Archive for March, 2013

Civil Society at a Crossroads—Truth and Justice

 I have always believed truth to be the basis of justice, for how can you have justice without truth? So far so good perhaps, but then the questions inevitably arise—which truth, whose truth? There are at least 11 theories of truth, plus a few including mathematical truth. Just for the sake of illustrating the difficulty of defining truth, the major theories are: Correspondence, Coherence, Constructivist, Consensus, Pragmatic or Minimalist, Deflationary, Performative, Redundancy, Disquotational, Pluralist and Semantic. There are others as well, but these are the biggies. You could spend a lot of time working your way through these ideas and still, in my opinion, not come up with a better everyday working definition than “conforming to reality.” As Aquinas said: “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to reality.”  This is the definition I would suppose and hope parents teach their children.

I’ve put the following question to lawyers: “Is it winning or justice you seek in court?” So far I haven’t received a take-away answer. This leads me to believe we are dealing with a conundrum, a question for which I had naively expected there would be a ready or, at the least, facile answer. After all lawyers are professionals who appear before judges and juries to represent … what? Are lawyers merely hired guns who do or say whatever it takes to win their case? If so, what does this say about the very idea of justice? How does the society arrive at justice if everyone is telling a truth designed to serve their own purposes? How can a society believe in justice when there is no truth serving justice? From the most primitive to the most sophisticated societies, social contracts are underwritten by truth and justice. These are the foundation stones of the social contract. Consequently, when the contest is between winning and justice, the ultimate victim is the social contract.

In addition to the many truths posited, philosophers also argue there are many realities. Obviously, this makes getting to an absolute truth even more of a crap-shoot. If that doesn’t make for a shaky social contract what does? We have my truth, your truth, the Supreme Court’s truth, a billionaire’s truth, a plaintiff’s truth, a defendant’s truth, and of course, an insurance company’s lawyer’s truth. Whoa! “Did you throw a stone through the neighbor’s window?” Yes or No? That’s easy, isn’t it? When a man spends 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, was the prosecutor seeking justice or a conviction? Of course if truth is as fungible as indicated by the lack of one definitive statement of it, that would, I believe, indicate there can be no absolute justice either, could there? So, it would seem then that the multiplicity of these realities gives rise to many possibilities and a great many of them troubling.

If there is no absolute truth and thus no absolute justice, what do we mean when we talk about a just society, a just social contract? What if justice is merely an illusion promoted for purposes of one form of social control or another? What happens when people wake up to the charade? How do they manage? In Central Europe, when the illusion of Communism’s truths dissolved, so too did the social contract, and it is now wearing thin in China. Religion and democracy have the same problem as politics in matching promise to actuality. Consensual truth has led to all manner of belief systems, from religious to social, but when experience didn’t add up to the promise, consensus had a limited life span, as did the social contract. When life as it is lived doesn’t add up to the promise, change is inevitable.

It is said all men are created equal before the law. If you take that statement at face value then you must also believe in the Easter bunny. We all know that in life, as it is lived, not all people are treated equally before the law, but we choose to believe otherwise—we live with the contradiction, indeed we need to live with it. The statement is patently and demonstrably not true but is repeated mantra-like as though it were, and why is that? One reason is that as a society we need it to believe it true—we need to believe it is true because if it isn’t true the believed social contract is on shaky ground.

All societies are built on a foundation of “truths” and beliefs, many of which are illusory. Equal justice is, as we have seen, questionable, so too are equality of economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and others as well. Each illusion serves a particular purpose and polity. Each has its own dynamic, and each needs to be publicly examined and discussed. This I believe; while philosophers chew on these questions the rest of us need workaday answers, otherwise the social contract cannot otherwise function. Illusory or not, ultimately the social contract becomes no longer viable—destroyed by those sworn to uphold it, and those who profit from it in one way or another, but in every case a betrayal of unimaginable proportions.

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The Continuing Skandera Saga.

The Continuing Skandera Saga.

The current impasse in the Skandera confirmation hearings takes me back to the very first article I wrote for the now defunct NMPolitics. At that time I noted Skandera’s total lack of background as an educator; she has no background in education, no teaching experience, no track record other than as a professional political operative working for Jeb Bush and his efforts to privatize (read: profitize) public education.

That first article was in March 2011 and here we are in March 2013 with no resolution of this continuing travesty. Skandera’s damage to New Mexico’s public education from Gestapo-like raids on elementary schools to brazenly over-riding the PEC, validating charter schools sponsored by rent-seeking political hacks, and a lot of time on the public stage around the country, indeed even internationally, beating the drums for privatizing public education are all a matter of record. I said then and I’ll say again, “Approving Ms. Skandera’s appointment will be a step backward..” Since then Ms. Skandera and the Governor have been thumbing their noses at the children, the public, educators, and legislators. What’s behind this?

One thing and one thing alone: PROFIT

First of all, Ms. Martinez received a great deal of money from out-of-state donors in her run for governor. The people who “donated” that money were investing not donating; a pay-back is expected. Whenever people like the WalMartians, the Kochs, ALEC, phony “foundations”, and others pursuing their dystopian social agenda for this country invest in you it’s like doing business with the Mafia. You owe. They are in the business of making money. Investments were made in the gubernatorial election and again in the recent mid-term election. In this past round the Governor used her donations in attempts to oust several legislator incumbents but was successful in only a few. No slam dunk there and, so far, no slam dunk in getting Skandera approved.

Ms. Martinez has her sights on national prominence and maybe even a run on the Republican presidential ticket an ego fantasy that beggars the imagination. In this she is much like another deluded wannabe, Marco Rubio except she has to win at least this Secretary of Education post or else she’ll be riding off into the sunset of obscurity – from rising star wannabe to used-to-be. It will be the end of the road for Susana and her Svengalis, Behrens and McCleskey.

That they are being used to create an impression the Republican party is Hispanic friendly would never occur to Rubio or Martinez. Their egos are being pumped up but in the end it will the Bushes, the Romneys, and their ilk representing the GOP in the next national election; it wouldn’t be the Grand Old Party otherwise. Sorry chumps but you are allowing yourselves to be used and the question is not, what will you do but what won’t you do to grasp the proffered golden apple? Obviously public education is right up there on the list of sacrificial lambs.

The NM Senate Rules Committee and the Senate have an obligation to the public, to teachers, and to school children to not punt but to act bravely and with integrity. The New Mexico State Constitution is on your side as it clearly and unequivocally states the Secretary of Education must be a, “qualified, experienced educator.” The nominee is neither – case closed.

Senators Lopez, Ortiz y Pino, and Ivey-Soto have courageously  made the case thus far and deserve the admiration and gratitude of the public. They have mine.

Courage!

 

Read This!

http://truth-out.org/news/item/14930-why-are-walmart-billionaires-bankrolling-phony-school-reform-in-la

They are doing it all over the US. Why? Because uneducated people are more willing to work for WalMart without complaining than well educated.

Civil Society at a Crossroads – Part 1

To quote from The Economist: “Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are prepared to pay their share of the costs.” The above was the lede to an editorial about something like $20 trillion dollars stashed in off-shore accounts and other tax dodges used by wealthy individuals and corporations. A recent article in The New York Times reports it is estimated that there will be, by 2020, $900 trillion in such hidden assets. As of February 25, 2013, the big number in spending cuts caused by the failure to pass a national budget is a mere $85 billion, which those with hidden money could easily front us and have significant pocket change left over. But that is, of course, beside the point, the real point being the unfair, unproductive and socially destructive effects of this massive imbalance. And, as over the course of history, such dynamics place any society at a turning point in its history.

What our friends at The Economist did not discuss are the social costs of an economic system that disenfranchises more people than it elevates, that takes more from working class families than from the über rich. That this, in fact, is the fatal flaw of capitalism. To give it a name, it is greed, plain and simple. It is a much larger problem than merely the rich doing their utmost to avoid the social responsibility of paying their fair share of taxes while enjoying all of the benefits of what the rest of us without clever tax lawyers pay into the system. This has, after all, been going on for centuries, if not millennia, but most certainly never on this scale. According to a recent study reported in The New York Times, between 2009 and 2011 the income of the most wealthy of Americans grew on average by 11%,  while for those of us in the 99% it shrank by nearly a half percent.

Tax dodging with the help of loopholes provided by their friends in Congress is only one among many behaviors that have led to the enormous disparity between the wealthy and what used to be a middle class. It is a matter of unbridled greed, not unlike an image of someone stuffing his mouth with food until he vomits, except in this case it’s money being stuffed into hidden accounts, where it draws interest and contributes nothing to the common good. I’m reminded of the image of Donald Duck’s Uncle, Scrooge McDuck, diving into his swimming pool, full to the brim with money. It is about wealth that corrupts everything and everyone it touches. It’s about behavior that deprives and impoverishes the world at large. This is the real world tragedy of the commons: too few taking too much, and thus depriving the many of that most essential aspect of a viable social contract—opportunity.

It is not simply a matter of poverty of means anymore, so much as it has become poverty of opportunity. It is the latter which is the tectonic fault in the maintenance of civil society; it is that which will ultimately destroy civil society because of its intrinsic unfairness, in that it hollows out the future. It isn’t as though this has never happened before now, quite the opposite. It is, however, that the present scale is overwhelming in the sheer numbers of economically disenfranchised people vs. the minuscule number of those possessing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. And not only is the majority disenfranchised by lack of economic opportunity but of political opportunity as well. As one writer has said of New Mexico, only a “select few” can afford to run and serve in the legislature. “In truth,” he says, “citizen Legislature is another version of bittersweet victory – an oxymoron of New Mexico politics.”

We have come the point where, realistically, the only people who can run for public office are those who can afford to, and many of those are willing to take money from interest groups like ALEC, private foundations such as the Walmart family’s, the Koch boys, and similar sources of funding. Of course, it’s like taking money from the Mafia, they expect pay-back, meaning that you have been bought; it means you have sold the public’s trust in you and in your office. What we end up with are legislatures composed of minions who have sold themselves and serve those whose money supports them. It’s a retelling of the story of Huey Long and his coterie, when he explained why they should accept the generous proceeds of a bribe to pass certain legislation. Huey told them, “Come on boys, we have nothing to lose but our honor.”


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