The Consequences of Broken Government

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Posted December 7, 2016

Where to start? First there are Edward Snowden's troubling revelations of the massive albeit secret NSA domestic spying on American citizens. And then there is Mississippi House Bill 2 (Open Carry Law), the outrageously ill-advised piece of legislation from Braxton Representative Andy Gipson and his Republican Wild West legislative caucus. And then there is the always dependable, Phil "I Just Can't Take Yes for an Answer" Bryant's steadfast refusal to expand Medicaid to help the working poor. Oh yeah, expansion would also simultaneously create thousands of quality jobs within Mississippi's medical community funded almost exclusively with federal dollars. So why not? Because it is part of "Obamacare."

In sum, I fear that the America that was once the hope and envy of the world is no more. Congress has a 10% approval rating, the lowest in history, with the Republican/Tea Party and the Democrats frozen in a polarized standoff that accomplishes nothing while everything from out of control deficit federal spending on nation-building to unsustainable entitlement programs to unrestrained gun violence to our ever eroding immigration system are simply ignored. But thanks to legalized gerrymandering, the bought and paid for Citizen's United politicians don't give a happy damn about what is good for the country. Rather, they just want to make sure they continue their perk-heavy lives as career politicians. Their biggest concern is that if they actually compromise for the greater good, they will get primary'd (sic) (new verb form like "went missing") by some whack job from their own party that is even more to the right or left of themselves.

The one area of efficiency in government is the standing guarantee that Wall Street and the giant multi-national conglomerates will be heavily subsidized while escaping scrutiny of their practices and punishment for their crimes save for an occasional face saving slap on the wrist orchestrated for public consumption. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations a well oiled revolving door between Wall Street (the regulated, in theory only) and the federal government (the regulators, in theory only) has spun right along to make sure that the rich and powerful of the financial world have carte blanche. One need only read The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Bailout by Neil Barofsky to understand the egregious and reprehensible scope of Wall Street's public-be-damned behavior, all with the blessing of the executive and legislative branches of our government. Yes, some of the worst offenders may pay fines. After all, that's what money is for, but no executive has been prosecuted by the Bush or Obama administrations despite the subprime mortgage scam, the massive robo-signing foreclosure scandal, the AIG Credit Default Swap disaster, TARP mismanagement and on and on. Can anybody say, Too Big To Fail? Certainly not the Bush or Obama administrations. And who bails out Wall Street when it all goes bad? Just take a guess. Why? Wall Street and other huge corporations can make big campaign contributions to Super Pacs and can afford an army of lobbyists to kill, thwart or minimize Congressional oversight and reform by compromised government officials. Plus, there is always someone from Goldman Sachs minding the store in D.C. to protect Wall Street's interests. Meanwhile, the American public is fed their daily dose of propaganda by right wing talk radio and cable news about the wonders of unrestrained capitalism, the virtues of the private sector, needless government regulation … blah blah blah. If you think I am exaggerating, just read the two earlier referenced books.

On the other end of the spectrum, state legislatures have nothing better to do than pass dumb gun laws while scrupulously avoiding common sense measures like universal background checks to reduce gun violence. Polls show that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Citizens favor these measures, including NRA members. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora and the daily killing sprees that go unabated in cities like Chicago and Chicago Lite aka Jackson, nothing happens. Why? For one thing, the National Rifle Association, which represents the gun and ammo industries, uses its typical scare tactics to stop any reasonable measures in their tracks. "Obama Is Gonna Take Your Guns Away!" The President has remained silent on gun control since taking office. "Then Only Criminals Will Have Guns!" How many people, including those suffering from mental illness, had no criminal record until just after they pulled the trigger? "My Second Amendment Rights Are Absolute." Really? Oh, and by the way, why don't these people ever talk about the "well regulated militia" part of the Second Amendment? That part, now ignored, made a little more sense back in the 18th century? Once again the highly coordinated dissemination of fear aimed at an often times unsophisticated constituency works like a charm every time. The NRA figured that one out a long time ago. And legislators in conservative states willing to support reasonable measures to minimize gun violence are instantly labeled "Left Wing Liberal Second Amendment Enemies." End of story, and so the carnage goes on unabated.

That is bad enough, but what possible benefit accrues from House Bill 2? For Mr. Gipson's information, Jackson has been named the eighth most dangerous city in America by no less than the FBI based on its most recent crime statistics. As a resident of Mississippi's Capital City, the last thing I want to encounter on the streets is a liquored up version of Wild Bill Hickok on a downtown sidewalk or at an event wearing a holstered gun with mortality hovering just a quick draw away. And then there are mentally ill versions of Newtown's Adam Lanza or Aurora's James Holmes who are on the waiting list for Whitfield whenever one of their few rationed beds opens up. In the meantime, let's say that this potential mass shooting nutty buddy is packing heat when he decides he doesn't like the color of my car. (I confess, it is blue which is often associated with Democrats) or that maybe my license plate number is a secret alien code and he has been commanded by God to do something about it. I don't know about you, but I have encountered one or two of these folks in my life time and as Mr. La Pierre knows, it only takes one shot to rub you out. But I guess down in Braxton where Mr. Gipson lives they don't have as many of those kinds of folks. And of course there are armed guards at the Capitol Building, so what's the big deal? Plus the working poor without health insurance can always just catch the bus to the ER if they get sick, so why waste taxpayer money addressing that non-issue. That is the mindset of way too many of our so called leaders and many more of our citizens who consistently vote against their own interests in America's poorest state. Cause and effect?

Now, only because I can sense that my editor is twitching with anticipation over the ricin laced hate mail sure to be prompted by this little pro bono piece of journalism (surely others will replace journalism with the "S" word), let's address one more issue about Broken Government upon which most of us can agree. Number one, the U.S. government is too big; way too big. Beyond the astronomical cost and breathtaking inefficiency (Think T.S.A. which is an air travel acronym for "They're Standing Around" albeit in snappy, matching dark blue shirts made in Bangladesh) and all the mind numbing duplication, is the government's obsession with secrecy. If you think I am referring to the NSA, CIA, FISA Courts and God knows how many other tax payer funded federal agencies and private contractors whose common denominator is "Intelligence Gathering," you would be right.

The problem revolves around the government's round the clock mining of personal information on all American citizens. While Mr. Snowden becomes less of a hero with each passing day, he did show us all the tip of the iceberg that is the intelligence industry. The President tells us it's okay because a secret FISA court in a secret opinion says it's okay. No government official would dare abuse this "security" information, right? Recall that our old buddy Uncle Dick said it was okay to out covert CIA agent Valerie Plame in an act of political retribution, especially since he got his own chief of staff, Scooter Libby to take the fall for it. But not to worry, Scooter's pardon would be commuted in short order by W. And also recall that Uncle Dick said torture was okay too. I mean if you can't trust the Vice President of the United States, who can you trust?

But there is a bigger potential problem when broken government intersects with massive secret data collection in the name of enhanced security.

But there is a bigger potential problem when broken government intersects with massive secret data collection in the name of enhanced security. As quick review of world history shows when people are frustrated with their government and fear for their security the seeds for abuse are sown. When you throw in sophisticated propaganda, people don't fully get the big picture until it is too late. Similar circumstances gave the world Hitler, Stalin, Mao and to a lesser extent, Baby Doc in Haiti, and Idi Amin in Uganda. Then there is Assad in Syria and the Kim family of North Korea. Who knows what will happen in Egypt and Turkey. It all starts with a broken status quo followed by an autocratic regime promising bold solutions propped up by domestic surveillance and secrecy which makes unilateral retribution for those who don't tow the line much easier.

There are three more visionary books to put on your reading list that in effect predicted much of what America has and could become. All of these classics were written more than sixty to seventy years ago. I know I have recommended them before in this column, but they become more relevant with each passing day. They are Brave New World (1931) by Aldous Huxley; It Can't Happen Here (1935) by Sinclair Lewis, and; 1984 (1949) by George Orwell. Each involves the emergence and maintenance of totalitarian states by the abuse of power, secret data collection and constant governmental propaganda. To greater or lesser degrees, all these books reference the rise of fascism, which is the confluence of a totalitarian form of government intertwined with business and industry, in what were formerly Western Democracies

Huxley wrote of citizens willingly succumbing to a sophisticated governmental program of data collection and mind control. Today it would be called Facebook and Twitter meets the NSA. While Sinclair Lewis was obviously writing about the prospect of power hungry populist Huey Long running against FDR in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression, is it too much to imagine Joe McCarthy, Nixon and Watergate or even a more heavy handed version of Uncle Dick in today's technological world? And then there is Orwell's Big Brother and Newspeak which today would be known as the NSA and the Far Right Propaganda Machine of talk radio and cable news. Add to all of this the ever stronger influence that wealthy special interests exert over politicians thanks to Citizen's United et al, and the prospect of Fascism Lite in America becomes increasingly worrisome. I know, this is America, It Can't Happen Here. Read Sinclair Lewis.