Politics, power and money – Carlsbad Current Argus
September 9, 2023
It is a fact of human civilization that money and power are inextricably intertwined and widely desired. As the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, the United States faces unique challenges managing its wealth and influence while maintaining its status as a democracy that represents and serves its citizens.
There are two global indices that measure countries by their levels of corruption and the fullness of their democratic systems. The United States is not at the top of either list.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks the U.S. 27th out of 180 countries for public corruption. Our score of 69 points out of 100 and rank of #24 is up slightly over the previous year due to accountability efforts after the January 6 riots, increased funding to combat corruption from foreign sources, and state initiatives to improve voter participation. However, we are ranked below nearly every other western European nation, Japan, Canada, and Uruguay, and are nearly equally ranked with Chile. This ranking does not fill me with optimism.
The other index I looked at is the Democracy Index put out by the Economic Intelligence Unit, a sister company to The Economist. The Democracy index measures 167 countries from 0-10, with 0 being fully authoritarian, and 10 being fully democratic. Here the U.S. falls in the band described as “flawed democracies” with a rank of #27 and score of 7.85. Again, we finish behind most of Western Europe, Japan, Uruguay and even Chile this time. I know Chile has come a long way but 40 years ago their government was torturing citizens.
One only has to look at the families of our last two presidents and Congress to see that power and wealth are linked. The main difference between Jared Kushner and Hunter Biden is that Kushner has made more money and has a better tax attorney; he scored $2 billion for one of his companies in a transfer directly from the government of Saudi Arabia in 2021. Kushner was a Middle East policy adviser for his father-in-law during the Trump administration. Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said earlier this month that Kushner “crossed the line of ethics” by accepting the $2 billion, which was greenlighted by Kushner’s pal Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (who by the way, tortures people in the present era).
Comer has been busy with money-for-influence issues as he is leading the investigation into Hunter Biden’s payments from foreign interests originating in Ukraine, Romania and China. The original figure for these foreign payments was around $11 million. The Congressional investigation has turned up records that show over $20 million paid to Hunter Biden or his associates, $8 million of which is from China.
None of this is acceptable. Then you loop in the added murk of what did what president know about what deal and when, and you can see why we aren’t a shining example of a corruption-free democracy. And of course, the Republican-led House is investigating Hunter Biden. Should the Democrats take back the House in 2024, you can bet they will investigate Jared Kushner. Can either investigation be unbiased?
It is patently obvious that Jared and Hunter cashed in on their famous family connections. Perhaps if Congress put a moratorium on partisan investigations to show us the obvious and took up policy matters again, we could have actual immigration legislation as opposed to revolving executive orders. Just a thought.
And Congress is making money – from insider trading. It’s been well documented that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle trade stocks based on information gathered in committee hearings and other proceedings. Last year, the New York Times documented 97 members who traded stocks that year with conflicts of interest (none from New Mexico). Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul is such a prolific day trader that there are entire social media channels devoted to his trades for stock tips.
Pelosi has taken a brave stand regarding Congressional stock trading. She firmly supports it, stating resolutely that “we’re a free market economy.” She almost sounds like a Republican. 86% of voters support a ban on members of Congress, the president, vice-president, and Cabinet members from trading individual stocks. One bill to do just that, the “Ban Stock Trading for Government Officials Act,” was introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in late July. It is moving through the Senate now; two previous bills have failed.
It’s possible for a nation to be wealthy and operate with less corruption and more democracy. The wealthiest European nations manage this. Those nations are not burdened with being a global superpower as America is, however. But that role should not be a limitation for governmental ethics; it should be an impetus.
In the coming election, which will be a multi-billion-dollar industry in itself, our presidential front-runners both have family members who have exploited their connection to make millions or billions. Our Congress and executive branch are able to enrich themselves with inside information obtained from the work we elected them to do. Instead of making us complacent, these sad facts should make us more engaged and interrogative voters.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.