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One of Brian’s Favorite Quotes

There’s the country of America, which you have to defend, but there’s also the idea of America.  America is more than just a country, it’s an idea.  An idea that’s supposed to be contagious.”
— Bono (1960– )
 Oprah Winfrey Show, 2002

Corruption and the Citizen, American-Style

I have long nurtured this thoroughly
depressing conviction that the United States, far from being a shining
city on the hill, has become one of the most corrupt of nations.
Why does America have more lawyers than the rest of the world combined?

It is because the corruption has been institutionalized at every level
of political life and is protected by laws and procedures created
precisely
to enable elites to maintain dominance over the rest of us.
I appreciate that my viewpoint may be regarded as somewhat simplistic
as I am neither a judge nor a lawyer, and I do concede that many of
those
in the legal profession are both honest and dedicated to the
Constitution. Still, the bad taste of the past 11 years continues to
remind
me that there is something seriously wrong with how our political
system and rule of law operate.

Take, for example, the issues of lobbying
and political contributions. Lobbying, which essentially consists
of advocacy on behalf of groups that promote their own interests at
others’ expense, is legal and even encouraged at the federal, state, and
local levels in the United States.
It distorts the perception of the public interest and lines
the pockets of both the lobbyists and those who possess the
resources to commission the lobbying. The politicians who are
corrupted are frequently rewarded after their terms of office expire.
Lobbying rarely serves the people of the United States, and in many
parts
of the world it would be regarded as what it in fact is — a particularly

pervasive form of political corruption.

And then there is the corruption of
the system caused by the perceived need by politician-aspirants to raise
vast sums of money to get nominated and elected to office. Once
in office, the politicians reward their financial supporters, awarding
ambassadorships at the top end, providing patronage-level government
jobs lower down the food chain, and relying on earmarks to generate
returns in a more direct fashion. Does anyone seriously think
the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s funding of Republican presidential
candidate Newt Gingrich with tens of millions of dollars is disinterested?
Adelson is a passionate Israel-firster, so much so that he has said he is ashamed of having served in the
U.S. Army and would prefer to have the Israeli Defense Forces on his resumé.
Gingrich is his man because Adelson perceives that Newt will do Israel’s
bidding in the Middle East. It is as simple as that. Rick
Santorum is likewise largely funded by multi-millionaire Foster Friess,
who recently described the best method of birth control as an aspirin
placed between a woman’s knees. He will no doubt cash in his
markers if the nomination and electoral process are successful for his
candidate.

And as for the impartiality and “blindness”
of the law, fuggedaboutit. Repeated attempts to get the Israeli
lobby AIPAC to register as an agent of a foreign power, as required
by law, have failed because the Justice Department refuses to do what
is right when confronted by a powerful constituency, no matter how strong
the case against it may be. Or if you or I were to
go to our neighbor’s house, tie him to a board, and force water up
his nose until he thinks that he is drowning, we would be sent to jail
for many years. But when the government does the same thing, the
White House gives the perpetrators a pass, even though the activity
is clearly illegal under international law and according to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory. The
entire matter is brushed off, with the president and attorney general
claiming in a high-minded fashion that they are looking forward rather
than backward, a convenient subterfuge to hide behind when not enforcing
the law of the land.

And if you are the government and want
to kill an American citizen without any due process and without any
regard for the Bill of Rights, you get an obliging Justice Department
lawyer to draft a memo. If you want to pluck someone out of
his home and send him to a military prison for the remainder of his
days without any recourse or appeal, you insert language into a defense
appropriation act that is then dutifully passed by Congress and becomes
law. If you choose to stage a lethal drone attack on a country
with which you are not at war, you declare it a “constabulary” action.
All legal and neat. Obama and Holder’s condoning criminality
has apparently morphed out of the change that some believed in back
in 2008, and, quite frankly, we the people have been shafted by the lies

of yet another slick politician aided and abetted by a corrupt and venal
Congress.

You might consider challenging
the government on some of these issues in court, right?
That is why we have an independent judiciary, isn’t it? But
you can forget about that, because even if your case surmounts the hurdles
to get into a courtroom, the Justice Department can cite the state-secrets
privilege to derail your efforts, whether or not anything that is actually
secret is about to be revealed. Obama has already cited the privilege more frequently than George W. Bush did in his eight years
in office.

So the question becomes, why do the
American people put up with the venality and outright criminality that
seem to have become part and parcel of our polity? Well, it could
easily be argued that most Americans have been sold a bill of goods
and, in exchange for material comforts and empty assurances, are
quite comfortable in having their liberties stripped from them.

I have recently finished a fascinating
book relating to the rise to power of former Italian Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi. The book, The Liberty of Servants: Berlusconi’s
Italy
, is by Maurizio Viroli, who teaches politics at Princeton University.
Viroli’s arguments about what has happened in Italy and
how it developed culturally and politically resonated with me and made
much clearer the genesis of the political malaise that has engulfed
the United States.

Viroli explains that there are two
types of liberty. Given Italy’s historical and social context,
he describes them as the liberty of the servant and the liberty of the
citizen. In the United States, given our own history, it might
be more appropriate to refer to them as the citizen and the slave.
The slave or the servant might believe that he leads an enviable life
if he has a good master who only beats him occasionally. He may
have food, drink, a place to sleep, and freedom to do what he wishes.
But what makes him a servant or a slave is his unwillingness to address
his fundamental condition, that someone else has absolute power over
him and can do anything he wants at any time and for any or no reason.

In the modern context, a citizen of
a state can have what he thinks to be considerable freedom in his daily
life, but he will frequently fail to understand that he lacks real freedom.
Viroli calls it trading political liberty for private freedom. The freedom
that the slave possesses is an illusion, sometimes derived from a situation
that Viroli describes as a “veiled tyranny.” In a veiled tyranny,
the government takes office through legal or constitutional means but
gradually subverts the checks and balances that prevent it from behaving
arbitrarily. If the government is a good one, respectful of individual
rights and mindful of its limitations, there will be a constitution
in place that protects one from arbitrary rule or
capricious behavior by officials.

The constitution also protects the
individual from mob rule, since in a pure democracy
unchecked by constitutional restraints a majority can always vote in
laws that diminish the rights of the minority and that can lead to
autocratic rule. The constitutional system breaks down when an
individual (Berlusconi in the case of Italy) or a bipartisan system
of control (in the case of the United States) disregards the rules that it is
supposed to play by and becomes powerful enough to either ignore or
change the laws to its advantage and to the disadvantage of the average
citizen. This is precisely what has occurred in the United States
over the past 11 years, with an over-mighty executive completely
shifting the power relationship between the government and those who
are governed and passing laws that constantly erode the rights of the
individual. We the people now have little real power even if every
two years we are allowed to choose between two different forms of the
same despotism at the ballot box.

Viroli’s proposed solution for Italy,
a revival of civic sense and responsibility, is not exactly the formula
that would work for a larger and more diverse nation like the United
States. Here the problem is rooted in money, power relationships,
and the misguided belief that the law is somehow impartial and the government
not oppressive. Voters inhabit a comfort zone in which they have
material wealth but no real say in what happens in their lives. They
think they are free because they can choose from many brands of cereal
and flat-screen televisions, but their liberty is an illusion, the freedom
of a slave for all its emoluments. Reading the Constitution of
the United States and the Federalist Papers tells one what the liberty
of a citizen should be, as part of an engaged people that understands that citizenship
entails duties and responsibilities as well as benefits. Thomas
Jefferson said that “Every generation [of Americans] needs
a new revolution.” The American people must be prepared to defend
to the death their rights against all comers, including their own government.

Read more by Philip Giraldi



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