Crooked Culture

Israeli media and society in general like to use the phrase ‘medina metukenet’, which can be loosely translated as ‘a well-run / law-abiding country’. This phrase is frequently used with reference to Western countries, often with the object of contrasting, implicitly or explicitly, between Israel and these supposed paragons of civic virtue. Immigrants from Western countries also frequently indulge in this kind of comparison, albeit using different terminology.

One of the champions in the ‘medinot metukanot’ league is Great Britain. However, the Brits have had a bad week, providing considerable further evidence that the former global empire and mandatory power in this country and the Mother of Parliaments is not merely NOT a role model for aspiring ‘well-run countries’, but is rather a corrupt and fraud- ridden society in rapid and potentially terminal decline. However and in fairness, I must add that there is nothing unique, or even special, about the issues that dominated the mainstream media news headlines this week in the UK. They all exist in other countries, often in even greater measure. But having been directly exposed to the British developments, I will relate to them, leaving other model nations for another day.

Three entirely different stories of widespread and/or deeply-entrenched criminality and/or corruption chased each other across the print, screen and virtual headlines in the space of a few days.

First up was the kind of common or garden expose of the corrupt culture of one Britain’s largest banks, namely Barclays. The BBC’s ‘Panorama’ investigative program shone a bright light onto the bank and its rescue from nationalization by the government in the darkest days of the financial crisis of 2008. It revealed that the rescuer was not merely a very rich scion of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, but that the legal buyer of Barclay’s shares was an entity owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. This was not what Barclays had told the public and its shareholders at the time or subsequently. Furthermore, the program claimed — and cited sources inside and outside the bank in support — the key motivation behind this effort on the part of the bank’s senior management was to ensure the survival og the practice of paying hefty bonuses to the staff and totally obscene ones to the top cats.

An exhaustive piece of financial forensic analysis revealed that the former CEO, Bob Diamond, received a total of 120 million pounds over his sixteen- year career with the bank. Diamond was forced to resign last year when it was revealed that Barclays had been a participant in the LIBOR scandal in which leading global banks systematically rigged the London Interbank Offered rate, widely considered the most important rate of interest in the global financial market.

But the public is sated with scandals involving banks that show these institutions to be run not with prudence and caution, as befits repositories of the public’s money and trust, but rather as gambling joints in which greedy and arrogant managers played with other people’s money to feather their own nests. That perhaps explains the enthusiastic reception given to Barclay’s new CEO, Antony Jenkins, who this week presented his new strategy for the bank, which basically promised to return it to its roots as a solid financial institution, whilst steering clear of the racy and naughty stuff.

The banks are not the only key pillar of societal functioning to have lost the confidence of thegeneral public — indeed, to be perceived as not only incompetent, but crooked to boot. The UK’s National Health Service was also regarded as a model for the provision of universal health services in a professional and empathetic framework. That the NHS is in terrible financial trouble is not news at all, but the revelations that one regional Hospital Trust effectively collapsed, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients — and that senior management systematically prevent their staff from reporting or revealing these kinds of horrors when they occur and pursue those who do with legal and monetary measures — is a disaster of a different and much more profound sort.

But the scandal that is new, huge in size and scope, and therefore rightfully perceived as “breathtaking” is the one developing from the revelations regarding the processed food sector — primarily, so far, the meat sector. It would appear that many products marketed as beef in fact contained large quantities, or were entirely made from, horse meat. The scandal broke only because some of this stuff was found to be tainted, forcing the inspectorate and the supermarkets to withdraw the products in question.

However, it is already clear that this steeplechase is going to be long and have many hurdles. Already, the trail stretches to Romania and Bulgaria, which are being fingered as the source of the problem. That may prove to be the case in the narrowest sense, but as the public concern forces the investigation to spread, it will encompass many companies in many countries and, so it is feared, will reveal that fraudulent labeling is commonplace, if not actually the norm, while that the culprits are not petty criminals but rather organized crime rings. Whether the biggest food producing companies were complicit and how much the giant retail food chains and supermarkets knew are going to be key ingredients in this smelly stew.

Your money, your health, your food. The British public, as well as their peers across Europe,can no longer delude themselves that the institutions that provide these key products and services can be trusted or relied on for even the most basic issues of telling the truth and concerning themselves with the interest and well-being of their customers. That is a systemic societal collapse, if ever there was one.

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