Perspectives: A Review of 2013
by Jan Baughman
(Swans - December 16, 2013) The year 2013 was awash in political scandals that demonstrated how the thirst for power can overtake ethics, morals, and all reasonable capacity for self-reflection. Actually, it was a year like any other in which scandals served as a distraction -- a sort of reality-TV escape from the real and serious issues over which we have little control. Since We the People aren't corporations with unlimited political speech and sway, we instead take sadistic pleasure in seeing our leaders toppled by their own missteps and stupidity. That the culprits tend to be privileged, white, and male is no surprise, as they are a demographic cross-section of the corridors of power. We'll know we've reached true equality when scandal knows no color, creed, or gender, and we'll know the world is in a better place when such scandals don't distract us from the important issues at hand.
Former New York representative Anthony Weiner, the son of a lawyer and a public high school teacher who was disgraced from office in 2011 for sexting explicit photos of his private parts, thought he could keep a low profile and redeem himself in the public eye. He apparently didn't keep it low enough for long enough, and after throwing himself in the New York City mayoral race, it was revealed that he was still addicted to sexting, this time using a ludicrous alias -- Carlos Danger -- to maintain his cover. He stayed in the race and captured only 5% of votes in the primary, exiting in defiance and giving the finger to the press, and earning the Buffoon of the Year award. No doubt he'll resurface again, probably exposing more of himself than we wish to see.
In that same mayoral race, obviously a much-sought-after prize, New York state senator and Democrat Malcolm Smith was charged of bribing five government officials -- who were also charged -- to gain a spot on the Republican ballot. No price is too much to pay for the possibility of gaining power... Perhaps money- and controversy-weary, the citizens of New York City shunned its moneyed, criminal past and elected a very different, pro-union man: Bill de Blasio, from humble means and a difficult childhood, the first white man married to an African-American woman to hold a major office. It was a scene to behold as people asked, "who's the boy with the afro by his side?" Another groundbreaking moment in history. Let's hope he'll remain controversy-free and do well by the great city and the working people who've not been represented of late.
Eliot Spitzer, son of real estate tycoon Bernard, also reemerged on the political scene in the NYC comptroller Democratic primary race, perhaps thinking that if he started with a smaller office, he could work his way back up again. Spitzer, you will recall, resigned as New York's governor in 2008 after a prostitution scandal that spanned his time in this position and as attorney general, where he worked to crack down on...prostitution. He lost the race, but only 52 to 48%. We'll see him again, and past discretions aside, perhaps we should. At least he's an intellectual man who seems to have the capacity to change.
It was a typical year for Italy's three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. In March he was sentenced to a year in jail for leaking information regarding a police wiretap, which of course he is appealing. In June 2013 he was found guilty of abuse of power and paying a 17-year-old girl for sex during one of his famous "bunga bunga" parties, by far the Phrase of the Year. In August 2013 he lost his final appeal on the charge of tax fraud, was banned from holding public office for two years, and his jail time was converted to public service (what public service will he provide -- hosting bunga bunga parties for the masses?) because of his age. Still, he remains the194th richest man in the world and one can't help but expect that when his two years are up, and if he's able to get out of the remaining charge, he'll buy his way back into office again.
France's former president Nicolas Sarkozy dodged the bullet of one scandal, the Bettencourt Affair, in which he allegedly accepted illegal campaign funds from the L'Oreal heiress. He's still under the gun for plenty of other charges, including the diversion of public funds to his friend Bernard Tapie, and the Karachi Affair involving kickbacks from arms sales to Pakistan. Sarkozy has a few years to clear his name, should he decide to re-challenge current president Francois Hollande, whose failed presidency is scandalous in its own right.
The otherwise quiet Canada came to life thanks to Toronto mayor Rob Ford, the son of wealthy business owners who became endless fodder for late-night television. Little did the voters know that when they elected Ford over his liberal, gay, former-drug-using opponent, they were voting in a closeted, addicted train wreck. When a video of him smoking crack surfaced, he said in his defense that he must have been in a drunken stupor -- a poorly-chosen excuse, and it was all downhill from there. Ford refused to resign, so the City Council voted to remove his powers, a move he delusionally compared to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and against which he declared war. As if the reports of his rampant drinking weren't enough, he was caught on video making death threats against someone, to which he again used his drinking as an excuse. The charges piled on, and in a press conference responding to allegations of making oral sex comments to a staffer, he reached his pinnacle of professionalism. "It said I want to eat her pussy. I've never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married. I've got more than enough to eat at home." One can only have empathy for his wife, and hope that he'll check himself into rehab for a long, long time. At the time of this writing, he's still clinging to his post with absolutely no support.
Speaking of rehab and complete insensitivity towards women, San Diego's mayor Bob Filner faced an onslaught of sexual harassment charges by twenty women, which he voraciously denied. Despite all the pressure, he refused to resign, issued an apology, and offered to undergo two weeks of intensive therapy, though he only completed five days. Can one change a lifetime of abuses in such a short time, and learn why it's inappropriate to ask your female employee to come to work without panties on, or to make unwanted sexual advances? The fact that he had the cojones to ask the city council to pay his legal fees makes one think not. As the recall effort gained momentum, he finally did resign and was found guilty on three counts and will serve three months of home confinement and three years probation.
The morally-superior tea partiers did not escape the year unscathed. Florida representative Trey Radel was caught trying to buy 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover cop just ten months into his term. Never mind that he wanted to implement drug testing for food stamp recipients; the "Cocaine Congressman" had the money to check himself into rehab. No doubt he'll come out of it a changed man, ready to redouble his moralizing campaign and lead again.
There are plenty of countries and continents not documented here, and there were numerous other scandals in the U.S. alone, from ethics violations to extortion to fraud, demonstrating that the hubris of power must be intoxicating, a high that most of us will never experience. So guys, thank you for the distractions. If it weren't for you, we'd have nothing to think about but rampant unemployment, political instability, climate change... Real downers, when we too would like nothing more than to make a lot of money, get drunk, have a bunga bunga party -- but not wake up to find the story on the front page or in a year-end review.
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