Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Monday, June 15, 2015

“Magna Carta? Time for global rule of law to limit the power of national governments”

Eight hundred years ago today (June 15, 1215) humanity was enriched by a Western document containing enlightened ideas that our nation’s founding fathers eventually leveraged some 560 years later in the “Declaration of Independence”.  The Declaration, a profound document in itself, led quickly to our nation’s constitutional protection of a set of self-evident rights.  Some scholars today say these basic principles of granting rights to individuals as a protective shield against abusive rulers existed centuries before the Magna Carta.  Whatever its origins the concept that humans could agree to a certain set of rules to limit the abusive power of rulers was genius.  Intended to yield peace between the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, the chosen and the largely common, remains a grand idea today adopted by some governments as the ‘rule of law’ and ignored by others.   History proves that individuals or powerful armies making and enforcing their own rules often birth excessive brutality, repression, injustice and out right mass murder or bloody rebellions.  This leveling concept should have universal appeal today given that increasingly powerful nation states wield such disrespect for the protection of human rights.   After 800 years perhaps it’s time we apply this limiting of power to all nation states. With the protection of human rights superior to the right of nation states to wage war, commit genocide, allow hunger, ignore disease, instigate revolutions, torture, pollute and commit other crimes against humanity and nature, we might finally know peace on earth.

Most Americans rightfully believe that the world would be better off if all governments ruled by the moral logic that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is endowed to all Human beings.  It even has universal human appeal but too many governments reject this application.  Nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran enforce laws established by narrow interpretations of ancient religious texts.  Nations like China, Russia and India rely more on laws derived from tradition, fear or the intellect of previous rulers.

Today, largely as a result of the permanent global war against terrorists even America’s ‘rule of law’ government is gradually shrinking away from safeguarding our inalienable rights. It is doing so in hopes of ensuring both individual and national security.  Too few understand that that this tradeoff cannot be balanced.  Eventually, we will lose one , and then the other. 

Independent agencies within our government working with independent national governments beyond our shores will almost always be torn between completing interests.  Only once has all of humanity come together for a common cause and it proved magnificent.  The global eradication of smallpox, a disease that killed more people in the last century than all of the wars, revolutions and genocides combined.  This is arguably humanities greatest achievement saving hundreds of millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. All with a universal one time investment of less than billion dollars.  It’s vital to note that if just one nation, one county, or even one village had chosen freely, not to participate, that global campaign would have failed.  We have the capacity to today to eradicate other diseases and other threats… but each will require universal cooperation and a wise investment of limited resources.   

Unfortunately, today’s political parties within the US can’t unanimously agree on anything, let alone agreements between nation states. And, as the threat of terrorism increases we will increasingly be forced to choose between preserving our freedoms or protecting our security.  There is a profoundly simple resolution to this persistent and troubling dilemma but it will require a firm grasp of the real world.  Not the political world that inhabits our minds.  In the real world our government says it stands for “freedom” and the “rule of law”.  And then it allies with repressive regimes and too often ignores the need for an effective global police force for protecting all of humanities fundamental human rights.   Until we correct this real world inconstancy, our freedom/security dilemma (do we trade our freedom for more security or risk our security to retain our basic freedoms?) will not go away.  The grand news is that it could go away if we acted on the reality that we face a trilemma, not a dilemma. 

We create a dilemma when we chose to believe without question that we are ‘independent’ from the rest of the world.  Our error is in believing that we are, or should be, free from the consequences of our actions and inactions beyond our sacred shores.   We value our national sovereignty that ensures our nation’s freedom to act as our government sees fit in any global affair.  Other national governments do the same.  Unfortunately, this long cherished ideal of national sovereignty cannot keep us free of the consequences of our own choices or those of other nations.  Not even with the command of the most powerful military in the world.  Commanding nearly 25% of the global economy and energy consumption our nation’s actions and inactions have multiple consequences, helpful and harmful, on the lives of people the world over. We often don’t feel those consequences, until it crosses our borders, infects our lungs, steals our jobs, steals our identity, or turns airliners into WMD.

So in reality, we face a trilemma, not a dilemma.  We want freedom, security and independence (national sovereignty).  Reality will only let us pick two. 

Before choosing the two we want most, we must keep in mind the real-world distinctions between these three concepts.  1) Freedom is real.  We can choose to do anything we want to do. And so can everyone else.  But, no individual or nation is free from the consequences of their choices.  2) Security is largely an illusion.  If someone is determined destroy or kill and is also willing to die doing so, stopping them may require uncivilized actions with very costly consequences.  Given our inherent human vulnerabilities, the increasingly complex and vulnerable technological systems that our multifaceted civilization depends on, and our irreversibly interdependent world of economic, environment, health and communication factors, living by the golden rule would be a wise choice.  3) Independence is nothing but a mental political construct.  It does not exist in the real world.  Biological weapons, pandemics, computer viruses, nuclear winter, global warming, economic recessions, cyber criminals, asteroids…are not affected by mental constructs with no real world applications.

If however, we accept our global interdependence and apply the grand idea of ‘the rule of law’ (justice) to all people, regardless of their nationality, religion, sex, income level, age or ethnicity, we have a far better chance of maximizing both our freedoms and our security. 

Instead, today’s governments, particularly the American government, insists on retaining its national sovereignty believing this freedom of action can protect is people’s rights and it’s national security.  More and more people are starting to realize it can do neither.  With each nation retaining the freedom to make any law (related to domestic or foreign policy) as long as it has the police and military power to back it up, national interests will clash -- often violently, and with no respect for the human rights of individuals within or beyond its borders.  

That’s real government freedom.  A potentially abusive freedom.  And, in practice a very dangerous freedom.  One that must be limited.  That is what the Magna Carta, the Declaration of independence and the US Constitution intended to do.   To limit government power.   Today, exactly eight centuries after the Magna Carta, nearly 200 unlimited governments are now the first order threat to human security, global sustainability, economic prosperity and all of our most cherished human freedoms.   

The local impact of varying national laws on the health of individuals, the environment or national economies is rarely considered until a consequence is felt at home.  Tragically, in the face of Ebola, ISIS or climate change, powerful nations insist on keeping this insane national paradigm in place.

The current UN system with its institutionalized unenforceable ‘international laws’ essentially enforces the supremacy of the national sovereignty paradigm. This has a heavy toll on human rights for nearly half of humanity.  Fortunately, this paradigm is not set in stone.  Transforming it is a prerequisite for consistently protecting human rights and maximizing human and national security.  For now, governments can continue to chose to gas, torture, behead, imprison, or assassinate individuals within their border, with nothing short of war or sanctions (which can be more deadly than war), to effectively deter them.  And, if a nation is not afraid of war or sanctions, human rights everywhere can suffer.

US drone strikes within other sovereign nations are considered ‘lawful’ by our government, even when we don’t have the other nation’s approval.  When our drone strikes kill innocent people and their children in those countries while targeting ‘suspected’ terrorists Americans should not expect to remain free of the consequences.  Standing by as school girls are kidnapped by the hundreds in Africa will have consequences.  Our sophisticated weapons systems sales to the Saudi kingdom while their officials behead dozens of its citizens each month for minor offenses will have consequences.  Dozens of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo imprisoned for over a decade without charges, trials or access to their relatives will have consequences.  Allowing these violations of human rights without redress will have consequences.  Any time we ignore the inalienable rights of others there will be consequences. And, rarely will these consequences be good.

There are authoritative reasons the US and other powerful nations insist on keeping this national sovereignty system (that allows the abuse of human rights) in place.  The primary reason is maintaining political power and the short term benefits and profits that accumulate with such power.  The rights of citizens ruled by powerful governments are too often a second or third tier priority if a priority at all.  Even US federal workers, elected officials and military personal that are sworn to protect the Constitution see Eric Snowden as a criminal for his effort to expose our governments violation of their own constitutional rights.

If ‘we the people’ and our government officials who actually care, calculated the human, economic, environmental, health and national security costs of failing to change this profoundly outdated Treaty of Westphalia ‘national sovereignty’ construct they would quickly see the solution to our budget deficit problem.  The national sovereignty construct has enabled the unrestricted power of nation states for the last 400 years to ring up the costs in blood and treasure of war after war after war.  And now an endless war against terrorism, a tactic anyone can use, will prove enormously expensive in dollars and human rights.  

It’s clear that this dysfunctional global paradigm will not be flipped over night.  But our social and cultural addiction to its destructive freedom and false protections must end soon.  A mental transformation is essential if we are to begin creating new global institutions that will limit states’ rights and outlaw wars before the evolution of unprecedented weaponry reaches a level of destructiveness our minds are unable to comprehend.  We are dangerously close to that point now.  Some believe we crossed it with the invention of the nuclear weapon.  Other’s believe today’s potential for the creation of specially targeted biological weapons puts us there.  The fact is, the dual-use nature of incredibly powerful technologies (bio, cyber, nano, robotics…) is growing exponentially as our government’s capacity to deal with this difficult to comprehend factor is flat lined at best and at worst, politically dysfunctional.  Any effective global capacity to limit access or development of destructive technologies is nonexistent.  And worse yet, creating it would mean the creation of a global  police/inspection force, most nations and many people would violently reject.   Meanwhile WMD precursors are increasingly affordable to anyone with a grudge and a desire to mass murder.  Progressively, coordinated or loan wolf attacks will result in the loss of more lives and then the loss of more of our freedoms.

Other global threats like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), natural disasters or solar flare induced electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events should also spur rapid creation of a global prevention and rapid response capacity.  Without which these and other threats, will inevitably result in the loss of freedoms, security and any chance of a sustainable and prosperous future for our children.  Independent governments cannot by definition deal with these interdependent threats. 

What would a world look like if human rights were dominant over the rights of nation states to do as they please?  It would look much like the US after the civil war.  A war largely fought to ensure the protection of human rights over states’ rights.  We need not learn this same lesson on a global battlefield.  We need a global federal government capable of protecting human rights over the rights of states or prejudiced majorities.  We need to firmly limit the unlimited global reach and power of national sovereignty – the freedom of national governments to do as they please, without considering the cost in human rights.

The world could easily and affordably start with the global enforcement of the fundamental human rights to clean water, sanitation, education, basic health care services and adequate nutrition.   For less than 2% of what the world now spends on wars we could lay the foundation for the prevention of disease outbreaks, nation state failures (meaning fewer opportunities for extremist influences), and future wars.  This investment would create meaningful jobs, boost global prosperity and increase human motivation for protecting the environment.  More importantly, a well-funded, trained and equipped global army of educators and health care workers would prevent costly crisis saving more funds than they would consume.

ISIS mass murdering of innocent people would immediately draw a well-equipped, highly trained, all-volunteer global police force capable of effectively engaging ISIS criminal forces with both lethal and non-lethal force.  The avoidance of collateral damage would be its top priority while offering human rights protection zones as an alternative to extremist zones or the zones of constant vulnerability that exist now.  The global police force’s secondary mission would be blockading extremist forces thus limiting their resources and unfettered expansion.  ISIS cannot be defeated with military tactics that allow collateral damage.  Military alliances of a few states, political parties, ethnic groups or religions are no improvement.    The loss of innocent lives would be outlawed as they are within our own nation’s collection of 50 unique states, array of political parties and thousands of individual religious differences.  This golden rule of ‘do unto others what you would want done to you’ is shared by most religions and should be applied in war as well as economics, health, and environment policies globally.  Such a code offers a sound foundation for building a better world where freedom and security are everyone’s fundamental right. 

Adequate funding for these initiatives would be a vital task.  A global financial transaction tax could be levied and collected for such war, pandemic, climate change and natural disaster prevention/preparedness/reactionary measures.  Economic cost savings from the prevention of so many costly but preventable crises would soon yield sufficient sustainable resources for other human rights endeavors.  Cost effective investments in human capital instead of preserving the increasingly costly status quo of national sovereignty and the inherently unfair/virtually unregulated global capitalism is a fundamentally wise economic and sustainable choice.  Is there any doubt that free trade would best flourish on a level, clean, healthy and well educated playing field?  A field where business contracts were reliable and enforced equally in every corner of the world.

Territorial disputes between great and small nations (South China Sea, Ukraine, Kashmir, West Bank, Outer space…), ethnic groups (Kurds, Chechens…)  or religions (Sunni/Shiite, Islam/Hindu, would be settled in courts not on battle fields.

U.S. leaders often speak about ‘defending freedom’ but our foreign policy usually protects national interests.  We have not yet realized that our best interests are in protecting the inalienable rights of all mankind.  Albert Einstein once said “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”  In that context, national sovereignty is a virus -- a lethal infection that has kept the grand ideals of the Magna Carta from being applied globally.

Chances are June 16th will pass and then the 4th of July.  And most Americans will remain ignorant of this fundamental American calling … of “liberty and justice for all”.  A world federation with powers limited by a constitution and a global bill of rights is the best chance we have of reaching that goal.  And time is running out.  


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