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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 22, 2014

 
The ineptitude of the Deep State

by digby

This Bill Moyers show is your absolutely must-see, must read of the week-end. It's so good I'm tempted to just leave it at that. But just to give you a taste of what it's about, we must first stipulate that the following by Mike Lofgren is true:
As I wrote in The Party is Over, the present objective of congressional Republicans is to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (a goal which voter suppression laws in GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish). President Obama cannot enact his domestic policies and budgets; because of incessant GOP filibustering, not only could he not fill the large number of vacancies in the federal judiciary, he could not even get his most innocuous presidential appointees into office. Democrats controlling the Senate have responded by weakening the filibuster of nominations, but Republicans are sure to react with other parliamentary delaying tactics. This strategy amounts to congressional nullification of executive branch powers by a party that controls a majority in only one house of Congress.
That's all correct and it's worth all the commentary we devote to it. It's a break-down of the democratic process and the ultimate expression of the doubts our constitutional framers had about parties in the system they designed. But that's not what lies at the heart of our problems. Yes, the extreme factionalism of our party politics is making governance dysfunctional. But it's a reaction to something and while it's fairly incoherent (at least on the right) it's not completely irrational.

The thesis is about a dysfunction in our democracy that's much more pernicious:
Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct “dragnet” surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented — at least since the McCarthy era — witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement. Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity whatever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, to include arranging the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory. Despite their habitual cant about executive overreach by Obama, the would-be dictator, we have until recently heard very little from congressional Republicans about these actions — with the minor exception of a gadfly like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Democrats, save for a few mavericks like Ron Wyden of Oregon, are not unduly troubled, either — even to the extent of permitting seemingly perjured congressional testimony under oath by executive branch officials on the subject of illegal surveillance.

These are not isolated instances of a contradiction; they have been so pervasive that they tend to be disregarded as background noise. During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing thirteen people; during that same period of time, the government has spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of seventeen football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single electronic trace you make.

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can it be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.
This Deep State is not even especially good at being a Deep State. Which is why some of us flip out when we find out the kind of secret shennanigans they're pulling around the world. The chances of them making a huge mistake are far greater than anything that might happen by revealing them. They're just that inept.

And that's only part of what so many of us who trying to find our way through this are grappling with. Yes, both parties are equally implicated in this problem. But the reaction by the right is so ideologically extreme that you face the prospect of making all of this far worse when they are in power. So you end up empowering the Deep State, sort of by default. It's very difficult to see how to use the available levers of power to change this.

Watch the whole show here if you can. It's very enlightening.

And just by the way, Bill Moyers is indispensable. I don't know what we'd do without him.

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