Monday, August 9, 2010

Trusting the Government: Part One

The question of the title isn't something I actually want answered by anyone reading this. It's more a question I have for those who are outspoken about not trusting the government to run anything or "not wanting my tax dollars going to (fill in the space)".  That's fine and good. I'll admit that the government has run some things terribly. And yet it's only certain things that people point to, when there are two areas in particular where many folks who say these statements remain silent: the military/intelligence/industrial complex and what I'll call "law and order".

In this post, I'll look at the first.

President Eisenhower's farewell address contains this famous section:

"Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual --is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

I'll add "intelligence" to "military industrial" because they have become so connected in the years following World War II.

If you need any proof of the dangers he warned about, the "potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power" then I would point you to the Church Committee investigations of the CIA and the subsequent release of the CIA's "family jewels" . What these showed was an agency that had strayed way beyond it's charter and was engaging in questionable surveillance, and sometimes worse, of citizens on US soil. Oh yeah, and did I also mention dosing unsuspecting US citizens with LSD? For a more in depth look at the rather embarrassing history of the agency, read "Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA". A truly eye opening read.

"But Linton" you might say, "that was then, this is now and things have gotten so much better."

Okay, maybe we don't have government agencies dosing people with LSD least I hope not, but the whole area of military contractors, intelligence agencies and so forth are still wasteful and ineffective . Just read the recent Washington Post series "Top Secret America".

Among the findings of the series:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

I would also like to note that this article garnered barely a peep from the most vocal anti-government group of the moment, the Tea Party.

Basically many people who will gripe about anything to do with the government down to delivering their mail, will never question when the same government decides to take a country to war. Deference to the military is not something our country was built on. And even a wise old General like Ike recognized this. Showing a healthy skepticism about the ways one tax dollars are being spent in relationship to war isn't unpatriotic. Our military protects us, but it also serves us.

If half these people were worth their salt they would be objecting to the sheer waste of many of our military contractors with just as much venom as they gripe against welfare abuse. Part of this is a symptom of the simple-mindedness that is so prevalent in our country. One of my favorite columnists, Matt Taibbi put it this way when writing about some of the more recent Tea Party folks he'd witnessed:

"the Tea Party movement contains a lot of people who are far more impressed by what they can see with their own eyes than with what, for instance, they read about. I’ve been to Tea Party events where global warming was dismissed by speakers who, without irony, pointed to the fact that there was snow on the ground outside. And while very few people have ever actually seen a CDO manager or a Countrywide executive, or were aware if it when they saw them, the Tea Party folks sure as hell have seen who their neighbors in foreclosure are."

But maybe it isn't only that. Maybe people just feel so much safer leaving matters of defense to the "experts" and the "best and brightest", and that it isn't worth their time to care or worry about things so far away and beyond their control. But my warning would be that it was the "experts" who said that Iraq had WMDs, the "experts" who once told people that cigarettes wouldn't potentially kill you, and the "experts" waaaay before that who said the Earth was flat.

1 comment:

  1. A "healthy skepticism" is right. This characterization of Tea Partiers, while probably a gross over-generalization, does illustrate some of the intellectual inertia that one has to overcome in order to change the opinions of people who aren't accustomed to abstract (much less, critical) thinking. The problem is that so many of us are afraid of what thoughts we might encounter (or worse, facts) if we question the establishment around us.

    I hate to even acknowledge it, being a Christian, but the (misguided) contribution of religion to this problem has to be pointed out. We are taught truths mixed with untruths (that is the nature of human teaching and, in itself, is not to be much ashamed of) but, in the setting of religion we are also taught that deviation from the formula we have been taught amounts to evil itself, with scary, pernicious consequences that ultimate in eternal punishment. So we tend not to question such things. Of course, the same people who hold the opinions that we are too scared to question hold other strong opinions--and we tend to naturally avoid the cognitive dissonance that would be created if we questioned those opinions. This phenomenon is then amplified by a group mentality. So in the end, we have a 'blind leading the blind' situation, with no good way out because the fear of Hell itself is keeping us in the metaphorical dark.

    I do not want to disparage religion at all--I have found my faith to be very illuminating rather than blinding--but I think a "healthy skepticism" is an idea that might be well-taught from the pulpit itself, and its absence in some quarters might be attributed to an unintended consequence to religion misunderstood and misapplied.