American government and politics look more and more like the three-layer structure of the internet as described in the September AARP Bulletin out last week. That’s part of the reason why it is increasingly difficult for citizens to understand what their government is doing. Most of us live in a distracted vacuum dominated much of the time by work and toys. What information we get is mostly pop ups, opinion and propaganda. Without basic understanding comes a suspicion of deceit, a simmering hostility and stunned amazement as wave upon wave of unconscionable absurdities are revealed to us almost nonchalantly.
The top 5 to 10 percent layer of the internet, the “surface web,” is inhabited by highly public sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay and Fox News. The middle 90 to 95 percent, “the deep web,” where passwords are the keys to the kingdom, is populated by banks, PayPal, Drop Box and tens of thousands of other sites. The bottom .01 percent, the “dark web,” houses anonymous, often illegal and unregulated, sites for the trafficking of drugs and people, of information for identity thieves and horrid other anomalies of human degradation.
In a national security state like ours, the deep bottom of government is much larger than .01 percent, and hardly anyone can or does say an informed word about it. It’s where the military, all intelligence-gathering enterprises, all aspects of the military-industrial complex, including nuclear research and development, reside. How many of us peruse the military budget, or the budget of the intelligence services, or state and federal budgets at all? How many of us know anything substantive about the greatest of human follies run by those who inhabit the deep bottom of government? I’m speaking about potential nuclear annihilation.
Even in atomic New Mexico we’re still often flabbergasted when we get a glimpse of what our leaders have done to us in the name of keeping us safe. Leaving millions of Americans open to nuclear fallout from atmospheric testing that went on in our country until 1963, for instance, still seems preposterous. World wide, more than 2,000 nuclear tests were carried out from 1945 to 1992, creating a whole class of people known as “downwinders,” which probably includes all of us in New Mexico. Among them, of course, are those victims of the 1945 Trinity blast in the Tularosa Basin — ranchers, farmers and small town folk who just happened to be living within fallout range.
The middle layer of government and politics seems as inaccessible to scrutiny as the deepest muck. But theoretically it’s open to public inspection. This includes the budgets, operations, policies and regulations of all bureaucracies, federal, state and local, all corporate bureaucracies who get federal funds and all legislative, judicial and executive functions. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit we know next to nothing about any of this. The media doesn’t attempt to cover it in any detail, and few Americans have the personal free time to become a student of governmental bureaucracies, much less find the time to even vote. We are not a country that is run by “the consent of the governed,” as the Declaration of Independence puts it so clearly. You can’t consent to what you know nothing about. Most of us look at government and politics as if they were sports, but we’re lousy students of the game. We don’t pay attention to the fine print and stats. Yet this middle part of how government and politics operates is available to us in considerable depth if we know how to ask the right questions and put in the effort.
The surface of government and politics in America owns much more than 5 to 10 percent of the whole. We learn of it from the world of tweets, of TV news, of mainstream, alternative and internet media, of the gossip rags, of rumor mills and hysteria provokers, sometimes from the craft of summarizing and aggregating, and from those selling time to be filled with anything that distracts the body politic of suckers and consumers. This is the reality we tap into every minute of every day, more or less. It tricks us into thinking we’re informed, up to speed, in the know. So much for democracy being run by an informed citizenry. Real government and politics are so purposefully obscured and difficult to follow that there are whole codes of law, like the uniform insurance codes in most every state, that no one has read from cover to cover, even those who wrote them.
So it seems natural that it comes as a shock to most people when they learn that a great many Americans have been victims of radioactive fallout from nuclear testing and from nuclear research and manufacturing in the continental United States. It’s what some technocrats might call a commonplace unknown. In fact, there’s even an opera written about downwinders in New Mexico when the first atom bomb was exploded. It’s called Doctor Atomic, and it played at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.
The history of nuclear testing and manufacturing belongs to the darkest, foulest, deepest pit of the national security state. Yet one can grasp its magnitude by the existence of something called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1990 that created a $100 million fund to pay $50,000 to individual fallout victims and the same amount to uranium miners. It’s a tiny amount of money to “compensate” Americans suffering from cancer caused by nuclear testing, but at least it exists. And it covers all manner of cancers, from bile duct cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer to leukemia, lymphomas, multiple melanomas, thyroid cancer and ovarian cancer, to name a few. So we know from RECA that something very dangerous and legally troubling happened during those years of atmospheric testing. But the deep dungeon of national security is loath to cough up any information on the subject.
Is it possible that the American cancer “epidemic” is caused in part by fallout from almost 20 years of above-ground nuclear testing in Nevada and from years of tiny research explosions in Los Alamos, the debris of which must have been carried by prevailing winds into what is now the cancer ridden Española Valley and beyond? I wouldn’t count it out.
Fallout from Nevada tests was carried by wind over Utah, Colorado, Northern New Mexico and possibly Arizona and on up into the Midwest and Great Lakes and perhaps beyond. The exact details are, of course, clouded or unknowable from our moment in history. But the bare-bones can be learned from a Wikipedia entry on downwinders.
Wikis are clearly at the apex of the surface internet and are the access point for anyone inspired to investigate the obscure but potent doings of governmental and commercial bureaucracies. Intellectually sound magazines and tabloids are accessible on the internet as well. There’s an excellent piece, for instance, in High Country News this month on the Trinity downwinders in the Tularosa Valley.
Even though the levels of government and politics are similar in structure to the levels of the internet, the internet itself is the best way citizens have to explore and fathom the workings of their world and those who run it. That’s probably why using the web for research has been denigrated and stereotyped as superficial and almost worthless. It’s certainly not. It is, basically, the only means we have to do any sort of deep diving in the knowledge that is necessary for a truly informed citizenry in the postmodern age. Granted, the internet is a place to start. But if you follow hyperlinks down beneath the surface, you can find all sorts of monsters. It’s more than a start, but if you don’t at least go as far as starting, how can you hope to get anywhere at all?
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it