The Legalisation of Corruption – Bring back the Brown Bag Swap in the Park!

Why can’t we have the good old days back of honest corruption.  You know, brown paper envelopes filled with cash shifted between suspicious looking guys in trench coats, wearing sunnies.  Clever slights of hand in the kid’s playground at the local park, or, (Maxwell Smart voice), “ahh, the old swapping suitcases on the park bench trick.”
Good ol’ day Mafiosi off to the Drop zone

Nowadays the unscrupulous use ‘legal’ means. It’s like a rerun of Godfather III where the Mafiosi becomes legitimate ….

And that is where Metiria Turei’s ‘illegal’ act clashes with the ‘legal’ world designed to extract from us all.  There are any number of situations.  Let’s consider:

– corporates helping to write the TPPA, or as ‘partners’ at Paris COP 21;

– or the legal tax havens, and legal transfer pricing so Apple NZ buys the right to use the Apple label from some set up in the Cayman Islands, or wherever & whatever, to ensure all the tax is paid in the Caymans, and sweet FA here;

– or the legal discussions between the Rupert Murdocks’ and the cabinet ministers to barter his good coverage for their privatisation – all legal;

– or the Saudi deals where Murray McCully and John Key make someone happy with a bundle of cash that makes sleaze just that little bit inadequate as a word, especially as Key cackles that “it’s legal! Haha” on Morning Report.

But the best one – you really have to admire those corporate lawyers who work for their Mafia and corporate clients (their combined dinner parties must be so much fun) – involves the contract in the white envelop delivered in the board room offices.  Quite legal.  Quite open.  Nothing to see here.

It’s the direct contrast with the envelope in the park.  Forget the brown.  Substitute a white A4, embossed with corporate letterhead.  Lots of countersigned signatures and legal tabs.  Sign … here.  And …. here.  And over the page …. here.  Set up a legal contract between a politician and the Oil & Gas sector for argument’s sake – I’m sure that never happens.  Here is $40K for this contractual intent.  Deliver us a report on – “oh, we’ll work out those details later.”  Nothing will be written, but it is understood that continued ‘consulting opportunities’ will be dependent upon you saying the right things in Parliament.

Because that is the way corruption works nowadays – legally.

Can we please go back to good old brown envelope honest corruption – where the trench coats are afraid of the SIS and the police?!

And then Metiria Pointing out some Disturbing Realities regarding Poverty and Dispossession

Corporate corruption.jpg

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a cartoon with a Merrill Lynch logo

Meanwhile a 23 year old silly who 24 years ago (!) struggled to feed her child and performed a sin of omission (do not tell the full story), and put her name down in another electorate to where she was living (as, from my comprehensive survey on our misspent youth – a hell a lot of us have done) – and is treated as beneath contempt because of the the view that it is all about being ‘illegal’.

It is not beneath contempt at all.  There is no need to condone it, but contempt ought in all fairness to relate much more to the morality and motivation of an act, not whether it as a status ‘legal’.  For heaven’s sake, slavery used to be legal, beating your wife and children, child labour, and never mind all the once illegal acts performed by ‘criminals’ like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Oscar Wilde.

That single criterion is far too black, white and simplistic.  That exempts us from looking deep into legal structure and root cause, at context, at the history of those who were once hanged or transported as indentured slaves for often desperate theft.  (Ahhh, good old legal slavery, how we miss that.)  We can unthinkingly avoid asking the question of what is the purpose of the law, and the question of whether it is achieving that stated purpose.

Why *do* we have the law?

That is not a rhetorical question.  It is a challenge.  The oligarchy don’t want us to think or talk about it.  They want you to repeat as a mantra “The law is the law,” as if it’s God’s stone tablet.  Their media will naturally jump all over anyone who questions otherwise.

So in open defiance, let’s talk about it.  “The purpose of the law is to protect the property classes from the mob,” was the hilarious call of the old judge in the 17th century historical comedies.

I don’t think that line is funny anymore.  Not even satirically.  I think it is becoming true … again.  In which case, the purpose of law is being once again subverted to suit the interests of the least lovely of men (in a gender neutral sense, of course – but they are, mostly).

We went from that old aristocracy where descent from a mafiosi-like William the Bastard Invader, ‘scourer of the North, mass murderer and stealer of just about everything’ is seen as some form of ‘merit’, to periods of robber barons, followed by a brief mid-20th century flowering with an actual focus on people and some semblance of a relatively enfranchised democracy, to today’s rising corporatocracy.  Naturally, corruption of that democracy is now legal again.  The law is the law, rings a little hollow in that context.

And that is very much part of the context surrounding the judgment of Metiria Turei, promoted by a media whose interests are the oligarchy (if you don’t think that is true, contrast the treatment of Mike Hosking with John Campbell – and thank heaven for Radio New Zealand, who survive despite the bloodletting).  The support for Metiria’s message while not condoning her acts is not about “you can’t have it both ways.”  It is not some hypocrisy where we do not condone illegal acts by the powerful but do condone illegal acts by the poor and dispossessed.

Firstly, Metiria has never asked for people to condone her acts.  Quite the opposite.  She did wrong, legally.  But she made the admission to highlight a context – how broken our system and our democracy has become.  She made the point of admitting and recognising the wrong without asking for anyone to condone the act, *and* without any attempt at justification based on the relative insignificance of that act.  Not once.  Meanwhile, in a boardroom done the road, someone was planning a meeting with a minister to discuss a few suggested policy tweaks, and a party donation – completely unrelated to each other of course.

And secondly, it’s not just the *illegal* acts of the powerful we ought to be judging.  People and the land are both ‘legally’ suffering for the ‘legal’ benefit of the very few and the very powerful.  And they influence legislation through ‘legal’ donations and ‘legal’ contracts.

Legal shenanigans are enough to occupy us, and frankly the more worrying because they indicate a deep and ravenous worm within the apple of our democracy.  I haven’t even mentioned their illegal tax frauds; the legal ones alone are enough to make you blanche.


Dorothea Lange - Poor Woman Great Depression.jpg

Depression Mother – Dorothea Lange

The powerful are rorting the system very well thank you through perfectly legal means.  If we take the view that “if it’s legal it’s fine,” then we miss that.  We give legitimacy to the immoral rort.  We conflate moral with legal; we make them the same thing when they patently are not in all cases (we would concede murder as both morally and legally aligned), and increasingly are not. We hide exploitation and dispossession behind a piece of thin paper as a veil beyond which you need not go in your mind.  That amounts to worship of rule without question; and, it follows, to the worship of whomever makes the rules, and for whomever they are made.

Behind that veil of rule and rulemaker worship, we have a system that now builds injustice.  We have those with near enough to a free ride to exploit people and the land for short-term profits (I say short, because it will not be in the long-term as such action eats its own future).  And then there are the other rules – labour rules, local democracy rules, welfare beneficiary rules, environmental rules – for the exploitees.

Our democracy has been shifting toward an oligarchy – a corporatocracy – for 33 years since neoliberalism was given its head in 1984 (which in turn gave the Hyenas of Commerce *their* head).

Take the attitude of ‘legal = good’ and ‘illegal = bad’ without consideration of context or the purpose and motivation of any act – and by association we condone the legal rorts of this world that are now – unhappily – the way the corrupt operate.

I’ll swap you One Hanmer drunk for Don Corleone – Well, not really, but I do have a Point.

The CorporationMany will remember that pathetic nobody National MP who got ‘a little wobbly’ in Hanmer (“Don’t you know who I am?!”).  Can’t remember his name, thankfully.  I’d love to know what that nice contract he had with the Oil & Gas sector actually said.

Though I’m sure there was nothing in there so incriminating as “you will further the interests of the Oil & Gas sector by all means possible via press releases, speaking in the House, representing our interests in Select Committees, keeping us informed of any government issues that may impact on our profitability and expansion within Aotearoa/New Zealand, and any other potential threat or opportunity over which you may have influence.”

No, it might be something about helping them choose the type of teaspoons recommended for the cafeteria.  And don’t worry about doing any work.  We’ll write it, and you add your signature ….. here.

Don Corleone was an honest man by comparison.  He was into good old fashioned brown-bag-on-the-park-bench corruption where there was no question regarding what it was; both morally and legally ….. wrong.  And if you cross me …. you’re dead.

And he liked cats and children.

Chris Perley

Chris Perley has a background in the field, in management, policy, consulting and research relating to land use, the environment, provincial economies and communities.  He is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability.

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3 Responses to The Legalisation of Corruption – Bring back the Brown Bag Swap in the Park!

  1. invercargillgreen says:

    Excellent post, Chris! About time words like moral, ethical and values trumped “legal”.

  2. Pingback: The Legalising of Corruption – Bring back the Brown Bag Swap in the Park! – Music & Hi-fi Appreciations

  3. Pingback: The Legalising of Corruption – Bring back the Brown Bag Swap in the Park! – thinking, differently

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