44 Days Publishing
The Way It Was Supposed to Be in 21st Century America
vs. the Way It Really Is Across the Big Pond
Musing on Corruption and Alternative Forms of Governance
By: Jeff J. Brown - 44 Days Publishing, www.44days.net
Many people who voted for Obama in 2008, including myself, were expecting him to channel an amalgam of Upton Sinclair, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Orwell. He sure talked the talk during the campaign, didn't he? Instead, we got a tetra-headed, deleterious mutation of Ulysses S. Grant, J. Edgar Hoover, Thomas Friedman, and The Manchurian Candidate's dictatorial Senator Iselin. Fool me once. My, how time flies. Just imagine an America today where the pre-election promised Obama is president and just in the last month alone, the following has happened:
Prez-O Sets the Tone
The crusading federal Attorney General brings down the mayor of Houston, with a damning open-and-shut case of corruption, kickbacks, and bribery, forcing a hasty resignation. President Obama senses a building up of anger on Main Street and his pollsters concur. During a routine press conference, he stuns everybody by telling the world he thinks the AG is doing a great job and should be encouraged to carry on with this and numerous other private-sector/government-collusion cases on the books. To drive the point home, Obama goes on national TV to talk to the American public about corruption among the big oil companies and to express his commitment to root it out and make sure that the perpetrators of all this white-collar crime are put behind bars. The corruption is so bad that there is suddenly viral chatter of breaking up Big Oil, into smaller, more-manageable corporate units, because they are currently "too big to fail". Several of Petroworld's senior management have already stepped down pending investigation. Harking back to the days of My Lai and Watergate and seemingly emboldened by the government's mien, the New York Times (NYT) and the Washington Post reported a pipeline of alumni from Texas University's petroleum engineering school, into these high-level executive posts, where so much corruption is being found.
Meanwhile, the state AG in Florida indicts two retired US military officers for trying to collude with a foreign enemy to sell influence. The message emanating from the White House on down is clear: it is all systems go to exorcise the rot from America's corrupt halls of private and public power.
Wall Street on the Ropes
On Wall Street, the feds are up the backsides of the leading investment banks, investigating massive corruption in the fixed-income markets. Lloyd Blankfein's mug, CEO of Goldman Sachs, is all over the mainstream media, being derisively called the "Bond King", while the whole sector is swarming with SEC investigators on a mission to root out insider trading, collusion, and graft. After all, a fed up public demands no less.
In Illinois, six state police were just handed sentences to prison terms of four to 14 years, for torturing and accidentally killing a detainee suspected of real estate fraud. They confessed they were irate at not being cut in on the deal.
The Secretaries of Treasury and Commerce this week come out with major policy speeches, discussing the need for deep reform in the dysfunctional housing and real estate sectors and with the White House's blessings, will be pushing hard to bring this critical sector back into the real economy, with regulations to stimulate rational market development. America's formerly influential newspaper, the New York Times, kowtowing as usual to the White House's current spin, comes out with a major editorial calling for meaningful reform in America's broken-down housing and real estate industries. The federal government also announced plans to thoroughly look at the rules and regulations on the books, not to liberalize "free" markets, but in order to help root out corruption at all levels of the regulatory process, both state and federal.
Media Yes Men
The Washington Post, just as supine to Pennsylvania Avenue pressure as the NYT, does its journalistic job of "Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable", by coming out with an investigative piece about rampant corruption in the skimming of money from state welfare coffers.1 While local and state officials are enriching themselves at the taxpayers' expense, by colluding with corrupt private-sector vendors, the most vulnerable of society -- the poor, children, and the elderly -- are suffering the consequences. This report is based on leaked documents from the Department of Justice, which is conducting a massive nationwide investigation, for once not to snare the whistleblower, but into the use of federally mandated, state welfare funds.
Meanwhile, a high-level member of the National Science Foundation was sentenced to 13 years of hard time for embezzling $20 million in federally granted research funds. The word is out: crooks in all sectors, private and public, will not be tolerated and you could be next, if you've got your hand in the cookie jar of corruption.
In the food sector, another huge concern among the nation's consumers, one executive was just sentenced to life in prison and more than a dozen more for up to 15 years, for knowingly selling tainted cooking oil, violating numerous food safety laws, and endangering the lives of thousands of consumers.2
Fearless Foreign Press' Journo-Cohones
The British Guardian, one of the last Western newspapers with any journo-cohones, has a big expose' on a high-ranking, retired CIA chief, who is still one of the most powerful members of America's internal-security apparatus, and who is widely believed to be under top-level investigation for graft and corruption. Having kept a low profile for months, the fact that he showed up at a big Stanford University petroleum engineering school alumni celebration did not escape the notice of this UK newspaper, which is unafraid to report what America's lapdog media obediently avoids. Is this alumni bash a signal that this all-powerful state security titan has pulled the necessary strings to call off the dogs? Yet another foreign newspaper fearlessly ready to step on the toes of America's power elite, Brazil's O Globo reports on the same scandal, that a former American vice-president is linked to this CIA mogul, and is in cahoots with a shady, private-sector dealmaker in numerous, highly profitable land-development schemes. Will America's mainstream media pick up the story? Probably not, unless Obama really rides herd on the bully pulpit.
One US newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, seems to be inspired by the foreign press' courage to speak truth to power. One of their reporters has just been detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a scathing report about gross acts of corruption and graft among the many private-sector contractors, who are apparently skimming off contracts with their colluding DHS paymasters. Even though the paper was issued a gag order by America's highest authorities, the Chronicle bravely and brazenly ran a huge four-inch front-page headline that screamed, "RELEASE HER!" Only time will tell of the outcome and the safe return of their brave reporter.
Reports continue about frustrations in setting up a national database on property held by government officials, especially in the banking, energy, and transportation sectors, due to rampant tax evasion and graft. Knowing this wave of frustration could easily turn into a tsunami of popular 99% revolt, Obama comes out with a major policy speech and appeals to America's people to help him rid the military-industrial complex of brazen corruption and graft. He announces that a lieutenant general is being indicted for multiple white-collar crimes and that this is just the beginning of a long campaign to clean up one of America's most secretive and rotten sectors.
To round up a busy month of crusading in America for clean government and transparent, ethical business practices, the #2 director of California's state investigation bureau is all over the media, photo'd in prison fatigues and manacles, after receiving a well-publicized life sentence for corruption and bribe taking. Again, Obama is sensing the frustration and well-grounded anger of America's citizens, against a country in dire need of reform at all levels: business, government, and military. Therefore, he will make as his upcoming State of Union's centerpiece, the fact that the legitimacy of his administration and his tenure as president will be judged by his tireless fight to make the United States a better place for all people - poor, working, and middle-class alike, and not just the power elite 1%, and that he will be conducting the rest of presidential tenure with the long view of American history looking over his shoulder.
A pipe dream, a far-fetched fantasy? It is if your passport is blue and has the American seal embossed on the front. But not if your passport is bright red and sports a seal with four small stars arching over a larger one -- the national symbol on China's flag. Everything detailed above has happened in the People's Republic just in the last 30 days. For a foreigner like me living in China and used to bemoaning the corrupt, completely dysfunctional US economy and the sorry spectacle of so-called governance across the Big Pond, these are exciting and breathtaking times.
Western pundits like to say that a one-party state such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose leaders I affectionately call Baba Beijing, because of their very paternalistic outlook on governing 20% of Earth's humanity, cannot maintain any legitimacy, because the people cannot go to the polls to make their voices heard, to keep their representatives honest and accountable. Throughout China's 3,000 years of continuous civilization, there has never been the notion of pluralism and democracy. Never. Not even one time. Yet let's face it, Baba Beijing and its billion-plus citizens are doing just fine, thank you: the soon to be world's biggest economy is already the world's largest trading country and by 10,000 li (miles), is the biggest creditor in human history. With each passing year, the Sino-superlatives just keep piling up.
So how do they do it? Guess which entities are the biggest and most numerous clients of China's hundreds of polling companies? Why Baba Beijing and the CCP of course, starting at the macro-federal level down to the smallest villages. China's leaders are avidly keen to know what their citizens think -- about corruption, about inflation, medical care, etc., down to the neighborhood level of garbage collection, traffic congestion, pollution, and water cutoffs. And they don't just file 13 the results. They want to stay in power, maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and join the annals of China's long line of rulers, as having done an admirable job of fulfilling their Heavenly Mandate.3 Thus, they act on these results. Corruption has been an ongoing concern for more and more middle-class and poor Chinese, paralleling the country's explosive economic growth and rapid social evolution. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, and the 300-member Central Committee are not only listening, but responding to these public concerns of the 99%.
SMS and Street Protests
There are other avenues for the "voting" public to vent their discontent. China has over one billion mobile phones and the world's largest 3G network. Millions of SMS can cascade virally across this continent sized country in a matter of hours, over an incident of injustice, police brutality or corruption. Baba Beijing has established tens of thousands of text-messaging accounts, so they can keep track of the lightning-fast zeitgeist changing by the hour on the streets, as well as to respond to this electronic fury and to help massage the message. This wireless release valve is not enough though, as there are an estimated 500 public protests a day across China, usually to redress local concerns about greedy businessmen and bureaucrats, slimy land deals with citizens getting screwed out of their property, unwanted building permits for polluting industrial projects that the townfolk are against, police brutality and the like.
Westerners Just Don't Get It
Western pundits love to round on Baba that these tens of thousands of protests around the country each year are a sign of weakness in China's centralized, authoritarian system of state-regulated capitalism. But they miss the point entirely. All these protests are assiduously compiled in Beijing to add to Baba's arsenal of information and statistics from the polls and SMS messages, in order to better respond to the public's grievances in a targeted fashion. This powerful expression of redress is not just Kabuki Theater. The government frequently responds to this constant tide of public protests with solutions. The people often win their cases, unlike Occupy Wall Street (OWS), protesting Chicago teachers and so many other scorned public protests that are brutally repressed by America's militarized local and state police forces. Instead of setting up a national system of response and redress, the Obama regime used the FBI, Homeland Security, universities and banks to coordinate crushing the OWS movement and killing it in its tracks.4 If it looks like fascism, tastes like fascism, and smells like fascism, then... But you already know the answer to that.
Corruption Comes in Many Flavors
Is corruption a big problem in China? Yes. But it is also a malignant cancer in corporate America, on Wall Street, all through the military and medical-industrial complexes and a plethora of other sectors. What Baba Beijing is showing to its people and the world is that leadership is not counted in performing miracles and realizing overly ambitious expectations (Mao tried that during the catastrophic Great Leap Forward), but is measured in the public's eye that they are doing something about any perceived problem and are making ongoing progress. Honest effort, not cynical sideshows, is a necessity and counts for much. The Chinese understand all too well the challenges Baba Beijing faces. A common refrain when I meet people on the street is, "China has such a huge population, is so big, has so many competing regions and peoples that it makes it difficult to manage".
Yes, this kind of corruption is a problem in China, but it is also true in many countries touting themselves as pluralistic democracies.
Baba Beijing Is an Expert at This Stuff
This recent barrage of anticorruption activity in China has waxed and waned over the years, depending on the zeitgeist on the street, but progress has still been remarkably steady. This improvement can be quantified. Since it first started its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 1995, Transparency International (TI) has been tracking China's progress and the results are impressive. They are a strong indication of China's undulating but steady improvement in fighting corruption in the halls of government, and, by extension, in offices and boardrooms of the corporate sector, that collude with bureaucrats for filthy lucre.
Comparison of Transparency International's Perceived Corruption Index, 1995 and 2012
Food for Thought
The above table tells many stories. In the last 17 years, while taking their economy into Star Trek warp drive, Baba Beijing has improved the country's public-sector corruption index by a full 17 points, second only to Spain and Taiwan in gain. Several countries that have imbibed deeply from the waters of deregulation, Argentina, Iceland, Ireland, South Africa, and the United Kingdom all dropped precipitously by double digits. The United States and Canada, two more champions of chest-beating libertarian policies, have also gotten worse, not better, since 1995, dropping five points each. Two countries with the world's longest history of democracy, Italy and Greece, both members of the European Union, are China's neighbors on the 2012 roster: Greece's 36 ranks below China's 39 and Italy's 42 is just above. India, "the world's largest democracy", has improved eight points, but still lags behind China, with a score of only 36 and tied with Greece. In fact, looking at the full list on TI's website, over half the countries ranked below China in 2012 tout themselves as pluralistic democracies. So much for freedom of the vote keeping governments legitimate, accountable, and honest.
Those Darn Socialists and Damned Statistics
The other telling trend on the list is the preponderance of Western European countries at the top. Scandinavians, with their evil cradle-to-grave, nanny-state socialism, sure seem to run a tight fiscal ship. I guess you'd better, what with all those undeserving blue-collar parasites and white-collar middle-class leeches sucking on the hind tit of Big Bad Gubment. I'm telling you, there oughta be a law. Even those vile Western European NATO vassals, unrepentant Canadians, misguided Asians, like Singapore and Hong Kong, not to mention the lunatic Kiwis and "Roos Down Under and what, who's that -- coconut crazy Barbados, all have -- heaven forbid -- universal health care and other pinko-commie social programs for the 99%, and all rank in the top fifteen. I don't know about you, but as an armchair ruminator of all things weighty and portentous, and having taken several courses in statistics during my time in the ivory towers of undergraduate and graduate academia, I'm seeing what those high-falootin' analysts and soothsayers call a trend here, and what those pesky number-crunchers and bean counters like to bandy about -- a correlation, meaning when one thing has an attribute, like social programs for the 99%, there is a strong tendency to also have clean government and uncorrupt officials.
Looking Forward on the Arrow of Time
What this suggests is that China, which is phasing in countrywide social security and a national health-care system -- don't get me wrong -- America's bought-and-paid-for satraps in Washington and state capitals stand in line to take orders from the FIREmen (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) of the medical-health insurance industry complex -- but Baba Beijing, with one-fifth of the human race to take care of, is getting it done. So statistically speaking, China has only one way to go on Transparency International's CPI, and that is in the direction of the uber-clean Fab Fifteen.
What is just as impressive is how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Since 1995, the year the first TI Corruption Index came out, there has been a remarkable consistency in the Top 10 countries. Clearly, economies with humane social programs are doing something right, which is what stat studs call persistence.
Corruption by Any Other Name
Mind you, TI's index only considers public or bureaucratic corruption: bribes, graft, kickbacks, and the like. But who needs these tawdry tools of the 1%'s errand boys, when you can just spread millions of dollars into the pockets of henchmen in the hallowed halls of statecraft, write your own laws to be passed verbatim in the middle of the night, and signed with Mont Blanc 18-carat gold, diamond-studded fountain pens? Oops, I forgot, that's not really corruption, in what passes for democracy these days in the United States. It's all legal and codified, right? Where would America be ranked on a comprehensive business-corruption index, where the Gilded Age economic model of government-in-service-to-the-Princes-of-Power is business as usual? Below China?