Saturday, October 15, 2016

A modest proposal to shift governance from reactivity to proactive prevention

There is something wrong with this picture!

Every-time a whistle-blower cries foul, the corporation, government agency, or other employer, or offending party cries foul even more loudly. A “disgruntled employee” or a “troublemaker” or “his work record was tarnished by several negative reports” (so this latest outburst is merely revenge!)…or whatever counter-claim seems to fit the need of the loud and well financed power.

And, in the political campaign, the “fact-checkers,” literally thousands of little beavers are busily digging into archives, video tapes, digital newspapers, and transcripts of specific facts, in order to demonstrate the “soothsayer” who uttered the outrageous statements is shown to be distorting, misrepresenting or actually lying…on a one-by-one, case-by-case basis.

Similarly, when a corporation’s product is demonstrated to be faulty, just by a single consumer, even one who has been injured by, in, or as a result of using, that product, the producer of the product cries foul, begging coverage by the “legal requirements” under which the product has been produced.

Case-by-case basis….single incidents….these by themselves rarely gather the kind of attention that would accompany the “canary in the coal mine” impact of noxious gases for underground workers, although even there, the “big boys” refuse to accept responsibility, accountability and liability and many lives have been sacrificed to that institutional denials, and omissions.

Power, through dollars, through political influence, through the purchase of expensive legal teams, and through the skillful and highly paid public relations “experts” nearly always swamps the voice that cries foul. The tobacco industry pushed back for decade, perhaps even longer that their produce could not be proven to cause cancer, even when they knew there was incontrovertible evidence that it did, and does and will continue to. Occasionally, a company will have to pay reparations, apologize and try to “move forward” that “magic” phrase by which all tragedies are supposed to be shoved into the vault of history.

A single clergy suicide, too, will never provoke the kind of critical self-examination among church authorities that would seek to and determine to uncover the culture in which such an event occurred. The “responsibility” will always rest exclusively on the perpetrator/victim, when we all know that the context, culture and ambience contributed.

 There is a genuine clashing of gears in this model. If we are conditioned (as we are) to render first reports of trouble as nothing to worry about, something to be ignored, denied, and snow-plowed into the ditch of public opinion, simply because of a cultural “convention” and perception, we participate in the potential of a really serious and potentially endemic issue going unattended at our peril. The model also encourages the “big boys” to adopt that old mantra, “It is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission” for an act or a series of actions that are known to be harmful. Knowing they area creating a potential problem, they are already engaged in the process of preparing their “damage control” public relations campaign to minimize the damage.

And this model also stems, at least theoretically, from a religious model of sin and forgiveness, a model that, if warranted, and originally applied to relations between man and God, and between one human and another, is not appropriate in the larger public sphere. In a private relationship, in which two are engaged, there is ‘full frontal” (borrowing from Samantha Bee) confrontation, push back and checks on one’s attitudes, behaviours and words. Such a direct engagement is not available in the public arena, where the “fourth estate” is the public servant attempting to serve as public advocate, in the face of unethical behaviour by the political class and the mega-corporations, including the universities, the churches, the hospitals the military and the government, including the individual actors in these theatres.

Malfeasance among the political class, the corporations and the public institutions is rarely accidental, and yet it confronts us like a new enemy, an enemy with which the political class is incestuously embedded. We cannot afford to have the institutions setting the standards of expected ethical behaviour for our children, without the energized, vocal and committed and persistent public cry for better governance of the “powerful”.  They are now so large, so rich and so powerful (as they are also the source of retirement funds for millions, who desperately need the stock values to continue to rise) that both their innocence and their “legal status” as individual human beings can no longer be tolerated.

Governments themselves, are not the benchmark of ethical standards either, given their primary purpose of retaining their own power. Their access to public funds, and to the levers of power on how to spend those dollars, discreet from those funds raised on behalf of a specific political party, is now so influential, and their impunity from both disclosure and thereby from accountability (in four years a lot of damage to public policy can and too often does occur behind closed doors, as it has in Canada under Harper), that we have to re-think how we are governed. (And proportional representation will not solve this conundrum!)

Habeus corpus, that venerated legal maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” must be preserved, for individuals and for corporations. However, it is the “oversight” issue that needs to be strengthened by both legislation and public funding. The power of the public purse has to be equal to, if not superior to the fiscal vaults of the millions of corporations whose wealth and political influence far exceeds that of many legitimate governments. We not only have to rescind “citizens united” that opened the gates of political campaigns to private and corporate dollars. We also need to accept the fact that only public money can be used for political campaigns, thereby levelling the playing field for all candidates (who would receive an equal amount of public funds, and by limited to another amount of private donations). It is time to cut the billionaires and the millionaires of out the exclusive ‘right’ to seek public office and/or to drive the political agenda of the nation with their cheques.

It is also time to overhaul the way we think about public oversight, public prosecution, public capacity to hold witnesses accountable, as if they were appearing in a court of law. We need far more oversight, not only of the intelligence community, but also of the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the military manufacturing industry, the “water” industry ( companies like Nestle must be prohibited from raping the natural resource of drinking water, and profiting from its sale). And we need the journalism schools and the law schools to design a joint curriculum in which graduates will be able to ask the tough questions, knowing the parameters of the law.

 It is not enough to protect democracy, now that is has raged out of control before our eyes, and with our silent complicity, that we have a fourth estate attempting to keep the conversation balanced in terms of air time and column inches for competing interests, and to keep the “facts” straight, although those boundaries are necessary. We need a public voice long before the political class even receives its first vote. We need to fund the public broadcasters like the CBC and PBS, and the private media outlets have to be first encouraged and then mandated to hire, retain and support investigative reporters in major fields like national security, environment, public health, natural resources, and fiscal management. (The Office of Budget Management (U.S.) and the Auditor General (in Canada) and a single Ethics Commissioner (in some municipal, provincial and national governments) are no longer adequate to protect the “public interest.” It is not a presumption of guilt that drives these observations and proposals. It is the new reality of how personal, government and corporate privacy is being hacked, and how we have access to public information that was never available in the public arena when the “oversight” function was created.

The notion of “prevention” as opposed to the notion of “criminal or ethic charges” after the fact has to drive the shift in “governance.” Although there is no “sex appeal” in the pubic policy and practice of “prevention” of issues, it is a highly valued way of thinking and governing. For example,just today two Northern Saskatchewan communities are reeling over the death by suicide of three young girls under the age of fifteen. Rushing in psychologists, after the fact, and sending others of the twenty who are deemed to be “at risk” to large cities for ‘help’ is such a pathetic example of how cleaning up messes after they occur only betrays our shared complicity in failing to take the necessary steps to “PREVENT” such despair.

It does not take a ‘philadelphia lawyer’ to discern that conditions in all First Nations communities are so desperate that it should surprise no one that young people would see no hope and consider suicide as their only option to end the pain.

There is an old adage about children falling into a rushing river, with hordes of people pulling them out, below the falls into which they slipped. Many of us have asked, repeatedly, why are more people (and resources) not dedicated to preventing them from falling in in the first place. And this shift in the archetype of governance, prevention and proactivity, including the institutional muscle that would make such proactivity authentic, is so glaringly needed, in order to bring about a geopolitical shift in modus operandi about the global issues that are going unanswered, unattended and threatening to swallow us all.

It is no longer enough for any government to focus primarily on the “budget” issues of their term in power. They must be held accountable, and seen to be holding themselves accountable through a vigorous and invasive media coverage on all the important files supported and enhanced by institutional “oversight” paid for, legislated for and sustained by the kind of political action to which no respectable party can turn a deaf ear.

Not only is “prevention” and proactivity in the governance of the governing necessary. It is also a time when the public needs more and not less information about the global patterns, forces, both good and evil, that are emerging in the various world capitals, and hinterlands. Consequently, private and public media outlets must expand, and not contract their teams of foreign correspondents. This is especially true when the issues we are facing increasingly do not respect national boundaries. When we learn that Britain is now leaving the European Union, and then learn that Italy is on the brink of bankruptcy and potentially leaving the EU, and Scotland has announced a second referendum on leaving Great Britain, we all need to know the implications of these moves, not only for the countries involved, and for the EU, but also for the world community.

Climate change, for example, and the global warming that coms with it, generated by the activities of human beings, is not reducible to a single storm, drought, fire, or hurricane or tornado. However, cumulatively, there is little doubt among those with both brains and research banks far larger than mine that we are quickly moving into the danger zone on the multiple impacts of this phenomenon.

Similarly, corporate malfeasance can no longer be considered on a case-by-case basis if the cumulative impact is going to be assessed. It costs billions in individual corporate losses, both in production and distribution costs, as well as in insurance costs and in the cost of departing investors when a company produces a faulty product, as well as in the loss of the reputation of the country in which the factory or service is generated, a loss for which the whole country will eventually pay, and pay dearly.
Fact checking too, as is so clearly obvious in the current presidential campaign, can no longer be documented on a case-by-case basis, for the simply reason that such a method permits and even fosters a collective memory lapse, as well as a kind of inferred impunity on the part of the liar, thereby exacerbating the situation.

Leadership, in a culture of political chaos and change, requires new ways of thinking, new ways of conceiving the situations we face. No longer will the band-aids of public relations after the facts have imploded, after the globe’s climate has so impaled the planet, after the governments have pushed their “envelop” (as all practitioners of power can and will do, increasingly the longer they have that power), after the teens have terminated their lives, after the children of Flint have been so permanently damaged intellectually, physically, emotionally through their consumption of lead-poisoned water.#

Having descended to the public gutter on so many fronts, with public officials demonstrating their own bravado in insulting the public with both lies and then denials, with overspending in inappropriate projects, with inflicting abusive power on innocent people, and with distorting the real dangers with impunity…it is time to reflect, individually and collectively, in all countries about how power is being abused, not only on the innocent children whose parents are charged with child abuse, but with public policies and actions that aggressively seek to prevent all abuses of power in each and every community.

It is no longer acceptable for public leaders to cover their asses,  and announce headline-grabbing stories, while, behind the curtain of public knowledge and awareness, many serious issues remain unaddressed, and those same political leaders continue to retain power simply through the cash support of their ideological benefactors.

Ideology is no longer an adequate identifier for political aspirations. Survival of both the political systems, including the democratic institutions, and the planet are now on the horizon of all thinking, sentient and increasingly rebellious people. We deserve and demand better!

#  A Michigan resident reminded me this week that hundreds of towns and cities across North America that have used and continue to use lead pipes for their water supply, without replacing them with safe pipes, so in his view millions of others are also in danger of water poisoning in the same way as those living in Flint.

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