|Don't be fooled—it's flexible at the top.|
A lot of people—and I am one of them—claim that personal and business freedoms are being eroded as never before. They show as evidence the roll-back of civil liberties, the over-regulation of business, the insistence on “compliance” by the various security agencies of every little rule, no matter how trivial—in short, the over-regulation of American life.
They are right: The U.S. government is guilty of over-regulating individuals and businesses—egregiously so.
On the other hand, a lot of other people—and I am one of them too—claim that certain persons and corporations act lawlessly as never before. They show as evidence the abuses of power of those in leadership—be it business, government, the military, or the intelligence/security aparatus—and they insist that something has to be done about it, some regulations have to be imposed.
They are right too: The U.S. government is just as guilty of under-regulating certain individuals and businesses as it is of over-regulating other people and businesses.
Obvious question: How can they both be right? How can it be that a few people, a few businesses, a few institutions are getting away with murder—in some cases literally—while most of us are under a crippling yoke of excessive, dishonest, petty and trivial rules and regulations that either serve no purpose, or actively pervert the welfare of our society?
Simple answer: Structural Pliancy.
Let me explain.
It’s no trick at all to find instances where the current regulatory environment being enforced on our society is so recalcitrant, so bloody-minded, so pig-headed, that it’s a miracle that America is able to exist as a functioning society at all.
Rather than pick a particular business, I’ll just point to a nightmare most of us have to deal with at least a few times a year: The security checkpoints manned by Transportation Security Administration personnel at all of the airports of America.
The regulations here are as rigid as a steel rod, yet at the same time as arbitrary and pointless as . . . actually, I can’t think of simile that quite captures the sheer ridiculousness of the TSA security protocols at the airports. The ridiculousness of those protocols are uniquely their own.
We all know the drill: You wait on an interminable line, and then finally when it’s your turn, you take off your shoes, you surrender all liquid containers with more than 100ml of fluid, you let your carry-on bag go through a metal detector (and then often as not be searched manually again), while you pass through a metal detector and a body scanner that is streaming God knows what kind of nasty radiation at your body.
Only after you’ve been dosed with radiation and humiliated good and proper are you then allowed into the boarding gate—as if travelling in a free country were a privilege rather than a right.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an elderly diabetic grandmother in a wheelchair—you have to walk through the metal detector and stand in the body scanner. It doesn’t matter if you are a five-year old girl—you’re going to get groped just this side of sexual assault, if you refuse to go through the body scanners. We have heard so many horror stories that there’s no need to enumerate any more of this lack of sense. I mean, c’mon: Is a five-year old child really going to stuff plastic explosives and an UZI sub-machine gun under her pink “Hello Kitty!” blouse, and then whip them out amid her cries of “Allah is Great! Allah is Good!” once the plane reaches cruising altitude?
It’s not only the lack of discernment on the part of the TSA workers at the airport—it’s a failure of imagination in the standing rules: The ridiculousness of so many of the rules and regulations, which add a layer of hassle and difficulty to the process, yet serve absolutely no useful purpose.
Likewise, businesses and industries all across America are burdened with regulations that make no sense, just like the TSA protocols make absolutely no sense. In every industry in America, there are stupid rules and regulations as ridiculous as any of the TSA’s rules: Rules and regulation imposed from Washington, without any regard for the practical realities on the ground. Rules and regulations that make business and life difficult for no other reason than stupidity—or worse, so as to give the illusion that Washington is “doing something” about this or that problem, while in fact doing nothing more than making something needlessly more difficult and complicated.
Notice: I am against stupid regulations—but I am not against regulations per se. On the contrary, only a fool would say we do not need regulations. For instance, traffic lights are a regulation to the free flow of automobiles: Who in their right mind would say that we ought to eliminate all the traffic lights in all the major cities in America, because they “infringe on our innate liberty to drive wherever we want”? Nobody, other than an idiot.
As a thinking man’s conservative, I recognize that government regulations are necessary for two reasons: One, to organize the relationship between any two entities in our society, so that their dealings with one another are free, easy, efficient and honest; and two, to safeguard the weak, the unaware and the general society from the actions of any individual person or entity who might seek their own benefit at the expense of inflicting harm on others.
In short, government regulations ought to be in place to safeguard us—the citizens of this society. They should not be in place so as to imprison us.
But that is increasingly becoming the case.
Worse still, rules and regulations are becoming the preferred way for the few to exploit the many—and exploit them not only with impunity, but with the full weight of government support.
Take the TSA full-body scanners. As I wrote about here, the full body scanners are unquestionably a health hazard, both to passengers and even more so to operators—TSA workers are already beginning to suffer health effects of the full body scanners that they are exposed to all during their working hours. They are furthermore extraordinarily expensive, inconvenient, inefficient machines, and worst of all, they don’t work, as a determine-minded terrorist can easily smuggle weapons on to a plane much as inmates smuggle shanks into a prison.
These reasons ought to be more than enough to make the implementation of full-body scanners highly suspect.
Yet they have been deployed—at tremendous expense (each machine costs over $100,000)—in most major airports in America.
Because the former head of the Homeland Security Agency, Michael Chertoff, is aggressively lobbying for the full body scanners—because he is in partnership with the largest manufacturer of full-body scanners, Rapiscan Systems. Mr. Chertoff directly profits from each body scanner installed—which is why he has lobbied Congress and the public so aggressively. He is quite literally singing for his supper.
(By the way, this is why I was assigned my very own Homeland Security agent, and put on some sort of Terrorist Watch List: For pointing out this unwholesome, not to say immoral relationship between Chertoff, Rapiscan and Homeland Security. My first Homeland Security agent—I’ve counted at least three who have been or are currently monitoring me—was a man named James Ponder, out of their Gainesville, Florida offices. The guy first posed as a fan—then blew his cover when he mistakenly sent me a fanmail mash note from his Homeland Security e-mail! Good grief.)
This is an example of a needless expense that burdens our society as a whole—yet benefits a particular business and a particular person.
This is also an example of a lack of regulation: There is no rule that says that a former head of a government agency cannot join a private company and lobby the agency that he was leading. This revolving door is illegal in just about every other Western democracy—and I think it’s obvious to us all how immoral it is, to be lobbying your former employees.
Yet in the United States, what Michael Chertoff is doing is unregulated—and therefore legal.
Take the bank bailouts of 2008: What essentially happened was, the banks made bad loans, securitized those bad loans, then sold them to one another, creating an enormous house of cards—which eventually fell when housing prices began to tank and those loans turned out to be toxic.
Everyone in the financial industry knew what was going on—but everyone was getting so much money that they all fed at the trough for as long as they could. The toxic assets based on these dodgy mortgage loans were a ticking time bomb—everyone knew they would blow up. But everyone lived by the insidious IBG-YBG: I’ll Be Gone, You’ll Be Gone. As in, “I’ll be gone when this whole charade explodes, and you’ll be gone too.”
If you or I did what the banks did—sell crap assets to gullible buyers, which is essentially what Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and all the other Too Big To Fail banks did—we would be arrested on conspiracy and racketeering charges. We’d get sent to prison for about a billion years.
But that didn’t happen to the Too Big To Fail banks. What did happen to them? They got bailed out by the Federal government—and then they used the bailout money to pay themselves record bonuses! They did exactly what the gangsters in the movie “GoodFellas” did—they “busted out the joint”, to use the mobster parlance.
And what happened to banker gangsters—these banksters?
Nothing. Not a single one of them was arrested, or charged with anything, or much less went to jail. They knowingly bankrupted the nation’s financial system—and they got away with it scot-free.
Some people at this point might be reading me and saying, “Yo Gonzo! You are one naïve scribbler! The rich and powerful have always gotten away with whatever they’ve wanted!”
Maybe elsewhere—but it’s not the American Way.
The American Way is not the right of might—it’s the exact opposite: It’s the Might of Right. And one of the key tenets of the American Way is egalitarianism: The equality of everyone—be they ever so rich or ever so humble—before the law.
It is fair and right and good that, if I am a thief, raiding lower middle-class homes, stealing people’s flat-screen TV’s, then I ought to be tried, condemned, sentenced and punished.
But it is equally fair and right and good that, if I am a thief in a Saville Row suit, raiding the financial institutions that our economy depends on, carrying out practices which I know will lead to my bank needing to be bailed out, then I ought to be tried, condemned, sentenced and punished.
The guy who rips off a $300 flat-screen and the guy who rips off a $700 million municipal pension fund are the same: They are thieves. And they should be treated the same—they should be punished. And if their punishments are not commensurate with the cost of their crimes—because I think we can all agree that stealing a $300 TV set is a lot less serious than destroying the pensions of thousands of retirees—then at least their punishments ought to be the same.
But we don’t have this equality: The petty thief who made off with a $300 flat-screen gets 10 years in jail. The major scumbag who bankrupted a municipal pension fund is taking it easy on St. Bart’s with a couple of under-aged models named Jynyfer and Ambr on a sailboat most of us can only dream about.
This is not egalitarianism—this is not the American Way.
This is Structural Pliancy: The base is immobile and rigid—but the higher you rise, the more pliant the rules become.
If you’re at the bottom, the rules and regs are rigid—and they can and will crush you, if you fail to comply by even a micron. But as you rise up, the rules become flexible, negotiable, until finally—when you’ve risen high enough—they stop existing altogether: You can literally do whatever you want. Ask Dick Cheney, ask Michael Chertoff. Ask the banksters, who got bailed out by their good buddy Hank Paulson, and his toadying creepazoid follower Tim Geithner.
Ask the banksters now, the ones embroiled in the Mortgage Mess of illegal signatures and fraudulent foreclosures: They are slowly but surely getting themselves the sweetheart deal of the century—a cheapie settlement for all the crimes that they committed.
And for all those forged documents, for all those illegal evictions—evictions of some people who didn’t even owe money on the homes that they fully owned—the banksters won’t spend a day in jail, while those families will be sleeping in their cars tonight. The banksters won’t pay a single personal fine. Any “fines” that they pay will be minuscule—and to top it off, it’ll be our taxpayer’s money: Money that they got from government bailouts. Money that is ours.
That’s how it goes if you’re at the top end, in America.
If you are poor and marginalized? If you get caught smoking dope on a Monday, shoplifting a candy bar on Tuesday, and then failing to pay a parking ticket on Wednesday? Then you can potentially go to jail for thirty years to life before the weekend’s here—what’s known as the “Three Strikes Rule”.
Similarly, if you own a small business—say a dozen employees, eking out razor thin margins—and you fail to carry out any one of literally hundreds of trivial, needless, pointless regulations—rules and regs as dumb as the TSA rules, or as confusing and crushing as the regs of Obamacare—you find yourself bankrupt in short order, as the government regulators come down on you like a sack of bricks, looking to make an example of you and “send a message” to all the other small-fry like you and me.
But if you’re a big fish? If you’re, say, a big food processing plant—listed on the NYSE, your CEO getting his picture taken with the President—then you have no worries. The FDA goon will stop by your headquarters for a friendly chat and a cup of coffee—and that will be the extent of the government’s regulation of your food manufacturing plant. You can sell untested, unsafe, genetically modified food products with impunity. You can carry out monopolistic business practices on family farmers without a care, forcing them to buy your feed and your pesticide at exorbitant—usurious—immoral—mark-ups. You can basically do whatever you want.
Is this fair? Is this the American Way?
No it is not. It most definitely is not—but it is the way things are now. Call it “The New American Way”.
Structural pliancy: The higher up the structure, the more pliant it is.
So here we have the problem: A lot of these people who act with impunity—the beneficiaries of Structural Pliancy—are precisely the ones making the loudest noises about “ending all this red-tape and regulation”.
They sound like our friends. After all, we common folk want to live in a land with fewer pointless rules, fewer stupid regulations.
But don’t be fooled: These people who claim they want the end of regulations don’t want to help us—they want to exploit us.
By ending the few regulations still controlling their behavior, these people—rich people, with big lobbying guns behind them—want to be able to more fully exploit average citizens like you or me: They want to be free to rape us even more thoroughly than they already do—while hypocritically claiming that they are trying to “free America from needless red-tape!”
This is why I believe that we do not need more OR less regulations: What we need are rules and regulations that are applied across the board—equally.
In other words, I believe we need to get back to basics.
America is a nation founded on the notion of equality of opportunity—but also of equality before the law. The richest and the poorest, the most humble and the most high-flying simply must be treated with equality: Equality in their opportunities—and equality in their sanctions.
We have to draw the line. We have to discern. We have to end the Structural Pliancy that is corrupting our Great Republic. If we truly believe that a crime is a crime is a crime—regardless of the perpetrator—then we have to investigate, charge, prosecute and punish those who have most destroyed the shining promise of our great nation.
We have to regulate these high flying miscreants. And we have to free the common people such as you and I from the regulations that these evil people have imposed on us for their own selfish gains.
In short, we have to return to the single great quality that defines America:
Over at the Strategic Planning Group, I’ve put together a Scenario about exiting America, if it ever comes to that. If you’re interested, check out the preview page.