The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 26, 2013

Zachary Hubbard | Our government – a runaway freight train?


JOHNSTOWN — I enjoy action movies. The best ones deliver a rush of anticipation and excitement. One of my favorites is Denzel Washington’s “Unstoppable.”  Filmed in western Pennsylvania, the movie is about a runaway freight train transporting toxic chemicals. Denzel plays Frank Barnes, a hard-luck locomotive engineer. On the brink of losing his job, Barnes becomes an unlikely hero and saves the day.

If only all looming disasters turned out like that. Unfortunately, most don’t. And there’s a colossal disaster looming in our nation’s capital.

The U.S. government increasingly resembles a runaway train. Things in Washington are out of control. I worry our system is on an irreversible path toward destruction.

We’ve long heard government spending is out of control. Still, year after year, Congress fails to make meaningful reductions. It vigorously debates reducing hostile-fire pay for the military (a small allowance paid to those deployed to a combat zone) while continuing to rubber stamp the funding of massive procurement programs for weapons systems originally designed to defeat the Soviet Union. These weapons are built by politicians’ most favored congressional campaign donors.

Universal health care is the centerpiece of President Obama’s accomplishments, yet it is a highly distrusted program among business owners and workers. There is little evidence to support the president’s assertions that Obamacare will reduce health care costs and allow people to keep their current doctors.

Obamacare stipulates that employers must provide health care benefits to eligible employees who work 30 or more hours per week. This has driven some businesses to reduce many workers’ hours to avoid the 30-hour threshold. Recently the leaders of three prominent labor unions, the Teamsters, UFCW Federal Credit Union and Unite Here, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi indicating they’ve lost confidence in the president’s health care plan. They fear it will, “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” Big labor unions were originally vocal Obamacare supporters.

High unemployment continues to sap the nation’s vitality. Despite the Obama administration’s efforts, the current unemployment rate (7.6 percent in June) continues to hover around the same level as when the president took office. For all we know, it’s even higher. Can we even trust the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ oft-revised jobs figures?

Waning trust in government has become a major issue for Americans. While the public approval rating of Congress has long been low, even the formerly impeccable reputation of the Supreme Court has become tarnished.  

The Washington Examiner recently reported the Supreme Court’s reputation has declined over the past four years. Only 28 percent of Americans believe the court is doing a good or excellent job. According to the Examiner, Supreme Court justices were once widely viewed as apolitical, but today are increasingly seen as pieces of Washington’s political machinery.     

Trust in the U.S. government suffered from the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack, which the Obama administration originally portrayed as a spontaneous assault, left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens dead. Subsequent investigations have shown the administration was not forthcoming in admitting it knew early on the attack was a premeditated act of terror. The administration also appears to have botched a military response that might have saved Stevens and others.   

Recently, trust in U.S. government has fallen even further following revelation of severe legal infractions by two major federal agencies.  

With the investigation still ongoing, it’s evident the Internal Revenue Service was used as a political weapon to stifle conservative opponents of the Obama administration. Exactly who ordered and directed the operation has yet to be discovered. Originally attributed to two rogue IRS employees, we now know the problem was much bigger.   

It also appears the National Security Agency has been conducting widespread surveillance, if not outright spying, on American citizens. How bad is the problem? In a recent interview with Germany’s Der Speigel magazine, former President Jimmy Carter defended whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed the agency’s illegal surveillance. According to the magazine, Carter said, “America does not have a functioning democracy at this point in time.”

Among the nation’s elected leaders, there is a shortage of Barnes-like heroes – ones willing to risk everything to save America’s system of government. I wonder if a turnaround is even possible. Maybe the country is too far gone.

For readers who think me too pessimistic, I hope you’re right. I hope there is still time to rescue our system. Perhaps there is, but the Internet is flush with articles about revolution and civil war in America. Could it happen again? We can’t predict when or where another revolution or civil war might begin. Perhaps it already has. For the overly optimistic readers – I hope the light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t a freight train headed in our direction.  

Zachary Hubbard, formerly of Johnstown, is a retired Army officer and freelance writer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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