Journal: Chuck Spinney on Moral and Mental Collapse of the Federal Government

Ethics, Government, Legislation, True Cost

Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

EMPHASIS: The larger result of this cynical behaviour is a widespread moral and mental collapse that is rapidly transforming our experiment in building a government of the people, by the people, and for the people into a sham that is more like a 21st Century corporatist mutation of 18th Century court of Louis XVI.

Viewed retrospectively, the political economy of Versailles on the Potomac admits to only two stages in the life cycle of any government program, be it defense, a bailout of the banks, healthcare reform, or anything else: (1) It is too early to tell, and (2) it is too late to do anything about it.

Nowhere is the decision-making conundrum implied by these stages more clearly evident than in the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex, MICC, particularly in the acquisition of high tech weapon systems, but also in the decision to go to war.

That is because, when viewed prospectively, Stage 1 is clearly the inevitable result of a variety of well-defined bureaucratic maneuvers to deliberately misrepresent the future consequences of current decisions by exaggerating the needs and benefits of a program and downplaying its future burdens, especially costs. These tactics are used by bureaucrats and politicians to seduce the American people (via the President and Congress, who are sometimes victims but more often players in the game) into approving a program, before anyone understands the future consequences of that decision. The term of art for these Stage 1 tactics in the MICC is Front Loading, a term made famous by Navy Secretary John Lehman in the early 1980s.

Stage 2 consists of a variety of tactics designed to rapidly build up domestic political pressure on the decision makers to “stay the course,” once the inevitable lesser-than-promised benefits and higher-than-promised costs start to emerge  The term of art in the MICC for this equally systematic family of tactics is Political Engineering.  Together, these tactics are known as the Defense Power Games and I have described them in detail here and here and here.   While these power games inevitably generate colossal waste and a welter of misadventures larded with unforeseen consequences, perhaps their most enduring ramification is that their widespread use has legitimated a reduction in the art of governance to a cynical game, where the universal aim of the competition is to use any means to open the spigot controlling the flow money to the favored faction and to lock it open.

The Pentagon and the defense contractors and their wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress may have pioneered the art of gaming the system of checks and balances designed by the Framers of the Constitution to increase their own factional welfare, but recent events have made it stunningly clear that other federal agencies and regulators, congressional committees, and  industries have perfected their own variations of the MICC’s game — e.g., the Treasury, the Fed and the banksters; the FDA, NIH, and the pharmaceutical companies, and the health insurance mafia (whose complex relationships are explained in the attached article), to name three of the most egregious villains.  They have set up their own iron triangles — linking players in industry to players in the Executive and Legislative branches of government, complete with a well-greased influence-peddling system of revolving doors among industry, the federal and regulatory bureaucracies, and the committee staffs in Congress, and compliant reporters in the mainstream media, and they have perfected similar power games for tapping into the public trough to benefit specific factions at the expense of the majority of people.  To wit: The federal government just rewarded the perpetrators of the financial collapse of 2008 at the expense of the very people it was supposed to protect and serve.  And in health care (see below), the government seems more intent of rewarding the insurance companies whose murderous rapacity lies at the core of the healthcare crisis, than the very people the government is supposed to protect and serve.

The larger result of this cynical behaviour is a widespread moral and mental collapse that is rapidly transforming our experiment in building a government of the people, by the people, and for the people into a sham that is more like a 21st Century corporatist mutation of 18th Century court of Louis XVI.

The attached article in the 5 September issue of Rolling Stone by Matt Taibbi confirms this by describing the political economy of the effort to “reform” health care.  While differing in details, Taibbi’s analysis reveals a pattern of cynical behaviour that is entirely consistent with the political economy of the MICC.  It is one of the best, if not the best, descriptions of the widespread crisis in American governance I have ever read and should be “must” reading for every American who cares about the future of our country and the welfare of our children.

One final point: Some wags like to refer to legislation reforming health care as Obamacare, but if Taibbi is right, a more fitting name would be “The Let Them Eat Cake Act of 2009.”

Chuck Spinney

Pythagoreio, Nisos Samos, Greece

Phi Beta Iota:  The above editorial comment was inspired by the Rolling Stone piece Sick and Wrong.