Prior to coming to the United States, I had always thought that the concept of “Government Magic” that the late musical icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang about was limited to Africa. What is government magic? According to Fela, government magic means unethical manipulation of the system/the rule of law to serve the interest of the powerful. And through this diabolical magic power, the government can magically turn red into blue, green into white, and electricity can easily be transformed into a candle.
Many Africans, including myself, understand the concept of government magic that Fela sung about. We live it every day, we breathe it and as unfortunate as it might sound, it has long been our existential reality. But what really surprises me and many more around the world, is to be unpleasantly awakened to the presence of government magic in the United States of America. This sparks wonderment in people because of how the United States has portrayed itself in the world as the bastion of democracy, the champion of human rights. It is been propagandized that the United States’ constitution serves as the archetype of the rule law.
The greatest government magic I have ever seen in my life is usurping the unique sovereignty of the Almighty God by turning corporations into people. Over the course of two hundred years in our nation, corporations have gradually been given many of the same rights of flesh and blood human beings. We can all probably attest to the negative effects that this corporate personhood has had on our democracy! In fact, this government magic has changed our democracy into corporatocracy. The value that government once placed on people – “government of the people by the people and for the people” has been replaced by corporatocracy – “government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations.”
The most recent government magic is the case of banking juggernauts – Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, UBS and The Royal Bank of Scotland – pleading guilty to currency manipulation. The self-acclaimed “cartel” traders from these global banks used secret codes to manipulate U.S. dollar and euro exchange rates. Instead of being legally charged for their criminality they are only being asked to pay a fine, albeit a hefty fine of more than $5 billion, for their actions.
The plea deal offered to these crooks by the U.S. Department of Justice is horribawful on some many levels. For one, this is a huge distortion of the concept of the rule of law. The rule of law assumes that everyone in any given society is equal before the law irrespective of their status. This kangaroo deal is a bold proclamation that the 99% are ruled by law and are expected to obey the laws of the land while the affluent are above and not subject to the laws.
James S. Henry, senior economist, at Tax Justice Network stated that from 1998 to 2015 banks have committed a grand total of 255 felony scale offenses including libor rigging and currency markets, money laundering, bribery, mortgage fraud, and executing wrongful foreclosures all of which they’ve paid $246 billion in penalties. But these fines haven’t altered the modus operandi of the banks. The million dollar question is why aren’t these fines changing their behavior? The simple answer is that the $5.6 billion announced by Loretta Lynch, the new United States Attorney General, might seem like the consequence for these banks acts of indiscretion, but in all honesty the money is the fee for building an intercontinental criminal enterprise and for evading justice. Pay a fee and go scot-free!
Our current system of government magic has deemed big banks and their executives as being too big to fail, and when they do fail, they are too big to go to jail. Yet the same system railroads Blacks, Latinos and other communities of color to prison for selling or getting caught with ounces of marijuana. The same Justice Department that has just arrested FIFA officials on corruption charges has a track record of serving as a Maginot line for executives of giant banks against the wrath of the law. The best way to deepen democracy is through strengthening the rule of law, as well as strengthening institutions that promote the rule of law. But unfortunately, our current U.S. Justice Department is a factotum for the one percent and its all machinations.