the truck in question. However, his gesture is not enough. LAPD needs to take some serious action against the officers involved, including suspension without pay, to show its unequivocal intolerance for this behavior. I understand these officers were working under extremely stressful conditions. I can’t imagine what it must be like chasing a fugitive knowing his sole goal is to kill fellow police officers. The situation, however, does not automatically allow the police to open fire on anyone they think might be the suspect, and this form of vigilante justice can’t be tolerated. It automatically places people who simply drive a similar vehicle or possess similar physical characteristics of a suspect in harm’s way. At that point, it becomes unsafe for anyone to be out on the streets, and that is not the type of society anybody should strive to live in.

U.S.P.S. and The Saturday Delivery Stoppage

In many ways, advanced technology has diminished the need for traditional mail handled by the United States Postal Service. Instead of sending a letter, people can convey their message much faster by picking up the phone, sending an email/instant message, or even faxing a piece of paper. Society tends to value speed and efficiency, and those virtues are incongruent with the notion of placing a stamp on an envelope and dropping it in the blue boxes posted on various street corners.

The proof is in the severe drop in revenue and volume the U.S.P.S. has experienced in recent years. Compared to 2008, the postal service earned about $11 billion less in revenue and delivered roughly 40 billion fewer pieces of mail in 2012. Nobody would argue that the current state of affairs is sustainable. After all, the U.S.P.S. reported a $15.9 billion dollar loss last year. How can this government agency stem the tide and regain solid financial footing.

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahue believes he has an answer. “Our financial condition is urgent,” he told the assembled press at a news conference on Wednesday. Donahue then went on to unveil a drastic change to the U.S.P.S. operations. Starting in August, the Postal Service will eliminate Saturday letter delivery service. However, post offices will remain open and packages woll continue to be delivered. The reduced service is expected to save up to $2 billion per year. “This is too big of a cost savings for us to ignore,” Donahue asserted after he made the announcement.

The move has garnered immediate reaction, and the results are mostly negative. Many members of Congress wonder if the delivery schedule change is even legal, and it’s an issue that could spark major debate on Capitol Hill in the coming months. Representative José E. Serrano expressed his dismay for the move by stating, “The U.S.P.S. should work hand in hand with Congress to come up with a successful restructuring and reform package that allows them to become more efficient while maintaining vital services like Saturday delivery.” Others chimed in to bash Donahue for the move:

“Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to end Saturday delivery is a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers,” said Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “It would be particularly harmful to small businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.”

“The U.S. Postal Service’s decision to eliminate six-day mail delivery is a shortsighted solution with questionable financial savings and will only drive volume out of the system, stripping both the U.S.P.S. and businesses that depend on the mailing industry of potential revenues,” said Donna Harman, president and chief executive of the trade association.

While many will inevitably criticize Donahue and challenge the legality of his decision, the Postmaster General made a savvy decision considering current constraints. He had to do something to boost operating profits. The government agency can’t continue to lose $15 billion per year, and his choice seems the least objectionable of all possible options. Operating profits are simply the difference between revenues and expenses, and the ship on increasing revenues sailed a long time ago. Any increase in stamp prices will be more than offset by a decline in volume delivered, and revenue is likely to trend downward as time progresses. Thus, Donahue must focus on costs.

Here, there is very little wiggle room for the Postmaster General. The U.S.P.S’s bottom line is weighed down considerably by the $5.5 billion per year it pays for health benefits to future retirees, but that cost is virtually untouchable. Attempting to butcher the sacred cow that is public benefits and pensions would create quite the firestorm and increase legal costs from the inevitable lawsuits challenging the modification. That leaves two reasonable options to cut costs: cut service or lay off employees and add to the unemployment problem plaguing America and hurting the economy. Without a doubt, the only logical choice is to cut back service. It may unpopular in Washington, D.C., but a 2012 poll found that 7 out of 10 Americans support the move to help deal with financial troubles. From now on, we will just have to live without our letters on Saturday if we want the U.S.P.S. to remain a solvent government agency.

Dave Chappelle and The Public Intellectual Distinction

Comedy is rarely viewed as an intellectual form of expression. We see the likes of Gilbert Gottfried telling crass jokes for cheap laughs, and we believe the entire genre is devoid of any material that furthers public discourse. But we should be hesitant to judge any person’s contribution to society based on their profession. Stephen Mack, in his essay on the “decline” of the public intellectual, offers a warning. “Any argument for the public intellectual that, like Donatich’s, rests on the assumption that common citizens are forever childlike and must be led by a class of experts is politically corrosive and historically dangerous.” Mack postulates that the traditional view of the “public intellectual” as a high-browed, elitist academic that presents ideas to the unintelligent public is antiquated. He argues:

 “So, is there any way of conceptualizing something called the public intellectual that is consistent with democratic values? Of course there is, but it needs to begin with a shift from “categories and class” to “function.” That is, our notions of the public intellectual need to focus less on who or what a public intellectual is—and by extension, the qualifications for getting and keeping the title. Instead, we need to be more concerned with the work public intellectuals must do, irrespective of who happens to be doing it.”

Evidence of Mack’s theory can be found in the case of Dave Chappelle, who exemplifies the shifting definition of the public intellectual. Chappelle’s background certainly does not fit the old template. The comedian and actor—hailing from Washington, D.C.—bypassed college and began his standup career 600x400_chappellesshowafter graduating from high school. He has never received formal training in a specific discipline, served on the faculty at a prestigious university, or written academic essays for mass consumption. While other public intellectuals were spending time in academia and doing research, Chappelle was performing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem trying to break into the comedy business.

However, Chappelle’s work—like that produced by unquestioned public intellectuals—underscores matters of societal importance and forces people to rethink their behaviors. The comedian used his standup routine as a platform to challenge racial stereotypes and flawed politics, but his most profound undertaking came via his television show. In 2003, Chappelle’s Show debuted on Comedy Central, and the 30-minute sketch comedy show satirized an array of topics including politics, race, class, pop culture, and morality.  Millions of captivated viewers quickly became dedicated fans of the show, and the 14-to-30 demographic flocked to their televisions sets each week for the latest installment. The show was pure comedic genius as nearly every single sketch ever aired contained a series of quotes people felt compelled to repeat. Despite the warm reception from many viewers, the show also had its fair share of critics. Chappelle’s parodies toed the line between outrageous and wildly clever, and some found his use of racial epithets to underscore ethnic stereotypes uncalled for. The controversy gave the show even more publicity, and Chappelle used his platform to accomplish a few goals. Yes, he wanted to entertain people, but he also wanted to alert the public to societal problems he had observed over the years. David Rice captured the essence of the show best when he wrote, “Its greatest fans always knew it was always about more than just some jokes. The show and Dave Chappelle’s framing of it was really all about truth telling, the highest art.”

On his quest to reveal the truth to the masses, Chappelle focused heavily on politics. The comedian invites the audience to evaluate governmental matters critically with a heavy degree of open-minded skepticism, and he developed numerous acts that broached the subject. Notably, the sketch “Black Bush” stands as one of the most important civic lessons of the last decade. In the segment, Chappelle explores former president George W. Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism. Through a comical yet sometimes over-exaggerated manner, Chappelle highlights how Bush capitalized on the sentiment of the era and launched a war without sizable opposition. He then explores how the scenario would have played out if Bush faced difficult questions.

Every single person is biased in one way or another, and these predispositions can sometimes alter our judgment. The President of the United States is no exception, and Chappelle uncovers possible motivations that pushed George W. Bush to launch a war. At a press conference in the sketch, Black Bush angrily shouts into the microphone that Saddam Hussein tried to kill his father during the Gulf War of the early 1990s. The obscene yelling into the microphone and gestures cause the audience to focus their attention on personal emotions clouding George W. Bush’s judgment in launching a war. As a result, they begin to see how Bush’s father played an essential role. It becomes clear that Bush relished the opportunity to protect his family name and settle a lingering grudge.

Secondly, the September 11 terrorist attacks made America appear vulnerable. Bush, concerned for his legacy, needed to reestablish the country’s dominance and demonstrate he was capable of handling the reins of America. However, the United Nations refused to support the United States’ efforts in the Middle East because of the deficiency of hard evidence. In reality, the public could easily overlook such subtle politicking. However, Chappelle prevents this from going undiscovered by dramatizing Bush’s insistence to press on without the backing of the U.N. He illustrates this arrogance brilliantly by showing Bush’s disdain for the United Nations as Black Bush degrades the organization by proclaiming, “UN, you have a problem with that? You know what you should do? You should sanction me. Sanction me with your army. Oh!! Wait a minute! You don’t have an army!” This bold statement compels the public to comprehend how Bush forcefully stepped on the toes of the international community and represented the country poorly in an attempt to show his dominance. Finally, George W. Bush understood that the United States could gain access to valuable oil reserves in the Middle East. Refusing to allow President Bush to avoid the issue, Chappelle mocks the president’s tactics. Black Bush dismissed questions regarding oil and used childish tactics such as spilling water and running out of the room to distract attention from the issue. The portrayal of Bush’s tactics guides the viewer to wade through the distractions and contemplate why the president is avoiding the issue. By presenting preposterous portrayals, Chappelle charges the public to become more analytical thinkers and search for biases lying in Bush’s brain.

The second point Chappelle harped on in his political commentaries was the proliferation of misleading information. He hoped to demonstrate to his audience that “facts” should not be accepted without research. Once the president decided to fight the war on terrorism, he presented selected data in a convincing manner to gain support. Information, when used properly, is a powerful source. In such a chaotic time when citizens were searching for a sense of stability and willing to blindly trust the president, Chappelle recognized the vagueness of Bush’s facts and attempts to raise awareness. During the sketch, Black Bush reveals, “[Saddam Hussein] quite possibly has weapons of mass destruction.” While this quotation may seem ordinary, Chappelle spices it up by delivering it in a high-pitched voice. The tone alerts the audience that the content of the quotation is suspicious. Upon review, Bush’s statement is riddled with doubt and uncertainty. Furthermore, he failed to point to a specific cache of weapons because no such stockpile had been discovered. Yet, presenting the idea that America potentially faced further threats helped build support. People were willing to take any course of action that assuaged their concerns of another massive attack. Chappelle’s clever version of the events calms the public. The humor lightens the mood considerably and places the audience in a world free of anxiety. As a result, they are easily able to rationally assess Bush’s speeches and see how his use of language could be misleading. Additionally, Chappelle breeds distrust by attacking Bush’s claim that the democracies of the world were ready to back up the U.S. in a conflict. Standing at the podium in front of a slew of reporters, Black Bush proclaimed that a coalition of the able and willing were ready to roll out on his command. Black Bush gets grilled on the subject and stumbles while offering a nonsensical answer about how Japan would contribute Sony Playstations. While a small handful of countries agreed to commit troops, few actually supported the war effort. Throughout the war campaign, media members refused to ask President Bush tough questions. He skated through press conferences and was not held accountable for the things he said. In essence, the segment dares the public to utilize the power of the question and the need to raise concerns. Otherwise, the president is free to proceed without checks and balances.

As with politics, Chappelle thrived in the arena of racial commentary. He portrayed traditional stereotypes through caricatures and magnified the underlying fallacies in them by spinning them on their head. Sketches included a black white supremacist and a Caucasian family with a racial slur for African-Americans as its last name.

The most overarching racial commentary Chappelle produced, Diversity in First Class, emphasized the role of fear in perpetuating stereotypes. Different ethnic groups occupy a row on a plane, and each is afraid of the group in front of them because of their stereotypical perceptions. The sketch opens with two Middle Eastern men in the front row wearing traditional Arab headdresses. The passengers are discussing their disdain for Americans after they botched a critical decision. At the time, the media depicted the Middle East as staunchly anti-American, and Chappelle furthers the notion. The African-American men in the row behind the Middle Eastern men also fuel the fire. “Man of all the flights to be on, I have to ride with them terrorist sons of bitches. I got my eye on you, Al-Qaeda,” one thinks to himself. But these preconceived notions appear ludicrous when the men reveal their lack of faith in Americans stems from their choice for the winner of American Idol: Season 1. The viewer realizes that these men are much different from the first bigoted picture stereotypes project. Other racist caricatures rear their heads throughout the 56-second clip. The Caucasian male in the row behind the African Americans wears a frightened look on his face, and he ponders, “What are those negroes doing in first class? Must be rappers. I’d better keep an eye on [my daughter].” The Native American announces, “Me no trust them white man. We better not go to bathroom. White man will steal my seat and call it manifest destiny.”

All of these quotes represent prevailing ideas about other races that arise from a lack of familiarity with other cultures. At the very end, Chappelle and a Caucasian male are sitting asleep in the back row, and Chappelle has a newspaper with the headline “America United.” The comedian uses the prop to illustrate that America, though it purports to be an accepting nation, still struggles from racist ideology. With pervasive globalization, America has become increasingly diverse. We are exposed to a plethora of cultural and ethnic groups on a daily basis. Judging people from these groups on oversimplified clichés is irresponsible. As such, Chappelle tried to promote harmony through understanding and appreciation of various groups.

Not only did Chappelle provide insightful criticism of politics and race in America, but he also did it in a socially conscious manner. Mack, citing Jean Bethke Elshtain, contends that public intellectuals must remain objective and avoid selling out their values. Chappelle signed a lucrative deal worth $50 million to produce seasons three and four of his immensely popular comedy show for Comedy Central. However, network executives—as is often the case when a large investment is made—wanted to exert a powerful influence over the show. They believed that their pedigree qualified them to dictate the creative direction of a show, and they tried to attract a larger audience. As taping for season three progressed, Chappelle realized that he was veering away from intellectual comedy and heading towards a cesspool of simpleminded jokes that failed to communicate important messages. Fed up, he abandoned production mid-season and headed to Africa.” I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place? I’m going to Africa. The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching,” Chappelle told Oprah in an interview. The comedian passed up tremendous wealth in exchange for his integrity. Chappelle believed his audience deserved authentic criticisms, and he did not feel comfortable airing watered down sketches designed to generate more advertising revenue.

To qualify as a “public intellectual,” a person does not have to have advanced degrees or disseminate their ideas solely through academic essays. They must, however, contribute to public discourse, spark debate, and stimulate interest among the masses. Mack postulates, “If public intellectuals have any role to play in a democracy—and they do—it’s simply to keep the pot boiling.” Through his innovative sketches on Chappelle’s Show, Chappelle not only kept the pot boiling, but he stirred it as well. The last episode of Chappelle’s Show debuted in July of 2006, but the content remains relevant. Re-runs air in syndication as well as on Comedy Central, and we continually see references to his work seven years later. It is impossible to discount the impact Chappelle still has today on political thought and race relations. He taught a whole generation of impressionable youth how to be responsible citizens in a functioning democracy by challenging them to approach government with skepticism and to retire outrageous stereotypes. Though his methods were unconventional, Chappelle stands as one of the most thought-provoking public intellectuals of our time.

New York City and The Sick Pay Dilemma

Flu season has hit the United States particularly hard in 2012. Forty-one states have recorded cases of the flu, and the CDC reports a whopping 5.6 percent of the population visited their healthcare provider with flu-like symptoms in the past week. The unusually high levels of illness have thrust the issue of health and the workplace to the forefront in New York City. On Friday, dozens of protestors assembled at City Hall to advocate for the passage of an important measure that would mandate five paid sick days per year for employees working at companies with at least five employees. The measure, which was proposed over three years ago, has yet to come to a vote.

The measure faces opposition from a variety of people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Critics of the measure view it as impractical and unfair. They argue that small businesses–struggling given the depressed state of the economy–simply can’t afford to add another benefit for employees. There is also the potential for abuse; workers might work through an illness but then call in sick to attend a Yankee game. However, businesses should trust employees to use the policy responsibly. They would find that the benefits of sick pay outweigh the costs if they took a broader view of illness in the workplace. Offering sick pay can avoid some problems that negatively impact the bottom line and even potentially help profitability.

Without paid sick days, employees are faced with an incredibly tough decision when they fall ill. Should they call in sick and lose a day’s worth of wages that could be vital to making ends meet? Should they head in to work and try to make it through the day? Many end up choosing the latter, and the result ends up hurting businesses. First, a sick employee will not be as productive as they are when healthy. Businesses end up paying for the day of work, but they receive marginal effort in return. To compound matters, sick employees risk spreading their disease to other employees. According to the American Journal of Public Health, nearly five million cases of the flu were transmitted in 2009 due to a lack of sick time pay nationwide. The consequence is a domino effect; more and more employees fall ill and productivity tanks. Lost productivity is not the only worry, either. Various sectors such as the restaurant industry, a staunch detractor of the measure, also face the threat of losing customers. Sick employees interact with customers, and they could diminish a service enterprise’s image and hinder customer loyalty if they are visibly ill.

As the ball shifts into the New York City’s City Council’s court, they must consider the merits of requiring sick pay and finally pass the measure. When viewed holistically, workers, businesses, and society gain from the new benefit. Public health and rising healthcare costs have dominated the political press lately, and it would be irresponsible not to take progressive steps to promote the people’s well being.