In a culture that exalts competition, cooperation is a means of achieving competitive advantage.
When money and politics meet, which is more often than not, the law tends to bend. An Associated Press article recounts the complex manipulations of two businessmen — George Nader and Elliot Broidy — who have not only engaged in shameless corruption and influenced national politics, but, in so doing, have dramatically increased the chances of a new war in the Middle East.
We learn from the article that “Broidy pleaded guilty to a felony charge of rewarding official misconduct” in 2009 but that “[t]hree years later, Broidy’s conviction was knocked down to a misdemeanor after he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pay back the $18 million to the state.”
Here is today’s 3D definition as applied to the US justice system:
For people with means, offer a bribe to reduce the consequences of a previous bribe. For the poor, admit guilt to a less serious crime even when innocent of any crime.
Incontestably both guilty and rich, Broidy combined both advantages, allowing him to go on to meet greater challenges.
The actual “cooperation agreement” signed by the special deputy attorney general for public integrity offers a blueprint showing how legal corruption is built into the justice system.
The first item to notice (in paragraph 6): “[C]ooperation” has a fixed value in this contract. “Broidy agrees to pay $18 million in stipulated forfeiture.” Our 3D definition of stipulated forfeiture is “hard cash.” We then learn how it will be distributed, “as though the Attorney General’s office had prevailed upon a forfeiture action.” In other words, it’s a fictional procedure officially modifying the nature of events in the past. What better way to illustrate the power of money?
In paragraph 7, we discover the true punishment, which doesn’t include time in prison. Broidy is barred from signing contracts with the state of New York for five years, after which he could renew his shady activities with New York, knowing in the meantime that there are 49 other states he could fleece. The punishment applies even more to the corrupt officials who had to accept to forfeit their habitual kickbacks from Broidy for a full five years.
In paragraph 8, we discover the specious legal justification for this flagrant sale of leniency for $18 million. Broidy must disclose all information he has on “criminal conduct whatsoever.” Informer, spy, call him what you will. The $18 million he handed over dispensed him from taking that clause seriously.
We also learn, in the form of a prediction worthy of Nostradamus, “Broidy shall commit no further crimes,” which is another way of saying, “People of your status can commit crimes until there comes a point when you may be expected to stop.”
Broidy’s agreement demonstrates how the American justice system developed a sophisticated culture of superficial cooperation called plea bargaining. It was designed to avoid the cost and complication of a jury trial — guaranteed by the constitution — as well as a means of persuading lesser criminals to testify against their superiors. Essentially it consists of a form of pretrial negotiation, which could be called cooperation but often resembles a form of blackmail. In a nation and culture that, as a matter of principle, prefer competition to cooperation and function according to the unstated rule that everything has a price, money and power relationships consistently take precedence over even the cleverest pragmatic strategy.
Some observers have pointed out that one of the standard consequences of the plea bargain ritual is that poor defendants will accept a plea bargain even when they know they are innocent, simply because they can’t afford the legal fees necessary to prove their innocence or they know that because of their race or status they will not be taken seriously. It turns into a system that puts a lot of innocent people in prison, in turn creating a need for more prisons, which have been increasingly farmed out to the private sector in the US and function as sources of profit for their owners, who sometimes even make campaign contributions to elected judges and politicians.
In Broidy’s case, the gains from his myriad activities — both legal and criminal — ensured that he could pay his way toward leniency. By thus avoiding the humiliation of a long prison term, he was free to use his talent and connection to help Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia move closer to a future war with Iran. In this case, corruption doesn’t only drain resources from the community; it serves to promote disastrous, murderous foreign policy, as well as dramatically distort the geopolitical landscape.
But what else would you expect in the age of the “art of the deal”?
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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