We interviewed an English Language teacher from our school, Mr Lundberg, and here is the transcript:
In your years in America, what is of level of political stability that you sense in the country, and why?
The political stability kind of varies, right now is now very stable because of the different political policies that have been quite divided for some time. There are two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, and so usually whoever is charge, the policy do tend to favour their party. Because there have been such visions for a while now just because of the policy the Bush administration and the congressmen had come up. The Republican was in charge and now the democrats are in charge, so it has not been as stable as before. The hope of the people is that after the election, there could be more stability in the country after the Bush administration.
How about economical stability? Developmental stability?
For economic stability, a lot of people are in denial of recession, but I think that is wishful thinking. I think we actually are in a recession right now, but nobody wants to admit it. And so, as far as the economy goes, I think that it is a little more unstable than what we would want it to be. People are trying to keep that perception going that it is stable, no problem, you can still invest in our companies, that kind of thing. And I think it’s because the US trades with so many countries. They carry their effects to the rest of the world so there’s a lot telling people "Everything's find, don't worry".
There’s a lot of research and development that is found in the US. The actual development of technology, there isn't a whole lot of it. Research in pharmaceutical and medical technology is going on, and cell phone and computer technologies are being developed by big companies such as Apple and Microsoft. But a lot of technologies are being developed in other countries so work is actually outsourced. The company may be based in the US, but the actual development of that technology will be done somewhere else. The parts are made in China or India because it is so much cheaper to do it that way.
In America, there is a balance and check system, which does not allow any branch of the government to take absolute power. How effective do you think this system is in the governance of USA?
Theoretically up until now, its been a good system because of the constitutional structure. You can't have too much power in any one branch of government. But the executive branch for the last seven years, which consists of the president, the vice-president, the cabinet, the secretary. They've found loopholes, ways around that (balance and check system). So what’s happened is that they've gained a new system. It's like a bill becoming a law. The congress has to propose a bill and it gets passed in congress and gets passed to the President, who either approves it or vetoes it. If he vetoes it you can send it back down to the congress and if there are enough people in congress who want it passed, more than the two thirds majority, they can override that veto. But one way to get around that is the signing statement. That is, if there is a bill passed that the President does not quite agree with, he will not veto it but instead do a signing statement. A signing statement would be an amendment to that bill such that execution of that law is different from that in the actual bill. So although the bill was passed by congress, the President is actually making himself the legislative branch by saying "This is how I’m going to execute the law". Bush is not the first one to make use of signing statements, but he is the first one to do it at such a massive level. I can’t remember how many hundreds of signing statements he's allowed. So that balance now is not really there. So in theory it (balance and check system) is a really good thing but right now, the way that they've been operating, they've found loopholes to get around that check and it gives much more power to the executive branch than it really should have.
What is your opinion of the democracy in USA?
In general, it is one that people elect the leaders and the leaders are supposed to abide by the people's wishes. Otherwise they are kicked out. I think it is a good system but the way that its working right now is that there has been a lot of influence from that are hired by corporations that get laws passed which are typically not what the people are asking for and instead what the corporations are asking for. So there’s a lot of corporate influence on national politics and it’s been there for a long time but it’s particularly bad now to the point where are actually writing the laws and just passing them to congress. So the congress is not actually writing the laws. So I think that democracy in general is a good idea and it is the best system right now for the US. But there is too much corporate involvement in politics right now.
According to my knowledge, the US democracy is a kind of individualistic democracy. So although you said the democratic system is the best for the US, you also said that it is deteriorating. So what about the Oligarchy in China, do you think it will be suitable as a next model to improve the current situation?
I honestly think that it would never work. Americans are individualistic; they don't like government control, which is why they declared independence in the first place. There was too much control in England and the tyranny of King George. They really wanted to get away from that autocratic kind of rule with one person at the top saying “This is how it is and you’re going to follow the law”. That idea is too strong in so many American minds that they would not go for anything that is more of the way that China is ruled. However, that being said, I think that there is so much power in the executive branch right now; it is starting to go that way (autocracy?). And not enough people are aware of that it is starting to move into a more authoritarian type of government than it has been in the past.
The Americans put a lot of focus on negative rights such as hate speech.
There is legislation against hate speech. There is freedom of speech you can say whatever you want, but if it offends people like hate speech there are laws against them. So it’s not completely free speech. If it becomes like that, where we're degrading somebody else, then you can take legal action against them. But as far as I am concerned, I tend to lean more towards socialism than democracy in that I feel that there should be more governmental control over there because what's happened is that they've had this individualistic thing. But the government has taken money away from the social programmes that everyone should have so the public parks, libraries, transportation, these things that everyone is really entitled to not enough people are getting. Things like welfare and making sure that people aren't living on the streets, that kind of thing, there's not enough of that right now. So I tend to lean a little more toward more governmental involvement. Kind of like Singapore where there’s a social democracy. They do have a strong hand in your lives but there are a lot of these social programmes that are taken care of. Simple things like healthcare that if you go to a doctor here, its always cheaper here than in the US. That’s because doctor and pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, insurance companies, they're all privatised. So all these private companies will say "This is how we're going to treat you". Whereas here the consultation fees for a doctor are much cheaper. So things like that (doctors, social programmes?), there needs to be more of that.
In your opinion, how much influence has the US government on the opinions of the Americans?
It's a big issue right now. It's gotten better, but a lot of the media out there in the US, well people don't come out and say it's propaganda but there is a news network, fox news that is basically the mouthpiece of the government. They are not critical at all towards the government. On top of that, there are other newspapers and TV stations; they aren't doing enough investigative type journalism. They aren't being journalists; they are repeating what everyone's saying and not delving into the details. So it’s kind of a thorny issue.
Apart from the democratic system, do you think any other system would work when it comes to governing the US?
I kind of addressed that already, but I think personally there should be more control as far as the social issues and as far as making sure everybody is taken care of and there is not a huge divide between the rich and poor, or even between the middle class. So there should be more involvement there. But as far as practically, that is never going to happen. It depends on what happens in the future. Right now, if the country keeps going the way it is, I don't see that happening. it's going to stay the way it is with the individualistic type of thing where the needy are left to fend for themselves.
What do you think you are the differences in mindset of people about politics between Singaporeans and Americans?
Typically people are more aware of politics here (Singapore) than they are in America. In the US the awareness level has gotten much higher lately just because so many people are fed up with the way that the government is being run and they are fed up with not being paid enough for their job and being afford many things. There's just a lot of discontent in the country right now with the way that things are being run. But although people are now more involved in politics, I think that in general it (awareness level) is still fairly low. Unfortunately people just don't care even though it affects their daily lives. It kind of embarrassing and depressing when you watch talk shows and they interview the public on current affairs questions, and just the idiot response you get is depressing! So I think there is not enough awareness. I've been talking to a lot of people here (Singapore) and it feels like more people are aware of current events, they are aware of the political issues that are going on in Singapore. I think one reason is because the country is so small and the things that happen here, the laws and the legislation affects people directly or it feels like people are more involved with it because it on a much smaller scale.
How do you think US citizens can become more aware of politics?
I'm not sure I have an answer for that! Just because of the apathy, indifference to politics has lasted for so long. If I knew that I probably would be a millionaire! I think the prevalence blogs that are out there help. More people feel like they can comment, at least talk about it (politics). That has helped people come together and realise what's going on.
How long have US citizens been politically epithetic?
It’s been a long time. We have had spikes in history, usually associated with when we're at war. The last one was the Vietnam War. A lot more people then were aware of what was going on and launching protests and that kind of stuff. So again there is a spike now because of our military involvement with the Middle East. But it seems that the apathy has been going on for a long time. And I think part of it too is because when the country is doing well, the people are not concerned about it as they are financially stable.
But then on the other hand when you are worried about your next paycheck, it is so much in the front of your mind that you can't think of anything else! But it's just my impression.
What, in your opinion, makes up a perfect government?
I don't think a perfect government exists because a government is run by people. And people aren't perfect. So I think there are some that work better than others, but then they also work better for certain people than others. So it really depends on who you are talking about and what type of government you are talking about. Like I said, I tend to favour more of a social democracy than a capitalist democracy but that has it's drawbacks as well. Like in Singapore there are issues such as when they tried to promote free speech. But it's not technically free so there are drawbacks pertaining to that as well.
Because of you are not a just a citizen of a country, now a citizen of an area, you are a citizen of the world, so things happened in politics can affect you personally and being aware are all connected. I think it is an important thing to be aware of. It is things that we all deal with. Also looking at things like history that these countries have between each other and how they treat each other. So when that happens we can try to do something like when the US invaded Iraq. It’s not the first time this has happened, and the people in charge have not paid attention to the history. That is why we received such a negative response when we invaded. So being aware of history is really important so as not to make the same mistakes again.