A Reader!

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Academic publishing can sometimes be pretty much of a one way radio: You’re broadcasting but you never know whether or not someone is receiving – and if someone is receiving, what they make of it.

So I am happy that Dr Dominik Zink of the University of Trier took the time to read and kindly review my PhD Thesis in The Year’s Work in Modern Language Studies 79 (2019) 1, p 555 (published online on 28 March 2019 at https://brill.com/view/journals/ywml/79/1/article-p555_41.xml)....   READ MORE

It finally happened

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Seven years ago I worked as head of CorpCom in a software company and as it goes, the job did instill in me the strong urge to go back to academia. My idea was to write a PhD in my field of expertise on something that had a wider social relevance.
woman on sofa reads phd
I started by going to the library one or two nights a week and, once a window of opportunity presented itself, went part time. When I saw that »corruption in German literature« should work well, in 2011/2012 I took a sabbatical in order to write a proposal that would get me funded.

After several applications and interviews in Vienna, Walferdange, Berlin and Munich I settled on Munich. So in June 2012 I began writing properly while commuting from Vienna to Munich every other week. My »office« was in the Arbeiterkammer library and the Ludwig-Wittgenstein-Lesesaal in the Austrian National library.

In October 2015 I was ready and submitted the thesis.

You should think there is a sensation of great relief when you finally hand the work of three plus years over to the officer, but somehow there wasn’t. My defense was going to be in February 2016, so I started preparing the three talks I had to give straight away.

Now, with the defense out of the way, there still was no sense of accomplishment, because you have to publish in order to close the process. So off we go to finding a publisher, setting up the text according to the publisher’s style guides, resetting tables and trees because they don’t fit on the smaller pages any more, brainstorming a cover image with Marianne Vlaschits, test printing and changing the cover three dozen times because the digital printer does not approve of the background color. Then seeing the table of contents in a friend’s brand new book and going back to my own because I absolutely wanted one like it. And on and on.

In the end, thanks to the knowledge, understanding and patience of the good people at UniPrint Siegen, there is a finished product that does make me happy – but still fails to deliver the wash of relief. Because now five books have to get to Munich university library, where the people are not happy. My books lack the title page the faculty requires. When that is adressed, I get told to contact the officer who received the first version in 2015 again in four to eight weeks for the certificate. Which I recieved two weeks ago. The End.
front cover of PhD

Here it is:

Jan Söhlke: »verderben, verführen, verwüsten, bestechen«. Literatur und Korruption um 1800. Siegen 2017, 284 pages.

ISBN: 978-3-936533-81-1

URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:467-11127

For EUR 12.80 you can order the book at universi (Siegen University Press), you can download it from OPUS (Siegen university’s open access) for free or get it from the source while you’re here.

The back cover reads

Der von Max Weber für die Zeit um 1800 diagnostizierte Übergang von einem patrimonialen zu einem bürokratischen Herrschaftssystem ist mit Roger Callois zugleich faßbar als Wechsel vom aleatorischen zum agônalen Prinzip. Unter dem Vorzeichen der Korruption wird jener Übergang beschreibbar als Wandel von einem Paradigma der Kriecherei hin zu einem der Bestechung.

Diese bisher kaum eingenommene Perspektive ermöglicht es, die sich wechselseitig bedingenden und durchdringenden moralischen, politischen, juristischen und ökonomischen Implikationen der Modernisierung freizulegen. Eine umfassende begriffsgeschichtliche Analyse der semantischen, historischen und sozialen Verfasstheit von »Korruption« bildet die Grundlage für Lektüren von Lessings Minna von Barnhelm, Kleists Der zerbrochne Krug und Schillers Der Geisterseher. Drei kanonische Texte werden so in einer überraschenden Konstellation neu lesbar – und lassen ihrerseits unser Verständnis von Korruption in einem neuen Zwielicht erscheinen.

 

German UNCAC Ratification is Lipstick on a Pig

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Abgeordnetenwatch.de has a good (if devastating) analysis of the German UNCAC ratification. It already is pretty sad that it took ze germans 11 years to cough up a law against bribing Members of Parliament so they would at last meet UN requirements. But now that they do, it is mostly lipstick on a pig:

Das im Februar beschlossene Gesetz gegen Abgeordnetenbestechung ist weitgehend wirkungslos. Ein Staatsanwalt muss nämlich nachweisen, dass ein korrupter Volksvertreter »im Auftrag oder auf Weisung« gehandelt hat. Wer sich nicht allzu dumm anstellt, hat strafrechtlich nichts zu befürchten.

The law against bribing of MPs is mostly useless as prosecution has to prove that a corrupt representative has been »either instructed or ordered« to act in a certain way. For the slightest chance of criminal liability under the new law, a parliamentarian would need to act in a pretty stupid way.

abgeordnetenwatch.de: Bundestag ratifiziert UNCAC – nach 11 Jahren (29. September 2014)

Some background can be found in my earlier post »Bribing MPs soon illegal in Germany«.

Bribing MPs soon illegal in Germany

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Finally the German Bundestag made a move and eleven years and three governments after the United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was signed by Germany, it can now finally be ratified. Until now it had only been illegal to buy the vote of a member of parliament, other forms of corrupting them were fair game, which made it impossible for Germany to ratify the UNCAC – and put the country in very shady company:

 

World map with United Nations Convention against Corruption ratifiers in green and signatories in orange (as of Feb 2014)
World map with United Nations Convention against Corruption ratifiers in green and signatories in orange (as of Feb 2014). Source: en.wikipedia.orgCC BY-SA 3.0

As the vote was paired with that one the considerable raise the MPs allowed themselves, I have the impression it somehow did not receive that much media coverage:

Human Nascars

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Terence Eden has an article on the »Nascar Proposal«. The proposal that politicians should wear logos of who paid them in order to make lobbyism more transparent is not new, but Terence has gathered a couple of links to interesting resources and also makes an interesting suggestion: Sure, the probability that we turn politicians into real human Nascars is very low, but we have the potential of open data that could easily be coupled with some programming and a little graphic design skills. The resulting visualidation could at least make it very easy to understand the at times very complex linkages of politics and private sector.

Fabulous Fab and Obama’s Promise

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Gregg Fields from Harvard’s Lab writes on the prosecution of Goldman Sachs’ Fabrice Tourre. When the housing bubble burst, many lost a lot and few earned obscenely much through a security called ABACUS 2007-AC1 which Tourre helped engineer. At the time, he was a mere foot soldier and senior management had to and did approve everything. Fields asks, why the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) keeps going after the little fish and lets their fishmasters get of the hook rather easily.

An unrelated article over at Techdirt asks what happened to Obamas election campaign promise to protect whistlblowers. The interesting bit from Obama’s ethics agenda read
=&0=&: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
change.gov: Ethics Agenda
Funny, innit?

Prescription Drugs and Corruption

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Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics has an interesting, yet disturbing post on a forthcoming article on institutional Corruption, Pharma and prescription drugs (Light, Lexchin, Darrow (2013): Institutional Corruption of Pharmaceuticals and the Myth of Safe and Effective Drugs. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2013).

The highlights:

  • There is evidence that about 90 percent of all new drugs approved by the FDA over the past 30 years are little or no more effective for patients than existing drugs.
  • Every week, about 2400 excess deaths occur in the United States among people taking properly prescribed drugs to be healthier.
  • Prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death.
  • There is systematic, quantitative evidence that since the industry started making large contributions to the FDA for reviewing its drugs, the FDA has sped up the review process with the result that drugs approved are significantly more likely to cause serious harm, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Medical Practitioners cannot be Corrupt

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At the moment, medical practitioners in Germany can only be corrupt when employed by someone else. As long as they practice on their own, German law to date knows no way of finding them corrupt – even if pharmaceutical companies give something in exchange for the practioniners prescribing certain medication.

The good news is that German health minister Daniel Bahr is about to change that.

Update Nov 2014: The bad news is, that the bill did not pass the Bundesrat. And coverage is pretty much non-existent since then.

Top 10 Corruption Sentences

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Wall Street’s Corruption Currents turns two on Wednesday. As a way of celebration, they nominated the top 10 corruption related jail sentences. The winners are:

  1. Joel Esquenazi
  2. Rod Blagojevich
  3. Viktor Bout
  4. James Ibori
  5. R. Allen Stanford
  6. Jimmy Dimora
  7. Matthew Ng
  8. Albert “Jack” Stanley and Jeffrey Tesler
  9. Jean Rene Duperval
  10. Gerhard Gribkowsky

More on the background on each of the cases in Samuel Rubenfeld’s article.

Can We Buy Your Loyalty?

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The US Dodd-Frank-Act was signed into federal law in 2010 and, according to wikipedia, it

brought the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression.

The Dodd-Frank-Act also introduced a »whistleblower bounty programme« (under Title IX, subtitle B). It means whistleblowers can get paid for releasing information, and today FCPA-Blog reports that the first one just took home a prize of US $ 50.000

It is startling that in a sense we are now trying to bribe people so they blow the whistle on corruption. The moral implications are interesting: not only will people get paid to abide by the law, but, after all, an employee (or agent) owes a certain amount of loyalty to the employer (or principal). There are corruption theories that define corruption exactly as not honouring that loyalty in order to achieve personal gain. But the economical implications are at least as intriguing: loyalty suddenly becomes a scarce commodity and it would not at all surprise me to see prices going up and going up fast. Apparently, a reward substantially helps people discover their loyalty to law (and their community):

since the SEC’s whistleblower program started in August 2011, the agency said it has received about eight tips a day. Using a conservative count, that means at least 1,600 whistleblower complaints have been filed.

Richard L. Cassin (5.9.2012): Six Lessons from the SEC’s First Whistleblower Reward. FCPA-Blog.

I don’t see why an even higher reward would not let them discover that in the end, their loyalty lies elsewhere altogether. Thus, it will be perfectly rational behaviour for companies to try to buy their agent’s loyalty back and have them shut up.

Now we have created a loyalty market, but acting on markets is what companies do all the time and should do best. When I look at the Wal-Mart bribery case, I doubt the community can keep up with the price development for long, at least when it comes to the important cases. Publicly available figures for Wal Mart de Mexico speak for themselves:

Bribes paid in Mexico: US $ 24.000.000
Potential damage if fined under FCPA: US $ 6.500.000.000
Profit in Q2/2012 US $ 650.000.000
Profits made since paying bribes in 2005: US $ 12.000.000.000

Sources: 1, 2, 3
The interesting players in the corruption game obviously have a lot to gain, much more to lose, and a vault filled with spare cash. I doubt that the reward programme was a smart move in the long run – both ethically and economically, but we’ll see.

[update 5. September 2012, 19.30 h]:
Wall Street Journal reports on a study on retaliation against whistleblowers:

More than one in five employees who reported misconduct they observed to their employers perceived retaliation for doing so, according to a new study.

The study found 22% of American workers who reported misconduct to their employers in 2011 said they experienced retaliation, up from 15% in 2009.

C. M. Matthews (5.9.2012): Whistleblower Retaliation on the Rise, Study Finds. WSJ Corruption Currents.

With the (growing) stick well established, I’m excited about who is going to be the first carrot-company.

[update 2, 18 September 2012, 9.30 h]
Bradley Birkenfeld, an ex-UBS-banker, saw the 50.000 and raised to US $ 104 million:...   READ MORE

The Dark Side of the Moon

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Transparency International calls it »the biggest bribery story of 2012«:

In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

[…]

In the interviews, Mr. Cicero recounted how he had helped organize years of payoffs. He described personally dispatching two trusted outside lawyers to deliver envelopes of cash to government officials. They targeted mayors and city council members, obscure urban planners, low-level bureaucrats who issued permits — anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth. The bribes, he said, bought zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders.

He called it working “the dark side of the moon.”

David Barstow (21.4.2012): Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle. The New York Times.

Germany Fails GRECO Deadline

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When it comes to UNCAC (United Nations Convention Against Corruption), Germany is in the good to shady company of Bhutan, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic (many of which buy German tanks, too). These states all signed UNCAC, but have not yet ratified it.

Since it is still legal (or rather: not illegal) to bribe a German member of parliament as long as you are not buying her vote (§ 108e, StGB), Germany can’t even ratify the convention, which has been subject of much deliberation.

To monitor member states’ stance on corruption issues, the Council of Europe has formed the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). It has the

objective […] to improve the capacity of its members to fight corruption by monitoring their compliance with Council of Europe anti-corruption standards through a dynamic process of mutual evaluation and peer pressure.

The council of Europe: What is GRECO? (ret. 3.9.2012)
In 2011 GRECO has concluded in its third evaluation

that Germany has implemented or satisfactorily dealt with only four of the twenty recommendations contained in the Third Round Evaluation Report. With respect to Theme I – Incriminations, recommendation ii has been implemented satisfactorily and recommendations i and iii to x have not been implemented. With respect to Theme II – Transparency of Party Funding, recommendation i and vi have been implemented satisfactorily and recommendation ix has been dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Recommendations ii, iii, iv, v, viii and x have been partly implemented and recommendation vii has not been implemented.

GRECO (9.12.2011): Third Evaluation Round. Compliance Report on Germany p. 15, section 72 (Emphasis original. German and French versions here – look in column »Compliance Reports«, sub-column »Version«).

In the same report GRECO had also set a deadline:

In view of the above, GRECO therefore concludes that as regards the implementation of the recommendations addressed to Germany in this Evaluation Round the current very low level of compliance with the recommendations is “globally unsatisfactory” […]. GRECO therefore […] asks the Head of the German delegation to provide a report on progress in implementing the outstanding recommendations by 30 June 2012 at the latest […].

GRECO (9.12.2011): Third Evaluation Round. Compliance Report on Germany p. 16, section 75.

And what do you know, the Head of the German Delegation did not answer by 30 June and he did not answer until this day. The Pirate Party has issued a press release on the issue, but that’s about it – no media coverage, no public outcry, no nothing. Germany’s dealing with the whole corruption issue continues to be a major travesty.

The Shocking Truth

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The Guardian has a very interesting and insightful article on »The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy« by Naomi Wolf.

In her article she sheds much light on the many (dim to dark) issues related to the Occupy-movement, and explains how the Department of Homeland Security, local mayors, congress, Wall Street, and businesses are linked to each other and ultimately to OWS.

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