Mafia States

This week’s paper edition of Newsweek (I can’t find it online) has a story about Tunisia and carries this subhead: “Ben Ali’s fall has exposed the rotten truth of every regime in the Arab world: they’re all, in effect, mafia states, each operating as a lucrative family business.”

Pretty harsh, but a) probably true b) slagging off Arabs is still (regrettably) accepted in the US and c) Newsweek is a dying enterprise, what has it got to lose? The revolutionary virus is spreading to Egypt and Yemen and it looks as if 2011 may be a year of great change.

Not here, though. The order in this nation’s authoritarian regime remains unchallenged. The front page of Wednesday’s New York Times drove that message home.

“Financial Crisis Was Avoidable, Inquiry Finds,” read one headline. A federal panel charged with studying the 2008 financial meltdown reported that a combustible mixture of risk-taking and deceit by Wall Street and lax oversight by public officials, both Democrat and Republican led to the catastrophe.

Not we needed a federal commission to tell us that, but it’s always nice to have the obvious confirmed. What’s not nice is that many of the bozos who got us in this mess are still in charge and worse, there has been next to no action by the Congress to put back in place the regulations that were demolished in the run up to the crisis. The ones that had kept us out of turmoil for a half century.

On the other side of the page, “Sway of N.R.A. Blocks Studies, Scientists Say.” It’s practically the same story as the financial folly. In the wake of yet another semi-automatic killing spree, not only can better gun control laws be not be enacted, we can’t even have honest inquiry into the way Americans use guns.

Here in Vermont, a state legislator, taking note of a rash of teen handgun suicides, is proposing a bill to require law enforcement officials to determine how a gun was stored if said gun is used to kill or wound a person. Chance of passing: zero. Chance of even getting a hearing: zero. (You might think, “Wow. Even in Vermont,” but Vermont has some of the most lax gun laws in America.)

The third member of the unholy triumvirate – the oil companies – was absent from Wednesday’s page one, but the pattern’s there: 2008 – financial meltdown and no strengthening of financial laws; 2010 – massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and no strengthening of environmental laws or safety standards; 2011 – madman kills six, wounds 13 and no discussion even of strengthening gun laws.

Newsweek talks tough when it comes to decrepit Arab regimes, but the Mafia-style government here at home is far more robust and you won’t find an observation like that in the print or electronic pages of the major news media. It’s not all the fault of the media, though. No one here is marching in the streets, demanding change. We’re all waiting for the Super Bowl.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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