Election Countdown 2012: Corruption in the Political System, and More

In today’s Election Countdown 2012 news: For the corruption to be exposed to the light, a lot of people have to do the right thing; wherever fracking gets in, transparency and accountability, the immune system that prevents corruption, weaken and fail; and more.

D – 37 and counting*

I’m going to try covering the horse race in short form so I don’t claw out my eyeballs or have a stroke. –lambert


As my stay here in Thailand winds down, I find that I haven’t done everything I came here to do; the time is all too short! So, because putting Campaign Countdown together takes a big chunk of my day, I’m going to adopt a short form for this week, where I focus on one or more of the major themes that have emerged since I started aggregating countdown snippets at 130 (that long ago?) As reader AB commented in mail: “[I]t’s as if by scavenging drops of dew from ground-floor news around the country, you put together a critical-mass glass of water to get me through the day.” Well, maybe it’s time to drink the water. While we still have it, that is. Kidding!

As readers helped evolve the countdown format, thematic labels emerged as buckets in which to toss the snippets: fracking, corruption, privatization, media critique, legacy parties, public goods, voting, various “flaps,” and many others.* So today I’d like to pick one: Corruption.

In the immortal words of Michael Dukakis, “A fish rots from the head first.” I’m terrified that the morals and ethics exhibited by the “savvy businessmen” who commit any crime with impunity will seep down to the local level, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, in my white bread small town in the great state of Maine, I’ll end up paying the code enforcement guy or the assessment officer; not in the usual, arms-length way through campaign contributions or the local power structure, but straight up, in an envelope or even right in the open palm. (That’s certainly how it worked in the last D administration on the landfills.) And if I have to live in a third-world country, well, there are plenty to choose from, some with pleasanter climates.

I’ve posted a lot of snippets labelled corruption: Not just for officials on the take to steer business to this or that function hall, or run-of-the-mill charter school looting (that, we expect), but for the democratic deficits in transparency and accountability that enable corruption. However, each one of these snippets is actually a sign of hope: For the corruption to be exposed to the light, a lot of people have to do the right thing! Reporters, editors, publishers; law enforcement personnel; concerned citizens; and especially the perp’s official colleagues, who have to overcome tribal and institutional loyalties and withdraw any protection they’ve offered to the practice. So, despite the best efforts of our kleptocratic criminal elites to turn the country into a “market state,” where literally everything is for sale, they haven’t succeeded yet. Civics 101! Optimism!

Finally, I’d like to connect two themes: Corruption and fracking. Wherever fracking gets in, transparency and accountability, the immune system that prevents corruption, weaken and fail. Doctors, for example, can be forbidden by law from telling their patients that their ills are caused by fracking fluids. Localities can have their home rule sovereignty taken away. Land owners may be forced to “sell” drilling rights whether they want to or not. “[O]nce a gas and oil company gets into your valley, they own you. They own the hospital. They own the commissioners. They own your mountains, and they will do what they want.” It’s unclear to me how many Americans will enjoy being owned, or for how long. I guess we’ll find out! From the standpoint of corruption, however, fracking looks an awful lot like the “resource curse” (I understand that the causality of the resource curse is disputed; the original idea seemed to be that the presence of resources skewed the political economy toward dysfunction, but the critique is that the dysfunction skews the political economy toward extraction; certainly in this country, the latter theory is tenable.)

I wonder if this seems familiar to the inhabitants of the shale regions in OH, CO, PA, NY, and TX, or the inhabitants of fracking supply chain states like WI (sand) and UT (waste pond sites). From the Wharton School, “Why Africa’s Oil Riches Don’t Trickle Down to Africans“:

Ghazvinian visited all of the major sub-Saharan oil producers and typically found the same situation in each. The sizzling oil sector was enriching a clique of politically connected people [kleptocrats] and creating boomtowns catering [meth, prostitution, gambling] to the industry but seldom providing much wider economic benefit or even employing many local people. “It’s a capital-intensive industry, not a labor-intensive one,” he points out. “So they don’t need to hire a lot of people, and the ones they do hire are petroleum engineers. You have local people hired to be security guards, but that’s about it.”

On top of that, the flow of oil riches can create bizarre contrasts. Luanda, the capital of Angola and also the center of its oil industry, is just one example. Luxury high-rises are being built there despite the country’s extreme poverty, … “The disparity between rich and poor there is like nowhere else in the world.”

Sound familiar?

* 37 days until the Democratic National Convention ends with Pla Som Tod for everybody on the floor of the Bank of America Panther Stadium, Charlotte, NC. There are 37 NBA players in Olympic basketball.