Global Coup d’État: Mapping the Corporate Takeover of Global Governance

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[Music]
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hello and welcome i’m lynn fries
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producer of global political economy
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or gbe news docs today i’m joined by
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nick
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buxton he’s going to be giving us some
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big picture context on the great
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reset a world economic forum initiative
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to reset the world
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system of global governance a worldwide
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movement crossing not only borders but
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all walks of life
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from peasant farmers to techies is
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fighting against this initiative on the
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grounds that it represents a major
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threat
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to democracy key voices from the health
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food education indigenous people and
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high
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tech movements explained why in the
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great
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takeover how we fight the davos capture
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of global governance a recent webinar
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hosted by the transnational
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institute today’s guest nick buxton
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is a publications editor and future labs
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coordinator
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at the transnational institute he’s the
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founder
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and chief editor of tni’s flagship
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state of power report welcome nick
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thank you very much liam nick the
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transnational
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institute was was co-organizer of the
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great takeover webinar so what is it
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that you’re
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mobilizing against uh in opposing this
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great
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reset initiative what we’re really
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concerned about is
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this initiative by the world economic
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forum
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actually looks to entrench the power of
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those most responsible for the crises
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we’re facing
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um and in in many ways it’s a trick it’s
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a sleight of hand
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uh to make sure that things continue as
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they are
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to continue the same and that will
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create more of these crises more of
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these pandemics will
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deepen the climate crisis which will
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deepen inequality
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and it’s not a great reset at all it’s a
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great corporate takeover
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and that’s what we were trying to draw
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attention to what we’ve been finding
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in in recent years is that um really
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there is
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something i would call it a kind of a
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global
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silent coup d’etat going on in terms of
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global governance
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most people don’t see it and people are
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familiar have become familiar with the
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way that corporations
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have far more influence and are being
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integrated into policy-making and
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national level
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they see that more more in front of them
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people see their services being
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privatized
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and they see the influence of the oil
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companies or the banking sector that has
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stopped
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actions such as regulations of banks or
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are dealing with the climate crisis what
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people don’t realize is at a global
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level
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there has been something much more
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silent going on which is that their
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governance which used to be by nations
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is now increasingly be done by
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unaccountable bodies
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dominated by corporations and part of
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the problem is that that has been
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happening in lots of different
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sectors but people haven’t been
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connecting the dots
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so what we’ve been trying to do in the
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last year is to talk with
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people in the health movement for
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example people involved in
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public education people involved
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in food sector to say what what is
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happening in your sector and what we
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found is that in each of these sectors
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global decisions were used to be
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discussed by bodies such as the wh
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o or such as the food and agriculture
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organization
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were increasingly done by these these
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unaccountable bodies
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and just to give an example uh we have
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now the global pandemic and one of the
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key bodies that is now making the
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decision
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is is a facility called kovacs you’d
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have thought
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global health should be run by the world
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health organization it’s accountable to
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the united nations
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it has a system of accountability well
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what’s actually happening is that world
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health organization
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is just one of a few partners that
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really
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has been controlled by corporations and
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corporate interests
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in this case is gavi and sepi and they
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are both bodies which which don’t have a
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system of accountability
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where it’s not clear who chose them who
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they’re accountable to
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or how they can be held to account and
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what we do see is that there’s a lot of
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corporate influence in each of these
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bodies
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what this webinar was about was bringing
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all these sectors together
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who are seeing this silent coup d’etat
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going on
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in their own sector to map it out and so
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one of the things that you’ll
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have seen in the in the webinar is is
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this mapping of the different sectors
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who are um who are seeing this going on
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and the
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idea is just to give a global picture
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that this is something happening we’ve
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had
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we’ve had more than a hundred of these
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um of these mult they’re called
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multi-stakeholder bodies
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uh coming to coming to the fore in the
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last 20 years
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um and and there’s been very little kind
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of taking note of that and taking stock
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of what’s emerging
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and what’s emerging is this silent
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global coup d’etat
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so what you find then in the big picture
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that you’re getting
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is that a global coup d’etat has been
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silently emerging and at the heart of it
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is a move
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towards multi-stakeholder model of
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global governance and
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that this is the model that’s the path
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and mechanism
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of a corporate hijack of global and
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national governance
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structures and the world economic forum
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agenda fits into all this is the wef of
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course is
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one of the world’s most powerful
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multi-stakeholder institutions
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so nick in explaining what all this
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means let’s start with some of your
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thoughts
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on the history of how we got here
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i think what we had was in the 90s was
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the kind of height of neoliberalism we
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had
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we had um the increasing role of
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corporations as
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and the deregulation of the state and it
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really started to come through in 2000
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with the global compact
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and where the un invited in uh you know
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corporations and the idea was that we’re
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going to need to involve corporations
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one because
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we will need private finance became the
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kind of motto
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the mantra so we need to involve
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corporations they can be part of the
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solution so it was
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partly financed it was partly the
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withdrawal of state
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from kind of global cooperation um
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and and that started to invite
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corporations into the global government
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where corporations were increasingly um
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being invited into these kind of bodies
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that dovetailed with this whole movement
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um called
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the corporate social responsibility that
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sid corporations
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weren’t just profit-making vehicles they
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could be socially responsible
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actors um and and so increasingly
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corporations were pitching themselves as
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as not just um corporate entities but as
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global citizens
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um and and one of the key vehicles for
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that of course is the world economic
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forum which has
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really been articulating
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through klaus schwab and through their
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whole and through their whole
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work uh this idea that’s that
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corporations
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should firstly be social responsible and
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secondly as part of that they should be
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treated
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as social entities and should be
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integrated into governance and decision
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making
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that we needed to move from what was
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considered an
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antiquated state-led
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multilateral approach to a much more
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agile governance system
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and this is again the kind of mantra of
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coming in of the private sector being
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efficient
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that the private sector if you involve
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them in decision making
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you would get more faster decisions you
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get agile decisions you’d get better
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decisions
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and so this all really came together um
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and and
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in in some ways it’s even being
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consolidated even further
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the irony is that as as you’ve had
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nationalist governments come to power
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that the kind of trump america firsts of
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the world or modi
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india first they articulate a
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nationalist agenda but they haven’t
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actually questioned the role of
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corporations in any way whatsoever
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and as as they’ve retreated from
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multilateral forums like the united
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nations
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they’ve left a vacuum that corporations
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have been able to fill
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corporations now say we can be the
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global actors we can be the responsible
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actors
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we’re the ones who consort to tackle the
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big crisis we face such as inequality
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such as climate change
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um such as the pandemic and so so really
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this
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this we’ve had this convergence of
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forces coming together
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where as states have retreated um
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corporations have filled the vacuum
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you mentioned earlier that the world
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economic forum was one of the key
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vehicles for these
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ideas and the wef also went big in
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filling that vacuum that you’re talking
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about
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tni reported the wef global redesign
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initiative
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stretching back to 2009 created
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something like
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40 global agenda councils and industry
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sector bodies so in the sphere of global
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governance the wef
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created space for corporate actors
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across the whole spectrum
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of governance issues from cyber security
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to climate change you name it
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so yeah the global redesign initiative
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was one of the first initiatives that
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the world economic forum launched
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in the wake of the financial crisis um
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and their idea was that we needed to
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replace what was
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uh an inefficient um multilateral system
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that was not able to solve problems
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with a new form of things so they were
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saying instead of a multilateral where
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nations make decisions in global
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cooperation
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we needed a multi-stakeholder approach
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which would bring together
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all the interested parties in small
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groups
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to make decisions and the global
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redesign initiative was really a model
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of that they were trying
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to say okay how do we resolve um
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issues such as the governance of the
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digital economy
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and their answer to it is we bring the
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big tech companies together we bring the
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governments together and we bring a few
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civil society players
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and we’ll work out a system that makes
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that makes sense
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um and and so you had a similar thing
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going on in all these other redesigned
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councils really their models
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for how they think governments should be
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done and some of them have not just
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become models they’ve actually become
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the real thing
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so many of the multi-stakeholder
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initiatives we’ve seen emerge today
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have emerged out of some of these
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councils
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um the coalition for epidemic
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preparedness one of the key ones leading
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kovacs right now the response to the
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pandemic was launched at the world
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economic forum so the world economic
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forum is now becoming a launch pad for
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many of these
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multi-stakeholder bodies we should also
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note the world economic forum is a
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very well funded launch pad as
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a powerpoint from the great takeover
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webinar put it
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corporations do not pay tax but donate
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to multi-stakeholder institutions and
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the wef of course
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is funded by powerful corporations and
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business leaders
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the powerpoint also noted the bill and
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melinda gates foundation is one of the
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main funders of multi-stakeholder
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institutions
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in contrast multilateral institutions
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are being
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defunded on the back of falling
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corporate tax revenues
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for nation states given it depends on
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government donors the
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u.n regular budget that’s the backbone
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of funding for the one country one vote
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multilateral
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processes of intergovernmental
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cooperation and decision making
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has taken a big hit perhaps you could
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comment on some big picture implications
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on this kind of
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changing dynamic that’s going on between
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corporate actors and nation states
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yeah yeah i think i think what we’re
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seeing is that the
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um as gradually the corporations have
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become more powerful
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they they have weakened the capacity of
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the state
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so they have reduced the tax basis you
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know most corporations have seen
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corporate tax rates drop
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forward dramatically and even more
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trillions are now siphoned away in tax
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havens
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so the the entire corporate tax base
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which used to play a much bigger role in
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state funding has reduced um at the same
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time
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they they their influence over policies
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which benefit corporations
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has increased so they’re reducing the
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regulations that were on them they’re
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reducing all the costs that used to be
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opposed
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on the things so you’ve had a weakening
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of the state and the strengthening of
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corporations
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and what’s happened at a global
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governance level is that they have also
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moved
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not just from influencing dramatically
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through their power
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their economic power political decision
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making
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but in an easy global governance thing
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it’s the next step forward because
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they’re not just saying
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that we want to be considered and we
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will lobby to have our position heard
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they’re saying
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we want to actually be part of the
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decision-making bodies themselves
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um and the classic again is if we look
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at the pandemic with kovacs
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is that um what i looked actually at
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just at the board of
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gavi the the global alliance of vaccines
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um if you look at the body it’s the
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board is dominated firstly
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by big pharmaceutical companies um
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secondly you have some nations and some
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and
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civil society representatives but you
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have far more
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interest in the almost half a large
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number of the board
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are financiers they come from the
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finance sector they come from big banks
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um so they’re they’re i don’t know what
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they have to do with public health
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um and wh show is just one of the
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players so it’s it’s suddenly over
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crowded by others who have no um
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public health representation they’ve
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been dominated by finance and
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pharmaceutical companies
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starting to really shape and guide um
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decision-making
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and and on the finance side of course
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bill gates foundation
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has is now the big player in many of
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these things and it’s
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it’s it’s not just donating it’s also
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involved now in shaping policy
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so those who give money um in a
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philanthropic way
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no matter how they earn that money or no
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matter what their
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remit is and who they’re accountable to
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they’re only accountable to the
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to to bill and melinda gates um
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ultimately are now part of the decision
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making process as well
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and this has become so normalized that
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there seems to be very little
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questioning of it
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and we will bring together these players
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now who chose them
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who who chose this body to come together
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who’s it accountable to
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there was a british parliamentarian
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called tony ben he says if you want to
understand democracy you need to ask
five questions
  1. what what power do you have
  2. who did you get it from
  3. whose interest do you serve
  4. to whom are you accountable and
  5. how can we get rid of you
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if you look at a body that such as
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kovacs um
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who who where did they get the power
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from they just self-convened
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they just brought together a group of
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powerful actors
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they will make a token effort to involve
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one or two civil society representatives
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but the power very much lies with with
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the corporations
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and and with the financiers those who
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are financing it
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and it’s not accountable they chose
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their body
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uh if the interests are very clear who
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it serves it clear
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it serves the pharmaceutical companies
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they will of course do certain things
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um within the remit um but ultimately
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they will not undermine their best
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business
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model even if that business model is
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getting in the way of an effective
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response to the
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pandemic we can’t get rid of them
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because we never chose them in the first
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place
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so it fails really the very fundamental
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principles of democracy
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and yet it’s now been normalized that
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this is the way that global governance
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should happen
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nick comment briefly on an agreement
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that was quite a milestone
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in this process of normalization of
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multi-stakeholderism
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as the way global governance should
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happen i’m thinking
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of the uh strategic partnership
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agreement signed
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by the office of the un secretary
16:29
general with the world economic forum in
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2019.
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so what’s some background in your
16:35
response to that
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uh un-w-e-f agreement
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well the world economic forum has been
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um advocating this mod
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model of multi-stakeholder capitalism to
16:47
replace multilateralism for a long time
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and and they have been um gradually
16:54
i would say kind of setting up parallel
16:56
bodies these multi-stakeholder bodies to
16:58
make decisions
17:00
um on major issues of global governance
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whether it’s the digital economy or
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whether it’s
17:04
how to respond to a a pandemic
17:08
um and and so they’ve they’ve been
17:10
advancing this model
17:11
um alongside the un for some time but
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what what was really concerning to us is
17:16
that they’re starting
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to increasingly um
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engage with the un and start to impose
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this and start to push this model within
17:27
the united nations
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and the classic example was this
17:31
strategic partnership which was signed
17:33
in
17:33
i believe june of 2019
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i don’t think it went even in front of
17:38
the general assembly so it wasn’t
17:40
discussed amongst the members it was a
17:42
decision
17:43
by the secretariat of the un without any
17:46
at least any
17:46
formal systems of accountability to sign
17:49
a deal with the world economic forum
17:51
that would essentially in start to
17:53
involve you
17:55
world economic forum staff within the
17:58
departments of the un
17:59
they would become so-called kind of
18:01
whisper advisors that
18:02
the world economic forum would start to
18:05
have its staff mingling with un staff
18:07
and starting to make decisions
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um and there was no system of
18:10
accountability there was no system of
18:12
of um of consulting more widely
18:16
and and we know the world economic forum
18:19
is is this business forum if you look at
18:21
its board it’s completely controlled
18:23
uh by by some of the most wealthy and
18:26
powerful corporations and many of those
18:27
corporations
18:29
are responsible for many of the crises
18:31
we face and yet here they were being
18:32
open
18:33
open armed and welcomed into the united
18:37
nations to play a very significant role
18:38
and
18:39
and we we protested that we said that
18:42
this is not
18:43
this is not a way to solve global
18:45
problems to involve those who have
18:47
actually responsible for the crisis to
18:48
resolve it
18:50
will only lead to solutions that are
18:51
either ineffective or actually deepen
18:53
the crises we face
18:55
um we understand why the u.n is doing it
18:57
it’s because of this
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lack of national support is because of
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the defunding
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they’re looking to kind of survive as an
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organization and they’re going to the
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most powerful players in the world which
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are the corporations
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but what they’re going to end up doing
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is as ultimately undermined in the
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united nations it will actually
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damage the united nations because it
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will remove all the democratic
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legitimacy that it currently has
19:20
we desperately need global collaboration
19:23
and cooperation
19:24
but it must be based on public and
19:26
democratic systems of governance
19:29
not um unaccountable secretive forms of
19:32
governance dominated by corporations
19:35
so that’s pretty clear you oppose
19:38
multi-stakeholderism because it’s an
19:40
unaccountable
19:41
secretive form of governance dominated
19:44
by corporations
19:45
so as well as being unaccountable the
19:49
multi-stakeholder model is a voluntary
19:52
and a market-based approach to problem
19:55
solving
19:56
comment on how that also uh fits into
19:59
why you oppose the multi-stakeholderism
20:03
yeah the the solutions they’re looking
20:05
for are volunteeristic
20:07
where you can come in or out and they’re
20:09
market-based
20:10
so they will never actually challenge
20:12
the business model as it is ultimately
20:14
what happens is that they make decisions
20:16
which are not binding and actually force
20:19
actors like corporations to do certain
20:21
things
20:22
they’re based entirely on this voluntary
20:23
meth model um but it’s a kind of to take
20:26
it or leave it governance where you can
20:28
do things that you
20:29
that look good for your for your annual
20:31
report
20:32
but don’t actually change the way you
20:36
actually operate
20:37
um and so ultimately they won’t resolve
20:39
the crisis that we’re facing
20:41
so it’s not just that they’re
20:42
unaccountable but they’re actually
20:44
ultimately very ineffective so if we
20:45
look at the climate crisis for example
20:47
we’ll say
20:48
the only way that we can deal with the
20:50
climate crisis is market solutions
20:52
even if we know that really the scale of
20:55
the climate crisis the urgency
20:57
and the timing requires us to take much
20:59
more drastic solutions which will be
21:01
state-led which will require
21:02
corporations to reduce emissions
21:04
and that will start to transform
21:06
economies um
21:08
that will have to be taken these kind of
21:10
public decisions
21:12
we’re ignoring that entirely for a model
21:14
which is based on of market
21:15
incentives which really do nothing to
21:18
change the business model that has
21:19
created the climate crisis
21:21
okay so that goes a long way in
21:22
explaining why you say the world
21:24
economic forum great
21:25
reset initiative is no reset at all
21:29
nick briefly touch on some of your
21:31
further observations
21:33
like why is the multi-stakeholder model
21:36
is based on
21:37
market solutions when push comes to
21:41
shove
21:42
the profit motive will always win out
21:45
under this
21:45
approach to global governance yeah no
21:48
absolutely i mean corporations will
21:50
accept market solutions which give them
21:52
the power
21:53
to uh to really control the pace of
21:56
change
21:56
and so you’ll see it they’re very happy
21:58
to to produce these corporate social
22:00
responsibility reports but
22:02
they will fight tooth and nail for any
22:04
regulation which actually enforces
22:06
social environmental goals and so and
22:09
they will
22:10
fight on an international level to have
22:13
trade rules to actually
22:14
prevent states imposing social
22:17
environmental goals
22:19
so so there’s very much an approach
22:21
where they’re willing to have
22:22
been washed they’re willing to have the
22:24
propaganda around social environmental
22:26
goals but they will absolutely oppose
22:29
and in any rules would actually
22:32
control their their environmental and
22:34
social impacts
22:36
they do not want anything which actually
22:38
requires regulation
22:40
and and impacts which will actually
22:42
force them to do certain changes they
22:44
want their changes to be very much ones
22:46
that they
22:47
control and which they shape and
22:48
ultimately that they can ditch
22:51
at the moment it starts to challenge the
22:53
profits that they want to make
22:55
let’s turn now to the coalition in
22:58
in fighting for a democratic reset
23:01
on uh global governance so a future
23:04
where decision making over the
23:06
governance of global commons like
23:08
for example food water health and the
23:11
internet
23:12
is is done in the public interest and i
23:15
see this
23:16
coalition put together resources and
23:18
it’s posted on your website
23:19
you’re in the nexus of all this so this
23:21
time around in the wake
23:23
of the covet pandemic what’s your read
23:27
on the situation
23:28
of peoples versus corporate power
23:31
this global coup d’etat that’s been
23:34
going on silently in so many different
23:36
sectors has been advancing because there
23:39
hasn’t been enough information and
23:41
knowledge about it
23:42
and also people haven’t been connecting
23:44
the dots to see this is happening in
23:45
every sector
23:47
so what’s really important this year in
23:49
as
23:50
as and i think it’s particularly
23:52
important in the wake of the pandemic is
23:54
that
23:54
so many movements are coming together um
23:57
people’s health movement
23:59
has come together a lot of groups
24:01
involved in food sovereignty uh the
24:04
trade union sector
24:05
coming together they’re all saying uh we
24:08
do this
24:08
this is not in our name um and of course
24:11
these are all groups that you’ll never
24:12
see
24:13
in a in a multi-stakeholder initiative
24:16
whenever they do have civil society
24:18
partners they don’t involve people on
24:19
the front lines you won’t find one
24:23
health union worker in in the kovacs
24:27
initiative you won’t have public health
24:29
people really represented
24:31
represented so these are movements now
24:33
starting to come together to say that we
24:35
don’t want this and
24:36
one of the things we did was launch this
24:38
letter it’s an open letter and it’s
24:40
really saying that
24:41
it’s really alerting people to what’s
24:43
going on it’s saying that we’re facing
24:46
this
24:46
in so many different sectors uh the un
24:49
is is opening the door the un secretary
24:52
i should say is opening the door wide
24:54
open
24:55
uh to the world economic forum which is
24:57
the key body advancing
24:58
multi-stakeholders
25:01
and and it’s changing governance as we
25:03
know it it’s
25:04
and it has no systems of accountability
25:06
or justice embedded in it
25:08
and these movements are now coming
25:09
together to say we we’re
25:11
we’re opposing this we’re uniting our
25:13
forces
25:14
and we’re going to fight back against
25:16
this we know
25:18
more than ever before with the pandemic
25:20
that nationalist
25:21
solutions to the global crisis will not
25:25
work we need global cooperation we need
25:27
global collaboration
25:29
but if we hand over all that decision
25:31
making to the pharmaceutical companies
25:34
for example we won’t be dealing with the
25:36
real issues
25:38
such as as trade protection and trips
25:42
and i um patents and everything that
25:45
that really benefit pharmaceutical
25:47
companies and don’t advance public
25:48
health because they
25:49
are in control of the process they won’t
25:51
allow things that affect their profits
25:54
so we need global solutions but they
25:55
cannot be led by the corporations
25:58
which are actually worsening deepening
25:59
the crisis we face
26:02
so as we close i just wanted to play a
26:04
clip of a comment
26:06
you made back in 2015 about a book you
26:09
had co-edited
26:11
titled the secure and was dispossessed i
26:14
found a review of the book
26:15
so relevant to our chat today i just
26:17
want to cite a few lines
26:19
it said among the books that attempt to
26:21
model
26:22
the coming century this one stands out
26:25
for its sense of plausibility
26:27
and danger it examines several current
26:30
trends in our responses
26:32
to climate change which if combined
26:34
would result in a kind of oligarchic
26:37
police state dedicated to extending
26:40
capitalist hegemony this will not work
26:43
and yet powerful forces are advocating
26:46
for it rather than imagining and working
26:48
for
26:49
a more just resilient and democratic way
26:52
forward
26:53
all the processes analyzed here are
26:55
already
26:56
happening now making this book
26:59
a crucial contribution to our cognitive
27:02
mapping
27:03
in our ability to form a better plan
27:06
so nick in wrapping up briefly comment
27:10
on that book
27:11
and then uh play the clip yeah back in
27:14
2011 we noticed a trend going on in
27:17
terms of climate change where there was
27:19
was
27:20
was a lack of willingness to really
27:22
tackle the climate crisis on the scale
27:24
it needs and with the
27:25
with the with the tools and instruments
27:28
that it needs
27:29
but there was increasingly uh plans by
27:32
both
27:33
the military and corporations for
27:35
dealing with the impacts of climate
27:37
change
27:38
um and they very much looked at it in
27:41
terms of how do we
27:43
secure the wealth of those and secure
27:45
those who already have power and wealth
27:48
um and and and what that would mean so
27:51
in the face of climate crisis
27:53
the solution was very much a security
27:55
solution we’ve already seen
27:57
really an increasing role of military
28:00
and policing
28:01
and security and the real process
28:04
of militarization of responses to
28:06
climate change the most obviously in the
28:08
area of the borders
28:09
we see we see border walls going up
28:12
everywhere
28:13
the response to a crisis has been has
28:16
been to kind of retreat between behind
28:18
fortified fortifications no matter the
28:20
consequences
28:22
um and so that that was really that’s
28:25
that’s really a trend that we
28:26
that we see increasingly is that climate
28:29
our response to climate adaptation by
28:30
the richest
28:31
countries is really to military to
28:33
militarize our response to it
28:36
and that’s that’s a and that’s a real as
28:38
as that quote you just read
28:40
that’s a real concern because um it’s
28:43
the kind of politics of the armed
28:45
lifeboat
28:46
um where basically you rescue a few and
28:48
then you
28:50
and then you have a gun trained on the
28:52
rest
28:53
and it’s it’s both totally immoral and
28:55
it’s also ultimately
28:57
one that will sacrifice all of our
28:59
humanity because
29:01
we need to collaborate to respond to the
29:03
climate crisis we need to find solutions
29:05
that protect the vulnerable
29:07
we cannot just keep building higher and
29:09
higher walls
29:10
against the consequences of our
29:11
decisions and we need to actually start
29:13
to tackle the root causes of those
29:16
crises and that that was very much
29:19
a picture we started to paint back in
29:21
2015 with the launch of the book the
29:23
secure and the dispossessed
29:25
but if anything it’s more pertinent and
29:27
more pressing than ever before
29:30
nick paxton thank you thanks
29:36
keeping the profits the huge profits
29:38
rolling um even though it’s wrecking the
29:41
planet so they have no intention long
29:42
term
29:43
of changing their business model their
29:45
business model is wrecking the planet
29:47
and their determination is how to keep
29:49
that going and what we see in all of
29:51
this is that
29:52
corporations in the military are very
29:53
much responding
29:55
in a in a paradigm of control it’s it’s
29:58
security
29:59
and this word security suddenly infected
30:01
every part of
30:02
daily debate we see it food security
30:05
we’ve seen it really recently now with
30:07
everyone saying we need
30:08
security of our borders to protect
30:09
against refugees we need water security
30:12
and in all of these cases what you see
30:15
is those who are being secured
30:17
are the corporations and those who have
30:20
wealth
30:21
and those who are losing out are those
30:22
who are actually suffering the most from
30:24
climate change
30:25
so the peasant who has their land
30:27
grabbed in the name of food security
30:30
the community that no longer has control
30:32
of their river
30:33
because a corporation has has taken it
30:36
in the name of
30:36
water security all the protesters
30:39
against coal power station are actually
30:40
trying to stop the climate crisis
30:42
being repressed and having the civil
30:45
liberties taken away in the name of
30:47
energy security
30:49
in each of these cases the security is
30:51
quite clearly
30:52
for a small proportion of people and
30:55
insecurity
30:56
for the vast majority i think this is
30:58
one of the most important issues of our
31:00
age is
31:01
is do we want to leave our future in the
31:04
hands of corporations in the military

Barr’s Playbook: He Misled Congress When Omitting Parts of Justice Dep’t Memo in 1989

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.

Invisibilia: Inspired By ‘American Idol,’ Somali TV Show Aimed To Change The World

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.

A New Climate Tipping Point

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.

Background reading:

Nikki Haley to Resign as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

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.

White House expected to warn of sanctions, other penalties if international court moves against Americans

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.

John Bolton Is Right About the U.N.

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.”