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Steven I. Platt: Corruption takes toll at home and abroad

Whether your daily routine starts with going to get the newspaper, consulting online news sources or both to complement your coffee, there are inevitably two themes which leap off the pages of whatever you read — the loss of confidence by the people in their elected and appointed governmental officials and institutions, and the cause of that lost confidence — corruption.

Whether you begin with international, national, state or local news, the pervasiveness around the globe of corruption in various forms is apparent and cuts across all forms and levels of government. It is the subject of extensive coverage regardless of who owns or controls the media, and even at times envelops the media outlets themselves, such as the Rupert Murdoch-owned media empire’s.

In India, the prime minister attempts to persuade Anna Hazare, the leader of a nationwide uprising against corruption, to end her hunger strike by proposing stronger legislation against graft. Even in authoritarian China, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, while celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer and boasting 80 million members — making it the largest political party in the world — acknowledges officially that “the party has really serious corruption problems right now.”

This has caused one Chinese Communist Party official, Chen Baosheng, vice president of the central party school and a disciplinary authority, to describe what he characterizes as “a deterioration of beliefs” and to prescribe as a cure that “we should strengthen the teaching of morality.”

This may stem the tide of corruption that led to the punishment of 146,517 party members for corruption last year. These included several sensational cases where party officials were alleged to have killed their mistresses to silence them as well as taken large kickbacks and misappropriated government expenses for their personal use.

Across the globe, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who, The Economist reports, “arrived in the presidential palace with a reputation as a no-nonsense manager,” has found herself “sucked into the political swamp that is Brasilia.” The magazine reports “she has reacted firmly and correctly to corruption scandals. Her reward has been signs of mutiny and disillusionment in her ramshackle political coalition whose smaller members are interested only in jobs and money for personal gain or party financing.”

Similar issues are noticeable in Argentina, headed by President Christina Fernandez, and in the upcoming election in our neighbor to the south, Mexico, where Josefina Vazquez Mota may emerge as the strongest candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) based on her credentials as the social development minister who cleared out incompetent officials under former President Vincente Fox.

‘Crony capitalism’

Why all of these countries are turning to women to fight corruption is not the subject of this column, but perhaps should be explored later. It is at the moment certainly worthy of at least this preliminary notice. It is a trend, however, that this writer is sure will be encouraged within the campaigns of the two female Republicans who are most heavily into the 2012 presidential campaign, Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Both have incorporated the latest fashionable rhetorical shot at corruption into their standard speeches more than any of the other candidates. They have done so by using the phrase “crony capitalism” repeatedly, mostly with reference to the alleged practices of the front-runner for the Republican nomination, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (Bachman), but also to pejoratively label government involvement in the economy generally (Palin).

This phrase “crony capitalism” has not yet been defined by either of these candidates. I will therefore suggest that Katie Couric be recalled to ask both of them what it means and that neither candidate be permitted to use the phrase again until she has responded with an answer that is coherent and consistent with well-settled principles of law and economics.

Whether Ms. Bachman or Ms. Palin can define “crony capitalism” or not, this column in the future will explore what it means to our democracy and to the beneficiaries of the public and private partnerships in our mixed economy that have thrived without objection from either political party until recently.

Steven I. Platt, a retired associate judge on the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, writes a monthly column for The Daily Record. He can be reached at info@apursuitofjustice.com.