Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Concering the DHS

One of the many disappointing aspects of the Ferguson affair was the way in which the media insisted that this was only further evidence of the irredeemable racism of white America, just another example of a white cop gunning down a sainted black boy.

I say disappointing because there was another aspect of the story that was of considerable interest, but got less attention than it merited.  As Trevor Timm notes in the Guardian:

For three weeks and counting, America has raged against the appalling behavior of the local police in Ferguson, Missouri, and for good reason: automatic rifles pointed at protesters, tank-like armored trucks blocking marches, the teargassing and arresting of reporters, tactics unfit even for war zones – it was all enough to make you wonder whether this was America at all. But as Congress returns to Washington this week, the ire of a nation should also be focused on the federal government agency that has enabled the rise of military police, and so much more: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The 240,000-employee, Bush-invented bureaucratic behemoth that didn’t even exist 15 years ago has been the primary arms dealer for out-of-control local cops in Ferguson and beyond, handing out tens of billions of dollars in grants for military equipment in the last decade with little to no oversight and even less training on how to use it.

We might call this extraordinary but for the fact that this so often seems to be the nature of the beast.  The Department of Energy was created by Jimmy Carter.  It's budget is $30 billion a year and it employs over 100,000 people, most of them contractors.  It was created with the goal of reducing our dependency on foreign oil.  Having failed spectacularly, it continues to receive funding, in the meantime, arrogating to itself a slew of unrelated special projects.

Or consider the Department of Agriculture.  Its budget is $132 billion a year and it also employs roughly 100,000 people, 1 bureaucrat for every 22 farms

But the Department of Homeland Security is arguably the worst bureaucracy of them all.  September 11th, was, among other things, a stupendous failure of the national security apparatus.  In a sensible world, the President would have, at a minimum, ordered a review of the NSA to determine how such a colossal mistake could have been made.  Going further, failing to notice and properly classify such a security threat could be seen as evidence of the impossible nature of the tasks that agency is expected to accomplish.  As such, it should have been abolished.

Instead, Bush--a Republican President we hasten to remind the reader--worked to expand the Federal Government.  With the rubble still smoldering, a crisis was at hand, and it would do no good to let a crisis go to waste.  The Department of Homeland Security was created; its mission, to succeed where other agencies had failed.  In a decade and a half, it has grown until it employs almost as many citizens as live in the city of St. Paul.

The TSA, one of its many tentacles, does an admirable job fondling the citizenry, with reckless disregard for due process.  Meanwhile, if it fails to detect the plot of the Boston bombers, why, that only demonstrates, not how useless it is, but how badly we are in need of its many services. 

It has also, like any good bureaucracy, added to its powers.  It has militarized the police--against whom, it is not mentioned.  This, more so than the tired spectre of racism, was the truly ugly face of Ferguson.  The police do not see us as innocents they are to serve and protect.  They see us as the enemy, against whom they must be armed and vigilant.

One last point.  Every bureaucrat must be paid by the free citizens.  Often, this is innocuous enough.  We must be taxed so that the Post Office can do a middling job of delivering the mail.  These sorts of affairs are annoying, but they are hardly tyrannical.  A free republic can stomach an army of postmen.

This is not the case with the brown shirts of the DHS.  We are remunerating them, handsomely one suspects, to violate our right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers.  When we fly, we must demonstrate that we are not terrorists by submitting to be patted down or else scanned with cancer machines so that a stranger may view us naked.  And we pay for this privilege. 

Ferguson says a lot about the Feds, but it says a good deal about us, too.

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