Voting In San Quentin

Juan Haines and Kevin Sawyer are both incarcerated journalists who wrote for The Guardian about a simulated election at San Quentin prison in California. In cooperation with Solitary Watch, a non-profit which aims at documenting and advocating against solitary confinement, they helped with this mock election. Solitary Watch sent 1600  ballots to the prison by Express mail. But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CDCR, never delivered them. So they improvised and some 150 ballots were handmade and passed out and later 170 more were smuggled in with the explanation that since CDCR had not delivered the sent ballots, they had to improvise. Although there were some votes for Trump, Biden won. The ballots had a place for them to say why they were voting and why they voted for their candidate. What comes across, which is why I wanted to write about this, is that inmates are no different from ordinary people. They want to vote, want a voice in their elected officials, want to be good citizens, wan to participate.  “ I want to be heard” one man wrote on the back of his makeshift ballot. Another wrote, “I’d like to feel like a citizen; feel like I am important too”. In California as in many other states people in prison and on parole  cannot vote and they are still disenfranchised when they finish their sentence. The U.S. has the largest proportion of its citizens in prison, and as a whole the prison population is greater than just about any American city. Of course as the authors noted, they didn’t have to worry  about violence at the polls or even social distancing, but still they were very aware that their vote would not count. Most inmates will eventually be released and be part of the society. I’m among those who believe allowing them to vote would help create a sense of belonging, of engagement with their communities and we would all benefit.

Digital Ads That Spy On You

Digital ads on billboard that you may encounter as you drive can now spy on those who look at them. It’s not called this, it’s referred to as a radar, but spying is in essence what it is.  It has to do with the technology that tracks your phone. You are driving and you look at an ad, and they know much about you through the data they collect. I don’t understand all of it, so I can’t tell you how they do that, but it is now possible.  It is based and focused on the signals which are emitted from our devices, or I suppose whatever electronic systems such as GPS are in our cars. The problem, and to me and certain privacy advocates it certainly is a problem, is what is being done with the data that is collected. It’s all sort of new, and it’s all opaque. And I am not sure that time will necessarily add to transparency. Clear Channel Outdoor has been using this technology in the US including Los Angeles for the last four years, and is now ready to use it in Europe. What I thought was important was that the article describing its US usage added the word, quietly when describing their practices. The problem is that private companies, the names of which are not all known, are using the information for their own profits and purposes. The technology is the same as that used in surveillance and privacy experts are concerned that a commercial surveillance network is being built and given that so many companies are involved, it makes the practice even scarier. Of course Clear Channel says this is to help advertisers better understand consumer behavior and advertising campaign effectiveness.

Whatever reasons all the business concerns may give, it is difficult to see how advertising that utilizes surveillance technology can be benign to consumers. I don’t know if consumers can manage to stop the practice, but I know that it is something we need to know more about.

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.

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.