Monday, February 08, 2010

Conference on corruption: Can the problem be even worse than we think?

The Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University is having a conference, Feb 25, 26, on Global corruption Criminal Networks, Smuggling and WMD. The issues they are going to address seem eminently vital for our times:
"Pakistan: Lessons from AQ Khan Nuclear Proliferation Practices" ; “Crime-Terror Nexus: Concrete Examples from the Field” ; “Analysis of WMD Cases in Turkey: Police Seizure of WMD Materials” ; “Illicit Networks and Threats: A Latin American Perspective”; “Asymmetrical Warfare in the Digital Age: The Supreme Challenge”; “Is Radiological Trafficking Organized Crime? The Case of Georgia” ; "Federal Priorities for Protection Against Nuclear Smuggling and WMD" ; “The Crime-Terror Nexus: Connecting the Dots”.
But I wonder if something is missing in this list of scholarly-sounding topics. The Center is on to something, but the problem goes further than weapons of mass destruction, radiological trafficking, nuclear smuggling, and “terrorism”, etc. The issues we need to address may be even more extensive and more serious than we know. For we are just now beginning to internalize what we have learned about our own country in the last 6 months: that our elected representatives were unable to develop a health care system for all Americans, a project that is supported by most Americans and has been in place in many other industrial countries around the world, because they were beholden to the health insurance companies who would have been put out of business if a genuine public health system were established. Furthermore, we are learning that bank executives and Wall Street companies, who of course also have a close link to the insurance industry, are being paid millions of dollars in bonuses every year even though they were bailed out by our ordinary citizens after they had irresponsibly bet on the market – and not just once, b ut have been doing it for years [and pocketing the gains].

So we may find that criminal behavior is not “out there” but is inherently entailed in our whole business and legislative process.  If not criminal behavior, then at least is it not unethical and immoral behavior?

Indeed, the masthead of the Center sponsoring the conference on corruption justifies its existence in ominous terms:
"Transnational crime will be a defining issue of the 21st century for policymakers - as defining as the Cold War was for the 20th century and colonialism was for the 19th. Terrorists and transnational crime groups will proliferate because these crime groups are major beneficiaries of globalization. They take advantage of increased travel, trade, rapid money movements, telecommunications and computer links, and are well positioned for growth."
This statement strikes a chord with some of us who are wondering what is to become of the world as we know it, dominated as it now is by global corporations whose primary loyalties are to stockholders. Or at least they are supposed to be loyal to stockholders: it is turning out that corporate executives are taking extravagant salaries for themselves at the cost of even paying stockholder fair returns. Managing other peoples’ money has never been a better deal.

So now I’m wondering if the conference at the Terrorism Transnational Crime and Corruption Center is missing something, for there is no mention here of large corporate influences on the governing processes of states, and of the rising clout of the super-rich around  the world, who continue to enrich themselves while millions of people are starving.

And yet, if the Center tries to expose the abuses of wealth and influence by the corporate sector, what will happen to their funding?  I can ask such questions since I have no part in a corporately funded Center.  I'm only supported by a private university -- which is, of course, also corporately funded. 

Hmm.  Is there any escape?