The Meaning of Fairness

So, just what is “fairness,” what does the term mean? We’re prompted to discuss that because we’ve come upon a website, The Patriot Post, that claims “the word ‘fair’ has become an all-purpose statement of moral superiority tinged with victimhood.”

That’s just not so. To us, fairness means equity, one of the terms The Patriot Post rules out. The term needs to be viewed in whatever context fairness is being considered – even-handed and due regard are synonyms. Fairness isn’t a child’s term of spite.

It’s important that we know our terms, that we have basic agreement on what we’re discussing. Fairness is a kind of moral gauge, L. Sun writes in his 2013 book, The Fairness Instinct. Even-handed treatment is instinctive in young people, until they get to feeling that they’re being crossed up by older people.

We view fairness as the hallmark of civility, a starting place for discussion,  listening and learning. “Maybe there is something to that” ought to be our reaction when we encounter a new point of view, one that merits closer listening, not a spiteful retreat. It’s a word requiring awareness, not hunkering down.

Fairness is thus a term worth burnishing (as in building a website around it). You don’t have to be Robin Hood, not at all, to be mindful of practicing it. “Stop, look and listen,” is how it begins, and it leads to justice and compassion.

Newspapers No Longer at Our Doorsteps

Grinding ever onward, no downward. That’s the fate of America’s newspaper industry, and perhaps the most trusted means of keeping the nation’s people informed. Now  McClatchey, the country’s second-largest newspaper chain, is filing for bankruptcy.

As these dire developments in print journalism continue, start counting the minutes of actual news on the nation’s evening television newscasts. We’d bet they’re declining too. Will it matter so much what actually happens in the nation – its cities and towns – if fewer and fewer people are reliably informed about the daily news?

Some of us used to deliver newspapers to customers’ doorsteps daily and Sunday and felt we were performing a service in doing so. We felt we were helping to hold our communities and, yes, the nation together. (And making some pocket money too.)

Yet here’s the Sacramento Bee, the newspaper that started the McClatchey chain, saying that the Chapter 11 filing will allow it to restructure its debts and, it hopes, “shed much of its pension obligations”. There are “10 pensioners for every single active employee – a reflection of another economic era.” Well, gee, somebody had to gather the news and get those newspapers out. What happens to them now? This is all beginning to sound  pretty ghastly.

And there, on the NiemanLab digital site, the bankruptcy story is accompanied by a YouTube video.

Does it matter what happens in public life if nobody is reading  about it, and barely listening either? Sounds like an information crisis exists, but who is to confirm that’s so?   A teenager on his bicycle hasn’t left that information on your doorstep, and won’t.

‘Without Fear or Favor’ – A Standard Impaired

Without fear or favor – that’s how justice is supposed to be administered in fairness to all. Yet more than 1,100 former officials of the U.S. Department of Justice, advises NPR, “are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign after his department lowered the prison sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump.” They must sense that something is amiss in the halls of justice, and so it seems to be.

Yet, despite the appearance of malpractice, President Trump still isn’t satisfied: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr,” he tweeted, “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!”

“Taking charge” – That’s astounding, as all those retired Justice Department officials seem to agree: “To Julie Zebrak, who’s among the former DOJ officials who signed the letter, Barr’s behavior shatters a cardinal norm that has been in place for decades: that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions should not be influenced by the White House.”

In running a government like America’s, it’s both fair and expected that the rules of due procedure will be adhered to.  Yet Ms. Zebrak adds: “We are all watching in a really rapid and terrifying way the undermining of the department and the diminishment of the rule of law. We have to sort of speak up and speak out when we can.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment. That’s not fair, either, if there’s anything to be said for President Trump’s action. All sides deserve to be heard.

Bloomberg’s Tarnished Candidacy

America is a special place and has to be recognized as such on a life-long basis, starting in grade school. Somebody who doesn’t live by that tenet, day by day and year by year, ought not to aspire to be President of the United States of America. Somebody like Michael Bloomberg.

We have now, unfortunately, the example of the booklet “Bloomberg’s friends and admiring colleagues compiled of his ‘wit and wisdom’ nearly 30 years ago.” It opens with the one-liner “Make the customer think he’s getting laid when he’s getting [expletive].” As soon as Bloomberg, the executive, learned of that tripe, he should have stopped it. Now, however, it’s surfaced to haunt his presidential campaigning.

“Language that might have flowed during the machismo-fueled 1990’s on Wall Street strikes a different chord during a nationwide political bid in the era of #MeToo.”

In any era, such tripe should have been squelched by an executive  worthy of being a leader. If Bloomberg couldn’t do that then, he needs to be viewed as a fatally tarnished presidential candidate now.

It simply isn’t funny.  Here’s the booklet itself.

Speaking Freely. . .and Officially

Righteousness, at least self-righteousness, doesn’t necessarily jibe with fairness. It has, however, been a hallmark of the Trump Administration in Washington.

We’ve had this in mind especially since reading an Associated Press dispatch a while ago about a Trump administration official saying that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty refers to “people coming from Europe” and that America only wants migrants “who can stand on their own two feet.”

For a refresher, courtesy of AP,  Emma Lazarus wrote her “New Colossus” poem in 1883 “one year after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned laborers from China. The poem is best known for its line about welcoming ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Beginning in the 1930s, AP added, supporters of immigration began using the poem to bolster their cause. Biographer Esther Schor said Lazarus was “deeply involved in refugee causes”.

Thus fairness involves, from the start, getting one’s facts straight and, especially if one is a government official, being well-informed and careful about even impromptu comments.

Yes, fairness is a discipline in itself, appropriate for all government officials yearning (as we assume most do) to speak truthfully and as well as officially.

(The photo above shows Karen Meja, left, fitting her mother, Leonor Chipayo, with a souvenir Statue of Liberty foam visor on a visit to Ellis Island last year in New York.) 

 

The Waste In Long Prison Sentences

Editorially, The Wall Street Journal has long been concerned about the overly long prison sentences that have become the norm in our American justice system. And in its February 9, 2019 issue, the Journal offers a piece by a state trial judge in Denver that points up the folly of “the American epidemic of overly long prison sentences.”

Judge Morris Hoffman notes that “the penitentiary wasn’t intended to be a criminal warehouse. Criminals were expected to work, pray and think about their crimes – to be penitent about them – in a kind of moral rehabilitation.”

Yet  today “America leads the Western world in average length of prison sentences, at 63 months. According to the Justice Policy Institute, Canada’s average is four months, Finland’s 10, Germany’s 12 and even rugged individualistic Australia’s is just 36.” American lawmakers seem to have become infected with a throw-away-the-key approach to criminal justice.

What occurs when inmates recognize the folly of their actions yet still have years, maybe many more years, to rue their mistakes? Very likely, an abuse of human potential, of the ability of predominately younger people (mostly men) to learn from their mistakes and start anew. Would all be so chastened if released earlier? Maybe not. But most, we’d assume, would.

America shouldn’t be known for warehousing criminals but for seeking to understand and possibly mitigate the circumstances that produce them. Is this mistaken idealism? No, it’s fairness in the face of circumstances, in many cases, that even criminals can be expected to brood about.

“Not a day passes,” Judge Hoffman writes, “that I don’t think of that young robber I sentenced so long ago. As state and federal legislators ponder their next moves after the First Step Act, they should consider lowering historically extreme sentences for some offenses, including violent ones. It would not only be sensible public policy but would also help return our criminal law to its moral roots.”

“Our prisons are groaning because of long sentences, not large numbers of short ones.”

Think about that.