Multinational Monitor

VOL 27 No. 3


Combating the Culture of Corruption. Or Not.
by Charlie Cray

Corruption Roll Call: The Most Corrupt Members of Congreess
by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Caught in Jack's Web: The Abramoff Associates' File
by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Oil and Violence in Sudan: Drilling, Poverty and Death in Upper Nile State
by Egbert Wesselink and Evelien Weller


Hostile Takeover: The Corruption of Politics in the United States
An Interview with David Sirota

Exporting Corruption: How Rich Country Export Credit Agencies Facilitate Corruption in the Global South
An Interview with The Corner House

Searching for Transparency: Corruption and the Global Economy
An Interview with David Nussbaum


Behind the Lines

Structural Corruption and Reform

The Front
Human Trafficking in Jordan -- Third World Brain Drain

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Notes
The rise and Fall of the Republican Machine -- The Life of Chinese Peasants -- Labor, Environment, and the Global Electronics Industry

Names In the News


Book Notes

The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall
of the Republican Machine

By Matthew Continetti
New York: Doubleday, 2006
273 pages; $24.95

With the recent explosion of high-profile scandals in the Republican party, questions abound, and Republicans are providing few explanations. In his book The K Street Gang, conservative Matthew Continetti seeks to fill the void by providing a right-wing critique of Republican corruption and crime run amok.

In searing language, Continetti blames a handful of cynical lobbyists and political hacks for selling out the Republican Party for personal gain and creating a high-profile scandal. At the same time, he seeks to shield the party by arguing that these fiascos show what happens when wayward politicians abandon the Republican creed of smaller government in pursuit of money and power.

Continetti does not hide his enthusiasm for the 1994 “December revolution” which landed a Republican-led Congress and placed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. Continetti even describes himself as one of many young footsoldiers who, inspired by “the conservative movement,” came to Washington ready to translate ideology into action.

But Continetti argues that other young people rode this political wave for more self-serving ends. Young, opportunistic professionals flooded Washington ready to use the conservative movement to bolster their own careers and bank accounts. Continetti places convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Christian Coalition leader and lobbyist Ralph Reed and conservative strategist Grover Norquist in this unsavory crowd.

According to Continetti, the 1994 election of Tom DeLay to the position of House Majority Whip created the perfect opportunity for these ambitious conservatives; DeLay “sought to move loyalists into key positions in the lobbying industry, and thus strengthen his own political hand through their connections and donations.”

Continetti argues that DeLay, Abramoff, Reed, Norquist and their minions adopted the rhetoric of smaller government, while engineering the expansion of government through the creation of an efficient Republican lobbying machine, creating a culture of insiderism and greed.

In painstaking detail, Continetti walks the reader through various tales of how this corruption unfolded. He explains how Abramoff worked on behalf of the Northern Marianas Islands to fight against application of U.S. labor laws, even though products made there are labeled as “Made in the USA.” He reports on a plethora of unsavory connections made between lobbyists and politicians to enrich each other at the taxpayer’s expense. And he goes into the now famous Indian gaming scandals.

Yet, for all of his criticism of lobbyist corruption, Continetti starkly rejects most post-Abramoff scandal attempts at reform. He contends that government reforms and regulations, in restricting the maneuvering room for politicians, simply increase their dependence on lobbyists to raise funds. Indeed, Continetti blames preceding reforms and regulations for the current climate of corruption and greed in Washington.

For Continetti, political power will never keep corruption at bay, because power itself — at least governmental power — corrupts. He claims that the only way to ward off lobbyist power is to reduce the size of government, so there is less for the lobbyists to fight over. Others, of course, may draw different conclusions from the sad tales he recounts.

— Sarah Lazare

Will the Boat Sink the Water?
The Life of Chinese Peasants

By Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao
New York: Public Affairs, 2006
229 pages; $25.00

Will the Boat Sink the Water? reads like a Chinese folk tale. In a book banned in China that reportedly went on to sell 10 million illegal copies, investigative reporters Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao undertake what they call “literary reportage.” The result is a shocking and eye-opening page-turner.

Part of the reason the book reads like a folk tale is its literary style, with invocations of folk wisdom and old Chinese sayings, and the structure of its story-telling.

But much of the folk tale feel is that the stories recounted in the book seem characteristic not of a purportedly Communist country, nor of one that in practice is embracing its own particular form of exploitative capitalism. Rather, they seem straight out of a feudal era, with criminal tax collectors and petty bureaucrats stealing the last yuan from desperately poor peasants.

Yet the stories are based on fact, not fiction. Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao say they interviewed thousands of peasants in more than 50 villages and towns in Anhui Province.

One of the book’s profiles of abuse involves Gao Village, and its chief Gao Xuewen. The story begins with Gao Xuewen confronting Granny Gao, who objected to his imposing a double tax on the site of her house. A brief excerpt conveys the rhythm of the book:

Granny wanted to get the matter cleared up once and for all. “Last year,” she reminded him, “ I paid 110 yuan, and you said that I was in the clear. Why are you here again?”

Village Chief Gao, losing patience, raised his voice. “Paid. To whom?”

Granny had long been upset by the village cadres’ practice of making a scrawl on a scrap of paper instead of giving a proper receipt for payments. So she retorted, “ I paid it to the star of the night. You should know that.”

Village Chief Gao did not expect to be rebuffed by an old granny. He took a step back and looked the old woman up and down as if not quite believing his eyes. Then he stepped up to the frail old lady and issued an ultimatum: “Pay up, or accept the consequences.”

He then slapped her, and ransacked the house, as villagers stood by and watched. He followed up by calling in security forces. The villagers were able to surround and shame some security forces from arrests. But an enhanced force returned — who villagers thought would be sympathetic, but instead did Chief Gao’s bidding — arresting her and her extended family, as well as dozens of others in the village who had had the temerity to challenge one or another of the chief’s impositions. This operation was executed in the guise of a crackdown on an “antitax armed uprising.” As the story unfolds further, two peasants in particular seek to stand up to the village chief, but end up paying a very high price — one arrested and broken, the other apparently able to escape capture or abuse, only to see his son viciously beaten.

The authors make clear their view that, in many ways, life has been a constant for China’s rural poor, from the period of empires past through Mao’s rule and to the present. But they also explain that, in many ways, matters have gotten worse since China embarked on its path of capitalist reform. Particularly, they argue, the rural bureaucracy expanded, and with it incessant demands for taxes and corrupt payments.

Following the reforms of the 1980s, 56,000 people’s communes were disbanded and replaced by 92,000 townships. “Following this organizational change, the collective nature of the people’s communes was rolled back. The expansion of the newly created townships added greatly to the peasants’ burden. … Taxes and management fees paid by enterprises, donations and funds for township projects, as well as other income from various fines and payments were now controlled by the township.” Hundreds of new taxes were imposed. The bureaucracy ballooned — with the bureaucrat-peasant ratio growing by more than a third between 1987 and 1998. And peasants suffered from the “proliferation of fines, payments and extortion under various pretexts.”

The result, according to the authors, was that the benefits of agricultural reform, which they applaud, were to a considerable extent eroded by the demands of the mushrooming, corrupt bureaucracy.

— Robert Weissman

Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental
Justice in the Global Electronics Industry

By Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld
and David Naguib Pellow
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006
357 pages; $25.95

“Of the millions of words written over the past several decades about the electronics industry’s incredible transformation of our world, far too few have addressed the downsides of this revolution.” So begins Challenging the Chip, a poignant exposé of the environmental, public health and labor rights abuses of an industry that has come to symbolize progress and prosperity in the public eye. This broad anthology identifies the dark underbelly of the electronics revolution and seeks to ignite discussions between labor, environmentalist and human rights activists about how to address industry misconduct.

Challenging the Chip makes it resoundingly clear that this “clean industry” is neither clean nor safe. Electronics manufacturing utilizes over a thousand chemicals, many of which have harmful effects. Many workers are exposed to these dangerous chemicals without being told by their employers that they are being put at risk. And the exposures cause many to develop cancer, have miscarriages and give birth to babies with tumors.

Workers also face exploitative conditions. Many electronics laborers in developing countries do not have the right to form a union; the mainly female work force must also contend with gender discrimination and poor wages.

The industry’s deleterious effects extend beyond the factories into surrounding communities where people suffer from chemical exposure. This is a particular problem in developing countries, which are the recipients of electronics waste from all over the world.

Efforts to address the industry’s problems face many challenges. Since the 1980s, electronics production networks have become more complex and decentralized. At the same time, corporate globalization has allowed high-tech companies to shop around for subcontractor manufacturing locations with the lowest labor and environmental standards. This combination has extended the reach of the electronics industry while diminishing its accountability for the environmental and social problems it creates.

Despite this grim reality, the pages of this book are filled with hope. Grassroots environmental activists and labor organizers tell of campaigns to improve working conditions and decrease harm to the environment, some of which have enjoyed astounding success. There is a particular emphasis on campaigns advocating “extended producer responsibility,” or the principle that companies should take responsibility for the social and environmental effects of the full life cycles of their products, including production and disposal.

The anthology format of this book integrates multiple voices and perspectives to provide an accessible explanation of a complex issue. While at first the articles seem to jump from topic to topic, once the final page is turned, all of the pieces come together, leaving the reader with a well-rounded understanding of challenges and struggles in the global electronics industry.

— Sarah Lazare

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