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The Wages of Corruption

“I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption. . . .”

Francis Bacon, On being charged by Parliament with corruption in office.

Brazil to the rescue!  I am not referring to the Olympics which will, if successful, serve as a distraction from other world events that are singularly depressing.  Brazil is riding to the rescue by reminding us that as corrupt as some leaders in our political system may be, Brazil beats us hands down.  For being made aware of the difference, we are indebted to the year 2016 and three separate but equal, at least in some respects, events.  The events described are not exclusive but merely representative. The first, and most recent, is brought to us by an old favorite, Wayne G. Hubbard of Alabama.

On June 9, 2016, Mr. Hubbard was the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.  He attained that post when, in 2010, the Republicans took control of the Alabama House for the first time since Reconstruction.  Following that triumph,  Mr. Hubbard  wrote a book entitled “Storming the Statehouse” in which he explained the Republican victory.  That happened, he said, because: “Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats.” The “setting apart” to which he was referring came about because prior to the election there had been a number of indictments and scandals involving Democrats.  There had not, apparently, been similar events involving Republicans. Mr. Hubbard would eventually correct that.  On June 10, 2016, Mr. Hubbard’s tenure as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives came to an end.  That was because on that day he was convicted of 12 felony ethics charges, a conviction that automatically caused his tenure as Speaker to come to an end.  Instead of serving as Speaker of the House, he faces the possibility that he will serve up to 20 years in prison on each of the 12 criminal counts of which he was convicted.  There is a bit of poetic justice in all this.  The law that led to Mr. Hubbard’s conviction was passed by the Republicans when they took control of the House in 2010.

Mr. Hubbard is not the only state legislator who will look back on May 2016 as a particularly bad month. In New York State, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver both former New York legislators, found that to be a particularly bad month. Dean Skelos was the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate.  In December 2015 he was convicted of Federal corruption charges and on May 12, 2015, he was sentenced to five years in prison. He is no longer the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate. Sheldon Silver was the Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and was convicted of, among other things, money laundering and extortion.  Like Mr. Hubbard, the conviction cost him his seat in the Assembly.  On May 3, 2016, Mr. Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The good news to emerge from those examples is that there are good people available to replace the two former leaders who are not corrupt. For that, our friends in Brazil may well be envious.

On April 17, 2016, the Brazilian lower house of the Brazilian Congress overwhelmingly voted to impeach the president of the country, Dilma Rousseff.  The impeachment proceedings were led by the President of the House, Eduardo Cunha. As he cast his vote in favor of impeaching President Rousseff, Mr. Cunha said: “God have pity on this nation.”  God fell down on the job as far as Mr. Cunha was concerned. In early May, Mr. Cunha was ordered to step down from his post because he is charged with, among other things, having taken $40 million in bribes.

Following her impeachment, Ms. Roussseff stepped aside as president and was replaced by Michel Timer.  On June 15, 2016, Brazil’s Supreme Court released testimony from a plea bargain that implicated Mr. Timer in a graft scandal that involved, among others, Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company.

The lower house of the parliament has 513 deputies of which 367 voted for impeachment.  According to a watchdog group in Brasilia, Congresso em Foco, more than 300 of the members of the lower house are under investigation for such things as corruption, fraud, or electoral crimes.

Mr. Cunha has been replaced as President of the lower house of Congress by Waldir Maranhão.  Mr. Maranhão is also involved in the graft scheme pertaining to Petrobras.  The president of the senate is Renan Calheiros.  Tax evasion and receiving bribes are among the matters for which he is being investigated.

Brazil’s troubles help the United States in that it shows how things could be worse in Alabama and New York.  There could be no one to replace the corrupt politicians who are heading off to jail. There is, of course, something positive that Brazil can look forward to.  It can look forward to hosting the Olympics in August assuming construction of the needed facilities is completed and there is not too much adverse publicity from the polluted water in which some of the events will take place. Its political problems will not spoil the games for those in attendance-only for those who are citizens of that country.