Sunday, April 06, 2014

America: Are We Really Free?

Are we free? Really free? We're taught from nearly day one of school that America is world's freest country; the "beacon of light" to the world; the home of the world's greatest democracy. With the Supreme Court's most recent decision ruling, McCutcheon v FEC, in a 5 to 4 ruling, corporations and the very rich can now donate as much as want to too any candidate, party, cause, or political action committee. They had previously ruled in 2010, in the Citizens v FEC case and another 5 to 4 decision, that free speech equated to money and that corporations had essentially the same rights as flesh and blood individuals; actually, more rights to be truthful since individuals remained capped in what they could donate.

With this recent ruling, the uber-rich and the supra-corporate elite have much more "freedom" that ordinary working class Americans, who are severely limited in the amount of "free speech" they are able to give. In effect, the one percenters can openly buy any candidate and any election they want too. Of course, they've been doing this for a long time already, but now they can come out from behind the curtain and out of the shadows and do it openly while the rest of America just stands and watches their Constitutional freedoms evaporate one by one. Chalk up another victory for the Oligarchy. This got me to thinking--just how free are we really? How do we compare with other nations?

Well, one would hope we're still number one; at least I was hoping. However, not only are we not number one, we're aren't even in the top ten freest countries. The freest country in the world is actually Hong Kong, followed by Singapore. Interestingly, both nations have a "open" or laissez faire economy (think "hands off" by the government or a libertarian style economy). That's something our Founders had planned for us but has long since vanished. So, where do we stand?

Actually, the US is 12th, between former Soviet client state of Estonia and the constitutional monarchy of Bahrain (known for being dictatorial with an ineffectual parliament and ineffective judiciary system as well as human rights violations, which Human Rights Watch calls "dismal"). For "leadership of the free world", that's not exactly good company (no offence to Estonia or Bahrain intended). Our neighbor to the north, Canada, came in sixth while our southern neighbor was ranked 55th, which might explain all the border troubles! If there's any good news here, it's that our friends across the pond, the UK, came in 14th place (and being part Irish, I have to point out to our English mates that Ireland was ranked 9th).

Speaking of human rights, the International Human Rights Ranking Indicator places America in 20th place, between France and Monaco. Not exactly comforting for the "leadership of the free world is it? Canada was ranked 10th while Mexico was 63rd. Who ranked highest for protection of human rights? That was Norway, followed by Sweden and Australia. In another ranking, this time compiled by the Maplecroft 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas, the US ranked 139th out of 197 countries, making it a "moderate" human rights risk while the Scandinavian countries ranked at the top.

In comparing Hong Kong with the US, I found some remarkable results. In terms of business freedom; that is how much a business can operate without government interference, Hong Kong score nearly a perfect 100 which the US wound up with an 85%. Closely related, in terms of fiscal freedom, Hong Kong "very free" with a 95%. The US was rated as "moderately free" with a 65%. In looking at government spending, the US at 50%, which put it in the "mostly unfree category" while little Hong Kong again was ranked as "very free" with another 95%.

In terms of property freedom, both Hong Kong and the US ran equally at 90% until 2009, when the US dipped to 80%. Meanwhile, Hong Kong continued at 90%. In terms of freedom from governmental corruption, US ranked 72%, making it the 23rd in the world. As for Hong Kong, it came in 13th place at 82%. Any way you slice it, America didn't do so well, so I decided to see just how well respected we were. Surely, we were at least well respected.

Well, as it turns out, not so much. America was ranked paltry 22nd most respected country in the world, just ahead of Peru and just behind Brazil. According to the report, the reasons for our dismal showing was our perceived lack of an effective government and "appealing environment". In case you're wondering, Canada came in first, following by Sweden.

Clearly, we're a nation in trouble, at least from the perspective of the rest of the world, which seems to bear out what the overwhelming majority of Americans think. According to a recent Rasmussen Report, only 28% of Americans think we're headed in the right direction, and those numbers have remained fairly consistent. Congressional approval is currently around 13%, which is actually up from 9% in November. For the last three years, it's been 20% or under. Obama isn't doing much better. Gallup has his most recent job approval rating at 43%. And the Supreme Court? The last poll was taken before their recent decision, but even then, it was only 45%. I'm sure it's much lower now. In any other country, that would be called a "no confidence vote".

So what does all this mean? Well, obviously we're not the free country we think we are, and we haven't been for some time now. It means that not only does the world have its doubts about us, we do too. We're not happy with the nation we've become, and despite our objections, those elected to represent us either ignore us out of arrogance or self-interest, namely they're catering exclusively to those whose "free speech", as defined by the Supreme Court, they hear the clearest. In what has to be the clearest case of politics making strange bed fellows, those outside of conventional party politics on both the Left and Right, have more in common than not when it comes to defining who's to blame. What do I mean?

The non-aligned Left sees the transnational corporation's influence over governments as the key problem while the non-aligned Right see government as being too large and too invasive. Both see the power of government becoming to encompassing as the power of corporations over governments, even superseding governments, continues to grow. In any other country which valued freedom, both would have used this common cause to march together in the streets and in to the halls of power----Wall Street and K Street and maybe if they have time, Capitol Hill. In any other country which valued freedom, there would have been revolution to rid itself of the corruptors and abusers of our sovereignty, but America isn't any other country...or is it?

2014 Index of Economic Freedom

The World's Most Reputable Countries 2013

Right Direction or Wrong Direction?

Barack Obama Presidential Approval

Congress Job Approval Starts 2014 at 13%

International Human Rights Ranking Indicator

Maplecroft 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas

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