A rabbi, a mayor, and a second-hand body parts salesman walk into a bar…
Take it from me, there is only one certain method for determining whether someone is from New Jersey or not: They will refer to a trip to the beach as going “down the shore.” However, the handcuffs are another dead giveaway. Once again, my home state has been thrust into the limelight in a massive ...
Take it from me, there is only one certain method for determining whether someone is from New Jersey or not: They will refer to a trip to the beach as going “down the shore.” However, the handcuffs are another dead giveaway.
Once again, my home state has been thrust into the limelight in a massive corruption case that involves a failed philanthropist named Solomon Dwek who lived, appropriately enough in a town called Deal (which is, as any Jerseyite knows, “down the shore”), a guy from Brooklyn named Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum who could get you a slightly used pancreas for a good price, a bunch of rabbis who laundered money through charities they controlled, cash from Israel, bankers in Switzerland, the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City (where it is fair to say this case is not the first to offer a whiff of scandal), a member of Governor Jon Corzine’s cabinet and a host of other bit players who you might find milling around catching a smoke outside the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Dwek, (pronounced in much the same way Barbara Walters would pronounce “dreck” which is the Yiddish word for shit), is now somewhere in the witness protection system (hopefully for his sake in the custody of Marshall Mary Shannon as played in “In Plain Sight” by the irresistible Mary McCormack.) Seeking to save his own skin after getting caught floating a bad check for $25 million, our guy Solomon-the-wise…er…guy, started helping the Feds round up corrupt pols.
One big-time Fed anti-corruption prosecutor called New Jersey the most corrupt state in the nation. (Which is probably true since technically, the District of Columbia is not a state.) Jon Corzine, who has a tough election race later this year that just got tougher, said “Any corruption is unacceptable-anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated.”
Noble words. But has Mr. Corzine so quickly forgotten his roots either in Washington or at Goldman Sachs? While the colorful cast of slimeballs arrested yesterday has restored pride of place to my home state in the corruption league tables, let’s face it, what was really shocking about the reported payoffs was that the prices were so low. This was penny ante stuff. Ten grand for a building permit. That kind of thing. It can’t hold a candle to the millions that are pumped into the campaigns of federal politicians who guide laws subtly this way and that or turn bills into Christmas trees of goodies for key constituents or who simply look the other way when oversight is concerned…for example, in the case of the financial community. Just for example, Governor.
There are cultural and definitional hurdles we need to get over with regard to the corrosive effects of buying and selling influence in our society. Corruption is offensive when it involves $97,000 stuffed in a box of Apple Jacks cereal as in this latest New Jersey case…but dress it up in the finery of federal campaign finance laws designed to institutionalize the power of the few and its suitable for high society senatorial or presidential fundraisers in Hollywood, Houston, or the Hamptons.
I call this later phenomenon “corruption within the law.” And it as many times more pernicious than payoffs in diners in Bergen County as it is more expensive … even if it doesn’t quite invoke the backroom at Bada Bing or Satriale’s quite as evocatively. That’s because the effects are so much more widely felt in society … as in the case of Wall Street selling the view that it didn’t need much regulation or that it needed cheap money bailouts or in the case of the oil and auto industries rental of the levers of U.S. energy policy for the past several decades.
But I guarantee you that tonight America’s most trusted newsman (which according to a new TIME Magazine poll is Jon Stewart…who is neither a newsman nor does he actually represent himself as being trustworthy, quite the contrary) will devote time on his show to tape or pictures of the perp walk of the five dirty rabbis or the car loads of mayors and assemblyman as if they were the face of corruption in America. Which may be appropriate because they are as much about comedy and as far from the real story as is “The Daily Show.”
Nonetheless, the real uncovered corruption aside, as a Jersey boy, there is something irresistible about this particularly tale. It’s the bastard short story of Mario Puzo and Philip Roth (with a hint of Damon Runyon by way of Sholom Aleichem) and who can object to that. Further, we take pride in our scumbags in New Jersey.
In fact, that reminds me … earlier this week I was having lunch with FP supremo Moises Naim at the Palm Restaurant in Washington.
While we lunched on rare tuna salads while Lord knows what kind of nasty deals were being cut in the booths nearby, we got into a discussion of just this subject of corruption. Moises, author of the book Illicit — recently turned into an Emmy-nominated documentary — and thus an expert on all things sleazoid and able to say the word “bagman” in 80 languages, argued that whatever flavor our corruption took in the U.S., the Venezuelas and Russias had us beat hands down. I muttered a few words about my theories about our sanitized versions of buying and selling politicos but he scoffed. He’s from Caracas and he likes his violation of the public trust big and loud and ideally involving low-life political thugs of the type who rule his home country.
Well, look at the scoreboard, my friend! We are from New Jersey and we are loud and we are proud! We’ve got it all. The baby-faced golden boy of Hoboken politics, the new mayor, heading to the slammer practically before he is old enough to shave. An 87 year-old Syrian rabbi. A special lingo in which payments were “invitations” and approvals were “opportunities.” We’re slicing people open and selling freaking body parts for chrissakes (although due to Kashrut laws you couldn’t get, say, a kidney and a pound of cheese from the same guy).
So Mr. Glamorous expert on the underbelly of globalization, who’s corrupt now? Boo-ya, my friend! Fuggedaboutit.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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