Thursday, March 20, 2014

Selective Incompetence

If you've been following the stories about the NSA, then you know their technical capabilities are enormous. You know they have the power to intercept every email, tweet and phone call in the world. You know they can spy on world leaders. You know they can hack into any computer. You know they can break any encryption. You know they can tap into the Internet's "backbone." You know can they sift through trillions of bytes looking for information. You know they can store pedaflops of data. You know that they have a giant black-glass clad cube in the desert that houses billions of dollars (at least) in the latest computer equipment and pays employees and  contractors hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. There are probably a lot of other things I'm failing to mention due to my lack of technical knowledge. Their abilities are practically infinite, as is their budget. see this: A Running List of What We Know the NSA Can Do. So Far (The Brian Lehrer Show)

And yet the government could not get the Web site that offered health care to Americans up and running correctly on time. How is that possible?

Dmitry Orlov pointed out that Washington just pledged a billion dollars to help Ukraine, but pledged not one cent to help keep Detroit from bankruptcy. Where did the money come from?

Many others have noted the billions and billions of dollars poured into the failed state rebuilding projects of Afghanistan and Iraq, while at the same time we are unable to build high-speed rail in this country, and our creaky, crumbling infrastructure is falling apart while millions are unemployed.

Food stamps are cut while at the same time billions of dollars in subsidies to wealthy farmers and agribusinesses are retained and even expanded.

We're told that the deficit is an existential threat, yet taxes on the wealthy are perennially cut.

And, of course, 700 billion dollars was conjured out of nowhere to bail out the bankers, but things like Social Security and Medicare are "unaffordable," "unsustainable" and must be cut due to "hard choices." Apparently the bankers and bailed-out corporations were free of having to make those same "hard choices", however.

The government  is cutting back things like food inspection and enforcement of tax fraud, yet enforces copyright protection with such fervor that even downloading a single song or video from billion-dollar corporations results in hefty fines and jail terms.

The government puts drug users behind bars, but lets the criminals who wrecked the economy go scot-free. The government will spend tens of thousands to keep people behind bars, but not to give them a free college education.

Look at the NSA. Could an incompetent government do that? look at the military. Could an incompetent government do that.?

And yet New Orleans was left to drown in 2007.

What's going on here?

It seems like the government is selectively incompetent.  It seems like government is a powerful and effective tool when it comes to things that help out the one percent. At the same time, it seems like the government is the Keystone Cops when it comes to helping us out in the 99 percent, even with our society seemingly falling apart. Why do we permit this?

Instead we buy the simple bromides that  government is useless, wasteful and inefficient. Yet it seems to do astonishing things when it wants to; the capabilities of the NSA are testament to that fact, as is the very existence of the Internet itself. Cutting-edge technologies, from solar panels to the microchip were developed either directly by the government or with government money.Yet we're constantly told that "innovation" comes from the private sector alone, and that government is a useless parasite on society, worthless, a black hole hole for money that would be put to better use by the invisible hand.

All sorts of technical marvels and innovations, from new drugs to computers are developed by the government and then just handed over for free to the private sector to make money from. Then we must buy back the things we paid for with our own money while at the same time the corporations thank us for our generosity by charging us exorbitant amounts us to pad their profits and CEO salaries, while at the same laying us off and shipping our jobs overseas. You're welcome.

Why isn't this more of an issue? Is it because the corporate media doesn't want us to think about it?

Maybe it's not that government is inherently incompetent, it's just that the one percent make sure its incompetent for us (but not for them).

We're constantly told that the government is broke, but it seems to never lack money when it comes to comes to spying on us, jailing us, and waging eternal wars overseas. It always has money for foreigners and rebuilding countries we destroy, even as our own cities go bankrupt and turn off the lights and our infrastructure crumbles. It always has money for corporate welfare and bailouts on generous terms, just not for things like feeding the hungry, putting people back to work, or giving us a decent retirement income.

Imagine if the technological wizardry that the NSA has deployed, which has so impressed the information science/tech community for it's audacity and sophistication, were used instead to allow us to vote safely, transparently and securely online, instead of spying on us. How can they do what they do yet still claim this is impossible? As one expert has said, if you can bank online, you can vote online. Yet they do not do this. Why not? because that would give the voters more power, not the elites, and that is not what they want. Spying on us gives them more power, which is what they do want. This is not how democracy is supposed to work! But buying into the "government is incompetent" meme is not going to undo this.

The common thinking is that Americans will never sacrifice when you bring up things like moving to a non carbon-based economy or consuming less to help the environment or arrest global warming. Yet Americans are extremely willing to sacrifice if it's in the name of "debt." In fact, Tea Partiers are always out marching in the streets demanding that Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, welfare (TANF) and food stamps (SNAP) be cut or abolished because of the debt, despite that fact that taxes on wealth are at historic lows. It seems that Americans are extremely willing to sacrifice, just sacrifice what the elites want them to - retirement security and feeding to the poor and unemployed to keep taxes low for the one percent.

In fact, polls consistently show that majorities of Americans actually want the government to do more about poverty, unemployment, homelessness, inequality, infrastructure, education and so on. They have for a long time.

Polls do not show that we want to be spied upon, yet that's what the government does. Polls do not show support for corporate welfare or bailouts for Wall Street, yet that's what the government does. Polls do not show Americans want to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, yet the government does that as well. And when it comes to waging war, the Pentagon pulls out all the stops and spends millions of our own dollars to convince us that the enemy-du-jour on the other side of the globe is an existential threat. The government does not have to spend billions to convince us that people going bankrupt from healthcare costs is an existential threat, though. When was the last time you heard complainants about what the government spends on security and war? Yet I'm sure you've heard a lot how much the government is spending on health care and food stamps since the onset of recession in excruciating detail, right?

Right? Selective attention too. So it's no wonder people feel they have no control over the government and where their tax money goes.

And it becomes a self-enforcing cycle. As government becomes more incompetent for us, we lose faith in it, ensuring that it becomes more incompetent for us in the future for us but not for the one percent. The dirty secret is, they have no problems with government, their rhetoric is just for the masses. In fact, more and more of our tax dollars are being used to help them open new markets, keep them secure, do their research, bail them out, and pad their profits, educate their workforce, but not to help us out when we need it. We're told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps (but keep paying taxes). We're told that if government helps us out, that we'll become lazy and dependent. Apparently this is not a concern for the one percent and corporate fat cats, however, even as we subsidize sending jobs overseas and importing cheap labor. No wonder we're so mad at government!

Maybe it's not as simple as whether the government is good or bad. Maybe it's what kind of government is good or bad. If we actually had that kind of debate in America today, we might be getting somewhere, instead of the useless bickering we do have.

So, I would say that these simple bumper-sticker bromides--that the government is bad, that is incompetent, that it's wasteful, that it's broke, that it's evil--are just way too simplistic to describe what's really going on. It's selectively incompetent. It's selectively broke. When the rich and powerful want it to work for them, it does. It could work for us too. They just do their level best to make sure that it doesn't.

6 comments:

  1. Amen. Now, how do we convince the 1% to pay for the kind of government that helps the 99% instead?

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    1. That sounds kind of trollish, and I don't mean it to be.

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    2. How do the mice bell the cat?

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  2. We don't need them to pay for it - their wealth comes from us anyway. We just need to take our own wealth back and use it for ourselves.

    http://hipcrime.blogspot.com/2013/10/were-not-out-of-money.html

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    Replies
    1. You may be interested in this blog post, if you haven't seen it already.

      http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-finance-macro-canon.html

      That said, what I mean is the direct payment: contributions to political campaigns, Citizens United-style, and once in office, payments and favors in exchange for favorable legislation, ALEC-style. That's the link I think we have to break, if we are to change this thing. If a policy or candidate is against the status quo of enrichening the rich, it's unlikely that the rich will support it. And the candidates pay attention to what the rich want. Anyone who campaigns to the 99% won't get very far with the "Lesters" (per this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw2z9lV3W1g).

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  3. The common thinking is that Americans will never sacrifice when you bring up things like moving to a non carbon-based economy or consuming less to help the environment or arrest global warming. Yet Americans are extremely willing to sacrifice if it's in the name of "debt." In fact, Tea Partiers are always out marching in the streets demanding that Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, welfare (TANF) and food stamps (SNAP) be cut or abolished because of the debt, despite that fact that taxes on wealth are at historic lows. It seems that Americans are extremely willing to sacrifice, just sacrifice what the elites want them to - retirement security and feeding to the poor and unemployed to keep taxes low for the one percent.

    We are told that there's a risk-reward tradeoff. We are also told that a market economy means we are free to chꝏse. As you point out, it seems all of us choose material abundance (big guns, fast cars, houses, boats, etc.) over material security (Social Security, Medicare, jobs with bennies) while none of use choose security over abundance. Or perhaps not everyone's voice is being heard...

    And there are fewer and fewer jobs with bennies on offer...a trend that was in full steam decades before the ACA, at which time it suddenly became news...

    ReplyDelete

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