Most Americans, regardless of ideology, oppose "crony capitalism" or "cronyism." Cronyism is where politicians write laws aimed at helping their favored business beneficiaries. Despite public opposition to cronyism, politicians still seek to use the legislative process to help special interests.

For example, Congress may soon vote on legislation outlawing Internet gambling. It is an open secret, at least inside the Beltway, that this legislation is being considered as a favor to billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Adelson, who is perhaps best known for using his enormous wealth to advance a pro-war foreign policy, is now using his political influence to turn his online competitors into criminals.

Every regime has its own name for its secret police. Mussolini's OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin's NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror, and depopulation. Hitler's Gestapo went door-to-door ferreting out dissidents and other political "enemies" of the state. And in the U.S., it's the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues, and mosques, is issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans' phone records, is using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or is persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation's secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss' dirty work.

It's a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers. The government's henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

If you go to your doctor with severe pain or some other symptom suggesting a serious injury or illness, do you want him or her to have a financial incentive to treat you, or would you rather the doctor have a financial incentive to withhold care?

Although few will admit it, a sizable number of health-care policy wonks seem to prefer the latter, having apparently diagnosed doctors being paid for the care they provide patients as one of the problems with the U.S. health-care system.

This view was perhaps best expressed by President Barack Obama back in the summer of 2009, when he was pushing for what ultimately became the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. "You come in and you've got a bad sore throat, or your child has a bad sore throat or has repeated sore throats," Obama said at a press conference. "The doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, 'You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid's tonsils out.'"

The heart of this allegation is what is known as fee-for-service medicine. Essentially, this means doctors are paid for the treatment they provide patients, no more and no less. In other words, pretty much the same way most of us pay lawyers, accountants, mechanics, hair stylists, and anybody else who provides a service for us.

The Federal Reserve is responsible for implementing U.S. monetary policy. As it directs the world's largest economy, the Fed earns top rank among powerful institutions. Though the central bank guides state monetary policy, the Fed is largely a private institution. As such, bank operations move in secrecy, absent of oversight from the public arena. Thanks to Carmen Segarra, however, we now have some keen insight to the inner operations of the Federal Reserve System.

Segarra was recently employed at the New York Fed as a bank examiner, charged with ensuring the bank followed internal regulations and conducting "oversight" of the economic powerhouse. During her tenure, Segarra grew suspicious that the Fed was rather lenient with powerful, well-connected investment banks - notably Goldman Sachs (a key player in the 2008 financial crisis). To document her concerns, she recorded 46 hours of private meetings and conversations. Her recordings reveal the Fed is, in fact, rather cozy with the financial institutions it's supposed to regulate. With evidence in hand, Segarra voiced her objections. She was soon fired.

America is in the grip of a highly profitable, highly organized, and highly sophisticated sex-trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.

It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the U.S. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as nine years old. This doesn't include those who entered the "trade" as minors and have since come of age. Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. As one rescue organization estimated, an under-aged prostitute might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.

This is America's dirty little secret.

Bruce Rauner changed my mind on term limits. Probably not in the way he intended, but given my longstanding dislike of them, it's still quite an accomplishment.

The Republican nominee for Illinois governor has a television ad promoting term limits in which he pings his November opponent, Governor Pat Quinn. "A half-million people signed petitions to put term limits on the [November 2014] ballot," Rauner says. "Illinois voters overwhelmingly support term limits: Democrats, Republicans, and independents. But Pat Quinn, Mike Madigan, and the Springfield crowd don't care what you think. They'll say or do anything to keep power. They let term limits get kicked off the ballot, but come November, it's our turn to kick them out of office."

It's a smart play to emphasize support for an ever-popular reform - and also disingenuous beyond the vague claim of "let[ting] term limits get kicked off the ballot." Quinn has been a proponent of term limits for decades. And the June court ruling - which higher courts have let stand - removing the referendum from the ballot cited an Illinois Supreme Court decision from 1994, which dealt with a similar term-limit initiative by ... Pat Quinn.

But it was the Madigan reference in Rauner's ad that got me thinking - and got me re-thinking term limits.

How would the City of Davenport have covered the recent vetoes by Mayor Bill Gluba of the Dock development plan and the St. Ambrose University rezoning request for a new stadium? And how would it have covered Gluba's proposal to bring illegal immigrants to Davenport, which was - to put it mildly - poorly received by the city council?

These were the questions that came to mind with the revelation by the Quad-City Times' Barb Ickes (on the same day as the vetoes) that the Fiscal Year 2015 city budget includes $178,000 for what she described as "a news-based Web site ... [to] shine new light on positive and negative city happenings."

It's clear that the site is an attempt to, at least in part, bypass the traditional news media and speak directly to constituents about good things city government is doing and positive developments in Davenport - without that pesky "other side" of the story. And, given our local television stations' tendency to air unsourced and vaguely sourced stories, one might infer that another motivation is giving those broadcast news operations easily adaptable material that would warmly present Davenport.

But this idea was also pitched by city staff quoted in the article as "bold" and a "deep dive," words that suggest ambition beyond marketing. As Davenport Business Development Manager (and former daily-newspaper reporter) Tory Brecht said: "As far as we can tell, no U.S. city has embarked on this effort."

The news site is supposed to be launched in the next few months, and of course it's impossible to pass judgment on it without actually seeing the thing.

Yet the twin aims of the initiative seem fundamentally incompatible, and it's hard to envision how the nobler of these goals can be accomplished given the inherent lack of independence in a city-run "news" operation.

And that's why I return to the Dock, the St. Ambrose stadium, and the Gluba immigration proposal. These were the city's big stories last month, and one can't envision a Davenport news site ignoring them while retaining its credibility. But I can't for the life of me figure out how it would have covered them.

There's a lot to love about America and its people: their pioneering spirit, their entrepreneurship, their ability to think outside the box, their passion for the arts, etc. Increasingly, however, I find things I don't like about living in a nation that has ceased to be a sanctuary for freedom.

Here's what I don't like about living in America.

I don't like being treated as if my only value to the government is as a source of labor and funds. I don't like being viewed as a consumer and bits of data. I don't like being spied on and treated as if I have no right to privacy, especially in my own home.

I don't like government officials who lobby for my vote only to ignore me once elected. I don't like having representatives unable and unwilling to represent me. I don't like taxation without representation.

Roman Catholic leaders from Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga to Pope Francis himself have made news this year in their criticisms of supposed free-market economies, likening them to a form of idolatry that exploits and denies access to the poor. Because Catholic social teachings emphasize stewardship and aid to the less fortunate, clergymen such as Maradiaga have taken aim at perceived "structural causes for poverty."

It is in identifying these causes that the cardinal's fulminations against free markets become problematic. While he can hardly be blamed for supposing that something in relations between rich and poor is amiss, it is his faith in the positive interventions of the state that is the "deception." Ironically, the "free market" that Maradiaga so sincerely denounces is itself a product of deep and sustained state coercion on a scale not often recognized for what it is. We must therefore distinguish between two ways of employing the phrase "free market," lest we fall into the trap that caught Maradiaga - the trap of opposing libertarianism in principle without actually understanding the economic system it prescribes.

"A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty." - James Madison

"Here [in New Mexico], we are moving more toward a national police force. Homeland Security is involved with a lot of little things around town. Somebody in Washington needs to call a timeout." - Dan Klein, retired Albuquerque Police Department sergeant

If the United States is a police state, then the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its national police force, with all the brutality, ineptitude, and corruption such a role implies. In fact, although the DHS's governmental bureaucracy may at times appear to be inept and bungling, it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to building what the Founders feared most - a standing army on American soil.

The third largest federal agency behind the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, the DHS - with its 240,000 full-time workers, $61-billion budget, and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs & Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency - has been aptly dubbed a "runaway train."

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