In an opinion piece for New Jersey state newspaper, the Star Ledger, columnist Bob Braun shares his disappointment after 44 New Jersey residents were arrested on corruption charges yesterday. In a state where mafia-style corruption has been both romanticized to the outside world (think: The Sopranos) and accepted within the state, Braun’s analysis epitomizes the Jersey attitude towards corruption: the most shameful part is getting caught.
Today’s papers provide more insight into the corruption charges and how the New Jersey State Attorney General’s office was able to carry out such a successful sting operation. Using an informant, law-enforcement officials penetrated three separate corruption rings: the first, a community of rabbis involved in money laundering; the second, a host of government officials who accepted bribes to speed along their cities’ construction and development projects; and third, a international kidney selling business based out of Brooklyn. According to the New York Times, the connections between these groups are very loose and no formal partnerships existed between the circles. Any monetary links were more likely to be made by the informant in his pursuit of the case, than by individual corrupt actors.
Braun is not as shocked by the scope of these circles as he is by the “stupidity” of the actors:
“…this case, reputedly the culmination of years of work by hundreds of federal agents, would not be your standard corruption and money-laundering operation. Not one of those “Hey, leave the money in my desk while I’m out of the room” jobs that we learned so to love in New Jersey. No — if what the prosecutors are charging holds up in court, this case will go down in the crowded annals of New Jersey prosecutions as the moment when our politicians — and others — were proven, not just to be corrupt, but breathtakingly stupid.”
At least the Sopranos were smart about it, right? Braun’s piece lacks the sort of anger that usually accompanies a corruption scandal of this magnitude. He writes with a much more blasé tone, later calling those arrested “knuckleheads.” How about calling them thieves?! Nope, in New Jersey, citizens continue to doubt that justice will be served or that corruption will ever leave this mafia-loving state.
(full disclosure: I should admit that I grew up in the Garden State. “What exit are ya?”)
— Norah Mallaney
It is indeed the blase tone of the original article's author that is a concern and increasingly so. Public attitudes towards fraud, corruption and a plethora of unconscionable acts have changed dramatically in recent times it appears.
All this achieves is to allow the wrongdoers to be glorified or somehow justified in their actions. Greed is Good and it is getting better.
It is in my opinion a symbol of the moral decay that has also seen the USA depart its exalted position on the moral highground and its reduced ability to influence the world at large.
Muted responses to insider trading (it really constitutes theft, but no one seems to worry about it), allegations of executive negligence (Think Henry Paulson on the ski slopes), inappropriate executive pay (think the CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland), recent allegations of possible favours from regulators to some financial sector participants, a moribund enforcement of legislation (think whistleblower protection and SEC gaffes) and a host of other misdemeanours making their way across the pages of public media lead me to believe that the public is suffering from fraud fatigue.
The article's final comment regarding whether to call the miscreants "knuckleheads" or plain "Thieves" is a very telling one.
Without active public interest and commentary to ensure we continue to call a spade a spade, we are collectively assisting the process down the slippery slope.
As Elison Onizuka wrote so succinctly, "Every generation has the obligation to free men's minds for a look at new worlds….To look out from a higher plateau than the last generation". Pardon me for a rather miserable assessment of the current mess we are in, but all I see is an increasing reluctance to do so by society at large.
Maybe we should take his advice literally and work hard to get to Mars as soon as possible as the time honoured methods appear to be failing us due to collective apathy.
For more opinions on how New Jersey politics got so "dirty" see this collection of responses from scholars and journalists on New York Times website: