Saturday, July 26, 2008

Conversation Recap for July 20, 2007

We met in Wright Park, and it was cool enough that the group turned heliotropic, following the arc traced by the sun across park grass.

Today we heard Keith’s story, and a wide-ranging discussion followed.

We discussed varieties of corruption, with attention to who benefits and who incurs the costs of different types. It is probably fair to say the different definitions of corruptions are connected to beliefs about justice—the nature and scope of justice situations, and the kinds of remedies one would support. Some ways of seeing corruption focus on the political climate for large businesses. Some seem concerned with situations faced by the largest parts of the population, either middle class folks or people closely connected to the money economy (in poorer countries, many people are not thus connected).

One feature of corruption in the US is its role in degrading a trained, reliable civil service in the United States. Public employees share a broad consensus about the directions taken over much of the last decade. Conversation members may be interested in a recent study published by the chief scholar of the civil service, Paul Light.

The discussion also included considerations of what we regard as properly public, and properly private. The prison, or detention facility, on Tacoma’s tideflats is run by a private company. It has expanded a couple of times, and has plans for more. The increasingly privatized prison industry raises fundamental justice questions.

A view of justice as fairness for people led to comparisons between our corruption discussions and the “40 acres and a mule” idea. For a time we discussed the Freedman’s Bureau, its connection to political issues at the end of the Civil War, and general Sherman’s decision to divide many of the lands taken by his armies into plots of land for those recently freed from slavery. And, after Lincoln’s assassination, Sherman’s orders were rescinded.

The conversation went to this conclusion: this country has found it impossible to collectively acknowledge what has happened to black people in the United States. By any historical comparison, a holocaust happened. But there has been no memorial, no reparations.

We then discussed ideas about what would make this situation whole, and most of it revolved around the context of the upcoming election. Several people offered ideas on what Obama would be able to do as a candidate and as president. Most seemed to agree that what is needed is an acknowledgement of what occurred, a huge commitment to jobs, education and housing in the pursuit of a more equal society, and open discussion of the presence of race in everyday American life.

As part of the discussions, it seemed as though accounts of deservedness of individual people is complicated, and perhaps a distraction from the larger issue. But it does come up.

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