Sunday, August 25, 2013

Public interest must return to trumping the interests of the rich, the connected and the powerful... globally

Yesterday, as part of the MSNBC coverage of the Anniversary March on Washington, 50 years after the original march in which Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous, "I have a dream" speech, Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta, for Ambassador to the United Nations and colleague of Dr. King, was asked by the host, "At the time of the original march, your leadership group needed lawyers; what does the leadership group need today?"
And Andrew Young's immediate answer was, "Economists!"
And then he went on to explain that the world is struggling with a nation's capacity to regulate the flow of money given the globalization of the markets, and that there is a profound need for an international forum  to grapple with this new reality.
So, once again, far from merely a march to improve the lot of black folks given the much wider focus on economic equality for all of the original march, yesterday's efforts were also pointed at the inequality in the economy, not only within the borders of the United States, but also on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized of all colours, ethnicities and geographies.
Fareed Zakaria, in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, writes about illiberal democracies around the world...and about why his title epitomizes the failure of liberal democracies to work effectively, while in many countries people are the streets protesting their lack of voice in the governance of their own countries.
It seems to us that the two issues, the globalized economy and the failure of liberal democracies are intimately linked, if not completely enmeshed.
It says here that the 1% in every country have effectively high-jacked the governments of too many nations, while emerging states, or those clinging to any vestige of effective governance, (regardless of how that governance is established, through the vote, or through some kind of hybrid of political appointments and elections) are experiencing their own unique application of an ideology that  advocates strenuously, often militantly for less government, fewer regulations and increased "frontier Darwinism" enabling the uber-corporations, the financial services sector, the lobbyists for these interests and their "allies" around the world, some of them scrupulous, other much less so, to engage in a kind of free-wheeling deal-making in weapons (one of the most active commodities being traded among especially the marginal countries) and drugs, as well as what we might consider legitimate commodities. Even the so-called respectable corporations are paying huge fees for lawyers and accountants to find loopholes for those corporations to escape the taxing authority of the countries of their head offices, preferring instead to shift their profits to locations where there is little or no tax being collected on such profits.
It is, therefore, not merely the antiseptic and hygienic and intellectually highbrow failure of democracies of whatever stripe, but rather a somewhat formal and somewhat informal organized campaign to wrest control of the levers of economic and fiscal power from the hands of governments and place that power into the hands of large corporations, ultra-wealthy individuals some of whom operate their own corporations, while others merely amass mountains of dividend clippings.
It is not economists that the Peoples Marchs everywhere need, with all due respect for Andrew Young, nor is it effective democracies, with respect to Mr. Zakaria; it is rather to find individuals and groups who are committed to building the kind of firewalls that keep private/corporate/lobbying and wealthy donor capital out of the political process.
If and when the political process, including the agents of that process (the politicians), is for sale and being bought with dollars squirreled away from the internal revenue services of many countries, it is more than the failure of the liberal democracies that is at stake. The economy and the internet that supports it, combined with the deliberate initiatives to thwart the will of the people, the sine qua non of all democratically elected governments, and to replace that "will of the people" in both the abstract and in the specific applications that would address the issues of ordinary and struggling people, with the will of the rich, the powerful, the connected and the pockets, cheques, political ideology and personal narcissism of those individuals.
It is no longer legitimate to complain about the corruption in third world states, or in the former Soviet Union, (now Russia) or in the countries where drugs have become the centrepiece of the national economies (Afghanistan instantly springs to mind) or in countries where any form of governance is being implemented for the first time, without also acknowledging the take-over by the 1% of the levers of power, the regulations governing individual nation states, along with the withdrawal of effective support for agencies like the United Nations, by those like former Senator John Kyl of Arizona, who, with colleagues, writes in Foreign Affairs, a few weeks ago, that for the United States to join the international fora such as the International Criminal Court would be to sacrifice its national sovereignty.
So when one combines:
  • the underwriting of the "democratic process" unleashed in its most toxic form in a U.S. Supreme Court decision known as "Citizens United" (one of the most ironic and paradoxical titles the case could wear!) with
  • the deliberate refusal to accept international collaboration at the official level, because of the mindless even ostrich-headed myopia of people like Kyl,
  • and the galloping technologies for which few countries have legislation that "keeps up" with the opportunities provided to those at the front edge of both its development and its deployment,
  • linked also to a "fourth estate" that drinks the same martini 'kool-aid' served by the 1% who own most of their jobs, and their opportunities to continue working, including Mr. Zakaria,

we have effectively replaced a consensus form of liberal democracy in which people of differing ideologies could and did put the "national interests" ahead of their personal agenda, and ahead of the agenda of their funding agents or their respective and traditional voting blocs, with an international cabal of rich and powerful interests and agents whose only interest and purpose is to make it possible to make more and more profit, without having any regard, or having to have any regard for what used to be called "common interests".
There are no common interests any more, as evidenced by the Republican Senate candidate's public statement last week to the effect that if you get cancer, that's your problem not other words that kind of inevitable eventuality, formerly seen as "universal," no longer matters to this man who is seeking to represent the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. Multiply his perspective with the dozens in the House of Representatives who share his point of view; link that to a judicial system that has, not tilted, but slid completely in the direction of "vengeance and zero tolerance" away from rehabilitation, and a vengeance that is racially coloured against minorities, and you have what amounts to a toxic and debilitating culture that opposes "good government" in favour of "me-ism" on the part of the participants.
Even the president just this week commented in public addressed in upstate New York that the U.S. spends more on prisons than on higher education, something he considers a national priority. However, the Congress has now linked student loans to the current interest rates of the market, thereby demonstrating that money and the pursuit of revenue has replaced the achievement of a legitimate education for the many. In some jurisdictions, a law that was designed to interdict drug dealers, known as "seizure and forfeiture" is being used by state police to stop innocent travellers, and seize whatever cash they may have in their vehicles, for whatever purpose, unless those people sign a statement acknowledging their guilt (for what, they have no idea!) and the proceeds of such seizures are being used to pay bonuses to those very same police officers, whose departmental budgets have been cut by state legislators.
We do not need lawyers, economists, or ivory-tower intellectuals like Zakaria, with respect to his considerable intellect, capacity to gather good minds and elicit solid insight from those guests on his GPS on CNN...what we need are courageous and visionary and ethically and morally authentic individuals and political affiliations who speak the truth to power within their own circles, and especially to the wider "general public"....
It is the common interests, the general public, and the capacity to address the issues most pressing to those ordinary folk that government, democratic, autocratic, appointed, elected or whatever the means of their securing office that needs to return as the focus of governments, including the indisputable need for national governments to compromise some national "autonomy" for the sake of the global constituents...which group comprises each of the people in government in all countries.
Parochialisms, narcissism, NIMBY, theocracies, racism, ageism, sexism, militarism, vengeances and even nationalism....these are going to have to give way to an imperative of collaboration, internationalism even globalism, generosity with restricted means, celebration of 'the other' and a collective consciousness that we all do breathe the same air, drink the same water, and feed from the same land, regardless of the colour of our skin, the diplomas on the wall, the size of our bank accounts, and the connections on our FACEBOOK pages and TWITTER accounts.
And while national governments cannot and will not be organized as virtual governance  in any one country, the technologies will increasingly enable each of us to transition into world citizenship, for which there might even be a "citizenship membership card" enabling each of us to travel to all countries, to submit opinion pieces to the readers in all countries, and to share our common interests, needs, aspirations and the best practices (and worst failures) of the governing bodies in our regions.
And when the playing field is leveled through access to information as well as to "influence" there are more of "us" than there are of the 1%, and increasingly that imbalance will be levelled, through necessity if not through intellectual argument alone.

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