A recent obituary in The Economist for Cyrus Vance, an American statesman, quoted his attitude to government, public service, and his life's work:
The Buying of Democracy"A lot of us were raised in families were we were taught that we were very fortunate, that we were going to have a good education, and that we had the responsibility to return to the community some of the benefits and blessings we had, and that there was an obligation to participate in government service at the local, state and national level."Gosh. And honest, too. Double gosh, when we live in the age of so much lying that a US President-almost couldn't stop himself from saying he invented the internet.
The obituary went on to quote Philip Habib, a career diplomat, who said his "absolute, total and complete honesty" made him "probably the finest public servant I ever worked with."
Let's contrast this Vance's life's work with our present crop of topmosts.
With so many people moving between the business world and Washington,
hiring current and former bigwigs is inevitable. The international advisory
committee of Solomon Smith Barney, now headed by Rubin, once included
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Richard Cheney,
when he was still CEO of Halliburton. "This was a shrewd tactic by [Enron
Chairman] Ken Lay because he recognized early on that his bread was partly
buttered by regulators and policymakers. It allowed [Enron] to curry favor
with important people," says Wharton management professor Michael Useem.
Companies that use advisory boards and the people who serve on them
dispute that notion. Goldman Sachs says it named Foley to its Japanese
advisory committee because of his experience as a former U.S. ambassador to
Japan and not "to open doors in Japan and Washington."-"Advisory Boards: Influence for Hire? Enron wasn't alone. Plenty of companies dispense large sums to the well-known and well-connected, often for very little work" Business Week , January 24, 2002
The partnership with industry disease has infected many programs and departments. Sometime it is open even though still reprehensible, such as the strange message from the partnership of USAid and Monsanto, the world's largest genetic modifier of food crops, the products of which are being pushed to be easier to create and sell overseas than in the tougher democratic climate of America.Of course, there is another way to restore democracy. Change it yourself.
More insidious connections are illustrated by Harper's Magazine, which recently quoted Theodore A. Postol, a whistle blower (MIT physicist) who reported to then White House Chief of Staff John Podesta that the results of the missile defense shield tests were essentially on the same level of credibility as Enron's books. The results were cooked, the tests changed to show that the defense shield works, when it does not. The strange thing is that his communication was buried until Harper's made a point to feature it. And still, it is not taken seriously. You can read the letter yourself here: http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:0JxtiBativcC:www.armscontrol.ru/start/publications/letter.pdf+%22Theodore+A.+Postol%22&hl=en
For the most expensive program in US military history, the work of public servants (and the message of elected representatives) being an advocacy to support something that will benefit an industry, but not America, there is a definition: treasonous fraud. We use this term determinedly, as we believe this is happening with many departments today, and many spokespeople for America. They have been turned by money. They are sales staff.
This stealing of democracy would not matter if it only hurt Americans. But the lie hurts the world. By destabilizing it. By undermining democracies and the hope of same. But also, by cheating Americans themselves, the world is cheated, as the model becomes the scorned when it not only fails to live up to the high rhetoric, but inflicts suffering on others while it talks compassion and good.
In this time of war, we need less talk of "evil", and more of what makes a healthy democracy, and a diligence to make sure that those who work in it, work by, for, and are truly of the people. We need to create a democracy that believes in the common good, not the private enrichment. And we need to foster altruism, not selfishness.
Some of the "partners" of the US State Department are Monsanto, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Coca Cola. How they got to be partners is a matter of access.
This is not just a Republican issue. The entire establishment has been infected. The Democratic Leadership Council (of the US Democratic Party) has become corporately governed (no surprise, considering how many IOUs the members have to make good on). The latest position paper from their think tank was reviewed by The American Prospect, which first quotes the PR blurb:
"With the success to date of the war in Afghanistan, it is time to think about the next steps. The
enclosed new policy report . . . offers original analysis and fresh ideas to complement the military campaign against terrorism with measures to reduce the appeal of religious and nationalist extremism."
Funding for secular education, you surmise, or a strengthening of civil society? Not quite. The position paper is an argument for a Mideast free-trade accord -- a NAFTA for the Gulf and nearby regions.
- Free Trade Saves the World, The American Prospect, January 31, 2002
We have working in our "democracy" a new definition of "community. An example is a newsletter from a group that calls itself the "landmine community". It is in fact, the coalition of military professionals and corporations that is in the business of developing and selling landmines to governments around the world. Landmines? You thought we solved that.
It is in the difference between starry-eyed feel good perception of problems solved, and the very real world of mutual beneficiaries, that democracy will rise, or fall.
America itself is not the only country to go down the business/government partnership track. Tony Blair is hoping that this panacea will solve his problems at home, too. He is completely convinced that this is the way, but who convinced him? And can the citizens of Britain participate in this decision, or will it just be those with the access again?
When corporate governance means corporate governance of nations, we have lost democracy, as the goals of a corporation are not that of the nation. If it were, they would not need to donate money or buy influence.Or goodbye democracy.
We need to remake the community that is democracy. The community of the common good. We need to encourage public servants to enjoy being that. And we need to build new firewalls against the purchase of former government officials by industry. In fact, we need to dismantle the entire business/government partnership industry, and the lobby industry itself.
We received the following letter while this piece was being written. It was sent by a person who we gave a Spirit of Democracy award to last year, in honor of her efforts to promote unselfish democracy in her local area, against a background of corruption and the loneliness of all who fight seemingly lost causes....elections are approaching, and with the prodding of many ..... my husband is now running for (office). He has been told how refreshing his views are (funny, since they are really old views, first envisioned by our founding fathers) and that it is time for some "new blood" in government.
In the process of talking to people, we are discovering that it isn't just us who are tired of having to choose between the lesser of two evils come election day. The people of our community are angry that politicians these days are more concerned with who is greasing their palms than with the issues which face us every day. People want someone like them, who really cares about what is happening in our world, and who want to listen to the people who elect them - REALLY listen.
People seem to be excited that my husband, who after the loss of his job has gone back to school to finish his art education degree, cares enough about injustice to do something about it. It seems that democracy might just prevail after all.
"History has called America and our allies to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom's fight."
- President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, January 30, 2002
``We would like to see action, rather than words.''
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate and democracy hopeful, a long long time ago
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