To the dismay of some parents in California, their children can read the definition of oral sex in school dictionaries. Access to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now requires parental permission. Think that’s harsh? Socrates was sentenced to death for corrupting the youth, and all he did was teach them to question all expressions of knowledge, especially by the older generation.
In China, corruption of the monetary kind still warrants the death penalty. Li Peiying was executed last year for taking bribes and embezzling funds totaling $15 million whilst head of Beijing airport. Corruption costs China $86 billion a year; 100,000 people were punished for the crime last year alone.
The world has seemed exceptionally corrupt in recent weeks. Transparency International ranks international graft on the Corruption Perception Index, but lists are so last decade. Wanting the full picture, I undertook my own survey and found grease everywhere from Kabul to FarmVille.
Indian NGO Fifth Pillar has distributed more than a million zero-rupee notes. The worthless note is proving more valuable than one trillion Zimbabwean dollars. Citizens use the currency to stand up to officials demanding bribes, shaming some into renouncing their corrupt ways. Fifth Pillar—a self-assigned “corruption killer”—runs drop-in centers where volunteers help citizens end corruption when the fake currency fails. Zero-currency notes are available everywhere from Albania to Zambia, though knowingly using counterfeit currency is a capital offense in China.
Some New Yorkers have been indirectly paying their rent to Iran’s Shah, with an Equatorial Guinean minister and Mexican drug-trafficking gang similarly exploiting shell companies and lax anonymity rules required for incorporation. Time has linked the abuse of legal entities to WMD proliferation and corruption, noting that “the U.S. just might be the world’s biggest washing machine for dirty money.”
New Jersey is no stranger to corruption, with 44 people arrested last summer on various charges including money-laundering, accepting bribes, and taking illegal campaign donations. Those arrested includes two mayors and the Grand Rabbi of the Syrian Jewish community in America. Video of one of the stings shows that Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini has no issue talking undercover agents through illegal schemes in a public place. Beldini explained that receiving illegal campaign funds is something “everybody does.”
It may well be the Taliban who are the only ones taking corruption seriously.Even the cast of MTV reality show Jersey Shore have been corrupted by power and popularity. Purity destroyed by success, they rebuffed MTV’s offer of $5,000 per episode for the next series, demanding double. Earning $100,000 for the series would make shifts at the T-shirt shop below their Real World-like house seem redundant. But not so fast: the reason I even watch the show is for debauchery and hedonism; I want more corruption not less. Signs that the cast are genuine people in spite of it all that makes the experience of watching the show all the richer: the cast are diamond shot glasses in the rough.
In Las Vegas and Miami, where the Jersey Shore crew are likely heading for the next series, F.B.I. detectives conducted a sting operation to catch arms dealers bribing undercover officers posing as sales agents for an African government. It’s not the arms deals that are illegal, just the bribes. Selling guns that could be used by soldiers to put down pro-democracy protesters is fine, totally legal. It’s doing it with a little kickback for the merchant and government that makes it a crime.
Wikileaks has “probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years” claimed the National in November. Three years since launch, Wikileaks has leaked an operating manual intended for Guantanamo guards, published a report about toxic dumping in the Ivory Coast that the British press were barred from reporting on, and hosted allegations of illegal activities by Swiss Bank Julius Baer. A lawsuit by the bank against Wikileaks led a wide coalition of press organizations to jump to Wikileaks’ defense. Whistleblowers can make allegations on YouTube, but only documents and evidence can hold the corrupt to account. Wikileaks is currently fighting to stay online due to a lack of funds.
Levi Johnston alleges that Todd Palin offered Bristol a truck if she left Levi. Bribery isn’t good parenting, but I guess it worked.
President Silvio Berlusconi will be remembered more vividly than his predecessors in decades to come. And he knows it, concluding comments about losing immunity to prosecution with the words “Long live Italy, long live Berlusconi!”
The ruling was bad news for Berlusconi, though the Italian senate recently stepped in to help, approving a draft law that will cut the maximum length of trials, thereby ending around 100,000 cases including, helpfully, ending cases against him, too. That’s what we call a law that’s made ad personam—for one person.
Additional laws may be made to allow Berlusconi to skip law cases while he stays in power. Sex scandals dented the 73-year-old’s image, but his popularity rose seven percent after a man bloodied Berlusconi’s face by hurling a model of Milan’s cathedral at him. Remembered he may be, but not for the right reasons.
FarmVille—a real-time farm simulation game accessible through a social network and played by 75 million people around the world—is involved in astroturfing efforts by health insurers who are allegedly paying users virtual currency (that can be spent in-game) to email their senators and demand they block any government-run public option being involved in healthcare reform plans.
Now there’s a sentence that wouldn’t have made any sense 20 years ago. Actually, I still can’t quite get my head around it. What the hell is happening to this century? Didn’t everything use to be so much more honorable and simple? A class-action lawsuit against the virtual farm overlords is in the works.
With money flooding in, corruption threatens Haiti’s recovery. A construction worker told Reuters that he wanted more U.S. support, suggesting that, “If you give the aid to the person at the top, he will just put it in his pocket.” Some hope that the crisis will lead to less government theft, and that employees who previously didn’t show up for work but still collected paychecks will work to rebuild the country. Kirill I, head of the Russian Orthadox church, must have been inspired by Pat Robertson, suggesting that crime, drugs, and corruption caused the earthquake.
Russia tops the world bribe-paying index. The stories about corruption in Russia are hugely complex and it’s frightening how in one case criminals, working in collusion with police, were able to use stolen documents to take control of three holding companies owned by hedge fund Hermitage Captial Management, who didn’t find out until months later. Some Russians are standing up against corruption. Alexai Dymovsky is a police officer who posted videos on YouTube explaining how he was encouraged to engage in corrupt practices in exchange for promotions. After the video’s release he was arrested for allegedly stealing $800 worth of expenses, and could receive 10 years in prison, likely in payback for his whistleblowing going viral.
A Nevada sheriff’s deputy stands charged with accepting thousands of dollars of gifts in exchange for smuggling sushi and chicken to Joe Francis, founder of Girls Gone Wild, who was jailed in 2007 on tax charges. The deputy and two other deputies were given watches and tickets for Oakland Raiders games while Francis was permitted to continue running his empire from jail. Girls Gone Wild girls are currently touring with Jersey Shore alumni DJ Pauly D. A Jersey Shore porn parody is in the works.
With Afghans paying $2.5 billion in bribes last year, an amount representing 23 percent of that nation’s GDP, Afghanistan is perhaps the country suffering most from corruption. A U.N. survey found that Afghans consider corruption a greater problem than violence and poverty.
Even the president’s brother is involved in corrupt land deals, with N.P.R. noting, “The spoils of corruption can be seen several times a week at Kabul’s tiny airport: bags of money heading out of the country.” But when money isn’t flying out, we’re shipping it in: One tactic being considered is to pay tribal leaders to put down their arms, but for how long will we pay them? Before we do that, we should consider the lessons in the Niger Delta, where Nigerian rebels have recommenced attacks after government payments for amnesty and ceasefire ended. It may well be the Taliban who are the only ones taking corruption seriously, setting up anti-corruption committees to hear grievances that are tried in effective courts.
Don’t confuse a recent rash of stories about corruption with more corruption. Perhaps it’s the case that better reporting and better institutional efforts are catching the grafters. Organizations like Global Integrity and Transparency International are working hard to highlight corruption, help citizens combat it, and advise countries how much it can cost their economy—corruption costs Russia up to one third of its GDP. It’s no wonder China is taking such a hard line.
Frank Serpico continually blew the whistle on corruption in the New York police Department through the ’60s and early ’70s, but it wasn’t until he got a bullet in the face that superiors paid attention and heard his testimony. Everyone above should bear in mind the words he recently spoke: “I always said that no matter how big or how much corruption there is, it’s never greater than the individual or the might of doing the right thing.”