Perception or not, corruption isn’t limited to Third World

corruption index

Transparency International, a German-based organization, recently released its world Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015.

Not surprisingly, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan ranked near the bottom of the index, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, and also factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other things.

Transparency International found that corruption was rife in 68 percent of the world’s countries: It would be interesting to see a similar index for US states.

If the actual machinations that go on with misuse of tax dollars, corporate incentives and lawmaker ethics, among many other things, weren’t both so well cloaked by those in power and so often overlooked by US citizens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of states ranked somewhere around the nations of Eastern Europe in terms of corruption.

The difference between the US and other parts of the world isn’t a lack of corruption, it’s that our elected officials are better at hiding it, aren’t quite so ostentatious in showing off their ill-gotten booty and generally don’t kill those who threaten to expose them.

I’d imagine the same is the case in other so-called “first-world” nations such as Canada, the UK and France. Even highly ranked countries such as Denmark (No. 1), Finland (No. 2) and Sweden (No. 3), have problems.

They just have fewer issues than lower-ranked countries and their corruption occurs in a more “white collar” manner – say spanking new roads and public buildings in friends’ areas in exchange for laundered kickbacks along with incredibly generous government pensions, as opposed to naked looting of the government coffers and outright execution of opponents.

Like most things in life, it’s all in how you play the game.

(Top: Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The darker the country the more corrupt the public sector; the lighter the less corrupt. Greenland, Antarctica and Western Sahara seem pretty safe.)

Interracial couple survived Reconstruction, Jim Crow

bedenbaugh house

A 155-year-old structure located in rural South Carolina embodies the conflicted racial legacy evident in South Carolina and possibly other parts of the South, if not the nation.

The Jacob Bedenbaugh House, built around 1860, isn’t noteworthy for its age or its architectural style. Described as a detached two-story traditional “I” house with a modified L-shaped plan, the dwelling, in serious need of restoration, is located along a country highway about five miles east of Prosperity, SC.

What prompted the US Department of the Interior to the place the home on the National Register of Historic Places is the individuals who lived in the structure during its first 55-75 years.

Jacob Belton Bedenbaugh was a white South Carolinian born in 1833. His common-law wife Sarah Bedenbaugh, described as mulatto, was initially a slave purchased by Jacob. Sometime between 1860 and 1864, the two entered into a relationship.

Despite the increasing difficulties inherent with pursuing an interracial relationship in the Deep South in the years following the Civil War – not that it was a walk in the park during or before – the Bedenbaughs remained together in the house as a couple from at least 1864 until Jacob’s death in 1915 and had eight children.

But going against prevailing social mores didn’t come without a price. In July 1890, they were indicted and tried for “fornication” due to the fact that they living together. Being an interracial couple undoubtedly contributed to the decision to prosecute.

It’s unclear from a search of the Internet what the outcome of the case was, but one should bear in mind that South Carolina’s political climate was changing rapidly in 1890 as the Conservatives who had come to power in 1877 following the end of Reconstruction were about to be turned out of office by populist Ben Tillman, who was elected later that year, and his supporters.

Tillman, a virulent racist, was a leading force behind the state’s 1895 constitution, which solidified Jim Crowism in the state and, among other things, prohibited interracial marriage.

Legally, the couple could have married during the war, Reconstruction and immediate-post Reconstruction period, provided they had been able to find a minister willing to perform the service, but the Tillman Constitution forever barred Jacob and Sarah Bedenbaugh from being wedded.

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Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)

Amid ignorance, compassion and humanity shine through

dps

Because we in South Carolina haven’t had enough strife over the past month, what with the racially motivated killings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 and the ensuing polarizing debate about removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, a pair of dubious groups from out of state descended upon our capital over the weekend to try to add fuel to the fire.

The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday, as did the Florida-based Black Educators for Justice, described as a subset of the “New Black Panther Party.”

While there weren’t more than a few dozen members from either group on hand to spread their bizarre brand of fanaticism, there were as many as 2,000 individuals who protested the interlopers.

Yet, among the foolishness of two groups who seemed hell-bent on stirring up odious emotions for the sake of publicity was at least one inspiring moment.

In  a scene caught by a civilian photographer, a black police officer came to the aid of an older white man, overcome by heat, who was garbed in a Nazi t-shirt during Saturday’s activities.

In the above photo, provided to the Associated Press by Rob Godfrey, the former spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Department of Public Safety Chief Leroy Smith helps an unidentified man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs of the South Carolina statehouse.

The image showed “who we are in South Carolina,” Smith told the Charleston Post and Courier.

One never knows what’s in the heart of individuals such as the character who was assisted by Smith, but it can only be hoped that the latter’s actions might force the former to at least reconsider his long-held positions on matters such as race. Stranger things have happened.

Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit

churches

One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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Police: Don’t mix bears, booze, dull hatchets and stupidity

black bear

Wise words from officials in North Adams, Mass.:

“The North Adams Police Department is urging everyone to NOT chase bears through the woods with a dull hatchet, drunk,” the department informed residents of the western Massachusetts community through a May 11 post on Facebook. “Yes that really did happen tonight. We understand there are bears in the area. If you see a bear, LEAVE IT ALONE and call us.”

While North Adams authorities declined to identify the intoxicated wannabe frontiersman or his ursine prey, they explained the consequences of such actions while admitting the affair left them just a tad bewildered.

“We certainly don’t need anyone going all Davy Crockett chasing (a bear) through the woods drunk with a dull hatchet,” the Facebook post continued. “It is just a bad idea and not going to end well. It will however, certainly end you up in jail … which it did. The hatchet man was taken into protective custody due to his incapacitation from the consumption of alcoholic beverage. We are still trying to figure out his end game.

As the Boston Globe helpfully pointed out, Crockett, the famed 19th century American backwoodsman, hunted bears with a “team of attack dogs, guns and a sharp knife.”

To paraphrase an old saying, don’t bring a dull hatchet to a bear hunt. Or, better yet: go home, you’re drunk.

Great Nickel Caper evidence of penny-ante criminals at work

boxes of nickels

Not only is it not quite on par with the Great Train Robbery or the JFK Lufthansa Heist, but the Great Nickel Caper of 2015 may be among the most irrational crimes ever committed, at least in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Recently, 183 boxes of nickels were purloined from a residence in North Naples, Fla., during a house party. The value of the 360,000 5-cent pieces was $18,000. The weight of the nicked nickels? Nearly 4,000 pounds. (Among questions that come to mind is why anyone would have 360,000 nickels in their home?)

The coins were stored in blue and white boxes the size of large bricks, according to a South Florida television station.

Detectives are asking the public to be especially alert at places where individuals can redeem change, such as at banks or grocery stores with coin-counting machines, reported WFTX-TV.

Thieves also made off with a .12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber firearm and miscellaneous ammunition, possibly to protect their ill-gotten booty as they made a very, very slow getaway.

In all seriousness, what does one do with 360,000 nickels? I suppose you’d never have to worry about having money for parking meters, but other than that – and heading to a gambling casino to play the nickel slots until your arm falls off – it seems like you’ve bought yourself more problems than the $18,000 is worth.

Then again, criminals usually aren’t noted for being deep thinkers.

And the casino scenario isn’t even realistic. Besides loading up a U-Haul, how would you get the money to gambling establishment without attracting undo attention?

On the plus side, one supposes the nickel nabbers have a great start on a coin collection, narrow though it may be.

(Top: Boxes of nickels similar to those stolen from a North Naples, Fla., home last month.)