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.
The world’s billionaires’ fortunes has now reached $10.2 trillion. That comes from a report by UBS, a Swiss bank which found that their wealth has increased by 27.5% during the height of the pandemic crisis from April to July 2020. This growth occurred while millions were losing jobs, income, health coverage, and were struggling to get by. I had previously written about the increase in the number of billionaires, this is far more revealing, the growth of their wealth as a result of the pandemic—not only because they were able to ride the storm created by the virus but also because they were able to gain from its downside. Jeff Bezos as most already know is a prime example. Why this is so important is so well expressed by Luke Hilyard, executive director of the High Pay Center a think tank that like its name focuses on undue and disproportionate pay: “…extreme wealth is an ugly phenomenon from a moral perspective, but it’s also economically and socially destructive.”
“Billionaire wealth equals to a fortune almost impossible to spend over multiple lifetimes of absolute luxury. Anyone accumulating riches on this scale could easily afford to raise the pay of the employees who generate their wealth, or contribute a great deal more in taxes to support vital public services, while remaining very well rewarded for whatever successes they’ve achieved.”
“The findings from the UBS report showing that the super-rich are getting even richer are a sign that capitalism isn’t working as it should.”
This is not without consequences. Josef Stradler the head of the UBS office which deals with the world’s richest people, admits that these facts could lead to public and political anger. He further admits that the wealthy themselves are aware of it and in the past had warned that the inequality between rich and poor could lead to what he called a “strike-back”. He further explains that “We are at an inflection point. Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest- that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” It’s a question many are already asking.
Civvl is a startup for evictions. As a result of Covid many are behind on their rent and despite eviction moratoriums, some landlords are opting to evict their tenants, or may in future when the moratoriums are lifted. Violating these moratoriums can result in jail time and fines. When asked how they kept these evictions legal, Civvl did not answer. Meanwhile some property owners avail themselves of the option to call on a team of gig workers as process servers and eviction agents to evict their tenants, including people who will move out furniture. They’re called the Uber of evictions. And Civvl is not the only one, OnQuall does something similar. They say that at a time of high unemployment they provide jobs, even if it’s a gig. One such worker who needed the money to pay his own rent was seen crying as he moved out furniture of someone being thus evicted. Legally people are free to engage in such businesses, and should be. But if you believe as I do that a society needs to provide a moral compass, needs to provide a framework for more harmlessness, then like me you will have difficulty with these kind of businesses, and even more when these businesses look to be skirting the law. Making money out of someone’s suffering is wrong. Enabling someone to hurt another is wrong. Yes, landlords have the right to their rents, but they are not without remedies. They can, for example, through their property owners groups lobby local state and federal government for subsidies or other kinds of aids. In all cases, less rent will mean less income and will therefore be reflected in the amount of income tax they will have to pay. Few are the landlords who will be homeless as a result, which is not the case for some of those evicted. Of course landlords do have the option in some instances to simply do a good deed.
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.