The remarkable public confrontation between the Gandhi-like ascetic Anna Hazare and the government of India — which came to a triumphant end last month with a glass of orange juice and a government promise to create a strong, independent anti-corruption agency — is the latest manifestation of a worldwide explosion of outrage at what historians may someday come to deem humanity's latest form of tyranny: the capture of states by criminal syndicates. Otherwise known as rampant public corruption.
In early 2010, I was asked to make a presentation to a counter-narcotics symposium at the Marshall Center in Germany. In attendance were several hundred high-ranking military and law enforcement officers from around the world. I dutifully explained the opium economy in Afghanistan, which I've had a chance to observe during nearly a decade living and working in Kandahar. But I could not resist inserting two slides at the end of the talk. They depicted the phenomenon that really interests me: the increasingly structured capture of the Afghan government by what amounts to a set of interlocking, vertically integrated criminal networks.
I have watched the phenomenon evolve over the last 10 years. At first, there was a furtive testing of the limits, as Kalashnikov-toting ruffians shook down travelers for "sweets" (as extorted bribes are prudishly called). Over time, the corruption expanded and evolved, and today, Afghanistan is controlled by a structured, mafiaesque system, in which money flows upward via purchase of office, kickbacks or "sweets" in return for permission to extract resources (of which more varieties exist in impoverished Afghanistan than one might think) and protection in case of legal or international scrutiny. Those foolish enough to raise objections are punished. The result is a system that selects for criminality, excluding and marginalizing the very men and women of probity most needed to build a sustainable state.
When I finished my presentation, to my astonishment, the participants rose in a standing ovation. Many came down to the front of the room to talk further. "You just described my country," they chorused.
Yes, well, my country too. Michael Barone called the Obama administration "gangster government" for the bailouts, picking winners and losers with taxpayer dollars like Solyndra based on political dogma, rewarding campaign supporters like the unions with the NLRB decisions they want, you name it. The list could go on and on. Sometimes the Great Eye of Mordor-on-the-Potomac focuses on you for the most trivial of reasons.
Read this story about how a car dealer in Missouri ran afoul of the White House. Neil McCabe writes in Human Events:
Max Motors targeted by ATF, banks and General Motors
Despite the White House harassment, and the loss of financing and insurance arrangements that came in the past, the Butler, Mo., car dealer who will be giving away AK-47’s again starting in October.
“Guess what? We are doing it again! It is the Fourth Annual Great Guns and Gas Give-Away!” said Mark Muller, the owner of Max Motors, whose July 17, 2009 interview with CNN’s Carol Costello about his promotion was great publicity, but brought him unwelcome attention.
Within days of the CNN broadcast, three agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived at the dealership, he said.
“I was not there, they identified themselves and asked who was in-charge, and everybody pointed at each other,” he said.
Undeterred, the agents demanded to see the guns, he said. When it was explained that there were no actual guns, and that the promotion was really for vouchers towards the purchase of an AK-47, the agents did not believe it.
“There was an empty gun box here from a gun dealer in North Carolina, and they took that and demanded to see the gun that came with that box,” he said. The agents also went into storage rooms and took photos.
The next day, Muller received a call from the ATF asking him to come in for a meeting with all of his personal guns, which they insisted they had to authority to order, he said. Muller held his ground and refused to submit to the audit without first going through due process.
“The ATF people were just as nice as can be. They were not mean or hateful—and finally I asked the lady on the phone: Don’t you have something better to do?” he said. He then re-explained that there were vouchers for guns and that no guns were being given away.
“She said: ‘Let me tell you how important this is, the White House started their morning with a briefing on you. We got a call from Washington, D.C. this morning. They wanted you checked out,” he said. (Emphasis supplied, MBV.)
“That’s your big government in action. I’m a guy exercising his constitutional rights and I’m such a threat to security that the White House has to check in on me?” he said.
At the end of his conversation with the ATF agent, she threatened to raid his house to audit his personal firearms, but it never happened, Muller said.
Folks, we may not have the government we deserve, but we certainly have the government we tolerate. And whose fault is that?