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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Five rabbis, three mayors, and two state Assemblymen walk into a bar…wait, you’ve heard that one? Okay, how about: a councilman and a businessman meet in a diner? That too? What about the one about the developer, the adulterous brother-in-law and the hit-man or the governor and the boyfriend he put in charge of Homeland Security, or the Senator and the Korean entrepreneur or the union official and the…never mind. You’ve obviously heard them all. If you haven’t, read “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” by Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure. The book never goes out of date; they just keep releasing new versions.   

The Soprano State

As anyone who is paying attention knows (and if you aren’t, New Jersey will grab you by the lapels and get all up in your face until you are), 44 people were indicted on bank fraud and corruption that involved land, body parts, and wads of cash stuffed in pockets, envelopes, and even a box of Apple Jacks. As New Jersey’s acting US attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. noted, “They existed in an ethics-free zone” which New Jersey apparently provides without the onerous taxes imposed on the rest of its citizens. No matter, btw, that some of the leading figures were from Brooklyn; Jersey will take the hit. arrest

I live in New Jersey and I’m not alone in wishing my home state would stop supplying fodder for late-night comedians (although I’m secretly hoping Andy Borowitz takes it up). But seriously, the culture of corruption is so entrenched in the Garden State, that, as Mr. Marra pointed out, the good citizens “don’t have a chance…”

I have a good friend who, though not by nature a paranoid person, pointed out something else perhaps  no one is going to address, at least not publicly: the perpetrators of this scheme appear to be Jewish. They were devout, but their devotion seems to be to the Almighty dollar. On top of madoffMadoff, this is, to my friend’s way of thinking, a disaster for anyone identified as a Jew, which would include me, notwithstanding I am thoroughly lapsed.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this could at all be tied to me. Who stereotypes like that? People stereotype in other ways (“Oh, that explains your sense of humor”) but that can’t be all bad. And yet, looking at the picture in the Times, I felt a familiar tightening of the stomach. (I also thought for some reason of a busload of elderly New York Jews heading to Atlantic City but never mind). Here we go again: Jews and money. Money and Jews. Fraud and deceit and manipulation and money laundering and Jews. Evil Empire, economic manipulation, Zionist plot, world domination. Shylock. Shylock

I know, paranoid, right? This kind of scandal hurts lots of people. Italians who are sick of being caricatured as characters out of an HBO series. Women who don’t have big hair and lots of jewelry. Long-time residents who love the state. Politicians who are just trying to do their jobs honestly. It’s about assumptions and greed and entitlement and perhaps an environment that makes it far too easy to take the money and run. I can always move to North Carolina or wherever fed-up New Jersey residents are flocking these days.

My friend is blunt: “These guys are perpetrating an image that infuriates people. And let’s not forget what happens when people become infuriated with Jews and blame them for their problems.”  Paranoid? It is. Still, one hates to feed the beast.

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We are dancing in the streets of New Jersey. Okay, maybe not dancing but surely residents of the “Soprano State” are rejoicing over the comments of FBI special agent Robert Grant, who commented at a Tuesday morning press conference, “If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.” He was talking about Illinois, folks, not New Jersey.  Illinois, home of Abe Lincoln, Elliot Ness,  the writer Studds Terkel and our next President, Barack Obama (or maybe North Dakota – see end of this post).

Actually, Special Agent Grant was talking about the last two governors of that once-proud state, George Ryan and now Rod Blagojevich, not to mention a veritable parade of visible and less visible politicians whose behavior makes Jersey look like the garden-fresh state. Be honest: had you even been thinking about Blagojevich? Could you spell or pronounce his name? Did you even know who he was? Well,  you do now. The details of Governor Blagojevich’s escapades are all over the news; he apparently tried to use the seat vacated by the President-elect as leverage to (depending on what you read): get a better public sector job, get a better private sector job, get his wife a better job, get the Senate job himself, get more editorial support from the hometown paper, get people fired at the hometown paper, and/or get cash. Nothing was off the table, except perhaps trading the Senate seat for a new hairstylist (I’m sorry to hit a man when he’s down but what’s up with that hair?) I’m surprised he didn’t put the Senate seat up for bid on e-Bay. Maybe that was set for tomorrow.

The only thing he appears to have been definitively offered was the one thing he didn’t want – the appreciation of the Obama transition team, which didn’t seem inclined to participate in the auction. Gratitude – give me a break. Nothing says “thank you”  like cash or its equivalent in power.

Chutzpa, hubris, or cluelessness – it’s been hard to figure out why in this day and age politicians continue to believe themselves immune from discovery and prosecution, never mind ethics. Maybe it’s because for too long they have been, in part because we haven’t been privy to what’s going on and in part because we haven’t been keeping an eye on them. Still, this guy takes the cake, doesn’t he? His calculations were wide-ranging, not to mention grandiose. Makes the stuff we’ve been dealing with in New Jersey look like penny-ante stuff. Still, we’ll be happy to surrender the spotlight for the moment while pointing out once again that while absolute power may corrupt absolutely, it can happen anywhere from Alaska to Rhode Island to Louisiana to Florida to Illinois. I’m just sayin’.

UPDATE: It can also apparently happen in North Dakota, which wins the title of most corrupt state, according to a report  based on analysis of convictions prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Now North Dakota recently made news for being a state uniquely untouched by the recession so either they’re good at prosecuting corruption or they’re too comfortable to be much bothered by it.

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