Tagged: corruption

Maps that explain the United States better than any textbook

Years ago, famed historian E.H. Carr made an apt point that one cannot separate the historian from history and that what we see in history books is not necessarily pure fact–it has been made and presented as such due to the judgments of a very fallible and selective person. All of this is to say that when it comes to getting to the reasons why the United States looks the way it does today, “truth”–if we can find it–is quite hard to come by.

For every historian who disputes the reasons why a certain war broke out or how a particular president’s decision changed the fate of America, there’s a map which lays hard data bare and allows for the viewer’s own interpretation. Maps aren’t as immediately exciting as a good story, which is why we tend to overlook them when trying to understand our present. We’d like to change that. Without further ado, here are thirty-three fascinating maps that explain the United States…

highest paid public employees
Click to reach this first map – and the rest

Republican former Speaker of the House indicted by federal grand jury

J. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican speaker in the U.S. House, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million because of “past misconduct” against an unnamed individual from their hometown west of Chicago.

Hastert, 73, who has been a high-paid lobbyist in Washington since his 2007 retirement, schemed to mask more than $950,000 in withdrawals from various accounts that violated federal banking laws that require disclosure of large cash transactions, according to a seven-page indictment delivered by a grand jury in Chicago.

The indictment did not spell out the exact nature of the “prior misconduct” by Hastert against the individual from his hometown, Yorkville, but noted that before entering politics in 1981, Hastert spent more than a decade as a teacher and wrestling coach at the local high school. The unnamed individual has known Hastert for most of that person’s life, the indictment states…

Oops! Sounds like Republican family values strikes again.

The indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Illinois, also alleges that Hastert lied to FBI agents last December when asked about the withdrawals.

Prosecutors said that in 2010, when the unnamed individual confronted Hastert about the allegations of misconduct, the former speaker agreed to pay out $3.5 million “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” this person.

Over the next five years Hastert withdrew about $1.7 million in cash from his various bank accounts, at one point last year delivering $100,000 at a time to the person, the indictment alleges.

Beginning in 2013, the FBI and Internal Revenue Service began investigating “possible structuring of currency transactions to avoid the reporting requirements.” Hastert had made more than a dozen withdrawals of $50,000 in cash, which was provided to the unnamed individual every six weeks, the indictment said.

After bank representatives questioned him about the withdrawals, he began taking out less than $10,000 at a time, providing it to the unnamed person at set locations and times, prosecutors say. When Hastert was asked about the withdrawals, the indictment states that he told agents: “I kept the cash.”

However, the indictment states that this is a lie, and Hastert was trying to keep his agreement to pay the unnamed person “secret so as to cover up his past misconduct.”

I’ll never excuse Democrats or Independents for committing the same crimes a number of Republicans have been found guilty of. The crusher is that Republicans present themselves, time after time, as the holy standard for honesty and upright behavior. And that’s just pure hypocrite hogwash.

One again, part of the holier-than-thou crowd, one of the whiners who is paid to campaign against change and progress, gets caught breaking the law.

Inequality is not inevitable

An insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects…

…The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality…

Ideology and interests combined nefariously…Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation…

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics…

We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.

Our corrupt Congress hasn’t happened by accident, you know. The design is neither new nor patented. But, the only correction – the historic cure remains unchanged. Throw the bums out of office.

That doesn’t mean replacing them with a new crop of self-seeking liars – whether they call themselves neo-conservatives, libertarians or tea party patriots. People who care not for the welfare of individuals care equally less for the welfare of this whole nation. The canary in the coal mine is still bigotry and hatred. If politicians can’t be brought to care for the civil rights of all Americans then they don’t deserve to represent any Americans.

Why the CPC’s third plenary session is important – Insight article

President Xi Jinping in the center of local officials and activists in Tayuanzhuang Village

Observers believe that an upcoming meeting of the Communist Party of China in November will follow Party tradition and be a springboard for major national reform.

In a meeting last Tuesday, the Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee decided that the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee will be held in November in Beijing to discuss major issues concerning comprehensive reform.

The meeting comes as China faces major economic and social challenges. It will, to some extent, determine the direction of reform of the new leadership.

On Tuesday, the 25-member Political Bureau emphasized the importance of reform and how it concerns the overall work of the Party and the government.

“There is no way for China to reverse or even stop the process,” it said, adding that reform and opening up have “only a progressive tense, no perfect tense…”

The meeting proposed innovation in theory, system, science, technology and culture with wholescale reform across the board.

“Besides the economic sector, the Third Plenary Session will promote administrative reform, ” Chi Fulin, director of the China Institute for Reform and Development, added…

The CPC has a tradition of proposing key changes in third plenary sessions since 1978 when the third plenary session of the 11th CPC Central Committee decided to implement reform and opening up, ending decades of seclusion.

The third plenum of the 14th CPC Central Committee in 1993 endorsed the socialist market economy, paving the way for China’s economic takeoff in the subsequent two decades.

The political economy of China is still hindered by a tradition of corruption rooted in centuries. No matter the economic structure, societies free of Protestant moralizing often need a few decades of an ethics injection. Fortunately, part of being a self-perfecting species is that laws and regulations can not only be passed – they can be enforced.

Yes, that’s a two-way street. We’ve witnessed enough of that in the United States. Between so-called conservatives lifting regulations and oversight from mortgage bankers to cutting taxes for the wealthiest, lobbyists and Congress in concert reintroduced a level of corruption to American governance not seen in decades. That, too, can be turned around.

I expect Chinese politicians to get into reform a lot faster than we shall here in the States. They are not a nation as divided politically as we are. Their officials could deal better with the hindrance of tradition than the gutless wonders in Congress. And, honestly, I think they are more strongly motivated by the pressures of growing their economy than the class of corporate lawyers and pimps our government attracts, nowadays.

I could be wrong, of course. Not for the first time. :)

World Happiness Report focuses on six key factors


As heads of state get ready for the United Nations General Assembly in two weeks, the second World Happiness Report further strengthens the case that well-being is a critical component of economic and social development…The Report is available here.

The landmark Report, authored by leading experts in economics, psychology, survey analysis, and national statistics, describes how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. The Report is edited by John F. Helliwell…Lord Richard Layard…and Jeffrey D. Sachs…

The first World Happiness Report, released in 2012 ahead of the UN high-level meeting on Happiness and Well-being, drew international attention as a landmark first survey of the state of global happiness. This new Report goes further. It delves in more detail into the analysis of global happiness data, examining trends over time and breaking down each country’s score into its component parts, so that citizens and policy makers can understand their country’s ranking. It also draws connections to other major initiatives to measure well-being…

“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Professor Jeffery Sachs. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development…”

The 2013 report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness in the 2010-2012 surveys:

1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. Switzerland
4. Netherlands
5. Sweden
6. Canada

The Report also demonstrates the major beneficial side-effects of happiness. Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. The Report suggests, therefore, that well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.

For more information, visit http://www.cifar.ca/betterlives.

Scandal in South Korea over revelations of corruption in the construction and operation of nuclear power plants

Like Japan, resource-poor South Korea has long relied on nuclear power to provide the cheap electricity that helped build its miracle economy. For years, it met one-third of its electricity needs with nuclear power, similar to Japan’s level of dependence before the 2011 disaster at its Fukushima plant.

Now, a snowballing scandal in South Korea about bribery and faked safety tests for critical plant equipment has highlighted yet another similarity: experts say both countries’ nuclear programs suffer from a culture of collusion that has undermined their safety. Weeks of revelations about the close ties between South Korea’s nuclear power companies, their suppliers and testing companies have led the prime minister to liken the industry to a mafia.

The scandal started after an anonymous tip in April prompted an official investigation. Prosecutors have indicted some officials at a testing company on charges of faking safety tests on parts for the plants. Some officials at the state-financed company that designs nuclear power plants were also indicted on charges of taking bribes from testing company officials in return for accepting those substandard parts.

Worse yet, investigators discovered that the questionable components are installed in 14 of South Korea’s 23 nuclear power plants. The country has already shuttered three of those reactors temporarily because the questionable parts used there were important, and more closings could follow as investigators wade through more than 120,000 test certificates filed over the past decade to see if more may have been falsified…

With each new revelation, South Koreans — who, like the Japanese, had grown to believe their leaders’ soothing claims about nuclear safety — have become more jittery. Safety is the biggest concern, but the scandals have also caused economic worries. At a time of slowing growth, the government had loudly promoted its plans to become a major builder of nuclear power plants abroad…

The nuclear industry, they say, was built around the notion that South Korea’s industries needed inexpensive power, leading Kepco to build plants quickly and operate them cheaply.

“South Koreans have guzzled cheap electricity while turning a blind eye to the safety concerns of their nuclear power plants,” said Yang Lee Won-young, a leader at the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement. “They may end up paying dearly.”

Our history in the United States is almost the opposite in terms of economics. Back in the day – when I worked in a corner of the industry supplying components for nuclear powerplant construction – they were treated as the world’s newest, biggest cash cow. Frankly, I doubt that’s changed much. Which is one of the reasons I support the political battle for solar farms, wind farms, over nuclear power plants, nowadays.

Not only does the cost per nuclear megawatt continue to increase – in the United States. The opposite is happening in the other alternative sources. The economies of scale in the production of components is still driving installed costs down for wind and solar.

Governor billed taxpayers for sunscreen, dog vitamins

“I’m the ideal Republican candidate for President”

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife used taxpayer money to pay for sunscreen and dog vitamins, the Washington Post reported on Monday, a disclosure that comes as the Republican leader is said to be under scrutiny by the FBI.

The newspaper, citing spending records it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also said the McDonnells used state employees to run personal errands for their adult children and billed the state for deodorant, shoe repairs and a digestive system “detox cleanse.”

The Washington Post has previously reported that McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016, was under investigation by the FBI and a grand jury over a $15,000 catering bill from his daughter’s wedding in 2011 that was paid for by a campaign donor…

The governor has acknowledged that he stayed at the Roanoke, Virginia, home of the campaign donor, Jonnie Williams, and drove Williams’ Ferrari sports car back to Richmond.

Williams is the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, a nutritional supplements maker in the Richmond area.

According to the Washington Post, the FBI is looking into whether the governor’s office helped advance the business interests of Williams in exchange for the gifts…

You have to love Republican family values – as practiced. The same hypocrites who prate all through election cycles about honesty and old-fashioned virtue – once they get into office the regal greed they foreswear takes priority in every aspect of their lives.

Internet’s bad neighborhoods aren’t big – just home to the worst creeps!


About 50% of all junk mail on the net emerges from just 20 internet service providers (ISPs)…

The survey of more than 42,000 ISPs tried to map the net’s “bad neighbourhoods” to help pinpoint sources of malicious mail…The survey by a researcher in Holland found that, in many cases, ISPs specialise in particular threats such as spam and phishing…

The large-scale study was carried out to help fine-tune computer security tools that scrutinise the net addresses of email and other messages to help them work out if they are junk or legitimate. Such tools could make better choices if they were armed with historical information about the types of traffic that emerge from particular networks…

Of the 42,201 ISPs studied about 50% of all junk mail, phishing attacks and other malicious messages came from just 20 networks, Giovane Cesar Moreira Moura found. Many of these networks were concentrated in India, Vietnam and Brazil. On the net’s most crime-ridden network – Spectranet in Nigeria – 62% of all the addresses controlled by that ISP were seen to be sending out spam.

Networks involved in malicious activity also tended to specialise in one particular sort of malicious message or attack, he discovered. For instance, the majority of phishing attacks came from ISPs based in the US. By contrast, spammers tend to favour Asian ISPs. Indian ISP BSNL topped the list of spam sources in the study…

The data gathered for the study is helping to create analysis tools that will do a better job of assessing whether traffic coming from sources never seen before is good or bad. In the same way that people avoid walking through parts of towns and cities known to be dangerous, security tools can start to filter traffic from ISPs known as historical sources of malicious messages.

Even if you’re gambling with friends, you cut the cards. If you’re playing with strangers, it helps to have ground rules founded in history. ISPs which consistently dispense criminal attacks lose the excuse of ignorance after a while.

Should the Republican Party be saved from obsolescence?


Red Edge, is a digital-advocacy group for conservative causes, and their days are typically spent designing software applications for groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lately, however, Bret Jacobson and Ian Spencer have taken up evangelizing — and the sermon, delivered day after day to fellow conservatives in the form of a 61-point presentation, is a pitiless we-told-you-so elucidation of the ways in which Democrats have overwhelmed Republicans with their technological superiority…

Continue reading

Congressman back after 32-years – says corruption overwhelming

NRA + the rest of the Old Right opposed him. He won by 9 points.

First elected to the House in 1974, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., left after his third term ended in 1981–and now after a 32-year hiatus, Nolan is back. Much to his surprise, the biggest change he’s encountered was the work week, and he’s not happy about it…

“My first term, we worked 48 out of 52 weeks,” Nolan said on Friday’s edition of The Daily Rundown. “Most of those days were four and five day weeks. We were in committee virtually every morning, we were on the floor of the House throughout the afternoons and the evenings and we were working in the process of governing which is what we’re elected to do.”

He expressed his disappointment that Congress is only currently scheduled to work 34 out of 52 weeks and considers most of those days “not real.”

“We went into session Monday, for example, we don’t have any votes scheduled until 6:30 in the evening, we were also scheduled to work on Tuesday–which we did–and then we were scheduled to work on Wednesday and we took the day off,” Nolan said.

Nolan quickly agreed with the public’s sentiment “everybody’s campaigning and nobody’s governing,” saying Congress isn’t governing like they should especially with all the serious issues the country is facing. He told Todd that the time given for Congressional members to campaign and the money they use has become “toxic.”

“I mean, we’re told here two things,” he said. “One is the one with the most money gets the most votes and number two – you should be spending 30 hours a week in fundraising and call time–dialing for dollars.”

Though I would prefer it, we do not need a change to an elected parliamentary form of government to get rid of the overwhelming influence of money – and whose money it is – in our government. Simply limiting campaign time to the 60 days before an election, severely limiting the amount of money that can be spent during that time – and only that time – takes care of half the problem.

Add in the sort of regulations that governed lobbying 50 years ago and you remove the other half of the corruption equation. The problem facing both of these provisions is that it limits the profits from a congressional career. Not that it matters in the least to the actual governing of this nation.

What matters is having a Congress that isn’t for sale to the highest bidder.