Monday, September 29, 2008

Government is Not the Problem

And who can view this mess
And pray for success
With Wall Street tycoons
Using us buffoons
With fundamentals strong
Yet bread lines long
And finances so dire
Who is the biggest liar?
Bush/Paulson hints at Fate
But is it deliberate?

Let me shed some light on the questions posed in the verse above to those of you who may not be keeping up with the financial and political theater currently playing in venues near you. The crisis is deliberate. The fear being injected by the White House is exactly parallel to the fear generated by GW Bush just prior to invading “sovereign” Iraq. I was struck by the 25 September 2008 John Stewart parallel running of video clips of the Bush drumbeat of fear not only repeated, but that it was virtually word for word from his “warnings” about Iraq. For those of you who see government as a purposeful instrument to create commonwealth, this will be heart-breaking news, but some far right-wingers want to destroy government. Their patron saint, Grover Norquist has finally seen his dream within reach. He sees government as the “beast” that must be starved until it can be drowned in the bathtub. What better way to starve the beast than to create debt so huge that none of the usual services of government can be provided? If New Orleans and Galveston did not provide a sufficient bathtub, then Wall Street has exceeded expectations. Victory for the plutocrats can now be achieved by destroying all the usual government services and firmly establishing the rule of money. All services, including human services, and even our national defense services have been badly maimed by profligate spending, outsourcing of key activities, elimination and diminution of oversight and regulation, and damaging labor and the agencies supporting it. When the Bush Administration was forced to recognize some of the agencies such as the USDA or FDA, it deliberately chose to reduce the number of inspectors and, worse, indicated that the purpose of those remaining was to help the companies providing goods and services rather than the public at large. To be fair, this began before GW Bush. He simply perfected the assault techniques.
Bush has simultaneously presided over the largest increase in government while reducing critical government services in areas such as food inspection, drug testing (remember VIOXX?), OSHA, Mine Safety, EPA, etc. Further, he has done it through a simple premise that the market knows better than government and that his clients are the corporations in the marketplace rather than the citizens paying the taxes. He uses clever names such as the “Clear Sky Initiative” while fouling the air. His Neocon tactics include the following:
1. Where possible, eliminate government agencies that now provide services to oversee corporations. Deregulate.
2. Where that cannot be done, under-staff or do not staff the agencies at all.
3. Where that cannot be done, then staff the agencies with incompetent and/or antagonistic managers.
4. In any event, outsource key activities including oversight to corporations loyal to the administration. Use no-bid contracts and executive discretion in assigning contracts.
5. Where these measures fail, support corporations through judicial review by sympathetic judges. The “free” market needs a boost to ensure the right corporations thrive.
Time was when caveat emptor might have been sufficient for most circumstances. If nobody added chemicals to milk and you could smell that it was not sour, then perhaps it was safe for your children to drink. In today’s marketplace, we need testing for listeria, for melamine, for E. coli, etc., in our food products; we need to know about lead contamination in toys and we need to be able to compare complex products. People get hurt when we do not set rules, test and enforce. We, as a commonwealth, need to protect one another and to nurture life rather than corporations. Again, corporations do not have colonoscopies. People do. It seems ironic to me that the very politicians who scream to protect the unborn deliberately ignore safety and health after that moment of birth as they champion the interests of corporations over the common man.
The complexity of our food and other products we use daily extends to the financial world. We use general terms to describe some of these products, but it takes experts to distinguish one derivative from another. Some products were so complex that valuation escaped the experts. The upshot of all this…the only conclusion that we can draw is that Reagan was incorrect. Government is not the problem. Bad government is the problem. Medicare is one of the best programs ever developed by our government, yet the Neocons seek to destroy it and replace it with commercial systems. Social Security has protected the dignity and financial security of our citizens from the 1930s, but Neocons would have replaced it with individual commercial accounts using the mantra of an “ownership society.” Exactly where would we be if the Bush plan had been adopted given our current financial meltdown? We would have bread lines without bread, that’s what. We need to fix Social Security, not destroy it. We need to remember that the federal drug plan was written by drug companies for drug companies, just as our energy plan was written by energy companies. It put the government in the position of, again, protecting corporations rather than people, especially those on fixed incomes. It forbid the government from getting low bids for drugs and is far more expensive than it needs to be. That is not due to government. That is due to bad government. There is a clear difference. Government must serve the people first; not corporations, except as they help our commonwealth.
Just think calmly about the tactics. Bush and McCain accuse Democrats of being the “Tax and Spend” party while they borrow and spend and reduce taxes on the most wealthy among us. If they borrow enough, then the government cannot function and they win by default and by de-funding programs that are needed in a complex new world. This borrowing is now at a record high and about to rocket higher. In the interim, prior to collapse, Neocons can give out contracts to friends and appoint “agency assassins” to head up government departments they want to shut down. Examples abound. Bush insisted on appointing John Bolton to the UN despite his hatred of the institution. But long before GW Bush, Nixon appointed Howard Phillips, a virulent right winger, to lead the Office of Equal Opportunity that Phillips antagonistically described as a “Marxist concept.” He systematically fired moderate Republicans; hired YAF extremists, and withheld budget. Katrina has cost taxpayers about $100 Billion and yet few victims have returned to New Orleans. Contracts went to cronies and work simply did not get done much as in Iraq. The ice for Katrina victims continued to avoid refugee centers and was shipped willy-nilly to “earn” money by favored shippers. Until this latest financial crisis and with the painful exception of the questionable but costly war in Iraq, Katrina provided the single largest boondoggle of any in our history. FEMA was led by a man who had failed at arranging horse shows. Brown was a byproduct of Joe Allbough who had no FEMA experience either, but was a close friend of GW Bush and a major contributor to Bush campaigns. After recommending Brown to Bush, then Joe Allbough set up his lobby and was able to garner millions in Katrina contracts. That’s what friends are for.
Please read The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank. Most of the examples provided in this essay are from his well-documented book. It is scary, but you need to read it to understand why things do not appear to make sense and why people now trust government less today than at any time in history. We need moderates to gain control of government. Good Republicans and Democrats who understand the common good, the commonwealth. We need quality employees and a vibrant Civil Service dedicated to citizens instead of corporations. We need to insist on good government to earn the trust of America.

George Giacoppe
28 September 2008

No comments: