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I just ran across an article that said hurricane Sandy reminds us how much we rely on governments to protect us. It even used the storm to say arguments criticizing the nanny state are wrong-headed. Geez. One doesn’t know where to start with statements like that. The government doesn’t protect us: we protect us. We establish various public institutions to carry out numerous cooperative activities, just as we form private institutions to carry out other cooperative activities. We don’t say that business corporations protect us, as if they have some sort of life apart from us. Neither should we ever regard government as some kind of abstract, protective entity that exists apart from us.

Yet we seem to have an in-built instinct to regard government as a replacement parent. When we leave home, who will take care of us? When we’re on our own, don’t we need someone to watch over us and help us out when trouble comes? The world is dangerous, and we don’t want to be alone.

If you’ve read The Jeffersonian long enough, you know this way of thinking is dangerous in the extreme. The state as it has developed is not your friend. Of all the threats you will face in your life – from nature, from criminals, from financial uncertainty, from people who act like your friend but turn out to be otherwise – an over-powerful, out of control state is the biggest threat of all. Little Red Riding Hood, acting by herself, could not escape the wolf – no matter how the wolf dressed up.

Consider other stories to see how deeply we crave and appreciate protection, both as children and as adults. Hansel and Gretel is a particularly scary tale, as an evil stepmother conspires to force the poor woodcutter to take his children out into the woods to abandon them there. Only the children’s ingenuity, courage, and perseverance save them: no one else will do it. Children love this story, frightening as it is, because brother and sister defeat the wicked witch on their own. They stick together and find a way out.

Hansel and Gretel had no guardian angel – not even their father would protect them under pressure. Cinderella was equally miserable, except her stepmother kept her close by. As Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters exploited her, abused her and ostracized her, she kept a cheerful outlook and hoped for better times to come. Her fairy godmother, equipped with all kinds of supernatural powers, arranged for her to meet the prince, so that one day she should be queen. Cinderella did have someone to look after her, and her guardian spirit came through.

The more we look for this theme of protection from harm, the more we find it in our stories. Lassie was so popular with children and families because its theme so consistently told this story. The heroic collie would brave anything to protect Timmy. Lassie rescued the vulnerable little boy from fire, flash floods, kidnappers, or whatever else might bring ruin. The dog looked out for Timmy and brought him through every danger.

One of the most compelling stories for young people in American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird, relies on this theme. “Hey Boo,” says Scout as she recognizes Boo Radley standing in the corner. He has just rescued Scout and her brother Jem from Bob Ewell, who aimed to kill them as they walked home from a Halloween party. “Heck, someone’s been after my children,” says Atticus when he calls the sheriff. Shortly afterward, Atticus thanks Boo: “Thank you for my children.” Mr. Radley – the amazing guardian angel, the mysterious neighbor who stayed inside until he heard the children cry for help – responds in silence.

Dumbledore and Harry’s parents through all seven Harry Potter books, Odysseus when he returns home to Penelope in the Odyssey, Moses’ leadership of his people in Exodus: we can find this theme of protection and bravery everywhere. Our favorite stories show the theme’s power to compel our hearts and our attention.

Let’s return to government and the kind of protection it offers. You won’t find stories on that theme in our literature. I recently completed Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, a book that – like her others – has a lot of wisdom in it. By her account, the French serfs in the fourteenth century wanted so much to see their king as their protector. They knew the king and his nobles exploited them. Taxes, warfare, robbery, all kinds of injustice flowed from society’s top ranks down upon the poor. The underclass resisted and revolted, several times. Even so, they hoped the king would come through to protect them. The king even dramatized his protective role at public festivals. Despite all contrary evidence, the people perceived the king, ordained by God, as the sovereign power who could redeem them from apparently inescapable misery.

Here’s the last instance I want to mention, a story filled with so much horror for grown-ups they cannot stand to face it. Some months ago I watched a film titled Explosive Evidence, which investigates why two steel framed skyscrapers in the World Trade Center exploded on September 11, 2001, and why one skyscraper imploded. A segment toward the film’s end explores why people resist the conclusion that gravity did not bring these buildings down. “It can’t be true,” they say. One woman, when she realized how the buildings fell, took a long walk outside her office building. She said she could not stop sobbing as she walked block after block.

She became so upset because until then, she had thought of government as her protector. The idea that it could be anything else wrenched her world view, forced her to see that it did not necessarily act as a replacement parent. She felt as Hansel and Gretel felt when they overheard their stepmother persuade their father to take them into the wilderness to let them starve. But for that bit of eavesdropping Hansel would not have brought bread crumbs with him. From beginning to end, Hansel and Gretel managed to save themselves because they learned the truth, about their own home and about the witch’s home. Like the woman in Explosive Evidence, we must recognize the truth about where we live, and use our wits to save ourselves.

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I am tired of Barack Obama asking me if I’m in. I’m tired of Michelle Obama asking me if I’m in. I don’t want to be in.

First of all, when did voting for president become comparable to a poker game? That’s the only circumstance I can think of for the phrase, “Are you in?” It doesn’t apply to swimming, or shopping, or even travelling. It means, “Are you ready to put up some money to play?” It’s nice the Obamas ask you to donate money right after they ask if you’re in.

As I think about it, the phrase asks, directly or indirectly, “Do you want to give me money?” This from a campaign that does not have any good ideas about how to remove us from the crisis we are in. As our foot hovers over the quicksand of revolutionary violence, our leader and his wife ask with smiling internet faces, “Are you in?” Click the Donate icon now to show us you care, because we care about you. Join with others who are happy and don’t know why.

I keep saying in these articles that we don’t have much time. Our time of turmoil has already begun, but big changes usually take generations to play out. Barbara Tuchman, in A Distant Mirror, writes about the Hundred Years War. It actually did last a century. Rome’s empire underwent construction for longer than a day – for many generations, in fact. Neither did it fall in a day, as Gibbon reminds us. Similarly, our great civilization will not fall in one generation, but it will end eventually. Nothing is permanent. We as citizens have to manage this transition the best we can.

So we have to ask, how should we deal with a state that has become sclerotic, self-serving, and corrupt? Think of Jabba the Hutt, who ran a criminal empire through his toadies and assassins, who entertained himself with slave girls and ate anything in sight. When Luke Skywalker returns from his training with Yoda, he confronts the gangster with cool confidence and insight: “This is your last chance, Jabba.” The gangster laughs and sends him through a trap door to fight his pet monster. Not long afterward, Leia strangles him.

The insight we need is that this government is vulnerable. Its parts don’t trust each other. Its parts don’t communicate well with each other, partly because they don’t want to. They don’t want to partly because they don’t trust each other. Its parts engage in conflicts and self-protective activities that weaken the whole. The government – including the parts intended to strong-arm people – is not as strong as it appears to be. Like so many corrupt, vain leaders, it has no moral core, and its weakness becomes apparent only after it disintegrates.

The problem with so many theories of revolutionary change – theories from communist movements in particular – is you must use force to achieve your goals. Look at the long-term success of communist movements and ask yourself if they got it right. The movements failed, either before or after they acquired power. Reasons for failure vary. The key reason movements that use force fail is that they do not have legitimacy. When you acquire power by force, you wield it illegitimately.

Machiavelli wrote at length about how criminals like Stalin dressed up as rulers use power. In Italian politics at the time, you could not turn your back for a minute. Think of how the Corleones in The Godfather lived. Remember the security at the wedding in the opening scene? Machiavelli stated the first law of Italian politics in The Prince: In a world where people are cruel and untrustworthy, you likewise must use cruelty and force to achieve your object. If your object is to hold power until someone stronger and more ruthless knocks you off, it’s not bad advice. If your object is to wield legitimate power, to lead because others want to follow you, Machiavelli’s recommendations about use of cruelty and force could not be worse.

At the moment, our government and its leaders do not understand this point about Machiavelli. They do not grasp that their government is illegitimate, nor do they grasp that people perceive it that way. Not everyone perceives it as illegitimate, but enough do. Others are going to. The government’s pattern of behavior will force them to see it. That’s what happened to me. When it tortured people in the open – not once but all over the world – then defended the practice as legitimate, I asked, “What else is this government doing, in secret?” The answers to that question reveal a state more immoral and self-serving than you might imagine.

We have to prepare for the day when more people see that our government works for itself, not for us. That’s the definition of corruption: taking people’s money and using it to enrich yourself, pretending to serve other people when you actually serve yourself. That’s what people in China mean when they say communist party officials are corrupt. That’s what we mean when we say our government is corrupt.

So many people do understand how corrupt our government has become, but in general our country seems resigned to it. Certain groups, like the Tea Party and Occupy movements, display a sense of urgency about the problem, but given the reception these groups have witnessed, we might conclude that others don’t see what they see. Or we might conclude they see corruption, but don’t feel they can do much about it. That sense of resignation won’t last.

Yesterday on the radio I heard a gentleman named Thomas Cleary speak about Chinese history. Through millennia the cycle has been the same: complacency and corruption follow a period of stability and order. During periods of order, public officials try to honor Confucian principles of virtue and service. Corruption makes the rulers’ authority illegitimate, until stresses from within the kingdom and without bring a period of anarchy, confusion and suffering. At last a new ruler, often a military one, establishes a new dynasty, and the cycle begins again. Cleary noted that this cycle marks almost all societies.

We are a relatively new society, with less history than the Chinese. If Cleary is right, corruption is well advanced in our cycle. We see signs of weakness due to corruption, signs of resistance to authority, confusion about the future, and of course suffering. If you doubt the last point about suffering, think of the millions of unemployed men and women who sit at home today waiting for a phone call that will never come. Think of families who have lost their homes. Think of thousands of servicemen who come home from war to families who don’t know how to receive them or care for them, who after they escape death in battle crave it at home.

So our president asks me if I’m in. No, I’m not in. I’m an active opponent because you and the state you represent don’t deserve my loyalty. You and all the power you have gathered into the executive branch are going to fail. That is, the government you represent won’t persist in its current state. Don’t ask me for my money anymore. Meantime, citizens, let’s think about how we can hasten this period of transition to reestablish legitimate authority. We have better communications now than the Romans did. The pace of societal evolution has picked up.

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People are naturally wondering why Justice Roberts changed his mind as the Court considered the decision it would render on the Affordable Care Act. Some news analysts suggest Roberts wanted to protect the Court’s reputation, and changed his vote with that thought in mind. He remembered how much criticism the Court received after it decided in favor of Bush in Gore v. Bush in 2000. He did not want to make a mistake of similar magnitude again, nearly twelve years later.

That is a bad way to make Supreme Court decisions. When you can’t please everyone – in fact, when you know you will displease a multitude no matter what you do – you can’t fall back on poor reasoning to try to save your reputation or your skin. Caution is a virtue in politics, but it is not always a blessing.

So we have to ask, how can misplaced caution be sound reasoning for a judge? The huge mistake the Court made in 2000 was being too sensitive to the public’s desire to get the whole election process over with. “We want results!” the journalists said, “We can’t let this sad business in Florida drag out.” However messy Florida’s recount, though, the Court had no authority to adjudicate a tie in that state’s presidential vote. Only Florida’s secretary of state, and the rest of the state’s electoral apparatus, held that authority. The Court should not have stepped in, and its reputation suffered because it did.

For the ACA, the Court’s place was to adjudicate the issues brought before it on appeal. We don’t pay Supreme Court justices to consider public opinion, though. We want them to craft opinions based on the Constitution, or on our Constitution and our political traditions if the Constitution alone does not give clear guidance.

Crafting an opinion that pays even a smidgen of attention to public opinion is a blunder one doesn’t expect from a chief justice. Roberts knew he would displease a lot of people no matter what he did. That’s all the more reason he should have based his opinion on sound legal reasoning. Apparently Justice Kennedy tried hard to persuade Roberts not to change his mind – that is, to side with the Court’s conservatives. I wish we knew the reasons Kennedy gave in his arguments.

The Court faced a difficult political problem. First, ACA supporters and opponents are as deeply divided as any two groups can be. Compromise did not seem possible during the legislative struggles of 2009, and it certainly has not become more likely over time. ACA supporters say the Court should not strike down a law this consequential merely because it is imperfect. ACA opponents say the Court should not uphold a law that is so imperfect it is bad law.

Roberts recognized this problem, of course, and his majority opinion reveals his response to it. The two factions – ACA opponents and supporters – each wanted the decision to go their way, and their initial reactions to it would be based on whether their side won or lost. Over the longer run, though, people will judge the Court based on the quality of its reasoning, not whether the referee found for the home team or not. To find for the home team – that is, uphold an existing act – Roberts had to call a penalty a tax. To take a lemon and prescriptively redefine it as a pomegranate in order to get the outcome you want is just slipshod and not worthy of any court, let alone the Supreme Court.

Since we’ve been talking about the politics of the Court’s decision, we should consider its impact on the presidential campaign. Obama has a difficult problem now. Romney and the Republicans want to make a big deal out of the ACA between now and November. They already have. Obama can take the attacks in silence for four months, or offer a vigorous defense of the Act. Given the results of the 2010 congressional elections, he has chosen not to defend the act, except in court, for the last year and a half. If he suffers in silence this summer and fall, he stands a good chance of losing in November. Offering a vigorous defense might appear more risky, but may yield his best chance of a second term.

My own negative judgments of the ACA are well developed in other posts. I imagine I would not be so critical of Roberts or his reasoning if I liked the ACA and wanted to see it preserved. In fact, the Democrats cannot be altogether pleased with the Court’s decision. The majority opinion found that the Constitution’s commerce clause does not give Congress authority to mandate purchase of health insurance. The commerce clause is the justification the Democrats have used to give legitimacy to the law’s the individual mandate.

As the Court rejected the commerce clause rationale, it changed the mandate’s fine for non-compliance from a penalty to a tax. Congress has authority to lay taxes of any kind, so the Court found that the individual mandate and the ACA more generally meet constitutional requirements. Nevertheless, Democrats have never wanted to defend the individual mandate’s fine for non-compliance as a new tax. As one article said today, the Democrats just want to change the subject, even though they won. If they can’t change the subject, or find some way to placate voters’ anger about the ACA, they’ll have to undergo a long and painful presidential campaign.

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One year, five months and three days from today we’ll observe the fiftieth anniversary of Jack Kennedy’s death. He died in a Lincoln Continental on Elm Street in Dallas. The time was 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963. An assassin blew his brains out.

Let’s be accurate: clinically speaking, JFK died in Parkland hospital about half an hour after he was shot. For practical purposes, he died in the car. The body takes a little while to shut down. He arrived at the hospital in time for the doctors at Parkland to pronounce him dead after he arrived.

It’ll be interesting to see what books about the assassination come out during the next year and a half. We have already seen a lot of good research published during the last ten years. We all hope the quality of upcoming books is equally good.

A recent book I’ve been reading on my Kindle is titled The Girl on the Stairs: My Search for A Missing Witness To The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by Barry Ernest. This book deserves a review of its own, but I want to mention it here to introduce something else I’ve been thinking about.

If you pick up The Girl on the Stairs, you’ll see quickly how much time Ernest spends evaluating the Warren report, both in his research and in his writing. He cares about his subject, and his treatment of the Warren report is as careful as any I’ve seen. He wants to understand why the Warren Commission wrote it the way it did, rather than some other way. The missing witness, Victoria Adams, is central to Ernest’s story, but the Commission’s report dominates his analysis even more.

If you pick up a couple of other books published during the last several years, Brothers by David Talbot and JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass, you’ll find references to the Warren report much more sparse. These authors take up the assassination in a different way. They are not as concerned with forensic evidence as is Barry Ernest.

The forensic evidence, so poorly analyzed by the Warren Commission, is an important part of the assassination story, but it isn’t the only part. It’s also not the most important. The most important evidence and the most important analysis, in any criminal case, is to tell a story that establishes motives for the murder. Douglass in particular takes care to do that. Forensic evidence can tell you what happened. It cannot tell you why it happened.

So what have I been thinking about? I’ve been thinking about motives for the 9/11 attacks. As we evaluate the evidence related to that crime, we want to analyze it so as to tell a story about why it happened. We want to know why all the people involved with the crime carried it out. Based on evidentiary analysis we have to date, we don’t know that.

I hope we can take a longer look at this problem in future posts.

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President Obama likes to brag. I guess it’s part of the job. Presidents have to speak up for themselves: no one else will do it. I didn’t watch the State of the Union address, but I hear he’s at it again. He saved the U. S. auto industry by keeping General Motors and Chrysler in business. Let’s take the case of General Motors. He fires the CEO while the company is nominally under stockholders’ control, uses our money to keep its doors open while it files for bankruptcy, and boasts that through his decisive action he saved our country’s automobile industry. I’ll bet Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns,  Countrywide, IndyMac, and hundreds of other banks small enough to fail wish they had received the same favor.

This love from Washington put the General Motors marketing people in a tricky position. After their shotgun bankruptcy, they wanted to let the country know they were back, without actually acknowledging why they were back. In all of the dozens, or perhaps hundreds of GM commercials I’ve seen over the last two years, in all the muscular public relations material they churn out about how Chevy runs deep, and Chevy trucks run even deeper, I don’t remember one ad thanking the taxpayers for their generosity. Well perhaps one of the early ones slipped a bit of gratitude in. If the taxpayers bailed out my business, I don’t suppose I’d publicly thank them, either.

Let’s not make a mistake about what’s going on when the leader of a political party saves one automobile manufacturer while he lets so many other businesses close up for good. You want to send a message to your supporters that you are not going to let them down. The UAW and public employee unions are a reliable source of money and votes. If you were a Democratic politician, would you let the UAW go out of business?

The same goes for the teaching jobs Obama thoughtfully saved with his so-called stimulus funds, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or even more euphemistically as a jolt to the economy. When you see the Treasury open up its vaults with semi trucks backed up to the doors, think again about what is going on. The Treasury made big payoffs to organized groups who support Democrats. The White House PR operation has relentlessly touted the jobs they’ve saved. You have to make up a number to make it sound good. No government statistician can accurately count created jobs. How could you even distinguish created jobs from uncreated ones? One thing you can do in a crisis is spend lots of money. Whatever else you say about it later, say it worked.

The same goes for all the green initiatives the Democrats funded when they came into office. Solar panels at Solyndra, electric car batteries at Ener1, wind power, high speed rail: one business initiative after another receives millions of dollars. These are business initiatives that would have received private capital long ago if they had good prospects. In fact, they did receive private capital, and they didn’t turn a profit. That’s why they needed an infusion of taxpayer money from the Treasury, right? Public money would yield a different result because it comes in such large quantities. We’ve seen the results: bankruptcies and boondoggles, not business success or new jobs. While the federal government uses all its regulatory muscle to kill nuclear power, it funds new technologies that cannot replace established technologies in the near term.

All of these funding initiatives have something in common. They reward Democrats’ reliable supporters, people who will come to the polls and reelect President Obama when November comes around. We worry lest the money that flows into politicians’ campaign coffers should corrupt public policy, but even worse is the amount of taxpayer money that flows out of the Treasury to reward favored groups. If donors want to buy a lot of television ads to get their favorite politician elected, I’m not sure that’s a form of political speech we want to restrict. If elected politicians want to spend taxpayer money to reward favored groups, we want to extinguish that form of political corruption immediately. We citizens did not pay taxes to see the money used as a reward for favored groups.

If you belong to a union, run a well connected renewable energy firm, or belong to some other favored group, you’ve had it good under the Democrats. If you’re among the millions of people who lost a job during the country’s economic collapse, and you don’t belong to a favored group like the United Auto Workers or the American Federation of Teachers, forget it. The government pays unemployment benefits until everyone forgets about you, while you watch your family’s prospects and spirits shrivel. Meantime your own hopes of ever getting a good job again, of ever buying another home or improving your children’s prospects, dry up as well. Talk about the American Dream: you just saw it shoveled out the door in the form of political corruption.

Does that sound a little too bitter? It’s not bitter enough, by my reckoning. Suppose Obama says in his campaign rhetoric, “Look, here’s how the system works. You turn out the votes, and I pay you off. It doesn’t matter where the dollars come from – you’ll get some.” At least that would be honest. Instead, he pays off his supporters with our tax money and claims he’s creating jobs! In my memory, other politicians who’ve made it to the White House managed to be less blatant about the operation.

The country faced a large-scale collapse when Obama took office, so he thought he could mount a large-scale payoff, give it a marketing name like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and call that job creation. You just have to make your supporters believe that what you did worked. If you claim you saved or created one million jobs, who’s to challenge you? No one, except the Occupy Wall Street protesters, a disfavored group if ever we saw one. After some equivocation, the mainstream media let Occupy Wall Street wear the establishment’s black stamp of public disapproval. The Tea Partiers know the process.

So now we listen to President Obama tout his party’s success in his third State of the Union address. The Democrats have acted just the same as the Republicans, except they pay off different groups. If after all the corruptions we’ve witnessed, the Democrats still claim they saved the auto industry, and by extension most of the manufacturing sector of the U. S. economy, let them. Let them call it job creation! The millions of families who have lost their jobs and their homes, who have that pressing sense of insistent, low-level anxiety about the future that saps your energy and your hope, know better.

Note though that the payoffs did work, but not as the Democratic tout machine claims they did. The Democrats still enjoy support from public employees’ unions. They still enjoy support from the envrionmental movement. They might even enjoy support from General Motors. To take one instance of prominent political conflict, go to Wisconsin to ask teachers and other public employees which party they favor. Ask how they’ll vote in the governor’s recall election. Those voters know which side their bread is buttered on.

Then ask an unemployed engineer, a new college graduate with loans who can’t find work, or any of the millions of people who are idle now, who want to work but can’t. Ask them who they support. They’ll likely reply that they don’t support anyone who gives away their money. They just want government to stop doing things to impede small businesses that want to grow. Given the choice between fairness or equality or whatever the latest Democratic buzzword might be, and a job, a person will take a job every time. When the White House claims that it wants jobs, too, you have to give it credit for believing its own talking points. Look at its actions, and you can see what it actually wants. It wants reliable support from Democrats in the next election – and it’ll give away your money to get it.

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Ron Paul’s Truthfulness

Well we’re coming into the home stretch now with the Iowa caucuses only a week and a half away. The journalists have Ron Paul in their sights, as he’s looking strong in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Can they blow him out the way they’ve blown out every not-Romney before him? And why don’t they blow out Romney? Do they roll over for him? We know how much the media love smart candidates!

Have you noticed some of the adjectives the reporters have used about Paul lately? The best one I’ve seen is batty. That’s better than nuts. You also see fringe, extreme, and consistent. The last one is not generally meant as a compliment, as the reporters usually suggest that Paul is consistent in his foolishness.

Let’s see how foolish this man is. Here are some of the predictions, observations, prescriptions, and warnings for which Ron Paul is called batty:

  • Paul warned that if the Federal Reserve enjoys unchecked power, what Andrew Jackson called the money power would capture our government in Washington. With the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath, we see that it has already happened.
  • Paul has said that if we continue to act the way we do overseas, we will make more and more enemies. People who were not our enemies now hate us because we have killed their family members, imprisoned them, tortured them, humiliated them, frightened them, and made war on them until everything that sustains them is destroyed. This observation about the effects of our foreign behavior is so obviously true that the criticism directed at Paul for saying it tells you something. It tells you some people are blind when it comes to discussions about their own country.
  • Paul has criticized the so-called drug war on many counts: it doesn’t work, it’s immoral, it grants government more power than it should have, it doesn’t work, it’s costly, it suppresses both personal freedom and personal responsibility, and in addition to everything else, it doesn’t work. People used to be aghast at this kind of critique. If we don’t fight drugs, then what do we fight? If drugs are permitted, everything is permitted! Interestingly, Paul’s position on drugs has not become a big issue for reporters. Perhaps he is not ahead of his time on this issue any more.
  • Paul predicted that if we let the national government grow in power and authority – with no effective checks on its ability to control money, time, lives, commerce, institutions, tools of surveillance and communication, weapons, and all manner of personal choices – it would destroy our democracy. It has already happened. Long established traditions die slowly – that is true of democratic traditions as well as democracy’s institutions. By now, though, we can say that Paul has been right. He has been so emphatically right on this point that one wonders if even he thinks he could revive our democracy were he to win the presidency.

Let’s end with these four points. Read Andrew Sullivan’s endorsement of Ron Paul. The next time you read a reporter who mocks Paul’s ideas, who says he is dangerous and a harbinger of chaos, ask yourself why a person who has been right so often should be charged with battiness. Remember this paraphrase of Jesus’ famous saying in the New Testament: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

If Paul’s ideas seem odd to you, forget about it. Forget about what other people think. Concentrate on Ron Paul’s truthfulness. If you can’t focus on that, no one will be free: not now, not ever.

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In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks. ~ Spencer Bachus, U. S. House of Representatives

The death-knell of the republic had run as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Today we want to consider the idea of state capture. What does this concept mean, and why should we care about it? State capture occurs when one class or group or interest asserts enough control over the state, that the state acts on behalf of that group rather than for the polity as a whole. Given the mortal threat state capture poses to a democratic republic, we want to recognize it when it occurs, understand its consequences, and know how to respond to it.

When the founders of our republic praised the checks and balances in our Constitution, they pointed not only to the branches of government, but also to constitutional balances that would prevent one faction, among competing interests, from obtaining too much influence. Historically, democratic republics quickly fail if one powerful interest manages to gain control of some significant portion of the state’s organs of power. These organs include the treasury, the army or the military more generally, the judiciary, the executive, or even basic administrative functions. Once the external faction has control, it is hard to dislodge.

Democratic checks on state power quickly disappear after state capture occurs. In fact, state capture indicates that the equipoise essential to pluralist democracy has already disappeared. If checks and balances among groups outside as well as inside the state remain effective, state capture cannot occur. When one group captures the state, or a portion of it, democratic controls and processes that compel a state to act in the interest of all groups – or at least to balance the interests of all groups – suffer a serious setback.

Why should we even think about state capture in the United States? Don’t we have a Constitution where that kind of thing cannot happen? Think again. State capture occurred in the United States in 2008, when large financial firms used taxpayers’ assets to ward off bankruptcy. The firms committed fraud, lost trillions as a result of their activities, and drew on public resources to protect themselves from ruin.

During the collapse of 2008, we heard phrases like moral hazard, too big to fail, and Washington looks out for Wall Street but not for Main Street. If you hear these phrases often enough, they begin to obscure what actually happened. State capture actually happened. A financial panic unfolded, and financial firms responsible for the panic took what they needed from us to protect themselves. The firms that practiced fraud could not have rescued themselves had they not asserted sufficient control over the United States Treasury and the assets in it.

Now we come to the last question: how should democratic citizens respond to state capture? If they respond with confused apathy, the new status quo experiences no challenge. If they respond with conventional regulations and appeals for stricter oversight, they are unlikely ever to redress the balance of power that went awry when the state suffered its initial defeat. To redress the balance of power – to assure restoration of democratic checks on the state and the entities that captured it – citizens must replace the government that allowed itself to be captured in the first place.

That is not easy. No group relinquishes power voluntarily. No group, having captured a key arm of the state’s apparatus, will give up its advantages without resistance. Similarly the state, even if it knows it suffered a defeat, rationalizes the errors that led to its ignominy. It is compromised and cannot self-correct. To return to democratic control, the state must have new leadership. To give the state new leadership, citizens must replace both leaders and the institutions they lead. History does not hold a promising outlook for citizens who try to do less.

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