As the world goes to hell in a handbasket, to use the American phrase, this article in Current Affairs magazine caught my eye, warning of the perils of jumping on the Andrew Cuomo bandwagon as some in the US media* begin to cast a rather cold eye over the would-be presidential nominee and wannabe podcaster Joe Biden. From Lyta Gold:
To make New York State’s hand sanitizer, prisoners earn a thrilling 64 cents an hour, a penny less than the purported New York prison average of 65 cents an hour. Prisoners are not permitted to possess the hand sanitizer themselves because of its alcohol content. This measure has been condemned as slave labor, which it is, since the 13th Amendment bans slavery with the notable exception of convicted felons.
And it sounds a lot like slavery if you ask the prisoners themselves. Katie Way of VICE spoke to a prisoner pseudonymously referred to as “Michael,” who claimed that the hand sanitizer operation runs 24 hours a day, in three eight hour shifts, though some people work double shifts for more money. “‘Getting 64 cents is actually really good,’ [Michael] said. ‘I never got paid that much before doing any type of job like this.’” According to Michael, the work is exhausting. “‘We’re completely overworked…They treat us like shit…We don’t really have too much time to do anything…No time at all. We literally… our complete day is booked all the way.’”
On top of that, THEY AREN’T EVEN MAKING HAND SANITIZER AT ALL. The prisoners are working, all right, and being paid 64 cents an hour… to take existing hand sanitizer made by an unknown outside contractor, bottle it, and slap a NYS CLEAN logo on it. As Katie Way reports, “neither NYSDOCCS [the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] nor the governor’s office would respond to repeated questions about why the state would need to use prison labor to bottle hand sanitizer.” Cuomo has insisted that his NYS Clean hand sanitizer is much cheaper to produce. He’s never said why, but we all know why; slave labor is cheap. But the hand sanitizer ISN’T even made by the prisoners, just bottled and labeled by them in what sounds like an unnecessarily elaborate operation. According to VICE, “the governor’s office [didn’t] respond to questions about Cuomo’s pitch that this was a cheaper, more effective option than buying bottled hand sanitizer outright.”
Cuomo read Fishbein’s piece, and called her; you might have expected that she took the opportunity to rightfully yell at him for exploiting slave labor just so he can pretend to make cost-effective hand sanitizer in the middle of a pandemic, not to mention how he’s kept the prisons open in the first place as coronavirus spikes through them. Alas, Fishbein was too overwhelmed. “I did not ask a single substantive policy question,” she writes.
Good to see that the Covid-19 pandemic is bringing out the best in humanity.
*Some Biden fans are still in denial. Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post.
On Monday, former vice president Joe Biden kicked off the first in what he promises will be a series of podcasts. Aptly entitled “Here’s the Deal,” it is one way to overcome the void in campaign activity necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and bans on public gatherings. Naturally, the first podcast was about the coronavirus and included the appearance of Biden aide Ronald A. Klain, who headed the Ebola response under President Barack Obama. (Klain is also a Post contributor.)
As a preliminary matter, this was a refreshing reminder that not all presidents or presidential candidates require bowing and scraping from aides, insult questioners, operate data-free on their “gut” and lack an appreciation for what ordinary people experience during a crisis. The overwhelming impression one came away with is that Biden would be a calm, rational and normal president.
Has she been watching the same online shit-shows as the rest of us?