Read yesterdays's post Have You Had Enough Yet? if you haven't already done so.
As we enter the final 24 hours of the manufactured debt ceiling "crisis", I'm sure that many of you are having trouble taking the United States seriously. That's understandable because America is not a serious enterprise. A tiny minority of America's citizens stopped taking this country seriously a long time ago. And then there are The Great Unwashed, aka. "consumers", who constitute the vast majority of the citizenry. They are impervious to any development which does not involve Cowboys and Aliens, Miley Cyrus [left] or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. About half of these zombies will vote in 2012.
When I say "the country" I am referring to our Imperial Capital, the grifters who make a dishonest living there, and the co-opted (but serious and self-important) ding dongs who report on their every move. The question becomes who can take America's public life, its politics or its governance seriously?
Yet we are forced to pay attention to those in Washington because of the damage to ordinary folks they are capable of doing, and do do, every day. (Sorry, that was a pun.) The divide between those Inside the Beltway and those dwelling in the hinterlands outside it has never been greater. I do take the lives of ordinary Americans seriously, even if most of them are only keeping up with the Kardashians. These people, such as they are, are our friends and neighbors.
And then there are those in the Tea Party, an interesting group that has caused no end of trouble lately. These people are animated, talking zombies who have been programmed by Roger Ailes to support tax cuts for the rich and oppose entitlements for the elderly. But I digress. Brainwashing is not my subject today.
If you are still wondering whether you should take this country seriously in the sense just described, look no further than the ACLU's recent report Drastic Measures Required — Congress Needs To Overhaul U.S. Secrecy Laws And Increase Oversight Of The Security Establishment. Writing these kinds of reports on what Congress needs to do keeps a few lawyers employed and highlights the inherent futility and pointlessness of all things Imperial.
No analysis is necessary. I'll merely quote from the report.
The President's Secrecy Problem
Secrecy run amok
Excessive government secrecy is obviously not a new phenomenon. Nearly every entity commissioned to study classification policy over the last sixty years, from the Coolidge Committee in 1956 through the Moynihan Commission in 1997, has reached the same conclusion: the federal government classifies far too much information, which damages national security and destroys government accountability and informed public debate. Despite the results of these studies, reform has proven elusive and we are now living in an age of government secrecy run amok:
On January 21, 2009, one day after taking office, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of every executive agency detailing his administration’s commitment to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” The President declared his belief that increasing the public trust through transparency, public participation, and collaboration will “strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” The President ordered all federal agencies responding to public requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to institute a “presumption in favor of disclosure,” reversing the so-called “Ashcroft doctrine” that had governed during the Bush administration. The administration funded a FOIA ombudsman and required agencies to release some information proactively and in formats useable by the general public...
- According to the Washington Post, there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies working on programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence , and an estimated 854,000 people hold top-secret security clearances [which is nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C.]
- In 2009, the Government Accountability Office estimated that about 2.4 million Department of Defense civilian, military and contractor personnel hold security clearances at the confidential, secret and top secret levels. Remarkably, this figure does not include personnel at intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010 required the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to calculate and report the aggregate number of security clearances for all government employees and contractors to Congress by February 2011, but the DNI has so far failed to produce this data
- According to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), the government made a record 76,795,945 classification decisions in 2010, an increase of more than 40% from 2009. ISOO changed the way it counted electronic records in 2009 so exact year-to-year comparisons are not possible, but this figure is more than eight times the 8,650,735 classification decisions recorded in 2001. One-fourth of the security classification guides the government used in 2010 had not been updated within five years as required.
- Document reviews conducted by ISOO in 2009 discovered violations of classification rules in 65% of the documents examined, with several agencies posting error rates of more than 90%. Errors which put the appropriateness of the classification in doubt were seen in 35% of the documents ISOO reviewed in 2009, up from 25% in 2008.16 A similar analysis was not included in the 2010 ISOO report.
- The cost of protecting these secrets has also skyrocketed over the last several years. ISOO estimated security classification activities cost the executive branch over $10.17 billion in 2010, a 15% increase from 2009, and cost industry an additional $1.25 billion, up 11% from the previous year. A meager 0.5% of this amount was spent on declassification. The government spent only $50.44 million on declassification in 2010, which is $182.74 million less than it spent in 1999. The fact is, there are significant physical costs associated with protecting our secrets, and unnecessary classification wastes security resources.
Reality has not always lived up to the rhetoric, however. Over the months since this promising start, the Obama administration:
- Embraced the Bush administration’s tactic of using overbroad “state secrets” claims to block lawsuits challenging government misconduct.
- Fought a court order to release photos depicting the abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody and supported legislation to exempt these photos from FOIA retroactively. Worse, the legislation gave the Secretary of Defense sweeping authority to withhold any visual images depicting the government’s “treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained” by U.S. forces, no matter how egregious the conduct depicted or how compelling the public’s interest in disclosure
- Threatened to veto legislation designed to reform congressional notification procedures for covert actions
- Aggressively pursued whistleblowers who reported waste, fraud and abuse in national security programs with criminal prosecutions to a greater degree than any previous presidential administration
- Refused to declassify information about how the government uses its authority under section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect information about Americans not relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations
Moreover, when opportunities for taking bold measures to attack unnecessary secrecy arose, the administration failed to act or chose timid and incremental steps instead.
The O-Man apparently has failed to created an unprecedented level of openness in government. Quelle surprise!
Now, I ask you: after reading these parts of the ACLU report, can you still take this country seriously? Certainly not in the sense I meant above—all this secrecy, corruption, fraud and waste is laughable. Are you safer because there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies working on programs related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence? Of course not. That's silly. Most of these programs amount to legal theft—this nonsense is a form of embezzlement or misappropriation. You can think of it as pigs feeding at the Imperial government's spending trough.
There is however a sense in which you must take this country very seriously indeed. The extraordinary concentration of Power And Paranoia which exists in Washington is a very serious threat to our civil liberties, just as the debt ceiling resolution and the long aftermath to come—the inevitable Austerity—is bound to eventually pose a threat to our economy and standards of living.
An ongoing Threat to the People—that is the common theme of our national politics and public life.