May 10, 2013

Public paralysis but private empowerment?

After the American Century                                                                                                                                                                      

These seem to be strange times. President Obama seems unable to close the Guantanamo prison, after five years, in good part because other countries are resisting taking on any of the remaining prisoners. He seems unable to push through a gun control control bill, due to the powerful pro-gun lobby ed by the National Rifle Association. He is struggling to get an immigration bill through. Some columnists are suggesting that he is already a lame duck, but in fact it is Congress that is lame, very lame. 

Meanwhile, in foreign policy, the president has so far managed to avoid getting entangled in Syria, while trying to extricate the US from Afghanistan. The US left Iraq, but its troubles seem unabated. Possibly Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction have been moved to Syria, but no one seems to know if they have poison gas or not, or which side may have used it. Meanwhile, Iran keeps developing its atomic weapons, while claiming not to. More generally, the Arab Spring, so-called, seems to be producing a harvest of religious fanatics, and it is hard to be upbeat about current events much of anywhere in the Middle East.

Yet while the president seems tied down by any number of outside factors at home and stymied in many foreign initiatives, the New York Times reports that hobbyist genetic engineers are trying to create trees that glow in the dark, and that might one day eventually replace public lighting. This tinkering with DNA seems mad, but it is happening. And a Dutch TV station and some private investors are conducting a lottery for a new kind of reality show that intends to select and train a crew to go to Mars. Perhaps they can take some seeds for those glowing trees with them, and plant them in patterns that spell out the names of corporate sponsors. More likely, the contestants who are sent to Mars, if any, are going to risk their lives for what, exactly?

It seems that private enterprise, clusters of people on the Internet, and rich individuals are becoming more and more powerful, while elected leaders are mired in political systems that make it difficult to act, unless there is a national emergency.  Public paralysis but private empowerment? This is a gloomy conclusion; I hope I am wrong.