The chancellor of the University of California San Francisco was concerned about getting masks and supplies for the university’s hospital, all his sources had dried up. So he called Mark Benioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce who had previously donated $100 million to the hospital. Marc Benioff, then called upon the people he knew, and the NYT story details how what he did created a chain reaction of other wealthy people willing to contribute. He called someone at Alibaba in China, and as he continued in his search for masks, PPEs and the like he ended up enlisting the help of people at Fed-Ex, Walmart, Apple, other Silicon Valley moguls like Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who pledged $1 billion and even Bono. Along the way they met obstacles and solved them so that they ended up with all the masks and protective equipment needed for the hospital. In fact, they ended up with more than they needed and New York benefited and now other hospitals are benefiting too.
It’s a great story in many ways and yet it does seem it is something federal agencies and/or members of the coronavirus taskforce could have done and done on an even larger scale. But more than that, Mr. Benioff for all his largesse did not take the initiative, he responded when called, which granted is commendable. Then there are the other billionaires, whose behavior in responding to Mr. Benioff is also commendable, but still who did not act on their own. And while the story makes us feel good, I am nevertheless left thinking of all the billionaires who not only did not personally initiate a response to this crisis, but who still have to participate—despite the fact that many of them have increased their wealth as a result of the pandemic.
I didn’t dare go to my very busy pharmacy and stand in line for a prescription, so I used Instacart and a youngish petite blond woman delivered it. We are all using delivery services more these days. Their employees take the chances we are not willing to take, and fulfill a service without which our lives would substantially loose quality and comforts. In addition they are instrumental to our being able to stay safe. We are grateful, yes, yet they are the lowest paid. They have to use their own cars and are not reimbursed for the wear and tear. The husband of a house cleaner I know was a Uber driver and needed new tires which he could not afford, a scenario many of those workers surely face. Even more relevant in an era when health care is more crucial than usual, they have no health benefits. We like the cheap services. Would we use Instacart as much if the charges were higher? And if they were, for many they would no longer be affordable. It’s also the same conflict many of us have with using Amazon, a company who pays their warehouse and delivery workers so little. There are signs that after the pandemic eases the delivery businesses will have to change. There are pressures for them to do so, economic, social, legal. The result is likely to lead to higher prices for having things delivered. When that happens, for it is inevitable, how will our gratitude for all the delivery workers who cushion our lives extend to accept higher charges so that they can have better salaries and better benefits?
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.
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?