Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Culture of Corruption

Is corruption situational? In other words, if the environment is just right, can people be motivated to do the wrong thing?

The answer is a resounding yes. I have seen it and in fact most people reading this have seen it. I had an instructor once, a former Police Chief not unlike myself, that said that larceny exists in all men's hearts. Is that true? If so, what triggers that loss of morality? Could it be situational or environmental? Could otherwise good people, given the right set of circumstances-be corrupted?

Corruption as I use it here is not limited to bribes and tangible objects. Corruption starts as an unconscious act. A little belief that is locked in the back of our heads, that says, "if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?" "Or I am the boss, I can do this if I want." That is the petri dish. To what degree that manifests itself is entirely dependent upon the environment and the circumstances. To the individual. I think we can all say we have been those people or we have seen those people. Or both.

Are we born evil or corrupt? No, we are taught this. If we know this, why then can't we risk manage it? Can we unlearn it?

As a small town Police Chief, I saw this first hand. Policing comes with a level of power and authority. Prosecutors have even greater authority and power. They can literally dismiss any charge, without appeal, when it suits them. Judges have that power. I also witnessed local politicians, motivated to stay employed and in power, willing to do whatever it took to maintain that status. Sometimes all they would do was lie when they needed to, sometimes I suspected far more egregious acts. Payoffs in the form of favors and personal gain. Not the stuffed enveloped kind, far more subtle and untraceable acts. Good deals that weren't available to anyone else or other favorable and future payoffs. In New Orleans when I landed there in 2007, corruption was completely out of control and in your face. The stuffed envelope kind. In fact, they actually celebrate and accept bribery and wrongdoing as though it is unavoidable and simply a way of life.

Having seen this, having lived this most of my life, I understand it. But what I never fully understood was what makes otherwise fairly well adjusted human beings, people from pretty solid lives, become morally, ethically, and criminally corrupt? How does that happen? It is situational. When U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was caught in that Minnesota bathroom engaged in anonymous footsie, one of the first things out of his mouth was that he was a U.S. Senator. That was the invocation of power. That was a message. I will make your life miserable, copper. People without power or influence don't have that tool available to them. I would be a liar were I to say that I haven't looked the other way on a few things in my life. And indifference is deliberate. It is cowardly and it is corrupt. But I have also addressed moral corruption. The rewards are few. The emotional toll is heavy and the targets don't come peacefully. Think about what President Obama did to Inspector General Walpin when he caught Mayor Johnson of Sacramento illegally using federal grant money. Forget that Johnson is black and an NBA player. Forget that Obama is black and a basketball player. Forget that these two are personal friends. Obama and a crooked Johnson survived. A federal prosecutor survived by joining that culture. A conspiracy of corruption and indifference meant Walpin would not survive. Obama canned him.

That singular act told me all that I needed to know about Obama. He sent the message. Corrupt government and business as usual. See that story here.

When you have a culture of corruption, such as the one that exists now in the U.S., what you have is deliberate indifference. It becomes perfectly understandable when properly framed. There isn't an educated soul in the U.S. that doesn't know our government and the banking industry have stolen our wealth- as homeowners and taxpayers. We get sidetracked with little arguments about people who bought houses they couldn't afford. Of course. They were needed as marks to sell home loans to. But they weren't the beneficiaries of a corrupt banking system. That they were co-opted with delusions of wealth accumulation based on their own greedy desires is part of that culture of corruption. We know the rating agencies lied. We all know all of that. What now?

I'm not sure this country can survive by ignoring this culture of corruption. It has to be addressed. Continuing to do business the same old way has no foundation or hope of a different future or a different outcome. In accepting that we all have a "little larceny in our hearts" and addressing how this happens seems like a great place to start. I snitched the vid from an article at Ace of Spades HQ. (larceny, see?) Twenty or so fascinating minutes follow.

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