Thieves of State by Sarah Chayes

thieves of stateWhy Corruption Threatens Global Security: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by Sarah Chayes (2016)

I finished the book a while ago and meant to do the write while it was fresh but got distracted.  It is a very depressing read, but probably important to know the arguments she makes so I’m going to go MUST READ on this book. The focus is on governmental and corporate corruption so obviously no good news with that focus. The problem is that there seems to be an endless supply of corrupt people, or good people stressed or tempted  or coerced and turned corrupt. Or willingly ignorant. Or simply evil. I guess it depends on what you believe the core of people is: good or evil? Since I spent childhood ducking and covering under my pathetic school desk (while realizing that it was going to be of no use at all), and my father was a bomber pilot who was absolutely a good man but he dropped bombs and people died. Of course they were scum sucking Nazi’s, but before the demagogue Hitler incited them to hate, they were just bakers, or shop clerks and so on. These same people closed their eyes to the deliberate seizure of their property and then themselves of Jews (or whomever Hitler deemed degenerate races including slavs and gypsies and of course gays) rounded up into synagogues right there in the towns and burned them alive and the synagogues to the ground. And of course the death camps. How can anyone believe in a god after the Holocaust?

So the point is, corruption is also at the heart of so many people that I am not sure it can be stomped out no matter how many whistle-blowers try. The forces of corruption are so great, and wealthy, and rationalized, and dog eat dog, or everyone else is doing it so just looking out for themselves. This is, in essence, the Tragedy of the Commons written by ecologist Garrett Hardin (no relation) in 1968.

The main focus in the book is a thread about the quagmire in the Middle East, but also has a chapter that discusses how the Founding Fathers came up with American government design. Including tidbits like “Under English law at the time, silence was considered a confession.” And therefore Charles I was executed following the prosecution of him essentially for corruption.

And so England, like Holland before it, woke up one morning, a republic–though it did not stay that way for long. Even so, the effort of groping their way toward representative government forced the English to think the mechanics through. The ideas developed during those years would inspire the American experiment a century later.

Though it was immaterial to his case against Charles, for example, Cooke took up the argument against monarchy itself. In his view, even benevolent monarchs were nefarious, “for when kings are good, the people are never jealous of their liberties, and fair language and a few good acts . . . bring the people into a fool’s paradise.”

Cooke’s contemporary, John Milton, also writing just after Charles I’s trial, made a more elaborate argument against monarchy. “All men naturally were born free,” he took as his starting point, “born to command and not to obey.” Only because of their propensity to COMMIT VIOLENCE did they gather in towns for protection and ordain a governing authority: “not to be their lords and masters, but to be their deputies and commissioners.” Laws were made “that should confine and limit the authority of whom they chose to govern them,” to subtract “as much as might be from personal errors and frailties.”

But what if “the law was either not executed, or misapplied”? (p. 166)

This is the problem we face today with Wall Street banksters and gynoticians and political puppets. The people elected to protect our interests are looking after their own, be it for rewards or fear.

[Milton also realized] “If [rulers] may refuse to give account, then all covenants made with them at coronation, all oaths are. . . mere mockeries, all laws which they swear to keep made to no purpose.” It follows, wrote Milton, “that since the king or magistrates holds his authority of the people . . . for their good in the first place and not his own, then may the people as oft as they shall judge it for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain him or depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of free born men to be governed as seems to them best. (p. 167)

This whole discussion makes me cringe as the feminist in me screams MEN and of course the casual FREE BORN men. Especially followed by these free born men getting to decide what they deem best. How can Milton not have seen that the absolute power of men over women or slaves was the same as a bad king over the people? The freaking religion mandated that women were to be subservient to men as men were to their god. Yes I understand that women have basically been brood mares and unpaid, near slaves forever and some of these people still thought the world was flat perhaps, but it is so obvious to me and always have that there is a basic problem with MEN besides their propensity to violence cited that needs to be considered a form of corruption.

Milton had described elective kingship, or a presidency. He had built the argument for democracy–as the best practical means of guaranteeing redress of legitimate grievances, the best means of appeal here on earth.

Writing forty years later, John Locke used the discipline of logic to advance this line of thinking, in two  “Treatises on Government.” He criticized monarchy, “where one man, commanding a multitude has the liberty to be judge in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty of anyone to question or control those who execute his pleasure.” The very objective of government, Locke wrote, is “setting up a known authority to which everyone of that society may appeal upon any injury received.” (p. 167)

The author continues with details of what Locke envisioned and boy it reads America! Legislative bodies, majority rather than unanimous votes, why a “legislature needn’t remain in permanent session, while executive must be exercised continuously, and he began the intricate task of determining the relative supremacy of different branches of government. . . . “In this way did Locke and other political theorists of his day continue the work of replacing God, in ordering human affairs, with a mechanism devised by human reason.” [Locke was referring to the Divine Rights of Kings here I think.]  She points out that the 13 colonies “amassed a lot of experience in designing governments” between the Articles of Confederation and state drafts of constitutions. “They had tried unicameral and bicameral legislatures, different electoral procedures and lengths of office, and especially, different trade-offs between curbs on tyranny and means of forestalling anarchy (or too much egalitarianism).”

Not really sure what she means by too much egalitarianism. Isn’t that kind of like reading to much? How can any government be too egalitarian?

James Madison, a key proponent of a more “energetic” national government, saw elaborate, interlocking elements as the best protection against a strong government’s potential excesses.”Also during the drafting of the Constitution, “One writer disagreed with the Federalists’ presumptions of inherent human self-interestedness–the belief that government officials, as he put it, “will ever be actuated by views of private interest and ambition, to the prejudice of the public good; that therefore the only effectual method to secure the rights of the people and promote their welfare is to create an opposition of interests (within government).” [ACK DID HE MEAN POLITICAL PARTIES?] “For this Antifederalist, a better way to guarantee PUBLIC INTEGRITY WAS THROUGH PERSONAL MORALITY (and the absence of acute income inequality.) “A republican or free form of government can only exist where the body of the PEOPLE ARE VIRTUOUS, and where property is pretty equally divided.(ft 48)

The Federalists’ more jaundiced view of human nature won out. Indeed, the most widely accepted argument against the draft constitution  was its lack of explicit safeguards of basic rights, such as those in the Dutch charters or the Magna Carta. With that vice remedied by the promise of a ten-article Bill of Right, the Constitution was adopted.

And in this fashion, over the course of about two centuries–with rich input from the great European revolution in thinking called the Enlightenment–a constitutional form of government was slowly hammered out. It was an alternative to rule by princes who claimed to be the incarnation of God’s will [TED CRUZ springs to mind] on earth and therefore above challenge. A set of mechanisms based on “reason and right” had supplanted the principle of rule by God’s chosen lieutenant, a better guarantee of just, uncorrupt government.”

But what if that finely tuned device is captured in turn by some tight-knight network, intent on its own enrichment? What happens if the careful contraption is repurposed to serve the interests of this criminal network, which has gained control of the levers of power that matter–the army or other security forces, the civil service, the financial system–and has reworded legislation that was designed to curb abuses to allow it to “circumvent law by law?”

Well that pretty much says where we are now. The “reworded legislation” is the Newspeak of Republican politicians.

Some people, in that case, are likely to discard that rational mechanism altogether. Some people will appeal for an “alternate, upright methodology, in which it is not the business of any class of humanity to lay down its own laws to its own advantage, at the expense of other classes.” An that infallible methodology, argues OSAMA BIN LADEN in a 2007 video, “is the methodology of God Most High.” (p. 171 ft 49) [or substitute Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, et al who are saying the same thing!]

Some people, in other words, will turn back to God. Lured by militant advocates of a religious ordering of human affairs, they will seek to roll back 400 YEARS OF POLITICAL HISTORY.

And that is exactly what the great seventeenth-century political thinker John Locke predicted would happen:

Where an appeal to law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest PERVERTING OF JUSTICE [he was thinking of you Scalia RIH], and the barefaced  wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men or party of men, there it is hard to imagine anything but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done–though by hands appointed to administer justice–it is still violence and injury, however colored with the name, pretenses of forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent by an unbiased application of it. . .; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made on the sufferers who having NO APPEAL ON EARTH to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.” (p. 177 ft 50)

Smaller local state governments are more easily corrupted, especially by the zealous self-righteous evangelical set who disguise their naked ambition by a mask of false purity. But mostly you hear about the federal ones. Thus I am never surprised to learn a congressman is a secret gay, or an adulterer using Tinder, or abused children, or cheated on his pregnant wife. And of course there is Watergate, Iran-Contra, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, and all the other abusers of power. But the little local bigot that demands prayers by Christians only open their meetings are an ever present threat that has now built to a serious group of irrational people who are making the laws we must obey or suffer the consequences. I think that what we now also suffer from is an excess of Founding Fathers’ fears about the power of the federal government so they ceded too much to the states. States rights is an anachronism. Civil rights should not depend on geography. Making them so, allows the small timer corruptions to impact people with limited alternatives to move to another state or for disable people, another country.

In Chapter Thirteen, Violent Extremists, she noticed that the people who wanted government by law instead God “were practically all Protestants.” I would add atheists and deists as well (like our many Founding Fathers.

Why Protestantism? What is the link between reformed religion and representative government as a device to ensure the redress of grievances? Searching for answers to that question, I discovered something else: a separate strand TYING CORRUPTION to religious extremism. This strand is not bounded by the arc of specific historical events; it is remarkably consistent through time.

The Catholic church was built on corruption. They had a hierarchy of men who each got paid by laypeople to preach and absolve them, which developed into a basic blackmail scheme, with each level above getting a cut of the money. Pay for forgiveness essentially. And because people were deliberately kept ignorant, unable to read, or if able to read their own language, they could not read the Church Latin texts, and for that matter, the freaking church service was also given in Latin so the whole thing was kind of a massive fraud because all the people were told and knew was that God would send them to hell if they didn’t pay up or do their penance and only the priest had the authority to grant it and determine what was a sufficient penance. The dodge to avoid penances was allowing people to purchase “indulgences” and thereby pay their way to heaven,

Or even get a deceased loved one released from the torments of purgatory, by buying an indulgence in his or her name. The Catholic church had stumbled on a huge business. People started bankrupting themselves.

In 1515 a special indulgence was put up for sale in Germany. Cash-strapped Pope Leo Xwanted to complete the construction of a magnificent church in Rome [St. Peters Basicalla, truly a wonder to behold, I’ve seen it.]. The archbishop of Mainz — who had borrowed heavily to PURCHASE his position, along with two other lucrative posts — was put in charge of the marketing campaign. Half the proceeds of the sale were earmarked for his creditor. So vital did the archbishop consider this mission that he ordered all other religious preaching to stop when vendors arrived in a town to hawk the indulgence. . . .

Luther’s theses — the genesis of the Reformation — were in large part an indictment of corruption.

Think of the current preachers that make the news. The “seed ministries” that proclaim if you give them money to buy a $65 million dollar jet that he says God wants him to have, that will put you one step closer to a guaranteed spot in heaven. So you have thousands of very poor people who can least afford it being persuaded to give this preacher money they could otherwise save and use for basic needs. The preacher is corrupt and completely within his rights, either by free speech, or freedom of religion, to defraud and rob his flock of sheeple. And absolutely is nothing done by the government we have to protect us from what is visibly fraud.

p. 175 Luther was a sensation . . . his theses printed in Latin and German, had spread as far as Switzerland. They were drawing fervent applause from Germans of all ranks. The pope was threatening to excommunicate him.

Luther’s response was an open rebuke to the Holy Father. “It is shocking to see the . . . vicar of Christ. . . going about in such a worldly and ostentatious style that neither king nor emperor can equal,” he wrote. “This kind of splendor is offensive.”

In the twenty-first century, Afghans and Tunisians and Uzbeks found such ostentation offensive in their governing officials too, [I am reminded of the outcry over Michele Obama’s $3,000 last State of the Union dress. But with women you can’t win. If she showed up in Wal-Mart clothes there would have been many levels of hue and cry like Made in America? of course not.]

Rome, wrote Luther, is full of “buying, selling, bartering, changing, trading, drunkenness, lying, deceiving, robbing, stealing, luxury, harlotry, knavery. . . . And out of the seas the same kind of morality flows into all the world.” [and he missed sodomy and pedophilia which I am sure was going on then too. It is just WRONG to force people to deny the most basic impulse for sex in priests and in people. So they were all hypocrites on the highest level and morally corrupt too.]

Luther castigated the practice of appointing one man to several ecclesiastical posts, “coupl[ing] together ten or twenty prelacies,” so that “one thousand or then thousand gulden may be collected,” allowing a cardinal to live “like a wealthy monarch at Rome.”

He criticized the practice the widespread purchase of office: “No bishop can be confirmed unless he pays a huge sum for his pallium. Legal cases over purely temporal matters are called to Rome, he complained, where judges are ignorant of local laws, justice (or injustice) is sold, and excommunication is used as a threat to blackmail people. Monasteries are given over to caretakers who appoint “some apostate, renegade monk,” who “sits all day long in the church selling pictures and images to the pilgrims.”

Still, many of the very elements of creed that he contested were used by the church to maintain a monopoly over the salvation of the faithful — a monopoly that made widespread extortion possible?”

There is no question in my mind that they knew well and good what they were doing was wrong and corrupt, I don’t think they would have tried to squelch Protestants so hard except that their cushy lives were about to go under. And I am equally sure they rationalized their corruption as entitlements from God whom they pretended to serve. The author has a word for this organized theft by those in power “kleptocracy.”

Chayes goes on to list just some of the “grievances of the German people against Rome.”

A treatise submitted to the Diet of Worms in 1521 listed one hundred and one specific complaints including:

  • Transfer of secular cases to Rome or ecclesiastical courts, under pain of excommunication,
  • Transfer of benefices to Rome if a cleric dies there or on his way,
  • High annual taxes (“annates”) imposed on Germany,
  • High confirmation fees for bishops, or the requirement that prelates buy or lease their benefices from Rome,
  • Annulment of the local elections to church office to make way for the popes cronies [think Republican emergency managers and Flint water crisis],
  • Sale of absolution or dispensation from sins, even future sins,
  • Penances made “so formidable that the sinner is obliged to buy his way out of them,
  • “Mendicant friars, relic hawker, and miracle healers [who] go . . . through our land, begging, collecting. . . and extracting large sums of money”; permission to do so in return for a cut of the take,
  • Threat of excommunication or withholding of sacraments to extort money, collective punishment on whole villages, even for matters of debt,
  • Appropriating a cut of pilgrims’ offerings at shrines,
  • Extoration of contributions for public processions,
  • Extortion of payment for graves in the churchyard,
  • Pressure on dying people to bequeath their property to the church instead of their kin. [Still happening]

Without a doubt, the Reformation —  which ignited wars toppled kingdoms, in one of the most sweeping upheavals in Western history — was a revolution against kleptocracy.”

Where she really really hits the point home — that the world is now experiencing some of the same responses to the many places of corruption here in churches, government, corporations, banks/financial systems, stock trading, lawyers, cronyism, sexism, racism, increasing inequality — she perfectly expresses my difficulty understanding how my world has changed so drastically so suddenly:

Part of what makes this material so conceptually challenging, at least for me, is the fact that a single episode epitomizes two contradictory reactions to kleptocracy: the start of the process of elaborating a constitutional form of government on the one hand, and VIOLENT RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM on the other. The leadership of the Dutch revolt incarnated both tendencies. There is no current indication that Al Qaeda and its subsidiaries will evolve a new mechanism of representative government [no shit], the way the descendants of those early Protestant extremists did in the Dutch and short-lived English Republics, or in the United States. On the other hand, the tendency toward tolerance and representation is not Protestantism’s only propensity. A strong undercurrent of dogmatic puritanism does persist and, though not often physically violent, is growing more powerful in places like Nigeria — and in some parts of the United States.” (*note on page 178)

This book has a copyright date of 2015 so I am a little surprised she did not include ISIS but I guess there are so many options to actually finish a book. Regardless, I don’t understand why the impulse is to suppress dissenters by violence and death that leads to retaliation and violence in return by the suppressed. Why do some people hold religious beliefs, dogma, so tightly they are willing to fight and die for it. Especially when the purported religion is peaceful and loving and has Thou Shalt Not Kill as a principle. Why is their no tolerance? THEY HAVE THE SAME FUCKING GOD.

“They put robes of silk on their idols made of old wood” an anonymous complaint from the French-speaking southern Netherlands put in, “leaving us brethren of Christ naked and starving,” . . . The rioters seemed to be acting out a ritual punishment upon the symbols of the church, in retribution for the crimes of the Roman kleptocracy. And those early Protestants, in revolt against kleptocracy, can only be described as violent religious extremists.”

Skip now to 2012. Al Qaeda-linked rebels, garbed in Afghan-cut clothes and black turbans, fall upon the legendary Malian desert city of Timbuktu and — as they deal out savage shari’a law penalties — set about trashing dozens of historic shrines dedicated to Sufi [again he same Allah at the top]  saints. They reduce ancient mud-brick mausoleums to rubble, raze a fabled mausoleum at the city gates, and smash modern statues. “Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu,” a rebel proclaimed to Agence France-Presse. “God doesn’t like it.” According to Human Rights Watch, “bars and hotels . . . associated with alcohol consumption and prostitution” were also targeted. Later, fleeing the town ahead of French and Malian troops in January 2013, the militants set fire to the governor’s office and libraries that have stored PRECIOUS MANUSCRIPTS for hundreds of years.

The similarities between the early Protestants and today’s Islamist extremists don’t end with iconoclasm. The Puritans were famous for frowning on liquor, dancing, and festivities. They turned to the literal text of scripture for teachings on religious practice and the conduct of daily life. Where they could they imposed their preferred practice on civilians by law, sometimes inflicting gruesome punishments on nonconformists. They wore ostentatiously modest black and white clothes like those special Islamist veils — allowing adepts to recognized each other, whether they were Dutch or Huguenot or natives of Plymouth on the Massachusetts Bay.

And, as adamantly as today’s Salafis, they flung the label of unbeliever at anyone who differed with their rigid doctrine. “Puritans,” spat James I, in the preface to his mirror for Harry, imagine themselves “in a manner without sin, the only true church and only worthy to be participant of the  sacraments, and all the rest of the world to be but ABOMINATION IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.”

The other remarkable manner in which today’s violent jihadis parallel the early Protestants is that they articulate their struggle, at least in part, as a reaction to the kleptocratic practices of local rulers — in the modern case, inspired and enabled by the United States.”

In her conclusion she states that the government corruption does more damage too because it drives the people suffering the insults of the corruption to the radicalized extremists.

And the worst part of reading this book is that intransigence of corrupt authority compounded by irrational beliefs (God wants me to run for President) is what is happening here in America in 2016. Violent religious extremism and a corrupt government owned by global multinationals with no concern for the common good.



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