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The Dogs Have It
Q: What do President Bush & long gone folk singer Phil Ochs have in common? A: They both declared a war over when it wasn't.

The absurd season is upon us. Hot fun in the Summertime. Thanks to Iraq, the national political conversation has reverted to a familiar landscape. Left. Right. Hup 2 3 4. Each side knows the devil hangs with the other.

I used to think politics mattered. Even believing "the personal is the political". A dictum designed to drive people out of their lives. Block busting the soul. Speaking of block busting, have you heard the one about Flipper? In TV land, Flipper was the name of a dolphin pretending to be Lassie. In real estate land it's the name of someone pretending to be an investor. In it for the long haul, seeking reasonable profit, etc. But a flipper turns properties over snip snap, inflating values via various frauds. Such as phony appraisals, dummy financial documents and ownership flim flams. In urban nabes the practice produces blocks studded with abandoned buildings. Flipping can be perped by a large group of professional players or just a few in pivotal roles. The "must haves" are straw buyers. They step up for the federally insured, funded or firmly supported loans and pretend to be buyers with a dream. Some straw buyers take a bite from one loan and move on. Others do repeat business in rings juggling hundreds of loans and properties. Essentially low level front men, straw buyers are recruited from the poor and marginal and the solid and respectable. Druggies and the homeless do it with a little help from their non profit friends. Prison inmates do it via the Internet. John Q. Suburban does it for McMansions and New Urbanists do it for HUD. Which is why real estate fraud is great. It's so inclusive. Right wing birds do it. Left wing bees do it.

Politically speaking, both left and right modestly claim the other is better at being corrupt. But both are pretty well matched-- which makes the game a bit dull for spectators. Neither team ever pulls ahead. Just when a Republican in one state gets busted doing pay-for-play with a mob connected developer, a Democrat in another gets hit for the same. Which is why I've stopped putting "D" or "R" next to anyone's name. Affiliation only matters to team players, who hope riding public outrage over the other guy will carry their party to the boo-tay. Or to ideological nirvana where ends glow unsullied by means.

Looking at my single column score card I see that X Mayor Joseph Ganim of Bridgeport, Connecticut just won 9 years in prison. For pigging out on a hefty plate of revitalizing kick backs. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Atherton waxed accurate and eloquent on why political corruption counts. Saying democracy "takes a lot to keep it going, and not much to erode it". She also pointed out the irony of Ganim receiving a national award for being Mister Good Mayor-- while he was busy being corrupt. The award she referenced was Ganim's sharing of top honors in the 1999 City Liveability Awards Program of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. An award supported financially by Waste Management Inc. Based in Texas, WM is the biggest mover and shaker of waste in the USA. They know waste matters. They also know mayors matter.

But back to Judge Janet Bond Atherton, who really did get it right. As have a number of juries lately. Prosecutors are finding that if they present financial cases clearly, juries are increasingly savvy about white collar crime. Guilty verdicts have been rolling in. Of course some of the convicted still await sentencing. Like the brothers Amico in upstate New York. In early April, a jury found the developers guilty of running a multi million dollar mortgage fraud in the counties of Monroe, Ontario and Wayne. The sentencing was set for August 15th. Now moved back to November 4th. Of this year. Seems the brothers need more time to consider their plea on related charges of income tax evasion. Fretting about how a plea on the tax case would affect an appeal on the fraud case. Or is it the other way around? Whatever. It just goes to show that being a white collar crim means making tough choices.

Some think corruption buys freedom. Admittance to a realm of little lords and ladies. With butter applied from below. But in reality, when ensconced in a web of corrupt relationships, white collar crims must oil the loyalty of those beneath them. Because if the law comes knocking the clout of underlings inflates like a flipper's fantasy. Underlings have the goods but less to loose. Everything to gain. For instance, when pleading guilty to corruption charges this Spring, X County Executive James Treffinger of Essex County, New Jersey admitted to making "favorable personnel decisions in regards to his County Counsel..designed to coax him to remain loyal". Now Treff was a major player in Jersey. With one foot on the national stage. When he sneezed lesser lights held the hanky. Yet there he was, down on his knees (figuratively speaking) coaxing an adjunct with favors.

The down side of complicity has been well explored by American pulpsters. Paperback king Jim Thompson did it to a nightmare T. Currently, some of the best real life insights come out of Eastern Europe. Yulia Latynina writes for the Moscow Times, covering corruption in Russia. A big job. Recently Latynina wrote a piece called "Corruption, Complicity Create Loyalty". While talking about specific incidences she also touched on the general subject of corrupt methods, quoting Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay's president and dictator for 35 years: "Corruption must be encouraged, because corruption engenders complicity and complicity engenders loyalty." To this Latynina added "Incompetence also breeds loyalty and is also encouraged".

You don't say.

We're not living in Russia. But clouds do loom. And the tactics and psychology of corruption are universal. I focus often on corruption in post industrial, second tier cities. Partly because my 9th grade English teacher in a still industrial, second tier city told me I should write about what I know. But also because I believe systemic corruption plays a large part in why these cities never get over. Massive public expenditure has produced regional flutters but no across the board rebirth. All the usually cited rut reasons are true. Such as the loss of manufacturing jobs and the rise of a drug economy. Lousy schools. The decline of families. Thug culture. Some social policies aimed at uplift, have instead helped produce and mire an urban underclass. But many struggling cities have also become perpetual cash cows for an army of thoroughly bipartisan, interconnected, and often actively criminal, political pimps and grifters.

I also focus on real estate fraud. If cities are the public gathering places of civilization, homes are its private heart. So when housing and mortgage fraud rises alarmingly, as it has according to the FBI and numerous industry sources, it's not a good sign. What's particularly worrisome is the type of fraud. A few people scamming here and there is no big deal. But large rings, involving hundreds of properties and layers of pols, lenders, mortgage brokers, realtors, developers, appraisers and buyers is a very big deal. There have been incidences of entire communities participating in mortgage frauds.

Corruption isn't an affliction that only besets politicians or those in the financial sector: it can become a social sickness. Which in turn produces more toleration of corruption in politics and finance. The end result can be a criminal state. Where politicians say whatever constituents want to hear, but where corruption is the true ideology. A profoundly undemocratic one. Corruption sets inequality in stone. It negates individual endeavor and genuine achievement and in doing so, crushes the human spirit. Which leads back to the meaninglessness of politics. They aren't really meaningless, just limited. Politics are only a map, an attempt to establish direction. Though politics can reflect morality, they're not the thing itself.

It's a shame Bush was only waxing rhetorical when he declared the war was over. War polarizes and subsumes. It feeds the tendency to confuse politics with morality. People relax on their positions about the mammoth single issue and ascribe all evil to those who disagree. Count ideologues and opportunists among the dogs unleashed by war. And it will be as tough to get them back in the kennel as it will be to really reach the end of the road in Iraq.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

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Copyright (c) 2003 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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