The Good Fight

The Good Fight

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ governor says he will commute the sentence of a woman convicted more than three decades ago of fatally shooting her husband, who had physically abused her. Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday announced his intent to make Willie Mae Harris immediately eligible for parole. Harris was convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband. Harris admitted to shooting her husband, but has said it was an accident related to self-defense.

Harris is legally blind, and the state Parole Board has recommended she receive clemency several times over the years. Charged with first-degree murder of her husband and offered a plea deal – 20 years – out in 13 for good behavior, Willie refused to admit to a crime she did not commit – a position she maintains today even after serving 34 years behind bars.

Mike Masterson, an award-winning journalist and friend has been a vocal activist for the release of Willie Mae Harris and his efforts have finally been rewarded. Portions of a recent Masterson column follow:

Undrea “Gem” Jones, a Dance To Be Free program instructor and returning citizen from the women’s McPherson/Hawkins incarceration units, recently wrote on social media that inmate Willie Mae Harris deserves clemency.

Here’s Jones’ poignant message: “I know the beautiful woman personally and I watched her go blind, heard her cries for help from medical officials when she still had sight in both her eyes. This went on for at least 12 years.

“Then it was myself and other inmates who took care of her necessities such as feeding her and guiding her to the bathroom and shower. It was a constant struggle with the Department of Corrections to get her anything to assist her. Yet this woman never lost her hope and she kept pressing on.

“What justice will be gained by letting Miss Willie Harris die in prison?”

The personable Jones asks a valid question. I’ve raised a voice on Miss Willie’s behalf, for one reason: It is clearly the merciful, decent and compassionate thing to do for a 72-year-old grandmother whose conviction (much like that of former inmate Belynda Goff of Green Forest) was riddled with inadequacies and uncalled witnesses. Plus, she has served more than enough time while suffering terrible personal agony behind bars.

This gentle lady insists, even all these years later, that she sincerely loved her late husband despite the enormous abuses he continually inflicted on her, and never intended to kill him during a heated argument in bed at their home in Bradley in 1985.

I can’t imagine life behind bars for years, losing sight, then having to rely on the compassion of other inmates simply to work through every day. I also can’t believe a man with the demonstrated integrity and empathy of our governor would continue to insist she remain in such a place until she dies.

While on the subject, I also wanted to share a copy of a letter to our governor dated Jan. 29. It was written on Willie’s behalf by financier John Logan of Blytheville. His sentiments likely express those of many Arkansas citizens.

“I read the article by Mike Masterson and was compelled to write you. I am appealing to you to grant her mercy and grant her clemency. She is one of the ones that’s fallen through the cracks of our system and needs help.

“The Parole Board has recommended five times that she be released from prison, and five times she was denied by Governor Huckabee and Governor Beebe. After hearing everything about her and the good she has done for others in prison, I feel that it is our duty to help this poor woman.

“Shakespeare wrote:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

“Please have mercy on Willie Mae Harris and grant her clemency. You will be blessed and the people of Arkansas will be too.”

Well said, John Logan, and thanks for reminding us that the Bard realized the divine nature of mercy.

This particular quote was enough to send me on a bit of research to see what other thoughtful folks over time have had to say about the nature of mercy. Here’s a bit of what I discovered that applies to all our lives together.

Abraham Lincoln, during a conversation with former colleague Joseph Gillespie in 1864, is reported to have said: “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”

This is not the only cause that Mike has taken on that has yielded positive results. Kudos go out to him, keep on fighting the good fight.

————v————

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 02/11/2020

Income Distribution & the Middle Class

Income Distribution & the Middle Class

How big is the middle class, and how is it defined? ”The Pew Research Center defines the high end of the US middle class as those earning two-thirds to twice the median household income, which was $60,336 in 2017, meaning middle-class Americans were earning about $40,425 to $120,672”  This group represents about 50% of the families in the U.S. “

“A new survey by Northwestern Mutual found that 70 percent of Americans consider themselves middle class. However, a 2015 report from Pew Research Center shows that the middle class has been shrinking over the past four decades and now makes up only 50 percent of the United States’ total population. One reason for this discrepancy might be the fact that wages have been largely flat while costs have gone up, so, in many places, even those making a six-figure income feel like they’re struggling to get by.

Of the survey participants who labeled themselves as middle class, 50 percent earn between $50,000 and $125,000 annually. Although these Americans consider themselves in the middle, the actual dollar amounts needed to qualify as middle class are slightly lower. Pew Research Center defines the range as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, which was $55,775 as of 2016. This would lower the range to $40 to $110,000 That equates to singles making between $24,000 and $72,000 annually are middle class.”

While the top 10% of income families have enough discretionary income to have limited participation in Capitalism, it is the top 1% (the Capitalist Group) that controls wealth. The majority of middle-class families struggle to provide just one annual vacation. We can expect them to little or no participation as owners of capital. Fully 37% of families have incomes below the definition of the middle class, and another 12% have incomes below the poverty level.

Currently, the middle class is the engine that drives our economy. Has this group been benefiting from the economic prosperity of the past 20 years? While GDP has increased from $9.6 trillion to $21.3 trillion (a 120% increase), average wages have only increased by about 10%. Where did all that additional GDP go?

List of countries by income equality

Income Distribution by Country

List of countries by income equality

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a list of countries or dependencies by income inequality metrics, including Gini coefficients. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality (where one person has all the income—and everyone else has no income).

Key:
R/P 10%: The ratio of the average income of the richest 10% to the poorest 10%.
R/P 20%: The ratio of the average income of the richest 20% to the poorest 20%.
Gini: Gini index, a quantified representation of a nation’s Lorenz curve. A Gini index of 0% expresses perfect equality, while index of 100% expresses maximal inequality.
UN: Data from the United Nations Development Program.
CIA: Data from the Central Intelligence Agency‘s The World Factbook.

Country UN R/P World Bank Gini CIA R/P ] CIA Gini 
10%20%Year 10%Year Year 
         
Australia 12.55.834.7201012.7199430.32008
Austria 6.94.930.520146.8200426.32007
Belgium 8.24.228.120148.3200025.92013 est.
Canada 9.46.23420139.5200032.12005
Costa Rica 23.412.948.7201637.3200350.32009
Denmark 8.1428.52014122000 est.24.82011 est.
European Union     8.62015 est.30.62012 est.
Finland 5.63.926.820145.7200026.82008
France 9.15.232.320148.3200430.12013
Germany 6.95.131.420136.92000272006
Greece 10.27.135.8201410.42000 est.34.42013 est.
Iceland  3.625.62014  282006
Ireland 9.45.131.920149.4200033.92010
Israel 13.49.841.4201211.8200537.62012
Italy 11.66.634.7201411.7200031.92012 est.
Japan 4.55.432.120084.5199337.92011
Netherlands 9.24.428.620149.2199925.12013
New Zealand 12.4     36.21997
Norway 6.14.126.820146200026.82010
Portugal 156.435.620149.21995 est.34.22013 est.
South Africa 33.128.463201431.9200062.52013 est.
Spain 10.37.336201410.22000342011
Sweden 6.24.627.220146.2200024.92013
United Kingdom 13.85.434.1201413.6199932.42012
United States 18.59.441.52016142014 est.472014

Using the above 24 countries as a benchmark there are only two countries that have more unequal income distribution than our country, Costa Rica & South Africa. This chart illustrates the issue of the decline in income equity for the middle class. Since 1980 the real GDP per Capita has increased by 80%, but real income to the middle class has increased less than 8%. Does this seem fair to you?