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The Deep State

July 16, 2013

A powerful and concise description of a new, and fearsome, alignment in American politics. It comes via James Fallows’ blog, from former Republican Senate staffer Mike Lofgren:

Your posts go some way in explaining the current political situation, but by no means do they go the whole way. A more complete explanation has to acknowledge the paradox of the contemporary American state. On the procedural level that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly gridlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s; that is true. The objective of the GOP is, obviously, to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (and voter suppression laws in the GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish that result). As a consequence, Obama cannot get anything done; he cannot even get the most innocuous appointees in office.

Yet he can assassinate American citizens without due processes (Holder’s sophistry to the contrary, judicial process is due process); can detain prisoners indefinitely without charge; conduct surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant;  and engage in unprecedented – at least since the McCarthy era – witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called insider threat program). At home, this it is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal law enforcement agencies and their willing handmaidens at the state and local level. Abroad, Obama can start wars at will and pretty much engage in any other activity whatever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, to include just recently forcing down a plane containing a head of state. And not a peep from congressional Republicans, with the exception of an ineffectual gadfly like Rand Paul. Democrats, with the exception of a few like Ron Wyden, are not troubled, either – even to the extent of permitting obvious perjured congressional testimony by certain executive branch officials.

Clearly there is government, and then there is government. The former is the tip of the iceberg that the public who watches C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part is the Deep State, which operates on its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power. The Deep State is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies, key nodes of the judiciary (like FISC, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the Southern District of Manhattan); cleared contractors, Silicon Valley (whose cooperation is critical), and Wall Street.

This combination of procedural impotence on the one hand and unaccountable government by fiat on the other is clearly paradoxical, but any honest observer of the American state must attempt to come to grips with it. I will note in conclusion that in order for the Senate to pass major “social” legislation like immigration reform, it was necessary to grant an additional $38-billion tribute to Deep State elements, i.e., military and homeland security contractors. Clearly the GOP wanted it, but the Democrats didn’t object; the $38 billion had been an internal “wish list” of the Deep State node called the Department of Homeland Security.

This is an interesting way of breaking down our corporate state (it’s hard to call it “democracy” anymore), and usefully notes the powerful alignment between the national security universe and other important nodes of American power, like Wall Street. It’s also worth adding that the procedural gridlock the public reviles is also driven to a degree by some of the same interests at the heart of he Deep State.

It’s surprising and disheartening that there isn’t more public outrage and resistance to the corruption of our democracy by corporatism, fear, and the exploitation of fear by both the executive branch and private interests to consolidate power and profits. Maybe that’s what happens when the public is distracted by the desire to be constantly entertained, obsessed with celebrity, and mainlining a never-ending fix via social media, cable TV and the cineplex.

It’s a strange, dystopic, time.

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