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The U.S. proves better against corruption

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Power and corruption share a linkage that is hard to resist and most of the governments across the nations ail from this common weakness. While this glaring malady trumps the intent of true welfare of citizens time and again, this article takes a unique look at some of the mighty U.S. politicians who indeed got caught in the act and apprehended. As the author elucidates, the U.S. has an increasingly remarkable trend of finding the guilty in the corridors of power, setting a huge example for the rest of the world.

American corruption is exceptional, too
by Terry Golway

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves federal court in New York

He was hardly a household name, and he owed his authority to the votes of a few thousand people on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But for more than two decades, Sheldon Silver was one of the most powerful people in New York politics. He held up budgets, cut deals, blocked projects he didn’t like and doled out public dollars with little accountability. Governors came and went, but Silver seemingly was speaker of the New York State Assembly for life — beyond the reach of good-government critics, investigative journalists and ethics watchdogs. Until last week.

On Jan. 22, Silver was arrested, handcuffed, fingerprinted and brought before a judge, accused of an array of corruption charges. (Silver did not have to enter a plea, but he has denied the accusations.)

Photographs of him being led away from a courtroom showed not an imperious power-broker, but a stooped, 70-year-old man with a road map of worry on his face. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office led the investigation, announced Silver’s indictment with a blistering statement accusing him of amassing “a tremendous personal fortune through the abuse of [his] political power.”

Silver’s alleged crimes are hardly unique to New York City, Albany or, indeed, the United States. Political systems and cultures may vary widely from nation to nation, continent to continent, but corruption is universal. From Bejing to Kabul, Moscow to Mexico City, beleaguered citizens surely would recognize Silver, or former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, or former New York Representative Michael Grimm as variations on the familiar lament that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

boss tweed

But here’s the difference between the United States and many truly lawless nations that happen to be strategically important to Washington at the moment: Corrupt U.S. politicians invariably get caught, sometimes because they overreach, sometimes because an ambitious prosecutor or an investigative reporter comes along to expose the scam.

Nobody in New York was more powerful that William Tweed, the infamous boss of the Tammany Hall political machine, in the years following the Civil War. He had allies in all the right places, particularly the comptroller’s office, where the city’s books were cooked until they were overdone. But when a political enemy brought evidence of Tweed’s corruption to the New York Times in 1871, the powerful boss found himself alone and exposed. Tweed was arrested, convicted and sent to prison, where he died a broken man in 1878 at age 55.

Many a dubious private fortune was made during the Gilded Age; robber barons like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie reaped vast riches. But Tweed, the face of public corruption, was the one notorious figure from the era to serve time in prison.

Like Tweed, Spiro T. Agnew no doubt figured he had friends in all the right places. Heck, he was vice president of the United States! But in 1973, just months after he and President Richard M. Nixon were resoundingly reelected, a federal prosecutor accused Agnew of accepting bribes while he served as county executive of Baltimore, governor of Maryland and even as vice president.


Agnew pleaded no contest and resigned in disgrace. Agnew remains probably the highest U.S. elected official driven out of office because of corruption. Nixon, who resigned in disgrace a year later, was brought down more for abuse of power than graft and bribery.

Thanks to courageous journalists and incorruptible prosecutors, the list of U.S. grafters and bribe-takers who were caught and convicted is long and storied.

But that’s the point. Exposure and punishment are not mere abstractions — as Tweed, Agnew and, potentially, Silver discovered.

In announcing the charges against Silver, Bharara delivered astinging metaphorical indictment of Albany’s notoriously corrupt culture, condemning what he called a “lack of transparency, lack of accountability and lack of principle.” As he likely knew, his critique of Albany could be easily applied to the other 49 state capitals in the United States.

Jaded political observers regularly attempt to determine which state has the most insidious political culture. Illinois? Always a solid choice after two consecutive governors, Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich, were sent to prison in the early 21st century. Louisiana? It is known for its singularly relaxed approach to ethics enforcement.

New Jersey? Another favorite. Politicians there can be particularly creative — as three mayors proved several years ago when they became enmeshed in a plot that included, believe it not, the sale of kidneys. Thirty years ago, several New Jersey politicians and a handful from other states were caught accepting cash from an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik with immigration issues. Abscam was a scandal for the ages.

When the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity examined ethics enforcement and public accountability in all 50 states, only two rated a grade of B or better. Seven were given an F.

New York Assembly Speaker Silver arrives at the federal court in New York

Corruption, from the venal to the vast, is so much a part of the American political landscape that comparisons occasionally are made to less developed nations where payoffs and graft are an accepted way of doing business. The huge enterprise that Silver is accused of running, one that prosecutors say netted him nearly $4 million in bribes disguised as legal fees, sounds like something many Americans would associate with, say, Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan — places where, not coincidentally, hundreds of billions of dollars have been funneled to power brokers, high and low, over the past 15 years.

Thanks in large measure to the global war on Islamic extremism, the United States finds itself enmeshed in political cultures where payoffs and tribute are more likely to bring about favorable results than the ballot box or energetic debate.

At first glance, it might seem to be a world in which U.S. figures are quite comfortable. After all, it was in Illinois, not Helmand province, where a local governor (Blagojevich) sought to auction off a vacant Senate seat after its holder won election to the nation’s highest office.

Blagojevich and Sorosky leave federal court in Chicago

But that cynical conclusion ignores a rather important point: In the end, Blagojevich found himself hauled into court and subjected to the full force of the criminal justice system. McDonnell was found guilty of corruption and was sentenced to two years in prison, though he is planning to appeal the verdict. Grimm pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Silver’s legal problems have just begun, but already he has been forced to resign the job that made him so powerful — that of speaker of the New York Assembly.

It doesn’t exactly work that way in many of the countries the United States is seeking to influence. In Afghanistan, for example, half its beleaguered citizens were forced to pay bribes to local political potentates in order to receive basic public services, according to a United Nations study.

In strategically vital Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan, the family of President Islam Karimov is thought to control not just the nation’s government but its economy as well. The country has received more than a billion dollars in aid from Washington over the past quarter century. Much of the money may have wound up in the ruling family’s pockets.

In those countries and many others that have captured Washington’s attention in the 21stcentury, there are few Preet Bahararas looking out for the public’s interests and hauling crooked politicians into courtrooms.

China is making a public show of fighting corruption that has risen along with the country’s gross domestic product, but critics charge that the government is using criminal investigations to punish critics and to consolidate President Xi Jinping’s power.

The United States may never achieve Scandinavian-style high marks for the purity of its civic affairs. The temptations are too great because the money is enormous, as the Silver case seems to show.

But he is now deposed as speaker and is contemplating life behind bars. It doesn’t work that way elsewhere.

(This article was originally published by Reuters.)


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Next Story

Ex-Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif Indicted on Corruption Charges

Muhammad Safdar
Muhammad Safdar, husband of Maryam Nawaz, daughter of ousted Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, waves from a a vehicle as he arrives at an accountability court in Islamabad. VOA

Islamabad, October 19: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been indicted on corruption charges stemming from information taken from the so-called “Panama Papers.”

The country’s anti-corruption court indicted the 67-year-old Sharif during a hearing Thursday in Islamabad. His daughter Maryam and son-in-law Mohammed Safdar were also indicted. Maryam Sharif and Mohammed Safdar appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A lawyer for the elder Sharif, who is in London with his wife as she undergoes cancer treatment, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Maryam Sharif angrily dismissed the allegations as “baseless.”

Sharif was disqualified by Pakistan’s Supreme Court and removed from office in July after leaked documents last year from a Panama-based law firm revealed the family held a number of unreported overseas assets.(VOA)

Next Story

Journalist Behind the Panama Papers Killed in a Car Bomb

Caruana Galizia was recently described by the American news outlet Politico as a "one-woman WikiLeaks".

Panama papers
Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device. (Representative image) Pixabay

Valletta, October 17, 2017 : A journalist who led the Panama Papers probe into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her residence, the media reported.

Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device, reports the Guardian.

A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the American news outlet Politico as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”.

Her latest revelations accused Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.

No group or individual claimed responsibility for the attack, the Guardian reported.

Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, called for calm. “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgement and to show solidarity.”

ALSO READ Not Just Journalist Ram Chandra Chhatrapati, these 9 People too Bore the Brunt of Speaking Truth to Fight Corruption

In a statement, Muscat condemned the “barbaric attack”.

“Everyone knows Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine,” said Muscat, adding “Both politically and personally, but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way.”

He announced in parliament later on Monday that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers were on their way to Malta to assist with the investigation, following his request for help from the US government.

According to local media reports, Caruana Galizia filed a police report 15 days ago to say that she had been receiving death threats.

The journalist posted her final blog on her Running Commentary website at 2.35 p.m. on Monday, and the explosion, which occurred near her home, was reported to police just after 3 p.m.

Over the last two years, her reporting had largely focused on revelations from the Panama Papers, a cache of 11.5 million documents leaked from the internal database of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. (IANS)


Next Story

Amit Shah Rejects Allegation of Money Laundering on Son Jay Shah

"Where has money laundering been done? All the transactions happened through cheques and banks," claimed Amit Shah at an event.

money laundering
Amit Shah, BJP National President. Wikimedia

Ahmedabad, October 13, 2017 : Breaking his silence, BJP president Amit Shah rejected allegations of money laundering against his son Jay Shah whose company had reportedly recorded an extraordinary spike in business after the BJP came to power at the Centre, and asserted that it had not done any business with the government nor taken any kickbacks.

He also said that unlike the Congress, which had faced many corruption charges in the past, his son has shown courage to file a civil and criminal defamation suit on the allegations levelled against him and “invited a probe against himself” by this step.

“There is no money laundering involved in Jay’s company. This company is completely in commodity business, where turnover is more while the profit is less. We have exported bajra, corn and rice while coriander was imported. And after doing a turnover of Rs 80 crore, they don’t tell how much they made profit,” Amit Shah said at an “India Today” event “Gujarat Panchayat”.

Answering questions, he said that after making a turnover of Rs 80 crore, Jay made a loss of Rs 1.5 crore. “Where has money laundering been done? All the transactions happened through cheques and banks,” he said.

Asked about Jay Shah filing a defamation suit against the publication, Shah said: “Before answering your question I would like to ask you one thing. After Independence, how many corruption charges have been made against the Congress?

“Please understand this is not corruption. Many allegations of corruption were made against the Congress. Did it ever file a civil suit or defamation suit? No. Why they lacked such courage? Today Jay has filed a defamation as well as civil suit and is demanding a probe himself. Those who have the evidence can submit it to the court, and then the court will decide,” the BJP president said.

He said: “We have ourselves invited a probe and on the company issue I want to clarify that it has not done business with the government of even Re 1 nor taken any government land or tender. Neither has it received kickbacks as in the case of Bofors.”

When asked about Jay’s company securing unsecured loans, Shah said it was not unsecured loans. “It was a line of credit,” he added. (IANS)