Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chavez Arrests Dissidents and Critics

Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spearheaded a flurry of arrests targeting dissidents and critics of his regime, notably Judge María Lourdes Afiuni who in December issued a ruling that "irked" Chavez. To make matters worse, Judge Afuini was placed in a women's prison housing numerous inmates convicted by Afuini herself. A quote taken from the New York Times illustrates the depth of corrupt practices exercised by Chavez:

"The arrests have taken aim at some of Mr. Chávez’s most prominent critics
ahead of legislative elections in September that put control of the National
Assembly in play, and they illustrate Mr. Chávez’s attempts to tighten
control over institutions like the judiciary."

Taken from a "corruption" stanpoint, Chavez's use of his authority almost fully satisfies the commonly held definition of what political corruption is, which is the use of public or elected office for the purpose of private gain. Moreover, many students of political corruption have noted the necessity of political turnover (ie high levels of political competition through frequent and fair elections) and a strong, independent judiciary in eradicating a society of corruption. The arrests led by Chavez indicate his desire to supress both.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Obama Meets with Karzai in Hopes of Curbing Corruption

A couple days ago, President Obama met with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to discuss the corruption that has come to typify his administration. A necessary but seemingly insufficient strategic partner in the Middle East, the Afghan government under Karzai has been marred with corruption beginning with reelection this past November, an outcome that continues to be disputed on the basis of electoral fraud and irregularities. The Economist makes mention of Karzai's half-brother, who has been bombarded with accusations of drug trafficking. While the battle against corruption seems to be clearly defined, requiring a cleanup of the existing administration, the overall situation in Afghanistan is about as clear as a quart of SAE-30. For the sake of argument, three independent actors can be identified: the West, the Afghan government, and militant groups. Overlapping objectives muddy the situation. While the West obviously has an interest in curbing corruption within the Karzai administration, and would like to end the conflict, it wishes not to make concessions to militant groups for fear of being seen as having lost the war. Militant groups share these objectives, that is to have Western troops out and a less corrupt government. Finally, while the Karzai administation claims to be taking strides to address internal corruption, how much it will actually accomplish is dubious. Moreover, corrupt interactions between militant groups and the members of the administration further complicate the situation. Similarly, just recently Karzai acknowledged the widespread presence of corruption in relation to his reelection, but deflected the blame from himself to Western actors hoping to tarnish his public image and obstruct future bids for office. Although recently phoning Secretary of State Clinton to apologize/explain himself, Karzai's action represents another dimension of division: the Middle East vs. the West.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Former Jersey City Mayor Leona Beldini Appeals Corruption Charge

"Political contributions are not bribes," asserts Leona Beldini's attorney who is defending the former Jersey City mayor convicted of bribery charges as part of a massive corruption sting that took place in New Jersey last year. Beldini was accused of accepting $20,000 in campaign contributions in return for her help in securing building contracts. The jury found Beldini guilty on two counts of bribery, but innocent on the remaining four, the basic of the defendant's appeal for an inconsistent verdict. However, a successfully appeal seems unlikely. While certain political contributions are not illegal, graft is.

Draining the Sestak Tank

Beginning last month, an ongoing political cold war of sorts has ensued between Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) and the Obama White House. In February Joe Sestak made the allegation that the Obama Administration had offered him a high ranking White House position in return for him dropping out of the US Senate race in Pennsylvania, in which Sestak would be running against incumbent Arlen Specter (D-PA) in the primary. However, neither the White House nor Sestak has had much to say on the issue. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been faced with numerous questions over the span of weeks pertaining to the issue, but has consistently offered up nothing more than that he would get back to us. Likewise, other than asserting that he was offered a position within the Obama administration, Sestak has elaborated no further. Whether or not the the alleged bribe actually happened, or is a political ploy to damage the image of the Obama White House, the issue is likely to die down as neither side seems interested in pushing forward.

Video of White House Press Secretary Gibbs dodging questions about the Sestek scandal:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Corruption probe orchestrated to elect NJ Gov Christie?

In a complicated developing story, former NJ assemblyman Louis Manzo is accusing NJ governor Chris Christie of encouraging a massive corruption sting to promote himself in the gubernatorial race. Ironically, Manzo, along with his brother, is a victim of the sting, charged with accepting bribes totalling over $27, 000. Manzo claims to have sufficient evidence showing that the string was carried out by a number of people who stood to personally benefit from a Christie victory, generally US and assistant US attorneys prosecuting cases uncovered during the sting who made their way to state jobs after Christie took office. In response to Manzo's accusations, a Christie spokesperson responded, "He (Manzo) appears to be just another former public official in New Jersey charged with corruption who wants to divert attention from his own conduct." Another victim of the sting was Jersey City deputy mayor and former burlesque dancer Leona Beldini (aka Hope Diamond), found guilty in February of accepting bribes from Solomon Dwek, the same FBI informant who bagged Manzo.

"Quiet Corruption" Making Noise in Africa

The World Bank has released a report concluding that so-called "quiet corruption" is causing as much if not more problems for ordinary citizens than does more typical forms of corruption like bribing for government contracts, etc. "Quiet corruption" basically refers to corruption stemming from individual public sector employees failing to deliver government services such as education and health care. By falling short on their duties, these government employees deprive citizens of the most basic necessities, resulting in recurring systemic harm. Although "quiet corruption" does not receive the same attention as its more lucrative counterpart, its impact and reach may far surpass that of million-dollar bribery and extortion scandals.