One of the more troubling aspects of the last few years has been the acceleration of corporate and crony welfare initiatives in the wake of the consolidation of executive hold on power. To the victors go the spoils, ends justifies the means, et cetera and carpe diem, so to speak.

One of the means of accomplishing this is to shut down internal and external criticism — you see that in the hand-picked audiences for the stage-managed presidential town halls all the way to the current attempt to muzzle criticism from JAG lawyers (H/T to dakine) by consolidating control of promotions in the WH instead of using the independent merit system that has existed for years to divide politics from military leadership.

That is troubling on so many levels at once that it is hard to know where to start.

Systematically, the Bush Administration has been breaking down all the barriers to insulate governmental bureaucracy and day-to-day decisionmaking from the political patronage and spoils system. And the prize is both politically expedient in the short run, and monetarily rewarding for the cronies over the long haul. (And I do mean haul. See Norquist, Grover and/or Americans For Tax Reform for starters and work your way out from there.)

As John Edwards points out in his campaign ad, greed is an enormous factor in politics. Not that this is anything new — Teapot Dome anyone? — but it sure is easier to pull strings when they come attached with shiny PACs to fill. (If you haven’t read John Anderson’s "Follow the Money," you really should for a full-on introduction to the world of crony greed and KStreet machinations.)

The further down the political road we go this year, the more I keep turning back to bits and pieces of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Something that Naomi said in the comments, in response to a question from TRex (now with nice new bachelor pad!) during her Book Salon chat, hit home with another commenter’s observations for me. First, from Naomi:

I have a quote in the book from William Browder, a US money manager. He says “There’s a certain chemical that gets released in your stomach when you make ten times your money. And it’s addictive.” He was talking about how much fun it was to be in Poland during the so-called “shock therapy” period. The quest for that high is what fuels our economy and it’s important to understand that you can’t get the fix from the day to day incremental growth of capitalism — your need a new frontier. That’s what Eastern Europe offered after the collapse of communism. It’s what the Internet offered in the nineties — a virtual frontier. And it’s what the privatization frenzy going today in Iraq offers, with a key difference: what is being devoured is the U.S. military and the U.S. government itself. It’s a kind of cannibalism because the devouring of the core of the state is obviously incredibly dangerous, but the short term growth is addictive — that chemical is definitely being released.

Compare this with what reader Crosstimbers says here:

As a retired civil servant, I think there is more to what you say than most people realize. It was my observation, at least within the FAA, that career civil servant positions were being contracted out. As a result, it seems to my that we shortly be back to the “spoils system” and no longer have a non partisan civil service. It’s similar to the contractor thing with the military, but I don’t think many have given much thought to the idea of a partisan bureaurocracy, or a civil service which largly changes hands each election.

Looseheadprop and I have talked quite a bit about the systematic changes in so many of the safeguards that were built-in to ensure fairness, continuity and transparency — not the least of which have been some substantial pressures and gutting of safeguards of IG systems across the board. This is certainly an issue that deserves a lot more scrutiny in the days ahead — if the mess that is the DOJ has taught us anything, the tiniest glimpse of the surface of the problems only means that a festering mess lurks just below. And the further down you dig, the worse it seems to get.

We can start here before the votes start getting tallied for the primaries. (H/T to reader "LC" for the link.) Nothing against turning a profit or making money — frankly, I have an affinity for hard work and earning your keep — but there is a vast difference between earning your money and stealing it from the national coffers by bribing your way to a no-bid contract, or any number of other unsavory aspects of Beltway business practice that have been cropping up of late.

Lots of questions need to be asked. The question is, who will be asking them outright? Here’s to sunshine…we’re going to need a helluva lot, I’m afraid.