00:03[Music]00:07hello and welcome i’m lynn fries00:08producer of global political economy00:10or gbe news docs today i’m joined by00:13nick00:14buxton he’s going to be giving us some00:16big picture context on the great00:18reset a world economic forum initiative00:20to reset the world00:22system of global governance a worldwide00:25movement crossing not only borders but00:28all walks of life00:30from peasant farmers to techies is00:33fighting against this initiative on the00:35grounds that it represents a major00:37threat00:38to democracy key voices from the health00:41food education indigenous people and00:44high00:45tech movements explained why in the00:48great00:48takeover how we fight the davos capture00:52of global governance a recent webinar00:54hosted by the transnational00:56institute today’s guest nick buxton00:59is a publications editor and future labs01:02coordinator01:03at the transnational institute he’s the01:06founder01:06and chief editor of tni’s flagship01:09state of power report welcome nick01:13thank you very much liam nick the01:16transnational01:17institute was was co-organizer of the01:20great takeover webinar so what is it01:24that you’re01:25mobilizing against uh in opposing this01:28great01:28reset initiative what we’re really01:31concerned about is01:32this initiative by the world economic01:34forum01:35actually looks to entrench the power of01:37those most responsible for the crises01:39we’re facing01:40um and in in many ways it’s a trick it’s01:43a sleight of hand01:45uh to make sure that things continue as01:48they are01:49to continue the same and that will01:51create more of these crises more of01:53these pandemics will01:54deepen the climate crisis which will01:56deepen inequality01:58and it’s not a great reset at all it’s a02:00great corporate takeover02:01and that’s what we were trying to draw02:02attention to what we’ve been finding02:05in in recent years is that um really02:07there is02:08something i would call it a kind of a02:10global02:11silent coup d’etat going on in terms of02:14global governance02:15most people don’t see it and people are02:17familiar have become familiar with the02:19way that corporations02:21have far more influence and are being02:24integrated into policy-making and02:26national level02:27they see that more more in front of them02:30people see their services being02:32privatized02:33and they see the influence of the oil02:36companies or the banking sector that has02:38stopped02:39actions such as regulations of banks or02:42are dealing with the climate crisis what02:43people don’t realize is at a global02:45level02:46there has been something much more02:48silent going on which is that their02:50governance which used to be by nations02:53is now increasingly be done by02:55unaccountable bodies02:57dominated by corporations and part of03:00the problem is that that has been03:02happening in lots of different03:03sectors but people haven’t been03:05connecting the dots03:07so what we’ve been trying to do in the03:08last year is to talk with03:11people in the health movement for03:12example people involved in03:14public education people involved03:17in food sector to say what what is03:20happening in your sector and what we03:22found is that in each of these sectors03:24global decisions were used to be03:25discussed by bodies such as the wh03:28o or such as the food and agriculture03:30organization03:32were increasingly done by these these03:34unaccountable bodies03:36and just to give an example uh we have03:39now the global pandemic and one of the03:41key bodies that is now making the03:43decision03:43is is a facility called kovacs you’d03:46have thought03:47global health should be run by the world03:49health organization it’s accountable to03:51the united nations03:53it has a system of accountability well03:55what’s actually happening is that world03:57health organization03:58is just one of a few partners that04:01really04:02has been controlled by corporations and04:04corporate interests04:05in this case is gavi and sepi and they04:08are both bodies which which don’t have a04:11system of accountability04:13where it’s not clear who chose them who04:15they’re accountable to04:17or how they can be held to account and04:20what we do see is that there’s a lot of04:22corporate influence in each of these04:23bodies04:24what this webinar was about was bringing04:26all these sectors together04:28who are seeing this silent coup d’etat04:30going on04:31in their own sector to map it out and so04:34one of the things that you’ll04:35have seen in the in the webinar is is04:37this mapping of the different sectors04:40who are um who are seeing this going on04:43and the04:43idea is just to give a global picture04:45that this is something happening we’ve04:47had04:48we’ve had more than a hundred of these04:50um of these mult they’re called04:52multi-stakeholder bodies04:54uh coming to coming to the fore in the04:57last 20 years04:58um and and there’s been very little kind05:00of taking note of that and taking stock05:02of what’s emerging05:04and what’s emerging is this silent05:06global coup d’etat05:08so what you find then in the big picture05:11that you’re getting05:12is that a global coup d’etat has been05:15silently emerging and at the heart of it05:18is a move05:19towards multi-stakeholder model of05:21global governance and05:23that this is the model that’s the path05:25and mechanism05:27of a corporate hijack of global and05:29national governance05:30structures and the world economic forum05:32agenda fits into all this is the wef of05:35course is05:36one of the world’s most powerful05:38multi-stakeholder institutions05:40so nick in explaining what all this05:42means let’s start with some of your05:44thoughts05:45on the history of how we got here05:49i think what we had was in the 90s was05:52the kind of height of neoliberalism we05:53had05:54we had um the increasing role of05:56corporations as05:58and the deregulation of the state and it06:01really started to come through in 200006:02with the global compact06:04and where the un invited in uh you know06:07corporations and the idea was that we’re06:09going to need to involve corporations06:11one because06:12we will need private finance became the06:15kind of motto06:16the mantra so we need to involve06:18corporations they can be part of the06:20solution so it was06:21partly financed it was partly the06:22withdrawal of state06:24from kind of global cooperation um06:27and and that started to invite06:30corporations into the global government06:32where corporations were increasingly um06:34being invited into these kind of bodies06:37that dovetailed with this whole movement06:39um called06:40the corporate social responsibility that06:42sid corporations06:44weren’t just profit-making vehicles they06:46could be socially responsible06:48actors um and and so increasingly06:51corporations were pitching themselves as06:53as not just um corporate entities but as06:57global citizens06:59um and and one of the key vehicles for07:02that of course is the world economic07:04forum which has07:05really been articulating07:08through klaus schwab and through their07:10whole and through their whole07:11work uh this idea that’s that07:14corporations07:16should firstly be social responsible and07:18secondly as part of that they should be07:20treated07:21as social entities and should be07:24integrated into governance and decision07:26making07:27that we needed to move from what was07:29considered an07:30antiquated state-led07:33multilateral approach to a much more07:36agile governance system07:38and this is again the kind of mantra of07:39coming in of the private sector being07:42efficient07:43that the private sector if you involve07:44them in decision making07:46you would get more faster decisions you07:48get agile decisions you’d get better07:50decisions07:51and so this all really came together um07:53and and07:54in in some ways it’s even being07:56consolidated even further07:58the irony is that as as you’ve had08:00nationalist governments come to power08:03that the kind of trump america firsts of08:06the world or modi08:07india first they articulate a08:10nationalist agenda but they haven’t08:12actually questioned the role of08:14corporations in any way whatsoever08:16and as as they’ve retreated from08:18multilateral forums like the united08:20nations08:21they’ve left a vacuum that corporations08:23have been able to fill08:24corporations now say we can be the08:27global actors we can be the responsible08:29actors08:30we’re the ones who consort to tackle the08:32big crisis we face such as inequality08:35such as climate change08:37um such as the pandemic and so so really08:40this08:40this we’ve had this convergence of08:42forces coming together08:44where as states have retreated um08:47corporations have filled the vacuum08:49you mentioned earlier that the world08:50economic forum was one of the key08:52vehicles for these08:53ideas and the wef also went big in08:57filling that vacuum that you’re talking09:00about09:00tni reported the wef global redesign09:04initiative09:05stretching back to 2009 created09:08something like09:0940 global agenda councils and industry09:12sector bodies so in the sphere of global09:15governance the wef09:17created space for corporate actors09:19across the whole spectrum09:21of governance issues from cyber security09:23to climate change you name it09:25so yeah the global redesign initiative09:27was one of the first initiatives that09:29the world economic forum launched09:31in the wake of the financial crisis um09:35and their idea was that we needed to09:37replace what was09:39uh an inefficient um multilateral system09:42that was not able to solve problems09:45with a new form of things so they were09:46saying instead of a multilateral where09:48nations make decisions in global09:50cooperation09:51we needed a multi-stakeholder approach09:54which would bring together09:55all the interested parties in small09:58groups09:59to make decisions and the global10:01redesign initiative was really a model10:03of that they were trying10:04to say okay how do we resolve um10:07issues such as the governance of the10:09digital economy10:11and their answer to it is we bring the10:13big tech companies together we bring the10:15governments together and we bring a few10:17civil society players10:19and we’ll work out a system that makes10:21that makes sense10:23um and and so you had a similar thing10:26going on in all these other redesigned10:28councils really their models10:29for how they think governments should be10:31done and some of them have not just10:33become models they’ve actually become10:34the real thing10:36so many of the multi-stakeholder10:37initiatives we’ve seen emerge today10:40have emerged out of some of these10:42councils10:43um the coalition for epidemic10:45preparedness one of the key ones leading10:48kovacs right now the response to the10:49pandemic was launched at the world10:51economic forum so the world economic10:53forum is now becoming a launch pad for10:55many of these10:56multi-stakeholder bodies we should also10:59note the world economic forum is a11:01very well funded launch pad as11:04a powerpoint from the great takeover11:06webinar put it11:08corporations do not pay tax but donate11:11to multi-stakeholder institutions and11:13the wef of course11:15is funded by powerful corporations and11:18business leaders11:19the powerpoint also noted the bill and11:21melinda gates foundation is one of the11:23main funders of multi-stakeholder11:26institutions11:27in contrast multilateral institutions11:30are being11:31defunded on the back of falling11:33corporate tax revenues11:35for nation states given it depends on11:39government donors the11:41u.n regular budget that’s the backbone11:43of funding for the one country one vote11:45multilateral11:46processes of intergovernmental11:49cooperation and decision making11:51has taken a big hit perhaps you could11:54comment on some big picture implications11:57on this kind of11:58changing dynamic that’s going on between12:01corporate actors and nation states12:03yeah yeah i think i think what we’re12:06seeing is that the12:07um as gradually the corporations have12:09become more powerful12:11they they have weakened the capacity of12:14the state12:15so they have reduced the tax basis you12:18know most corporations have seen12:20corporate tax rates drop12:21forward dramatically and even more12:23trillions are now siphoned away in tax12:26havens12:26so the the entire corporate tax base12:28which used to play a much bigger role in12:30state funding has reduced um at the same12:34time12:35they they their influence over policies12:38which benefit corporations12:40has increased so they’re reducing the12:42regulations that were on them they’re12:43reducing all the costs that used to be12:45opposed12:46on the things so you’ve had a weakening12:48of the state and the strengthening of12:49corporations12:51and what’s happened at a global12:52governance level is that they have also12:54moved12:55not just from influencing dramatically12:58through their power12:59their economic power political decision13:01making13:02but in an easy global governance thing13:04it’s the next step forward because13:05they’re not just saying13:06that we want to be considered and we13:09will lobby to have our position heard13:11they’re saying13:11we want to actually be part of the13:13decision-making bodies themselves13:16um and the classic again is if we look13:18at the pandemic with kovacs13:21is that um what i looked actually at13:24just at the board of13:25gavi the the global alliance of vaccines13:28um if you look at the body it’s the13:31board is dominated firstly13:33by big pharmaceutical companies um13:36secondly you have some nations and some13:39and13:40civil society representatives but you13:42have far more13:43interest in the almost half a large13:45number of the board13:46are financiers they come from the13:48finance sector they come from big banks13:51um so they’re they’re i don’t know what13:53they have to do with public health13:55um and wh show is just one of the13:58players so it’s it’s suddenly over14:00crowded by others who have no um14:03public health representation they’ve14:06been dominated by finance and14:08pharmaceutical companies14:09starting to really shape and guide um14:12decision-making14:13and and on the finance side of course14:15bill gates foundation14:17has is now the big player in many of14:19these things and it’s14:21it’s it’s not just donating it’s also14:23involved now in shaping policy14:25so those who give money um in a14:28philanthropic way14:30no matter how they earn that money or no14:32matter what their14:33remit is and who they’re accountable to14:35they’re only accountable to the14:37to to bill and melinda gates um14:40ultimately are now part of the decision14:42making process as well14:44and this has become so normalized that14:46there seems to be very little14:47questioning of it14:48and we will bring together these players14:50now who chose them14:53who who chose this body to come together14:55who’s it accountable to14:56there was a british parliamentarian14:58called tony ben he says if you want tounderstand democracy you need to askfive questions
- what what power do you have
- who did you get it from
- whose interest do you serve
- to whom are you accountable and
- how can we get rid of you15:14if you look at a body that such as15:16kovacs um15:17who who where did they get the power15:19from they just self-convened15:21they just brought together a group of15:23powerful actors15:24they will make a token effort to involve15:27one or two civil society representatives15:29but the power very much lies with with15:32the corporations15:33and and with the financiers those who15:36are financing it15:38and it’s not accountable they chose15:40their body15:41uh if the interests are very clear who15:43it serves it clear15:44it serves the pharmaceutical companies15:46they will of course do certain things15:49um within the remit um but ultimately15:52they will not undermine their best15:53business15:54model even if that business model is15:55getting in the way of an effective15:57response to the15:58pandemic we can’t get rid of them16:01because we never chose them in the first16:02place16:03so it fails really the very fundamental16:05principles of democracy16:07and yet it’s now been normalized that16:09this is the way that global governance16:11should happen16:12nick comment briefly on an agreement16:14that was quite a milestone16:16in this process of normalization of16:19multi-stakeholderism16:20as the way global governance should16:22happen i’m thinking16:23of the uh strategic partnership16:26agreement signed16:27by the office of the un secretary16:29general with the world economic forum in16:322019.16:33so what’s some background in your16:35response to that16:37uh un-w-e-f agreement16:41well the world economic forum has been16:43um advocating this mod16:45model of multi-stakeholder capitalism to16:47replace multilateralism for a long time16:50and and they have been um gradually16:54i would say kind of setting up parallel16:56bodies these multi-stakeholder bodies to16:58make decisions17:00um on major issues of global governance17:02whether it’s the digital economy or17:04whether it’s17:04how to respond to a a pandemic17:08um and and so they’ve they’ve been17:10advancing this model17:11um alongside the un for some time but17:14what what was really concerning to us is17:16that they’re starting17:18to increasingly um17:22engage with the un and start to impose17:25this and start to push this model within17:27the united nations17:29and the classic example was this17:31strategic partnership which was signed17:33in17:33i believe june of 201917:37i don’t think it went even in front of17:38the general assembly so it wasn’t17:40discussed amongst the members it was a17:42decision17:43by the secretariat of the un without any17:46at least any17:46formal systems of accountability to sign17:49a deal with the world economic forum17:51that would essentially in start to17:53involve you17:55world economic forum staff within the17:58departments of the un17:59they would become so-called kind of18:01whisper advisors that18:02the world economic forum would start to18:05have its staff mingling with un staff18:07and starting to make decisions18:09um and there was no system of18:10accountability there was no system of18:12of um of consulting more widely18:16and and we know the world economic forum18:19is is this business forum if you look at18:21its board it’s completely controlled18:23uh by by some of the most wealthy and18:26powerful corporations and many of those18:27corporations18:29are responsible for many of the crises18:31we face and yet here they were being18:32open18:33open armed and welcomed into the united18:37nations to play a very significant role18:38and18:39and we we protested that we said that18:42this is not18:43this is not a way to solve global18:45problems to involve those who have18:47actually responsible for the crisis to18:48resolve it18:50will only lead to solutions that are18:51either ineffective or actually deepen18:53the crises we face18:55um we understand why the u.n is doing it18:57it’s because of this18:58lack of national support is because of19:00the defunding19:02they’re looking to kind of survive as an19:03organization and they’re going to the19:05most powerful players in the world which19:07are the corporations19:08but what they’re going to end up doing19:09is as ultimately undermined in the19:12united nations it will actually19:14damage the united nations because it19:15will remove all the democratic19:17legitimacy that it currently has19:20we desperately need global collaboration19:23and cooperation19:24but it must be based on public and19:26democratic systems of governance19:29not um unaccountable secretive forms of19:32governance dominated by corporations19:35so that’s pretty clear you oppose19:38multi-stakeholderism because it’s an19:40unaccountable19:41secretive form of governance dominated19:44by corporations19:45so as well as being unaccountable the19:49multi-stakeholder model is a voluntary19:52and a market-based approach to problem19:55solving19:56comment on how that also uh fits into19:59why you oppose the multi-stakeholderism20:03yeah the the solutions they’re looking20:05for are volunteeristic20:07where you can come in or out and they’re20:09market-based20:10so they will never actually challenge20:12the business model as it is ultimately20:14what happens is that they make decisions20:16which are not binding and actually force20:19actors like corporations to do certain20:21things20:22they’re based entirely on this voluntary20:23meth model um but it’s a kind of to take20:26it or leave it governance where you can20:28do things that you20:29that look good for your for your annual20:31report20:32but don’t actually change the way you20:36actually operate20:37um and so ultimately they won’t resolve20:39the crisis that we’re facing20:41so it’s not just that they’re20:42unaccountable but they’re actually20:44ultimately very ineffective so if we20:45look at the climate crisis for example20:47we’ll say20:48the only way that we can deal with the20:50climate crisis is market solutions20:52even if we know that really the scale of20:55the climate crisis the urgency20:57and the timing requires us to take much20:59more drastic solutions which will be21:01state-led which will require21:02corporations to reduce emissions21:04and that will start to transform21:06economies um21:08that will have to be taken these kind of21:10public decisions21:12we’re ignoring that entirely for a model21:14which is based on of market21:15incentives which really do nothing to21:18change the business model that has21:19created the climate crisis21:21okay so that goes a long way in21:22explaining why you say the world21:24economic forum great21:25reset initiative is no reset at all21:29nick briefly touch on some of your21:31further observations21:33like why is the multi-stakeholder model21:36is based on21:37market solutions when push comes to21:41shove21:42the profit motive will always win out21:45under this21:45approach to global governance yeah no21:48absolutely i mean corporations will21:50accept market solutions which give them21:52the power21:53to uh to really control the pace of21:56change21:56and so you’ll see it they’re very happy21:58to to produce these corporate social22:00responsibility reports but22:02they will fight tooth and nail for any22:04regulation which actually enforces22:06social environmental goals and so and22:09they will22:10fight on an international level to have22:13trade rules to actually22:14prevent states imposing social22:17environmental goals22:19so so there’s very much an approach22:21where they’re willing to have22:22been washed they’re willing to have the22:24propaganda around social environmental22:26goals but they will absolutely oppose22:29and in any rules would actually22:32control their their environmental and22:34social impacts22:36they do not want anything which actually22:38requires regulation22:40and and impacts which will actually22:42force them to do certain changes they22:44want their changes to be very much ones22:46that they22:47control and which they shape and22:48ultimately that they can ditch22:51at the moment it starts to challenge the22:53profits that they want to make22:55let’s turn now to the coalition in22:58in fighting for a democratic reset23:01on uh global governance so a future23:04where decision making over the23:06governance of global commons like23:08for example food water health and the23:11internet23:12is is done in the public interest and i23:15see this23:16coalition put together resources and23:18it’s posted on your website23:19you’re in the nexus of all this so this23:21time around in the wake23:23of the covet pandemic what’s your read23:27on the situation23:28of peoples versus corporate power23:31this global coup d’etat that’s been23:34going on silently in so many different23:36sectors has been advancing because there23:39hasn’t been enough information and23:41knowledge about it23:42and also people haven’t been connecting23:44the dots to see this is happening in23:45every sector23:47so what’s really important this year in23:49as23:50as and i think it’s particularly23:52important in the wake of the pandemic is23:54that23:54so many movements are coming together um23:57people’s health movement23:59has come together a lot of groups24:01involved in food sovereignty uh the24:04trade union sector24:05coming together they’re all saying uh we24:08do this24:08this is not in our name um and of course24:11these are all groups that you’ll never24:12see24:13in a in a multi-stakeholder initiative24:16whenever they do have civil society24:18partners they don’t involve people on24:19the front lines you won’t find one24:23health union worker in in the kovacs24:27initiative you won’t have public health24:29people really represented24:31represented so these are movements now24:33starting to come together to say that we24:35don’t want this and24:36one of the things we did was launch this24:38letter it’s an open letter and it’s24:40really saying that24:41it’s really alerting people to what’s24:43going on it’s saying that we’re facing24:46this24:46in so many different sectors uh the un24:49is is opening the door the un secretary24:52i should say is opening the door wide24:54open24:55uh to the world economic forum which is24:57the key body advancing24:58multi-stakeholders25:01and and it’s changing governance as we25:03know it it’s25:04and it has no systems of accountability25:06or justice embedded in it25:08and these movements are now coming25:09together to say we we’re25:11we’re opposing this we’re uniting our25:13forces25:14and we’re going to fight back against25:16this we know25:18more than ever before with the pandemic25:20that nationalist25:21solutions to the global crisis will not25:25work we need global cooperation we need25:27global collaboration25:29but if we hand over all that decision25:31making to the pharmaceutical companies25:34for example we won’t be dealing with the25:36real issues25:38such as as trade protection and trips25:42and i um patents and everything that25:45that really benefit pharmaceutical25:47companies and don’t advance public25:48health because they25:49are in control of the process they won’t25:51allow things that affect their profits25:54so we need global solutions but they25:55cannot be led by the corporations25:58which are actually worsening deepening25:59the crisis we face26:02so as we close i just wanted to play a26:04clip of a comment26:06you made back in 2015 about a book you26:09had co-edited26:11titled the secure and was dispossessed i26:14found a review of the book26:15so relevant to our chat today i just26:17want to cite a few lines26:19it said among the books that attempt to26:21model26:22the coming century this one stands out26:25for its sense of plausibility26:27and danger it examines several current26:30trends in our responses26:32to climate change which if combined26:34would result in a kind of oligarchic26:37police state dedicated to extending26:40capitalist hegemony this will not work26:43and yet powerful forces are advocating26:46for it rather than imagining and working26:48for26:49a more just resilient and democratic way26:52forward26:53all the processes analyzed here are26:55already26:56happening now making this book26:59a crucial contribution to our cognitive27:02mapping27:03in our ability to form a better plan27:06so nick in wrapping up briefly comment27:10on that book27:11and then uh play the clip yeah back in27:142011 we noticed a trend going on in27:17terms of climate change where there was27:19was27:20was a lack of willingness to really27:22tackle the climate crisis on the scale27:24it needs and with the27:25with the with the tools and instruments27:28that it needs27:29but there was increasingly uh plans by27:32both27:33the military and corporations for27:35dealing with the impacts of climate27:37change27:38um and they very much looked at it in27:41terms of how do we27:43secure the wealth of those and secure27:45those who already have power and wealth27:48um and and and what that would mean so27:51in the face of climate crisis27:53the solution was very much a security27:55solution we’ve already seen27:57really an increasing role of military28:00and policing28:01and security and the real process28:04of militarization of responses to28:06climate change the most obviously in the28:08area of the borders28:09we see we see border walls going up28:12everywhere28:13the response to a crisis has been has28:16been to kind of retreat between behind28:18fortified fortifications no matter the28:20consequences28:22um and so that that was really that’s28:25that’s really a trend that we28:26that we see increasingly is that climate28:29our response to climate adaptation by28:30the richest28:31countries is really to military to28:33militarize our response to it28:36and that’s that’s a and that’s a real as28:38as that quote you just read28:40that’s a real concern because um it’s28:43the kind of politics of the armed28:45lifeboat28:46um where basically you rescue a few and28:48then you28:50and then you have a gun trained on the28:52rest28:53and it’s it’s both totally immoral and28:55it’s also ultimately28:57one that will sacrifice all of our28:59humanity because29:01we need to collaborate to respond to the29:03climate crisis we need to find solutions29:05that protect the vulnerable29:07we cannot just keep building higher and29:09higher walls29:10against the consequences of our29:11decisions and we need to actually start29:13to tackle the root causes of those29:16crises and that that was very much29:19a picture we started to paint back in29:212015 with the launch of the book the29:23secure and the dispossessed29:25but if anything it’s more pertinent and29:27more pressing than ever before29:30nick paxton thank you thanks29:36keeping the profits the huge profits29:38rolling um even though it’s wrecking the29:41planet so they have no intention long29:42term29:43of changing their business model their29:45business model is wrecking the planet29:47and their determination is how to keep29:49that going and what we see in all of29:51this is that29:52corporations in the military are very29:53much responding29:55in a in a paradigm of control it’s it’s29:58security29:59and this word security suddenly infected30:01every part of30:02daily debate we see it food security30:05we’ve seen it really recently now with30:07everyone saying we need30:08security of our borders to protect30:09against refugees we need water security30:12and in all of these cases what you see30:15is those who are being secured30:17are the corporations and those who have30:20wealth30:21and those who are losing out are those30:22who are actually suffering the most from30:24climate change30:25so the peasant who has their land30:27grabbed in the name of food security30:30the community that no longer has control30:32of their river30:33because a corporation has has taken it30:36in the name of30:36water security all the protesters30:39against coal power station are actually30:40trying to stop the climate crisis30:42being repressed and having the civil30:45liberties taken away in the name of30:47energy security30:49in each of these cases the security is30:51quite clearly30:52for a small proportion of people and30:55insecurity30:56for the vast majority i think this is30:58one of the most important issues of our31:00age is31:01is do we want to leave our future in the31:04hands of corporations in the military
On Friday the thirteenth October 1989, by happenstance the same day as the “Black Friday” market crash, news leaked of a legal memo authored by William Barr. He was then serving as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It is highly uncommon for any OLC memo to make headlines. This one did because it was issued in “unusual secrecy” and concluded that the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without the consent of the foreign state. The headline also noted the implication of the legal opinion at that moment in time. It appeared to pave the way for abducting Panama’s leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega.
Members of Congress asked to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, but said he would provide an account that “summarizes the principal conclusions.” Sound familiar? In March 2019, when Attorney General Barr was handed Robert Mueller’s final report, he wrote that he would “summarize the principal conclusions” of the special counsel’s report for the public.
When Barr withheld the full OLC opinion in 1989 and said to trust his summary of the principal conclusions, Yale law school professor Harold Koh wrote that Barr’s position was “particularly egregious.” Congress also had no appetite for Barr’s stance, and eventually issued a subpoena to successfully wrench the full OLC opinion out of the Department.
What’s different from that struggle and the current struggle over the Mueller report is that we know how the one in 1989 eventually turned out.
When the OLC opinion was finally made public long after Barr left office, it was clear that Barr’s summary had failed to fully disclose the opinion’s principal conclusions. It is better to think of Barr’s summary as a redacted version of the full OLC opinion. That’s because the “summary” took the form of 13 pages of written testimony. The document was replete with quotations from court cases, legal citations, and the language of the OLC opinion itself. Despite its highly detailed analysis, this 13-page version omitted some of the most consequential and incendiary conclusions from the actual opinion. And there was evidently no justifiable reason for having withheld those parts from Congress or the public.
Public and Congressional pressure mounts
When first asked by reporters about the OLC opinion that Friday, Barr said he could not discuss any of its contents. “I just don’t discuss the work of the office of legal counsel,” he said. “The office … provides legal advice throughout the Administration and does it on a confidential basis.”
The idea that Barr and the administration would not even discuss the content of the opinion could not withstand public pressure. Barr’s stance was especially untenable because his OLC opinion reversed a prior OLC opinion (an unusual event), and the Justice Department had released that prior opinion in full to the public just four years earlier.
President George H.W. Bush was asked about the Barr legal opinion at a news conference on the day the story broke. “The FBI can go into Panama now?,” a reporter asked in connection with the legal opinion. Bush responded that he was “embarrassed” not to know about the OLC opinion. “I’ll have to get back to you with the answer,” the president said.
Within hours, Secretary of State James Baker tried to make some reassuring public comments about the content of the OLC opinion. “This is a very narrow legal opinion based on consideration only of domestic United States law.” Baker said. “It did not take into account international law, nor did it weigh the President’s constitutional responsibility to carry out the foreign policy of the United States.”
It’s not known whether Baker had first cleared his statement with the Justice Department as is often the case for such matters. But his description of the OLC opinion would turn out to be not just misleading, but false.
The Chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, Rep. Don Edwards, then wrote to the Attorney General requesting the opinion, but he was rebuffed. An assistant attorney general wrote back. “We are unable to provide you with a copy of the 1989 opinion because it is the established view of the Department of Justice that current legal advice by the Office of Legal Counsel is confidential,” she stated. But there was no categorical prohibition, as Barr himself would later admit in testifying before Congress. The assistant attorney general’s letter itself included one glaring counterexample. “I am enclosing a copy of the 1980 opinion,” she wrote, and she noted that the Department had released the 1980 opinion to the public in 1985.
So why not release the 1989 opinion? Was there something to hide?
Barr provides a “redacted opinion” to Congress
On the morning of Nov. 8, 1989, Barr came to Congress to testify before Rep. Edwards’ subcommittee. Some of the events that unfolded also bear a remarkable resemblance to Barr’s handling of the Mueller report to date.
First, Barr started out by saying that the history of internal Justice Department rules was a basis for not handing over the full opinion to Congress. “Chairman. Since its inception, the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinions have been treated as confidential,” Barr said.
That statement was misleading or false, and Chairman Edwards knew it.
Edwards quickly pointed out that the Department had released a compendium of opinions for the general public, including the 1980 one that Barr’s secret opinion reversed. “Up until 1985 you published them, and I have it in front of me—‘Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel’—the previous opinion.”
Barr retreated. “It has been the long established policy of OLC that except in very exceptional circumstances, the opinions must remain confidential,” Barr replied. The reference to “very exceptional circumstances” backtracked from what Barr had just said and what the letter sent to Rep. Edwards by the assistant attorney general had claimed.
But even the assertion that OLC opinions were released only in “very exceptional circumstances” could not withstand scrutiny. The Justice Department had shared OLC opinions with Congress on many occasions during the 1980s, as a letter by Rep. Edwards to the Justice Department later detailed.
Barr then pointed out his willingness to provide Congress with “our conclusions and our reasoning.” This was the 13-page written testimony which contained a detailed recounting of the views expressed in the OLC opinion. Chairman Edwards complained that Barr had violated the rules of the House by submitting his written testimony only that same morning of the hearing, rather than 48 hours in advance. Barr’s timing meant that members of the committee and their staff were not well equipped to analyze or question the OLC’s analysis. But at least they had the OLC’s views in writing. Or did they?
Barr’s description of the OLC’s views included that as a matter of domestic law the President has the authority to authorize actions by the FBI in foreign countries in violation of customary international law.
Without the benefit of the OLC opinion, Professor Koh explained how Barr could be hiding important matters by asking Congress and the public to trust just the 13-page version. Koh wrote:
“Barr’s continuing refusal to release the 1989 opinion left outsiders with no way to tell whether it rested on factual assumptions that did not apply to the earlier situation, which part of the earlier opinion had not been overruled, or whether the overruling opinion contained nuances, subtleties, or exceptions that Barr’s summary in testimony simply omitted.”
Koh’s words proved prescient.
What Barr left out of his report to Congress
I am not the first to notice that Barr’s testimony omitted parts of the OLC opinion that would have earned the Justice Department scorn from the halls of Congress, legal experts, and the public.
Over one and a half years after his testimony, Congress finally subpoenaed Barr’s 1989 opinion. Another House Judiciary subcommittee issued the subpoena on July 25, 1991. The administration first resisted, but within a week agreed that members of Congress could see the full opinion. That same month, the Washington Post’s Michael Isikoff obtained a copy of the OLC opinion. The Clinton administration, within its first year in office, then published the OLC opinion in 1993 making it publicly available for the first time.
Omission 1: President’s authority to violate the U.N. Charter
Isikoff was drawn to a major issue that Barr had not disclosed in his testimony. The 1989 opinion asserted that the President could violate the United Nations Charter because such actions are “fundamentally political questions.”
That proposition is a very difficult one to sustain, and as Brian Finucane and Marty Lederman have explained, Barr was wrong. The 1989 opinion ignored the President’s constitutional duty to “take care” that US laws, including ratified treaties, be faithfully executed. And the opinion conflated the so-called political question doctrine, which is about whether courts can review an executive branch action, with the question whether an executive branch action is authorized or legal.
What’s more important for our purposes is not whether the 1989 opinion was wrong on this central point, but the fact that Barr failed to disclose this “principal conclusion” to Congress.
There was a reason Isikoff considered the conclusion about the U.N. Charter newsworthy. That’s because it had not been known before. The leading analysis of the Barr opinion is in a forthcoming article in Cornell Law Review by Finucane. He observes, “The members of the subcommittee appear to have been unaware of the opinion’s treatment of the U.N. Charter and the witnesses did not volunteer this information during the hearing.”
Professor Jeanne Woods, in a 1996 law review article in Boston University International Law Journal, also observed the large discrepancy between Barr’s 13-page testimony and what it failed to disclose. “Barr’s congressional testimony attempted to gloss over the broad legal and policy changes that his written opinion advocated.… A careful analysis of the published opinion, and the reasoning underlying it, however, reveals the depth of its deviation from accepted norms,” Professor Woods wrote.
Omission 2: Presumption that acts of Congress comply with international law
Woods also noted that the OLC opinion failed to properly apply the so-called “Charming Betsy” method for interpreting statutes. That canon of statutory construction comes from an 1804 decision, Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, in which the Supreme Court stated, “an act of Congress ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations if any other possible construction remains.” In other words, Congress should be presumed to authorize only actions that are consistent with U.S. obligations under international law. As Professor Curtis Bradley has written, since 1804 “this canon of construction has become an important component of the legal regime defining the U.S. relationship with international law. It is applied regularly by the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, and it is enshrined in the black-letter-law provisions of the influential Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States.”
Barr’s opinion not only failed to apply the Charming Betsy presumption in favor of international law; the opinion applied what might be called a “reverse Charming Betsy.” Barr had reasoned that “in the absence of an explicit restriction” concerning international law, the congressional statute should be read to authorize the executive branch to violate international law. “Because, as part of his law enforcement powers, the President has the inherent authority to override customary international law, it must be presumed that Congress intended to grant the President’s instrumentality the authority to act in contravention of international law when directed to do so,” the opinion stated (emphasis added).
That part of the OLC’s analysis has not withstood the test of time. Indeed, there was good reason to keep it buried.
Omission 3: International law on abductions in foreign countries
Finally, Barr’s testimony failed to inform Congress that the 1989 opinion discussed international law.
Barr’s written testimony said that the opinion “is strictly a legal analysis of the FBI’s authority, as a matter of domestic law, to conduct extraterritorial arrests of individuals for violations of U.S. law.” During the hearing he added that “the opinion did not address … how specific treaties would apply in a given context.” The State Department’s legal adviser who appeared alongside Barr supported this characterization of the opinion by saying:
“The Office of Legal Counsel, as the office within the Department of Justice responsible for articulating the Executive Branch view of domestic law, recently issued an opinion concerning the FBI’s domestic legal authority to conduct arrests abroad without host country consent. Mr. Barr has summarized its conclusions for you. As Mr. Barr has indicated, that opinion addressed a narrow question — the domestic legal authority to make such arrests…. My role today is to address issues not discussed in the OLC opinion — the international law and foreign policy implications of a nonconsensual arrest in a foreign country.”
But the OLC opinion had addressed some questions of international law and how a specific treaty—the U.N. Charter—might apply in such contexts. The 1980 opinion, which the 1989 one reversed, included strong statements about the international legal prohibition on abductions in other countries without the state’s consent. In analyzing Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, the 1980 opinion quoted from a famous United Nations Security Council resolution which condemned the abduction of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina by Israeli forces. The 1980 OLC opinion stated, “Commentators have construed this action to be a definitive construction of the United Nations Charter as proscribing forcible abduction in the absence of acquiescence by the asylum state.”
The OLC’s 1989 opinion took a very different view. It stated, “The text of Article 2(4) does not prohibit extraterritorial law enforcement activities, and we question whether Article 2(4) should be construed as generally addressing these activities.” The opinion also engaged in what many legal experts would consider controversial if not clearly wrong claims about international law. As one example, the 1989 opinion stated, “because sovereignty over territory derives not from the possession of legal title, but from the reality of effective control, logic would suggest there would be no violation of international law in exercising law enforcement activity in foreign territory over which no state exercises effective control.” The fact that the opinion had to resort to such a claim of “logic,” rather than jurisprudence or the practice and legal views of states, indicated its shallowness.
In fairness to Barr, these statements of international law were not the principal conclusions of the opinion. And, once again, it is not so relevant to our purposes whether these statements of law were wrong. What’s relevant is that Barr represented to Congress in his written and oral testimony that the OLC opinion did not address these legal issues, even though it did.
* * *
In the final analysis, Barr’s efforts in 1989 did not serve the Justice Department well. He had long left government service when the OLC opinion was finally made public. The true content of the opinion, given what Barr told the American people and testified before Congress, remains much to the discredit of the Attorney General.
Once upon a time there was music in Somalia, but then the music started fading out. First one music radio station, then another, then another, until there was almost no music to hear and people started MacGyvering workarounds.
One of the people who came up with a workaround was Xawa Abdi Hassan, a young woman who lived in a village outside Mogadishu.
“We used to use a memory card, fill the memory card with music and listen to it from our phones,” Xawa says. In her house, as she cooked and cleaned, Hassan would sing along with the great Somali singers. But even in this private space she says she was careful. “I used to turn the volume down low, so no one could hear it.”
The problem was al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group that dominated large parts of the country. Al-Shabab didn’t like music. In 2009 it banned music at weddings, banished musical ringtones and starting punishing people who listened to music on their mobile phones by making them swallow their memory cards.
Eventually the musicians themselves were targeted. The famous soloist Aden Hasan Salad was shot and killed in a tea shop, and others were murdered in the street.
Through all of that, Xawa Abdi Hassan kept listening and practicing. Because she had a dream: “I just wanted to sing and become an entertainer.”
For most of her life though — because of al-Shabab — this was a pretty far-fetched dream. Then in 2013 an unexpected and interesting opportunity emerged: There was going to be a new reality television show in Somalia, an American Idol-style show with singers competing.
“As soon as I heard about it I knew I wanted to join,” Hassan says.
What she didn’t know — what she couldn’t possibly know — was that this reality show was part of a much larger political plan.
Using reality TV to change the world
The plan was to create a musical reality show that could undermine the power of al-Shabab, or, in the language of the memo distributed to the people involved in the show’s creation, “undercut the messaging and brand appeal of armed extremist groups.”
The United Nations, which was providing the money and support for the show, had concluded that a vivid display of Somali musical culture could serve “as a kind of inoculation against the austerity of Shabab,” Ben Parker told me. Parker was the head of communications for the U.N. in Mogadishu. He says that at this point — 2013 — al-Shabab had finally been pushed out of the capital, Mogadishu. But the situation in Somalia was far from stable. There were still regular attacks, so the new government (which had U.N. backing) needed to prove to Somalis that the power of the extremist group really was fading. This is why, Parker says, a musical reality show that challenged the power of the music-hating group was so appealing.
“The beauty of a reality show is that the form itself achieves some of your goals,” he explains.
After all, not only is there music in a musical reality show, there’s democratic voting and individual expression. So even in its form it communicates to its audience a very different way of being.
This kind of indirect political messaging, Parker told me, is increasingly popular in strategic communications: “Those working in conflict … are less and less convinced of the value of weapons and more and more convinced that other approaches can deliver the dividends.”
You get further with songs than with bombs.
So is he right?
Can a reality show actually change reality?
It turns out this question has been systematically studied.
The tricky science of changing what’s normal
How do people come to see the world around them as normal, an unremarkable fact, the way things are and should be? This is the question that interests Betsy Levy Paluck, a psychologist at Princeton University who studies media and how societies change.
Paluck told me that for a long time people assumed the path to political or cultural change depended on crafting the right argument.
“It was all rhetoric and no poetics,” she says.
But starting in the 1990s, according to Paluck, poetics started gaining ground because psychologists realized that people consumed stories in this qualitatively different way.
“Their defensiveness is disabled. Their counterarguing is at rest.”
What Paluck wanted to understand was whether this difference in how we consumed stories translated into any changes in what we thought and how we behaved. So around 2004 she hooked up with an organization in Rwanda that was creating a new radio soap opera that was trying encourage tolerance between different ethnicities.
And what Paluck found after a year of studying communities in Rwanda randomly assigned to listen to the soap opera was that their exposure had a surprising impact.
“What it boiled down to was that despite the fact that people loved this program, it didn’t change their beliefs,” she says. “But it did change their perceptions of norms, and at the same time it changed their behaviors. Which is why I thought this is something significant.”
Let me repeat that: It didn’t change their beliefs; it changed their behaviors by changing what they considered to be the social norm.
That’s a sobering idea.
“It’s a very uncomfortable thought,” Paluck says. “We like to think that all of our behaviors flow from our convictions, and what we do is a reflection of who we are and what we think. But we’re constantly tuning ourselves to fit in with the social world around us.”
So what this work suggests is that if you change someone’s perception of what constitutes the social norm — as you convince people that the world is safe enough to sing in public even though in actual fact singing in public is incredibly dangerous — then you just might be able to move the needle on the ground.
She took on extremists with her song
Which brings us back to Xawa Abdi Hassan, the young woman who quietly listened to music off a memory card and dreamed of being a singer.
It took her some time to convince her family that it would be OK to compete in the show, called Inspire Somalia. Her mother was afraid that participating would turn her into a target, but ultimately she got permission.
Hassan says when she first took the stage to compete, her hands were shaking, and not just because this could be a big break. There was another reason: Because of al-Shabab, she had never sung in public before.
It was too dangerous.
“That was my first time,” she says. “Before that, I did not sing in public places.”
After Hassan two other contestants had their turns, both men. One had a famous musician father; the second, a man named Mustafa, had composed his own song.
Once they finished came the part of the show supposed to serve as a democracy demonstration: the voting. Ballots were distributed to the audience and judges, and for a minute the room was quiet. In this small conference room in the middle of Mogadishu people bent over their ballots and considered the options before them.
The son of the famous musician.
The girl who practiced at home with the volume turned low.
The boy who wrote his own song.
In that room they consulted their hearts, weighed strengths and weaknesses, then marked the paper in their laps.
It was Mustafa who ended up winning, but Hassan says she was honestly not upset. For her just the act of singing in public for the first time was enough. “I was happy as … like I was born that day.” she told me.
In fact, Hassan is now a bit famous. People occasionally recognize her on the street, and even more important, she’s part of a professional singing group. As al-Shabab remains a force in Somalia, this means she is still at risk. She says she tries not to worry too much but is often spooked when she sees a car slow down when she’s walking. Still, she is committed to keep making music.
“Yes, it is dangerous,” Hassan says. “But if the young person doesn’t stand up for his country and do what’s right, how is he helping his country?”
Which brings us to this question: Did this reality show actually change reality in any way?
It would be impossible to make the case that Somalia is a completely different country now. It isn’t.
But there is at least one undeniable change since 2013. Music is back in the streets. Brought back, slowly and painfully, through a complicated combination of political strategy and personal courage.
Last week, a long-awaited report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change showed that the worst consequences of global warming would occur even sooner than previously thought. Here’s the story behind the findings.
On today’s episode:
Coral Davenport, who covers energy and the environment for The New York Times.
William D. Nordhaus, who was awarded a Nobel this year for his work on the economics of climate change.
A report from the United Nations concluded that some of the most severe effects of climate change could take hold as early as 2040, and that avoiding the damage requires a global economic overhaul. So, what’s next?
The Times fact-checked President Trump’s recent statements about climate change.
Ms. Haley said she had been a “lucky girl” to have served in the government and said she was proud of her tenure. She singled out White House officials Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, for praise.
Ms. Haley was a frequent critic of Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign and had endorsed two of his primary opponents, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
She clashed with the White House last spring after saying the Trump administration would imminently impose new sanctions against Russia over its support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. When White House officials later said she spoke prematurely, she issued a sharp retort: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” she said.
Her resignation sent shock waves through the diplomatic community at the U.N., where she was seen as a fierce advocate for Mr. Trump’s views. The news stunned diplomats and U.N. officials who said they didn’t see it coming.
U.N. officials said that Ms. Haley hadn’t informed Secretary-General António Guterres in advance of her decision to depart.
.. The ambassadorial post has sometimes been a springboard for U.S. ambassadors with higher ambitions.
The United States will threaten Monday to punish individuals that cooperate with the International Criminal Court in a potential investigation of U.S. wartime actions in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the decision.
The Trump administration is also expected to announce that it is shutting down a Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington because Palestinians have sought to use the international court to prosecute U.S. ally Israel, those people said.
.. Bolton is a longtime opponent of the court on grounds that it violates national sovereignty.
.. Bolton is expected to outline a new campaign to challenge the court’s legitimacy as it considers cases that could put the United States and close allies in jeopardy for the first time
.. threat of sanctions or travel restrictions for people involved in prosecuting Americans.
.. One person said Bolton plans to use the speech to announce that the Trump administration will force the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington in a dispute over a Palestinian effort to seek prosecution of Israel through the ICC.
.. Bolton’s announcement is closely related to concern at the Pentagon and among intelligence agencies about potential U.S. liability to prosecution at the court over actions in Afghanistan
.. The Trump administration has questioned whether the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens for actions in Afghanistan, because Afghan, U.S. and U.S. military law all could apply in different situations
.. This year, the administration has withdrawn from the United Nations human rights body, halted financial support for a U.N. aid program for Palestinian refugees and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization.
.. Three successive U.S. administrations of both political parties have rejected the full jurisdiction of the international court over American citizens, although U.S. cooperation with the court expanded significantly under the Obama administration.
The United States has never signed the 2002 international treaty, called the Rome Treaty, that established the court, which is based in The Hague.
.. it’s going to create the impression the United States is a bully and a hegemon,”
.. efforts to pressure other countries into agreements not to surrender U.S. citizens to the body.
.. prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who last fall asked for permission to formally investigate alleged crimes committed during the Afghan war. That could potentially include actions by U.S. military or intelligence personnel in the detention of terrorism suspects.
.. “America’s long-term security depends on refusing to recognize an iota of legitimacy” of the court, he wrote.
.. The court is also considering a request from Palestinian authorities to probe alleged crimes committed in Palestinian territories, a step that could result in attempts to prosecute Israeli officials.
.. That office serves as a de facto embassy, staffed by an ambassador, to represent Palestinian interests to the U.S. government.
.. The Trump administration contends that the Palestinians violated U.S. law by seeking prosecution of Israel at the ICC. The administration’s initial decision to close the office caused a breach with Abbas that widened in December when Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move its embassy there.
.. The Trump administration has not publicly committed to support a separate sovereign Palestine alongside Israel, which was the goal of previous administrations. But like previous U.S. administrations, the Trump White House considers Palestinian efforts to seek statehood recognition through international organizations to be illegitimate.
The U.N. is a never-ending scandal disguised as an everlasting hope. The hope is that dialogue can overcome distrust and collective security can be made to work in the interests of humanity. Reality says otherwise. Trust is established by deeds, not words. Collective security is a recipe for international paralysis or worse. Just ask the people of Aleppo.
.. Contrary to the belief that the U.N. runs on a shoestring, total expenditure for the U.N. system in 2016 was around $49 billion. That’s up 22 percent since 2010. And the abuse of the U.N. system by states such as Russia to protect clients like Bashar al-Assad is a feature of the system, not a bug.
.. “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”
.. The U.N. adopted what were supposed to be landmark reforms more than decade ago. Yet the mismanagement, corruption, abuses and moral perversities remain.
- Iran sits on the executive board of the Commission on the Status of Women. The
- Syrian regime is represented on the U.N.’s Special Committee on Decolonization, dedicated to “respect for self-determination of all peoples.” In October, Zimbabwe’s
- Robert Mugabe was named a good-will ambassador by the World Health Organization, until an outcry forced the director general to think better of it.
.. “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” Mario Joseph, a Haitian lawyer seeking compensation for the U.N.’s victims, told The A.P., “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”