Library fines are an institution, no less than is like going to the library, borrowing a book, having it stamped and remembering when it’s due. But times change and institutions like libraries must change with them. Right now one of the issues with libraries is whether or not they can be fine-free. The main obstacle is budget. Libraries are funded in different ways, and for some fines have been a source of revenue. While it would affect some libraries, it turns out that for most the revenue from fines is not that big, sometimes less than one percent. But libraries are changing in other ways too, many like me now borrow e-books with just a few clicks, and e-books time out on their own, just disappearing from a borrower’s device, so fines cease to be an issue. One of the main reasons to go fine-free is access and the groups who suffer as a result of fines. One of the main groups affected is children—presumably because of their parents and the rides they have to rely on. Another group much affected by fines are people in minorities areas. Fines sometimes make it harder not only for minorities to use libraries but also for people in rural areas, areas with fewer libraries and greater distances. What I found interesting is that doing away with fines does not generally adversely affect the number of people who borrow books. In these days when libraries are more than they used to be (besides e-books, they sometimes feed those in need, offer wi-fi and allow homeless in) days when we speak of racial justice and greater equality, fine-free libraries, it does seem, do have a small role to play
The European Commission is presenting a set of rules that rightly applied are meant to make the movement called “the Right To Repair” come alive. As we all know there tends to be a built-in obsolescence to the electronics and other products we buy. These rules are meant to combat this by making products easier to repair. So often glue is used when screws could make the repair doable. We all have the experience of problems with printers, computers, phones, and the like and it is cheaper to buy a new one rather than have the old fixed. But so much waste is not good for the environment nor for the use of the earth’s resources. The European Commission is mainly concerned with the European Union, but manufacturers will not be making products for the EU alone, so despite Brexit the regulations will have to also apply to products bought in the UK. Indeed the BBC reports many repair workshops springing up in several UK cities. While the repair movement may not be as visible in the US, it is gaining momentum since the same logic applies, manufacturers will not be making one product for the EU and one for the US. The regulations go further than certain guidelines for manufacturing products, they include packaging in a more environmentally friendly way and in one that can also eliminate waste. And to all this we can all say Yeah!!
Being a displaced person must be a bit easier than being stateless but is nevertheless one of the most difficult positions in the world to be in. If they’re lucky displaced persons end up in camps, themselves difficult places to be. Now the government of Iraq has ordered several camps to close which means some 100,000 displaced persons will now also be homeless. Winter being near and coronavirus make the situation even worse. At least a million people were displaced when the Islamic State lost control of its Iraqi territories some 3 years ago. These are the people who ended up in the camps now being closed. They’re expected to return to their former homes whether or not they want to or those homes still exist. In addition, some may be penalized for having a family member suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State or having a name similar to one who is on the Islamic State members list. Some refugee organizations have objected to the camps’ closing but the Iraqi government has not responded. And what makes this story even more notable is how little coverage it has received.
Two new books have recently come out about the difficulties endured by displaced persons after WWII, including those who were rescued from concentration camps, in finding a country that would have them. Then it was mainly Jews. Now it is mainly Moslems whether in the Middle East or the Uighurs in China, the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Add too the recent fleeing of some 200,000 Ethiopians to nearby Sudan. But no matter where it happens, the story is the same, unwanted people being driven out or needing to flee because of politics and religion. Even the countries willing to accept some displaced persons only accept very few. In the post war case, many ended up in the then Palestine, fighting for what became the state of Israel. There is no Palestine equivalent today, which does not lessen the problem and certainly not the moral issue underlying it. It’s time we begin asking, what do we—as members of humanity—owe displaced persons?
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.