Sixteen Proposals for Effective Solutions in ’16 – Salvatore Babones on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. This is Reality Asserts Itself. And we’re continuing our series of interviews with Salvatore Babones, who is the author of Sixteen for ’16, which is 16 proposals of what a president might do if he actually wanted to have effective policy to deal with the problems facing the country. And he joins us now again in the studio.

Thanks for joining us again.

SALVATORE BABONES, ASSOC. PROF. SOCIOLOGY AND SOCIAL POLICY, UNIV. OF SYDNEY: Thanks.

One more time, Salvatore is associate professor in sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney, a fellow at IPS, Institute for Policy Studies.

Thanks for joining us.

So let’s go to–we’re going to jump to chapter 10, Ten Ten Ten.

BABONES: Wonderful.

JAY: What is that?

BABONES: Ten Ten Ten–everybody should get ten paid sick days, ten paid holidays, ten paid vacation days as a bare minimum, as a floor that you can’t be human if you don’t have the opportunity to stay home if you’re sick, to take care of your kid if you can’t go to work, to get a holiday off once in a while. I mean, we’re coming up on Independence Day. Everybody should have July 4 off. And everyone needs a vacation sometimes. Ten ten ten.

JAY: Coming from Canada, it’s extraordinary to me that Americans don’t get even federal holidays necessarily, don’t get them paid off. It’s remarkable.

But you’re saying, if I remember correctly from the book, a majority of people do get ten ten ten, you’re saying?

BABONES: A majority of people get paid vacation days and paid holidays. Paid sick days is, I think, close to 50 percent. I have the statistics in the book. I could get them pretty quickly. But it’s–.

JAY: [This number’s] about 52 percent or something like that.

BABONES: Yeah, it’s close, but it should be everybody. Right? I mean, it shouldn’t just be people like you and me who have good, well-paying, full-time jobs who get holidays and vacation days off. If anything, the people who need the holidays and the vacation days are the people who are working in supermarkets, the people who are working on road crews, the people who are doing labor on construction sites. I mean, those are the people who need a holiday. You know, you or I could go without one. But if you’re doing hard manual labor or if you’re working at a nursing home, you need a holiday. And those are exactly the people who tend not to get holidays, who tend not to get vacation days.

JAY: So is there any federal minimums now?

BABONES: There’s no federal minimum now.

JAY: On any of these?

BABONES: Some cities in the United States have minimum paid sick day laws, but most do not. Most people have them only if their employer lets them take them. And, frankly, even if your employer offers the benefit, it doesn’t mean they actually let you take it.

JAY: Okay. Next chapter is “Put an End to the Prison State”.

BABONES: “Put an End to the Prison State”. America holds more people in prison as a percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In fact, it holds more people in prison than any other country in the world, more than Russia, more than China. It’s just–it’s unbelievable that the land of the free is the land of the imprisoned. But it really is true.

JAY: And, of course, being in Baltimore, we know that per capita the percentage of black people, and particularly black men in prison–although the number of black women is rising as well.

BABONES: Absolutely. This is an issue not just for the African-American community, but for the whole country. But it’s one that is really targeted at the African-American community. I mean, the problem is that once you have any kind of record, any kind of criminal record, that follows you around for life. It makes everything in life more difficult. You know, if you want a job, if you want permission to work with children, if you want to vote, even, in many states, in many jurisdictions, your criminal record is going to follow through.

JAY: And what would you do about it? There’s an interesting little convergence going on between some traditionally conservative right politicians and some corporate Democrat type politicians who are all talking about reducing the number of people that are incarcerated.

BABONES: Right.

JAY: And I’ve been wondering what that is really about, and I wonder if what they really want is the Ferguson model, where you can turn prisons from a cost center, turn these things into a revenue generator, which–.

BABONES: Into a profit center. Yeah.

JAY: Yeah, make people pay fines for everything.

BABONES: Right. Look, for many of the things that people are going to jail, they shouldn’t be. First of all, many people go to jail simply because they can’t afford to pay bail for a minor charge that is probably not going to result in any kind of jail time, but if they can’t post bail, they can’t get out. Now, this is the 21st century. We have a 16th century institution of posting bail so that you won’t run away that is simply not relevant to modern life. So one way to reduce the rate of imprisonment is simply to get rid of our bail system except for the most heinous crimes.

JAY: And again, this is a good example. If you’re going to do that, whoever advocates that policy is going to be in a war. They’re going to be at war with the bail bonds industry, first and foremost, and who’s backed by major insurance companies now.

BABONES: Right.

JAY: Which is why we don’t ever hear about this.

BABONES: And they’re going to be a war the first time someone who’s out on bail commits a crime.

But we have to look at these things scientifically, we have to look at them statistically, we have to make the decisions that are good for the country even if in some isolated cases they cause harm. And, look, if you reduce the prison population, somebody who is let out of prison will commit a crime and somebody will suffer. And that’s tragic. But it’s going to happen. Right? And we just have to accept that to have a better society with fewer people in prison, fewer people’s lives ruined by imprisonment, we simply have to take the cost that’s involved.

JAY: But it’s statistically as certain that people that are spending time in prison come out more hardened as criminals and are going to probably commit more difficult or serious crimes.

BABONES: Look, you’re almost certainly right. These are very difficult issues to judge. It’s very hard with the data we have to know what will happen if you let someone out earlier or later. But we do know that if we compare countries, we compare regions of the world, we are way out of line. We imprison so many more people than any other country that there’s simply no justification for it.

JAY: Why?

BABONES: Well, I think there are many reasons. U.S. politics has focused on fear mongering so that we all know about the Willie Horton incident. You know, that probably cost Michael Dukakis the presidency. There’s a lot of fear mongering in U.S. politics. There is a lot of money to be made servicing prisons. I mean, it’s not just private prisons. Private prisons are a problem all their own. But it’s private laundry services for prisons, private telephone call services for prisons. We shouldn’t have the corporate sector lobbying to have more people in prison. But there are a lot of people making a lot of money when people go to prison, and they have an interest in keeping them there.

JAY: Even down to these video visits charging families per minute to visit their loved one over video calling.

BABONES: So visits are a great example. One of the few things that we know does reduce recidivism, that does help people reintegrate in society is being close to their families when they’re in prison. So we should be–if anything, we should be subsidizing families. We should be saying, please come visit your relative in prison. We’ll give you a voucher for meals, we’ll give you a voucher for gasoline. You know, we want you to come be part of this person’s life. And instead what do we do? We charge them, we keep them away, we ship prisoners off to prisons out in congressional districts that are hundreds of miles from their home because some congressperson in that district lobbied to get a prison to create jobs in that district.

You know, our prison policy is not driven by the needs of the country. Our prison policy is driven by the needs of politicians, by the needs of corporations, by the needs of a system of social control. Look, what prisons are all about is social control. That’s stating the obvious. If you want to control someone, you put that person in jail. Right? But we’re putting far too many people in jail.

JAY: So when you go through all the 16 proposals, it seems to me they’re all more or less no-brainers. It’s obvious social policy, if you actually want to solve the problem–

BABONES: If you want to solve the problem.

JAY: –and not make money out of the problem.

BABONES: Right.

JAY: But when you go–you know, the prison system’s maybe one of the most stark examples that the people making these decisions, they’re not looking at what’s good for the society. They’re looking on a maximum return on whether they’re investing in the companies that are providing services for the public prison or they’re investing in private prisons or they’re making money out of the incarceration industry in some other way. This applies–you can go down the line of all the various social problems. You get to a point where you can’t expect these people to ever implement effective 16 or even one of these public policies. So then you have to get to the question, well, then, who’s going to?

BABONES: Right. Look, the question we have to ask ourselves is: do we still live in a democracy? If we can agree that the policies in this book are good for the country, and not just you and me–I mean, obviously I would love everybody to get out and read Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America, but I’m not taking any author royalties from the book. All the author royalties are being donated to a charity. I just want people to read the book. And if people can read the book and say these are no-brainer policies, I want them. Well, then, if we live in a democracy, we should get these policies.

Now, I still believe in American democracy. That’s a tough sell, but I still believe in it.

JAY: One of the things that isn’t in, and I guess ’cause it’s a complicated one, and you said in your preface, you’re going to stay away from the more complicated ones, but if you’re going to really deal with how to get these policies effected, you’ve got to deal with who really has political power. And that means you’ve got to deal with who owns stuff, because, as you say in your book and–you know, in terms of voting, but it’s pretty clear the more stuff you own, the more political power you’ve got, and there’s such concentration of wealth, and thus such concentration of political power, that there doesn’t–if you’re going to have maybe number 17 or–and by the way, number 17 is on climate change, and I don’t–.

BABONES: Sixteen.

JAY: Sixteen. I’m sorry. Seventeen should be about who owns stuff. But we shouldn’t end this before we talk about chapter 16, ’cause I actually wondered if maybe that shouldn’t have been chapter 1. But we’ll get to the climate change. Do you not have to deal with who has power in the country and have–if you want to have a policy, change that, change the way stuff is owned and who has power?

BABONES: So you say you want a revolution. Look, that’s a tough one. How do you get good policies when the people in power don’t want good policies? I am a sociologist. I am a social statistician. I’m not a political scientist. I don’t have a magic answer for reducing the power of the wealthy and increasing the power of democracy.

Now, I can tell you that almost all of these 16 proposals would reduce the power of the wealthy and give us a better democracy. I mean, if you create jobs, people who have jobs are more likely to vote. People who have more jobs have money to spend on political campaign contributions. People who have jobs are more involved in their communities. You know, if you improve public education, then of course you get better citizens, you get people who know what’s good for themselves and for their country. And we could go down the list. And all of the policies and this book would reduce the power of the powerful. And thus the powerful don’t want them.

Now, I don’t know how we break the stranglehold that the rich and powerful have on American politics, but I do know that we need to break it.

JAY: And just finally, I said we would deal with climate change, and I’m looking through the book here just to get the final little quote. Salvatore writes: it’s almost certainly too late to prevent catastrophic global warming. It’s perhaps not too late to save the Earth itself. If there was anything that would be obvious that the people that are ruling are not fit to rule, it’s this.

BABONES: They’re not addressing climate change. We all know it’s happening. We all know it’s coming. At some point in 100 or 200 years, Earth is going to be an uninhabitable Venus-like hellhole. Right? No one’s going to be able to live on Earth. It’s not–it is too late to stop global warming. It’s happening. It’s going to happen. And even if we stop driving cars tomorrow, we’re still going to have a lot more global warming before it ends. It’s not too late to stop the catastrophe that destroys the whole planet. And we really need to be working on this.

I mean, the problem is that this is a problem for future generations. Well, every conservative who says that what I care about is the children and what I care about is the future, what I care about is families, well, they should care about climate change, because it’s not us. You know, we’re going to be dead. All of the middle-aged white people of the world like us, we’re going to be gone when we have to deal with climate change. But children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews are all going to be here and have to live on this planet. So when I say I’m a conservative, I think everyone can agree the ultimate conservative agenda is to conserve the planet for the future.

JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us.

BABONES: Thanks for having me on.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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