Abolitionists and the Prison System

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.

Antibiotics, Rivers and PFAs

There’s a new warning about PFAs, the group of more than 4700 chemicals used for industrial and food production and known to be harmful to health including cancer. In nearly half the meat and fish tested levels could be as high as twice the recommended levels, and therefore dangerous. They were also found in extremely high levels in items such as chocolate cake. PFAs are used in things like non-stick cookware, packaging, Styrofoam and their wide use means that they are now in the blood of just about all Americans and responsible for  contaminating the drinking water of at least 16 million people.

In another study, this one global, studying the rivers of the world, high levels of antibiotics were found. In every continent, the rivers tested exceed the levels safe for humans.  Rivers affect soil, their waters leak affecting things like sewage treatment plants which directly or indirectly affect humans. This at a time when there is already a crisis about antibiotics resistance, something that can have wide repercussions in the treatment of many illnesses. And further such high antibiotic levels in rivers such as the Thames and the Danube, affect all the organisms and creatures living within them.

It’s a distressing, troubling picture in an era when the current US  administration is not addressing these issues and developing countries do not have the technological and financial means to undertake measures such as the removal the antibiotics from their rivers. But because knowledge is still power, an issue of this magnitude must come to the foreground and we must each do what we can.

Migration, Governance and the Future

A Stanford University study from the Hoover institution underlines some startling facts about migration in the past and more importantly for the future*. Migrants have fled poverty and conflicts and are slated to continue to do so. The point which we can all anticipate is that not only is it a situation that has greatly affected the politics of both Europe and the US it is also one that will not change and possibly worsen.

Whether it is in Syria, Guatemala or Honduras, climate change driven drought set up a series of events. They led to poverty, to social uprisings and political upheavals, to migration which in turn led to border crises, unrest and issues such as those we are seeing at the southern border. Besides climate change and its way of creating or worsening events, a population explosion is foreseen in several parts of the world, stressing water shortages and urban resources.  When added to a growing proportion of young people who can’t either have an education or find work the result is seen to be more migration, more people escaping poverty, more political unrest. And the conflicts that are foreseen are not only within the countries that are and will be affected but also among several countries as we see now between Mexico and the US.

The authors of the report emphasize that this scenario is not inevitable if both rich and poor countries practice good governance. If the countries involved invest in education and job creation and if the rich countries facilitate a more prosperous future for them, people will want to stay home instead of becoming migrants.

The point that is made, one that to me is crucial, is the report’s  recommendation that it is in the interest of rich countries to help poorer ones to avoid all these consequences. Because then both sides will benefit.

*From the May 17th issue of Signal, the newsletter of GZERO Media

Diversity 25 Years From Now

Twenty five years from now the US will look different. It will be darker and older. Those we now call minorities will be the majority by 2045. There will be more immigrants than ever before in the country, and since there will be more people over 65 than children, they will have to help carry the economic burden of so many on social security—assuming it is still viable. The census projections that give us these numbers remind us that although the white non college educated evangelical men who help elect Donald Trump will be a minority, that will not mean that racial tensions will disappear.  Christians will also cease to be a majority. There will be more Muslims than Jews, and about a fourth of the population will call themselves non-affiliated with any religious tradition.

So much behind Trump’s election and its aftermath, about the loyalty of his base seems to me at least, a backlash against race, against having had 8 years of a black president whose Muslim parentage was not understood. And now sheer demographics and sheer facts make the very people Trump and his supporters are  and were trying to avoid  on their way to be the controlling majority.