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0844 Dealing With Corrupt Officials

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 844: Dealing with Corrupt Officials.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 844. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development, as always, in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast. If you do, you’ll be able to download the Learning Guide for this episode, an eight to ten page guide we provide for all of our episodes that will help you improve your English faster than ever.

This episode is a dialog between Vera and Keigo about government officials, government workers, who aren’t honest. Let’s get started.

[start of dialog]

Vera: I can’t believe that Stan has been arrested. I know that he wasn’t always on the up-and-up, but he’s being accused of influence pedaling and taking bribes.

Keigo: Stan has been getting kickbacks for years. Everybody knew that if you wanted to get what you wanted from this department, you had to grease Stan’s palms. There isn’t a more corrupt official than Stan.

Vera: But he was always so nice to me.

Keigo: That was part of the problem. He was always good to his friends and family. That’s why he’s also known for his nepotism and cronyism. He gave friends and family plum jobs with big salaries. He had an entire good old boy network.

Vera: Do you really think he’ll go to jail?

Keigo: I’m sure of it. On second thought, if he can find a judge who’s on the take and is as corrupt as he is, he has a fighting chance.

[end of dialog]

Vera begins by saying, “I can’t believe that Stan has been arrested.” “To be arrested,” (arrested) means that the police take you from your home or your work, or wherever you are and bring you to a police station, usually because you have done something wrong. If you break a law, if you do something illegal, you can be arrested or taken by the police. Vera says, “I know that he wasn’t always on the up and up, but he’s being accused of influence peddling and taking bribes.” “On the up and up” is an expression meaning to be completely honest, not to be hiding anything, not to be lying or stealing. To be on the up and up – you’re being honest, you’re being sincere.

Vera says “Stan wasn’t always on the up and up,” meaning he wasn’t always honest, “but he’s being accused of influence peddling and taking bribes.” “To be accused of” something is for other people to say that you have done something wrong. The police say that you broke the law or your sister-in-law says that you didn’t wash the dishes as you had promised. You are being accused of something. Someone else is saying that you did something wrong.

Vera’s friend, I guess, Stan, is being accused of “influence peddling.” “Influence peddling” (peddling) is using your personal or professional connections with government officials – usually government officials, it could be other officials – in order to get them to make decisions that favor you. So, let’s say you own a large construction company. You build buildings. You build bridges and roads, and you have a friend who works for the government. Well, you take this friend to dinner, you, maybe, send him and his family on a vacation, you give him a new car, you’re trying to use your connection with that person to influence his decision, because he’s going to decide who gets the new government work, government contract, to work on, say, building a new road.

He gives you the contract because you have been using your influence, you have been influence peddling. “Influence peddling” doesn’t mean, in all cases, you’ve given the person money, however. If you give someone money, that’s called a “bribe” (bribe) which might be part of your influence peddling, I would suppose. A “bribe” is money given to someone illegally to do something or unethically, to do something. I should mention that the word “peddling” is from the verb “to peddle” which, in this case, means to sell. So, we talk about someone peddling something, we mean they’re out selling it, often on the street to people who are walking by. “Influence peddling” is, in a way, selling your influence, or using your influence to have a decision made in a certain way.

Keigo says, “Stan has been getting kickbacks for years.” “Kickbacks” (kickbacks) – one word – is money that you secretly pay someone in return for the help you got to sell something or to get a contract or to get an opportunity. Typically, a kickback is when, for example, I work for a bank, and I agree to give you a loan. I agree to give you money to help with your business but I say to you, “Well, if I give you this loan, you have to give me $500 – just me, not the bank.” In other words, you’re doing something that the bank isn’t giving you permission to do. That’s a kickback, when you ask for something back, usually, in a business transaction, in the case of buying or selling something.

Keigo says, “Everyone knew that if you wanted to get what you wanted from this department” – this government department – “you had to go grease Stan’s palms.” “To grease (grease) someone’s palms (palms)” means to give them a bribe. It’s an expression meaning to give money to someone illegally in order to get something done. So, if you give a government official money in order to get a contract or permission to do something, that would be greasing that person’s palms, whoever you gave the money to. Keigo says, “Everybody knew that if you wanted to get what you wanted from this department, you had to grease Stan’s palms. There isn’t a more corrupt official than Stan.” “Corrupt” (corrupt) is dishonest, someone who, for example, takes money, takes bribes, in exchange for certain favors, certain influence. That would be a corrupt official, a corrupt leader.

Vera says, “But he was always so nice to me.” Keigo says, “That was part of the problem. He was always good to his friends and family. That’s why he’s also known for his nepotism and cronyism.” “Nepotism” (nepotism) means giving jobs to your family members, especially government jobs. “Nepotism” is illegal in most places. You can’t just give your brother a job if you work in the government, because he’s your brother. If he’s the most qualified or best person, then that might be okay. “Nepotism,” however, is giving your close family members, your brother-in-law, your sister-in-law, your cousin, a job in, typically, the government, although it might be in another organization.

“Cronyism” (cronyism) means doing the same thing but for your friends; that is, giving jobs to your friends or other people because they are your friends, not because they are good at what they do. So “nepotism” is what we would call favoritism for your relatives. “Cronyism” is favoritism for your friends. “Favoritism” means giving favors or doing something good for that person just because they have that certain connection.

Keigo says, “He gave friends and family plum jobs with big salaries.” A “plum (plum) job” is a very desirable job, a well-paying job, a good job, one of the best jobs in the organization. “Plum” is a fruit that you eat – I have to think, yes, plum is a fruit that you eat from a tree. But the expression “plum job” means a very good job.

Keigo says, “He had an entire good old boy network.” The expression “good old boy” is one that refers to a group of, typically, men who have very strong personal and professional relationships and usually, when there is something to be done, they give that work to people in their own group. The word “network” just means a group of people. Usually, when we say a “good old boy network,” we mean a group of white men who are not allowing women or those who are minorities to be part of their circle and to get the same kind of treatment as those in their own “good old boy network.”

Vera says, “Do you really think he’ll go to jail?” We’re talking about Stan here. “Jail” (jail) is the same as prison. Keigo says, “I’m sure of it.” Then he says, “On second thought, if he can find a judge who’s on the take and is as corrupt as he is, he has a fighting chance.” “On second thought” is a phrase we use when we want to change our opinion, change something about what we just said. So, Keigo starts by saying that he’s sure that Stan will go to jail, then he changes his opinion. He says, “On second thought, if he can find a judge who is on the take and is as corrupt as he is, he has a fighting chance.” “To be on the take” (take) means that you are receiving bribes, that people are paying you money illegally to do things. “To have a fighting chance” means that there is a possibility of you winning. It’s going to be difficult but it is possible. What Keigo was saying here is that if Stan can find another government official, a judge, who will accept bribes, he might be able to avoid going to jail.

Now let’s listen to the dialog, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialog]

Vera: I can’t believe that Stan has been arrested. I know that he wasn’t always on the up-and-up, but he’s being accused of influence pedaling and taking bribes.

Keigo: Stan has been getting kickbacks for years. Everybody knew that if you wanted to get what you wanted from this department, you had to grease Stan’s palms. There isn’t a more corrupt official than Stan.

Vera: But he was always so nice to me.

Keigo: That was part of the problem. He was always good to his friends and family. That’s why he’s also known for his nepotism and cronyism. He gave friends and family plum jobs with big salaries. He had an entire good old boy network.

Vera: Do you really think he’ll go to jail?

Keigo: I’m sure of it. On second thought, if he can find a judge who’s on the take and is as corrupt as he is, he has a fighting chance.

[end of dialog]

Our scriptwriter is a very honest person, always on the up and up. That’s our wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again, please, here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to arrest – for the police to take someone to a police station because they think he or she has done something that breaks a law

* Did you hear that Veronica was arrested for drunk driving?

on the up-and-up – completely honest, sincere, and straightforward; not sneaky and without hiding anything

* Damian is always on the up-and-up and never lies about anything.

to be accused of – for other people to say that one has done something wrong or illegal, possibly without proof

* When Victor started doing better on tests, he was accused of cheating.

influence pedaling – using one’s personal and professional connections to get government officials or other important decision-makers to make decisions that benefit oneself, especially financially

* How could he have gotten the government contract if it weren’t for influence peddling?

bribe – money paid to someone illegally or unfairly to make something happen that will benefit oneself

* The police officer was going to give her a ticket for speeding, but she offered him a bribe and he changed his mind.

kickback – money that is paid to someone secretly in return for the help received to sell something or to get a contract or opportunity

* The mayor almost lost his job for accepting kickbacks on the bridge construction project.

to grease (someone’s) palms – to give someone a bribe; to give money to someone illegally so that he or she will help one receive a benefit

* The journalists reported that prisoners have been greasing the guards’ palms for years.

corrupt – dishonest; not ethical or fair

* The poor people in this community should be receiving hundreds of dollars in aid, but corrupt officials are taking the money for themselves.

nepotism – favoritism for one’s relatives, especially giving jobs to family members when other people are more qualified or more deserving

* When Gregory’s son became vice-president of the family business with only a few months of experience, it was a clear example of nepotism.

cronyism – favoritism for one’s friends, especially giving jobs to friends when other people are more qualified or more deserving

* After years of cronyism, almost all the employees were Jill’s friends from college, but most of them were not qualified for their job.

plum job – a job that is very desirable, enjoyable, and well-paying

* How did she get such a plum job right after she graduated? Most people have to work for years before they get an opportunity like that.

good old boy network – a group of men who have strong personal and professional relationships with each other and give each other opportunities that are not available to other people, particularly women or minorities

* Whenever John’s business faces a problem, he turns to his good old boy network for advice and assistance.

jail – prison; a place where people are kept as punishment after they are found guilty of a having broken the law

* Is it fair for a young man to spend 25 years in jail for something he did while he was still a teenager?

on second thought – a phrase used when one wants to change or clarify the opinion that one has just stated

* Sure, my husband can help you move the piano. On second thought, he hurt his back last week and might not be much help until he’s better.

on the take – receiving bribes; taking payments in exchange for helping something else; benefitting financially from doing something that is unethical or dishonest

* What percentage of contractors are on the take?

to have a fighting chance – to have a possibility of winning; for something to be possible, but difficult

* Harvey doesn’t have a fighting chance of getting on a professional team, but he is determined to play football anyway.

Comprehension Questions
1. What kind of jobs did Stan give to his friends and family?
a) Really good jobs that paid well.
b) Jobs in the fruit-packing industry.
c) Very simple jobs that didn’t require experience.

2. What does Keigo mean when he says that Stan “has a fighting chance”?
a) Stan will have to fight very hard in court.
b) Stan might be able to avoid jail.
c) Stan could use violence to win.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to arrest

The verb “to arrest,” in this podcast, means for the police to take someone to a police station because they think he or she has done something that breaks a law: “Wendy was arrested during the demonstration, but she was released within a few hours because she hadn’t done anything wrong.” The phrase “house arrest” refers to the limitations placed on a person who stays in his or her home instead of a jail, but is not allowed to leave: “How do law enforcement officers monitor people who are on house arrest?” Finally, the verb “to arrest” also means to make something stop happening: “Physical abuse can arrest a child’s emotional development.” Or, “Police are doing everything they can to arrest drug sales in this neighborhood.”

on the take

In this podcast, the phrase “on the take” means receiving bribes or taking payments in exchange for helping something else: “Iago made millions of dollars while he was on the take as a city employee.” The phrase “(one’s) take on (something)” means one’s opinion about something: “What’s your take on the new proposal?” A “double take” describes one looking at something or someone again because one is very surprised by what one has seen or heard: “When Kari said that, it gave us all a double take.” Finally, the phrase “give-and-take” describes a compromise or a situation where each person does something that the other person wants and receives part of what he or she wants: “A strong marriage requires a lot of give-and-take.”

Culture Note
The Whistleblower Protection Act

A “whistleblower” is someone who tells the media or the public about something wrong or dishonest that a company, government agency, or individual has done, especially when the action is against the law. Whistleblowers might be so “shocked” (surprised in a negative way) by what they have “witnessed” (seen or heard) that they want the rest of the world to know about it. But “blowing the whistle” (telling the truth about some hidden, dishonest activity) can be “risky” (with danger) for the whistleblower. Often whistleblowers risk losing their job or, in some cases, could even be “putting their life in danger” (doing something that brings a risk of death).

Whistleblowers “commonly” (often; typically) come forward to share information about illegal actions or the acceptance of bribes. In some cases, they are reporting about a “waste” (poor use) of “funds” (money). Other whistleblowers are sharing information about “safety code” (rules designed to keep people safe) “violations” (rule-breaking) that “endangers” (puts in danger) public health.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is a law that protects whistleblowers to “encourage” (help something to happen) to “come forward” (tell the truth when it is difficult or dangerous to do so). Any “authority” (person or organization with power) that “threatens” (says that something bad will happen; warns) to “take action against” (do something negative to) a whistleblower is violating the law.

However, even when the law is “enforced” (making people follow a law) as it should be, the whistleblower is in a difficult situation. The company or agency might not be allowed to tell the whistleblower to leave, but the workplace is probably an uncomfortable environment for anyone who has “tattled on” (said that someone has done something wrong) colleagues.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b