US Government Programs That Went Horribly Wrong

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The government is necessary and most of the time they should be trusted — at least (and especially) your local government. You need police, firefighters, and even bureaucrats and tax collectors. However, sometimes the government makes it hard for people to trust them. Whether through malice, or just plain incompetence, sometimes the United States government‘s best laid plans and programs went horribly wrong, and caused massive damage… or even deaths. In today’s article, we will go over 10 programs or agencies that have caused serious and lasting harm. 

10. Smokey The Bear Helped Create More Massive Wildfires

Smokey the Bear is one of the most well known mascots of all time, except instead of being the mascot for a major sports team, Smokey is the mascot for United States natural parks, and all of US wildlife and forests in general. Smokey was conceived by the United States government decades ago in order to spread awareness about the importance of putting out your fires, especially old campfires and the sparks from your cigarettes. His famous line “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” is catchy and known by many outside of States. 

However, despite the best intentions of the government, Smokey the Bear has actually done a lot more harm than good at this point, and with how much death and destruction recent wildfires have caused, the entire thing is no laughing matter. Because the campaign worked a bit too well, people became so obsessed with putting out tiny brush fires — even natural ones — that not enough natural clearing was occurring. This meant that when a wildfire does start now, it usually has way too much fuel to help it keep moving, whereas otherwise it might have choked itself off because dry brush was regularly burned out naturally. 

9. The Fast And Furious Scandal Ended Up Giving More Guns To The Cartels

Fast and the Furious was a scandal that caused a lot of damage to the Obama administration’s reputation, and especially to his attorney general Eric Holder. The federal government knows the cartels often come across the border, buy lots of guns, and then sneak them across the border again to use in wars with other drug dealers and even their own government. Now, the United States government has long tried to prevent this, but the Obama administration got another idea. 

They figured that if they knew this reliably happened so much, instead of putting all efforts to stop it and get gun stores to be a bit more vigilant, they actually decided to pull a trick on the cartels. They allowed a whole bunch of gun sales, with the plan to track the guns so they could figure out where in Mexico (or elsewhere) they were ending up, and who ultimately was using them. Now, this could have led to valuable intelligence, and if they had managed to track the people down and get the guns back, it would have been a successful operation. Unfortunately, it became a scandal after it became public that the government had completely lost track of the guns, making the entire operation a complete waste that just made the cartels more powerful. 

8. The War On Drugs Is A Colossal Failure And An Enormous Boondoggle 

The war on drugs was started back in the Nixon era, and ramped up to even more of a fevered pitch during the Reagan years. In fact, Nancy Reagan, the First Lady at the time, even made it her mission in life to go on a campaign against drugs, with her famous slogan, “Just say no.” (Something that basically never worked for any teenager under peer pressure… ever). The idea was that if we put enough government dollars into restrictive laws and prison sentences, cracked down hard on the gangs and on individual dealers, and went all out against the drugs as if we are actually at war, we would make a huge dent and get lots of people off drugs. However, the truth is that all the facts suggest that the “War on Drugs” was a colossal waste of time and money. 

Despite all the arguably unfair prison sentences for small drug offenses, the bigger issue is simply that the program has not been effective. Even though an incredible amount of time and money has been spent, evidence shows that over the years, access to drugs has become cheaper, the cartels and drug dealers are making more money, more people are doing drugs, and the problem is actually getting worse. It doesn’t help that legal drugs like opioids helped create an entirely new black market for getting high and ruining your life.

7. The Housing Projects Cemented Segregation 

All the way back in the FDR years, the United States of America saw a need for more low income housing for poor urban citizens — which is often code for black people. Now, there were a lot of ways this could be done, but the government did it really the wrong way entirely. Obviously, we don’t know for sure what their intentions were, but the effect was devastating for the black community, and helped codify segregation permanently into the very infrastructure of the United States. 

The housing projects were all put in the same city blocks, and were closely packed together. They were not spread out within different zip codes throughout the big cities, as would make more sense, and none of them were built in slightly wealthier zones, to help uplift the poor people coming to live in the projects. Instead, they chose more run-down parts of the city, and closely packed the housing projects together.

Because cities’ tax revenues are based on the riches of its citizens, small cities that have a lot of housing projects tend to have very little money to fix anything, have nice schools, or even keep the city up. And because moving is so expensive, most people born in the projects will simply never get out.  

6. Poisoning People During Prohibition

The prohibition era is a well known time from America’s history, and perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in modern history. It is well known that a huge new class of drug cartels spawned due to prohibition, and it didn’t even work. The federal government was annoyed that people kept finding ways to flout their decree, and wanted to force people to behave — or else. They devised a plan to teach people that alcohol WAS bad for them, even if they didn’t think so, and even if they had to put bad stuff in alcohol that wasn’t usually in it. 

So, they figured if they poisoned a bunch of bootleg alcohol, people would get sick stop drinking due to the dangers. They poisoned a bunch of alcohol from industrial sources and denatured it, making it unsafe to drink; then, they just waited, knowing the bootleggers usually used those sources. Tens of thousands got sick and thousands died, at least according to most estimates. The government did not admit until later what they did, and it is hard to know for sure just how many hospital stays and deaths were caused by this irresponsible and deadly action by the United States government. 

5. FEMA Keeps Failing At Basic Disaster Management Over And Over Again 


FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but mismanaging things seems to be their real purview. Back in the Bush years, FEMA was called out for their terrible response to Hurricane Katrina, and many people still believe that with more competent leadership at the top of the agency, more people and property could have been saved. More recently, FEMA made it into the news because of its poor response to the crisis in Puerto Rico. 

FEMA brought a whole bunch of bottled water (about a football field’s worth all stacked up) and meant to distribute it to people in need. Unfortunately, this huge supply of water, instead of going to the people who needed it, rotted outside in the crazy heat, and became completely unusable. Desperate locals were forced to carefully ration their drinking water from springs and other sources instead, as the bottled water could no longer be trusted as safe. Unfortunately, while the agency is necessary and important, it needs leadership that is better at managing emergencies — with competent leadership, so many more lives would be saved when disasters happen. 

4. No Child Left Behind Left Our Children Worse Off Than Ever Before 

Back in the Bush years, we had an update to our current education plan that was dubbed “No Child Left Behind.” For the most part, it was a continuation of a previous policy with a few changes, but that didn’t make it a good idea. The point of No Child Left Behind was to force more standardized testing, and punish underperforming schools. The system was meant to encourage underperforming schools to get their act together, and not fail to properly teach their students. 

However, an emphasis on a one size fits all approach like standardized testing doesn’t play to people’s specific needs or the needs of that community, and forces the teachers to mostly “teach for the test,” which can mean not emphasizing a lot of important knowledge. To make matters worse, No Child Left Behind doesn’t give any funding to help underperforming schools, which is what they really need. If a school isn’t doing well, the vast majority of the time the reason has to do with not having enough funds. If a school is punished for not doing well enough, if anything they will only do even worse, and the system will continue to fail our children and leave lots of them behind. 

3. The Forced Busing Programs Were Done Clumsily And Didn’t Have Much Impact 

Recently in the Democratic presidential debates, the candidates were talking about the busing programs meant to help integrate black children into white public schools and vice versa. While the issue brought up a contentious debate between the candidates and a couple of interesting soundbites, there is reason to believe the program was not at all helpful (which may be why it was ultimately shut down). While some black students did get to benefit from going to some nicer schools, it also caused some resentment for people sent to schools far away from them that weren’t as nice. 

The truth is that to fix our issues involving schools, we need to make sure schools in poorer areas are properly funded, and aren’t relying on the tax revenue of their local city. Shifting a few students around doesn’t change the fact that a school underperforms because it has no funding, and only helps a few students, and hurts others who are moved to the low income school. In the end, we have to fix the infrastructure problems inherent in the system, or we are only assisting a few people here and there — which does nothing to ameliorate the overall problem. 

2. The Laws Regarding Service Animals Have Created Massive Confusion 

Recently you may have seen debates on the news about bringing service animals onboard flights, as well as the more dubious “emotional support animals.” Technically, all animals are “emotional support” as that is the whole point of having a pet, and animals with that designation don’t usually go through any special training. However, the whole thing has become a nightmare for hotel owners, airliners and many other businesses. The problem is how the law is worded. The ADA protects disabled people and ensures that service animals are allowed to go with them because they need the animal — it is essential. It’s not a pet; it performs actual, hugely importance services. However, emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA at all. 

This has created a huge problem, and has been a boon for scammers, due to the other part of the law. In order to ensure a blind person or someone similar isn’t turned away because they forgot some paperwork, you are not allowed to demand proof of paperwork that an animal is a service animal. Now, you could probably get away with arguing for exotic animals, as the bar for proof is sensibly higher, since they aren’t really trained. Several airlines seem to have legally gotten away with turning away that kind of nonsense, so there is precedent for it. 

However, if you just own a cat or a dog, you can claim it is a service animal (and not emotional support), maybe even put a harness on it to make it seem more legit, and while they can ask you what kind of service it helps you with, they are not allowed to ask for proof. The truth is that the law could use an update. It was made long before people had smartphones or the internet, so if you forgot a document and someone demanded proof you could be in real trouble. However, now, with a smartphone on hand, you could easily present evidence in seconds. 

1. MKUltra Failed To Produce Results, Apart From Alleged Deaths 

MKUltra was an infamous government program that started back in the 1950s, and was the government’s attempt to find some kind of useful mind control or other applications for war, and intelligence gathering. The program lasted for decades, and experimented with everything from mind altering drugs like LSD, to various technological applications for brainwashing or mind control. Many conspiracy theories have sprung from the program about what they did learn, and some people think the government is regularly using techniques from the project to control specific people or even the masses. 

However, the government claims that the project was shuttered after decades of work because it simply didn’t provide useful results. The experiments allegedly caused a handful of deaths, as well as one by alleged suicide due to delusions from LSD exposure, and the government subjected some inmates to experimentation — without their knowledge — to hallucinogens like LSD. While these tests may have harmed some people, it wasn’t even worth it if what the government claims was true. They were unable to find a way to control people’s minds, and if anything just got a lot of people a lot more interested in checking out that LSD stuff. And even if the conspiracy theorists are right and they did learn something useful, drugging inmates against their will, and allegedly causing the deaths of multiple people, makes the whole thing something less than a victory for the federal government.


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