COMMENTARY ON ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE SOVEREIGN – AND HOW THE 2008 OLYMPICS MAY BE THE WORLD STAGE FOR DEMANDS FOR GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY BY THE CHINESE NATION

Welcome to the Summer Olympics 2008 – China and Tibet and Other Vexations

 

It’s taken years to get here, but in just a few months, the Summer Olympic Games 2008 will open in China.  This “XXIX Olympiad” will be a pageant of nations with a stirring opening ceremony – and the spirit of the games (sportsmanship and competition) will resume after a four-year hiatus (the last summer games were in Athens.)

 

The Chinese government worked hard to position the nation as a full member of the Family of Nations and worthy of International Olympic Committee consideration.  What happens at and around and to these games can have a long life in terms of reputation.  Not always “good” things happen.  Take the Mexico City Olympics 1968 – remember the “Black Power” salutes of American medal winners Tommy Smith and John Carlos as the Star Spangled Banner was played?  (An enduring image of raised arms with fists clenched — they were representing the Olympics Project for Human Rights at the height of the US civil rights struggles.) Some folks in the USA do remember that gesture and consider it an insult to the whole American nation.  The media were all over these games, which were preceded by the terrible Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico, where 300 university students were reportedly killed by the Mexican government forces.

 

And then there are the never-happened games of 1980, when President Jimmy Carter would not allow US teams to compete.  Reason:  the USSR had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  The games were in Moscow and 64 nations boycotted the Games of the XXII Olympiad.  Four years earlier there were 24 nations boycotting the 1976 summer games in Montreal because of various reasons – Taiwan, the Republic of China pulled out because Canada had recognized the People’s Republic of China and couldn’t let two “China’s” compete.  South Africans rallied two dozen African nations to boycott. You get the picture.

 

So, what may be in store for China and the rest of the world this summer? Don’t bet against major civil protests of all kinds – many are already underway – as we move toward the start of the games.  Protestors have already tried to interfere with the lighting of the Olympic torch at the site of the ancient Greek games (that was March 24 in Olympia).  The torch will be carried thousands of miles through 19 countries (from Greece to China) and used to light the torch to signal start of the games.  We’re on Day Five now and the torch (which started at the Temple of Hera) was passed to the first Chinese torch bearer – a huge honor for both ancient nations – is still in Greece, in Thessalonkai.

 

The mother flame was used to ignite the torch (or torches – there are back up measures), and the torch will be lit all the way to its destination.  In 1984 the torch was carried across most of the American continent and through state-after-state, from ocean-to-ocean, New York to Los Angeles (where the XXIII Games were held).  There were almost no disruptions and along most of the route there were folks lined up to cheer the runners on (they run in relays) as they moved through 33 states and the District of Columbia and covered almost 10,000 miles. (Disclosure: this writer helped plan the event for the corporate sponsor, AT&T. Remember Olympics winner Rafer Johnson bringing that torch into the LA stadium?)  And, oh yes, this was a nettlesome event for the USA – Russia retaliated for 1980 and did not participate; most of the Communist Bloc nations did not; the Libyans didn’t show up.  There had to be the “Friendship Games” organized later to allow for all to have their competitions.  Whew!  (President Ronald Reagan opened the official games in his home state of California.)

 

And so in 2008 the torch will travel along a l-o-n-g route, from Greece to China and then out through many countries on it way to China and the opening of the gamesQuestions: .  Will there be demonstrations and disruptions along the way?  Google “Summer Olympics 2008, protests” and you will find almost 400,000 entries, the must recent focused on those by Pro-Tibetan independence groups – including the Students for a Free Tibet – and rising public opinion as advocates speak out against the Chinese state on various issues:  rising pollution; human rights abuses; religious intolerance; environmental standards, suppression of Tibetan independence, and more.

 

Important questions:  To what level will protest rise as (1) the torch makes its way across Europe, North America, Asia, etc.; (2) the intensity of the rage against China’s policies on various issue rises (moving toward the games); (3) incidents may occur inside China that incur the wrath of the government; (4) incidents may occur around the China borders, such as in Tibet, that invite response; (5) the foreign governments that are protesting China policies, such as Australia, continue to put the pressure on; (6) China’s government begins to aggressively repress internal dissidents who may join external critics’ campaigns; (7) foreign media, especially US media, cover events both inside and outside China that the Chinese government objects to – perhaps ejecting journalists or denying them entrance to China; (8) Corporate America may get nervous about the ways things are going, and then…?

 

And more questions: What will the increasing pressures of items #1-8 (above) and more be on corporations in US, EU, UK and other regions that are prominent sponsors of the games?  Already the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is commenting that the committee should not have given the games to China – “…sadly, the Chinese government has not lived up to its commitments to improve the human rights situation in China and Tibet…”  What more is to come?  Germany is talking about not sending its dignitaries to the games; so is Australia; folks in the US are beginning to urge President Bush to stay away.

 

Make no mistake: These are very important games for China.  In 1984 at the Los Angeles games the United States won 83 gold, 61 silver and 30 bronze medals – 174 in all, with the closest nation being West Germany (before reunification) with 59.  So – you can expect that Chinese athletes will be doing their best to win as many medals as possible – a further boost to the nation and the Chinese people as they take their place among the leaders in the Family of Nations. (Remember the Chinese nation was in comparative isolation for many years after the Communist Revolution of the 1940s.)  These Olympics will clearly show “they’ve arrived.”

 

We are still at the very beginning of the protest campaigns – so watch that torch moving at a slow pace as the runners bob up and down across the many countries en route to China.  That could be the key precursor of what is to come.  Or at least what is now visible – remember that stealth campaigns can be executed out of sight now, thanks to the global technology base.  What’s on your list serv?

 

 

See: http://en.beijing2008.cn/ for details about China’s “official” view of the games.

 

See: http://torchrelay.beijing2008.cn/torchguide.shtml for the route of the games.

 

 

And stay tuned to this column space for updates and commentary on the torch run – 130 days to go!

COMMENTARY ON ACCOUNTABILITY – AND BROKEN TRUST – NEW YORK GOVERNOR ELIOT SPITZER – THE WALL STREET SHERIFF, NOW BEING CHASED BY A POSSE OF JOURNALISTS AS HE VIOLATES THE TRUST OF FAMILY, FRIENDS, VOTERS…

A very sad story continues to unfold:  The Hon. Eliot Spitzer, once the Sheriff of Wall Street (as attorney general he pursued “the bad guys” in finance on our behalf) falls from grace and into a state of serious disgrace as the sordid story of his private mis-adventures unfolds.  Talk about Accountability!  (In public or private lives.)

 

The story unfolds, that is, most importantly in the new media environment – living and breathing on thousands of personal blogs, all over the Web pages (including these in Accountability Central), on thousands of pages of print publications, in digital blips on news wires around the globe (this was a front page story in Europe), and everywhere on cable television talking-head programs. (So many readers tuned in to The New York Times Web site it slowed down considerably, reported NPR.)

 

And this story will live on, and on, and on — thanks to the way [digital] news and commentary / opinion is stored and preserved, in archived versions of all of the above communication channels, and more.

 

Sad, very sad.  For Governor Spitzer’s family, friends, colleagues, the voters who trusted him with high public office, and for our political process in general.  For those who believed that Eliot Spitzer was a public champion of accountability. This story will do nothing to bolster the public’s trust in government.

 

Disclosure: We were early supporters of Eliot Spitzer, in his attorney general elections, and in his gubernatorial race.  You’ll find us listed in the financial disclosure files as contributors, and in the paper trails of his campaigns and public offices.

 

For the high points in his career, consider these (paraphrased) comments that Attorney General Spitzer delivered at the National Press Club in Washington DC, as he was questioned (sometimes harshly) by the inside-the-Beltway-media-mavens about his headlined crusades against Wall Street’s bad guys and the un-accountable leaders in Corporate America.  The AG said:

 

Now that you know what the financial analysts and investment bankers were doing (in terms of their distorted or misleading stock analysis linked to investment banking), how many of us would like to go back to that system?  (Back to making important personal investment decisions based on faulty or misleading or even fraudulent analyst recommendations.  The bankers and brokers and certain analysts were screwing investors out of billions’ of dollars and taking home fat bonuses.)

 

Now that you know what the advisory companies were doing with your mutual fund investments, behind your back (late timing, etc.), costing you return on your investments, how many would like to go back to that system?  There was mostly silence in that room filled with journalists and public officials.  No one raised their hand and shouted out, “I would love that system again!” But — Mr. Spitzer could easily irritate the vested interests, including journalists, corporate executives, boards of directors, investment bankers, his fellow office-holders, his own political party leadership, etc.

 

As attorney general, and then as governor, Mr. Spitzer made many enemies with his official activities.  Many say he squandered a huge reservoir of goodwill in Albany when his staff began backroom smear campaigns against the leading Republican in the Senate, Joseph Bruno.  Those activities were either bordering on, or actually illegal.  There went the political honeymoon most new governors enjoy.

 

His was a storied career, in many ways.  Growing up in affluence; on to Harvard Law School (with his wife, Silda Wall; they married in 1987).  Law clerking for a prestigious federal judge. White-shoe law firm associate. Crime-buster in the office of the legendary Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau; chief of labor rackets office there. Members of the Gambino crime family were put away by him and his colleagues, ending decades of corruption in the trucking, air freight and garment businesses of New York.

 

Elected twice as AG of NY, and in 2001 he moves on Merrill Lynch (first), in the analyst – investment banker scandals; eventually the Top 10 money houses of Wall Street would pony up hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, restitution, and years of reform of financial analysis.  Riding his white horse down the narrow canyons of Lower Manhattan, he moves on another legendary figure – who would also fall from grace – Richard Grasso, chair of the New York Stock Exchange, for violations of NY’s not-for-profit laws, which the AG oversaw.  (It was all about Dick’s outsize compensation.  Disclosure:  Dick and I worked together at the NYSE and I consider him a good friend. He was a brilliant leader of the world’s most important stock exchange.)

 

And there were AG Spitzer’s campaigns against mutual fund advisors, insurance companies (resulting in the fall of another industry legend at the targeted AIG, Hank Greenberg, forced out by his board after AG Spitzer targeted him).

 

Many bodies, individual and institutional, lay in the wake of the Sheriff’s ride through the twisting old Dutch NY canyons, the corporate suites, the board rooms, the busy trading floors, the back room processing centers, the powerful law firm offices, etc.  Many adversaries, too many enemies made along the way.

 

We talked early on with Eliot Spitzer about how he resembled another crusader in New York State, first Assemblyman and then Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who publicly railed against robber barons and tenement slumlords and oppressive employers and corrupt public officials n the first years of the 20th Century.  “Teddy,” also from a family of great wealth, was hugely disturbed by what he saw in government in Albany and at a very early age became a dedicated reformer and crusader.  We shared tales of Teddy and his crusades and Eliot’s crusades…and their [seemingly] shared legacies.  Teddy is your model, I suggested to the attorney general a few years ago. It was all so sweet…for a time.

 

As of this writing, we don’t know what the future holds for Eliot Spitzer as governor of the Empire State. As The Los Angeles Times’Erika Hayasaki and Stephanie Simon point out in their story today, he built a national reputation as an aggressive, uncompromising prosecutor.  He will need prosecutorial mercy himself now as he negotiates his way out of this mess.  I believe fundamentally in what consultant Hank Sheinkopf said: “…here’s a guy who had one desire in life…he wanted to serve the people…”  That makes the fall all the more tragic, doesn’t it?

 

But that unanswered question hangs in there – why?  Why, Governor Spitzer?  As Baruch College professor Douglas Muzzio observed:  “I’m stunned that this highly-intelligent, successful prosecutor would be involved in such reckless and risk-taking behavior.  Talk about a great man falling.  It’s the stuff of tragedy…”  And so it is.

 

We close this commentary with this: the great 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, spoke directly to the issues we are dealing with today in his April 1906 speech on “muckraking,” touching on both corrupted men in public office and sensational journalists who hounded both the corrupted and at times, honest men.

 

TR:  “At the risk of repetition, let me say [again] that my plea is not for immunity to, but for the most unsparing exposure of, the politician who betrays the public trust, of the big business man who makes or spends his fortune in illegitimate or corrupt ways.  There should be a resolute effort to hunt every such man out of the position he has disgraced.  Expose the crime, hunt down the criminal, but remember that even in the case of crime, it is attacked in sensational, lurid, and untruthful fashion, the attack may do more damage to the public mind than the crime itself…”

 

President Roosevelt was cautioning the journalist of the day to be truthful and diligent but to avoid being like the man in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” who with muck (mud) rake in hand could look no way but downward, turning down a celestial crown for his muck rake, so he could continue to rake to himself the filth of the floor.  From this warning to journalists came an opposite reaction:  The perennial phrase was eagerly adopted and trumpeted by the press of the day and ever since: “We are Muckrakers!” 

 

Let’s hope that in the end truth wins out in the many digital bits yet to fly as the governor’s story continues to unfold.  Surely We the People will be titillated…and ultimately, disappointed.  An important “accountability” is being trashed – public trust.

 

An important public governance trust was broken. And the press will have their field day.  But I wonder what TR would say today about “attacks doing more damage to the public mind than the crime itself…?”  While those who choose to may pray for Mr. Spitzer and his family’s well being, let’s also say a little prayer for ourselves – that the public governance system of this great state, and of this great nation, move on and heal after all the digital bits have flown!

 

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Click here to read the associated article that was commented on Accountability-Central