Pressures on the System Threaten the Wealthy's Income Stream

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ROBERT REICH WEARS many hats. He is a professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He brought his economic expertise to Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter's administrations. As Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton's first stint in the White House, Reich oversaw an increase in the minimum wage and was an outspoken advocate of everyday Americans.

Reich is the focal point of the 2013 documentary 'Inequality For All.' His central assertion in the film is that while inequality drives the free market, severe wealth inequality makes the market stagnant. When the gap between the haves and have-nots is such that the bottom 47% of Americans have no wealth (and likely have significant debt), and 400 billionaires at the top have capital comparable to 80 million families, everyone loses out.

While I felt aligned with Reich's agenda from the beginning of the film, I did wonder how he would substantiate the claim that massive wealth inequality is bad for the very rich. I hoped that his rationale would go beyond some sort of moral-ethical dilemma of the one-percenters. As the film progressed, I got the quantitative documentation I was looking for.

During 'Inequality,' we follow a number of people, some billionaires, some struggling to keep enough food on the table for a family of four. The most telling interview came from the successful, thoughtful billionaire named Nick Hanauer. When asked about his yearly salary, he responds "anywhere from 10 million to 30 million." He acknowledges this is an absurd amount of money for one person to collect.

Hanauer describes how the gulf between ordinary Americans and a small circle of billionaires is actually bad for his business, and for the free market in general. As it turns out, billionaires only need a few pairs of blue jeans a year; they only purchase one or two pillows when necessary.

According to Hanauer, if his money was more evenly allocated throughout working class Americans, more consumers would be able to afford a new pair of jeans, and he would move more pillows. Sales would increase. Despite incredible capital and his position on the top of the economic ladder, Hanauer's bank account is hurt by inequality. The wealth disparity limits the free market system and each agent, rich or poor.

The documentary is not short on ways to address the widening wealth gap in the United States. Each facet of Reich's plan is rooted in years of economic research, not in dogma or partisan ideology. Some suggestions are a no-brainer. Decades ago, Japan showed the world that investing in education can be profitable for everyone. As Japan developed, officials prioritized training the workforce and made trade schooling widely available. Now, Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Other calls for action are a thorough reform of Wall Street, more equitable tax policies, and greater oversight in the power of amassed wealth in the political system. Whether campaign contributions come from a multi-millionaire or a multi-national corporation, a small number of oligarchs are assuming the arms of democracy and monopolizing the ears of politicians, as per the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

While the challenge is great, Reich wants his viewers to feel empowered. Empowered to demand change, to refashion 'equality' from a buzzword to a basic requisite of the American way, to make sure that every person's voice is heard in their political system, regardless of the number of zeros and commas in his or her paycheck.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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When Justice Backfires: At Least 4.1% Of Death Row Convicts Are Innocent

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 20:38 p.m. DST, 6 May 2014

"Operating Room" Photo by: StudioTempuraWASHINGTON, DC - Until last week, the accuracy of death penalty application in the United States had been the subject of speculation. Given to the trades of debate and guesswork, even prominent thinkers with important positions in the judicial system add to the growing body of conjecture. In 2007, Justice Antonin Scalia calculated that the American legal system is correct 99.973% of the time. His math, data and motives are altogether dubious, and his claims carry very little weight in both judicial and scientific circles. 

Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death is a landmark study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and written by Gross, O'Brien, Hu and Kennedy, who are researchers at University of Michigan Law, Michigan State Law, American College of Radiology and University of Pennsylvania Medicine, respectively. They conclude that no less than 4.1% of death row inmates have been wrongly convicted, a percentage they say is the most conservative calculation possible, according to records from 1989 to 2012.

These experts use data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the Department of Justice and numbers from The Death Penalty Information Center to arrive at their findings. Using survival analysis, the team is able to isolate the frequency at which wrongful convictions are overturned, and apply that ratio to the death row population. Resources and legal expertise are rationed to inmates nearing their scheduled execution, and survival analysis standardizes the effects of these efforts in uncovering groundless convictions across the board. The authors of the study and many in the national conversation agree that the true number of innocent convicts living on death row is much higher.

Meanwhile, executions throughout the country have gained considerable media attention. As European producers of lethal drugs have stopped supplying their products to the United States for the express purpose of execution, officials have struggled to obtain injections that are neither cruel nor unusual. Last week, convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett was put to death in Oklahoma with a needle that introduced only certain ingredients of the drug cocktail into his bloodstream. Lockett's execution was halted midway, and he died ten minutes later of a heart attack. Charles Warner is the next to be executed in Oklahoma, and he is seeking postponement while Lockett's proceedings are investigated by a third-party.

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Published: 6 May 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has recently sounded off on inmates' request for the names and types of substances that they will be administered. The court found that it is constitutional to withhold this information from convicts. Justice Steven Taylor responded that they had no more right to this disclosure than "if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know whether OG&E or PSO were providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition."

Well, that sounded poetic, and almost made sense. But Lockett's inadequate execution is just one of many similar cases recently, ever since untested American drugs have taken the place of better-researched European counterparts. This national experiment has yielded cruel results, such as the Ohio inmate who cried "I can feel my whole body burning" during his lethal injection earlier this year. So, Taylor's statement would be more accurate if he offered comparisons that mirror the humane nature of former injections and the inhumane reality of newer concoctions. Surely Taylor would agree that death row convicts should know whether they would be killed by high voltage or low voltage electric shocks; nylon rope or barbed wire; Winchester rounds or rubber bullets. Similarly, Taylor should acknowledge the inherent difference between the type of injection that renders the individual unconscious before killing him, and the type that leaves people writhing on the gurney, slowly dying from a heart attack. 

True, the crimes of these two men in Oklahoma are heinous, and true, they should never be free to walk the streets again. But soon the nation will have to come to terms with the costs of capital punishment, and not in terms of dollars and cents. Of the 121 inmates on death row in Arizona, at least 5 are innocent according to Rate of false conviction. In Texas, the national sanctuary of  the death penalty, 273 are awaiting execution and no less than 10 of these individuals are innocent. California's collection of convicts numbers 746, which includes at least 29 innocent people. Nationwide, 3,108 offenders are waiting on death row. The only problem? 124 of these people did not commit the offense. And probably more.

A common and intelligible rallying cry behind the death penalty is "if your loved one was senselessly taken by a vicious predator, maybe then you would understand." Certainly. It is a tragedy that anyone should be taken before their time. Inherent in that statement, though, is the value of human life, especially moral and upright people. Americans will need to address issues in the application of the death penalty and the conditions in society that make murder and rape commonplace. When the stakes are life and death, why perpetuate the injustice to 124+ more victims? Why extend that pain to countless more family members?

These 124 and more upcoming executions are preventable deaths. The desire to apply justice to reprehensible perpetrators should not turn us into criminals ourselves.

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Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

India to Recognize Third Gender

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INDIA - A decision was made on 15 April 2014 in favor of the 3 million Indians who are transgender. On legal forms, there is now a third category marked either "transgender" or "other." The Indian constitution orders against gender discrimination and more and more people are beginning to realize that that includes more than just men and women.

Transgender is defined as someone who has acquired physical characteristics of the opposite sex, who identify as neither male or female, or who present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

Among other things, transgendered people now have the legal right to adopt children and to have the same jobs as non-transgendered people. Before the law, the majority was either restricted to "show" careers -- singing and dancing -- or to a life of begging or prostitution. Now if needed they can be included in welfare programs that help provide jobs, education and healthcare.

Public toilets for the transgender community as well as transgender-specific health services are now available. India has also launched public awareness campaigns to fight the stigma against transgender people.

Since the ruling, 28,000 people have chosen to identify themselves as "other" on voter registration forms.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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