Neoconservative Republicans essentially do not care how poorly the institutions of government work because their ultimate goal is to decimate those institutions. Whether it is mining regulations, banking, securities, health care, social security, environmental protection, education, communications, immigration, port security or emergency management, the goal is the same: Privatize basic functions and reduce government oversight responsibility to a rubber stamp.
In neoconservative parlance, it is called “Starving the beast.”
The beast is the government, itself, and while our elected officials are not so bold as to deliver a killing thrust, they can bleed the beast with a thousand razor-like cuts and deny essential funding required to maintain its functions.
From the perspective of society’s well-being, the failures of the Starve the Beast policy have been nothing short of spectacular yet few analysts or pundits have bothered to connect the dots between the policy and its outcomes.
The most glaring example continues to shine as a beacon of national disgrace in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Region. Much has been said about the failures of officials at all levels of government, from the mayor to the Oval Office. Relatively little has been said about the deliberate and methodical dismantling of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in five years under the Bush administration. Former director and designated fall guy Michael Brown duly noted in his congressional testimony that years of budget cuts, under-funding and neglect bled the agency of required expertise and qualified administrators. The creation of the super agency Homeland Security only hastened the demise of FEMA, siphoning off critical funds for secret operations under the banner of terrorism.
By the time hurricane season 2005 rolled around, everyone left at FEMA held their breath, knowing that they were not prepared for a major disaster.
The record hurricane season was not only predictable; it was predicted.
The failure of New Orleans’ levees was not only predictable; it was predicted. The failure of government response was equally predicable and fully foreseen.
In the wake of Katrina, what has the government done? It has channeled literally billions of dollars to private corporations (notably vice president Cheney’s former company Halliburton) charged with remaking New Orleans in its own vision. It has stood by while insurance conglomerates refuse to honor their fair and honest commitments. It has allowed media to highlight continuing government waste and mind-bending mismanagement: Empty mobile homes in Hope, Arkansas, untouched mountains of debris, closed hospitals and morgues while the bodies of the dead remain unfound or unidentified.
In recent years, I have often joined the chorus of befuddled voices decrying the sheer ineptitude of this government. The charge still holds for foreign policy but I fear that reality on all matters domestic is more malicious:
Starve the Beast!
In education, unfunded federal testing requirements and special education mandates compel financially strapped states and local governments to bleed the beast at its source. It is a prescription for the systemic failure of public education, which the new Republicans (and like minded Democrats) will use to demonize teachers and reissue the call for privatization in the form of school vouchers. Why have no politicians demanded that private schools (predominantly religious and the beneficiaries of privatization) receiving public funds be held to the same accountability standards as public schools?
Starve the Beast!
In energy policy, even after a handful of Texas-based corporations defrauded the citizens of California, Oregon and Washington of billions of dollars (arguably, triggering a recession and the demise of the high-tech industry), there has been no concerted effort to repeal the deregulation process that made it possible. The subsequent Enron debacle (also Texas based) resulted in accounting reform: Accounting reform for systemic failure? Whom are they kidding?
Starve the Beast!
In the matter of port security, the administration has made it clear that the principles of privatization and a global “free” economy trump all concerns for national security. Director of Homeland Security Michael “Heckofajob” Chertoff assures us that the secret vetting process is airtight. Right: “Trust me.” Why shouldn’t we trust you when you have performed so brilliantly in the past?
Starve the Beast!
With all the focus given to the Dick Cheney shooting incident rationalized by administration critics as a metaphor for the reign of the neocons, I respectfully dissent. While there may be some metaphorical value in the vice president’s hunting prowess, the real metaphor remains the Ninth Ward in New Orleans.
The final chapter of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (as it was, is and will be for health care, social security, job creation, poverty, discrimination, on and on) will be yet another pitch for privatization.
The president will throw up his hands and candidly admit: Government does not work. Let’s hand the whole business over to private corporations, even if it means placing strategic port security in the hands of an international conglomerate from the United Arab Emirates.
Kill the Beast!
It is very popular to dismiss all institutions of government as inept but it is a very dangerous generalization. When the government works, it serves not only useful but essential functions. In a democracy, it is the bridge that connects the common people to the halls of power. When government does not work, there is a cost in lives and livelihoods, as well as civil liberties and social well-being.
It is not the government that is inept; it is this government. As responsible citizens, it falls to us to repair the damage by replacing those who do not believe in the very concept of government with those who do.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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