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.)

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Ability to sustain pearly platitudes dwindling rapidly

sustainable

Yet another word battered into meaningless by overuse and corporate marketing.

Here’s a hint: once the big boys of industry start littering their advertising with a specific term, such “sustainable” or “going green” or “giving back,” that term has probably not only been utterly co-opted, but lost any real meaning.

Sustainability, or its elite cousin, “sustainable development,” always seemed like a loaded term, anyway – another way of saying that a small group somewhere thinks it should have the ability to control how a much larger segment of people live their lives, based on what the smaller group believes is in everyone’s best interests.

The goal of sustainability is what’s best for the planet. The problem is, who’s determining what’s best for whom, and what the cost in economic, political and intellectual liberty?

Most of us, say, can agree it would be nice if the Amazon wasn’t stripped to look like a World War I battlefield. But is it right to tell the dirt-poor Brazilian farmer, trying to scratch out of a living, that he can no longer clear trees to grow crops to feed his family and try to earn a living, so that first-world do-gooders can feel like they’ve effected change?

Gerard of Cremona’s role in reinvigorating medieval Europe

Toledo-Spain

Polyglots are a fascinating breed. As one who has worked all his life, and is still working, to gain mastery of a single language, I have mucho admiration for those who easily and fluently pick up additional tongues.

My maternal grandfather, a native of Italy who immigrated to the U.S. more than a century ago, could speak multiple languages, including Italian, French and English, along with a variety of others, due to the fact he grew up in the far northeastern part of the country, near a variety of shifting borders.

I am living proof that being a polyglot is not an inherited trait. I failed English in 6th and 7th grade, and came close again in 10th grade. In addition, I barely made it through two years of college French (mandatory for graduation).

Of course, upon reflection I have recognized that study habits – or lack thereof – were largely responsible for my early inability to learn the intricacies of English, as well as the basics of French. At least, I’d like to think so.

Yet, there is no question that for a special few individuals, the ability to learn languages is indeed a gift.

Take Gerard of Cremona, an Italian who found himself drawn to the intellectual riches of the Spanish city of Toledo in the 12th century. Toledo during this period was a true multi-religious melting pot, with Christians, Jews and Muslims living, working and learning side by side.

Gerard, who was born around 1114, is believed to have traveled to Spain in his late 20s due to the lack of written scholarship available in his native area.

Toledo, the former provincial capital of the Caliphate of Cordoba, had been conquered by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085 but had remained a seat of learning, with protected Jewish and Muslim areas.

The city was full of libraries and possessed an abundance of manuscripts. It represented one of the few places in medieval Europe where a Christian such as Gerard could be exposed to Arabic language and culture, along with extensive written scholarship dating back to the Greeks.

What Gerard saw upon his arrival in Toledo staggered him; myriad books in Arabic on every subject, all nearly unknown in Latin.

Like any true polyglot, Gerard first taught himself Arabic, then proceeded to work his way through Toledo’s libraries, “churning out translations of at least seventy major works previously unavailable in the Latin-speaking west,” according to Chris Lowney in A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment.

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I’ll have the free lunch – as long as he’s paying for it

freelunch_thumb

Here’s an unsurprising bit of news out of our nation’s capital:

An overwhelming majority of Washington, D.C., residents support a proposal before the District Council to give each worker in the city 16 weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn or for a dying family member, according to the Washington Post.

The predictable part is that more than half of those polled also say they don’t want workers themselves to have to pay for the largesse.

Sorry, guys (and gals), but as Milton Friedman stated ever so eloquently, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone somewhere is going to have to pick up the tab.

If you understand and accept that you’re going to pay one way or the other, that’s fine. But if you expect others to willingly pony up, or that benefits will flow like manna from heaven, you’ve got another thing coming.

The last time I looked the District of Columbia doesn’t have its own printing presses with which to churn out money, so D.C. would have to raise taxes and/or cut employees to pay for such a benefit.

Understand, that’s not a judgment on whether the benefit is worth the cost, but a simple matter of fact. If workers are going to be allowed 16 weeks of paid time off to care for newborns or dying family members, the district will need funds to oblige.

Those pushing for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 an hour need to recognize this reality, as well. Over the course of a year, a full-time worker making $15 an hour would earn a little more than $32,000. That’s all well and good but, again, that money has to come from somewhere.

As the alchemists of old discovered, you can’t get something for nothing. There is a cost to every benefit, even if that cost is hidden. To pretend otherwise is to be foolish, disingenuous or willingly naïve.

Cimarron: Concept of Panhandle state nixed by political squabbling

Okterritory

Of the many lonely stretches found across the United States, few match the 5,749-square-mile rectangle known as the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Composed of three counties, today the Panhandle is home to about 28,500 people, less than half as many as when Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907.

The region suffered the ravages of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s as severe drought and blinding dust storms led many to leave for greener pastures.

The Panhandle is a relatively isolated region, dotted with abandoned buildings and hearty residents. Today, it seems difficult to believe that there was once a serious push to make the strip of land a separate territory, with the ultimate goal of statehood.

Originally part of Texas, the strip was surrendered in 1850 as a result of the Missouri Compromise. Texas, a slave state, had to give up the swath of land because federal law under the compromise prohibited slavery north of the 36°30’ parallel.

As a result, the region became known as a “neutral strip,” and was without state or territorial ownership. As evidence that advertising agencies did not hold the sway that they do today, the area was officially called the “Public Land Strip” and was commonly referred to as “No Man’s Land.”

Without a legal authority to provide oversight, the ensuing 40 years were full of confusion and turmoil.

Ranchers began moving into the region following the Civil War but officially the land could not be settled until it had been surveyed by the US government. Still, settlers flooded in, with many coming from Kansas.

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The public wants what the public gets …

Democratic Presidential Debate in Vegas

Living in a nation in which presidential canvassing is a never-ending cycle where campaigning for the next election begins almost as soon as the last one ends, it’s difficult to pay much heed to the myriad candidates promising an endless array of bread and circuses or, conversely, labeling foes as the antichrist.

The media has done much to create this horse race atmosphere, dispatching a multitude of reporters to follow candidates and catch the daily 20-second platitudes of aspiring nominees while real news around the nation and the world goes uncovered.

Candidates understand the game and manipulate the media, who play along in order to maintain access. Negative stories appear, but generally unless a candidate has an absolutely astounding number of craptacular skeletons in his or her closet, the media’s not going to scuttle anyone’s campaign.

More candidates equal more possibilities which equal more news. And more news means more ad sales, at least for television.

So when my daughters or friends ask me who I’m voting for, I tell them it’s early so I haven’t made up my mind. This is true, as our presidential election is still more than a year away.

The reality is that I have better things to do than listen to highly coached politicians spout well-rehearsed lines that have been trotted out and approved by focus groups.

Sadly, some of the most astute bit of political analysis I’ve come across is the following, which comes from a website called What Would Tyler Durden Do?, a website largely dedicated to mocking celebrities.

Although the site rarely strays into politics, and can be more obscene than a Kardashian attempting to read Shakespeare, Tyler Durden has a pragmatic take on the American political system that, while few in power would like to admit, is likely closer to reality than many average US citizens realize.

Consider its take on the recent Democratic debate:

Bernie Sanders supporters are largely more educated than Clinton supporters, but widely less practical. Despite the fact that Sanders college-aged Internet minions flooded the polling sites post-Democratic debate to declare Bernie Sanders the hippy atheist god almighty, every single major media outlet including CNN which ran the debate picked Hillary Clinton as the winner. Now Sanders followers are outraged, bemused, and frazzled. The standard emotional state of socialists.

I’m reluctantly forced to admire young Utopian dreamers. Before you get your first real STD or crappy job to pay the rent or unwanted pregnancy or draft notice or lousy marriage or mortgage or cancer, that is the time to dream of a perfect world. A land where everybody chooses bikes over cars, the homeless are no longer mentally ill alcoholics but misunderstood poets, and the fry guy and the McDonald’s CEO both make 40 bucks an hour, 10 after taxes. But politics isn’t about childish dreams. It’s about Mafioso-level bodies in the dumpster realities.

CNN is owned by Time Warner Cable. It donates heavily to the Clintons and Bushes for a reason that has nothing to do with the political philosophy you cherish while smoking pot in the quad and discussing Marx. It has to do with access and power and money. Big huge gobs of money in billion-dollar chunks. Let’s see, do we support the socialist who wants to break us up into little bits and force us to compete with public access channels on taxpayer-funded steroids or do we want the hacks who will keep us tight and flush with monopoly cash?

Agree or disagree with the above, it possesses more than a little truth. We’re certainly a long way from what the Founding Fathers, imperfect though they may have been, had in mind more than 225 years ago.

(“The public wants what the public gets” is from “Going Underground,” by The Jam.)

More proof the past isn’t always as tidy as we think it is

wade-hampton-statue

Another example of South Carolina’s counterintuitive past revealed itself recently, in a cemetery in the middle of the state.

Buried in the graveyard of Flint Hill Baptist Church, a black church located in northwestern Newberry County, are the remains of Richard “Dick” Roberts.

Roberts, who was born March 15, 1833, and died March 7, 1906, has a rather unusual inscription on his tombstone: “During the troublous years of reconstruction he was true to the people among whom he was born, and with whom he was reared.”

A March 9, 1906, story in the Newberry (SC) Observer provided some insight.

“Dick Roberts, colored, was known in his day as a ‘Hampton democrat.’ In fact he voted with democrats all the time, and wore the ‘red shirt’ in the famous campaign of 1876. He was one of the very few negroes who sided with their white neighbors in politics. Dick dropped dead at his home on the Duncan place in Cromer Township on Wednesday. He was about 65 years old.”

The Red Shirts are relatively little known outside South Carolina, but they were supporters of Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton during his run for governor in 1876. Hampton’s election that year brought an end to eight years of Republican rule in South Carolina and the subsequent withdrawal of Federal occupation troops.

A week after Roberts’ death the Observer followed up:

“Dick Roberts, colored, of Number 4 Township, who was a democrat all the dark days of reconstruction and to the day of his death, voting always with his white neighbors, died recently, as was mentioned in The Observer at the time. Remembering his loyalty and fidelity and appreciating his faithful services and the correctness of his life, and feeling that some recognition should be made of these, his white friends have decided to pay his funeral expense and to erect a simple and suitable monument at his grave. A liberal subscription is being raised for this purpose. Sheriff Buford has a list at his office and Mr. C.H. Shannon also has one.”

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