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“In God We Trust?” – An American Lesson

Posted by intellisg on March 28, 2007

dollarbill.jpgNo one grows up thinking his destiny is to become a superhero. That’s because he isn’t Bill, who regular gives lectures every Saturday night in the community center in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a grueling form of penance he says. “Something I just need to do to get it out of my system.” A way even of mourning the collapse of his most cherished ambitions – “the American dream.” Bill, who drives a yellow cab, is one of those who believe the Freemasons are controlling America and world.

In Bill’s universe, the ubiquitous one dollar bill isn’t just currency as it is a cause celebre for the disgruntled, who believe the same – “we are being controlled by benign forces who have permeated the highest level of government!” That’s their mantra. I want to emphasize Bill isn’t just an ordinary taxi driver. He describes his job almost in religious terms, speculating on such questions as spiritual strength and the importance of finding one’s path through the search for the “great truth.” Bill believes the “great truth” lies in the mystery of how a pyramid features at the back of a one dollar note –“that’s the easy part,” he says, “it’s a Masonic symbol so they (the freemasons) control us and whole world.”

Sitting down for one of Bills lectures and listening to his obscure disquisitions on the nature of “the truth,” ranks as one of the most riveting experiences in my life. Not only does he come across as legitimate, intelligent and well researched, but what Bill actually says makes a cogent case. Its one that leads me to ask, “What the hell went wrong with America?” – “Why is the freest country on this planet, mired by so many conspiracy theories as to who actually runs the government?” – “Why do conspiracy theories continue to suggest, some unseen and benign hand has somehow seized the reins of authority in the most powerful country on this planet?”

At the heart of the question: what does a one dollar American bill have to do with the proposed pay rise of civil servants and public administrators in Singapore? To really answer the question one needs to first find out what went wrong with American politics that has fuelled this whole idea that even the government of the day cannot even be trusted. Let take a closer look at where it all simply went so very wrong.

WHO ACTUALLY PAYS THE PIPER?

Politicians in the US serve the people. There’s only one problem with this theory: who are the people? Let’s just examine two jugular issues in US domestic policy: healthcare and environmental degradation. The Pew Research Center found that 67.7% of Americans agree there should be a policy to guarantee a minimum level of health care for all US citizens, while only 23% disagreed. And this disparity between public opinion and public policy extends to even US foreign policy. When the Council on Foreign Relations recently found that a majority of the populace including Republican supporters believe America should rigorously pursue a strategy to play a leading role in spearheading the Kyoto protocol to cut down gas emissions.

So why does the will of the “people’s” remain unrealized? Why is there a lag between genuine democratic desires and the lack of action on the part of their government? Well according to Bill (remember him?) that’s easy – if one follows the bread crumbs massive amounts of corporate cash are funneled regularly to the US political system, before, during and even after state and federation elections.

How true is Bill’s assertion? Well, if you want to run for office in the US, as a Democrat or Republican, you need a lot of money to bankroll your message into the living room of the average American. There is only one source with enough hard cash that regularly feeds this insatiable appetite. No not the Freemasons, but big corporations who Bill believes to be roughly the same thing.

There is a compelling reason why big corporations regularly foster close ties with the party political apparatchik in the US – it makes good business sense. Insurance firms, the petroleum industry and Israeli lobby along along with the Mickey Mouse fan club are all too willing to make out blank checks in exchange for political favors.

That simply means no comprehensive healthcare policy that threatens the profits of the insurance companies will ever be allowed to threaten their economic interest. Similarly not having a coherent environmental policy allows petroleum firms a wider scope of business opportunities which would otherwise be impossible. As for the Israeli lobby, they just want to make doubly certain. They (the Jews) can continue to celebrate Yom Kippur without having to do it in their air raid shelters. As you can see these are the “people” who US politicians only seem to serve according to Bill and not the vast majority of ordinary Americans.

Well that sounds plausible, but wouldn’t that be called corruption! I asked. Not really because the whole practice is so well entrenched as a part of party politics. When a lobbyist or corporation sidles up to a member of Congress at a fundraising event and hands him a check, its considered a legitimate “campaign contribution.”

But wait! You’re asking how could legalized corruption exist on such super duper scale in the land of the supposedly free? Wasn’t this the land that exposed Nixon’s Watergate? What about President Clinton’s tryst with M. Lewinsky? That’s preposterous! Think again there is a simple reason why such institutionalize abuses are regularly permitted and even condoned on Capital Hill.

The truth of the matter is; American politicians don’t get paid enough! Not enough at least to get them into the White house without resorting to this sort of intra corporate and political parlance on a regular basis. It’s become such an endemic feature of American politics. Even President Clinton once lamented, “We spent so much time on fund raising and making sure we don’t run out of money. When are we really going to get a chance to govern?” That sums up American politics succinctly – the system doesn’t work – and it’s bent – and now you know how Forrest Gump made it all the way into the White house.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE PIPER ISN’T PAID ENOUGH?

In a pay-and-play democracy, American politicians are so dependent on the money of Halliburton, Exxon and the Mickey mouse club that they often prioritize their vested interests over the broader “good” of both people and planet. The result formulaic self serving road maps which are designed to ensure the calculations make up the magic numbers. Real debate isn’t about finding solutions as much as ensuring the truth doesn’t mean having to compromise party and political survival. Instead of real narratives, bullet points regularly feature to shore up two dimensional arguments as the real deal – the so called “truth.”

This breakdown in American politics simply means politics and allegiances have to go hand in hand – France and Germany for instance don’t get any civil engineering contracts in Iraq, because they didn’t support the American coalition against the war against terror. Halliburton dunked the deal because they did along with BP, the effects have far reaching global implications. That’s what happens when politicians need money, they make compromises, they get hijacked by private interest and notice – I haven’t even brought out the Israeli lobby or the Mickey mouse club yet. Worse of all, they fail in their jobs to live up to the expectation of serving the good of the vast majority of voters.

WHEN THE PIPER GOES OUT OF TUNE PEOPLE JUST DON’T MARCH

A malfunctioning system that doesn’t pay its employees well has far and wide implications in Singapore. It may not have the same level of effect for ministers who already command exorbitant salaries. But for the vast majority of those in the pubic service sector – failing to effectively align the pay of civil servants to reflect their actual value alongside their private sector counterparts will in the long run demoralize and entrench the sclerotic culture further.

Neither does aping the form rather than the content of the private sector have a reverse effect if the issue of pay and performance isn’t effectively nailed down. Setting the datum of pay closely to the private sector will allow for the equilibrium of skill sets to move freely across the public and private board.

Currently, the misalignment in the pay of civil servants just hobbles their ability to seek out much needed skills in the private sector to grow business and lead policy initiatives. It also robs the system of the capacity to nourish many of its policy initiatives which would have benefited from professionals who may have a core competencies and experiential knowledge honed in the private sector.

The fact that the civil service currently still suffers from a lower than industry average recruitment rate to attract middle managers from the private sector remains a serious misgiving – Singapore simply doesn’t have the critical mass or the global interconnectivity that matches the business process of MNC’s to effective hone world class technocrats. To believe that the civil service can magically produce these sort of high performance attributions without resorting to  a vigorous plan to recruit talent instead of grooming and nurturing them, is to entertain the sameness of what it traditionally churns out. A belief that the system is more important than the individual, that accountability is paramount to experiential knowledge gained in the private sector, with the result that the public sector is likely to continue to limp along impotently and inefficiently as long as it holds a low sense of its own political valuation and public esteem.

THE QUESTION OF THE RIGHT FEE FOR THE PIPER

Central to the entire thrust for increasing the pay of civil servants is the need to align the principle of accountability to ordinary people rather than to corporations or any other external forces. These calculations will of course require not only asking how much is the optimum quantum of remuneration? But also what safeguards must be incorporated to ensure the line between public service and corporate aspirations remains mutually exclusive? Along with this enquiry, a plethora of moral questions concerning the definition of “public service” and “how much is enough?” will invariably be thrown out. It’s one that will generate considerable controversy and no matter what the outcome it will remain divisive.

However I am reminded about the nightmare of the American lesson unfolding in Singapore, where money politics continues to be the bane of so many countries as they remain mired in wretched mediocrity must be avoided at all cost. Conveniently skirting this controversy instead of defining it once is simply a dereliction of responsibilities.

Ideally, history provides us with a well of wisdom as to who should rightly be leaders men. Otherwise who would follow them? As Xerxes once curiously asked why was there only a token garrison defending Thermopylae. The answer came from the Oracle that all the other men were participating in the Olympics. When Xerxes when on to ask what was the prize for the winner, “an olive-wreath” came the answer. Upon hearing this, Tritantaechmes, a Persian general, said to Mardoniuse: “Good heavens! Mardoniuse, what kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for money, but for honour.”

For me I believe the solution lies somewhere in between the hubris of the practical necessities of profiling the right package and the moral of the story in the battle of Thermopylae.

As Bill said to me at the end of the lecture;

“You know something, this country is completely screwed up from the very top to the very bottom, it all about money.”

That night when I turned up my collar and walked right out into Madison Avenue, it began to rain in the land of the fee….I mean free.

(By Astroboy – Politics / Sociology – EP 9993783- The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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10 Responses to ““In God We Trust?” – An American Lesson”

  1. repairman said

    cool runs

  2. aibo said

    this format reminds me a bit like an exposes from the herald tribune – sort of investigative journalism style??- also your spelling has improved – are you experimenting with a new style of writing?

  3. Rick said

    nice article.

    But it still fails to justify the pa increase in the civil service sufficiently.

    One has to take into account the inherent differences in the civil service and companies in the private sector.

    The bureaucracy resulting in the fact that scholars and senior executives weild some-what total power over all the rest. Unlike in the private sector where the talented and able have opportunities to rise up irregardless of their academic ablities.

    Then again, I agree that money has made the world a screwed up place, but that’s life… We can’t live without it. Face up to it.

  4. prima delli said

    Nice and informative read again astro boy! I knew something was wrong with the US political scene, just couldnt put a finger on it. You did a good job by ferreting out the issues of healthcare and the kyoto protocol. Along with mentioning the Pew Survey.

    However, your assumptions dont even begin to make sense when you compare how much salary our minister gets in comparison with US politicians. I agree in the US, they dont get enough that is why there is a nexus between businesses and politics. But astro boy to even suggest for one moment 1.2 million is not enough and to imply that it would lead to a nightmare scenario, is just cheap scare mongering. I am sorry it doesnt sound persuasive!

    Your second segment on augmenting the civil servants makes good sense. I think you could be speaking from personal experience i.e there is a need to transplant much needed talent from the Private domain. Well spotted. That was what the govt should have done to justify the proposed pay increases. I believe they may have been reluctant to do so bc it is an open admission something is terribly wrong with the current system in the CS?

    Lastly all of you better be polite and nice to ppl. All of you already have a public image problem the size of Alaska. Many of us may read you stuff but we still believe all of you especially bambi bad boy would benefit alot from a getting smacked from time to time 🙂

  5. Curio said

    “You know something, this country is completely screwed up from the very top to the very bottom, it all about money.”

    You do realize that is also especially true in Singapore right?

  6. polarpuff said

    Dearest Astro Boy,

    I really believe the reach fell short this time. You tried to take on too big a subject. Your narrative approach was good. For me it worked quite well, but for the rest of my frens in the office some are a bit confused. Was Bill really paranoid? Or are you just holding him out as a satirical figure? Another thing, it works because you, the narrator do not really tell us what you really think about Bill. Its only in the last part where there is a Oh yeah….fee that the reader makes the connection.

    Could have been much better.

  7. polarpuff said

    “That night when I turned up my collar and walked right out into Madison Avenue, it began to rain in the land of the fee….I mean free.”

    Only naughty boys like to play with words!

  8. princess said

    I dont want to be so hard on them. I liked the article, it was an educational read. Its not every day I get to see the otherside of the coin. Or even read something that makes me think.

  9. sphgirl said

    Astro,

    Interesting article. Still not very sure why you had to bring in Bill. The angle is unique bc readers will be trying to guess whether you are for or against the govt.

    I like the way you skirted the whole discussion abt ministers pay and instead focussed on civil servants.

  10. ANNUIT CEPTIS said

    OMG I actually found Bill in YouTube giving lectures! He really is a part time cabbie in New York City

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