Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Jobless Recovery, Captial Punishment, and Fortune Cookies
Capital punishment might be morally permissible; but it is punishment, NOT self-defense (and what lesson does a dead man learn? . . .).
UNEMPLOYMENT AND THE JOBLESS RECOVERY
First, this from Misleader.org :
"BUSH TWICE TRIES TO MISLEAD AMERICA ABOUT THE ECONOMY IN 24 HOURS
Within a span of 24 hours, President Bush twice attempted to mislead the
American people about the economy and his tax policies. On Friday, the
president said, "Unemployment dropped today to 5.7% [which] is a positive
sign that the economy is getting better."
But the president didn't add that the unemployment drop occurred not because
the economy was getting better, but because continued weak job growth led
309,000 people to stop looking for work. As one nonpartisan economist said,
"Most of these dropouts would still be in the labor force working or trying
to work if the economy were doing better," The president made no mention
that only 1,000 total jobs were created in December - a "shockingly low
number," where most economists had expected job growth to be around 100,000
to 150,000 for the month. 33 months after the beginning of the recession,
this recovery is distinguished from all previous cycles of job contraction
and resumed growth since 1939, according to the Economic Policy Institute,
for not having fully recovered job levels to those above the
pre-recessionary peak within 31 months from its start.
The following day, the president touted the same economic policies that
helped create the unemployment crisis. Despite the bad economic news, he
said, "Tax relief has got this economy going again," and bragged, "every
American who pays income taxes got a tax cut." His use of the phrase "income
tax," however, was tailored to divert attention from the millions of
low-income American taxpayers (who pay payroll tax but not income tax) who
received nothing. Bush's 2001 tax cut completely excluded 31% of all
families in America. Similarly, Bush's 2003 tax cut completely excluded 31%
of all taxpayers - including one million children of military families."
Something else occurred to me the other day. I used to think that unemployment statistics measured how many people lacked jobs (logical, no?); but people have told me that in fact they do not measure this, nor do they measure those seeking unemployment benefits. No sir. They measure only those actually receiving unemployment benefits.
This is not trivial in the least. This means that people who are too proud to accept unemployment or welfare benefits (and contrary to the angry proclamations of cynical conservatives of the Rush Limbaugh ilk, this class of people is great in number) are not included; nor are people who are trying desperately to get some assistance but have been turned down. (And of course the unemployment stats say nothing about the fact that millions can only find part-time or temp work, millions are forced to work two or three part-time minimum- or low-wage jobs just to make ends meet, and almost every family in the country survives on not one job but two [both parents have to earn an income]--but this is, I suppose, technically another topic . . .)
At any rate, here's my observation/theory (and please correct me if I'm wrong on this): By reducing or eliminating unemployment benefits, Bush can actually make the unemployment rate go DOWN. . . . No? . . . I think I'm correct. Less people receiving benefits = less people technically "unemployed." Now that's screwed up, my friends.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS JUST THAT: PUNISHMENT
Recently our governor, Tim Pawlenty, got the idea into his head that Minnesota needs to reinstate the death penalty (which we haven't had for something like 90 years)--not only for murderers, but for sex offenders and attempted murders and all sorts of things. Hmmm . . . This was brought on, apparently, by the disappearance of Dru Sjodin in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the arrest of a formerly convicted sex offender for her kidnapping. (I'm from North Dakota [my sister and her boyfriend both had met Dru] and now live in Minnesota, so I've been hearing a lot about this.)
First of all (as some law professors pointed out on NPR), capital punishment for attempted murder is unprecedented and unconstitutional; and even for violent sex offenses it's extremely controversial and rarely proposed. Governor Pawlenty has since adjusted his position slightly, I think (no longer calling for executing attempted murderers); but it really makes you wonder about this guy.
Incidentally, from a strictly Kantian (motive-based) moral perspective, one could argue that there's little difference between killing someone and trying unsuccessfully to kill them. The consequences are different, due to the would-be killer's incompetence, but the intent/motive/will is the same in both cases. And if, say, the victim was simply able to defend him or herself in one case, whereas in the other case he or she was too weak to do so, this has very little moral relevance to the crime itself. Morally speaking. Legally speaking, of course, it's another story.
O.K. State-Sponsored Killing.
I'm not going to make a thorough argument here, for or against. (Personally, I'm against, if you care.) But I will say this: capital punishment is not in any way "self-defense" [that is, defending society from this person]. If someone breaks into your house and tries to kill or harm you or your family, and so you kill that person to protect yourself, that's self-defense. When you have a person in custody, and you make a conscious, deliberate decision to methodically cause that person to cease to exist, that is not defense.
I'm not even convinced it's punishment. Aside from the oft-mentioned irony that "we're killing you to show you that killing is wrong," more to the point, what does that person learn? True, it will change their behavior; a dead person is unlikely to commit another crime (or, for that matter, a beneficent act); but they haven't been taught anything, seeing as they're dead and all.
To protect society from them (again being terribly trite, sorry) you need simply to lock them up. So the only lesson here must be not for the accused but for society: teach them that if they kill someone they will themselves be killed. Make this person a concrete example.
Well, I haven't studied ethics all that much, but I think any sane person can see that there are some problems with this principle [that of using a person as an example]. Generally speaking, that's considered a form of repressing [or terrorizing] the population into submission and is to be found in harsh totalitarian systems. In moral terms, it's using a person as a means to something else, not as a means unto himself. And in legal terms, well, the decision has nothing at all to do with individual rights.
And, yes, it might be argued that a murderer has forfeited all rights, moral and legal alike, and therefore these rights need no longer be considered.
But this begs the question because it presumes absolute certitude. That is, if we accept this, then we assume the person is guilty with no possibility of error. On this assumption, once convicted, no one should ever be able to appeal, to present new evidence, call for a mistrial, etc.; because they would need rights in order to do so. Some crimes, of course, do not constitute a forfeiture of all rights; perhaps only murder, and possibly rape in some cases.
But this is precisely the point: the more severe the offense, the more severe the punishment; and the more severe the punishment, the more certain we must be of the person's guilt. More is at stake, and the decision to execute someone holds far more weight than any other decision. And this is understood, which is why those on death row can appeal indefinitely [provided there is some new evidence for consideration], which is why it's actually more expensive to execute. (Though the cost should not be a large factor here, by the way.)
Long story short: of course mistakes are made. And many people feel that it's better for one hundred guilty men to walk free than for one innocent man to be wrongfully put to death. Not to mention the fact that the death penalty is not consistently or fairly applied, and there's a huge race correlation that has been shown time and time again [blacks far more often executed than whites for the same offense].
The emotional aspect is enormous, and rightly so. Everyone, in the backs of their minds, imagines someone hurting or killing someone they love, and thinks, "What if it were me? Or my sister, or son, or mother, or daughter, or . . . Wouldn't I want the murdered executed?" . . . Probably that's how anyone would feel, at least for a time. But the thing is, it's easier for us to think of ourselves as potential victims than as potential perpetrators. Very seldom do we ask, "What is I were sentenced to death for a crime I didn't commit? Or my sister, or son, or mother, or daughter, or . . ." Well, every innocent person on death row, and every innocent person who has already been put to death, was someone's sister or son or brother or mother or daughter . . . . .
A PESSIMIST AND HIS FORTUNE COOKIES
The other day we ate at "Taste of Thailand" and my fortune cookie was simple and direct: "You will be promoted." Hard to put a negative spin on that one, really. But this is how I recognized myself for the true pessimist that I am. My interpretation: probably means I'll be drafted into the armed forces. ("Hey, you were just a civilian before. Now, you're a lieutenant!! Congratulations!")
I think the only fortune cookie I ever took seriously was this one (and I'm not making this up, this is a real fortune I once got): "Strong in opinions, always in the wrong." Yes. Well. There it is.
For my senior art exhibit in college I made my own fortune cookies to set out by the guest book and brochures. Some of them were pretty humorous (and none terribly fortunate). I'll have to find them and post them on here at some point . . .
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