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Corruption in Government Starts at the Bottom
It makes our foreign policy incoherent
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I recently had an interesting lunch with a foreign academic who is in the US on a one year sabbatical to study how the political process in Washington shapes foreign policy. She asked me why the United States has a foreign policy that does not appear to serve actual US interests, citing the recent drive to revive the Cold War and to bomb Iran over a weapons program that it does not actually have. The question led to a discussion of how corruption works in the world’s oldest constitutional republic. I explained that money has corrupted every aspect of government at every level in the United States, creating a system in which laws are passed to make various forms of corruption legal rather than trying to have government do things that actually benefit most of the people. The United States has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined because what is “legal” becomes a substitute for what is “responsible or accountable” even though they are not the same, meaning that the interaction of government with its citizenry is now framed purely in terms of what people are and are not allowed to do.

We both noted the perfectly legal lobbying that is a huge industry in the United States, though many would regard it as the worst possible case of institutionalized corruption as it serves special interests that profit from the process and does nothing for the broader public interest. I recalled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who broke numerous electoral laws in his country on his way to being elected prime minister in 2001. After he won he passed retroactive laws legalizing what had once been illegal. Five years later he was overthrown by a military coup and retired to Dubai to avoid prosecution. His sister is now prime minister. The Bush and Obama Administrations couldn’t have managed it any better, though the preferred method in Washington is for the Justice Department to protect insiders by refusing to prosecute their criminal behavior, as it has done with both Wall Street and the CIA torturers.

The rot starts with the bipartisan dominance of what passes for political process in the United States. The vetting process managed by the two parties and their batteries of lawyers coupled with large cash flows from special interests means that challenging the status quo is well-nigh impossible. The certain winner of an upcoming primary election here in northern Virginia to replace a retiring congressman was promoted by the local GOP machine and received endorsements from John Bolton, Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. Indeed, while it was possible to find a candidate who claimed that disabled children are God’s punishment for having had an abortion and that incest can be “voluntary” it was impossible to find any one of the six aspirants who was in favor of a non-interventionist foreign policy because there was no one who would dare to take such a position. Each instead boasted of his or her commitment to national security and defense, shorthand for big budgets and aggressiveness overseas. So if you want to know why Washington pursues policies that do not serve any conceivable national interests you only have to look at the bottom level where the voter has, in reality, no choice because he is only offered a cookie cutter politician.

The failure of the Tea Party movement perfectly illustrates the problem. Voters eventually become so upset with the status quo that they lash out and even sometimes organize to change things. In the case of the Tea Party, they initially demanded smaller, more responsible government, constitutionalism and an end to America’s perpetual wars, surely all positive objectives. So what happened? The Tea Party was hijacked and then subsumed into the Republican Party while its leadership came to be defined by folks like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Michelle Bachmann and Marco Rubio. Ron Paul’s non-interventionist legacy was conveniently forgotten and replaced by traditional GOP across the board bellicosity while small government became focused on one issue only, Obamacare, a partisan political wedge issue unaccompanied by any plan to actually help people who are uninsured. And there is no balanced budget in sight as nearly everyone now calling himself or herself a Tea Partier actually de facto believes in more government. The Constitution, meanwhile, is a little red book printed by the Cato Institute that is passed out by those seeking office though no one is required to read it.

Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson epitomizes the corruption that money brings. GOP presidential wannabes lined up to kiss his ring recently in Las Vegas, with Chris Christie notoriously apologizing when he misspoke by saying “occupied territories” in his description of what are undeniably occupied territories. The craven pandering by the GOP stalwarts should have disqualified all of them from the holding of high office, but no doubt we will be seeing them again in 2016. And Adelson is not alone in using money to buy access which in turn becomes the power to influence or even write policies, he is just more blatant about it. He is above all an Israel Firster who wants to elect a president who will support attacking and even nuking Iran.

Could it happen? Almost certainly. If his preferred candidate in 2012 Mitt Romney had actually been elected we might well be at war in the Middle East right now.

Adelson, with a fortune estimated to be in the \$39 billion range, largely derived from gambling, is at the top of the food chain and is unfortunately able to influence national policies but the cancer in the system exists at all levels. On top of my local congressman-to-be being yet another foreign policy hawk, I also have to suffer from local policies that impact on me negatively but which produce large profits for those who are wired into the political system and have their lawyers standing by to back them up. My county in Virginia pays a billionaire sports team owner \$2 million to market his business, claiming that his training facility brings in tourist revenue, though no one has ever been able to demonstrate just how that works or whether it is really true or not as all the concessions are actually run by the team itself.

In America, what is technically legal and what wired-in folks can get away with will almost always triumph over what is responsible and accountable. My county is also paying for an extension of the Washington metro system. Public transportation, sounds good, doesn’t it? But the reality is that only a very small percentage of the country’s population will use the system and the big winners will be the monied interests who have bought up the land and will build a new “town center” around the station. There was considerable local opposition to the nearly \$300 million plus price tag, which everyone will have to pay though few will benefit, but the all-Republican board of supervisors voted for the plan anyway. I am sure that everyone reading this has knowledge of a similar “civic improvement scheme” in their municipality or county that will enrich some at the expense of many. Monied interests almost always win, just as we are seeing a frenzied rush for more fracking in spite of the serious environmental issues that the process brings with it. The frackers will also win as will the Keystone pipeline.

So it should be no surprise that “follow the money” beginning at the local level should extend to the formulation of US foreign policy, where money also talks. Adelson wants a war? He just might get it if he backs the right GOP horse. And don’t think for a second that a President Hillary will be any different. She also has monied interests behind her who wouldn’t mind seeing Iran get its comeuppance. Where is the peace candidate? Looking for money.

• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: Republicans, Sheldon Adelson 
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  1. Phil, ours is a system driven by money. My disappointment is that the good guys don’t find moneyed interests that can make a buck on peace, or limited government, or immigration restriction. Surely there must be an angle somewhere.

  2. All that I believed wholeheartedly in: truth, justice and the American way, have been so thoroughly betrayed. Not by foreign adversaries or fifth columnists, but by the especially avaricious among us, our senses dulled to the betrayal by our own complicity – whether we wield great influence or little.

  3. Another thing to consider is how a process of domestic governance so compromised could in any way effectively promote democracy around the world. Isn’t it far more likely that the corrupting influences would rather use that as a cover to promote seeking similar benefits and power for themselves worldwide? How democratically accountable can American government be to populations overseas who didn’t elect them, when as Phil Giraldi explains, democracy has been so effectively subverted here at home?

  4. KA says: • Website

    As long as rest of the world buys or is forced to buy dollar ,US is safe from internal trouble
    ,public discontent and unravelling of the society . Any level of corruption could be absorbed by the system. America will able to provide food and basic stuff like clothes and over the counter medicine and roof above the head.

  5. Art M says:

    The problem with this particular dissertation is that there is no sense of the questions being asked by the lady academic. Is she asking in a rhetorical sense? That would mean the answer to her rhetorical question must be somewhat obvious, and it is. The most obvious reason US foreign policy decisions do not appear “… to serve actual US interests” would most likely be the result of non-Americans dreaming up the decisions. Okay, just for fun (as it has no basis in reality) let’s say that each and everyone who has some input into US Foreign Policy decisions are true blue, super-vetted, honest to goodness red-blooded Americans, then the next most obvious answer to the rhetorical question is that some or all of these decision makers are allowing influences from outside the US to guide the decision making. The only other reasonable answer to the question might be: some or all of the Foreign Policy decision makers are just out and out whack-jobs, with brains burnt out by too much drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll, and therefore, as certifiably insane, manage to continue coming up with more and more insane ideas.

  6. Lingum says:

    IMHO, the 3 most salient events in our history:

    1) Genocide of Native Americans
    2) Slavery
    3) Appropriation of land from Mexico through war

    So what’s new?

  7. KA says: • Website

    Art M
    Can you try again please? You are no at all clear .

  8. Dave37 says:

    I don’t think anybody is happy with money influence in the US. On the other hand how does Putin stay in charge? Could the people of Iran elect anybody they want? There seems to me to be a lot of influential powers in elections everywhere. Personally the more money I see behind a canidate the more likely I am to vote for somebody else.

  9. “Personally the more money I see behind a canidate the more likely I am to vote for somebody else.”

    Good for you, but this is a duopoly system. You can vote for one candidate vetted by one set of oligarchs, or the other candidate similarly pre-approved.

  10. Dave37 says:

    May be a duopoly system but there are other parties besides the two. Just need enough people to get fed up with the two party system. Guess I’m an optimist.

  11. I take it for granted that political parties follow narrow interests and that these are driven by contributions and pressure groups. If those supporting the parties understand the play of such interests then all well and good. Not a perfect system but it worked.

    What we have now is a dystopic system in which;

    1. Too many people vote, including people who work for the government or are on welfare. We have extended the franchise to include various classes who know little and are dependent on the rest of us. They cannot prosper except at our expense.

    2. Our system of mass communications which must cater to the low mentality of a mass audience. It is inevitable that such a system devolve into a medium of propaganda for various moneyed factions.

    So instead of fewer voters, with knowledge of their enlightened self interest, say farmers, or merchants, we have masses of fools who vote for parties posing as their saviors while actuality their traducers.

    The Republican Party poses as the patriotic, traditionalistic party while serving the interests of cheap labor oligarchs, and the Israel lobby. They have no more sympathy for the general public than they have for the Guatemalans who tend their lawns.

    The Democratic Party pretends to support working families while attacking the very notion of family. They too seek to import cheap labor to compete with the very voters who keep them in office.

    Ordinary Americans voting for either of these parties vote against their own interests.

    This is the tragedy of Democratic Republics. Sooner or later they all degenerate into what we have now.

  12. “May be a duopoly system but there are other parties besides the two. Just need enough people to get fed up with the two party system. Guess I’m an optimist.”

    Would be great but the duopoly parties have conspired between them to put insurmountable legal obstacles to democracy in the way of any competitors, regardless of how much the population might concur with their policies.

  13. Giuseppe says: • Website

    By what sophistry do our leaders imagine that they have the moral standing to guide a benighted world into the wonders of democracy? They are deluded; we are a deluded people, we are lead by the greedy. How long can it be before they bring their extrajudicial assassinations and secret renditions home? Who is transforming into the evil empire now? All of the trends post 9/11 are very disturbing.

    I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.

  14. Patrick says:

    Phil, your article is depressingly true and it’s a system we work to export to the world. One “threat” Dick Cheney identified in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review were those extremely dangerous “anti-access” threats to the U.S. In other words, those nations that may not give wide open access to their people for U.S. agents such as NED to subvert their democratic process as has been done in the U.S. It also includes those threats that refuse us military basing rights and/or deny unrestricted access to their resources. That’s what has been spelled out as what we now mean by “national defense.”
    Unfortunately, some of the comments here reflect an unawareness of how the U.S. has corrupted itself. One suggests it is because “the Foreign Policy decision makers are just out and out whack-jobs, with brains burnt out by too much drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll,” and not “true blue, super-vetted, honest to goodness red-blooded Americans.” That’s an amusing take on Rick Santorum, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Mitt Romney, whose constituencies would not seem to include people who work for the government (except the intell and military agencies) or are on welfare. Yet these folks are the face of our militaristic and expansionist foreign policy, and make it respectable for Democrat hawks such as Hilary Clinton to argue the same.
    Any time a discussion such as this is initiated, someone always redirects our attention away from what is done at home with the inevitable pointing to some foreign leader as being worse, as in “move along, nothing to see here.” Unfortunately, our duopolistic political system is maintained by the plethora of “alternative parties,” whose platforms are so outside any tradition of sound governance, each utopian in their own way. From the “right” we get theocracy, “strict” constitutional constructionism of the sort that holds only “defense” can be a function of government, and/or the Russian born Ayn Rand’s libertarianism that gives license to Koch Bros. style oligarchy, always slyly insisting they ultimately want to privatize everything. And as you so accurately pointed out Phil, the Tea Party was quickly subsumed by the Republicans. Now the complaint is that Obama’s foreign policy isn’t aggressive enough.

  15. Mark Green says: • Website

    Excellent analysis, Phil. America has become a grubby, aggressive, bloated and venal empire. Sad, but undeniably true. Those who tell the truth and who look behind the curtain (as opposed to uttering the usual bromides) do so at their own peril. Eliminating people like you is done via censorship (which is getting harder and harder fortunately) or unofficial blacklisting. That, regrettably, still works all-too-well. Therefore, I was pleasantly amazed to see you and Alison Weir and many other distinguished critics of you-know-who on C-SPAN recently. Bravo!

    So thank you also for your extraordinary insights as well as your dedication and risk-taking. Yours is something of a thankless job. Unfortunately, it’s only what’s on mainstream TV or other dominant media that matters to the average, all-American knucklehead. You’ve got your work cut out for you. Thank you for your commitment.

  16. James says:


    Great article. But I think there is a solution.

    For eg., the reason our politicians continue to import aliens despite the harm to society and the public opposition (80-90% against) is because there are no NATIONAL REFERENDA in the United States. Many other countries, including 3rd world countries, have it, but not the US! Our constitution lacks the most basic and elementary human right–national referenda

    The three branches have become corrupt, usurped power, and all three branches figured out that it is better to conspire, mug and terrorize the nation and totally ignore the owners, the US Citizens. So they keep destroying this country with impunity.

    The solution is a constitutional amendment to allow irreversible binding superseding national referenda, so people can pass good laws in the national interest themselves. These laws will supersede laws passed by Congress and cannot be overturned except on constitutional grounds by a supermajority of both houses and a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court. The people can then still override it with a 66% vote. Some believe that this right to amend the constitution is inherently vested in the American public (the US citizens). Others suggest an actual amendment. A survey showed that 76% of the public approved the idea.

    We can pass a national referendum that all laws that affect the nation as a whole, such as raising taxes, large welfare programs, foreign aid, immigration, bailouts, and raising the debt ceilings, etc. can become law only if finally approved by the people. We will solve 90% of our problems this way.

    For eg., see:

    The National Initiative For Democracy above (ncid) is in the process of making a documentary about national referenda to bring this issue to a wider audience.

    We Americans need to visit these websites, join these groups, contribute and call radio talk shows, etc. and promote this idea and get the process started soon, before it is too late or America, as we know it, will be finished.

  17. redwood says:

    Corruption starts at the bottom and makes its way to the top. If you want an antiwar candidate, there’s no difference between Hillbilly Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush or whoever wins the Republican primary when it comes to foreign affairs. Hillary is more prowar than her husband or Ehud Barack Obama. Money shouldn’t influence elections but it does. I wish those politicians raised counterfeit money.

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Monied interests have always had outsized influence in American politics. I doubt that the US’s westward expansion would have happened as rapidly as it did in the 19th century without railroad magnates backing it. Rail connections also brought land-grant universities that expanded the pool of scientific and engineering talent in America’s labor force. These forces powered America’s massive industrial expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    There is little benefit in questioning a force as old as the republic. The Founding Fathers were the wealthiest citizens of their time and yet they produced the Constitution, an “elitist” document that has stood the test of time. Elites drive civilizations. We Americans should be grateful that our elites are committed to making policy.

  19. ” The Founding Fathers were the wealthiest citizens of their time and yet they produced the Constitution”

    But as was observed, the Constitution now represents no threat to our current form of government…

  20. geokat62 says:

    “Elites drive civilizations. We Americans should be grateful that our elites are committed to making policy.”

    Elites also drive civilizations into the ground – see WWI and WWII. I think James is onto something. We should be moving away from representative government and towards more direct democracy.. and referenda are a good starting point. If the last 50 years in American politics has taught us anything, it is that the political system is a tool that works on behalf of the elites and that the average citizen legitimizes the process by partaking in the electoral process every four years by casting their ballot. The people must display their unwillingness to perpetuate this kabuki by boycotting the ballot box. With the advent of computers and the internet, direct democracy is something that has become feasible once again! This is our only hope to break free from elite rule!

  21. The flaws of Democracy are unlikely to be cured by yet more Democracy. Isn’t it obvious that the more voters, the more the opportunity for bribery and appeal to base motivations?

    Most reforms abandon the initial wisdom of the framers about the inevitability of faction and narrow interests. Our childish love of Democracy is largely to blame for the abandonment of checks and balances within our system.

    One useful reform would be the repeal of the constitutional amendment mandating popular election of US Senators. Senators used to chosen by state legislatures to actually represented the particular interests of their states. Now they are just glorified Representatives, windbags sailing along on gusts of nation-wide fundraising.

    Is it too much to ask that one be a disinterested actual taxpayer in order to vote? People on public assistance, and government workers should never be able to vote themselves raises at the expense of the rest of us.

    I’m not a big fan of election reform, laws but mandating that candidates only accept contributions from within their districts might be a good idea. That way, Nathan Adelson could only buy two senators and few congressmen.

  22. Fran Macadam, I believe the original quote was from Joe Sobran. It goes..”The constitution is no longer a threat to our way of life.” And so it isn’t.

  23. geokat62 says:

    “Our childish love of Democracy is largely to blame for the abandonment of checks and balances within our system. ”

    I thought it was the special interests that were to blame for corrupting the political process… where the two political parties are two sides of the same coin.

    The argument in favour of direct democracy is simple: matters of public policy should not be contracted out to third parties. Regardless of naming them representatives, one person cannot represent the interests of another person – it’s referred to as the principal-agent problem.

    The only way out of this quagmire is having an informed citizenry and that won’t happen under a representative form of government. Simply put, people have to take accountability for matters that fall within the public realm.

  24. geokat62, “Special interest” is just a term coined by one special interest to cast a shadow on competing special interests. It was once possible to talk about the general interest, but as we become a multi-cultural tower of babel, there is no general interest; only competing balkanized interests.

  25. geokat62 says:

    I would have thought that a prosperous economy with strong employment opportunities along with adequate health care and accessible education are and always will be the pillars of the general interest, regardless of one’s culture.

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