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Nov-04-2013 19:19printcomments

Washington is Clearly Not Working, to the Detriment of Us All

In their book "Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State," Dana Priest and William Arkin document how, since 9/11, Americans "have shelled out hundreds of billions of dollars to turn the machine of government over to defeating terrorism without ever really questioning what they were getting for their money."


(WASHINGTON, DC) - On many different levels, Washington is not working. How, for example, can a country which gave the world Apple, Google and Microsoft not be able to produce a health care website that works?

Does the president understand his own healthcare program? In his speech to the American Medical Association in 2009, he declared: "That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people...If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."

More recently, after NBC News reported on October 28, 2013 that the Obama administration knew that "millions" could not keep their health insurance, White House aide Valerie Jarrett tweeted: "FACT: Nothing in Obamacare forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans."

WASHINGTON POST fact checker Glenn Kessler gave President Obama four "Pinocchios" for his repeated assurances and notes that he "ignores the fact that the purpose of the law was to bolster coverage and mandate a robust set of benefits, whether someone wanted to pay for it or not. The president's statements were sweeping and unequivocal---and made repeatedly both before and after the bill became law, at least three dozen times. Now it turns out the president's promise came with a very large caveat: 'If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan---if we deem it to be adequate."

It seems clear that President Obama knew that many people would lose their coverage. In Sept. 2009---the same month the president addressed a special joint session of Congress about health care, a Gallup survey found that 87 per cent of Americans with private insurance were satisfied with their medical care. A Congressional Budget Office report issued on March 20, 2010, three days before the health care bill was signed into law, predicted that 8 million people would lose employer or individual market coverage. Now, millions of Americans are losing their coverage, and technological problems plaguing a poorly planned and executed new system of insurance exchanges are preventing them from looking for new options promised by the law.

If doesn't  work, the NSA does--although it seems to be out of control, and the president seems not to be aware of what it is doing, as in the case of tapping the personal phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  President Obama says he didn't know this was taking place.  Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper says he did.  This is the man who testified falsely, under oath, that the NSA was not collecting data on the phone calls and e-mails of millions of Americans.

In their book "Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State," Dana Priest and William Arkin document how, since 9/11, Americans "have shelled out hundreds of billions of dollars to turn the machine of government over to defeating terrorism without ever really questioning what they were getting for their money."

Answers are hard to find, they argue, because "the intelligence-industrial complex" operates behind a veil of secrecy, and because, even at the top, "the officials themselves don't actually know."

One top intelligence official told the authors: "I'm going to be honest. I don't know how many products we produce." He noted that projects he deemed useless continue to operate. "Like a zombie, it keeps on living."

It is not difficult to find examples of government not acting as it should. We have used for-profit government contractors to conduct investigations for security clearances, an inherently governmental function. Late in October, the administration accused the largest private firm that conducts background checks of failing to perform quality-control reviews.

The Justice Department has intervened in a civil lawsuit against USIS, the company that conducted background checks of both Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has leaked sensitive information, and Aaron Alexis, the contractor who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) says that, "USIS's contracting practices were a recipe for disaster and constituted a clear threat to our national security."

It was also revealed in October that the U.S. Government cannot keep track of hundreds of millions of dollars in vehicle parts purchased for the Afghan National Army with American funds---because no one is keeping inventory. That means, according to John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, the military's "current process for managing vehicle spare parts purchases leaves U.S.-purchased equipment and funds vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse."

Sadly, we can fill pages with examples of how Washington has ceased to properly function as the capitol of the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation. This is not a matter of partisanship but of clearly observing a government that seems unable to properly conduct public business in an effective and efficient manner.

NEW YORK TIMES columnist Thomas Friedman, hardly a conservative critic of the Obama administration, put it this way: "Having lived and worked abroad for many years, I'm sensitive to the changing ways that foreigners look at America. Over the years, I've seen an America that was respected, hated, feared and loved. But traveling around China and Singapore...I was confronted repeatedly with an attitude toward America that I've never heard before, 'What's up with you guys?' Whether we were feared or loved, America was always the outsize standard by which all others were compared. What we built and what we dreamt were, to many, the definition of the future."

Now, Friedman laments, "Today, to many people, we look like the definition of a drunken driver---like a lifelong mentor who has gone on a binge and is no longer predictable. And, as for defining the future, the country that showed the world how to pull together to put a man on the moon and defeat Nazism and Communism, today broadcasts a politics dominated by three phrases: 'You can't do that,' 'It's off the table,' and 'The President didn't know.' A Singaporean official who has been going to America for decades expressed shock to me at being in Washington during the government shutdown and how old and emotionally depressed the city felt."

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, declares that, "Few Americans are aware of how much America has lost in this recent episode of bringing the American economy to the edge of a cliff. People always looked up to America as the best-run country, the most reasonable, the most sensible. And now people are asking, 'Can America manage itself, and what are the implications for us if it can't."

Narrow partisanship has helped to create a country that is not working properly, and the rest of the world is taking notice. It is time for us to put our house in order, and it will take Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives to do so. Needless to say, American decline is not in the interest of our own people. But neither is it in the interest of the larger world,in which our country has been an important force for stability and for advancing the values of freedom and human dignity. We have made many mistakes, but we have been in the arena, usually fighting the good fight. It is time that Washington recaptured the role of world leader for good----but first it must get its own house in order.

_________________________________________ contributor Allan C. Brownfeld received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary, his J.D. degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary and his M.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. He has served on the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the University College of the University of Maryland.

The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, Mr. Brownfeld has written for such newspapers as THE HOUSTON PRESS, THE RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, THE WASHINGTON EVENING STAR and THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. For many years he wrote three columns a week for such newspapers as THE PHOENIX GAZETTE, THE MANCHESTER UNION LEADER, and THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. His weekly column appeared for more than a decade in ROLL CALL, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in such journals as THE YALE REVIEW, THE TEXAS QUARTERLY, THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, ORBIS and MODERN AGE.

Mr. Brownfeld served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and was the author of that committee's 250-page study of the New Left. He has also served as Assistant to the Research Director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to such members of Congress as Reps. Phil Crane (R-Il) and Jack Kemp (R-NY) and to the Vice President of the United States.

He is a former editor of THE NEW GUARD and PRIVATE PRACTICE, the journal of the Congress of County Medical Societies and has served as a Contributing Editor AMERICA'S FUTURE and HUMAN EVENTS. He served as Washington correspondent for the London-based publications, JANE'S ISLAMIC AFFAIRS ANALYST and JANE'S TERRORISM REPORT. His articles regularly appear in newspapers and magazines in England, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries. You can write to Allan at



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