The United States Is the Most Corrupt Country in the World

The United States Is the Most Corrupt Country in the World

by Juan Cole /

John M. Cropper / CC BY-NC 2.0

The United States fell six places to a ranking of only 22 in Transparency International’s list of countries by corruption. Under Donald Trump, America is not in the top 20 for fair dealing.

But as I have argued before, the United States is the most corrupt country in the world and should be ranked 194, not 22. What follows is a much-revised version of my popular list.

 

Obviously, the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Treasury would not give corporations impunity for obtaining contracts by bribery, and it is this sort of scrupulousness that the Transparency International list is rewarding. And Americans don’t have to bribe government officials, as is true in many countries (though, to be fair to the government officials, they typically demand bribes because their governments don’t pay them a living wage).

But in all sorts of ways, U.S. corruption is off the charts, and because the U.S. is still the No. 1 economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product, massive corruption here has a global impact.

Here are the top signs that the U.S. is the most corrupt country in the world:

1. The U.S. is so corrupt that our ruling Republican Party would even deny human-made climate change and adopt pro-carbon policies inexorably destined to wreck the planet earth, all to ensure a few extra years of profits for dirty coal companies and oil giants like ExxonMobil.

Americans are now finally waking up from the 30 years of mesmerized unreality into which Big Carbon and its willing henchmen in the U.S. government had cast them. But nothing of any significance is being done by the federal government on the climate emergency, and the real leaders are states like California. Americans do not realize how peculiar their climate dementia is. No government in Europe openly denies human-made climate change through the burning of fossil fuels and the lodging of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, however lackadaisical some of them are about addressing the problem.

The Chinese Communist Party is more realistic than the U.S. government, and is making a full-court press to move to green energy. Germany, the fourth-largest economy, has announced the end of coal. Britain gets a third of its electricity from wind, and coal provides only 2 percent of British electricity—an achievement of less than a decade.

Only the dodo birds of the sneakily misnamed Australian Liberal Party are still vehemently pro-coal and shrilly denying the plain science of greenhouse gases.

2. Our government is so corrupt that the Environmental Protection Agency has not only ceased protecting the environment, it has become a cheerleader for polluting industries, gutting any regulation that might stand in the way of making a little extra money at the expense of, like, killing people. Its current head is a former coal industry lobbyist! The EPA has decided to back coal plants and to remove the annoyance of government regulations interfering with their spewing mercury into the air. Mercury is a nerve poison, and it concentrates at the top of the food chain (i.e., in us). The Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland” was driven crazy by using his hands to put mercury on the brim of felt hats so as to straighten them. Continual exposure to mercury damages your neural system.

3. The U.S. government is so corrupt that it is winking at the murder by Saudi authorities of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, almost certainly at the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the grounds which the president of the United States gave for his insouciance at the deployment of a bone saw on the hapless scribbler were that he did not want to endanger Saudi arms purchases from and investments in the United States. This response is the very definition of corruption. Saudi Arabia is bribing the U.S. government to ignore a vicious murder of a high-profile journalist whose children are American citizens and who wrote for the Washington paper of record. You can tell all this is corrupt by just imagining what the response would be in Washington if Iran were discovered carving up a dissident in a consulate with a bone saw.

4. The U.S. is so corrupt (audience: “How corrupt is it?”) that the Senate has allowed a bill to come to the floor, introduced by Marco “Benedict Arnold” Rubio, that approves of individual states excluding vendors and contractors who boycott Israel. Although Rubio, Gary Peters, Ron Wyden and other backers of the bill maintain that it does not affect freedom of speech, it actually guts freedom of speech. We university lecturers who speak on other campuses are considered contractors, and people will be prevented from giving talks at the University of Texas, for example, by such laws. The law is unconstitutional and will be struck down if the U.S. judiciary still has a modicum of integrity. But the law was passed in order to uphold the Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank and the sentencing of Palestinians to being stateless and helpless and without rights. And it was worked up in the shadows in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs (i.e., of propaganda), with the backing of pro-squatter fanatics such as sleazy casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has been accused of making his pile, in part, by bribing members of the Chinese Communist Party to let him open a lucrative casino in Macau. The senators have brought this bill to the floor, despite its being a poison pill for the U.S. Constitution, because they are in the back pocket of the Israel lobbies, which help fund their political campaigns. (I hasten to add that most American Jews do not approve of these shenanigans.)

In other words, the senators are acting this way because they are being bribed by a sliver of corrupt American businesspeople, who in turn are virulent partisans of a foreign state, or by U.S. evangelicals, who have an irrational hope that the final solution of the Palestinian problem will provoke the return of Christ. The important thing is that U.S. electoral politics is an elaborate system of bribery, for which even the Constitution itself is not sacrosanct.

5. A sure sign of corruption is an electoral outcome like that of 2016. An addled nonentity like Donald Trump got filthy rich via tax loopholes and predatory behavior in his casinos and other businesses, and then was permitted to buy the presidency with his own money. He was given billions of dollars in free campaign time every evening on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other channels that should have been more even-handed, because they were in search of advertising dollars and Trump was a good draw. Then, too, the way the Supreme Court got rid of campaign finance reform and allowed open, unlimited secret buying of elections is the height of corruption. The permitting of massive black money in our elections was taken advantage of by the Russian Federation, which, having hopelessly corrupted its own presidential elections, managed to further corrupt the American ones as well. Once ensconced in power, Trump Inc. has taken advantage of the power of White House to engage in a wide range of corrupt practices, including an attempt to sell visas to wealthy Chinese and the promotion of the Trump brand as part of diplomacy.

6. The rich are well-placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. The Koch brothers and other megarich troglodytes explicitly told Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in 2017 that if the Republican Party, controlling all three branches of government, could not lower taxes on its main sponsors, there would be no billionaire backing of the party in the 2018 midterms. This threat of an electoral firing squad made the hundreds of bribe-takers in Congress sit up and take notice, and they duly gave away to the billionaire class $1.5 trillion in government services (that’s what federal taxes are, folks—services, such as roads, schools, health inspections, implementation of anti-pollution laws), things that everyone benefits from and that won’t be there any more. To the extent that the government will try to continue to provide those slashed services despite assessing no taxes on the people with the money to pay for them, it will run up an enormous budget deficit and weaken the dollar, which is a form of inflation in the imported-goods sector. Inflation hits the poor the worst. As it stands, 3 American billionaires are worth as much as the poorest 150 million Americans. That kind of wealth inequality hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since the age of the robber barons in the 19th century. Both eras are marked by extreme corruption.

7. One sign of American corruption is the rapidity with which American society has become more unequal since the 1980s Reagan destruction of the progressive income tax. The wealthier the top 1 percent is, the more politicians it can buy to gather up even more of the country’s wealth. In my lifetime, the top 1 percent has gone from holding 25 percent of the privately held wealth under President Eisenhower to over 38 percent today. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right that we need to much increase the top marginal tax rate, and we need to tax unearned income as well.

8. The U.S. military budget is bloated and enormous, bigger than the military budgets of the next 12 major states. What isn’t usually realized is that perhaps half of it is spent on outsourced services, not on the military. It is corporate welfare on a cosmic scale. I’ve seen with my own eyes how officers in the military get out and then form companies to sell things to their former colleagues still on the inside. Precisely because it is a cesspool of large-scale corruption, Trump’s budget will throw over $100 billion extra taxpayer dollars at it.

9. The U.S. has a vast gulag of 2.2 million prisoners in jails and penitentiaries. There is an increasing tendency for prisons to be privatized, and this tendency is corrupting the system.  It is wrong for people to profit from putting and keeping human beings behind bars. This troubling trend is made all the more troubling by the move to give extra-long sentences for minor crimes, to deny parole and to imprison people for life for, for example, three small thefts.

10. Asset forfeiture in the “drug war” is corrupting police departments and the judiciary. Although some state legislatures are dialing this corrupt practice back, it is widespread and a danger to the Constitution.

So don’t tell the Global South how corrupt it is for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

Juan Cole / Informed Comment
Juan Cole
Contributor
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the proprietor of the Informed Comment e-zine. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in…
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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro flashes victory signs, declaring he will prevail amid a “coup,” during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday. (Ariana Cubillos / AP)

On Friday, The New York Times continued its long, predictable tradition of backing U.S. coups in Latin America by publishing an editorial praising Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. This will be the 10th such coup the paper has backed since the creation of the CIA over 70 years ago.

A survey of The New York Times archives shows the Times editorial board has supported 10 out of 12 American-backed coups in Latin America, with two editorials—those involving the 1983 Grenada invasion and the 2009 Honduras coup—ranging from ambiguous to reluctant opposition. The survey can be viewed here.

Covert involvement of the United States, by the CIA or other intelligence services, isn’t mentioned in any of the Times’ editorials on any of the coups. Absent an open, undeniable U.S. military invasion (as in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada), things seem to happen in Latin American countries entirely on their own, with outside forces rarely, if ever, mentioned in the Times. Obviously, there are limits to what is “provable” in the immediate aftermath of such events (covert intervention is, by definition, covert), but the idea that the U.S. or other imperial actors could have stirred the pot, funded a junta or run weapons in any of the conflicts under the table is never entertained.

More often than not, what one is left with, reading Times editorials on these coups, are racist, paternalistic “cycle of violence” cliches. <i>Sigh, it’s just the way of things Over There.</i> When reading these quotes, keep in mind the CIA supplied and funded the groups that ultimately killed these leaders:

  • Brazil 1964: “They have, throughout their history, suffered from a lack of first class rulers.”
  • Chile 1973: “No Chilean party or faction can escape some responsibility for the disaster, but a heavy share must be assigned to the unfortunate Dr. Allende himself.”
  • Argentina 1976: “It was typical of the cynicism with which many Argentines view their country’s politics that most people in Buenos Aires seemed more interested in a soccer telecast Tuesday night than in the ouster of President Isabel Martinez de Perlin by the armed forces. The script was familiar for this long‐anticipated coup.”

See, it didn’t matter! It’s worth pointing out the military junta put in power by the CIA-contrived coup killed 10,000 to 30,000 Argentines from 1976 to 1983.

There’s a familiar script: The CIA and its U.S. corporate partners come in, wage economic warfare, fund and arm the opposition, then the target of this operation is blamed. This, of course, isn’t to say there isn’t merit to some of the objections being raised by The New York Times—whether it be Chile in 1973 or Venezuela in 2019. But that’s not really the point. The reason the CIA and U.S. military and its corporate partisans historically target governments in Latin America is because those governments are hostile to U.S. capital and strategic interests, not because they are undemocratic. So while the points the Times makes about illiberalism may sometimes be true, they’re mostly a non sequitur when analyzing the reality of what’s unfolding.

Did Allende, as the Times alleged in 1973 when backing his violent overthrow, “persist in pushing a program of pervasive socialism” without a “popular mandate”? Did, as the Times alleged, Allende “pursue this goal by dubious means, including attempts to bypass both Congress and the courts”? Possibly. But Allende’s supposed authoritarianism isn’t why the CIA sought his ouster. It wasn’t his means of pursuing redistributive policies that offended the CIA and U.S. corporate partners; it was the redistributive policies themselves.

Hand-wringing over the anti-democratic nature of how Allende carried out his agenda without noting that it was the agenda itself—not the means by which it was carried out—that animated his opponents is butting into a conversation no one in power is really having. Why, historically, has The New York Times taken for granted the liberal pretexts for U.S. involvement, rather than analyzing whether there were possibly other, more cynical forces at work?

The answer is that rank ideology is baked into the premise. The idea that the U.S. is motivated by human rights and democracy is taken for granted by The New York Times editorial board and has been since its inception. This does all the heavy lifting without most people—even liberals vaguely skeptical of American motives in Latin America—noticing that a sleight of hand has taken place. “In recent decades,” a 2017 Times editorial scolding Russia asserted, “American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy, sometimes with extraordinary results.” Oh, well, good then.

What should be a conversation about American military and its covert apparatus unduly meddling in other countries quickly becomes a referendum on the moral properties of those countries. Theoretically a good conversation to have (and one certainly ongoing among people and institutions in these countries), but absent a discussion of the merits of the initial axiom—that U.S. talking heads and the Washington national security apparatus have a birthright to determine which regimes are good and bad—it serves little practical purpose stateside beyond posturing. And often, as a practical matter, it works to cement the broader narrative justifying the meddling itself.

Do the U.S. and its allies have a moral or ethical right to determine the political future of Venezuela? This question is breezed past, and we move on to the question of how this self-evident authority is best exercised. This is the scope of debate in The New York Times—and among virtually all U.S. media outlets. To ante up in the poker game of Serious People Discussing Foreign Policy Seriously, one is obligated to register an Official Condemnation of the Official Bad Regime. This is so everyone knows you accept the core premises of U.S. regime change but oppose it on pragmatic or legalistic grounds. It’s a tedious, extortive exercise designed to shift the conversation away from the United States’ history of arbitrary and violent overthrows and into an exchange about how best to oppose the Official Bad Regime in question. U.S. liberals are to keep a real-time report card on these Official Bad Regimes, and if these regimes—due to an ill-defined rubric of un-democraticness and human rights—fall below a score of say, “60,” they become illegitimate and unworthy of defense as such.

While obviously not in Latin America, it’s also worth noting that the Times cheerled the CIA-sponsored coup against Iran’s President, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. Its editorial, written two days after his ouster, engaged in the Times’ patented combination of victim-blaming and “oh dear” bloviating:

  • “The now-deposed Premier Mossadegh was flirting with Russia. He had won his phony plebiscite to dissolve the Majlis, or lower House of Parliament, with the aid of the Tudeh Communists.”
  • “Mossadegh is out, a prisoner awaiting trial. It is a credit to the Shah, to whom he was so disloyal, and to Premier Zahedi, that this rabid, self-seeking nationalist would have been protected at a time when his life would not have been worth the wager of a plugged nickel.”
  • “The Shah … deserves praise in this crisis. … He was always true to the parliamentary institutions of his country, he was a moderating influence in the wild fanaticism exhibited by the nationalists under Mossadegh, and he was socially progressive.”

Again, no mention of CIA involvement (which the agency now openly acknowledges), which the Times wouldn’t necessarily have had any way of knowing at the time. (This is part of the point of covert operations.) Mossadegh is summarily demonized, and it’s not until decades later the public learns of the extent of U.S. involvement. The Times even gets in an orientalist description of Iranians, implying why a strong Shah is necessary:

<blockquote>[The average Iranian] has nothing to lose. He is a man of infinite patience, of great charm and gentleness, but he is also—as we have been seeing—a volatile character, highly emotional, and violent when sufficiently aroused. </blockquote>

Needless to say, there are major difference between these cases: Mossadegh, Allende, Chavez and Maduro all lived in radically different times and championed different policies, with varying degrees of liberalism and corruption. But the one thing they all had in common is that the U.S. government, and a compliant U.S. media, decided they “needed to go” and did everything to achieve this end. The fundamental arrogance of this assumption, one would think, is what ought to be discussed in the U.S. media—as typified by the Times’ editorial board—but time and again, this assumption is either taken for granted or hand-waved away, and we all move on to how and when we can best overthrow the Bad Regime.

For those earnestly concerned about Maduro’s efforts to undermine the democratic institutions of Venezuela (he’s been accused of jailing opponents, stacking the courts and holding Potemkin elections), it’s worth pointing out that even when the liberal democratic properties of Venezuela were at their height in 2002 (they were internationally sanctioned and overseen by the Carter Center for years, and no serious observer considers Hugo Chavez’s rule illegitimate), the CIA still greenlit a military coup against Chavez, and the New York Times still profusely praised the act. As it wrote at the time:

<blockquote>With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. </blockquote>

Chavez would soon be restored to power after millions took to the streets to protest his removal from office, but the question remains: If The New York Times was willing to ignore the undisputed will of the Venezuelan people in 2002, what makes anyone think the newspaper is earnestly concerned about it in 2019? Again, the thing that’s being objected to by the White House, the State Department and their U.S. imperial apparatchiks is the redistributive policies and opposition to the United States’ will, not the means by which they do so. Perhaps the Times and other U.S. media—living in the heart of, and presumably having influence over, this empire—could try centering this reality rather than, for the millionth time, adjudicating the moral properties of the countries subject to its violent, illegitimate whims

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