Posts tagged with: corruption

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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Amity Shlaes, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations, has an excellent primer on public choice in the August 3 edition of Forbes, “The New PC.” Shlaes is also the author of the 2007 book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

Shlaes, who will be featured in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty, writes, “Government reformers view themselves as morally superior, but that is an illusion. They are just like private-sector operators, who do things that are in their own interest, not society’s. Those things include taking advantage of an economic crisis to aggregate power for themselves and their offices.” She goes on to point out five specific instances of recent government action that fits the public choice paradigm.

I have no doubt that many enter politics with good intentions. Some even follow through on those intentions and work for their constituencies. But a precious few remain uncontaminated and uncorrupted by the temptations that political power offers.

This reality is a strong argument in favor of term limits. Even though the individual constiuencies might lose out by replacing older, more senior representatives, who have garnered the most powerful appointments and consolidated the most influence, it has the happy consequence of putting caps on political clout. Every so often the slate is rubbed clean and alliances, power partnerships, and appointments need to be rebuilt.

Anything that puts an absolute ceiling on an individual politician’s power seems like a step in the right direction. Of course, an unintended consequence is that with the sundown of their political career always in view, an individual politician will be just that much more focused on greasing the skids to a comfy private sector job after the term limits come into effect.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, that event visibly marked the collapse of a Communist ideology that had oppressed, tortured and killed millions for decades. But now, 20 years later, Communist authorities are once again taking aim at an old target — the Christian Church. Samuel Gregg looks at the alarming persecution of Roman Catholics in Vietnam in his commentary, “Corruption, Communism, and Catholicism in Vietnam.”

Gregg articulates the horrifying reasons for the continued persecution that Catholics in Vietnam are subject to:

Some of the reasons for this treatment of Vietnam’s Catholic Church are historical. Vietnam’s rulers are acutely aware that Catholics were among the most committed anti-Communist Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Many Vietnamese also identified Catholicism with French colonial rule.

This background, however, is of marginal significance in explaining the violent crackdown presently being experienced by Catholics throughout Vietnam. Put simply, it’s about government corruption.

Catholic clergy and lay Catholics are not the only target, but the property of the Catholic Church is also emerging as another target for the government:

In late 2008, for example, Vinh Long provincial officials announced their intention to “appropriate” the land of a convent of nuns which also functioned as an orphanage in order to build a hotel. More recently, land in Hanoi that the government itself acknowledges has been owned by a Catholic monastery since 1928 was simply given over by the state for residential construction.

In an era where religious tolerance is becoming more widely accepted it is disheartening to see corrupt governments still persecuting the faithful.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, June 29, 2009
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A reader makes a request:

My purpose for writing is simply to request the Acton Institute make a public statement on its website to repudiate Mr. Sanford’s actions, in large measure because he was prominently featured in Volume 18, Number 3 of Religion & Liberty journal. Of course your organization is not expected to guarantee moral behavior of its featured contributors simply because none of us knows what is really in the hearts and minds of our neighbor. Governor Sanford previously demonstrated he was a man of character and integrity, but even the most upright man is in danger of falling. My request is for the Institute to denounce Mr. Sanford’s actions in the same public manner it praised his approach to politics last summer, in order to assure its viewers that it is not complicit with his actions.

If not exactly a denunciation, here’s an explanation for why we interviewed Gov. Mark Sanford. We opened the pages of R&L to the governor because of his record as a fiscal conservative and his willingness to talk about the way faith guided his public life. Here’s a sample of the interview:

R&L The religious views of candidates and their support among various faith traditions played a big role in the 2008 presidential race. Is this a good thing?

Sanford It is. But I don’t know if it was more window dressing than not. Obama had Rick Warren speak at the inauguration, and then got some guy of another persuasion to give the benediction. I don’t think you want it as an accoutrement. I think that you want it to show up in policy. In other words, conversation is certainly an important starting point. It can’t be the ending point.

Somewhere, that “deeds, not words” philosophy fell by the wayside. Yes, Gov. Sanford fell and fell hard. But he was lying to many people about his public life and private conduct. And we got taken in, too.

Now, we watch the sad spectacle of a politician clinging to power after he has obliterated any moral claim to continuing in office. He is refusing to go, and absurdly compares himself to Biblical figures. (more…)

greed-2Yet another moral meltdown based on greed. This time the human vice reared its ugly head in Westminster. For the first time since 1650, a Speaker of the House of Commons has resigned under angry public protest of his controversial use of public funds.

Yesterday, the Labour party’s second most senior leader, Michael Martin of Glasgow, officially quit as House Speaker amid accusations that he abused his publically financed personal expense account, a perk enjoyed by Members of Parliament.

The British population is outraged: not only because of the exorbitant nature of Martin’s financial reimbursements (reimbursements for cat food, installation of chandeliers, manure, porn material, and repairs to his country estate moat) during the painful economic recession, but because morally rekindled Britons are fed up and ready to part ways with the country’s current leadership.

Adding fuel to the fire, government officials released deeper probes into the art of public deceit. Repayment claims were filed by other M.P.s for interest charged on fictional mortgages on second homes, at time when many banks are foreclosing on the homes of ordinary citizens.

According to a study on global corruption released by Dr. Richard Ebeling of the American Institute for Economic Research, the United Kingdom has fared well amongst its European peers, given the positive correlation found between the freer markets of the British Isles and lesser incentives to perform illicit acts to gain undue advantages in either the public and private sectors. Therefore, United Kingdom has traditionally looked good when compared to the corruption impairing the progress of freedom and prosperity among the many “transition nations” of Eastern Europe.

However, even British traditions of good behaviour will not last forever. Pope Benedict has warned the world time and again of the corrosive nature of greed, which “distorts the purpose of material goods and destroys the world,” as he said last April 22 during his weekly general audience in Rome.

In the wake of the scandals of Westminster, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has rallied the British population to change. “Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman’s club,” where its members “make up the rules,” he said. Yet his oratory seems too little, too late. Under 10 years of center-left Labour leadership, the United Kingdom has slowly welcomed back bigger government – along with it invasive tax schemes, cushy welfare doles, and the slippery slope of greed and corruption among public servants.

Britain’s lawmakers are fortunate only to lose their prestigious government posts and reputations and face incarceration. Their prospects would have been far worse under the days under monarchical rule when greedy and corrupt political officials were quickly guillotined for accepting bribes and illegal financial contributions.

In today’s Detroit News, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg talks about the sort of “moral, legal and political environment” that must exist if entrepreneurs are to flourish. He applies these precepts to the very serious economic problems in Michigan, where Acton is located:

… in the midst of this enthusiasm about entrepreneurship, we risk forgetting that entrepreneurship’s capacity to create wealth is heavily determined by the environments in which we live. In many business schools, it’s possible to study entrepreneurship without any reference being made to the role played by factors such as rule of law, property rights and low taxes in stimulating wealth-creating entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs gravitate to places where conditions for starting a business are optimal and the infrastructure — financial, legal, and technical — supports new businesses. Here, Michigan has a double-barreled problem: the out-migration of Michigan job seekers — much of it compelled by the steep decline of the auto sector in recent years — and the college graduate “brain drain” from state universities. How many of these people saying goodbye to Michigan are taking their entrepreneurial dreams, and maybe the next Big Thing in the economy, with them?

Read “Entrepreneurs Require More Room to Survive.” An extended version of this essay is slated to run in tomorrow’s Acton News & Commentary. Sign up online for this free email newsletter here.

There’s a good read from a state politician familiar with Kwame Kilpatrick, the former Detroit mayor accused of all manner of illicit activity, in the Sep. 12 newsletter (PDF) from Michigan state senator Mickey Switalski (D-Roseville). Switalski’s newsletter is one of the best and is atypical among state politicians, because he writes the content himself.

Before his current run as a state senator, Switalski was a state representative during Kilpatrick’s tenure as Democratic Floor Leader, the #2 position in the Democratic caucus. In his piece on Kilpatrick, Switalski offers what you might expect to be a sympathetic perspective, given their time spent as colleagues and their shared party affiliation (I spent a semester as a legislative intern for then-Representative Switalski in the spring of 2000). Yet Switalski offers what I think is a fair and balanced assessment, based on his judgment that Kilpatrick “is a complex person with many strengths and some tragic weaknesses.”

“The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick” is a narrative embodying the wisdom of Lord Acton’s dictum that “power tends to corrupt.” Switalski gives us an inside look at state politics, describing the legislature as “an insane asylum,” given the turbulent dynamics at the time. But Kilpatrick was a voice of reason and stability during the ravages of partisan bickering.

Ultimately Switalski judges that Kilpatrick “had too much power too early. He indulged his prodigious appetites and lacked the maturity and judgment to control his desires and became corrupt.”

Switalski wonders, “Were these faults always there?”

“I suppose they were,” he answers.

But how could a man who saw public service with such clarity in 2000 become so blind and ethically lost just a few years later? It is a sad tale, both for him and for the City. Unlike many people I know, who seemed to relish in his failure, I took no joy in watching him self-destruct. It was an awful waste of talent and opportunity. It was a tragedy for the City and the Region.

I pray his successors will not let power lead them into temptation, and so avoid a similar fate.

Switalski is correct to point to the tragedy of the demise of Kwame Kilpatrick, and that we should always realize the danger that power presents and the responsibility that it entails.

Even those who recognize, as Kwame did, that politicians have a duty to their constituents and “doing good policy for the people we serve” can be corrupted by the illusions of power and the delusions of privilege.

Yesterday I was a guest on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show,” a production of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), to discuss the presidential election and the faith-based initiative, with a special focus on the proposals laid out by Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A streamlined version of the interview is available for download.

After the July 1 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, where Obama called his plan for a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships “a critical part” of his executive plans, he continued to campaign on this issue, saying that “faith-based” social service would be “a moral center” of his potential administration.


One of the groups that has faced the dilemma of phasing out faith after taking government money is the Silver Ring Thing, a Christian ministry dedicated to “offering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life.” In 2006, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with the government over federal grants to the Silver Ring Thing (SRT), on the condition that appropriate safeguards would be implemented to separate out faith elements from programs that received federal dollars.

The success of groups like SRT have made in connecting human sexuality to spiritual and emotional life makes secularists cringe, who judge that the Religious Right “has warped our sexual politics and forced even the most hardened secular humanists to sing from the Christian hymnal.” You can be sure that secularists won’t hesitate to use government funds to undermine the integrity of groups that see faith-based messages like chastity being the biblical standard.

In the course of the interview I refer to a paper produced by the Acton Institute about the service areas that faith-based initiatives tend to focus on, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs.” I also borrow (with attribution) Joe Knippenberg’s witticism, referring to the Obama plan as the “faith-erased” initiative.

I also discuss what I have called “the fungibility phenomenon” and the way in which the White House office sets the tone for the rest of the country. But the coup de grâce of my argument, I think, comes when I liken the faith-based initiative to the sin of simony.

Simony is commonly defined as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of annexed unto spirituals.” Think about this a moment. If what the government’s faith-based initiative boils down to is the appropriation of the vigor and vitality of a uniquely spiritual ministry by means of offering federal money so that this ministry can be controlled and absorbed by the temporal power, that sounds very much like a form of simony to me.

Here’s part of the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!'”

Weigh in on what you think ought to be done with the faith-based initiative in our blog poll question on the right side of the page, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And, honestly, I can’t say it enough. Visit the Samaritan Guide and find a charity that needs your support and give it to them.

When thinking of southern Italy, Americans probably imagine the Amalfi Coast, Mount Vesuvius, and lemon groves, but to the average Italian the picture is of rotting garbage in the streets of Naples and the Mafia. These realities have been strikingly portrayed in Roberto Saviano’s book Gomorra (ET), which is also the basis of a newly-released motion picture in Italy.

Saviano is a young journalist who clearly describes the dark side of his country. It is probably the most courageous “j’accuse” ever cried out against the Camorra, the Mafia of Naples. In order to write this book, the author disguised himself, took on another identity and infiltrated “The System”, as the Camorra is known in Naples.

Saviano’s reporting has won several awards. His book has been translated in 42 countries and has been a best-seller in Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Finland. The New York Times classified it as one of the best books of 2007 and The Economist added it to its list of 100 best books of 2008. In Italy, it is considered the best book of the year and has sold over a million copies.

In chilling passages, the author explains the power of the organization and names the families, alliances, trafficking, corruption and misery surrounding the Camorra’s world. It is a shocking picture, even for those Italians who are well-aware of the criminal organizations infesting Italy. These corrupt networks seem impossible to defeat, a parallel country within the country.

It is incredible to recount the Camorra murders in Naples, nearly 4,000 in the last 30 years, numbers that can be compared to a war. Even more astonishing are the figures concerning the economy of this international organization that, together with the other criminal organizations, accounts 7 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product, more than $127 billion in a year.

The historic, political and social reasons that have lead to this phenomenon can be summarized in one word: “corruption”. Never in any other European country has there been such a wide scale and longstanding connection between crime and political corruption.

But thanks to this book and civic movements that are starting to rebel against this kind of society, Italians are developing a deeper awareness of the problem. The film version of Gomorra has gotten off to a great start at the box office, with more than €2 million in ticket sales in less than three days.

The movie brilliantly summarizes the book and is courageously filmed in Scampia, the dangerous Neapolitan neighborhood where the story takes place. The movie is also showing at the Cannes Film Festival where the international press applauded Saviano’s courage and the courage of Italians like Saviano (who has been living with constant police protection since October 2006) who courageously face truth and stand up to crime and corruption.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
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A victimless crime?

Via Hugh Hewitt, here are Carol Platt Liebau’s thoughts on the prostitution scandal now engulfing New York Governor Eliot Spitzer:

The whole idea, pioneered by you-know-who and enabled by you-know-who-else, is that illicit sexual behavior and the scandals resulting therefrom can be brazened out by the insistence that they are irrelevant to the discharge of public duties. As I argue in my book, it’s all part of a new ethical calculus concluding that — uniquely in the constellation of virtues — sexual morality is a subjective and purely personal matter that’s of relevance only to “religious” people (or else prurient and “judgmental” ones), even when it impacts the public.

All of us are human, all of us are sinners, no one is perfect. Certainly, there but for the grace of God go any of us. But that doesn’t mean that there should be no standards. In particular, it’s unfortunate if and when public officials conclude that sexual behavior that’s deeply disgraceful (not to mention illegal) doesn’t merit resignation. It degrades our culture, makes others complicit in condoning conduct that shouldn’t be condoned, and normalizes behavior that’s wrong.

As has become the norm, there are also plenty of voices (here’s one) decrying the fact that Spitzer may be forced to resign over a sexual indiscretion, that the worst he’s guilty of his hypocrisy, and that prostitution is essentially a “victimless crime.” It remains to be seen whether or not Spitzer will step down as a result of the scandal, but in the meantime Jordan Ballor offers some food for thought in this post, which looks at the differing standards that seem to apply to business and church leaders on the one hand and governmental officials on the other when sexual indiscretions are revealed. And be sure to take a look at the David Hess essay that Jordan references in his post as well.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Should Spitzer step down, or is his indiscretion not that serious?

Last week, Istituto Acton’s close Italian ally in defense of liberty, Istituto Bruno Leoni (IBL), presented the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom in Rome. The IBL invited speakers to discuss the decline of economic freedom in Italy over the last 12 months. Il bel paese ranks as the 64th freest economy in the world, with Hong Kong at number one and the U.S. at five.

Italy’s economic problems were blamed on corruption and weak law enforcement. While corruption to some extent reflects individual moral failings and certainly does affect economic growth, the reverse is also true: corruption tends to flourish in environments already hostile to markets and free competition.

Bad and excessive regulation tends to create opportunities for the arbitrary use of power when dealing with citizens and companies. This, in turn, distorts market incentives and deters investment but it also creates mistrust among people and alienates them from the governing institutions. Better and less regulation, on the other hand, not only boosts economic growth but could tackle a more deeply-rooted crisis of political and social ethics.

Not surprisingly, a labor union representative at the IBL event argued for stronger government to fight corruption at the expense of additional economic reforms. He unfortunately missed the point: The lack of economic freedom simply leads to more opportunities for the moral evils that already plague Italy.