Most Likely To Bribe

A group called Transparency International publishes the Bribe Payers Index, which purports to rank companies from 28 different exporting countries based on their likelihood to engage in bribery as part of their business practices. The 2011 version of the Bribe Payers Index concludes that Russian and Chinese companies are most likely to pay bribes, whereas Swiss and Dutch firms are least likely to grease a few palms.

How in the world does Transparency International get the data on which it bases its rankings?  It is based on survey results where business executives were asked “How often do firms headquartered in [insert country here] engage in bribery in this country?” and could give responses ranging from “never” to “always.”  In short, the survey simply tabulates the perceptions of businessmen who presumably have either been successfully bribed or otherwise are aware of bribery attempts.  The reliability of the results therefore is beyond reproach.

How does America fare?  It turns out that American companies put the U.S. in the middle of the pack, ranking as 10th least likely to slip prospective customers a few bucks to close a big sale. Drat!   Just another example of America’s loss of competitiveness in the global marketplace.

A Return To Fear And Loathing

The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote a recent column about the upcoming 2012 campaign where she used the magic words “fear and loathing” to describe what she believes will be a grueling, hard-fought battle.  I’m sure she used those words advisedly, because for any political junkie “fear and loathing” immediately conjures up memories of the greatest book on American politics ever written:  Fear and Loathing:  On the Campaign Trail ’72 by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

Before we trot off to our respective corners to gird ourselves for the bruising 2012 election, can we all take a moment — regardless of our political views — and acknowledge the greatness of this book?  It describes, in hilarious, crackling prose, Thompson’s gin-soaked, drug-addled misadventures as he manned the National Affairs Desk for Rolling Stone magazine.  He wrote about the behind-the-scenes efforts that produced George McGovern’s improbable defeat of doomed front-runner Edmund Muskie and perennial candidate Hubert Humphrey in the race for the 1972 Democratic nomination, and then McGovern’s landslide loss to President Nixon.  It includes Thompson’s report on his bizarre encounter with Nixon to discuss pro football, among countless other unforgettable vignettes.

If you’ve never read Fear and Loathing:  On the Campaign Trail ’72 I encourage you to get it and read it immediately.  It is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and its story of a political campaign is timeless.  After you’ve read this book, I can assure you that you’ll never look at a politician, or a reporter, with the same awe and reverence again.

Buying The President’s Books

Sometimes it is the little stories that are the most instructive.  I think that may be the case with the story about the State Department, through various U.S. embassies, spending more than $60,000 on books authored by  President Obama.

According to a federal database, the American embassy in Paris spent more than $8,300 on Dreams From My Father in French.  Embassies in Indonesia, Turkey, and South Korea made similar purchases.  The embassy in Egypt led the way, spending a whopping $37,000 on copies of Dreams From My Father.  According to a State Department spokesman, diplomats “often use books to engage key audiences in discussions of foreign policy” and he notes that “[t]he structure and the presidency of the United States is an integral component of representing the United States overseas.”  He says the books stock “information resource centers” that are located around the world and include books about U.S. culture, history and values, and that the State Department also provides “key library collections with books about the United States.”

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  I’m not suggesting the President had anything to do with this — I think it’s an example of bureaucrats using discretionary spending to curry favor with their political appointee bosses.  Could it really be true that Americans conduct diplomacy by handing foreign counterparts The Audacity Of Hope and asking them to read through chapter 12 before tomorrow’s meeting?  If so, that may explain some of our recent foreign policy problems.  And has anyone looked lately at the value of maintaining a worldwide network of “information resource centers” stocked with hard copy books?  If we’re spending so much on President Obama’s biographies, the “information resource centers” must be enormous — unless those books are the only ones that have been found to reflect the American viewpoint on culture, history, and values.  How often are the “resource centers” used?  Wouldn’t a more diverse, more cost-effective “information resource” be a computer terminal with internet access?

I recognize that $60,000 is just a tiny molecule of water in the great, slopping, steaming ocean that is the federal budget — but every journey begins with a single step.  Programs that permit the purchase of thousands of dollars of the President’s books are programs that can be cut.