Archive for December 23rd, 2011

Greatest country in the world?

| December 23, 2011 | Reply
Greatest country in the world?

To what extent do candidates for President need to declare their belief in “American Exceptionalism”? More specifically, is the United States of America the greatest country in the world? If ever patriotism dovetails with religion, this has got to be the place, because the typical user of these phrases has no interest in real world factual inquiry regarding either the United States or of other countries. In other words, those who use this phrase almost never engage in any comparisons based on evidence, yet the use of these phrases denotes that a factual comparison has been conducted.

At his well-researched article at Huffpo, Jerome Karabel explores the historical use of the term “American Exceptionalism.”

What might be called the “U.S. as Number One” version of “American exceptionalism” enjoys broad popular support among the public. According to a Gallup poll from December 2010, 80 percent of Americans agree that “because of the United States’ history and its Constitution … the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.” Support for this proposition varied somewhat along party lines, but not by much: 91 percent of Republicans agreed, but so, too, did 73 percent of Democrats.

For President Obama, the issue of American exceptionalism could be his Achilles’ heel. In that same 2010 Gallup poll, Americans were asked which recent presidents believed that “the United States has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.” Reagan was highest at 86 percent, followed by Clinton at 77 percent, and George W. Bush with 74 percent; President Obama was a distant fourth at 58 percent. Obama’s vulnerability on the issue may be traced in part to his response to a question in April 2009 from a Financial Times reporter about whether he subscribed, “as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism.” “I believe in American exceptionalism,” declared Obama, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Though taken out of context, the remark serves as Exhibit A for Republicans making the case that Obama does not believe in “American exceptionalism” and, by extension, in America’s greatness.

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Jack Abramoff: How to fix political corruption

| December 23, 2011 | 2 Replies
Jack Abramoff: How to fix political corruption

At LA Weekly, Paul Teetor interviews Jack Abramoff, who has recently released his memoirs, titled Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.

I focused on these parts of the interview:

Politicians have to beg constantly for money, but you say that’s not the primary problem. What is the primary problem?

Power. The primary problem is them wanting to stay in power. It’s not just campaign contributions; it’s also people giving each other meals, taking them on trips. Anytime a gratuity is given to a public servant, that is a bribe.

You say the best way to get control of a congressman’s office is to offer a future job to the chief of staff. How does that work?

I would say, “I would like to talk to you about working for me.” The minute that conversation started, I had basically bribed them. From that point forward, I found, they were basically working for us.

Is that part of your reform recommendations? Members and their chiefs of staff cannot become lobbyists?

I would include every member of their staff.

These are the conclusions of a man who manipulated the system for decades. Although he attributes much of the corruption in Washington, D.C. to the lust for power, all methods of playing the system involve the exchange of money and other things of value. Politicians should be making their decisions solely on the merits of the legislation being considered.

The solution is to pay our representatives well but take all other money and other things of value, direct and indirect, out of the equation. No junkets, no special book deals, no lecture money, no special consideration for jobs for relatives and friends. I would also pass a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of Citizen’s United. I would offer meaningful public funding for political campaigns. Although I don’t agree with everything Abramoff now says, I think he is right that corruption often starts with the little things and builds up. Therefore, I would agree to ban all of the little things too: no dinners, no small gifts and nothing at all of value.

In the aggregate, these things constitute the only approach for freeing up the consciences of politicians so that they can make decisions based only on what is best for their constituents.

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Matt Taibbi delivers a Christmas message . . . from the financial sector

| December 23, 2011 | 1 Reply
Matt Taibbi delivers a Christmas message . . . from the financial sector

Matt Taibbi delivers a Christmas message from those who spend big money to make laws and other choices that benefit only themselves at the expense of the public good:

Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It’s called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

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Visiting with gorillas in the wild

| December 23, 2011 | Reply
Visiting with gorillas in the wild

This lucky tourist in Uganda had the experience of a lifetime. As he wisely sat motionless, a group of gorillas came of to check him out. The gorillas enter the camp at about the one-minute mark. Here’s the story at Huffpo, and here’s the video:

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