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7/19/2011
COMPLEXITY AS A TOOL OF CONTROL

If you follow politics and government at all, you know that nothing ever dies in Washington. This includes federal programs, politicians who habitually seek a “second act,” and government bureaucrats who have a better chance of dying than losing their jobs.

That’s why it’s not surprising that, at the very last moment when all seemed lost and the country appeared ready to teeter and totter over a cliff into default, the Gang of Six has arisen Zombie-like to come to our rescue.

They’ve been dead a while so perhaps a little refresher course on who they are might be in order. First, don’t confuse this Gang of Six with the other Gang of Six who tried to work out a healthcare reform compromise in 2009 — and failed. Second, the group is comprised of six senators, three from each party, who have been striving for months figuring out a way to save the country from the profligacy of a president who wants to remake America and a Congress who thinks every federal dollar ever appropriated is a sacred relic to be venerated and worshiped.

Back in May, a key member of the group, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, quit in disgust. He said at the time that the Democratic members of the group weren’t serious about cutting entitlements. “It’s got to be balanced. And I didn’t perceive where we were was balanced,” Coburn said. Their deliberations were behind closed doors and very little in the way of details leaked out, but apparently, the Democrats wanted more than $3 trillion in tax hikes over 10 years while only fiddling at the margins with Medicare. So Coburn left in a snit, saying he could do better.

With one less politician at the table, the Gang of Six kept at it and on Tuesday, emerged from seclusion with the mother of all deficit reduction plans; not that it cuts nearly enough spending, but in sheer unintelligible complexity, it can’t be matched. Reading the summary is an invitation to a headache. Politico strove to reduce the turgid prose into something approaching English:

According to a copy of a summary of the Gang of Six plan, obtained by POLITICO, the group would impose a two-step legislative process that would make $500 billion worth of cuts immediately followed by a second bill to create a “fast-track process” that would propose a comprehensive bill aimed at dramatically restructuring tax and spending programs. The plan calls for changes to Social Security to move on a separate track, and establishes an elaborate procedure for considering the measures on the floor.

A bill that proposes two other bills that proposes another comprehensive bill that would “fast track” the process? And Social Security changes would be an entirely separate bill from all that?

Can it really be that complicated? The short answer is it must be that complex. Without complexity, the rest of us would be able to understand what was going on and that would mean curtains to the small army of lawyers, regulators, aides, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who actually run the country.

As of 2009, there were more than 157,000 pages federal regulations governing every aspect of our lives and businesses, all with the force of law. Each year 3000 to 5000 more regulations are added. Few are ever challenged in court for their constitutionality, although in-house reviews by regulatory lawyers are supposed to take care of that little problem. The point being, those impacted by regulations rarely get a day in court simply because challenging the Colossus is expensive, time consuming, and usually futile. Better to grit your teeth and comply rather than spend your life savings on what is usually a lost cause.

More than 50 federal agencies have regulatory authority over the economy, our workplaces, and our lives. Leave aside the notion that many if not a majority of those regulations are necessary and good. Most are designed to protect us from predators, crooked employers, and even crazy neighbors.

But have we ever asked how any government purportedly representing free people can possibly oversee, manage, direct, command, administer, or even comprehend such complexity? One president, 535 members of Congress, and nine Supreme Court judges cannot even remotely grasp what they have wrought in our names. Yes, the president has cabinet officers who are supposed to ride herd on their departments. But even if they are competent, intelligent, and dedicated public servants, how much can they truly grasp of their department’s total impact on citizens?

We like to say that government is “out of control” but that’s not really true. Such a statement suggests that control was to be had in the first place, or that the system has developed so that control is somehow possible. It hasn’t, and it isn’t. But for those who get rich off this complexity — armies of lobbyists who specialize sometimes in one regulation or one area of the tax code, for instance — there is advantage in making government incomprehensible to everyone else. And if knowledge is power, the same could be said for government bureaucrats who shepherd these regulations through the approval process. Meanwhile, the average citizen who runs a business turns in desperation to those who, for a tidy fee, will guide them out of the labyrinthine maze that is oftentimes designed to entrap them.

When the Gang of Six comes up with a plan that buries its purpose in legislative gambits and tricks, they are really muddying the waters so they and their colleagues don’t have to face facts, and bite the budget cutting bullet. By making the method of cutting trillions from the budget mind-numbingly incomprehensible, they are sowing the seeds for the plan’s own failure — knowingly or not.  But by the time the process collapses under its own complexity, who will care? The debt ceiling will have been raised and at least $500 billion will have been cut thus giving the impression that Congress and the president are dealing with the problem.

Over the next decade — the time period when the $3.7 trillion is supposed to be cut from federal spending — the government will spend more than $40 trillion dollars. There is no one on the Hill who doesn’t believe there isn’t at least $3.7 trillion of that unintelligible amount of cash that can’t be stripped from the budget without raising taxes one cent. Not even the most partisan, dedicated liberal could be in such denial.

But by defining the problem using enormously complex triggers and procedures, Congress will escape its responsibility and little, if anything, will be accomplished.

By: Rick Moran at 5:43 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

6/18/2009
THE CHICAGO WAY TO DEAL WITH NOSY IG’S

In Chicago politics, if someone starts investigating you, your cronies, or your dubiously legal activities, you basically have three options:

1. Come clean, beg for mercy, and agree to wear a wire to meetings with your partners in crime.

2. Send some goons to pay a visit to the investigator and try to persuade him that it is in the best interest of his continuing good health that he investigate someone else.

3. Get the investigator fired. (Preferable to #2 because goons are a big expense and not always feasible or available.)

In the case of nosy, independent-minded Inspector Generals, the Obama administration has eschewed the Goon Option for simply canning IG’s who displease them for peeking into the dark corners of the administration to sniff out corruption.

The tale of AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin has been instructive. Already a thorn in the administration’s side for barring Obama ally Sacramento Mayor Dennis Johnson from receiving any more AmeriCorps grants last year because hizonner insisted on using the monies for personal and political activities, Walpin really raised the hackles of Obama’s politicos when he refused to reinstate the mayor’s grant privileges so he would be eligible to dip into the stim fund cookie jar.

Getting in the way of a Chicago politician seeking to reward a friend is crazy, according to the White House. Or, at least, it shows that the IG who isn’t playing the game must be suffering from some kind of dementia as the Obama crew crudely smeared Walpin by saying that his firing was an “emergency” because he was so “confused” and “disoriented” that it questioned his “capacity to serve.”

Yes, that sort of thing happens in Chicago too although most of the time, it’s done with a little more subtly. Nothing so crude as a press release from the Mayor’s office accusing a high ranking bureaucrat of losing his mind. More likely, a call to a friendly reporter accusing him of being a drunk or having an affair suffices in the Windy City.

The effect is the same. Rather than giving legitimate reasons for firing a watchdog - not that there are any in this case - the White House made up some crap about Walpin being too old and feeble to do the job. No doubt, “witnesses” will turn up in the press shortly to confirm Dr. Rahmbo’s diagnosis of mental incapacity.

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome IG?” Obama might have asked. Presidents do things for political purposes all the time and firing one IG for being a squeaky wheel is really nothing much to get too worked up about.

But what if he has fired two IG’s - in two weeks - and potentially de-gonaded a third?

He was appointed with fanfare as the public watchdog over the government’s multi-billion dollar bailout of the nation’s financial system. But now Neil Barofsky is embroiled in a dispute with the Obama administration that delayed one recent inquiry and sparked questions about his ability to freely investigate.

The disagreement stems from a claim by the Treasury Department that Barofsky is not entirely independent of the agency he is assigned to examine ¿ a claim that has prompted a stern letter from a Republican senator warning that agency officials are encroaching on the integrity of an office created to protect taxpayers.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent the letter Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner demanding information about a “dispute over certain Treasury documents” that he said were being “withheld” from Barofsky’s office on a “specious claim of attorney-client privilege.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment, referring questions to the Treasury Department. Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said late Wednesday that the agency would read Grassley’s letter and respond to the senator before any public comment.

[...]

Separately this week, the International Trade Commission told its acting inspector general, who is not subject to White House authority, that her contract would not be renewed.

Grassley had become concerned about her independence because of a report earlier in the year that an agency employee forcibly took documents from the acting inspector general.

“It is difficult to understand why the ITC would not have taken action to ensure that the ITC inspector general had the information necessary to do the job,” Grassley wrote on Tuesday.

Less than three hours after the letter was e-mailed to the agency, the acting IG, Judith Gwynne, was told that her contract, which expires in early July, would not be renewed.

I know what you’re thinking, you Obamabots out there. “You got nuttin’. Where’s da proof? Nuttin’ happened here dat’s important. It’s a dis…a dist…it idn’t important, dat’s all.”

Perfect Chicago Way response. Better yet, why not include the defense of the year; “Well, Bush, he done it too!”

Got me there, pal. In 8 years, I’m sure Bush did indeed probably fire an IG or two. Can’t find any cites by googling but some intrepid lefty out there - my bet is on Steve Benen or perhaps Eric Boehlert - showing Bush doing the dirty deed will arise in the blogosphere by the end of the day.

And if he did, then what? Many on the left no doubt criticized Bush - quite rightly - at the time but are now defending Obama for doing the same thing? I guess because Bush wasn’t from Chicago, he just didn’t have the touch with these political executions. No style, no flair, no imagination in burying a hatchet in an IG’s head by smearing him as being senile.

It is the Barosfsky case that is the most intriguing. What is he on to? The response to Grassley’s letter was a polite way of saying “keep your nose out of our business.” What is that business? The FBI (and Barosfsky himself) believe there is massive fraud in the TARP program with possible kickbacks made to Congressmen. The IG’s office has already opened 20 investigations into such cases - probably about 19 more than the White House wanted. By playing a slow down game with the IG, Treasury is hoping their Democratic allies in Congress will rescue them by refusing to investigate. Grassley will try gamely but without the resources of a committee staff, he will be hard pressed to come up with anything.

Of course, this probably won’t deter Barosfsky. More likely, the White House is building a case to fire him as well - probably for “not following procedures” or some such transparent lie. With the press still on his side, why should they care what the reason is when the media and the Obamabots will accept anything they say at face value?

The Walpin story has already led to a criminal investigation being undertaken by the FBI for obstruction of justice in the Sacramento case. Proof enough that Chicago Way politics has migrated east and infected the highest levels of the American government.

Why couldn’t we have exported something else like Deep Dish Pizza or the Cubs?

By: Rick Moran at 9:34 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)