A Book Review

Mike Lofgfren’s The Deep State does not, as I expected, delve into the secretive intelligence agencies but rather studies the mostly corporate oligarchy, their lobbyists and the bureaucracy whose prime motivation is job security and advancement. Such factions are served by policies that perpetuate the status quo and resist reform. Whether these policies promote the general welfare is a matter of indifference, if not hostility to the players. The CIA, NSA etc; have their role but as servants not masters. Lofgren’s very nicely written prose is embedded with intriguing and devastating tidbits on the deep state, like these:

  • A tape measure using dollars - illustration by Tom FergusonAfter 28 years as congressional staff member I increasingly viewed all political ideologies as mental and emotional crutches, substitute religions: for leaders, a means of manpulating attitudes and behaviors; for the rank and file, a lazy surrogate for problem solving and a way of fulfilling the craving to belong to something bigger than oneself.
  • Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich employed chaos, polarization and scapegoating to carry out a divide-and-rule strategy, destroying what bi-partisanship had existed previously.
  • A clique of neoconservative ideologues, both inside and outside the Bush administration, abetted at every step by the mainstream media, acted as carnival barkers for the most destructive and self-defeating policies since Vietnam.
  • I told whoever would listen that the “slam dunk” evidence of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was weak and that by invading Iraq the U.S. might be purchasing its very own West Bank on steroids. The total bill for Iraq summed up to a nice, round trillion dollars.
  • The U.S. economy was mutating into a casino with a tilted wheel, a Wall Street constructed heads-I-win-tails-you-lose Ponzi scheme resulting in the meltdown of 2008.
  • The twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession seem mentally to have unhinged a portion of the people and much of the political class. Thus followed crazy arguments about the president’s birth certificate, death panels and voters shouting that the government must get its hands off their government-provided Medicare.
  • A new crop of Tea Party freshman announced that their first priority was to drive the country into a sovereign debt default. The circus was being run from the monkey cage.
  • Our venerable institutions have outwardly remained the same but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.
  • The rural counties of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, large areas of Detroit, Cleveland, Camden and many other U.S. cities, qualify as third-world. At the same time, wealth beyond computation piles up in the money center of New York and the technology hub of Palo Alto, enough to purchase a $95,000 truffle, a $38 million vintage Ferrari or $179 million Picasso before the balance is parked in an off-shore hiding place.
  • These are symptoms of a shadow government that pays little heed to the plain words of the Constitution.
  • The Deep State is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, militarization of foreign policy, financialization and deindustrialization of the U.S. economy and the rise of plutocracy.

A tidbit also from the book is that the author is a former Reaganite whose 28 years on the Hill gave him a close-up of the sausage-making, which transformed (radicalized) the way he saw the world. The above bullet points all come from the first 5 pages of the introduction. The book is full of them. Here are a few more or less randomly selected from deeper in:

  • A Kennedy quote, “D.C. Is a town of northern charm and southern efficiency.”, injects a little humor to the discouraging list.
  • Sam Ervin the much-loved, Shakespeare-quoting chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Watergate hearings was also the author of The Southern Manifesto, a document urging defiance of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Those who bray about “family values” fail to consider that the modern U.S. economy is increasingly unable to deliver the stable, well-paid jobs, medical insurance and family leave that make such a way of life possible.
  • Politicians are too busy raising money and looking over their shoulder to do much socializing.
  • At frequent points during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the tongue-tied George W. Bush sorely needed the mellifluous double-talk of British prime minister Tony Blair, on the theory that nothing sells hideously awful policy as well as an Oxford accent.
  • If the American people did not voluntarily give informed consent to the web of unaccountable influence that radiates from Washington and permeates the country, then their passive acquiescence, aided by false appeals to patriotism and occasional doses of fear, surely played a role.
  • A lot of money is changing hands, both in campaign fund-raising and honararia to government personnel whose “distinguished” careers set them up for a payday beyond imagining for most U.S. citizens.
  • When Obama, for once, sought a negotiated solution to a problem in the Middle East rather than unilaterally employing force, Republicans presented a nearly united wall of opposition.
  • Do the citizens of the U.S. consciously decide with their votes that the safety of their drinking water is a lesser priority than delivering suitcases of off-the-books cash to a corrupt satrap running Afghanistan?

These entertaining bullet points are merely a sampling of the multitude of mixed joys you’ll encounter in the writing of this career bureaucrat, before he sets down some suggestions as to what it might take to overcome the latest guilded age. The first on that 9 item list is “Eliminate private money from public elections.” The others are: sensibly downsize and redeploy the military and intelligence complex; stay out of the Middle East; redirect the peace dividend to domestic infrastructure improvement; enforce antitrust laws; reform tax policy (to get corporations paying their share); reform immigration policy; adopt a single-payer health care system; abolish corporate personhood status. He details those proposals and closes his book on an optimistic note – We are situated to where we can turn this around, despite our many institutional flaws and the accretion of ideological myths that have impaired our ability to see the world as it is and live sensibly and peacably within it.

From a conservative Reagan appointee to this list of recommendations is quite a leap and exactly the transformation needed for a critical mass of the remaining Reaganites and fellow travelers, if we are to avoid social and environmental catastrophe.

Images: the feature image of capital and the book is from MikeLofgren.net (promotional/fair use);  the illustration of the dollar tape measure was created by the author, © Tom Ferguson.
Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

  • www.thinkspeak.net (Painting)
  • toons.thinkspeak.net (Political Cartoons)
  • thinkspeak.bandcamp.com (Music)
  • tfthinkspeak.blogspot.com (blog)