The whining and complaining about "Big Government" that is reaching a crescendo within the circles of the Tea Party and other disenchanted elements of America has a definite populist appeal, but one which entirely misses the big picture. Big government, in itself, is not the problem. The real problem that we should be complaining about involves those incompetent, corrupted government institutions that are failing to fulfill their mandated responsibilities to the American people.
I really like the idea of a third party to end the vice grip that the Democrats and Republicans have on American politics. The Tea Party might have been the beginnings of a new movement that could have established a more effective political system by bringing in more diverse views. The problem with this new party is that it is very angry and disillusioned about big government but can't seem to quantify its displeasure with concrete, constructive criticism.
The government in D.C., aka the Washington Establishment, is massive, it's true; but the overriding problem, besides size, is that we are stuck with a government that no longer has the true interests of the American people at heart and can't seem to address their real concerns. A further problem in this setting is that we simply do not have leaders with the motivation and conviction to make necessary changes to this faulted system.
Where has our government gone wrong, how has it failed us? To answer that would require writing a book, so let me highlight just a few examples. Let's start with the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina vented its fury. Was this a preventable event? Without a doubt it was. Sure the hurricane would have severely damaged the city but the root cause of the problem that brought about the devastating flooding was, according to court statements: "the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had displayed gross negligence in failing to maintain a navigation channel -- resulting in levee breaches that flooded large swaths of greater New Orleans." That nightmare for the people of New Orleans was a man-made disaster that could have been prevented except for the failures and negligence of the government institution that had the responsibility for the maintenance of the levees.
Next, let's examine the tragic case in which 29 miners needlessly died from explosions at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia; a mine operated by the Massey Energy Company, the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia. While the mining company is fully responsible for the explosion and deaths of the miners, the root cause of the problem is again the U.S. government. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is the federal agency charged with the responsibility to see that mining companies strictly adhere to existing laws and regulations.
in this case, they completely dropped the ball, causing those needless deaths.
In 2009 the number of citations assessed against this mine, over 500, was
double that of 2008. The monetary penalties assessed against the mine more than
tripled to nearly $900,000. Many of these fines were tied up in challenges by
the mining company and were unpaid. But, the inexcusable part of this tragedy
is that, a mine with so many serious, on-going violations should have been shut
down but it wasn't and miners paid the ultimate cost. This is a striking example
of the sad state of many of our government agencies.
The last example of government negligence lies with the recent disastrous GulfCoast oil spill. Again, the company fully responsible for the accident, British Petroleum, is to blame, together with its oil rig associates, Halliburton and Transocean. But, what about the government agency that completely failed in its responsibility to see that these operations were conducted in accordance with laws and safety regulations?
This time it was the Minerals Management Service (MMS) that failed to properly inspect the oil rig operations that might have prevented such a disaster. This agency is responsible for enforcing the laws and regulations for offshore drilling. According to knowledgeable sources, MMS found over 200 violations of safety and environmental regulations as a result of 400 investigations; only 16 fines were assessed and many violations were reduced or dropped during the review process.
A better example of the extent to which our governmental agencies have deteriorated and degenerated could hardly be found; the MMS, an agency of the Interior Department, also was deeply involved with scandalous, unethical and immoral behavior, including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. And yet this agency continues to conduct business pretty much as usual.
Could this GulfCoast disaster have been prevented? Most likely it could have if this agency had done its job. Should this particular rig have been shut down? Based on the current evidence involving the explosion that ruptured the wellhead, the answer is yes. It should have been shut down, at least temporarily, to make a proper determination of the safety of the equipment. But it wasn't and eleven rig workers died as a result.
There were specific ways that each of these disasters could have been prevented, but our incompetent, weak governmental public servants and agencies wait until disaster strikes and then try to react. Reactive measures don't get the job done. These government agencies must become proactive but they don't even know the meaning of the word. And who is it that will force them to change their ways?
The only proactive element of the U.S. government seems to be the Pentagon; it is extremely proactive in the art of making war. Pre-emptive military attacks, invasions and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is so disappointing that the most notable example of proactive governmental action, the Pentagon and its wars, results in nothing really positive, but just monumental destruction and disasters in foreign lands.
So what did our government, our president and the entire Washington Establishment learn from these several disasters? Have we seen any evidence of plans for reorganizing agencies, firing incompetent directors (only one so far has "resigned"), or any other actions taken to closely monitor mining and oil drilling operations to prevent additional disasters? I certainly haven't, have you?
So, what to do? Can this self-perpetuating, self-serving monolith we call government be overhauled to function more effectively in the critical job of restoring stability to our disaster-stricken nation? Well, we once put a man on the moon when that goal was thought to be pure fantasy. While the odds are against it, let's not conclude that it's impossible; just don't hold your breath.