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On the roster: The shadow of corruption – Biden racks up key endorsements – Ukraine at center of fight over alleged Trump promise – Trump rallies with Modi in outreach to key voter bloc – You stay classy, Caleb Bennett

How corrupt do you think your government is?

According to Transparency International, which has been ranking countries on its 1-100 scale for 25 years, the United States is not very corrupt at all.

The most recent rankings, built through a survey of experts and businesspeople, ranks the U.S. as 22nd cleanest in the 180 nations of the world. We run in a pack with other mostly Western liberal democracies like Australia, Britain and France just behind the squeaky clean Scandinavian nations and, of course, Canada.

We are far removed from the rampant corruption under which most of the rest of the world is forced to live. Russia, China, India and Brazil are all bad news when it comes to basic principles of fairness. All of Africa except for Botswana and every Asian nation except Japan are considered substantially corrupt.  

So your government, on an empirical basis, is pretty much on the level.

But that’s not the important question. What matters is how corrupt do you think your government is. And on that score, the news is bad.

In our most recent Fox News poll, we asked respondents “How many people in the government do you think are corrupt — almost all, many, some, or almost none?” The results should be sobering for everyone concerned about the current trajectory of politics.

About one in five said that almost all of the people in government are corrupt. An amazing 43 percent said that “many” are crooked. Just 31 percent got closer to reality saying that “some” in the government are corrupt. A sad 2 percent said “almost none.”

As with all reputational goods, like a nation’s currency, the perception of value is far more important than the actual value itself. If a government is perceived as corrupt it’s almost as bad as the real thing, and will eventually result in real corruption anyway.

If you think the game is rigged, you’re far more likely to be willing to cheat yourself.

The 64 percent of Americans who believe their government is rotten with corruption don’t belong to any particular demographic or political group, either. Women are a little more distrustful than men and white people are more dubious than other ethnic groups, whites without college degrees most of all.

But religious faith, political proclivities, education and income all had relatively little bearing on the overall perception that corruption is a major problem in our government.

It’s no wonder, given what both political parties are selling these days. It would be one thing if the response was really about “draining the swamp” and some sustained effort for reforms that might bring public perception back into alignment with reality. But what tends to happen is that politicians exploit such perceptions to create lower expectations for good government and accountability once they are in power.

If the whole system is rigged, why should our side have to play by the rules? After all they’re the real crooks 

That’s how the false perception of rampant corruption makes way for the real thing.

“It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 14

Gun&Garden: “When Ken Burns decides to cover a topic, set aside some time to dig in. Best known for his epics, including his Civil War documentary, which aired on PBS over five nights in 1990 to an audience of 40 million people, the filmmaker is now readying for the premiere his latest deep-dive, Country Music. The eight-part, sixteen-hour film takes a magnifying glass to the forces that shaped this distinctly American sound. ‘I’m looking for stories, and I’m looking for stories that are firing on all cylinders,’ Burns tells Garden & Gun. … The film runs chronologically, tracing the many influences that shaped country music, from enslaved people bringing the banjo across the Atlantic from Africa all the way to the heyday of pop-country in the mid-1990s. The genre, Burns reveals, is less a set of rules and boundaries than it is a spectrum—one that trades on universal truths and bridges cultural, racial, and economic divides.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Biden: 28.2 points 
Warren: 20.2 points
Sanders: 16 points
Harris: 6.6 points
Buttigieg: 5.4 points
[Averages include: Fox News, NBC News/WSJ, CNN, ABC News/WaPo and IBD.]

Average approval: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 54 percent
Net Score: -11.4 percent
Change from one week ago: up 3.4 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 45% approve – 54% disapprove; Gallup: 43% approve – 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CNN: 42% approve – 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 40% approve – 55% disapprove.]

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AP: “Joe Biden sought to demonstrate a broad appeal to Democrats on Thursday with new endorsements from leading African American lawmakers and a former governor of a pivotal swing state. The backing from Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Charlie Crist of Florida reflects Biden’s play both for the party establishment and for minority voters who are critical in the early stages of the primary. Butterfield and Cleaver are former chairmen of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Crist was the governor of Florida before he entered Congress. The moves are the latest example of Biden’s durability as an early Democratic front-runner. So far, he’s successfully threaded different wings of the party despite skepticism from progressives and questions about whether, at 76, he’s too old for the presidency. … [T]he support of Butterfield and Cleaver in particular is a potential blow to Sen. Kamala Harris [and] Sen. Cory Booker…”

Younger black voters try to pry their parents from Biden – NYT: “If Mr. Biden, 76, is going to win the Democratic nomination, it is likely to be because of the support of older black voters… But if he is to be overtaken by one of his more progressive rivals, the most powerful tool against him may not be opposition research or negative advertisements. Instead, it may be an organic effort by younger black voters — concerned about Mr. Biden’s age and more moderate ideology — to sway their older family members. Mr. Biden seems aware of this dynamic. In interviews, he has both acknowledged the generational gap among his black supporters and downplayed its importance, arguing that the support of older, more moderate black voters would be enough to give him an electoral advantage. Still, Mr. Biden, by his own admission, would be unwise to underestimate the lobbying efforts of those who are young and politically engaged.”

Harris takes aim at Warren – WSJ: “Ka­mala Har­ris, now a dis­tant fourth in the De­mo­c­ra­tic pres­i­den­tial race, took aim at poll-climber Eliz­a­beth War­ren for do­ing big-money events. In re­sponse to a ques­tion about War­ren, Har­ris said at a closed-door fundraiser it was hyp­o­crit­i­cal for her ri­val to claim she wasn’t tak­ing money from large donors when War­ren trans­ferred around $10 mil­lion from her Sen­ate funds be­fore de­nounc­ing big money do­na­tions. Har­ris moved $1.2 mil­lion into her pres­i­den­tial fund. Har­ris lamented that she now needs to be in places like New York to keep the cam­paign fi­nan­cially afloat but prefers to spend time in early vot­ing states. On a later press call, Har­ris’s cam­paign didn’t name War­ren di­rectly but noted re­peat­edly that Har­ris came into the cam­paign with less than other can­di­dates be­cause ‘we spent 2018 rais­ing for other can­di­dates.’”

And same with Buttigieg – AP: “Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is accusing his 2020 rival Elizabeth Warren of being ‘extremely evasive’ when it comes to explaining how she’d finance a universal health care plan. Speaking on CNN on Thursday, Buttigieg issued his most pointed attack yet on the Massachusetts senator, saying she ‘was extremely evasive when asked that question, and we’ve seen that repeatedly.’ The sharpened critique comes as the fall campaign kicks into high gear with Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses scheduled in February. Warren has assembled a well-organized campaign there and leads Buttigieg in Iowa, where the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s longshot presidential campaign is competing heavily and trying to break through.”

Yang plays Perot for a new generation – Atlantic: “To understand why [Andrew Yang is hanging on in the polls], it’s worth looking at how he responded earlier this month when Shane Gillis, a comedian for Saturday Night Live, referred to him using a racial slur. Yang urged that Gillis not be fired. … But more revealing was Yang’s explanation for why Gillis deserved forgiveness. Gillis, Yang tweeted, ‘does not strike me as malignant or evil. He strikes me as a still-forming comedian from central Pennsylvania.’ What does central Pennsylvania have to do with it? For Andrew Yang…

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