Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 24, 2015

The murmuration of DHS budget theater

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on February 24, 2015

Escher day and night


Some people hyperbolize if DHS is not funded by Friday, ISIS starts adding American cities to its Islamic State.  Other people argue when the funds run out not much that’s different will happen. Most DHS employees will show up for work at airports, borders, and other venues, and they’ll do it without a guarantee they’ll be paid.  Another group says there’s no way DHS won’t be funded. The funds will emerge from another one of those take the battery-out-of-the-clock legislative compromises.

I can see it happening either way: DHS will either be funded or not by Friday. The game finds ways to go on.

If this 2015 version of government shutdown theater follows previous scripts, there will be no resolution by Friday.  Maybe a short term fix happens on Saturday or Sunday, followed by a slightly longer short term fix in the next weeks or months.

How will this situation be resolved enough to allow play to continue?  Will someone in the legislative majority order followers to behave in a certain way?  Will new coalitions emerge?  Will men and women of principle exchange some of those principles for a few other ones?

I came across a footnote in Michael Glennon’s book, National Security and Double Government that offers an explanatory – maybe predictive – theory of how DHS eventually will be funded.

I wrote about Glennon’s argument a few weeks ago.  The central argument is national security policy appears to be run by elected officials, but it’s actually shaped by a usual suspect flock: “the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.”  The president, congress and the courts play largely a symbolic role in national security policy, Glennon says.

Here’s the footnote that got my attention as a way to understand how movement from the current budget impasse will happen.

When all is said and done, perhaps the most lucid and succinct account of Trumanite [usual suspects] behavior lies not in socio-psychological theory but in ornithology—bird-watching. Craig Reynolds has theorized that birds adhere to three simple precepts: first, don’t crowd your neighbors (separation); second, steer toward the average heading of your neighbors (alignment); and third, steer toward the average position of your neighbors (cohesion). …. Members of the Trumanite network maintain separate though often only nominal allegiance to distinct organizations that respect each other’s autonomy while at the same time competing for authority (rather like states in the international realm). They align themselves in steering toward other organizations’ efforts to maintain the continuing direction of existing national security policy. And they cohere in the “average position” of their Trumanite neighbors in resisting Madisonian [elected officials] encroachments—while perpetuating the impression of Madisonian control.

Translated into homeland security budget impasse-eze, the theory implicit in the footnote suggests no one is very clear what will happen if Congress does not fund DHS.  Officials have too much to do to become experts on the impact no DHS funding will have.  They have their opinions, but they also rely on the usual suspects – experts and trusted allies from the left, right, center, up, and down – to figure out what their position should be on this budget issue.  Elected officials will provide on-the-record sounds for the public conversation. But many, if not most, of the ideas come in private conversations.

Like a flock of birds, the people who will be at the core of resolving the DHS budget issue will move toward their goal by following a few simple  rules:

1. Maintain enough separation from others to sustain their political independence and reputation for being their own man or woman on this issue.  They will come out of this drama as thoughtful and reasonable people, regardless of where those thoughts come from.

2. Notwithstanding separation, they don’t want to get too far away from the people and interests that mean the most to them, so they’ll take a read on the general direction political neighbors are moving, and continuously align themselves with those positions. The DHS budget is not the only drama in town.

3. Since there are multiple people and interests, maintaining separation and alignment requires sustaining a general cohesion within the flock.

The double government theory argues that national security’s long game takes place in multiple dimensions. Distance here is a psychic space. The closer you are to the players and the arena, the more unpredictable the specific moves.  The further back you stand, the more predictable and familiar the moves.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 25, 2015 @ 9:11 am

POSTURING NOT GOVERNING! Why? The first is much easier and more fun. The latter hard work day in and day out.

Yes! The peoples of the earth do seem to get the government they deserve.

As to the USA how did this come about? My short anser follows:

1. Continuous warfare.

2. Trappings of Empire.



5. Demise of religions not based on thinking but a fast and lazy priesthood in and of almost all regions and their sects in US. The rise of mega-churches that provided various benefits based on tax exemption. Time for a MORTMAIN statute?

6. The rise of contractors accountable only for their bottom line not goods or services under the most vague supervision of various governmental entities.

7. The perversion of the unrelated business income tax for the non-profit sector.

8. The demise of stockholder and union power.

9. Unqualified Governors and US Senators becoming President.

10. The demise of the nation-state system generally and specifically the USA.

11. The loss of DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY as a code and ethic for the FLAG RANKS!

12. The secrecy and operations of an unaccountable DEEP STATE.

13. Racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination including sexual orientation.

14. Corruption of the one-person one-vote doctrine by gerrymandering and lack of term limits.

15. GLOBALIZATION without accountability.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 25, 2015 @ 9:29 am



914 of 953 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars Bloom deserves to be read more carefully, January 8, 2002

By A Customer

This review is from: The Closing of the American Mind (Paperback)

When The Closing of The American Mind was published in 1987, it instantly ignited a firestorm of praise and condemnation. Conservatives hailed it as vindication of their long-ignored criticisms about American culture in general and higher education in particular. Liberals denounced it as elitist and intolerant, and they said Bloom wanted to keep students ignorant of other cultures so he could indoctrinate them with his. Neither side had it right. The Closing of The American Mind is, as Bloom put it in his preface, “a meditation on the state of our souls.”
Both sides were wrong about the book because they didn’t read it carefully enough. Liberals read Bloom’s argument for philosophy as an attempt to purge non-white, non-European writers from the cannon on grounds of cultural purity. Conservatives read his plea as an attempt to run all the liberal professors out of academia and replace them with conservatives. But a careful reading of Bloom would quickly prove both of these interpretations false.
Bloom believed Plato’s cave was culture, whether that culture was western or not (after all, it was Plato’s description of his own culture that created the idea of the cave). Bloom’s argument was that students should be forced to read the works of the great philosophers because those writers are the only ones who dealt with the fundamental question of life: what is man. Bloom believed it was the university’s mission to equip students with the tools that would enable them to seek the answer to this question and to lead a philosophical life. Only the great philosophers were capable of introducing students to the deepest and most profound life, and without this introduction, students would forever remain in their respective caves.
Bloom never was a conservative, nor was he one who wished to impose his “culture” on others. Simply put, he was a scholar who wished to make his students think – to truly think – about the nature of their existence and of society. The goal of Bloom’s book was to show how Americans of all political persuasions, social backgrounds and economic conditions are debating within a narrow modern world-view and have simply accepted as fact a mushy blend of modern theory that repeatedly contradicts itself and stands in sharp contrast to an almost entirely forgotten world of opposing thought: that of the ancients.
In other words, Americans are incapable of true self-examination and self-understanding because they are ignorant of ancient philosophy, which poses the only alternative to the modern concept of man. What Bloom does with The Closing of The American Mind is expose the great Oz by asking him life’s deepest questions. Bloom asks the same questions of today’s professors and students that the ancient philosophers asked of themselves and their students. He finds that not only does no one have an answer, but no one even understands the questions.
Bloom’s confrontation exposes the modern American university for what it really is: one big self-esteem seminar where students are taught self-validation instead of self-examination. Professors are not forcing students to confront the most serious questions of life, but rather are handing them scrolls of paper certifying that the university has bestowed on them qualities which, in fact, they already possessed, those being “openness” and “tolerance.”
Of students, Bloom writes, “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable and natural rights that used to be the traditional grounds for a free society.”
The university, he shows, does nothing to contest this belief, but feeds it instead. The end result is that there can be no more truth or goodness and no need or even ability to make tough choices. Where the purpose of higher education once was to enable the student to find truth, the modern university teaches that there is no truth, only “lifestyle.”
There exist in the world polar opposites. Bloom lists “reason-revelation, freedom-necessity, democracy-aristocracy, good-evil, body-soul, self-other, city-man, eternity-time, being-nothing.” Serious thought requires recognition of the existence of these opposites and the choice of one over the other. “A serious life means being fully aware of the alternatives, thinking about them with all the intensity one brings to bear on life-and-death questions, in full recognition that every choice is a great risk with necessary consequences that are hard to bear,” Bloom says.
He argues persuasively that the modern university does not force students to confront these alternatives at all, much less seriously think about them. Therefore, the modern university fails in its purpose, which is to create students aware of the vast array of possibilities that life offers and capable of choosing the good life.
Bloom has been harshly, and is still continually, accused of trying to force his own ideology on his students. But even a cursory reading of The Closing of The American Mind will disprove this silly accusation. Bloom simply wanted to make students think, to make them understand that there are different ideas of what man is and that they must confront these ideas if they wish to lead a meaningful life. This, he believed, was the university’s purpose because it is there and only there that students would be exposed to alternatives to the prevailing intellectual trends. Life will happen to the students, he said, they don’t need the university to provide it for them. They need the university to equip them for making the choices that will lead them to the best, most fulfilling life – the philosophical life. It is precisely for this reason that universities exist, and it is precisely this task that they now fail to accomplish.
Bloom’s book remains important a decade after its publication because of the depth of Bloom’s intellect and the thoroughness of his analysis. Only the last third of The Closing of The American Mind focuses on the modern university. Bloom spends the first two-thirds of the book explaining the modern mind-set and contrasting it with the ancient and the enlightened. He demonstrates the shallowness of the modern mind by repeatedly beating it about the head with Aristotle, Plato, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger. With this tactic, Bloom tears apart the vapid pop psychology that passes as deep thought and holds up the shreds for the reader to see their thinness.
But Bloom’s attack is also instruction. Through it he takes the reader on an intellectual history tour in which he tracks the evolution of modern thought. Focusing on key words in today’s usage, such as “lifestyle,” “relationship” and “commitment,” he retraces them through history to discover their origins and their true meanings. He then contrasts these words with the ones they replaced, such as “duty,” “honor,” “love.” The depth and complexity of the ancient concepts overpowers the shallow convenience of the modern ones. Bloom tells how, when he showed this contrast to his students, they didn’t care. Worse, they recoiled at the very thought of being bound by duty or honor or love as opposed to being committed to relationships via contract.
This contrast is at the heart of Bloom’s book: whether humans are truth-seeking creatures who live for the purpose of pleasing God and discovering the good, or whether they are truth-creating creatures who live only for the purpose of satisfying their animal needs and preventing the bad. Bloom believes the former, modernity the latter. Bloom knew that his book would not solve the question or ennoble America. But it would reintroduce the question, which is all that he wanted the university to do. It is tragic that, as he predicted, the universities would cast him out as a heretic instead of making themselves his disciples.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 25, 2015 @ 9:45 am

Perhaps I should add a #16 to the list above:


Comment by claire rubin

February 25, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

Bill makes some interesting points. Too many for me to comment on individually.

In an article by George Packer today on theDHS mess,in the New Yorker, he concludes by saying:

You can’t spend decades encouraging irrationality and ignorance, then declare a return to sanity when it’s convenient. The price lasts longer than an election cycle.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 25, 2015 @ 6:37 pm

University of Delaware Disaster Research Center looking for authors and researchers to address the following:

•Without using the term “lack of political will,” why is it so difficult to import disaster science into the policy system? What do we say that makes so little sense in the worlds of planning and politics?
•When hazards and various risks threaten all geographic locations, what solutions can be offered for better disaster and land-use management?
•When the scientific evidence on climate change and vaccinations is so strong, yet people dismiss it, how can more information on hazards and risks really generate change? Is another approach necessary?
•How can historical examples of social change inform present disaster studies?
•Are the big questions in the disaster field different across national and regional boundaries?
•If disasters inherently have winners and losers, how can social justice become more deeply embedded in our recommendations for practice?
•How has our research been limited in its use of scale, concepts and time, and what direction is needed for a more direct or comprehensive study of these questions of living with and managing risk?

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