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News » Private Eye

Greece Meets West

Corruption here, there, everywhere



I haven’t written a column in a couple of weeks. In my absence, the columnist-topic pinsetters have been busy setting up wacky story after wacky story—this is Utah, after all, magnetic true north for all things weird. Plus, even though the presidential election is a year away, our news is full of political drama on the national level. Not to mention that my favorite foreign land, Greece, is raising hell with the world economy. Not bad for a country that has roughly the same number of citizens as the Chicago metro area, but fewer than the Los Angeles or New York City metro areas. A modern-day David and Goliath, it is.

If it’s any solace to the Occupy folks in the United States, Greece, too, is a country with the top percentage of its population controlling a vast amount of its wealth. Forget, for a moment, how it got to be this way, starting with broken promises by the Western Allies dating to the 1920s, which ultimately filled Greek cities with refugees, or how Germany ran off with billions—still unpaid—taken from Greek banks in World War II. Also forget that along the way, a certain number of Greek politicians became increasingly greedy and malicious, selling their own people downstream for a Swiss bank account and a nice home in the a-List Athens suburb of Kifisia. Forget also that the systemic corruption and tax avoidance of Greece’s wealthiest citizens devolved into nearly everyone hiding income in favor of a black-market economy.

One could see specks of what would come starting several years back as the marches, strikes and protests grew larger, noisier, more dangerous and more commonplace. All across the United States, Occupy (and Tea Party) groups are taking similar courses—at the end of the day, I despise Mitt “Corporations are People” Romney while others despise the Obama presidency, but there’s common ground when we realize we get hammered either way. The questions are, how polite will both sides be, and for how long will they be considered fringe groups?

Greeks are years removed from taking it to the parks and peaceful marches. It’s an ugly scene, but if you’re watching closely, you know that among those folks throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails are not just students or anarchists, but people representative of a wide swath of the Greek citizenry—from shop owners to service providers to pensioners to government workers, health professionals and, without a doubt, some military.

What they are all saying is that they cannot be pushed any lower and that the people at the top must go—and swiftly. The people who run Greece, both politically and economically, are sacrificing the least, if at all: Modern Greece, meet Marie Antoinette.

When it comes to creating wealth disparities, the only fundamental difference between Greece and the United States is that here, we legislate ways for the wealthy—plus corporations—to avoid taxes, whereas in Greece, the wealthy simply create their own ways or bribe somebody. Those wealthy Greeks believe they are entitled, clever—and ingenious. Is wealth bad? No. Greed is. And in that category, the United States doesn’t lack for greedy citizens and politicians.

Archimedes, the ancient Greek credited with inventing the screw, couldn’t have imagined that his own ingenious tool for moving water would lend its name to what is happening to the decent and common people of Greece today—they’re getting screwed.

Outside of Greece, what else is happening? Well, there’s a nice legal battle brewing (no pun intended) on the Utah liquor front, for starters. I’ve been amazed and confounded by the miasma of Utah liquor laws since the day I turned 21 and became a bartender at the old Club 39 (now the northwest parking lot at St. Mark’s Hospital). I’ve commented on Utah liquor craziness for over 27 years via this newspaper. Just when you think you’ve seen the last bit of crazy legislation, another arises, even crazier.

The first time I was ever published was via a letter to the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, co-written by Lynn Hachmeister (who I think is still bartending at the Elks Club in Murray). Our letter was a diatribe about the silliness of Utah liquor laws of the time—well, the laws are still silly. They’re also more odious.

I can’t recall their particular names, but someone annually rose on what always seemed like the final day of the legislative session to present and magically pass the latest round of liquor laws. Every year was a new surprise. Every year, that legislator ran around saying he or she was getting drunks off the streets when, more often than not, the law did just the opposite. Every year, the LDS Church dusted off its annual statement that it had nothing to do with the new laws. Every year the rest of Utah said, “Yeah, right.”

Over time, three names have risen to the top as the most onerous, self-righteous, preachy, intolerant, I-wear-my-LDS-membership-on-my-sleeve, indignant, moralist, hopelessly blind do-gooders ever elected to the Utah Legislature. Yeah, that’s saying a lot, but Becky Lockhart, John Valentine and Michael Waddoups reign supreme at making laws predicated on their own ignorant biases. Valentine basically admitted during a radio interview on X96 that as a member of the religious majority, it’s quite OK to impose his beliefs on others.

Which might explain why some liquor-license applicants were denied licenses for over a year, but those wanting to move into the LDS-owned City Creek development were awarded them at first pass. Greece has financial corruption. Valentine, et al., are morally corrupt. In the end, there’s no difference.

Twitter: @JohnSaltas