As the year ends, I’d summarize the greatest threats to the nation as those of our own making.
al Qaeda hasn’t the manpower or resources to destroy the security of average Americans.
However, traditional American institutions have proven more than up to the task.
A striking illustration of fail over the last ten years is illustrated by my first choice — the now irrational size of the investment in homeland security, shown in the graphic.
The original version, larger, is here at a blog post entitled “Digging Into the Changing Regulatory State.”
Post 9/11 and upon the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security the sudden reallocation of resources and growth in jobs and investment made sense.
As 2011 begins, however, the current state is shocking. The graph represents a now atrocious diversion of resources away from the middle class and into security aimed at protecting the country from external threats.
At the expense of everything else the government does domestically.
This expenditure does not aid innovation. It does not provide any path forward the country will need to combat its current problems. It does not fix infrastructure. It does not guarantee decent education. It does not make the national food supply safe from bad business and keep people from getting sick. It does not repair the middle class.
It just stands as a continuous investment in protection, walls, devices and restriction. Now entirely out of proportion to threats.
And the more that is invested in security the less there is to protect as the rest of the country withers.
In the last year we have also seen the emergence of the argument that more security, particularly cybersecurity, is needed to defend — most gallingly — Wall Street, bankers and big business.
But in news story after news story, everyone has seen that Wall Street is not good for main street.
The admonishments to defend it, by sending more money into the security apparatus at the expense of the middle class, is still more political dynamite.
The question that has to be asked is easy: Why do institutions now seen to be attacking the American way of life need more defending? And why should we pay for it?
The second threat, in no way lesser and to which the first is linked, is the fast growth of economic inequality.
Economic inequality and mass unemployment have given us very bad government, desperation and fear. These are, in turn, now proven fertilizer for even more destabilizing right wing extremism.
And it has left the country without the leadership needed to prevent slippage into permanent status of banana republic with the world’s most powerful military and security infrastructure.
Now there are regular cries for austerity, for even more cannibalization of government functions which protect the middle class. Famously, such calls seem to take no account of the actual conditions of austerity placed upon everything but homeland security in the last ten years.
And this leads directly to my next example.
Although most Americans still do not know his name, DeCoster is a living model of the Dickensian character now common in American business. In 2010, DeCoster was more threatening to Americans shopping in supermarkets nationwide than any jihadi terrorist a decade after 9/11.
DeCoster is a current standard-setter: A corporate boss successful at bringing about the biggest mass food poisoning incident in US history.
And this did not happen by accident.
Looking again at the above graph, one immediately notices the virtual total destruction of any government role in “consumer safety and health” and “industry specific regulation” relative to homeland security.
It is no coincidence that the Austin “Jack” DeCosters of the country have flourished. By conducting business the way they do, they exhibit a tacit understanding that the public can be menaced by unsanitary and disease-causing practices in pursuit of the bottom line because what exists of the regulatory process is ignorable.
What regulatory processes still existed at the local level were busy issuing DeCoster with certificates of healthy business even as the corporation was sending poisoned eggs all around the country.
Again, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that it is no random event when half a billion eggs are tainted and thousands of people become ill.
It is a direct consequence of malfeasance in corporate agribusiness.
It is the consequence of decisions to run a business as cheaply as possible, to take steps knowing full well that such practice exposes one to substantial risk — in this instance the causation and distribution of disease — but that an adverse outcome can just be written off as overhead under the current state of regulation.
In 2007, it was Stewart Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America.
And this woeful state of affairs stands in stark contrast to the constant exhortations for more spending against the marginal threat of bioterrorism.
While the Republican Party was unable to prevent passage of the Food Modernization Act during the lame duck session of Congress, the existence of the new legislation does not, in and of itself, guarantee change.
We will have to wait and see what becomes of the Jack DeCosters. What other corporate American time-bombs and landmines are waiting to explode?
And the last internal threat is again tied to the others.
The Republican Party is a threat to security. And not solely because of its descent into right-wing extremism or its desire to torpedo a nuclear arms reduction treaty because it despises the president.
As the party that denies science, one that will put people in committee chairmanships overseeing science and technology issues in the House who are basically opposed to science whenever it contradicts their political views, the GOP poses a threat to America’s future.
You can’t have a forward-looking and capable nation with people in power who truly believe global warming and evolution are hoaxes.
And then there’s the current GOP.