Sunday, June 21, 2015

#214 June 21, 2015- Accountability, Honesty and Trust

Human beings rely on each other for survival, happiness and support through the many challenges we face. No individual is an island unto themselves, despite the omnipresent theme of "rugged individualism" that runs through our public narratives. Sociologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists and others who study the behavior of humans recognize this and have spent a great amount of time and effort trying to understand what conditions are necessary for us to be most successful as individuals and as groups. They offer theories and label or categorize our behaviors in order to make sense out of the complexity that is humanity.

In the end all of our complex theories and our many ways of explaining human interactions rest on some basic principles.
1- People need each other to survive no matter what political, social or economic system we live in.
2- Once people form groups they establish rules and norms that govern how our interactions are supposed to occur.
3- All of our different configurations and ways of organizing ourselves involve ceding at least some individual rights and liberties to our collective whole in exchange for the protection and support that living in a society bring.
4- In order for all individuals, and the entire group to thrive in a sustainable democratic society every member must be accountable to the others and there must be a sense of trust and honesty that exists between all members.

If we accept the premise that we want to live in a free democracy where "liberty and justice for all" is the accepted norm, then that last societal principal must take precedence over the others. No matter what form of government or organization the first three will naturally occur, the difference is in the degree to which we surrender liberties and rights. The more power that is ceded to an authoritarian regime, the smaller the number of  people who will enjoy basic freedoms and opportunities. Freedoms and opportunities that we claim are the foundation of the concept of the "American Dream" and "American Exceptionalism."

How we choose to define and apply these important concepts (Accountability, Honesty and Trust) is vital to the ability of our society to fulfill its promise of equity and opportunity for all citizens. It is clear that we as a collective whole have defined these words in different ways for different people throughout our history. This struggle to define these basic concepts have caused significant conflict and inequity historically and in the present day. These words hold in them the promise of a better future, but also the threat of continued suppression and struggle.

The words themselves are fairly easily defined and most of us would agree with the basic definitions found in any dictionary that read something like this. . .

Accountability- the quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.

Honesty- the quality of being fair and truthful. Fairness and straightforwardness of conduct. Adherence to the facts.

Trust- assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something. Dependence on something future: hope    

The problem isn't in the basic definitions, but in the application and "working definitions" of these essential elements of a democratic society. These key components are defined in different ways by different people and in the end the true meaning of the words are obscured, diluted, or changed beyond recognition. People apply the concepts in ways that support their own ideologies, or sometimes that just are convenient. Too often we fail to think about the broader implications of our thoughts and actions and the responsibilities we have to our fellow citizens.

We also see these foundational values applied differently to different groups based on specific situations, existing biases and sometimes just for the sake of convenience. Instead of being uniting forces for all members of society these words become weapons to be used to gain political, social or economic advantage. They also become symbols of the failures of our society and the problems that we face in our efforts to achieve a more socially just nation.

Take the word accountability for example. This word has become a buzzword for those who actually seek to undermine confidence in our public institutions like our schools. We label our public schools as failing, when the reality often quite different. In the name of accountability we have expanded standardized testing and treated education as a measurable commodity. We have attempted to install a business model into our public schools and treated educators accordingly.

Refuse to be a willing victim. There is a point where teachers themselves must stop arguing about some finely worded minutia in their evaluations. The argument had been framed...

The drive to make our schools accountable has found another tool in the privatization movement. This is a misguided concept for many reasons. Public schools are truly accountable to the public in ways that private schools do not have to be. The more we expand the privatizing of our schools, the less impact individual families, educators and local communities will have in the process.

Supt. Tony Evers makes some remarkable comments at about the 23:20 mark in this June 1st interview (which I wish I had seen earlier). Evers discusses a radi

This lack of accountability to the public isn't only apparent in the world of education. There are countless examples of elected leaders abusing their power and forgetting who they serve.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is perhaps best known for dramatically weakening public and private unions in his state—something that has propelled...

More than two dozen awards worth more than $124 million were made to companies without a formal staff review by the underwriting department of Gov....|By Chicago Tribune

Accountability only has value as a socially uniting force when those who represent us are accountable to all citizens. The problem here in Wisconsin, and many other places, is that our elected officials don't feel accountable to those they represent. Instead, they are accountable to financial donors, outside forces, or their own, self-serving agendas. Once our elected leaders lose their sense of accountability to the electorate democratic rule ends.

Political scientist Katherine Cramer’s report on interviews with citizens in rural Wisconsin indicated support for public education.

The potential GOP presidential candidate has taken four foreign trips this year, three funded by taxpayers.

As the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee makes its way through Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, a number of significant policy changes have been inserted into the package with little or no...|By James B. Nelson

Loading up the budget with non-budgetary items is no way to run a government. Gov. Scott Walker acknowledged that in 2010. Legislators should come to the same conclusion and stop this nonsense.

Honesty is a cornerstone of our democracy. Citizens can't make informed decisions without accurate information and rely on the honesty of those in power and the press that reports the news. Too often we see those in power mislead, lie and abuse the power that they have to disseminate information. Instead of honestly sharing and reflecting information they "spin" things for their own gain or to promote their own agenda. While this is a natural human tendency, and "facts" are often open to debate, there are definitely lines of truth that shouldn't be crossed consistently.

Wisconsin's economic growth, or lack thereof, provides us with an example of this lack of honesty. We are constantly getting completely opposite messages about the state of our state's economy.

Some of the  most egregious examples of dishonesty come to us from the anti-union actions starting here in Wisconsin in 2011. The lies about the damage done to the state capitol continue to be used against those supporting public sector unions. Even the rationale for Act 10 is questionable (at best) in its integrity. The impact that Act 10, other legislation and policies is also open for debate.

New analysis by bipartisan expert on good government explodes the myths about Walker’s signature achievement.

Act 10 and the ACT — any connection?|By Tom Kertscher

So much evidence points to reasons beyond an effort to improve our schools for all students as the impetus behind education "reform." The many connections and the financial trails lead us to believe that honest reform isn't the driving force behind vouchers, privatization and other so called "reforms."

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.

Plans are under way for investment corporations to execute the biggest conversion - some call it theft - of public schools property in U.S. history.

The presumptive GOP frontrunner thinks privatization is a cure-all. In truth, that idea couldn't be more dangerous|By Matthew Pulver

Sometimes this honesty slips out and we get a glimpse of what it is that those advancing these agendas really want.

Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, the state's self-appointed vetter of GOP presidential candidates, recently told members of the League of Women Voters...

The lack of accountability to the general public and the lack of honesty in our leaders erodes the trust that citizens have in their government and in the system that could provide us with stability and hope. A democracy can only hope to thrive when the people living in it believe in their ability to have an impact and to improve their own status and situation. By undermining the public's confidence in our social institutions and our political system those currently in power are able to cement their status and expand their influence.

There is a conscious effort being made to weaken support for our public schools by attacking the educators who work in them.

Wisconsin will have among the lowest standards for teacher licensure in the industrialized world.|By Freda Russell and Anthony Frontier

Teachers are leaving Arizona in record numbers due to low salaries and persistent legislative intrusion in their classrooms. In the Phoenix area alone, there are more than 1,000 open teaching posit...

The widespread attacks on things that citizens value, all done under the name of "reform", "freedom" or "liberty" significantly damage our future hopes for a more sustainable, socially just society. There is a long history of suspicion of government in America that can be healthy in some ways. Without an engaged and vigilant electorate power will be abused. Yet, at the same time we rely on government and need strong public services to maintain our standards of living and freedoms. The efforts to balance our need for government with our own personal liberty has been a driving force for so much change in our nation.

As governor of Wisconsin, the likely Republican presidential nomination-seeker consistently dismissed science and sided with polluters|By Siri Carpenter

In the end it all boils down to a fairly simple concept. It is our engagement as active citizens that makes our system work, or in their absence fail. We are the ones who hold our leaders accountable, force honesty and build trust in the system. In a democracy, the citizens are the government and we are the ones who must act to create a system that works for all. It isn't enough to criticize or berate our elected officials, public servants, and public institutions as failing us. We must act to make them be what we need them to be. There are countless ways to get involved in the process, starting with the simple act of casting a thoughtful ballot in the next election.

Tensions over changes at one northern Wisconsin district have apparently reached a boiling point.

"We don’t believe these are failing schools. We believe they’ve been failed," said special education teacher and union leader Amy Mizialko.

With two conservative Republican senators already saying they’d be tough to win over, the loss of just one more GOP lawmaker would send the plan plummeting.|By Jason Stein

2015-6-1 Badger Exam Parent Opt-Outs 2014-15 (updated).pdf

Where is the single, national voice of the teacher in the United States decrying the fallacy that teachers and teachers unions are destroying American education?|By Chicago Tribune

Americans love to think of ourselves as rebellious and independent. Yet, it is not always easy to find those characteristics in the daily workings of our society. We are a nation built on the premise of radical social change and the promise of a socially just and equitable society. The accountability for the successes and failures  of these efforts rest squarely on all of our shoulders.  

ver the past few years, Americans have spent millions of dollars to enjoy fictional rebellion. Combined, "The Giver," the "Hunger Games" series, and the...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Organizing a union (or any other group) is more complex than any app or other tool can handle, and the most important part of any organizing effort is the direct, face-to-face contact between people. Yet, the fact that there is going to be "an app for that" means that there is a market for labor organizing tools and that indicates a positive trend.

"If you can plan a party with an app, you should be able to organize a union."

Unions provide so much for workers, and of course an increased income is one of our primary indicators of success. Unions increase incomes for all workers, but unionized laborers see (and rightfully so) the largest increases.

You could be missing out on millions of dollars in lifetime earnings.

Beaver Dam, Wisconsin is a safer community thanks to this quick action by their elected officials.

The Bad . . . Donald Trump for President, enough said. At least there will be some memorable quotes and images from his campaign, late night talk show hosts must be ecstatic.

Whenever Trump brags about his wealth remember this: In two decades, the billionaire gave just $3.7 million to charity. Total.

Maybe his presidential candidacy has opened his eyes and gotten at least some common sense into his thinking.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Politics, Donald Trump, the GOP's newest presidential candidate, opens up about his insecurities, Republican rivals, and his tiff with Club for Growth.

While some would argue that any conflict within the Conservative movement can only help Progressives, we have seen the influence that the Koch brothers have had in pushing politics in Wisconsin to the extreme Right. Their activism and vast wealth puts pressure on any Republican candidates to shift their campaigns and platforms further away from what most Americans would like to see. Conflict breeds extremism, and with the current state of our electoral system, the Koch's can have a significant impact in what American politics looks like for the immediate future.

The libertarian billionaires have exerted influence on the GOP for years. But now they're actively taking the reins|By Heather Digby Parton

The Ugly . . . The shooting deaths of 9 innocent people in South Carolina forces us to look at so many issues and should prompt meaningful, positive action from all of us. We have so many problems in our society around race, guns and more that we need to find ways to address. Too many of our fellow citizens are dying and each death represents significant losses on a personal and societal scale. We can't continue down this path of death and destruction, but must change the way that we look at each other as individuals and as members of different demographic groups. The violence stops when all of us act collectively to truly value human life and the contribution that every person makes to our society, simply by virtue of being human. It also stops when we refuse to be helpless in the face of those who seek to subjugate, coerce and harm others and instead choose to exercise our power for the good of all.   

In which we confront the dark heart of America. Again.|By Charles P. Pierce

South Carolina, a state that thoughtfully welcomes its 19 known hate groups by flying a Confederate flag over the statehouse, is facing a real quandary today....|By Jia Tolentino

Where are the white fathers? When will white leaders stop the violence? Our racial double standard continues|By Chauncey DeVega

U.S. citizens may fear homegrown jihadists, but law enforcement is more worried about right-wing extremists.|By Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer

The Daily Show host found himself unable to crack jokes as he addressed the terrorist attack at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina

In the wake of the South Carolina shooting massacre that killed nine at an African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed...

A board member for the National Rifle Association blamed pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney for not only his own death, but the...

Bullets will not end a church whose history speaks to its heroic resilience.

ISLA VISTA, CA—In the days following a violent rampage in southern California in which a lone attacker killed seven individuals, including himself, and seriously...

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