A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 5
  • September/October
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • About Nuclear Weapons
  • Mail Carriers and Heat Exposure
  • Can Evil Be Defended?
  • Racism and Public Health
  • Deforestation and Viruses
  • Billionaires and Inequality
  • To Ponder On

About Nuclear Weapons

All we need to do to remember the dangers of nuclear weapons is remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and not only the dangers to the planet but to humanity. All it would take is one foolish leader, one foolish decision for the world as we know it to be annihilated. At the present moment nine countries have a stockpile of nuclear weapons:

  • ·        Russia 6375
  • ·        US 5800
  • ·        China 320
  • ·        France 290
  • ·        UK 215
  • ·        Pakistan 160
  • ·        India 150
  • ·        Israel 90
  • ·        North Korea 30-40

The list does not include would be nuclear powers such as Iran or even Saudi Arabia. Obviously, the US and Russia are way ahead. At the present they are at loggers heads on the START Treaty. The treaty seeks to limit the deployment of each at 1500, and both actually agree. But the US wants China to be included in the new treaty. China has refused on the ground that since its arsenal is so much smaller than the other two, why should it limit itself and in its view be at a disadvantage? Unless the treaty is renewed by February 2021, it will expire. And if it does the world will be worse off including China. That is because while there would be no limits, there would also be no transparency as to what other countries are up to.  Eight in ten Americans believe in nuclear arms control treaties and most see nuclear arms as a top threat to national security—the others being terrorism and infectious diseases. As important as renewing this treaty may be, fact is that the limit it imposes on its signatories are still high enough to destroy the world. Treaties are needed but the planet would be safer, saner and in a better position to survive to the future if we would all work towards a nuclear free world

Mail Carriers and Heat Exposure

It was 90 degrees one day, I waited until it was cooler to walk to the store, and noticed many less people on our street walking their dogs. Most of us avoid heat exposure, something many mail carriers cannot do.  I have a friend who delivers mail in Tucson, Arizona, where the temperature can easily be 115F, and of course when he’s driving, the temperature is at least 10 degrees higher in his vehicle. His route causes him to walk 9.7 miles a day whether it’s hot, or raining, or cold, or blustery, or whatever extremes of temperatures we all usually shun. The Center for Public Integrity recently published an article “Extreme Heat Doesn’t stop the Mail—Even at the Cost of Postal Workers’ Health” which informs us that OSHA the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Postal Service for placing at risk of illness or even death from heat exposure over 900 workers since 2012. Inspectors observed workers with heat related symptoms such as extreme cramps, vomiting while walking, losing consciousness, shooting pains down their legs and in their chest. During their observation period at least 5 carriers died from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia or heart failure.  From January 2015 to October 2018, 93 postal employees were hospitalized. And then there is the issue with vehicles. In 2017 70% of all vehicles did not have air conditioning and there doesn’t seem to be much progress in making sure that has or will be changed in the near future.  Heat poses many dangers to postal workers and the US Postal Service hasn’t addressed those dangers says the article, has not issued standards, has not changed conditions, has not taken enough measures to protect its workforce.  The USPS is a vital part of how our society functions, and as we realize this in the midst of budget and operational cuts along with other USPS upheavals, it is important for us to stop and recognize how much we owe our mail carriers.

Can Evil Be Defended?

If one considers slavery evil, as I do, then can such evil be defended? It can be chronicled, described, documented, explained, talked about, criticized, shunned, reviled, ostracized but not defended. At least not if one believes in making a better world, lessening suffering, in decency, morality, compassion, ethical behavior, harmlessness, social responsibility, justice, human dignity or even love. Yet directly or indirectly it seems that is what Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark, is endeavoring to do. In a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he is calling slavery a necessary evil and linking that characterization to the greatness of the US, a country founded he reminds us on the proposition that all mankind is created equal. He has introduced a bill, Saving American History Act of 2020 that would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project in K-12 schools or school districts. The Pulitzer prize winning 1619 Project was undertaken under the aegis of the NYT and traced the consequences of slavery to today’s problems thus documenting the long arms of the evils it represented and unleashed. In an age of the Black Lives Matters movement and protests, this is not a proposal that can be ignored. Mr. Cotton was duly elected and has a following which make him a possible presidential candidate in 2024. I am not in the habit of writing about politics and I admit that I may be overly direct in stating Mr. Cotton’s argument. But this is not about politics, it is about how to move forward, how to recognize evil including the evil of slavery, address it and repair the harm it has caused. Defending slavery does not fit into a race-relations agenda that as far as I understand is necessary to save the future of the United States.

 Racism and Public Health

Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics, such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.

In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.

Deforestation and Viruses

Beef, soy, palm oil and wood products are four commodities that lead to a push towards deforestation. Besides the known ecological benefits of lush vegetation in such places as tropical rain-forests, scientists are now putting together a revealing, if disturbing scenario. At the edges of the world’s rain-forests deforestation is bringing people in closer contact with animals. Their habitats are being destroyed, they ravage for places to go and eat, and end up closer to humans. A consequence besides the hardship to the animal life is that this closer contact makes humans more susceptible to the viruses these animals or insects carry. Mosquitoes we know carry malaria, but they also hover over monkeys who may carry certain viruses and thus the mosquitoes carry them from the monkeys to humans. Yellow fever can be thus transmitted. Several diseases each have their trajectory, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, for example, can be traced to rodents. Ebola, is another disease that stems from contacts with humans at the forest ‘s edge. Corona-virus as we know falls into that category too. The Sunda Pangolin who is able to survive in pockets of forests has contacts with animals such as bats which have contacts with humans, but the Sunda Pangolin, prized for its meat, skin and scales is also poached and illegally brought to Malaysia and Viet-Nam and then into China, and there in a Wuhan wet market, researchers think the coronavirus began.

Our ignorance too often leads us to ignore the inescapable connections that exist within the planetary system of living things. Still they are there and we ought to do better understanding them.

Billionaires and Inequality

There are now 788 billionaires in the US, or at least there was in 2019 according to a study by Wealth-X which issues a comprehensive report yearly, that is 12% more than the year before. Collectively they control $ 3.4 trillion which is 14% more than they did in 2018. The US actually has more billionaires than any other country, more than the next 5 countries combined. China is second with less than half the US number. In 2016 the 620 billionaires in the US controlled $2.6 trillion. The growth among the mega rich which is partly due to the tech boom is now the subject of much discussion. It is becoming more and more inescapable that the US has economic policies which favor billionaires and end up placing workers at a disadvantage. Are the rich too rich, many are now beginning to ask?  Given it is an election year it is assumed the question will be a continued topic. When considering how difficult it is for many workers to be paid a living wage, how many jobs are being lost to automation, how many are unemployed with no assurance they will be able to get their job back due to Covid-19, when several studies show the US trending towards being a plutocracy, how rich is too rich is not only an important topic it is a must.

To Ponder On

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

 

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 4
  • July/August
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Undergoing Losses
  • Robots and the Pandemic
  • Beyond Our Current Problems
  • Incarceration in the US
  • Colonial ArtThefts
  • Talkof Change
  • To Ponder On

Undergoing Losses

Once in a while the health condition of a celebrity goes beyond their PR and can inspire the rest of us. It happened when Julie Andrews could no longer sing following a surgery and now I read that Val Kilmer following throat cancer cannot speak, or speak so he can be readily understood. He had a tracheostomy and now has a tube which is hidden by a scarf. We all undergo losses, it’s part of life on this planet, and we all have to handle them. Some losses are more drastic than others, and losing your voice when you are an actor is very drastic. According to the NYT profile Kilmer, who is a Christian Scientist, uses the tenets of his faith and shows no self-pity. He’s involved in a foundation he created, has a quirky gallery on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and still believes he can find roles to suit his present condition.

Here we are living through a pandemic, undergoing some form of loss, having to make adjustments to our lifestyle, adjustments which are both large and small, and which will probably linger in some form for a long time. Some at the moment have no income, and for them the experience of someone like Val Kilmer can perhaps offer some iota of comfort that it may ultimately be easier for them to receive an income than it will ever be for him to get his voice back. For the rest of us it’s a reminder of how fortunate we are.

Robots and the Pandemic

For those wanting to know how the pandemic will change the world, faster use of automation looks to be one way it will. Robots are looking particularly attractive to businesses, manufacturers and investors. That’s not new because robots don’t have to be paid, demand benefits or take sick leave. The virus is increasing interest because robots don’t require protective gear and can’t sneeze on their coworkers. Many believe the pandemic is accelerating automation, but it has implications. It won’t happen all at once, and each sector and each company will have to review their needs because some jobs lend themselves better to automation better than others. While it is believed that automation will create some jobs, because that is the pattern of former new innovations, experts also think that in developed countries automation is likely to exacerbate economic inequality. That is because the jobs created will be digital age jobs for a digital age economy, while the large part of the economy is likely to be based on service economy jobs which do not pay as well as they used to and include as well all those who will be left out.

Of course it’s not all smooth sailing for those who will use robots. Robots get their own kind of viruses and can be hacked, so manufacturers and businesses will have to invest in security. Nevertheless the projection points to a rocky road for too many.

Beyond Our Current Problems

I woke up one morning as many surely do with a heavy heart—the persistence of racial injustice, a mismanaged pandemic and an administration which systematically depreciates and debases democratic institutions. Then as I do every day, I looked at my email and the newsletters it contains. I learned that 81% of people in Malawi are more concerned about hunger than they are about getting the virus. In Venezuela, hearses with coffins had to stop in the middle of streets, having run out of gas which is now in very short supply. There too fear of being infected is second to hunger. In Yemen and Syria to name but two, the ruination of the countries economically and politically makes it near impossible to be able to have any kind of normalcy.  And then I realized that not since the civil rights movement has there been so much commitment and awareness to resolve racial injustice, that a vaccine, at least one, will be found and we shall be able to live more safely again, that we will eventually be rid of this administration and even if the country is in tatters by then (as it surely will) we shall still be standing. And I realized one more thing that the problems of the US will end up far more easily resolved than those of Malawi, Venezuela, Yemen or Syria.  That said, my heart is still heavy for those millions suffering unjustly.

Incarceration in the US

It’s The US has the highest per capita prison rate and the highest prison population in the world. The US represents 5% of the world’s population but 25% of those incarcerated worldwide. Russia and Ukraine follow. These are meaningful figures in light of the protests asking for police reform. And what is even more meaningful are the facts of incarceration from the NAACP showing how incarceration disproportionately affects people of color. Here is a sample:

  • ·        African Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of whites.
  • ·        African Americans and Hispanics which comprise 32% of the population comprise 56% of incarcerated people.
  • ·        If they were incarcerated at the same rate as whites prison population would decline by almost 40%.
  • ·        While African Americans and whites use drugs at about the same rates, imprisonment of African Americans for drug charges is about 6 times that of whites.

Those facts speak for systemic racism, they speak for an overhaul of not only our police but the entire criminal justice system.

Colonial Art Thefts

Racism is not only a problem in the US, the restitution of art to former colonies in Africa reminds us it’s been widespread for centuries.  African art and treasures have ended up in European museums for many to visit and enjoy, but the problem is how they got there, through armed pillage, military expeditions, missionary collections or taken without sufficient compensation. Colonial powers had not much respect for the indigenous traditions and cultures they encountered, nevertheless they managed to realize the importance and unique beauty of the art, art which we now know inspired artists such as Picasso and Matissse.  Unlike Western art African art is part and parcel of the culture and of everyday life, masks were not ornamental, for example, but part of important ritual practices. In November 2018 France’s President asked for a report on the restitution of African Art, but since there has been no movement to follow through on the recommendations or to return the art. Both France and the UK, the two major colonial powers in the continent have done little to address the resistance returning these pieces has engendered. It’s a legal issue, a political and cultural one, but it’s also a moral and an ethical one. Part of the problem is that often museums themselves fear that restitution would deplete their collection, which considering they only exhibit a portion of it at a time may not be valid.  Another contributing factor is that African nations do not always have the necessary museums, which they are trying to remedy. Unchanged racist attitudes have made the debate contentious, nevertheless African Art pieces not properly acquired

Talk of Change

Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.

The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.

The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.

Meanwhile the Guardian published a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.

It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources

To Ponder On

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”

Booker T. Washington

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 3
  • May/June
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Remembering Those Who Suffer
  • The Rights of the Terminally Ill
  • The Return of Landmines
  • Shortage of Condoms
  • No Prison Visitations
  • Expiration Dates Are Not What They Are
  • To Ponder On

Remembering Those Who Suffer

In Maduro’s Venezuela one out of every three is malnourished and hungry, among those who may be considered more middle class it’s one in five. In Northern Syria, there are over 900,000 people caught in the war there, and 13 million Syrians have already been displaced. The near one million refugees have no place to go, no one to turn to. It’s been so cold, several children have frozen to death. In Kashmir, the government continues its limited Internet access and other restrictions against the mainly Muslim state, not to speak of the recent riots in New Delhi which is causing many to flee because Muslims are no longer wanted in those areas. In China the  Muslim Uighurs are being put in so called reeducation camps for the slightest action, such as growing a beard. In Yemen war rages, in Libya, anarchy continues, in several countries, refugees keep coming and find no refuge, no let up to their angst and difficulties, no escape from poverty, sometimes no way to survive.  I could go on about the suffering of the world, and yes these are man-made problems, and because they are man-made they are even harder to resolve, because the human imperfections that caused them still exist. There may be very little we can do, but we can remember these lives, learn from their courage, their fortitude, be inspired by how they endure and handle their suffering, be humbled by their strength and bravery and most of all remember them because their problems dwarf ours no matter how serious ours may be.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill

One in 6 hospital patients are now being cared for in a Catholic hospital.  For people who believe in assisted end of life, that has huge consequences. Catholic hospital see assisting end of life as intrinsically evil, and insist their physicians abide by their principles, which means that should a doctor sympathize with a patient as happened between Neil Mahoney and   Dr, Barbara Morris in Colorado, the doctor gets fired.

Eight states currently have assisted dying laws (Oregon, California, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, Maine and New Jersey) and they are being considered in some 20 additional states. That’s a lot of people who wish for a say so as to how they die, when and how much pain they can endure.

I believe in assisted end of life. My own understanding says that to lie in a bed under palliative care sedated to deal with pain impedes and not eases the process of dying. That is not what I want, and neither do I want the principles of another religion to be imposed upon me.  What happened in the case of Neil Mahoney was that without a doctor’s prescription the medication he needed to end his life could not be filled. He eventually did find a pharmacist who believes in dying with dignity and who was able to help him.  But the issue remains, should the religious beliefs of a hospital dictate how I or anyone with another spiritual view should die?

The Return of Landmines

The Trump administration is reviving the use of landmines.  The state department’s cable announcing it said that it would only consider landmines with “technologically advanced safeguards” meaning mines which could self-destruct or mines which can be detonated by remote control. With the exception of Afghanistan in 2002, the US has not used landmines since 1991 and has not produced any since 1997. The treaty banning landmines was signed by 164 nations including all of the US NATO allies. The US however did not sign the treaty wanting to reserve the right to use them in the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless since 1997much progress was made towards destroying the stockpile.  Rob Berschinski who worked on landmine policy in the Obama administration and who is now with Human Rights First says that “…they’re not only massively harmful to civilians after war’s end, but they’re also of very negligible military utility.” Landmine Monitor, an organization which monitors landmines, estimates that between 1999 and 2018 there has been 130,000 casualties, mainly civilians.

This may be another instance of the administration rolling back the policies of its predecessor, but it is also a way to erase progress that was made toward creating a more harmless more humane world.

Shortage of Condoms

It’s easy to say that a shortage of condoms is not a big deal, but as it turns out that’s not quite so.  Malaysia is on lockdown because of the virus, and that’s where the world’s biggest producer of condoms is.  The 3 factories of Karex Bhd have opened up again but are working at only 50% capacity. They produce condoms for many brands including Durex, also for the UK’s NHS as well as for the UN’s Population Fund. When at capacity, they make 100 million condoms a week, so the closures mean a shortage is looming. It will be a while for the factories to come up to capacity and be able to fill the demand. Factories in China, India and Thailand are also on lockdown as of this writing.  For countries like Africa and the many NGOs through which the condoms are distributed, it will not take a week or a month but may take at least several months before the shortage can be made up, thus creating another kind of humanitarian crisis, forcing people to have children before they are able to care for them, or perhaps be unduly contaminated by diseases. And it’s doubtful the issue of unwanted pregnancies and disease contamination will be confined to Africa and is bound to also manifest closer to home.  A shortage of condoms, inconsequential as it first appears ends up demonstrating how the long arms of the coronavirus reach far and wide, showing us once again how interrelated we are, and how what happens in one distant country can affect all.

No Prison Visitations

It’s easy to forget the plight of those who are incarcerated during this coronavirus pandemic. They have no masks, no gloves, some may be given bleach or disinfectant for their cells, many not. There are no provisions that I’ve read about at least to protect neither inmates nor their guards although I’ve read that contamination in such a setting could aggravate the public health crisis. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that given the lack of social isolation inmates are like proverbial sitting ducks. There is though one more consequence, the impact on their families and loved ones. As a precaution to not spread the virus, or to bring it in, face to face contacts and visitations have been stopped nationwide in state and federal prisons. And since prisons do not have the staff and often the inclination to keep families informed about the welfare or whereabouts of inmates, families are now left wondering what’s going on with their loved ones. In some cases it is not virus related, but whether the cancer treatments were continuing, or whether the COPD of another was being addressed. I have found, as numerous others have too, that the well-being of someone we love can be more important than our own, that the pains of someone we love can be harder to bear than ours. And so in this time of difficulties, when my heart goes out to so many groups such as refugees, detainees, homeless and so many others, I include the anguish of those who have a family member incarcerated.

Expiration Dates Are Not What They Are

The US Department of Agriculture calls it Food product dating, we know it as expiration dates on the many foods we buy. Except those dates are not as valid as they appear, most products are good way past the printed date and some years past.  Sugar, honey, vanilla and other extracts, salt, vinegar can last just about forever. Rice and lentils for example are good for years, except for brown rice which is only good for months. Eggs last far longer than their dates and canned goods unless there are rust or bulges on the cans can last years too. The dates are, according to the NYT article I urge you to look at, arbitrarily arrived at, and do not mean the food item is spoiled. As far as I can tell the dates are decided upon by the manufacturer, therefore tend to be on the conservative side. That wouldn’t be surprising since it would encourage greater consumption. In an era when we need to be mindful of how we use resources, this invites unnecessary waste. In fact the notion of expiration dates not representing the end of product usability is not new. A while back I did a piece on medications which also do not have accurate dating.

Expiration dates are so much part of our culture, we don’t give them much thought and assume if it says January 2022 it is January 2022.  This revelation, spurred by the need for many to use what’s in their pantry during being sheltered at home, forces us to think for ourselves, to use our common sense about what is spoiled and what is not.  Let’s call it a silver lining from the pandemic.

To Ponder On

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

Bob Dylan

 

 

 

 

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 2
  • March/April
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Citizenship as Big Business
  • Post Office Privatization
  • Homelessness and Solutions
  • Problem Tech companies
  • Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?
  • Death Row Convictions Errors
  • To Ponder On

Citizenship as Big Business

On the one hand there are now more refugees and stateless persons than ever before. On the other, the selling and buying of citizenship is a $25 billion a year global industry. Citizenship is viewed as an investment, marketed as such by its brokers. Wealthy Chinese who don’t feel safe in China, for example, or people who want to be able to travel freely within Europe or start a business there. More than half of the world’s countries have a program of citizenship through investment. In the US it costs $900,000 invested in a business that would create at least 10 jobs. In the UK it costs at least $2.5 million to buy a citizenship. Other countries are cheaper, although sometimes the cost can be surprising. Bulgaria’s is $560,000 close to that of Spain at $550,000 and the Caribbean islands from $150,000 or even in some cases $100,000. One of the most popular is the citizenship from Vanuatu which is $150,000, a program which is only 4 years old. It raises a lot of money for the tiny country which gained independence in the 1980’s and which can identify with what it means not to have a passport. It can take as little as a month and many of the people who have Vanuatu citizenship, which enables people to travel throughout Europe, have not even visited the tiny country made up of some 80 small islands in the Pacific.

One could say this business is a step, however distorted towards the notion of one world and it may slowly be causing a redefinition of what citizenship is—a point the marketers make.  But regardless of how it is pitched, it is an option that benefits the rich and as such contributes to the inequalities of the world. It is also a business open to corruption. Couldn’t a drug lord buy a US citizenship, and at the very least use it to launder money?  And so the whole issue of the buying and selling of citizenship begs the question. Are the minuses overshadowing the pluses?

Post Office Privatization

If you haven’t taken the time to speak to a mail carrier and find out more about what his or her job entails and what mail delivery calls for, I suggest you do. It can be revelatory, but even more relevant it helps to understand why there is no reason for the post office to be privatized. Due to retirement, the head of the USPS is about to be replaced. The whole board is made up of Trump appointees and the word is he would like to have the post office go private in 2020. Public services such as the post office or garbage collection are called public for a reason. Their main function is to serve the public. As soon as a service is privatized the issue of profits comes to the fore and to guarantee those profits either services have to be curtailed or decreased as has been the case with private prisons, or prices have to increase. Probably in the case of the USPS both will occur. When you consider that the postal services deals with millions of pieces of mail each day, their errors are negligible. It may not feel that way when the piece of mail in question is yours, but consider that percentage in relation to the total amount of mail you receive—a  tenth of a percent? Compare that to the errors you have to deal with every day including those you yourself might be likely to make and the old phrase if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, comes to mind.

What stands in the way of privatization right now are the unions. For all our sakes, let’s wish them well.

Homelessness and Solutions

Homelessness is now well-known as a national problem, one that had been worse in California. As I follow the progress of this issue I rarely read something that to me at least addresses a potential real solution. Mainly because I’ve been wondering who understands the source of the problem, until I read a NYT’s piece on Dr. Margot Kushel, a longtime advocate for the homeless, now director of the Benioff Homelessness Initiative at UCSF which has a $30 million endowment from the billionaire Salesforce founder. She reminds us that we know what works: Housing First, programs where finding housing is the first and fundamental step to being able to help many who are homeless. But she also acknowledges that “We’ve always known that homelessness is a result, pure and simple, of poverty: the lack of a living wage, the lack of affordable housing and the insidious impact of racism. If we don’t fix the fundamentals, we are just patching a leaking ship. And that is what has happened.”

In my neighborhood as in many others new apartment buildings are going up on almost every block, apartments which are by law exempt from rent control and called luxury units partly to justify their high rents with a slew of amenities. These units are touted by many in politics and elsewhere are the answer to homelessness—implying that a shortage of units is what makes rent unaffordable. And yet when one remembers as was the topic of a post not long ago, that 44% of the labor force work at low paying jobs, economic inequality does seem to emerge as an underlying cause of homelessness. As the California legislature is struggling to come up with a new version of recently defeated AB 50 which wanted to supersede local zoning laws to be able to build more apartments such as those in my neighborhood, Dr. Kushel’s views gain added importance. Let her voice be heard.

 

Problem Tech Companies

Slate magazine sent a ballot to a host of people like journalists, scholars or advocates asking them for who they thought were the tech companies they were concerned about. They did not define what was meant by concern or what was meant by tech companies. Then they tallied the results and published a list of what those they asked considered the 30 technology companies they were most concerned about.  Let’s note that the companies were not listed by size or name recognition, but by how much concern those polled experience towards them. As is perhaps expected the top three companies on that list of 30 are Amazon as number one, Facebook as number 2 and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, as number three. Exxon Mobile is number 10, Huawei is 11, Tesla 14 and Disney number 15. But there are surprises too, AirbnBandB as number 24  or Megvii at number 25, a company  working with facial recognition which I for one had not heard of. The popular 23andMe is number 18.  Elon Musk SpaceX is number 17 and Verizon number 16.  Many of the companies are not household names, but as a whole they reflect our general concern for AI, for surveillance, for the loss of privacy, for how big they can be, how pervasive their reach  is or for not being sufficiently interested in climate change. For me, though, the list is a rather good microcosm for companies which may not as a rule concern themselves with the public good.

Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?

A newsletter I receive had a small notice about an article in Fortune magazine which really caught my attention as I hope it will yours. The article which headline included that “America is moving towards a tax increase for the middle class”, was making a case for VAT, and in doing so shared some valuable if scary statistics—because a value added tax it claimed would  raise more money than any other means. According to the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, federal spending will jump from $4.45 billion in 2019 to $7,375 billion in 2029. Although revenues are projected to grow, expenses are projected to outgrow the revenues collected from taxes. This means that the federal deficit which was $984 billion last year will grow to $2.156 trillion in 2029.  The US would be borrowing 25 cents for every dollar it spends. The federal debt would rise to $29.6 trillion or 104% of national income when last year it was 79%. The gap between revenues and expenditures would be so wide that taxing the rich alone would not suffice. In this article the author claims only a VAT might help, a tax which would begin at the manufacturing level, make prices rise and be hard on most wage earners. It’s a tax some in Washington may be led to consider but it need not be the only solution.

The CBO’s numbers are sobering, distressing and frightening, at a time when no presidential candidate is addressing the issues they speak to and when another round of tax cut is possible.  Yet we need not be experts to realize this looming fiscal quagmire (the author’s words) needs to be at the very least acknowledged. Policy makers’ silence and ignorance need not be ours.

Death Row Convictions Errors

Since 1973 there have been 167 death row inmates who were exonerated, mainly through the efforts of the ACLU and the work of the Innocence Project.  It begs the question of how many others there have been or exist who are innocent and not aggressively defended. The renewed interest is due to the case of Ledell Lee who was actually executed in Arkansas in 2017. Arkansas was about to run out of one of the drugs used to execute prisoners and executed 8 people in11 days, Ledell Lee being one. Now evidence exists and is mounting that he was innocent. In Texas, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham became famous after his 2004 execution and subsequent evidence that he had been innocent. Executing an innocent man has to be one of the ugliest truth about our criminal justice system and  the fact there can no longer be certainty that a convicted man on death row is guilty puts our criminal justice system on trial. Those who were or are innocent were convicted in a court of law where investigators, police, attorneys, juries and judges all agreed they were guilty. And further someone like Ledell Lee was failed by appeals, pleas for clemency, or whatever means someone may have tried to help him. Since these institutions acted out in the name of the public, therefore indirectly in our name, shouldn’t we ask if we are complicit no matter how oblique or opaque that complicity may be? And if that’s so then we each must also ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?

To Ponder On

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

B.F. Skinner

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 1
  • January/February 2020
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • 44% Have Low Paying Jobs
  • Water and The Navajo Nation
  • A Money Laundering Route
  • School Surveillance
  • The Gender of Trans People
  • Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez
  • To Ponder On

44% Have Low Paying Jobs

The Brookings Institution has a report that plainly says that 44% of the US labor force is low-wage earners. That is 53 million Americans 18-64 whose median wage (the point where as many fall below as are higher) is $10.22 an hour or an annual salary of $17.950. These are staggering statistics. I originally put the article away and yet was so struck by it, the numbers kept coming back. What haunts are the consequences. According to the report there is little chance of these workers being able to go into higher paying jobs. We say we have as near full employment as we’ve had in the last 5 decades, but what does it mean when almost half  the workforce can’t earn enough and can’t have access to upward mobility? These statistics open so many questions in a consumer driven economy. Since a recession is part of our future, won’t these workers be the first to bear the brunt? We speak of how politically divided we are. And that may be, but there are other divisions that are far more immediate to the wellbeing of citizens, economic equality for one. On a practical level, it’s not or ought not to be, difficult to imagine the hardships of living with so little money. When you’re struggling to that extent, it would seem that voting or participation in politics is not likely to be among your priorities.  Are these workers part of the growing number of working homeless, often families? And too what about the children? What kind of neighborhoods are they living in, what kind of schools? What does it mean for their future and the future of the nation? Perhaps even more to the point where’s the outrage when nearly half of our working force are low wage earners?

Water and The Navajo Nation

A 58 out of every 1000 Native Americans households lack plumbing. For whites the numbers are 3 out of every 1000 households. That means no running water, no going to the tap or flushing the toilet as most of us take for granted.  Two organizations, Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance, recently issued a new report showing that some 2 million Americans lack these basic amenities and that Native Americans are more likely to be without than are any other group. Take someone like Darlene Yazze. She has to drive 9 miles to the community house of the little town of Dennehotso near the Four Corner Region of the Navajo Nation to get her water. She uses a large key which she has to plunge in the basin containing the water, turn it so that it opens the valve so that the water can run into her container. The water is not free and she was told the price is now going up. That is for drinking water only. To water her animals she needs to go to a windmill 5 miles away. There is no water there for the present which may or may not be a good thing because that water is contaminated by arsenic and uranium stemming from the nearby uranium mines. Even though they use it for animals although they will probably eventually eat those animals. The result is a much higher rate of cancer—in a region where healthcare availability is sparse.

While the report and the interest of the authoring organizations offer some hope, the problem is far from being resolved. It is estimated that it would cost about $200 million to provide water access and sanitation across the Navajo Nation. Somewhere within the increasing number of billionaires in the US, one could perhaps, or even ought to, come forward and give the needed $200 million.

Running water, water, drinking water Navajo nation public heath Native Americans

A Money Laundering Route

The route drug money travels in order to gain legitimacy is long and complex. A short BBC video illustrates it based on a 2017 case which convicted several people in a $250 million international money laundering operation, one where the architect of the scheme is still at large however. The cash originated from drug sales in Britain. A Moroccan money launderer picked it up and made contact with a money mule in Paris. The cash was then transported in the mule’s ambulance trucks and given to a money counter who neatly sorted it into piles of $1000. It was then picked up by middle aged women who drove to Antwerp in Belgium with the money. In Antwerp a black market gold dealer exchanged the money for gold, and apparently bought it back even giving fake receipts so all would look legitimate when taken out of the country. But that is not yet the end, then someone took a flight from Belgium to Amsterdam, and with almost clean money they flew to Dubai, to the gold market there, one of renown throughout the world. They bought gold which could then be sold and the cash deposited in regular bank accounts. All that making the cash’s origins untraceable to the drug dealers in Britain!  The effort, the hours, the people and no doubt the lives it took to piece this puzzle together begs our respect. The route laundering money from US drug sales must indeed be no less circuitous. The UN estimates that yearly $800 billion to $2 trillion are laundered. Maybe we’re outside this vast illicit matrix but knowing more about how money laundering works is nevertheless important.

School Surveillance

Surveillance systems in schools are a $3 billion dollar industry. Several security companies now offer their services in several states. Basically they monitor, mainly via a number of algorithms, students’ emails not only those written at school but also those written from home. Google searches are also monitored. Although the official word is monitor, the word track seems more apt. The algorithms look for certain key phrases which could, they say, alert them to danger. The rationale for all this, which began after the Sandy Hook massacre, is to save lives. The companies can share dramatic examples of how suicidal thoughts were uncovered, or an instance of when within minutes after 2 boys were overheard going to the bathroom to smoke spot in secret, they were stopped.  Since there are no gun control laws, schools feel the need to engage in whatever they can to protect their students. Many schools now have police officers on their campus, sometimes with dire results. And while the algorithms alert people, the possibility for taking phrases out of context exists and is a real drawback.

Surveillance is now a fact of life, and it is time we define where and how it is appropriate and demand the implementation of those limits. While some parents have welcomed the monitoring of their children’s emails and have asked for the results, there is something very scary about monitoring the emails of minors who have no say so and do it because we as a society are not able to pass gun control legislation.

The Gender of Trans People

There’s a small community who are promoting what they call gender creative or gender expansive, that is looking at gender beyond male or female. They are mainly transgender people who have children and want more gender latitude for them than the one they have had. They are raising their children without reference to gender, even referring to them as they instead of him or her. They want to continue doing this until the children are old enough to choose for themselves what gender they are.  But the issue does not stop there. One set of parents needed a social security card and on the application form put dashes where the child’s gender would have been. The social security office could not accept that and arbitrarily assigned male as a gender.

I understand the discrimination against transgender people. I understand that we tend to deny their existence and deprive them of the identity that should be rightfully theirs. In this case, I wonder if they are going about it the right way? Statistically the chances of the children being transgender are low. Is their idea as well thought out as they would like it to be or as it ought to be? In that their endeavor can teach something to all of us who might want to create change. Meanwhile what about the children who grow up trying to figure out their sense of self separate from that of their parents when they are being brought up in such a manner? How will they fare in school when they interact with boys and girls? How will they react to movies and games, on play-dates, instances where gender is part of what they will encounter? Will there be a psychological price for being brought up like this? We live in a world where new ethical dilemmas arise with increasing frequency. In this case, I keep asking myself wouldn’t the parents’ efforts be more worthwhile if they worked towards greater acceptance and understanding of transgender people? I surmise that in the end, they may not succeed in adding a gender, but may create more acceptance in the process. Still what about the children?

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

Dear Carlos. There’s unfairness and tragedy in the way you died, at 16 in a holding cell at a border patrol station in Weslaco, alone since family separation policies took you from the older sister you came to the US with. You’re the sixth minor to die in custody. Like them you shouldn’t have died. You had the flu and your fever reached 103 and yet instead of sending you to emergency they put you in a cell with another sick boy so you wouldn’t contaminate others. The guards were supposed to check on you per the orders of the nurse practitioner who had seen you but didn’t. There are a lot of irregularities that have and will continue to surface as a result of your death. Already border patrol agents have been ordered not to rely on video to check on someone who is sick, but need to go in and see for themselves and take their temperature. You wanted to come to the US to be with your older brother who is here and works in construction. You didn’t make it, you didn’t get to see the joyful side of life, you didn’t get to experience love except from your family. But you accomplished a lot you didn’t expect to accomplish. ProPublica wrote a long article about you and through it hopefully through other such articles and the press it generated you are becoming an example and a symbol of how we treat minors at the border, and because of that, maybe things will change more than just ordering agents go into cells to check on those who are ailing. On behalf of all those who will end up benefiting from your short life, I want to thank you. I am sure that doesn’t make up for the loss you are to your parents and siblings, but even they would feel gratified by what amounts to a sacrificial life. Your death contributes to putting our system of treating migrants and refugees to shame, and that’s why to me at least it was not in vain.

To Ponder On

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do Justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The Talmud

 

 

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXIV
  • No. 6
  • November/December
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Blood Crystals
  • Hope On Death Row
  • Slave Labor and Supply Chains
  • Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss
  • A Belief in Government
  • Piketty Redux: Property and Social Justice
  • To Ponder On

Blood Crystals

Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian  shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.

Hope on Death Row

A friend  began corresponding with a death row inmate in Alabama and shared the he belonged to an organization called Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty.  I was intrigued by the organization’s title and was not familiar with it, so I googled them. They are a group began in 1989 founded and run by death row inmates. They even publish Wings of Hope, which circulates among death row, the prison and links them also with the outside world.  Given the restrictions in any penal institution and particularly on death row, running an organization and publishing a bulletin is nothing short of impressive.

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is linked to the Equal Justice Initiative, a group led by activist Bryan Stevenson, and to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which inspires the creation of similar organizations in other states such as Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina.

These men, and women, on death row whom we think of as the worst of the worst,  whether or not one believes in the death penalty and I am strongly opposed, are fallible like all of us, but they are also capable of not only hope despite their seemingly hopeless circumstances but also of fighting to do something worthwhile. Their spirit soars beyond prison bars reminding us that they—as all of us—are certainly more that their worst deed.

Slave Labor and Supply Chains

Something The UN describes modern slavery as the condition of people whose work “is performed involuntarily and under the menace of penalty.”  Modern slaves can be forced to work through threats of violence, through withholding of identification, through threats to family members, and also through subtler means like financial pressure or limiting movements. All told according to a recent report by the Walk Free Initiative, in 2018 there were 40.3 million people living in these conditions, mainly women. When Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, as the last stronghold it made slavery illegal throughout the world.  One problem is how difficult it is to track down the offenses. It is part of countries with shady human rights certainly, but it is everywhere, including the US. Of these 40 plus million there are at least 16 who are part of the supply chain, meaning the people who work on the things we buy. Even if slave conditions are outlawed within manufacturing, it is difficult to enforce, to make sure products are entirely made by slave free labor. The fashion and the tech industries are two of the worst culprits. With fashion for example, we want cheap clothes, and cheap clothes can only come with cheap labor.  Some businesses are onboard, yet because products can have many parts which come from many different countries it is often difficult to know if slave working conditions were involved. Another aspect of the tragedy is that so many of those who are forced to work and/or live under these conditions are not aware they are being exploited. There are no easy answers, but one hope lies in education: Educating people about their rights, and promoting human rights education among vulnerable populations such as those of migrant workers or those likely to be in underage marriages.

If and when we can, let’s contribute to that education.

Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss

The Guardian The number of Americans who are sick is greater than those who are healthy. More than 100 million adults have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. 122 million have cardiovascular disease (2300 deaths each day) and 3 out of 4 adults are overweight or obese. This of course comes with corresponding costs. For example cardio vascular disease cost $351 billion a year in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, diabetes costs $327 billion while the overall cost of obesity is said to be $1.72 trillion (yes with a t). Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and  Dan Glickman former US Secretary of Agriculture argued in a NYT Op-Ed that better nutrition is the answer, that what we eat –or don’t—is largely responsible for the large proportion of Americans being sick and correspondingly for a large proportion of health care costs. They talk about how little our culture pays attention to nutrition and suggest remedies. One suggestion is a program of medically tailored meals for the sickest patients. This alone could save $9000 per patient per year.  Also such an approach of better focus on food and nutrition could be sustainable and environment friendly.

Weight loss consumes so much of our time, energy and resources, why not switch our focus to health. Why not place our attention, our very time, energy and resources, on healthy eating instead. Weight loss affects our appearance, and healthy eating is more substantive. Somehow I can’t help wonder if that switch wouldn’t help us in other ways, perhaps move away from the superficiality of our culture and towards its more meaningful aspects. If we did, if we could, just think of the benefits— to our health, well being, sense of joy and purpose, not to speak of how a focus on health instead of weight would work towards a society with better health care delivery. And should we ever get past the

A Belief In Government

For decades now, mainly since Ronald Reagan declared that government was the problem, trust in government and public institutions has declined.  Currently 21% of Republicans or Republican leaning independents feel they can trust the government while 14% of Democrats do.  And sadly in a partisan era more Democrats than Republicans trusted government during the Obama administration. The labels attached to each party’s underlying philosophy, for example that Democrats see government as an answer to social problems, obviously contribute to the partisanship behind trust in government. That’s why what’s going on in California is certainly worth notice. The state government is using its power to compensate, make up for, offset or contradict the laws and actions of the current administration. We’ve heard about the law making Uber and Lyft drivers employees instead of contractors, and also of a statewide rent control law meant to protect tenants against the kind of rent increases that could render them homeless. There is also a law not yet signed by the governor making medical abortions (that is the 2 pills combo) available to those who want or need it on all state universities. Chris Lehane, a former political advisor to Bill Clinton, calls this a renaissance in the belief in government. The administration is of course trying to challenge California’s resistance. But the trend may well go beyond their failure or victor, the idea that government can pass constructive laws to better the lives of its citizens may be positioned to make a comeback, suggesting we revisit the idea that government is the problem as well as the role of government in general.

Piketty Redux: Property and Social Justice

It’s In case Readers of these pieces will be familiar with Thomas Piketty the French economist who a few years ago wrote Capital in the Twenty First Century and whose impact is reflected in our emphasis upon inequality. He has now written a kind of sequel Capital and Ideology which some say will do for politics what the Capital book did for economics. The 1200 page book which was just published in France will be available in English next March but Piketty has already given interviews and spoken of his new ideas. He says he wanted to redress what he perceived as a weakness in Capital where he only dealt with the West. In this one he deals with the whole world.  In the first part of the book he makes clear how the idea of property including slave ownership had political and ideological ramifications. The second part addresses recipes for how he sees the problems that lay behind the inequalities we have today. Some are quite radical, he asks for example that we give up on the idea of property as being essentially sacred, an idea upon which capitalism and modern economies are built. He also suggests that wealth could be borrowed, in other words we could own it temporarily for certain periods of time. He also suggests that all young people be given an inheritance before they start their adult life not after, in certain ways hoping to level the playing field. One headline I saw said Piketty wanted to do away with billionaires leading me to believe that in today’s US some of these ideas are already talked about. Whether they’re radical or not, whether they can actually be implemented or not may not be the crux of this book’s importance. It may be that like the other one it forces us to grapple with issues crucial to social justice.

To Ponder On

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world”

Harriet Tubman

 

A Larger View

A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXIV
  • No. 5
  • September/October 2019
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Finishing the Agenda of Civil Rights
  • Bhutan's Secret: Thinking About Death
  • Ankle Bracelets Monitoring
  • Abortion and the Language We Use
  • Dropped Wallets and the Good Within People
  • Abolitionists and the Prison System
  • To Ponder On

Finishing The Agenda of Civil Rights

Given the overt and implied racism of the recent onslaught of tweets and accusations from Trump and his devotees and given the ones that are still to come, we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity. I shun politics in these pieces, but this is not about politics, it is about values. We have it seems, made the next election a referendum on Trump.  But in this case it is not nor should it be about him. It is about the values he represents, values that have vibrated with many who felt overrun by people of color and by the presence of religions other than Christianity.  This is not about ideologies, it is not about the rationalizations some may give, it is not about the arguments the more articulate on each side come up with. It is about the unfinished agenda of the civil rights movements. It is about racism and immigration.  It is about all those, who are not yet able to put an individual’s humanity ahead of color, religion, sexual orientation or country of origin. It is about what does and will make us into better human beings, what will help us grow, reach out, serve others as individuals and as a nation. Those who seek entry into the US illegally seek conditions other than poverty or death. Is seeking survival or increasing your safety really a choice? It’s not a question of open borders. There are alternatives. But it is a moral question. To those who are so critical of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, I say, what kind of a choice is it when you have no choice but to leave all that you know?  I am an immigrant. I know what leaving everything behind feels like. Way back all those years ago that is why people like our family sought to immigrate to the US. Then the US stood for the kind of country that helped people, the kind of country that was inclusive and accepting of diversity (even if at times reluctantly), the kind of country one wanted to be part of. Those are values worth standing up for and our voices must be loud and clear. By whatever means we choose, whatever means are available, let us march, write letters, speak to friends as well as foes, protest peacefully, post useful information, repost important thoughts… Even more important let us vote and make sure everyone we know does as well—because we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity.

Bhutan’s Secret: Thinking About Death

We may not know that the capital of Bhutan the small Himalayan country is Thimphu but we more than likely know that it values and prizes happiness.  Strange as it may be to our Western values, their secret, or at least part of it, is thinking about death.  Most Bhutanese think about it 5 times a day. A while back I ran across  an article by a travel writer for the BBC, Eric Weiner writing about all this. I somehow put it aside and  only re discovered it  a bit ago. The message is still fresh and certainly necessary so I am sharing it  now. Weiner went to talk to a sage while visiting Bhutan. Uncharacteristically for him he  writes, he confided his problems to him. The sage told him to think about death once a day. He did, and the advice worked.  In his piece for the BBC Weiner cites recent studies in the US, one from the journal Psychological Science, which reports on the positive effects of taking the advice of thinking about death.

Western society and the American culture in particular, shun notions of death. And what is important about this study and about the case of Bhutan is that we do so at our own loss.  Despite a predominantly Christian culture, a culture that stands for its message of life eternal, we think of death as an end rather than a step, a bridge, a chapter.  It’s not that we are focused on living, it’s the way we prioritize our efforts to live, the way we ignore death, see our life in the world as an end in itself rather than part of something larger. Several years ago I was at a dinner party and the discussion turned to what would we do if we had a year to live. Somehow ever since, I’ve incorporated the idea of dying into much of my thinking, perhaps not daily, but often enough and I’ve discovered that it guides my actions in rewarding and unexpected ways. I wish you the same.

Ankle Bracelets Monitoring

Something about profiting from the vulnerable is unconscionable which is why I wanted to bring attention to one of the ways our society practices it. For a host of reasons people caught in the criminal justice system are being asked to wear ankle bracelets. Often these keep them from being in jail while awaiting trial. Of course sometimes people are innocent but need a trial to prove it. There is a catch.  In St Louis, the city ProPublica investigated, EMASS (Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing Services) the company that operates these ankle bracelets is a private company which charges $10 a day and the bill must be paid in full before the ankle bracelet is removed. As can be imagined this can be tough for many. And while being in jail is technically the alternative, aside from the hardship of life in prison, for some that would mean a loss of a job. As we know young Black men are disproportionately caught in this system and that bill or debt can make it even harder for them to bring some kind of normalcy to their lives.

Like private prisons, these companies work to sustain and enlarge their bottom line.  Profit ought not to be part of the justice system. And while that may not be the current trend, it remains what is necessary.

Abortion And The Language We Use

The Guardian newspaper recently made a style guide change in relation to how it is and will cover stories about abortion. This was in response to several anti-abortion bills which were either introduced or passed recently and which were called “heartbeat bills”.   Fetal development is seen as a continuum and the president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said that “What’s interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops.”  The Guardian wants to only use terms that can be medically defensible, so they will use the phrase “6-week abortion ban” instead of “fetal heartbeat bill”. Similarly for clarity they will use “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life.” We may remember when those opposing third trimester abortion called it “partial birth abortion”. Some and many articles call it late term abortion, but that too is not technically a medical term.

We too must be careful about our language when we speak about abortion. We too ought to adhere to terminology and phrases which are medically sound and clear,  avoid language which The Guardian says is motivated by politics and not science.

Dropped Wallets And The Good Within People

I first saw the story in the NYT and then on NPR and The Verge and other publications. I am sure you saw or heard it somewhere because it was one of these stories the media feels it has to cover. Originally published in the journal Science it dealt with an experiment that over 200 economists thought would go contrary than it did, would not reveal people’s capacity for honesty. Some 17000 wallets usually with money in them were dropped in places like banks and post offices in over 40 countries by people posing as tourists. What they found is that people did try to return the wallets, in much larger percentages than imagined. The name and email of the purported owners were included and efforts were obviously made to contact the owners.  To note was that the names were changed according to the country. What’s more the greater the amount of money in the wallet the more likely the wallets were returned.

We have come to have a negative, if not cynical view of human nature, which of course can at least in part be substantiated by the amount of violence, greed, cruelty and meanness in the world.  But to someone like me, someone thoroughly steeped in the existence and potential for good of our inner transcendent self, this finding only confirms what I’ve long known.  I as so many have witnessed the manifestations of this good, this part of us that goes by many names, including spirit or Maslow’s instinctual positive core.

It’s time we change our view of human nature, not with naiveté but with the knowledge that given certain circumstances, the good does prevail.

Abolitionists And The Prison System

It’s In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new kind of abolitionists. They want to abolish prisons and those aspects of the government that make prisons possible including having police departments. Of course all abolitionists are not alike and some have more rigid expectations while others seem to have more realizable goals. And neither is it a recent phenomenon. It may date back to the 60’s with the ideas of Angela Davis and with the work of trail blazers like Ruth Wilson Gilmore. What gave this movement flight however was CNN host Van Jones suggesting several years ago that the prison population should be cut by half. Then he was criticized but things have sufficiently changed he is now hailed. What is new is that many committed to reform the criminal justice system have endorsed some of the abolitionists’ ideas. Closing Riker’s Island prison in New York City for example was once thought ridiculous, but it no longer is. Besides incarceration, probation is also being looked at including the possible use of ATM-like machines through which people could check in without having to report to a probation officer. Other ideas that seem to have traction are what crimes should be prosecuted as well as the seeking of out of court remedies. Still another idea filtering through to a more general acceptance is that the system as it is creates harm seriously mitigating whatever public safety it yields. Those who work toward criminal justice reform from within the system can be frustrated by die-hard abolitionists who would want to not only abolish the whole structure but redirect the monies spent on it.  But an outsider like me can be indebted to both for instigating long overdue reforms and looking to continue reforming a system that is no longer serving the society, and much less the human beings caught within it.

To Ponder On

“Everything you love is very likely to be lost, but in the end, love will return in a different way.”

Franz Kafka