One of my big problems is that I can never come up with an eye-catching title for my postings. Currently I'm considering (suggestions needed):
Protecting Citizens - the Failures
The Basic role of government is to protect its citizens. What this means has changed over time, originally it was not more than protection from foreign marauders. Let's see how the administration brought in by the Gingrich "revolution" has done.
Failed to prevent 9/11 attacks even though it had explicit warnings and was tracking several of the key conspirators. Of course, no one can catch all such attacks, as the ones in Spain and London also showed, but it is one thing to be unaware of a plot and quite another to dismiss existing intelligence information.
It is now seven years later and Osama is still on the loose. The Al Qaeda network has not been smashed either. Isn't the one priority of the Bushies the war on "terror"? Isn't that what has been used to justify all sorts of draconian steps (see below)?
The anthrax attacks are still unsolved and since they aren't, it is always possible that the same person could strike again. Is the kind of protection our crack, internal, secret police forces provide?
There has been an increase in the number of cases of tainted foods, ranging from fresh vegetables to ground meat. There are an estimated 1.4 million cases of Salmonella food poisoning in the US each year; E. Coli affects about 25,000 people annually. Lax enforcement has led to a rise of cases and huge recalls. Several meat packing companies have been forced out of business after they had to recall millions of pounds of meat. Food inspection is no longer working. The staffs of the agencies have been gutted and much of the work of inspectors has been left to self enforcement by the firms.
The number of dangerous products has risen. Those getting the most publicity have been toys, but there have also been recalls in other areas such as fire retardant clothing and lead tainted serving dishes. The Product Safety Commission is down to half strength (and budget).
The number of dangerous drugs allowed onto the market by the FDA has grown significantly. The approval process is now funded by the drug companies themselves, which has led to conflicts of interest and hasty approval. Many widely prescribed drugs have had to be recalled after large number of users suffered ill effects. The living ones may get to sue, the dead ones don't have this option.
A notable number of mentally unstable people have gotten access to guns and gone on rampages. There have been more people killed in such incidents than from "terrorists" since 9/11. There have been no steps taken to keep guns out of the hands of such individuals. Even modest record keeping ideas have been thwarted. Just who is being protected, innocent bystanders or crazed gunmen?
Almost 4000 soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands have been injured in the ongoing wars. Putting over a million soldiers in harms way is not protecting citizens, after all soldiers are people too. Starting unnecessary wars is not protecting the population. In fact the US now has fewer friends in the world than before. This puts all American travelers at increased risk. Even those who are fighting the wars are put at unnecessary risk since they are under armed and lacking protective equipment.
Unpreparedness of the levees in New Orleans led to the destruction of the city. After the storms, the government has failed to provide for the victims, and still fails to help restore the region. The collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi is only the most dramatic example of lax care of important civil engineering infrastructure. Road and rail accidents caused by improper maintenance are not connected in people's minds with this failure, but are directly related. We cannot stop mother nature, but we can take steps to minimize risk, especially when the dangers are well-known.
The gutting of the National Guard. When a national disaster such as Katrina does happen it is usually the National Guard that is among the first responders. This capability has been compromised since many of the units are now fighting overseas, and have shipped vital equipment abroad to support their mission. Perhaps the National Guard was created to defend against foreign invaders, but for a long time they have performed a key humanitarian function. No more.
Illegal use of harmful drugs and misuse of prescription pain killers has led to an explosion of the prison population, without having any noticeable impact on the size of the problem. Locking up 1% of the population is not protecting people, it is just creating a new, almost unemployable, permanent underclass which will continue to be a problem when they are released.
Lax regulation of the business sector has led to a succession of frauds which have cost billions in losses. Starting with Enron and Worldcom and extending up to the present banking and housing crises the foxes have been left in charge of the chicken coop. Not only have investors been duped, but as many as a million people may lose their homes. The SEC, Federal Reserve and Treasury department have abdicated their responsibilities. After the follies of the 1929 were revealed there were regulations put in place to prevent a repetition. Many have been ignored, and some specific legislation like the Glass-Steagall act (which prevents banks from owning investment firms) have been repealed. Oops.
Civil liberties have been abrogated which has led to thousands of people being arrested, imprisoned and/or deported without due process. Not one real "terrorist" case has resulted from this assault on our rights. Protecting civil rights was the basis for the creation of America. Abuse by the English led many to emigrate to the new world to begin with and continuing abuse of the colonies led to the establishment of these "United States". The argument that "I'm not doing anything wrong, so I don't need to worry" has proven to be false as the number of innocent people who have been arrested, rendered, or tortured continues to rise.
The right of workers to organize so as to be able to negotiate their working conditions has been gutted. The NLRB no longer supports the rights of workers to organize. The consequences are as would be expected - falling wages and the elimination of fringe benefits, for those still lucky enough to be employed.
The elimination of usury laws and the requirement that disputes with lenders be handled by mandatory arbitration means that borrowers are subject to excessive interest and fees and have little recourse even when fraud is involved. Arbitrators side with the creditors almost all the time, if they settled in favor of the borrowers too often they wouldn't be rehired for further cases. It may be mandatory, but it's not impartial. Bankruptcy laws have also been rewritten to favor the lenders. People who can no longer clear their debts are becoming indentured servants to the banks. The only difference between now and Dickens' time is that we don't toss debtors in to prison - we make them work to pay off the banks.
The weakening of the social safety net has meant that an increasing number of people are without health insurance, have lost welfare benefits (such as food stamps) or are unable to pay for housing. Rising fuel costs are also starting to reduce more people to poverty.
The rise of corruption as demonstrated by the links between government and business has led to compromised elections, government by lobbyist and the trashing of environmental policies. Not only are vast natural resources being turned over to private firms, but efforts to find new energy sources and improve efficiency have been blocked. If projections play out as believed we will be living in cold, dark homes further inland as rising sea levels destroy the coastline. Protection of our lives seems like it should be a fairly important responsibility.
The "war on terror" has refocused all activity away from the real risks that face society to a set of highly unlikely circumstances. Suppose we had a real insurgency in the US, such as happened in Northern Island "Troubles". During the peak year of 1972 there were an estimated 250 civilian deaths. In the US we have over 42,000 deaths and about three million injuries from automobiles each year. Which is more likely getting killed by a "terrorist" or in a car? Where is the enforcement money and effort going? Why?
Failure to protect against harmful foods, drugs, and consumer products.
Failure to protect against deranged people with guns
Failure to protect against unreasonable search and seizure
Failure to protect armed forces
Failure to protect against natural disasters and provide aid afterward
Failure to protect against failing infrastructure
Failure to protect the weakest against poverty and disease
Failure to protect against financial fraud and abuse
Failure to protect against crime funded by drug money
Failure to protect the rights of citizens to think and say what they wish
Failure to protect the democratic process
Failure to protect disaster caused by energy shortages and climate change
What have we gotten instead:
An all out effort to protect against a vague, highly unlikely threat caused by "terrorists".
The platform for the Democratic Party almost writes itself...