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Empathy Deficit Disorder

By       Message Robert B. Reich     Permalink
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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog

From youtube.com/watch?v=ns0T8YgyyD4: Alaska Lawmaker Don Young Apologizes to Latino Hispanics for WETBACKS Racial Slur
Alaska Lawmaker Don Young Apologizes to Latino Hispanics for WETBACKS Racial Slur
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Commenting on a recent student suicide at an Alaska high school, Alaska's Republican Congressman Don Young said suicide didn't exist in Alaska before "government largesse" gave residents an entitlement mentality.

"When people had to work and had to provide and had to keep warm by putting participation in cutting wood and catching the fish and killing the animals, we didn't have the suicide problem," he said. Government handouts tell people "you are not worth anything but you are going to get something for nothing."

Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in America -- almost twice the national average, and a leading cause of death in Alaska for young people ages 15 to 24 -- but I doubt it's because Alaskans lead excessively easy lives.

Every time I visit Alaska I'm struck by how hard people there have to work to make ends meet. The state is the last American frontier, where people seem more self-reliant than anywhere in the lower 48.

It's true that every Alaskan receives an annual dividend from a portion of state oil revenues (this year it will be almost $2,000 per person), but research shows no correlation between the amount of the dividend from year to year and the suicide rate.

Suicide is a terrible tragedy for those driven to it and for their loved ones. What possessed Congressman Young to turn it into a political football?

Young has since apologized for his remark. Or, more accurately, his office has apologized. "Congressman Young did not mean to upset anyone with his well-intentioned message," says a news release from his congressional office, "and in light of the tragic events affecting the Wasilla High School community, he should have taken a much more sensitive approach."

Well-intentioned? More sensitive approach?

Young's comment would be offensive regardless of who uttered it. That he's a member of the United States Congress -- Alaska's sole representative in the House -- makes it downright alarming.

You might expect someone who's in the business of representing others to have a bit more empathy. In fact, you'd think empathy would be the minimum qualification to hold public office in a democracy.

Sadly, Young is hardly alone. A remarkable number of people who are supposed to be devoting their lives to representing others seem clueless about how their constituents actually live and what they need.

Last week New Jersey Governor Chris Christie groused to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "I'm tired of hearing about the minimum wage."

No doubt some in the audience shared Christie's view. It was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, after all.

But many of the Governor's constituents are not tired of hearing about the minimum wage. They depend on it.

New Jersey has among the largest number of working poor in America. Some 50,000 people work for the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

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http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.


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