June 05, 2006

Corruption

Recently there have been many stories about the corruption that has taken root in our government. The two of the most famous stories deal with former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) and the unwinding tale of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his part in the K Street Lobbyist Scam. What is leading to and encouraging the growth of all this corruption?

The dictionary has several meanings for the word corruption. Let’s look at what they can tell us about the current state of our body politic.

Corruption: (noun)

  1. corruption: inducement (as of a public official) by improper means (as bribery) to violate duty (as by commiting a felony); "he was held on charges of corruption and racketeering"
  2. corruption, subversion: destroying someone's (or some group's) honesty or loyalty; undermining moral integrity; "corruption of a minor"; "the big city's subversion of rural innocence"
  3. corruption, degeneracy, depravity: moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles; "the luxury and corruption among the upper classes"; "moral degeneracy followed intellectual degeneration"; "its brothels; its opium parlors; its depravity"
  4. corruptness, corruption: lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain
  5. corruption: decay of matter (as by rot or oxidation)
  6. putrescence, putridness, rottenness, corruption: in a state of progressive putrefaction

In the Bible, the term corruption is used to talk about the decaying of the body after death. When someone dies, the discarded body goes through various stages until it is finally absorbed back into the earth from whence all physical elements come. For more than a millennium, humans have buried the bodies of the dead so that this process can take place out of sight and hidden under a veil of darkness.

The corruption coming to light in the news is also something that can only flourish under a veil of darkness and secrecy. One of the more recent stories -- the one that exposes the fact that the defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, who was the primary corruptor of Cunningham, provided prostitutes and rooms at the Watergate for his clients -- has roots that extend back more than 15 years (and perhaps decades more than that). What caused this whole sad affair to come to light were some questions about how could Duke Cunningham afford a home for 2.25 million dollars on a salary of a Congressman?

Under the cover of darkness and with an attitude of moral probity Cunningham impugned the reputation and patriotism of his political opponents during his eight terms as a Congressman on the floor of the Congress. While in Congress, Duke Cunningham was the super patriot, yet all the while he was taking bribes to sell contracts to his cronies. When we look at the definitions of corruption listed in the dictionary, it is clear that Cunningham was corrupt and corrupted through and through. Here is what George E Condon, Jr., of the Copley News Services, wrote about Cunningham the day he admitted to his betrayal in court:

Cunningham’s Washington meant launching biting partisan attacks and questioning the patriotism of his foes, all based on ostensible fealty to what was best for the troops, while in reality putting his own enrichment as his top priority. A look back at some of his most scathing denunciations of fellow veteran Sen. John Kerry last year shows that some of them came on the same days he was getting checks for as much as $500,000 in bribe money.

Cunningham has now confessed that he steered defense contracts because of that bribe money “and not because using Co-conspirators Nos. 1 and 2 was in the best interest of the country.”

This story shows the poison of corruption: the bribes that were used to enrich Cunningham and Wade whose company raked in millions from the government; the use of prostitutes to tempt those who had been elected to represent the people; the slow and ultimately degrading corruption that takes someone who had once fought bravely to protect his country and led him to betray his duty to his constituents and to destroy his personal integrity for money and greed.

But, was it just greed or was there something deeper? Another story that has come to light in this sad affair is that Duke Cunningham, who on the House floor has been one of the most outspoken gay bashers, could be a hypocrite here as well. If those stories are correct and he has had sexual relationships with men stretching back to his days in Vietnam, then perhaps the corruption started because he had a secret of which he was ashamed and which if someone like Wade knew of it, would have made Cunningham susceptible to blackmail.

Corruption takes root in a culture of secrecy and greed. Keeping the corruption secret was simple because Cunningham was able to operate within the realm of the national security state where even the contracts are kept secret. And as we all know, once one has surrendered to greed or blackmail, it is easy to sink deeper into the muck until and unless one has the courage to take responsibility for one’s actions. For Duke Cunningham, this would have meant admitting the guilt and the shame, and ultimately making amends to those he betrayed. And make no mistake, he betrayed himself as well as well as the troops and those who he represented.

The Abramoff affair again was only possible because so much is hidden and there is so much money to be made if you can corrupt the system. Our campaign finance system is a patchwork of regulations in which too many people have too much vested interest to keep as loose as it is. Jack Abramoff used his connections to create a web of corrupted and corrupting lobbyists, politicians and plutocrats. As a special friend of Tom DeLay, he was able to keep the Marianas Islands his own little honey pot while the Tan family operated sweatshops that carried the label Made in America. And although Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff proclaim that they are righteous men and strong protectors of life, stories from the women exploited in the island’s sweatshops tell of forced abortions and trafficking of women from China and the Philippines. Once more, the greed and the lust for power have overcome the simple decency that we owe one another. After all, the Golden Rule states that one should do unto others what one would have done unto oneself. But when one comes to believe that only he or she matters, it is a simple matter to betray and abuse others for your own gain.

What can be done to stop this corruption? After all, humans, being fallible, will always be susceptible to corruption. But one thing that can help drive out the corruption is to pull away the veil of secrecy. When you know your family will find out or when you want to keep the respect of your neighbor, you are much less likely to allow the temptations and seductions of the corruptor to overcome your good judgment. We must find a way to open up to sunlight what is being done in our government behind the curtains of secrecy. And we must make it easier for people to do the right thing by making it harder for the plutocrats to buy our politicians. After all, it is our lives and our future that they are hurting when they sell us out to the highest bidder.

Posted by Mary at June 5, 2006 01:14 AM | Corruption & Graft | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |
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