Transparency International, a non-governmental organization, conducted a poll of 114,000 people in 107 countries on the problem of corruption.
More than 50 percent of the respondents said they believe that global corruption has gotten worse over the past two years.
According to the survey, a lack of ethics – dishonesty – is on the rise almost everywhere. Not surprisingly, “politics” was declared the most corrupt institution in 51 of the countries surveyed, but it has serious competition.
Banking is a major industry infected by corruption. Banks in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and some other countries, were caught up in the crisis of 2008.
The Irish bank bailouts were the first to hit a European country. Leaked audio tapes and phone conversations of top officials at Anglo Irish Bank revealed that they lied to the government about their bank’s financial condition as the real estate bubble was about to burst. This made it more difficult for the government to respond effectively. The Irish bank bailout has cost Irish taxpayers and the European Union tens of billions of dollars, and Ireland is still in the throes of a severe recession. A similar crisis occurred in the United States, only on a much larger scale.
Without fully understanding the scope and nature of the problem, the U.S. government felt compelled to bailout Wall Street banks, which were deemed too big to fail. The bank bailout probably prevented the U.S. economy, and possibly the world economy, from collapsing into a second Great Depression. Our economy remains weak, and unemployment is too high.
It appears that a culture of greed and a lack of ethics are still alive on Wall Street. Recently, a prominent New York law firm took a survey of 250 Wall Street professionals from dozens of financial companies. The survey revealed that 23 percent of responders “had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.” Nearly 25 percent said that they would “engage in (unethical) insider trading to make $10 million if they could get away with it.” One-fourth of respondents also said that pay and bonus structures encourage employees to compromise ethical standards or break the law.
More worrisome, 17 percent of those surveyed expected “their leaders were likely to look the other way if they suspected a top performer engaged in (illegal) insider trading,” and “15 percent doubted that their leadership, upon learning of a top performer’s crime, would report it to authorities.” Overall, “28 percent of respondents felt that the financial services industry does not put the interests of clients first.” Despite these faults, Wall Street banks are getting bigger, and their profits are increasing.
The New York financial industry is operating the same way it did before the crisis of 2008. This shows that reform still is needed.
In order to avoid another bank crisis, Congress should pass a new Glass-Steagall Act, which separates traditional commercial banking from high-risk investment banking.
Most importantly, high moral values and accountability must be restored throughout our society; all of us should examine our conscience and rededicate ourselves to being honest in our dealings with others – especially those of us who are the leaders in politics and finance.
Anthony J. DiStefano spent 29 years in state and federal government, including working with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.
The US House of Representatives quietly passed a last-minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 last week – including a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.
The rider, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, has been derided by opponents of biotech lobbying as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” as it would strip federal courts of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer health concerns.
The provision, also decried as a “biotech rider,” should have gone through the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees for review. Instead, no hearings were held, and the piece was evidently unknown to most Democrats (who hold the majority in the Senate) prior to its approval as part of HR 993, the short-term funding bill that was approved to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Senator John Tester (D-MT) proved to be the lone dissenter to the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, though his proposed amendment to strip the rider from the bill was never put to a vote.
As the US legal system functions today, and largely as a result of prior lawsuits, the USDA is required to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) prior to both the planting and sale of GMO crops. The extent and effectiveness to which the USDA exercises this rule is in itself a source of serious dispute.
The reviews have been the focus of heated debate between food safety advocacy groups and the biotech industry in the past. In December of 2009, for example, Food Democracy Now collected signatures during the EIS commenting period in a bid to prevent the approval of Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, which many feared would contaminate organic feed used by dairy farmers; it was approved regardless.
Previously discovered pathogens in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soy are suspected of causing infertility in livestock and to impact the health of plants.
So, just how much of a victory is this for biotech companies like Monsanto? Critics are thus far alarmed by the very way in which the provision made it through Congress — the rider was introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. Now, groups like the Center for Food Safety are holding Senator Mikulski (D-MD), chairman of that committee, to task and lobbing accusations of a “backroom deal” with the biotech industry.
As the Washington Times points out, the provision’s success is viewed by many as a victory by companies like Syngenta Corp, Cargill, Monsanto and affiliated PACs that have donated $7.5 million to members of Congress since 2009, and $372,000 to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It remains unclear whether the bill’s six-month expiration means that the provision will be short-lived. Regardless, Food Democracy Now has begun a campaign calling on US President Barack Obama to veto the Continuing Resolution spending bill, which seems unlikely as HR 933 includes a sweeping amount of government funding.