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Who’s makin’ a list?

Robert Reich:

“Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.

“In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.

“Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines…

“Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.

“In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.

“An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.”

Who’s a lazy bum in that corporate jet?

“In addition to the provisions in the recent spending bill that reward Wall Street, health insurers, the travel industry, food companies, and defense contractors, other corporate goodies have been long baked into the federal budget.

“Big agribusiness gets price supports. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers get their own special “carried-interest” tax loophole. The oil and gas industry gets its special tax subsidies.

“Big Pharma gets a particularly big benefit: a prohibition on government using its vast bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate low drug prices…

“Starting in 2015, [couples] can donate ten times [more than before]. In a two-year election cycle, a couple will be able to give $1,296,000 to a party’s various accounts…

“If government were responding to the public’s interest instead of the moneyed interests, it would be smaller and more efficient.”

We’re on to ’em! So kick back and take it easy, relax in the holidays, and restore the energy for real change.

The Choice of the Century

The Choice of the Century is clear.

Robert Reich shows what a few good stats and conclusions can do, if we repeat them enough and don’t run away.

14 facts about the Obama presidency that most people don’t know

(Some of which many of us wish weren’t true, plus some more cool facts and links for verification and discussion.)

14 Facts About The Obama Presidency That Most People Don’t Know

Via Robert Sezak of RE-BOOKS, quoted directly:

Source: President Obama visiting Iowa

People have many perceptions of how the US economy or the country as a
whole is doing in recent years. Depending on your political views, you
may think the country is doing exceptionally well or on the verge of

Listed below are 14 objective facts, without interjecting any opinion,
about the state of America under the leadership of President Obama.
Every statement is followed up with a link to a source where you can
verify these facts for yourself.

1. We’ve now had 63 straight months of economic expansion.

That’s right, for 63 consecutive months the US economy has gotten
progressively better. That includes 54 consecutive months of private
sector job growth. Forbes magazine, no fan of President Obama,
crunched the numbers and demonstrated how the economic recovery under
President Obama has been better in just about every measurable way
than the recovery under President Reagan.

2. We are currently enjoying the longest period of private sector
job creation in American history.

Again, this statistic comes from the Forbes Magazine article listed
above. In fact, we have now had 54 straight months of private sector
job creation. That is the longest period of job creation since the
Department of Labor has been keeping statistics. See the link below.

3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.9%
and projected to reach 5.4% by summer of 2015.

Not only has the unemployment rate dropped significantly, but since
the recession ended, our economy as added over ten million new jobs.
You can refer to the Forbes article above or check this article on

4. The stock market continues to set new records since President
Obama has been in office.

Since early 2009 there has been a steady trend in stock market growth.
The Dow Jones Industrial averages reached an all-time high of 17,098
in August, 2014. Since most Americans have 401K retirement investments
in the stock market, this stock market growth benefits millions of
middle class Americans.

5. The Federal budget deficit is shrinking. It’s been reduced by
two-thirds since 2009.

The $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit that Obama inherited in 2009
was in a large part due to the high rate of unemployment. When
millions of people were put out of work in 2008 and 2009, it resulted
in far less income taxes and less economic activity to generate
federal revenue. As ten million people have been put back to work,
there have been billions more tax dollars generated. As a result, the
deficit has been shrinking each year. The 2014 deficit is projected to
be around $500 billion, the smallest deficit since 2007 and roughly
1/3 of what it was in 2009.

6. Under President Obama, spending has increased only 1.4% annually,
the lowest rate since Eisenhower was president.

You may have heard critics say that President Obama is spending money
wildly and running up our debt. According to this article from Forbes,
Obama has increased spending by 1.4% annually, far less than President
Reagan (8.7%) or George W. Bush (8.1%). In fact, Obama has increased
spending less than any president since Eisenhower.

7. For 95% of American taxpayers, income taxes are lower now than
just about any time in the previous 50 years.

After President Obama took office, thousands of Tea Party members all
over the country held rallies protesting Obama’s tax increases. At
that time, President Obama had actually passed several tax cuts to
stimulate the economy. Most of the Tea Partiers who were protesting
had only seen their taxes decrease under Obama. Yet polls indicated
that most Tea Party members wrongly believed their taxes had gone up.

In fact, the only people whose income taxes have gone up during
Obama’s presidency are those making $400,000 per year or more. That’s
less than 2% of the population. Today, for the vast majority of
people, tax rates are exactly where they were when Obama first took
office or lower. The article below from the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities explains this in greater detail.

8. Our dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic
oil production and improved fuel efficiency standards.

While some people claim that oil production has declined under
President Obama, the truth is just the opposite. Oil production has
reached record highs. The United States now produces so much oil that
we export more oil and gasoline than we import.

9. At least 7 million more Americans now have health insurance than

Depending on whose numbers you use, between 7 and 10 million Americans
acquired health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. Now that
those 7 to 10 million Americans have insurance, the rest of us are no
longer on the hook to pay for their health care when they get sick.
This saves the American people billions of dollars in the long run.

10. The Affordable Care Act has added years to the life of

The Medicare trust fund had been on course to run out of money by the
end of 2016. But due to cost savings from the Affordable Care Act and
lower healthcare expenses, Medicare’s trust fund is now stable until
the year 2030 without cutting benefits.

11. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing the
slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960.

Contrary to the predictions from Republicans, health care costs have
increased at a much slower pace since the passage of the ACA.

12. We currently have fewer soldiers, sailors and airmen in war
zones than any time in over 10 years.

With the end of the Iraq war and the steady withdrawal of troops from
Afghanistan, we have fewer people in war zones now than any time since

13. There have been zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on US soil
since Obama became president.

Despite Dick Cheney’s claim that if voters elect a Democrat as
president, we’ll be “hit again and hit hard” by al Qaeda, we have
actually been far safer from terrorist attacks on US soil in recent
years than we were under the previous president. There have been
several unsuccessful attacks against the US under both presidents, but
under Obama, al Qaeda has been largely unsuccessful in striking the US
on our home soil.

14. We now successfully catch and deport more illegal immigrants
than ever before.

Despite the publicity from busloads of children who illegally entered
the country, the numbers prove that President Obama has deported more
illegal immigrants than any other president.

All of the facts stated above can be confirmed through multiple
sources, yet most Americans are not aware of all of this positive
news. I invite you to do your own research and check these facts for

The truth is, most other presidents would envy President Obama’s
record despite the fact that he inherited the worst economic crash
since the Great Depression.

Here’s a bonus. If you feel particularly ambitious, feel free to
research these additional facts.

1. Since Obama became president, our economy has gone from losing
800,000 jobs per month to adding 200,000 jobs per month. That’s a net
improvement under Obama of about 1 million jobs per month!

2. Before Obama became president, our financial system was in ruins
and millions of people were at risk of losing their life savings. Now,
the financial loopholes have been fixed and we are no longer at risk
of another financial collapse.

3. In 5 years under Obama the economy has created twice as many jobs
as were created in 8 years under George W. Bush.

4. President Obama passed credit card reforms that protects consumers
from excessive fees, rate hikes, deceptive marketing and unreasonable
due dates.

5. Thanks to “Obamacare”, senior citizens have saved billions of
dollars on prescription drugs.

6. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to spend at
least 80% of your premiums on health care. As a result millions of
Americans have received refunds from their health insurance companies.

Despite the unprecedented obstructionism and record number of
filibusters used by Republicans to kill even the most routine
legislation, the fact remains, in almost every measurable way, the
American people are profoundly better off today than they were before
President Obama took office.

[Are the facts liberal? Happy Halloween, voters!]

The political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy

Paul Krugman: Plutocrats Against Democracy

Via Mark Thoma

Plutocrats Against Democracy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The … political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy … there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy…

This is a fantasy. … All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s… But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe. …

Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy … the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas) …

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is … Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

Paul Krugman’s article quotes Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, who blurted out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: those who are earning below a certain income defined by Leung Chun-ying would end up with, in his words “that kind of politics and policies.”

Krugman compares this attitude to Mitt Romney’s characterization of the “47 percent” of Americans as “irresponsible” (and who he feared would vote against him), and to the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” whereas the rich are “makers” and  “job creators,” in the branding terms of the Right. Whatever happened to common expressions like “the idle rich”?

It would be an interesting study to discover how many people across the political spectrum really do not believe in democracy (unconsciously or not) and why and to what extent. It is understandable that one might not “believe” because historically societies are quite programmed hierarchically, and democracy has not been logically deduced, remaining essentially a belief system (unless, ahem, my book, Unicycle: The Ethic of Nature’s Balance Revisited with Asymmetric Math and Fiction, the eBook edition, soon!).

Cynicism at the Supreme Court degrades democracy

Limiting Rights: Imposing Religion on Workers” by the Editorial Board; The New York Times says it clearly like this. Some excerpts:

The Supreme Court’s deeply dismaying decision on Monday in the Hobby Lobby case swept aside accepted principles of corporate law and religious liberty to grant owners of closely held, for-profit companies an unprecedented right to impose their religious views on employees.

It was the first time the court has allowed commercial business owners to deny employees a federal benefit to which they are entitled by law based on the owners’ religious beliefs, and it was a radical departure from the court’s history of resisting claims for religious exemptions from neutral laws of general applicability when the exemptions would hurt other people.


As a threshold matter, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., read the act’s religious protections to apply to “the humans who own and control” closely held companies, an interpretation contradicted by the statute’s history, context, and wording. He then found that the contraceptive coverage rules put a “substantial burden” on the religious owners, who objected to some of the items on the F.D.A.’s list based on the incorrect claim they induce abortions.

It’s hard to see that burden. Nothing in the contraceptive coverage rule prevented the companies’ owners from worshiping as they choose or advocating against coverage and use of the contraceptives they don’t like.


Mr. Alito’s ruling and a concurrence by Justice Anthony Kennedy portray the decision as a narrow one without broader application, like denying vaccine coverage or job discrimination. But that is not reassuring coming from justices who missed the point that denying women access to full health benefits is discrimination.

Here is an excerpt from Justice Alito’s opinion of the Court (my emphasis):

[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions … If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

I believe it is worth reading Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in full; Like the NYT editorial, it is clearly and eloquently written and just destroys Mr. Alito’s opinion, point by point. That being said, the above excerpt right from the start of Alito’s opinion shows an extraordinary effrontery in the exercise of raw power in the majority, dispensing with a substantial standard of reason. Are we to believe that this man is sincere in stating that a believer is “substantially burdened” by the actions of others, even when those actions do nothing more than represent some other behavior than the moral dictates of the believer’s religion? If we don’t behave according to the moral code of the belief system supported by Alito et al, then we are imposing a “substantial burden” and should be actively opposed, discriminated against, violated? I think Alito is a very cunning fellow and knows exactly what he is saying, and we are supposed to just live with the burden he and his majority have imposed. Meanwhile cynical court opinions degrade democracy.

“No wonder, then, that nineteenth-century novelists were obsessed with inheritance”

Just (more than) a few excerpts while reading: Why We’re in a New Gilded Age, by Paul Krugman (NYRB), on Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer, Belknap

It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality.. . . .

In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.

Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.

. . . .

We now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action. European nations in general have highly unequal incomes from market activity, just like the United States, although possibly not to the same extent. But they do far more redistribution through taxes and transfers than America does, leading to much less inequality in disposable incomes.

Yet for all their usefulness, survey data have important limitations. They tend to undercount or miss entirely the income that accrues to the handful of individuals at the very top of the income scale. They also have limited historical depth. Even US survey data only take us to 1947. Enter Piketty and his colleagues, who have turned to an entirely different source of information: tax records.

. . . .

Capital and wealth have been trending steadily back toward Belle Époque levels. And this accumulation of capital, says Piketty, will eventually recreate Belle Époque–style inequality unless opposed by progressive taxation.

Why? It’s all about r versus g—the rate of return on capital versus the rate of economic growth.

. . . .

If he’s right, one immediate consequence will be a redistribution of income away from labor and toward holders of capital.

. . . .

When the rate of return on capital greatly exceeds the rate of economic growth, “the past tends to devour the future”: society inexorably tends toward dominance by inherited wealth.

Consider how this worked in Belle Époque Europe. At the time, owners of capital could expect to earn 4–5 percent on their investments, with minimal taxation; meanwhile economic growth was only around one percent. So wealthy individuals could easily reinvest enough of their income to ensure that their wealth and hence their incomes were growing faster than the economy, reinforcing their economic dominance, even while skimming enough off to live lives of great luxury.

And what happened when these wealthy individuals died? They passed their wealth on—again, with minimal taxation—to their heirs. Money passed on to the next generation accounted for 20 to 25 percent of annual income; the great bulk of wealth, around 90 percent, was inherited rather than saved out of earned income. And this inherited wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very small minority: in 1910 the richest one percent controlled 60 percent of the wealth in France; in Britain, 70 percent.

No wonder, then, that nineteenth-century novelists were obsessed with inheritance. Piketty discusses at length the lecture that the scoundrel Vautrin gives to Rastignac in Balzac’s Père Goriot, whose gist is that a most successful career could not possibly deliver more than a fraction of the wealth Rastignac could acquire at a stroke by marrying a rich man’s daughter. And it turns out that Vautrin was right: being in the top one percent of nineteenth-century heirs and simply living off your inherited wealth gave you around two and a half times the standard of living you could achieve by clawing your way into the top one percent of paid workers.

It’s all here…

Minimum wage from the ground up

All Economics Is Local by Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs:

The record is clear. Employers can afford to pay higher wages that raise families out of poverty and bear a closer relation to local living costs. And there’s a moral value, too. An increase in the local minimum wage restores, on a very personal level, some of our notion of fairness.

Runaway capitalism projected unless preempted

‘s NYT article, A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth, on “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” by Thomas Piketty:

What if inequality were to continue growing years or decades into the future? Say the richest 1 percent of the population amassed a quarter of the nation’s income, up from about a fifth today. What about half? …

To believe Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, this future is not just possible. It is likely.

Professor Piketty’s description of inexorably rising inequality probably fits many Americans’ intuitive understanding of how the world works today. But it cuts hard against the grain of economic orthodoxy that prevailed throughout the second half of the 20th century and still holds sway today. It was shaped during the early years of the Cold War by the Belorussian-born American economist Simon Kuznets …

Glancing back across history from the present-day United States, it looks as if Kuznets’s curve swerved way off target …

In “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Professor Piketty offers a general theory of capitalism that returns distribution to the center of the analysis. Branko Milanovic, an expert on the global distribution of income at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, called it “one of the watershed books in economic thinking.

And check out the graphs in Porter’s article, “A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth.” Lets hope the wealth of data we have today continues and can help increasingly re-balance the economy, given the political will of the people, before it’s too late. As the description of the book on says,

The main driver of inequality–the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth–today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again.

Update via Mark Thoma: Wealth over Work by Paul Krugman, on the drift towards oligarchy and Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twentt-First Century.”

Further update, Brad DeLong via Washington Center for Equitable Growth: Dialogue: Eleven (so Far) Worthwhile Reviews of and Reflections on Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”: Wednesday Focus: March 26, 2014

A lull in 200 years of Americans pillorying the rich

Via Harvard Business Review: America’s Long and Productive History of Class Warfare by Justin Fox, author of The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (Again, read it, please.)

“Six days before the election, the Republican nominee for president attended a fund-raising dinner at a posh New York restaurant. Two-hundred of the country’s richest and most powerful men were on hand. The next day, they were confronted with this atop the front page of one of the city’s leading newspapers:

Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings

Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings

“This particular scan is from the historical-cartoon site HarpWeek, but the drawing has long been in the public domain — it ran in the now-defunct New York World on Oct. 30, 1884. The candidate was James G. Blaine (the droopy-eyed fellow in the center of the picture who is about to dig in to some Lobby Pudding), and the man who subjected him to this harsh treatment was Joseph Pulitzer, who had bought the World the previous year and was rapidly building it into the most popular and powerful newspaper the nation had ever seen …

“The cartoon that Pulitzer had Walt McDougall and Valerian Gribayedoff draw was just the beginning — although what a beginning it was, featuring the likes of Jay Gould … and William Cornelius Vanderbilt (… with the awesome bifurcated beard) feasting on political spoils at Delmonico’s while a poor family begged for scraps. As James McGrath Morris recounts in his wonderful biography of Pulitzer:

The World revealed every aspect of the dinner, even though the organizers had done their best to bar the press. From the Timbales à la Reine and Soufflés aux Marrons upon which the men feasted to the thousands of dollars pledged to buy votes, no detail was left out. Even more damning, the main story began with a one-paragraph account of men who had been thrown out of work at a mill in Blaine’s home state and were now applying for assistance or emigrating to Canada.

“Some of this was partisan politics: Pulitzer, himself on the ballot as a Democratic candidate for Congress, supported Blaine’s opponent, Grover Cleveland. New York was the most important battleground state, and the World’s assault was widely credited with handing the presidency to Cleveland a few days later.

“It wasn’t just that, though. In an era when America’s first industrial magnates were amassing unheard-of riches and using it to mold the political system to their liking, resentment of that wealth and power was widespread …

“But the ferociousness of his initial assaults, and of many others aimed at the tycoons who dominated the country’s late-19th-century Gilded Age, gives the lie to the complaint voiced these days in some circles that current resentment of the rich is somehow unprecedented or un-American — or even reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

“Have these people never heard about Teddy Roosevelt excoriating the “malefactors of great wealth,” or his cousin Franklin getting Congress to raise the tax rate on top incomes past 90%? Americans have been pillorying the rich on and off for more than 200 years, and our economic system has survived and mostly thrived. In fact, the political and labor-relations compromises occasioned by what you might call class warfare have on balance surely made the country stronger.

“What’s been unique, or at least highly unusual, has been the environment in which entrepreneurs and business executives were able to operate from the late 1970s through the early 2000s. Taxes dropped, high-end incomes exploded, and hardly anybody complained at all. Far from complaining, in fact, the news media for the most part celebrated the recipients of those exploding incomes for their boldness, creativity, and economic importance. It was a pretty stinking awesome time to be a plutocrat …” Read Justin Fox’s succinct historical perspective at HBR.

Also: Continental Liar From the State of Maine: James G. Blaine, by historian Neil Rolde.

More via Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View: Economic Inequality: Why Isn’t There More Outrage by Kathleen Geier at Political Animal, where she discusses Justin Fox’s post and offers this insight.

Back in the days of the Gilded Era, it was another story. Yes, the media has always been owned by the rich. However, back then, reporting was a working class profession, and there was a much more powerful strain within journalism that reflected the point of view of working people. But over the last several decades, mass media became increasingly corporatized and many newspapers disappeared. Journalism (what was left of it, anyway) became a much more elite profession. Entree into good media jobs often came to require unpaid internships and degrees from elite universities. The rise of the class divide in journalism…

When is change worthwhile?

Via Gawker’s Letters from Death Row series (Postcards from the Edge), the Ray Jasper letter has been given more media for its clarity and insight in the face of death and in the eventual aftermath of participating in murder. Without knowing the facts of the case or any rehabilitation of the criminal, the letter itself is an opportunity to learn about the realities connected to academic discussions of ethics and democracy.

What, for example, do we think we are doing with our criminal justice system? Should we kill some who has been fully rehabilitated and is a changed person after committing a terrible crime? What is the objective, the purpose of the system? Is this slavery revisited in the “unacceptable face of capitalism,” to quote Conservative British Prime Minister Edward Heath on a different subject. Many related questions and passions. How much positive change is possible in a person, and should we encourage positive change in every case? This is not only to be taken rhetorically. It’s a matter of life and death and of whether anyone’s life is ultimately worthwhile in the community, regionally as in Texas, or as part of the human race.

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