“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
With less than eight months to go before the next presidential election, political chatter among the candidates is ramping up and serious political discourse is declining. All the while, the corrupt government machine is taking advantage of a populace distracted by the political theater to advance agendas that are completely at odds with the nation’s fiscal, legislative and constitutional priorities. Indeed, the process of voting and electing a new president has become little more than an expensive, sophisticated ruse designed to deceive us into thinking we actually have a say in what happens in our government. However, the sad fact is that the United States government has ballooned into an overreaching, out-of-control bureaucracy accountable to no one in particular—not Congress or the president and least of all the taxpayers.
Thus, while the candidates mug for the cameras, American taxpayers are being taken to the cleaners—a different kind of mugging, altogether—by government officials eager to placate their corporate benefactors. While the surveillance state is slowly being erected around us, our civil liberties are systemically being dismantled. While our government wages war after endless war abroad, the war on the American people—fought with sound cannons, Tasers and drones—is entering its early stages. And while the partisan rancor over who will occupy the White House becomes more toxic with each passing day, the elephant in the room—what no one is talking about—is the fact that it doesn’t really matter who gets elected, because no matter how often we change out the resident of the Oval Office, the immense, intractable, implacable, bureaucratic colossus that is our federal government remains entrenched.
In other words, the more things change, the more they remain the same. On Wednesday, November 7, the day after the next president is elected, the government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups—will be largely unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—will continue to trudge along a path of misery.
Make no mistake, while Americans are busy quibbling over which political savior is best-suited to rescue us from certain destruction, the government’s outrages—runaway spending, graft, pork barrel legislation, corporate collusion, and so on—are continuing to mount. Unmitigated waste, profligate spending and inexcusable mismanagement—the common denominators between all government agencies—perfectly illustrate the magnitude of the problem we face when it comes to an out-of-control, bureaucratic government that marches in lockstep with the corporate state.
For a start, consider national defense spending, which enriches the military-industrial complex to the tune of $740 billion and routinely falls prey to corruption and mismanagement. Who could forget the ten C-17 cargo planes purchased by Congress at the urging of the defense industry for a whopping $2.4 billion, despite the fact that the Pentagon insisted it didn’t need them? Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.
Then there’s the $4 trillion War on Terror, which has seen at least $31 billion (and as much as $60 billion or more) lost to waste and fraud by military contractors and other government officials. A classic example of this was the $300 million diesel power plant that was built in Afghanistan despite the fact that it wouldn’t be used regularly “because its fuel cost more than the Afghan government could afford to run it regularly.” Or the $4 million paid to Afghan contractors for paving a 17.5-mile road in Ghazni province, which only resulted in 2/3 of a mile of road being paved.
Our expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1,000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe. A government audit found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayers for mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:
$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents; $644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.
Pork barrel spending (the earmarking of outrageous sums of money in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions) borders on the ludicrous. In 2010, for instance, the federal government gave the University of California at Santa Cruz $615,000 to digitize Grateful Dead memorabilia. Then there was the $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film. Most recently, an $11 million federal grant intended to help 400 low-income people in the Detroit area secure employment only ended up helping two people.
Government contracts for building privatized prison complexes have also become a lucrative business in recent years—what one journalist referred to as “caging humans for profit.” Immigrant detention centers are especially viewed as future goldmines for savvy investors. For example, GEO Group Inc. was paid $32 million to build a detention center for low-risk inmates in Karnes City, Texas. The prison boasts a salad bar, a library with Internet access, cable TV, an indoor gym with basketball courts, and soccer fields. GEO Group will also rake in roughly $15 million a year for running the prison. The detainees being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay just received a $750,000 soccer field to relieve their boredom, thanks to American taxpayers.
And then there’s the generally indulgent and overall excessive spending that goes along with a government lacking in oversight or accountability. A case in point, at the end of the Bush administration, government officials were still getting official portraits painted for upwards of $30,000. Donald Rumsfeld even got two separate portraits for his two stints as Secretary of Defense. State dinners at the White House, as lavish as they come, are estimated to run as high as half a million dollars per event. The invitations for these dinners are engraved, gold-embossed and hand-addressed by calligraphers. Wine served at these dinners has been estimated to cost taxpayers between $115-$399 per bottle. Not surprisingly, the White House refuses to disclose the price tag for these extravagant affairs.
This brings me back to the topic at hand—namely, that nothing taking place on Election Day or in the days leading up to it will limit or restrain this out-of-control bureaucracy or alleviate the suffering of the American people. What we are being treated to right now is a stage show, full of sound and fury, but in the end it is nothing more than well-choreographed entertainment for a populace struggling to survive.
About John W. Whitehead: Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book “The Freedom Wars” (TRI Press) is available online at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.