Mistakes are human — and they’re dangerous when an entity aggregates too much power

erase_mistakeMistakes.  We all make them. Lord knows, anyone reading my blog knows that there are days when I can call myself the Mistake Queen. I’m a careless typist and a lousy proofreader, especially when rushed or stressed, two things that describe me most of the time.  I have a large fund of facts squirreled away in my brain, but I still get facts wrong and am always grateful when those more knowledgeable than I correct them.  I’m a savvy internet user, but not infrequently fall prey to false information on the internet (especially falsely attributed quotations that dovetail too perfectly with my beliefs).

Here’s the deal, though:  My mistakes have minimal impact.  They amuse some and offend others.  When I learn about them, I’ll correct them (unless they’re ancient typos).  I don’t want to make mistakes because my credibility and quality are at issue, but nobody’s going to die or go broke because I’ve made a typo.

The same holds true when individuals in government make mistakes.  For example, Earl tipped me off to a very funny one from the offices of Rep. Paul Cook (R., Cal. 8th Dist.).  I have no bone to pick with Cook.  He’s a retired Marine colonel and Vietnam Vet, and he deserves full honors for both those things.  He’s a Republican and I’ll happily assume for now that he’s not a RINO.  Without further information, therefore, Rep. Cook is all good things and I wish him much success.

But the stuff that comes out of his office!  Oy vey!!  His staff recently mailed out a flyer to his constituents.  The flyer had on its cover this stirring image:

Paul Cook flyer cover

So far so good. We like Congressmen who look first to the Constitution before passing laws. The problem comes with the survey included with the mailing:

Paul Cook survey

Please think long and hard about how you would answer Question No. 2.  If pressed, I would pick “unsure,” only because, of all the answers that make no sense, it’s most honestly acknowledges the inevitable bewilderment the question creates.

So it’s not just me messing up.  This kind of carelessness, thoughtlessness, illogical, foolishness, or whatever else you’d like to call it, is an inherent part of human nature.  The problems begin when we give these careless humans too much power.  The fact that Rep. Cook has silly people in his office says nothing about him and his agenda.  Likewise, although it was good for a laugh, you can’t fault every Democrat for some foolish drone’s reference to Reagan’s hitherto unknown years in Congress.

The contrary is true, though, when we’re looking at mistakes in an all- (or almost all-) powerful organization, such as a modern federal bureaucracy.  In that context, mistakes can be catastrophic.  And that’s precisely what Jim Geraghty touches upon in his National Review article about the fact that liberals cannot govern — they have put too much power into entities whose mistakes are devastating and whose self-correcting mechanisms non-existent:

In most professions, when you end up spending ten times what you budgeted, the consequences are swift and severe. Heads roll. Responsibilities are reassigned. Budgetary authority gets yanked. This, of course, is not how things work in the federal government.


Liberals’ belief in the inherent goodness of a far-reaching federal government drives them to avert their eyes from its wildest abuses, even when they are occurring right in front of them. Waste and mismanagement are ignored, dismissed, downplayed, and excused, because confronting them too directly would undermine the central tenet of their worldview: that the federal government is an irreplaceable tool for making the world a better place.

I hope I’m not being too mean when I point to Rep. Paul Cook’s silly flyer as a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with big government, even if that government is not actively malevolent and partisan.  When careless error comes out of a single Congressman’s office, it’s inconsequential; when it comes out of an all-powerful, unconstrained bureaucracy, it ought to scare the Hell out of each one of us.

A story showing everything that’s wrong with bureaucracies: rules have replaced morals and human decency

Freezing temperature thermometerIf you want to know everything that’s wrong about a Big Government world (which also means a multi-rules, heavily bureaucratic world), you need look no further than a recent news report out of Minnesota.  It took place at Como Park High School and involved teachers who, because of their bureaucratic training, completely abandoned human decency.

It all started out on a very cold day in Minnesota, with the temperature ranging between -8 and +12 degrees Fahrenheit.  The high school has an indoor pool, and that’s where 14-year-old Kayona Hagen-Tietz was swimming when a school alarm went off.  Before she could get to the locker to get her clothes, the teacher rushed her out into the cold.  Let me rephrase that:  A teacher in thrall to rules sent a soaking wet 14-year-old girl out into sub-freezing temperatures, clad only in a swimsuit.  She didn’t even have flip-flops on her feet.

Let’s accept for the moment that the teacher behaved correctly, since she or he had no way of knowing whether there was an imminent hazard in the school buildings.  Once outside, though, you’d think that the faculty would take steps to warm Kayona.  It turned out, though, that warming her was against the rules:

In the meantime, teachers feared to violate openly a school policy that prohibits students from sitting in a faculty member’s car.

Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children.  The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacher under the actual circumstances is ludicrous.  The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school.  There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.

Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules:

Hagen-Tietz fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.

As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were working their way through the bureaucracy.  After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody:

After Hagen-Tietz had suffered for ten minutes in sub-zero weather, a teacher finally received administrative permission to let her sit inside her car until students were allowed back inside.

Kayla suffered frostbite from her appalling experience at the hands of a government bureaucracy.

In what is an indictment of Western society, Kayla’s experience is not unique.  Back in 2009, a lot of people were very upset when they heard a story out of England:  a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues.  One didn’t have to go as far as England to see this kind of bureaucratic disregard for human life.  In 2011, Alameda police and firefighters literally stood and watched a man drown because they too weren’t certified for water rescues.  The unknown in Alameda is how deep or dangerous the water was, something that could indeed have meant that a suicidal man drowned other people.  In England, though, the rescuers took a rule clearly meant to apply to dangerous water situations, and refused to help someone lying in water that wasn’t even knee-deep.

Fortunately for me, since I have to tidy the house today, I don’t have to summarize precisely what went wrong in Minnesota, England, and Alameda.  Dennis Prager did it for me in his latest video:

A feral bureaucracy will do anything it can to protect itself

Catherine Engelbrecht’s testimony should be heard far and wide throughout America.  A feral bureaucracy will do anything it can to protect itself.  Right now, Obama’s is the lawless government, but back in the early 1970s, it was Nixon who began to push the boundaries.  Right now, the bureaucracy owes its allegiance to the Democrats.  That can change.  But no matter who’s in charge, if Americans of all political stripes do not act now to stop the federal government’s unconstitutional activities, freedom of speech and freedom of association are over:

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people has perished in America

Sometimes distance provides perspective.  My travels meant that, rather than being enveloped by news as I usually am, I read it only intermittently, and often through the New York Times’ filter, since that was the only news to which I had access for many days at a time.  The few stories I was able to follow put me strongly in mind of the Gettysburg Address, and how far away from those principles our current government has come.  Some of this is directly attributable to the current Democrat presidency, and some is an unpleasant by-product of a bureaucracy that has taken on a life of its own, independent of its creators’ ideas and energies.

Lincoln’s genius was that he was able to reduce to the smallest number of words the revolutionary principles that drove the Founding Fathers, as expressed in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:  “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Do we still have a government “of the people, by the people [and] for the people?”  No.  Our political and bureaucratic classes no longer believe that the people have anything to do with their continued existence (that is, they do not view themselves as parts of a government “by the people”); they do not believe that they have anything in common with the people whose lives they dictate (in other words, they are not part of a government “of the people”); and nothing they do benefits the people who are trapped in their web of laws and regulations (so that they are not part of a government “for the people”).

America has ceased to be a representative democracy and has, instead, become an oligarchy:  We, the People, are controlled by a proportionately small number of people who claim all entitlement to themselves and who, through laws, lawlessness, and unbridled bureaucracy (with a bureaucracy made up of people entirely beholden to the oligarchy for their continued well-being), control every aspect of our lives.  This oligarchy is separate from and unrelated to the constitutional, representative democracy Lincoln believed was the necessary underpinning for a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

A handful of stories upon my return forcefully brought home the vast chasm that has formed between “we, the People” and those who no longer represent us but who, instead, simply govern us.

1.  The people have long loathed ObamaCare, and by a significant and unchanging percentage too.  Even the President’s water carriers are getting nervous.  Those charged with enforcing it against us will not use it for themselves, nor will those who imposed it upon us.  It is a product of the oligarchy, with the benefits, but not the burdens, flowing solely to the oligarchy.  It was imposed upon the People, not through a true democratic process, but through dirty political dealing.  This is neither government by the people nor for the people.

2.  Despite the stagnant economy, the high unemployment, the rise of part-time jobs (i.e., no living wage), the number of young people stuck at home, and the continuing bankruptcy of our country’s business and economy, our President and his family continue to live like Nero or Marie Antoinette.  The Nero analogy was most recently demonstrated with the story that Obama is golfing while the world burns down around us.  The Marie Antoinette analogy can be seen in the endless round of A-list partying and multi-millionaire style vacations the Obamas enjoy, using our money (White House facilities for parties, taxpayer-funded air transport and security for offsite pleasures), even as ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet.  Obama, however, is worse than either Nero or Marie Antoinette, or any other analogous political figures (both historic and present day) who rob from the people to fund their lavish personal lifestyles.  This is because Obama is the only one of these figures who is — in theory, at least, an elected representative who is supposed to be only first among equals.  Obama’s grandiosity, however, shows that he no longer considers himself one of the people.  Worse, he is abetted in this historic break from a constitutional presidency by a ruling political and media class that has a vested economic and social interest in breaking with a constitutional republican democracy.

3.  The current government has abandoned the notion that government belongs to the people (“of, by, and for”) and holds, instead, the belief that the people and everything that they possess belong to the government.  Rep. Keith Ellison, a black, Muslim convert who is a darling of the Left, articulated this sentiment with startling clarity:  “The bottom line is we’re not broke, there’s plenty of money, it’s just the government doesn’t have it. . . . The government has a right, the government and the people of the United States have a right to run the programs of the United States. Health, welfare, housing – all these things.”  Government unions are a subset of this mindset.  In private industries, both management and the unions are negotiating with real money, real products, and real labor.  In the government sector, they negotiate with other people’s money regarding intangible products and services that are of dubious value.  (Think about the fact that California alone has more than 500 different agencies, a spectacular percentage of which are duplicative, and an even larger number of which do not serve the California taxpayers, but instead are directed at steering special interest groups into the government fold.)

4.  The bureaucracy has become an entity of itself.  It is no longer a subset of American government.  It is its own special interest group, and it advances its own agenda.  This fact can be attributed in significant part to government unions which, as noted above, sever government employees from the Peoples’ economic and practical needs.  Moreover, as the IRS scandal shows, the government bureaucracies no longer need political guidance to go after citizens who have the potential to disrupt their bureaucratic livelihood.  With little or no prompting from the political class, the bureaucracies abandoned their obligation to impose the law impartially and, instead, attacked what they perceived as threats.  If this seems familiar to you, you have only to think of innumerable science fiction books or movies (e.g., Terminator III), in which robots become sentient and turn on their human creators.

5.  Our next election is already predetermined.  Sadly, Myrna Adams makes the best argument for why Hillary Clinton will win in 2016 — and you’ll notice that none of her points have anything whatsoever to do with the will of the people or the state of America and the world, either now or in 2016.  Instead, Adams points to the political machinery which has broken down, with the dial perpetually set to “Democrat.”  Neither Hillary’s and her teams’ lack of any accomplishments to speak of nor the fact that Hillary herself is an undistinguished and inspiring human being will matter.  The oligarchy, made up of politicians, monied interests, government bureaucracies, media players, and academics, has spoken.  It’s Hillary’s turn now. After all, in 2008 and again in 2012, Obama was a candidate without accomplishments or, when off the teleprompter, charisma.  The robots — er, oligarchs . . . er, political class . . . er, media — anointed him and he won.  “We, the People” — our needs, desires, and existence — have become entirely expendable.

In the next election, democracy will be just as meaningful as it was in the old Soviet Union when 100% of the voters “freely” cast their votes for the Communist party candidate.  The Soviet Union was a nominal democracy in that the people “voted,” but it totally by-passed Lincoln’s requirement that a government worth saving must be “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people” in order to ensure that a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” shall not “perish from the earth.”


People worry that rather than catching bad guys, the Obama administration will use the info it gathers to create bad guys

One of the things that characterizes the rule of law is that it applies equally to all citizens.  The rich man’s son who vandalizes a shop is prosecuted as vigorously as the poor man’s son who does the same.  That the rich man’s son can afford a good lawyer is the random luck of life.  America can provide equality of opportunity, but nothing, not even socialism, can guarantee equality of outcome.  The important thing for purposes of the rule of law is that the law doesn’t give the rich man’s son a pass.

The rule of law also has to be grounded in common sense and reality.  That’s why Anatole France was being nonsensical when he famously said “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” The reality is that a rich man, unless crazy, does none of those things — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the law is unfair if societal good demands that we value property or try to keep streets safe for all citizens. The law is what it is. In the case of theft, vagrancy, and begging, it isn’t the law that should change but, perhaps, the availability of opportunities and, as needed, charity.

Common sense has long-dictated, at least since 9/11, that the best way to stop terrorism directed at Americans is to keep a close eye on people, especially men, who practice a strict form of Islam and on disaffected young men who take psychotropic drugs.  These two categories of people have been responsible for almost all, or maybe all, of the mass killings against Americans over the last decade and more.

When it comes to the mentally ill, we keep talking about monitoring them, but we don’t do it.  Lack of political will, lack of political and social organization, civil rights issues, and the fact that it’s more fun to rail against guns than against insane people (poor things) means that this won’t change any time soon.

Even worse, our government has made the “politically correct” decision to refuse to monitor with extra focus those young men who embrace radical Islam (e.g., the Tsarnaevs or Nidal Hassan).  It’s not fair, we’re told.  Profiling will make law-abiding Muslims (and the vast majority of Muslims in America are law-abiding) uncomfortable.  It’s racist and mean to assume that, because someone is Arab-looking, and sweating, and smelling of rose water, and murmuring “Allahu Akbar” under his breath to think that he’s up to a bit of no good — never mind that, when the bomb goes off or the plane falls from the sky, any Muslims in the area will be just as dead as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Heck, we’ve allowed minority groups to prey on each other for decades for fear of causing offense.  The number one target of violent, young, black and Hispanic males is . . . violent, young, black and Hispanic males, followed closely by all the hapless black and Hispanic children, old people, mothers, and fathers who have to share communities with these monsters of violence.  Because it looks bad for white police to go after these monsters, their communities must suffer.  The Gods of Political Correctness delight in human sacrifices, and the younger, more innocent, and more tender the better.

Americans therefore fully understand that our government, for “diversity,” or “multicultural,” or “politically correct” reasons (all of those terms speak to the same end), absolutely refuses to look first at the obvious suspects (young, radical Muslim men) before casting its net wide to sweep in people who are trying to avoid capture by looking less obvious.  It’s not likely that the Minnesota granny has a bomb in her brassiere, but it’s possible.  A good national security system doesn’t assume that anyone is innocent, but it does concentrate its resources where they make they most sense.

So here’s the deal with the NSA spying:  We know with some certainty that, for Leftist political reasons, the NSA is not making an effort to scrutinize the population most likely to go all “Allahu Akbar” on us.  Instead, for politically correct reasons, it’s spying on everyone.  In essence, it’s creating a haystack of information, with extra paddings of politically correct, multiculturalist hay wrapped around any spot where a needle might hide.

If politics means that the system won’t look for the obvious bad guys, what is it looking for then?  Well, I suspect that what’s going to happen is that the system will be used to look for easy targets.  Things that are neither criminal nor suspicious, but that pop up nevertheless, will suddenly be scrutinized because they’re there.  It will be the surveillance equivalent of “If the mountain won’t come to Mohamed, then Mohamed must come to the mountain.”  Since the NSA can’t focus its efforts on finding real criminals, it will engage in some flexible thinking and criminalize whatever activity it sees.  And — voila! — it will therefore justify its bureaucratic existence and purpose.  That the country will lose its identity and the people their freedom is a small price to pay for bureaucratic immortality.

FTC v. POM — and POM’s fighting back *UPDATED*

I have no opinion whatsoever about POM’s pomegranate juice.  I do, however, have strong opinions about bullying government agencies that use threats, economic blackmail, and death by bureaucracy to further agendas that may be costly, counter intuitive, politically driven, or otherwise disturbing to someone who, as I do, has a conservative/libertarian bent.  I was therefore delighted to see that POM had a banner ad stretched across the top of today’s New York Times, inviting people to learn more about successful fight against the FTC.

When I was at law school, my Constitutional Law professor Phil Bobbitt (yes, this Phil Bobbitt) once asked the class why criminal defendants in America are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and why they have the right to counsel (this in response to a student’s observation that it just seemed wrong to work as a lawyer for criminal defendants).  After we waffled around for a while, Prof. Bobbitt provided the answer, one that I’ll never forget:  Nobody should have to stand alone when the great weight of the government is turned against him.  That imagery — of a pathetically small individual standing alone, bravely facing the might of the government — was compelling, and certainly fed my nascent libertarianism.

Sadly, in the world of administrative “law” (or, as often as not, administrative lawlessness), everything is bass ackwards.  There’s still the great weight of the government bearing down on the lone individual or corporation, but this unleashed government power is unaccompanied by the Constitutional protections that our criminal justice system extends to individuals and legal entities.  When agencies attack, they do so with bared teeth and claws.  Gibson Guitars knows thisMarylou’s knows thisMike and Chantell Sackett know this.  And now, of course, POM is learning this painful lesson.

With luck, what will happen is that the ever-expanding federal government overreaches itself while there’s still strength left in the Republic to prune it this unchecked power back to reasonable proportions.  Otherwise, God help us all!

UPDATE:  And just in today, another story of agency overreach, harassment, and intimidation.

America is buckling under the tyranny of bureaucracy *UPDATED*

When we think of tyranny, we tend to think of it in sharp, dramatic, bloody terms.  Tyranny is the stark economic divide between a corrupt leader and his starving people, or it’s the day to fear of citizens in a police state.  Few of us recognize, or are willing to acknowledge, that tyranny, at it’s most fundamental level, is the loss of individual freedoms, with a concurrent increase in state power.  When people must bow to the state’s dictates all day every day, without recourse, they are subject to tyranny, even if they’re neither starving nor physically brutalized.

The soft socialism that increasingly characterizes the United States sees us increasingly in thrall to a bureaucratic dictatorship.  A plethora of agencies at all levels of American life (local, state, and federal) ensure that every breath we take comes within a government function.  The Founders tried to balance the need for a functioning society with their fear of tyranny by making our federal government one of specifically enumerated powers, while leaving all other powers to state governments.  They understood that state governments, by virtue of their relatively smaller size compared to the federal government, are more responsive to their citizens needs and desires, and have less power.  In addition, it’s fairly easy to leave a state that is becoming oppressive, and very difficult to leave a country that is doing the same.

Today,  I reached critical mass in my email, with people apprising me of four separate posts and articles, three of which look at the dramatic increase in bureaucratic tyranny in the last few years (something prominent in, but not limited to, the Obama administration), and one of which offers some hope that there may be a way out of the soft socialism that is strangling America’s liberties:

To get a handle on the issue, begin with Wolf Howling’s magnum opus describing the way in which the federal government is stifling us with regulation sans representation.

After reading that, you’ll be able to appreciate Patrick O’Hannigan’s article detailing the way in which the Obama administration using its bureaucracy to avoid Congressional and judicial oversight, in order to carry out foreign policies and to target specific groups and ideologies at home.

Because those two articles are broad in scope, let me throw in here an article about local bureaucrats run amok, just so that you can appreciate that, once a bureaucracy takes hold, and when it becomes self-serving and corrupt, your life will be destroyed by something more than just a thousand bureaucratic-form paper cuts.

Finally, there is hope, although it’s only the smallest flicker of light at the end of a long bureaucratic tunnel.

UPDATED:  It turns out I’m not the only one with bureaucracy or, more precisely, concern about bureaucracy, on the brain.  Michael Phillips has written two delightful posts on the subject.

Penn State and the slow death of American self-reliance

In the wake of the horrific child abuse scandal roiling Penn State, many have been trying to understand how Sandusky’s predatory behavior could have continued unchecked for so long.  The focal point of this “how could this happen” question is the fact that Mike McQueary actually witnessed an assault.  Rather than rearranging Sandusky’s face, McQueary slipped out quietly, called his Daddy, and than made a chain-of-command report.  As far as he was concerned, he’d then done what he needed to do.  Paterno did exactly the same:  chain-of-command report.  And so on, up the ladder, with each person punting the problem higher, and each higher level official diluting the story so that it transformed from child rape into inappropriate behavior — and we all know that inappropriate behavior needs to be dealt with tactfully and in a way that doesn’t embarrass the institution.

So, again, we have to ask why?

Because — and this is not an idle boast — I have some of the smartest readers in the blogosphere, I can take a good stab at an answer.  In an open thread about Penn State, my readers chewed over the fact that in Pennsylvania, the law allows employees who witness a crime to go up the chain of command, whereas in Texas (for example) the law requires that every person has the responsibility to report to the authorities cases of suspected child abuse.  In other word, the culture is different in the two states, with one allowing people to pass the buck, and the other mandating that people take independent action.

There are already demands that Pennsylvania change its laws about reporting child abuse in order to bring them closer in line with the Texas standard.  While that wouldn’t be a bad idea, it would be a small bandage over a gaping wound in the American psyche:  the death of self-reliance.

Agrarian and frontier societies are, of necessity, self-reliant.  (Yes, even Europeans once knew how to make do.)  Right up until the 1960s, what separated America from other nations was that, until very recently in historic terms, it managed to be an amalgam of Western intellectualism and frontier self-reliance.  This meant that, even as increasing population density and industrialization made it unnecessary for an American family to be almost completely self-sustaining, our Judeo-Christian heritage was sophisticated enough that we nevertheless enshrines as a virtue that personal independence.

And, by gosh, if self-reliance is the standard, those pioneers were virtuous.  Here, from one of my favorite books, No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, you can get a good thumb-nail sketch of how a family prepared to leave East Coast civilization to head for the Wild West:

Once a conveyance was determined, the woman cut and sewed the double-cloth wagon tops and sides . . . with muslin on the inside and heavy linen on the outside for extra warmth and protection . . . and attached pockets or “pouches” so that items such as knives, firearms, cooking pots, mother’s sewing and knitting basket and essential toilet articles could be tucked away safely.  [Snip]  Each item — all the food, tools, bedding, clothing, a veritable pharmacopoeia of medicinal roots and herbs, axle grease, spare wagon parts, furniture and so forth — was sharply scrutinized to make certain that it was critical to the survival of the family, the wagon and the animals both on the trail and for the first homestead.  (p. 73.)

After the pioneers finally reached their destination (and truly, only the strong survived the journey), Dad (and sons and neighbors) began the backbreaking work of hunting and farming so as to tease food out of the land, while Mom (and daughters and neighbors) kept the home fires burning.  In No Idle Hands, one can read in their own words how the children of these pioneers remembered their mothers’ accomplishments:

“Mother bore and cared for the babies, saw that the floor was white and clean, that the beds were made and cared for, the garden tended, the turkeys dressed, the deer flesh cured and the fat prepared for candles or culinary use, that the wild fruits were garnered and preserved or dried, that the spinning and knitting was done and the clothing made.  She did her part in all these tasks, made nearly all the clothing and did the thousands things for us a mother only finds to do.”


Another mother, in addition to her regular routine of “water carrying, cooking, churning, sausage making, berry picking, vegetable drying, sugar and soap boiling, hominy hulling, medicine brewing, washing, nursing, weaving, sewing, straw plaiting, wool spinning, quilting, knitting, gardening and various other tasks,” found time to exchange work with other neighbors when they gathered together to spin and knit, skeining yarn for immediate use by simply winding it from hand to elbow and hanging it from her arm while she knit.  (p. 87-88.)

I am not advocating a return to that level of self-reliance.  My family and I would be dead within week if that were the case.  I am pointing out, however, that this was normative for large chunks of America only a century and a half ago, and that, even more importantly, this level of competence became part of America’s self-image.  We were the can-do generation.  While the Roosevelt administration, in the 1930s, jump-started the notion of a comprehensive welfare system, the generation that scrabbled through the Depression and World War II did not succumb to the cultural inertia of the socialist state.

It took the 1960s and beyond to change us into a don’t-do culture.  The “why” of that change would take a whole post (no, make that a whole book), but one can target lots of wealth, lots of youth, and a media and academic establishment that relentlessly propagandized both the virtues of socialism, while simultaneously denigrating traditional American culture and playing up the dangers of America’s home grown self-reliance ethos (“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”).

Whatever the root causes (I can speak Marxist-speak just fine, myself) the end result is that Americans are slowly put surely slipping into the type of passivity that characterizes people living in an excessively bureaucratized, government-heavy society.   Some like this.  At a recent speech to financially powerful supporters, President Obama warned that, if he’s not re-elected, Americans might have to leave the comforts of government dependence and enter a dangerous era of self-reliance:

At a million-dollar San Francisco fundraiser today, President Obama warned his recession-battered supporters that if he loses the 2012 election it could herald a new, painful era of self-reliance in America.

“The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, ‘you are on your own,’” Obama told a crowd of 200 donors over lunch at the W Hotel.

“If you get sick, you’re on your own. If you can’t afford college, you’re on your own. If you don’t like that some corporation is polluting your air or the air that your child breathes, then you’re on your own,” he said. “That’s not the America I believe in. It’s not the America you believe in.”

Nothing could more neatly distill Obama’s hostility to the classic American dream, one that believed it was a virtue for people to make it on their own.  That the reality didn’t always match this cultural image, since many failed to make it at all, while others made it with substantial government help, is irrelevant.  What matters is that, for ordinary people, growing up, working, raising children, personal accomplishment was the cultural paradigm.  By contrast, Obama’s American dream, the one that he desires as the overarching cultural paradigm, is one that sees people utterly dependent on the government.  It’s impressive that Obama so resolutely clings to his dream, even as the Europeans actively prove that, during the waking hours, the dream is a nightmare.

As more and more people, with media and academic help, enthusiastically turn the government into their paterfamilias, and as more and more rules and regulations mandate that people abjure individual action, we get a rash of stories, culled from headlines in both England, where the dependency rot runs deep, and America. Watching people drown is getting to be an ordinary day’s work in dependency cultures. This story comes from the San Francisco Bay Area:

The Oakland Tribune (via Mercury News) reports on a tragic story of a 57-year-old man who drowned in the bay in Alameda on Monday after wading chest-high in the water fully clothed for nearly an hour before rescuers could reach him.

Witnesses told the Tribune that police and fire crews responded quickly to the scene, but because the Alameda Fire Department is not certified in land-based water rescues, they had to wait for the United States Coast Guard to arrive.

The Coast Guard reportedly responded within 20 minutes with a rescue boat, but because the man was in fairly shallow water, they had to wait for a helicopter instead. The helicopter took 65 minutes to arrive because it had been out on another mission and needed to refuel.

In the mean time, a woman in her late 20s who’s trained as a water rescue nurse, was able to pull the man out when he was about 50 yards from shore. Unfortunately, rescuers were unable to revive him, and he was later pronounced dead at Alameda Hospital.

One can argue, as a surprising number did at the time, that the guy in Alameda wanted to commit suicide, thereby justifying the fact that rescue work suddenly became a spectator sport.  That’s not always the case, though.  In a surprisingly similar story from England, the person wasn’t committing suicide, but rescuers again stood by, watching:

More than a dozen emergency workers refused to pull a man from a waist-deep boating lake because of ‘health and safety’ fears.

For half-an-hour charity shop worker Simon Burgess, 41, was left face down in the shallow water as they waited for a specialist rescue crew.

Mr Burgess, who had gone to the lake to feed the swans, was pronounced dead at the scene but friends claim that if rescuers had waded straight into the water he could have been saved.

The crews of two fire engines, two police cars, two ambulances and an air ambulance were told not to enter the lake, which is no more than three feet (one metre) at its deepest point, in case they ‘compromised their safety’.

That’s just two stories, right?  What if I add a third, again from England?

A jobsworth ambulance boss refused to allow his staff to enter six inches of water to treat a man with a broken back – because it breached heath and safety.

Stricken Brian Bendle, 45, suffered the agonising injuries as he stood in shallow water at a leisure lake in Somerset.

He was waiting to take his £10,000 jetski out onto the water when he was hit by another rider travelling at around 50mph.

Shocked onlookers immediately ran into the lake as Mr Bendle, from Bristol, lay face down in the water.

They floated the dad-of-three in the six inch ankle-deep water, where they supported him until an ambulance arrived amid fears moving him would aggravate his back injury.

But they were stunned when a paramedic arrived and refused his pleading staff to enter the water – because they weren’t trained to deal with water rescues.

They had to slide a spinal board under him themselves and carry him to ambulancemen, who were stood on the bank just 6ft away.

At least in the story above, onlookers weren’t so shocked that they became incapable of saving the man themselves.  It’s good to see that some initiative survives.

(I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t note that we here in America have a long and surprisingly honored history of an individual cavalierly walking away from a person trapped in water.)

Passively falling back on regulations when the situation demands immediate individual action isn’t just a water-related activity.  Here’s a recent story about someone who watched an atrocious act, did nothing at first, and then acted in the most passive way possible.  No doubt his superiors approved, as they engaged in behavior that was either just as passive or, worse, actively complicit:

[Mike] McQueary, according to his testimony in the grand jury report, witnessed Sandusky subjecting what McQueary estimated to be a 10-year-old boy to anal intercourse in the showers of a football building on campus in 2002. According to his grand jury testimony, McQueary, upset, went to his office and phoned his father, who advised him to go home, according to testimony. The next day, McQueary reported what he had seen to Paterno, according to the grand jury report. Paterno passed information that an incident of “a sexual nature” had occurred to athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance Gary Schultz. Curley and Schultz were charged with counts of perjury and failure to report.

I’d like to think that, had I been there, Sandusky would have received some immediate, albeit crude, facial reconstruction.  I’m small, but I’m game — and a child was involved.

Looking at these few examples, I can’t help but think of another culture that allowed itself to lapse into such a bureaucratic mindset that citizens either passively watched or actively engaged in the most heinous acts.  I’m thinking, of course, of the Nazis.  If one subordinates people completely to the state, can one be surprised if they lose both will power and moral strength?

As many of you know, I’m an enthusiastic amateur martial artist.  (If only my skills were equal to my enthusiasm….)  I do martial arts because I really like it — but I also do it so that I can act.  After a long hiatus to have children, and then to moan about how having children prevented me from exercising, I read a story in the papers that send me off like a rocket to the nearest dojo.  Back in 2008, a man stomped his child to death in front of myriad witnesses, none of whom intervened.  All of them fell prey to analysis paralysis, shock, denial (“this can’t be happening!”), etc.  I’m willing to bet, though, that a fair number of them were waiting for someone else to take care of the situation.  I go to martial arts so that I can be that someone else.

Fortunately, despite socialist government’s best efforts to mandate inaction (or, at least, to give people an excuse for failing to get involved), all is not lost.  There will always be decent people who do get involved.  As I pointed out above, in the case of the man hit by the jet ski, even though the bureaucratized aid workers refused to do anything, bystanders willingly rescued the injured man.

I doubt, too, that many of us have forgotten the story of the bridge crew that acted with incredible speed and ingenuity to rescue a drowning woman:

“They just harnessed me up and dipped me down in the water and I grabbed her and the crane drug her to the boat and that’s it,” Oglesbee said. “What are you going to do if she’s like that? It’s no big deal. The whole crew did it.”

So spoke Jason Oglesbee after being the last man in the chain that daringly rescued a woman who got swept into a dam. The story says so much about the ingenuity and courage that we like to see in the average American.

Recently, a motorcyclist trapped under a car was lucky enough to find himself in the presence of proactive people, unconstrained by analysis paralysis, government regulations, or career worries.  At great risk to themselves, these people acted:

Penn State is a tocsin, warning us what happens when our cultural paradigm encourages us to pass the buck.  The nation, as a whole, hasn’t yet reached the moral abyss that is the Penn State athletic department, but Barack Obama has stated clearly that his goal is to create precisely the bureaucratic, dependency culture that makes Penn State’s (and Nazi Germany) possible.  This is not to say that Barack Obama and his team have as their goal mass child rape, genocide, crime waves, etc.  It is to say, though, that once one creates a government system that turns people into mindless, amoral automatons, the possibilities are endless for mass evil, unconstrained by individual morals.

photo by: a

Bright line bureaucratic rules that make no sense

Some friends of mine have put together a clever blog.  (If you follow me on facebook, you’ve already seen me trying to help them out.)  It’s called “A Kid’s I View” and it offers travel posts that kids write.  As a mom, I see it as a good resource for kids’ writing exercises; and as a mom who travels, I see it as a helpful place to look for travel ideas.

The biggest hurdle for my friends right now is to get content at the site.  Unlike some bloggers we know, most kids are not spontaneous writers.  Even nagging parents seem to lack the power to push their kids into writing.  When you think about it, the only people with the real power to push kids to write are teachers.  With this in mind, my friends are approaching various school districts.  Their sales pitch is that, at no expense to the school or the students, children can become published authors and, with a little luck, win cash prizes for their writing.

So far, some private schools and some public school districts have been intrigued.  One school district, however, instantly slammed the door in my friends’ faces.  The reason?  That school district has a hard-and-fast rule that it will only work with non-profit web sites.

I can understand the thinking that drove this rule.  “We’re a big school district and, even though we’re kind of broke, there’s still a lot of money here.  If we started using for-profit websites, people would think that we were trying to channel public school funds to those sites, which would look terrible and might encourage corrupt behavior from our staff.  If we use only non-profit sites, nobody can accuse us of wrongdoing.”

The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is that it rests on two completely fallacious assumptions:  (1) that for-profit sites suck funds out of school districts and (2) that non-profit sites are always on the side of the angels.

As my friends’ site demonstrates, a for-profit site can provide a benefit to a school district without imposing any costs on the district.  From the school and student point of view, it’s a fun, safe, colorful place where kids can experience the thrill of being a published author.  More than that, it’s absolutely free.  No money at all flows from school and student to the site.  To the contrary.  If a kid does well, the site sends money to the student.  More than that, if a teacher is able to encourage enough students to write (and frequent writing is the only way for someone to become a good writer), the teacher can earn money for his or her classroom.  This site puts the lie to the notion that schools appear corrupt (or are actually corrupt) if they deal with for-profit sites.

There’s evidence that the district is equally wrong with its assumption that non-profit organizations have a purity that allows the school districts to deal with them with impunity.  The most stunning example of this is Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea empire.  Mortenson wrote a book — Three Cups of Tea — describing his transformative experience following a disastrous hike in the Himalayas.  Thanks to that Himalayan sojourn, he was inspired to start schools for girls in Afghanistan.  Oprah got wind of him.  His book climbed the NYT’s bestseller list and became so popular it is now part of many schools’ curricula.  Inspired by their classroom reading, thousands of children raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund those schools.

Except, if Jon Krakauer is to be believed in his book Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, Mortenson is a con man.  His transformative Himalayan sojourn never happened.  He didn’t build most of the promised schools and, of the few he built, many stand empty.  Most egregiously, Mortenson used his organization (funded in significant part by school children) as his own personal ATM, siphoning off millions of dollars to fund his lavish lifestyle.  (As far as I’m concerned, the early tip-off that Mortenson wasn’t on the up-and-up Oprah’s embrace.  I acquit Oprah entirely of participating in the fraud.  I’ve just noticed that she has a knack for falling for scams.)

As the Mortenson con shows, the school district’s bright line rule allowing it to deal only with non-profit web organizations provides no assurance that it will be insulating its students from scams or other improper conduct.  Meanwhile, this same misguided policy shuts the door entirely on services that could, without cost, benefit the school and the students.

I wish my friends much luck.  They’re going to need it if that school district’s rules are the norm, rather than anomalies.

By the way, if you want to read an entire book devoted to foolish bureaucracy, I strongly recommend Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America.  Don’t let the book’s title fool you.  It’s not about lawyers.  It’s about bureaucracy, and the way in which its growth stifles initiative, innovation, flexibility and adaptability.  Keep in mind as you read it that government equals bureaucracy.  The bigger the government, the bigger the bureaucracy controlling our lives.

Dealing with government bureaucracies

I do not understand the liberal love affair with government.  Government is inefficient and it bullies people.  Had a business engaged in the same conduct as the City of San Francisco, it would have apologized profusely or found itself flamed to death.  A government, however, can act with impunity, because it holds the power.

I’m not advocating an anarchic system without government.  I’m just saying that people ought to think very carefully before they vest more and more power in government’s hands.  History shows repeatedly the truth behind Thoreau’s dictum that “That government is best which governs least.”

A microcosm of big government

My child participates in a youth swim league.  In a couple of weeks, all the regional swim teams are gathering together for the big meet of the season.  Each swim team has to pay a fee to participate.  Because I’m on the planning committee this year, I learned something interesting:  the private swim clubs pay their fees the moment they’re billed; the swim clubs that are run through the cities can take months to pay their bills.  Every bill has to wend its way through the city’s bureaucracy until it finally gets to the right desk and gets the right signature.  Meanwhile, the team that hosts the event is left out-of-pocket while awaiting payment.

Government is useful and important in the right places, but it is inefficient.  Very, very inefficient.

There are some things you simply don’t farm out — and national security is one of those things

I am cheap.  Very cheap.  That means that I’m a bargain hunter.  I like used books and cheap clothes.  I prefer to buy American but, if my pocketbook tells me that America isn’t a good deal, I’ll usually follow my pocketbook.  Usually, but not always.  If buying something from another country would put me in danger, I don’t do it.  That’s why I don’t buy canned goods or, indeed, anything that goes in my mouth, from China.  The t-shirts may be shoddy, fading and ripping quickly, but they won’t poison me.  The food just might.  (I’d like to avoid Chinese honey, too, which is chock full of antibiotics, fungicides, and industrial pollutants, but the fact is that most of the major manufacturers that use honey as an ingredient buy cheap Chinese honey.)

Not only will I avoid products that will harm me, I’m also unlikely to pay someone for service if I know that the person’s agenda is hostile to mine.  You don’t have the local thief install your burglar alarm.  I don’t even need active hostility to back off.  I also won’t buy service from someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in doing a good job for me.

None of the above is rocket science.  It’s good old-fashioned common sense — which, of course, is the one thing government lacks.  This current administration, especially, seems to go out of its way to abandon common sense.

I mention all this now because of a news story that the MSM is ignoring, but that should matter to everyone concerned both with American national security and with the American economy.  Here’s the deal:

There may be additional heartening employment news in the same sector [Boeing got an air tanker deal], following a request by the U.S. Air Force to identify suppliers for a new kind of airplane that can perform the light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) missions that are being requested by our military leaders.

The new aircraft’s purpose is to allow our U.S. pilots to more effectively execute the tactics, maneuvers and procedures that are needed for the type of counter insurgency warfare that we are currently seeing in Afghanistan and other conflict zones around the globe. In turn, these American pilots will train their partners and developing nation counterparts to fly these same planes and defend themselves, with a goal of reducing the need for U.S. military presence in the region.

Two companies are vying for the Air Force contract — Hawker Beechcraft, a Kansas-based company, and Embraer, a Brazilian owned and operated company.

The Red State article to which I linked explains that Hawker Beechcraft has a good history and a good product.  I’m sure that’s true.  I’ll even stipulate that Embraer also has a good history and a good product.  My question, though, is why in the world our government, which has never before been constrained by bargain shopping and common  sense, is willingly giving another country the blueprints for and access to one of our military products?

Here’s a perfect anecdote to illustrate my concerns:  Think back to 1976 and the Entebbe rescue mission.  The Israeli military’s raid on Entebbe to rescue hostages is one of the great stories of derring-do, intelligent planning, heroism, and creative thinking.  But it was also made possible by one significant fact:  More than a decade before the hostage-taking, an Israeli company had built the airport.  This meant that Israel had the plans.  As it happened, back in 1976, the fact that a non-Ugandan company had this type of information was the best thing that could have happened, helping the good guys win, and soundly defeating and humiliating the bad guys.

In this case, though, we’re the good guys.  I’d classify the Brazilians as the neutral guys for now, although their decision to follow in our footsteps and elect an anti-capitalist president is worrying.  While I believe and hope that Americans can and will shake off the Obama’s pernicious socialism, it’s not so clear that Brazil will.  If Venezuela is any guide, once socialism is firmly ensconced in a Latin American government, that government is no friend of ours.  Even without that specific scenario, though, the fact is taht one never knows what will happen in another country.  Right now, we’re witnessing events in the Middle East that caught the West entirely flatfooted.  Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy.

The whole friend/enemy thing is tolerable if you’re talking about buying t-shirts and canned foods or tables and cars from your frenemy, but it comes much more fraught when you’re talking about national security.  The optimal situation is one in which no country, Brazil included, knows too much about a “new kind of airplane that can perform the light attack and armed reconnaissance missions that” are part of modern American military tactics. Ten years from now, when the world has shifted, we may find ourselves bitterly regretting placing that information in another’s hands.

In addition to the security angle, there’ s also a matter of steering tax dollars, especially during a big recession.  It’s one thing for the marketplace to make decisions about where the money flows.  If I want to send my money to China, well, that’s my choice.  If enough people do that, than China gets rich or American companies figure out how to compete.  The government, though, is not the marketplace.  We’re not talking millions of customers making market-responsive decisions.  Instead, we’re talking about a huge, unwieldy, unresponsive bureaucracy taking millions and millions of dollars that taxpayers are forced to hand over to the government, and then sending it far, far away from the taxpayers.  This makes sense if the American market cannot supply the product — but we know that, in this case, the American market, made up of American taxpayers, is perfectly capable of providing the product.  There is therefore, no economic reason to ship our security over seas.

My congress people are Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Lynn Woolsey.  In other words, contacting them is about as useful as using tweezers to move mountains.  If you’re in a district that boasts slightly responsive congress people, though, let them know your concerns about this deal.  Sending military airplane manufacturing out of the country is bad for national security and bad for the economy.

It takes a bureaucracy to kill a bureaucracy

Years ago, NPR did a story about the disgraceful way in which President Bush used executive orders to circumvent Congress.  Shame on him!  Sadly, I can’t find that story (although, maybe, if I had the time and patience to weed through 8 years of NPR archives I could.)  I just remember the anger about those executive orders.

New president, new rules.  The Left, in order to reverse the effect of Obama’s “shellacking” (a description that became hackneyed within seconds of its first use), is touting the President’s ability to use executive orders to pursue his agenda.  Of course, since this is a super president, they’re touting a super-use of those same executive powers, in a way never before conceived in American politics.

Ed Lasky spells out specific ways that the new Congress — and, more specifically, the new House — can use its own bureaucratic powers to stop the onrushing regulatory nightmare.

The death of functionality due to bureaucracy

A couple of weeks ago, I ranted about the way bureaucracies are relentless in pursuit of some imaginary perfection.  My focus was health care, but I noted that bureaucracies will always keep going, trying to nail every detail down, so much so that life becomes impossible.  Britain perfectly proves my point about bureaucracies:

Local government bureaucrats have had to follow 74,000 pages of new rules and instructions handed down by Whitehall over the past decade, council chiefs complained yesterday.

The forest of red tape was a product of 4,000 different laws and circulars covering everything from parish council election advice to carbon reduction targets.

The direct cost to taxpayers of demands sent down by ministers to town halls amounts to £900 million a year and the overall losses could be as high as £2.5 billion annually, the Local Government Association said.

Where the bureaucratic state always seems to end up — death

The other day, I did a post about the fact that bureaucracies, in their ceaseless question for administrative protection, run the risk of killing us all.  I think Zombie makes my point precisely, in a post pointing out that people and nations most deeply wedded to perfection through bureaucracy (i.e., totalitarianism) all seem remarkably comfortable with determining who is unworthy of life — not because of evil acts they have committed, but because of their failure to conform to state perfection.

Death through bureaucratic perfection *UPDATED*

I was speaking the other day with a friend who is contemplating a different type cancer treatment, one that is neither chemo, nor radiation.  She has reacted badly to both, so they simply aren’t an option for her. Her doctor highly recommends this third type of treatment, which he believes will provide an optimal outcome, with the lowest level of stress to her body.  The treatment has been used successfully all over the world — except in the U.S.  The problem is, the FDA won’t approve it.  If my friend wants this treatment, she’ll have to leave the US for Mexico or India.

I have a real problem with the FDA.  As originally formed, it was intended to provide baselines for Food and Drugs, below which the consumer was imminently at risk.  This was a reasonable mandate.  As you may or may not know, one of the triggers for the FDA’s formation was the occasion when a pharmacist, back in the days when pharmacists made their own medicines, mixed ethylene glycol, aka antifreeze, into a children’s medicine to make the flavor more palatable. Large numbers of children sickened, with way too many dying.

Somewhere along the line, however, the FDA changed its own mandate.  It went from trying to provide minimal safeguards for consumers to trying to ensure that every product placed on the market is perfect and risk free.  Of course, that’s not possible, and the FDA knows it, but it keeps trying with ever greater demands.  The result is that medicines and treatments that could work never make it to the consumer.

The FDA will say that these medicines and treatments carry risks, but so do all the medicines and treatments.  Heck, have you ever gotten a prescription recently that didn’t have thousands of words of fine print detailing every possible side effect that could ever happen?  In fact, these things are usually so chock full of information, they’re unintelligible.  A nice example is the info sheet for Ambien, a quite innocuous and very helpful sleeping pill.

I bet that, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you’ll wade through all that Ambien info and decide that it’s worth trying out.  If you’re unlucky, and sensitive, you’ll get the side effects.  If you’re lucky, not only won’t you get side effects, but you’ll sleep well for the first time in forever.  The important thing is that, armed with the information and your doctor’s recommendation, you made a choice.

The FDA not only bars drugs, it also bars treatments (especially cancer treatments) that might not work.  How about allowing the treatment, but mandating that the provider clearly explain to the patient that the FDA thinks it won’t work or spelling out clearly what the risks are?  This would be similar to the warnings on cigarette packages — you know, the ones that say, it’s a free society, and you can buy cigarettes if you want, but you should know that they’ll probably end up killing you.  People still smoke in America, but many fewer than when I was growing up.  Freely available information changed people’s behaviors.

Imagine a cancer patient who, for whatever reason, is not a candidate for either chemo or radiation because his reaction to them is so severe it’s likely to kill him before the cancer does.  There is a third option available, one that has fewer side effects, but is also less likely to cure him.  Because, in this hypothetical, information is readily available about the treatment, he knows it is not a miracle cure with no risks.  Still, it might cure him, and he’s willing to pay the price for that chance.  Unfortunately for our sufferer, the FDA won’t approve it, because it’s less effective than chemo or radiation.  (I.e., it’s not perfect.)  That leaves the patient with only one other option:  no treatment and certain death. I’ve framed this as a hypothetical but, if you circle back to the top of this post, you’ll see that’s precisely what my friend is facing.

You see the exact same pattern — the bureaucrat’s ceaseless pursuit of perfection — when it comes to building codes.  They’ve gone from minimal safety requirements to known risks (fire, earthquake, collapse from rotten wood, etc.), to dreams of glory that often make new buildings and remodels impossibly costly.  We were thinking of adding a small stand-alone studio to our property, but gave it up when we learned that the building code required, among a hundred other things, that we make large parts of the studio wheelchair accessible — never mind that we don’t need wheelchair accessibility.  Yes, we might later require wheelchairs, but if that need arises we can spend the extra money at that time.  Or a prospective purchaser might demand wheelchair access, at which point we could, if we so desired, drop our sales price as part of closing the sale.  The big question, though, is why am I being forced to include those expensive and, to me, unnecessary amenities now?  Faced with the prohibitive cost, we abandoned our plan.  That was too bad, since it would have improved our property, and have provided employment to a bunch of people during a recession.

This is not an aimless rant.  It’s a rant that’s connected to government controlled health care.  One of the things that’s been worrying all of us is the accountant’s mentality that will gradually constrict the identity of patients who are entitled to care:  “It’s not cost effective for the government to pay for this cancer treatment for people over 70.”  “It’s not cost effective for the government to maintain medicine for hemophiliacs.”  “It’s not cost effective to provide intensive care for a newborn given a less than 50% chance of survival.”  We’ve already seen this happening in other countries that have government run medicine, so we know it will happen here.

But what we haven’t thought about is that the bureaucrats’ penchant for perfection will also affect the way government care is managed from within, never mind the patients who qualify for treatment.  That is, the government won’t just cut patients who might not have perfect outcomes.  The government will also cut medicines and treatments that might not have perfect outcomes.

This treatment and drug cutting won’t come about with the announcement that the government is henceforth refusing to pay for Drug A or Treatment B because they’re imperfect.  Nope.  This will be a backdoor one.  The government will promulgate more and more complex regulations, written in the abstract, regarding its expectations for drugs and treatments that will make the cut.  Superficially, these regulations will make it look as if the bureaucrats in charge care deeply for us, because they want only the best, the most optimal, the most perfect drugs and treatments to touch the precious body of each American citizen.  In reality, though, the bureaucratic quest for perfection, easy enough to achieve on paper, will prohibit entirely whole branches of treatment and medicine, since they will fail to meet the regulatory standards.

Voila!  Death through bureaucratic perfection.

Incidentally, if you want to read more on the subject of impossible bureaucratic hurdles, I highly recommend an old, but not out-dated book, called The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America.

One more thing:  one of these days, this bureaucratic perfection is going to spread to the world of eugenics based, not on race, but on freedom from imperfections — with the imperfections being mapped out by the same bureaucrats.  This isn’t going to be ugly, with mean spirited words about destroying the imperfect.  It’s going to be dry legalize that carefully spells out the perfect babies the government wants to ensure its citizens have.

UPDATE:  Right on time, there comes an article in my local paper about a rash of broken arms at brand new — meaning “totally up to code” — school playgrounds.


The parts I’ve highlighted make this sound like a very expensive proposition and, as I explain below, I’m worried that the bureaucratic rigidity that controls these types of things is part of what will make it so ridiculously expensive:

Corte Madera must put a $3 million to $4 million revenue measure before voters by the end of 2015 to fund curb, sidewalk and other disability access improvements after a federal judge signed off on a settlement agreement Thursday.

The deal between Corte Madera and disability rights advocate Richard Skaff also requires the town to make numerous street, seating and disabled parking improvements by June 30, 2011, including repairing the sidewalk on Redwood Avenue, installing wheelchair seating in the gazebo at Old Corte Madera Square and putting in a curb ramp at Tamalpais Drive and Willow Avenue.

That work will be part of a street reconstruction project worth approximately $700,000 already included in the 2010-2011 budget, said George Warman, Corte Madera’s director of finance.

“The decree into which we’ve entered provides further assurance that the town will continue to work with due diligence to comply with state and federal disability laws,” Mayor Carla Condon said. “It is our utmost goal to remove any impediments to anyone with any disability.”

The settlement “is going to impact the town financially, but the long-term results will be in everyone’s interests,” she added.

Filed in 2008 in U.S. District Court, Skaff’s lawsuit contended that Corte Madera streets, sidewalks, trails and parking lots violated state and federal law guaranteeing access to people with disabilities. In a July 6 closed session, the council unanimously approved the settlement, which includes no admission of liability.

After the first phase of projects are completed next year, Corte Madera must establish a fund for subsequent work, the agreement said. The town will then put aside annual sums of either $50,000 or 50 percent of specific gas tax revenues, whichever is greater, and 10 percent of its unrestricted capital improvement expenditures from the fiscal year two years earlier until the revenue measure goes before voters some time between 2011 and the end of 2015.

Corte Madera’s unrestricted capital improvement expenditures came to zero last year because of the town’s financial problems, which include a projected $3.6 million deficit by the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Warman said.

Skaff is a 66-year-old Mill Valley resident and former Corte Madera mayor who has sued numerous public agencies and businesses to get disability access. He said he hopes town officials frame the revenue measure in a positive light, highlighting its benefits for all residents.

“The sidewalks are just a horrendous mess. There has not been any work done on those for a long time,” Skaff said. “This (revenue measure) will give the town management the opportunity and the funding to do that.”

Under the settlement, Corte Madera will pay $200,000 in attorney and expert fees to Skaff as well as $25,000 in damages.

Skaff said he plans to put the $25,000 into his nonprofit Designing Accessible Communities, from which he draws no salary.

“We aren’t getting any enforcement by the California Department of Justice, so it ends up that individuals have to do the enforcement,” Skaff said. “It’s really frustrating because I’m one person, and trying to change the world as one person doesn’t work very well.”

Should the voters reject the revenue measure, the plaintiff will decide whether to continue bankrolling the work through the gas tax and capital improvement expenditures for 15 more years or to seek alternate funding sources, according to the settlement.

Read the rest here.

I’ve written before at this blog about the occasional insanity of bureaucratically imposed handicapped access.  When we got a north-south stop sign installed at our street, it cost the town a fortune because the town had to install wheel chair ramps at each of the four corners of the intersection — although there were broad driveways within 5-10 feet of each corner.  Because of the cost of the ramps, there was no money for the four way stop signs residents had actually requested to stop speeding cars that routinely drove through the east-west access.  So, for something like $40,000 taxpayer dollars, we got four redundant wheelchair ramps and two useless stop signs, which do nothing to slow the speeders.

My point is that, while I think handicapped access is a good thing, especially since those wheelchair ramps serve double duty for mothers with strollers, once the bureaucracy gets a hold of it, lunacy results — at taxpayer’s expense.  I have my doubts about the benefits of this whole thing.

UPDATE:  The town of Corte Madera was forced into this by a lawsuit, although I’m complaining, not about wheelchair accessibility, but about the fact that I’m sure the price is estimated to be so high because of inevitable bureaucratic foolishness in execution.  What’s Ann Arbor’s excuse for destroying its treasury and making its decisions?

The problem of self-perpetuating bureacracy

In the movie Wall-E, the little robot had a task, and it did the task, long after the task’s necessity had passed.  Like a funded bureaucrat, Wall-E just kept going and going and going.

In California, the Department of Transportation was given a mandate and a task, and now, long after the money has gone and the efforts proven fruitless, it’s still going and going and going, sucking up nonexistent funds and making expensive and pointless changes (emphasis mine):

In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California’s transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.

The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.

The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.

A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream over a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.

Read the rest here. Taxpayers and steelheads alike are weeping.

The above is a perfect example of the problems inherent in vesting too much power in government.  I’m perfectly sure that the various individuals involved in the project are good people.  Nevertheless, the bureaucracy for which they work has taken on a life of its own.  For these people to secure their jobs, they have to just keep working.  As long as they “look busy,”* they’ll keep getting funding, regardless of the fact that their task is pointless and costly.  Government never shrinks; it just grows.

How much better it would have been to have created a goal, and then tasked the marketplace with achieving that goal.


*In my family, the phrase “looka busy” ties in to a very bad old joke my Dad used to tell, which is why I put “look busy” in quotation marks.  Here’s the joke, and please pardon the pathetic 1960s Italian-style accent that’s a part of the joke:

On a hot summer’s day, two Italian monks are working in desultory fashion along the roadside, pulling weeks.  Suddenly, the first monk gets a look of wonderment on his face.  “Hey!  Looka there.  Itsa Jesus Christ himself, a-walking to us.”  The second monk grabs his hoe and replies.  “Don’t just standa there.  Looka busy.”

See, I told you it was bad.  I was a little girl when I first remember Daddy telling it, and he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to me the whole principle of looking busy around the boss.  I think that’s why the joke stuck in my brain.

Liberals laugh at business — even when they concede that it functions better than government

Last night, I went to hear Atul Gawande give a talk promoting his new book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.  The book’s premise is a simple one:  In an increasingly complex world, even experts benefit from a routine checklist that requires them to focus on the essentials necessary to their task.  The best checklists are not too detailed, and leave room for individual or team autonomy.  Gawande, a surgeon, came up with the idea when the World Health Organization asked him to investigate how to decrease unnecessary deaths associated with surgery.  After investigating similar complex situations (building tall buildings or airplanes), Gawande concluded that checklists that force people to remember what should be obvious (but nevertheless gets forgotten or overlooked), and that enable teams actually to function as teams, were the way to go.  Boeing was a huge inspiration for this.

I came away from the talk convinced that Gawande has a point (perhaps because I’m a checklist and outline person myself).  I was also impressed much less favorably by his devotion to the notion of government controlled health care (he’s all for the Frankenstein monstrosity wending its way through Congress).  Aside from my own prejudices, his manifest delight in the health care bill made no sense as he told anecdote after anecdote demonstrating that it’s the business sector, not the government, that is best able to adapt to his recommendations.  This became most clear when he talked about Hurricane Katrina.

Gawande noted that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA descended on New Orleans with the Checklists from Hell.  They were overly detailed, denied any personal responsibility, and prevented FEMA employees from adapting to the situation on the ground.  These government generated checklists, rather than heightening efficiency, rendered government employees ineffectual.

Gawande paused after this description.  Around me, all the people in this liberal, elite San Francisco audience nodded their heads wisely.  “That dumb Bush and his corrupt administration,” you could practically see them thinking.

By contrast, said Gawande, you could see the effective use of checklists from . . . long pause . . . “Wal-Mart, of all things.”  He paused for the obvious laugh line, and the audience obliged.  What a joke that the fascist Wal-Mart commercial dictatorship would function better than government.  Gawande clearly agreed, yet he went on to describe a Walmart behaving efficiently and humanely during the disaster.

Because its checklists weren’t rigid or overly long, Wal-Mart employees had a certain degree of latitude in the face of an enormous crisis.  Ultimately, Wal-Mart asked only that the managers check in with headquarters daily so that they could pool information and exchange ideas.  Within one day, while FEMA was still turning away supplies because they weren’t on a given employee’s checklist, Wal-Mart had arranged for free medicine to be handed out to be people who were dependent on their medicine (diabetics, for example). They were also providing essential supplies to FEMA, which was incapable of accessing its own resources.

What neither Gawande nor the audience seemed to comprehend was that this outcome wasn’t surprising, it was obvious.  Government is a bureaucratic entity ultimately responsible only for more government.  It is driven by fear, not by outcome.  The fear each employee has that he or she might get downgraded on the civil service list, the collective entity’s fear of a funding cut, its leadership’s fear that each member will fail to ascend in the government ranks, and so on.  It has no responsibility beyond its own bureaucratic survival.  If it goes through the motions, and sort of gets the job done, it will continue to exist.

Business, however, must be infinitely adaptable in the Darwinian world of the marketplace.  It cannot afford complacency or rigidity.  It cannot afford the risk of litigation for failure.  It can react with incredible speed, since management doesn’t have to go through a bureaucratic or legislative process in order to change a checklist or procedure.  If Gawande really believes in his lists, the last thing he’ll want is for them to be government controlled, because they will never improve.  Instead, they will stagnate in bureaucratic limbo, good enough, but never better.

Gawande’s talk left me more certain than ever that, while our health care system needs reform, handing the details over to the government is a sure recipe for a FEMA-level disaster.

Life in the bureaucratic state

People around the world are facing food shortages but, in the magical bureacracy that is the EU, food is being destroyed for being a millimeter off of Brussels regulations:

A market trader has been banned from selling a batch of kiwi fruits because they are 1mm smaller than EU rules allow.

Inspectors told 53-year- old Tim Down he is forbidden even to give away the fruits, which are perfectly healthy.

The father of three will now have to bin the 5,000 kiwis, costing him £1,000 in lost sales.

Speaking yesterday from the stall in Bristol he has owned for 20 years, Mr Down said: ‘It’s total nonsense. I work hard enough to make a living without all these bureaucrats telling us what we can and can’t sell.

‘They’re saying I’m a criminal for selling this fruit, but the real crime is that all this fruit will go to waste  -  all because it’s 1mm too small.

‘It’s a terrible waste, particularly when we’re all feeling the pinch from rising food prices and I’ve got to throw away this perfectly good fruit.’

This is life in a world regulated, not by the marketplace of real sellers and buyers, but by the government.  This, incidentally, is what Barack Obama would like to bring to all of us, since his fellow travelers are all statists — people who want the government to play an overarching role in our lives, including in the marketplace.

Your British tax dollars at work

I can’t add anything to this that you haven’t already thought of yourselves:

A solicitor who specialises in representing terror suspects and tells them not to cooperate with police was paid almost £1 million in legal aid last year.

Muddassar Arani’s firm represented Abu Hamza, dirty bomb plotter Dhirin Barot and three of the 21/7 bombers in recent years.

She has raked in £3.5 million in taxpayer-funded support to help defend extremist suspects in recent years, according to new figures.

In the seven years documented in figures released under the Freedom of Information Act payments from the Legal Services Commission have almost quadrupled.

In one month alone – May last year – the firm billed almost £400,000 for legal services.

The 44-year-old mum of two once boasted in a magazine that those accused of terrorism come to her first.

Read the rest here.

Your federal government at work

This tidbit showed up in today’s paper:

Adding an extra dollar to peak-hour commutes across the Golden Gate Bridge is supposed to make the trip faster by discouraging people from crossing at the busiest times.

So bridge officials were a little befuddled when, in the days leading up to hatching the new plan, federal transportation wonks weighed in – strongly suggesting that the new toll be $6.50 all day long.

Bridge authorities explained that A) it was the feds’ own idea to charge more at peak times and B) a $6.50 toll would be self-defeating, because toll takers would have to make change, which in turn would lead to even bigger backups.

The feds’ response: How about a $7 toll – but give everyone a coupon for $1 off on their next trip? That way it would still come out to $6.50.

And you wonder why things are so screwed up in Washington.

Life is so confusing when you’re a bureaucrat.