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.

[snip]

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.

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.”

 

Mark Steyn tackles the administration’s game of “I spy” on the American people

The one good thing about bad news is that it brings out the best in good writers.  You really must read Mark Steyn’s whole column about Obama’s East German spy state, but I can resist cherry-picking for the best of it:

So we know the IRS is corrupt. What happens then when an ambitious government understands it can yoke that corruption to its political needs? What’s striking as the revelations multiply and metastasize is that at no point does any IRS official appear to have raised objections. If any of them understood that what they were doing was wrong, they kept it to themselves. When Nixon tried to sic the IRS on a few powerful political enemies, the IRS told him to take a hike. When Obama’s courtiers tried to sic the IRS on thousands of ordinary American citizens, the agency went along, and very enthusiastically. This is a scale of depravity hitherto unknown to the tax authorities of the United States, and for that reason alone they should be disarmed and disbanded — and rebuilt from scratch with far more circumscribed powers.

[snip]

Holder had another great contribution to the epitaph of the Republic this week. He went on TV to explain that he didn’t really regard Fox News’s James Rosen as a “co-conspirator” but had to pretend he did to the judge in order to get the judge to cough up the warrant. So rest easy, America! Your chief law officer was telling the truth when he said he hadn’t lied to Congress because in fact he’d been lying when he said he told the truth to the judge.

[snip]

When the state has the power to know everything about everyone, the integrity of the civil service is the only bulwark against men like Holder. Instead, the ruling party and the non-partisan bureaucracy seem to be converging. In August 2010, President Obama began railing publicly against “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity” (August 9th, a speech in Texas) and “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” (August 21st, radio address). And whaddayaknow, that self-same month the IRS obligingly issued its first BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) for groups with harmless-sounding names, like “tea party,” “patriot,” and “constitution.”

Read it all.  Post it on your blogs.  Email it to your friends.  Distribute it through social media.  Steyn is right about something fundamental here which is that, even if what the administration did is legal, it’s still profoundly wrong and the laws are badly drafted if they can allow government to listen in on the minutiae of every American’s life.

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.

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.

More stories of bureacracies run wild

My mother-in-law’s parents died in Auschwitz.  She wasn’t around for that horror because her parents, in a tremendous (and prescient) sacrifice, boarded her onto the Kindertransport, which took young children out of Nazi countries.  As with my mother-in-law, most of these children never saw their parents again.  Because the fact that she had to flee her country deprived her of the natural opportunities of an education, my mother-in-law became entitled to reparations.  (My Dad, too, would have been entitled to such reparations if he hadn’t been such a stubborn Communist that he refused to apply, but that’s another long, sad story.)

Anyway, the reparation money eventually came through and ended up in an Austrian bank.  For more than two years now, my mother in law has been trying to get that money out of the bank and transferred to her here — without any success.

The bank has a continually growing list of bureaucratic assigns which, aggregated, create a Sisyphean task that can never be fulfilled.  They keep asking her to prove that she is who she says she is, and with every new proof, they ask her to prove that the proof is real.  The bank’s most recent pronouncement, which arrived in today’s mail, is to the effect that, per an EU regulation that went into effect last November (two years after she started trying to get her money), the bank is entitled to a 1,000 Euro fee for the act of giving her own money back to her.

My mother-in-law thinks that this is an anti-Semitic plot to take advantage of an aged refugee, and steal her money.  I think that it’s a petty bureaucratic scheme by which a bank manages to use its rules and the EU’s rules take advantage of a far-away depositor, first by refusing to release the money altogether and then by hanging onto a handsome profit for returning her own property to her.  Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bank’s delay in processing her request occurred precisely because its administrators knew about the upcoming EU regulation that would give them a 1,000 Euro windfall.

I mention this whole story, which nicely seems to sum up the inhumanity that characterizes so many European bureaucracies (just think about the pain-in-the-neck process of checking into a European hotel hotel), because I read a story out of England that takes this insane commitment to process to an extreme degree:

When Rachel Leake developed complications from diabetes, her selfless daughter tried to donate one of her kidneys to save her.

But 21-year-old Laura Ashworth died suddenly before the arrangements could be completed – and her mother has now been told the organs will go to strangers instead.

Family and friends, who all knew of Laura’s desire to be a live donor, tried to get the authorities to change the decision.

They even enlisted the help of local MP Gerry Sutcliffe to lobby health ministers on Mrs Leake’s behalf, but to no avail.

Laura died after suffering massive brain damage when she stopped breathing because of a suspected asthma attack.

One of Laura’s kidneys went to a man in Sheffield and the second to a man in London. Her liver was given to a 15-year-old girl.

“I am angry, really angry,” said Mrs Leake, who is 39. “I am not finding comfort at the moment in the fact that she helped three people.”

[snip]

Mrs Leake said she still did not know why her request to receive her daughter’s organs was refused.

She said: “Everyone has gone mad and everyone is disgusted. The thing that hurts the most is how Laura would feel. She would be devastated that she was not able to help me.

“My sister has now written down her wishes that I get her kidney if anything was to happen to her. I will not let this go – there could be another person it could happen to.”

A spokesman for UK Transplant said the final decision in this case was taken by the Human Tissue Authority.

“They were the ones who in this circumstance were asked if the daughter’s kidney could go to the mother,” he said. “Their judgement, under the law, was that it was not allowed to happen.”

No one at the Human Tissue Authority was available for comment.

Government versus private business — and the dictatorship of one

In several posts over the last few days, I’ve commented about Disney efficiency.  Thousands of people are fairly painlessly shuffled from place to place; Fast Passes are a think of beauty, especially if individuals handle them well; everything is immaculately clean, including the overused bathrooms; the equipment functions superbly well considering the demands made upon it; and the people who work there are pleasant and handle their jobs with competence.  The whole place is a testament to corporate efficiency.  Many, however, think corporations are bad things (Obama, anyone?) and, if elected, assure us that they will see to it that the government will manage more and more aspects of our lives (healthcare, anyone?).

For those of you who think this liberal vision is a good thing, I’d like to give you a little example of how the government handles things, along with the added bonus of some insight into how disability advocates view society’s obligations to them:

Where else but San Francisco City Hall could a 10-foot-long wheelchair ramp wind up costing $1 million?

Thanks to a maze of bureaucratic indecision and historic restrictions, taxpayers may shell out $100,000 per foot to make the Board of Supervisors president’s perch in the historic chambers accessible to the disabled.

What’s more, the little remodel job that planners first thought would take three months has stretched into more than four years – and will probably mean the supervisors will have to move out of their hallowed hall for five months while the work is done.

“It’s crazy,” admits Susan Mizner, director of the mayor’s Office on Disability. “But this is just the price of doing business in a historic building.”

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said Tuesday that the issue went to the heart of liberal guilt that often drives the city’s decision making. He also choked on the price tag, and asked that the board take some more time to come up with an alternative, like maybe just getting rid of the president’s elevated seat.

The root of the problem dates back to when City Hall got a $300 million makeover in the 1990s that made just about every hallway, bathroom and office accessible to the disabled. The exception was the board president’s podium, which is reachable only for someone who can climb the five steps from the chamber floor.

The understanding was that the room would eventually be made fully accessible. But no one worried about the podium until 2004 when Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, joined the board.

City architect Tony Irons and representatives of the state Office of Historic Preservation – which had to be consulted to make sure the city was sensitive to the building’s designation as a state landmark – were called in to take measurements.

Then preservation architects from the San Francisco firm Page and Turnbill worked up no fewer than 18 design options – at a cost of $98,000 – with ideas ranging from an electric lift to abandoning the president’s lordly podium altogether.

No one could decide which design to use, so after a year of arguing, the Department of Public Works was ordered to make 3-D computer models of all the options.

The ramp won, which means lowering the president’s desk, which means eliminating three of the “historic” stairs and tearing out Manchurian oak panels that are no longer available, which in turn will mean finding a historically correct replacement.

And because the ramp was going to encroach on the room’s sound equipment, officials decided they might as well use the opportunity to upgrade the board chamber’s entire audio-visual system, to the tune of $300,000.

Here’s what else is going into the million-dollar ramp:

– $77,000 for the city’s Bureau of Architecture project manager, design and construction fees.

– $455,000 for the actual construction, plus asbestos removal.

– $28,000 for a construction scheduling consultant.

– $3,500 for an electrical consultant.

– $68,000 for the Bureau of Construction Management to oversee the construction and various consultants.

– $12,000 for Department of Technology and Information Services oversight.

– $16,500 for permits and fees. (Yes, believe it or not, the city charges itself.)

– And as much as $65,000 for bid overruns.

All for a total of: $1,123,000.

And counting.

The supervisors considered signing off on the work Tuesday but put it over for another week. Even if the board gives its final blessing, however, construction of the ramp won’t be completed before the end of the year – midway through Alioto-Pier’s second and final term.

“I deserve equal access to every part of the chamber,” Alioto-Pier told her colleagues, adding that ending discrimination is worth the $1 million.  [Emphasis added plus this point:  One million in taxpayer money, that is.]

Incidentally, I am not unsympathetic to the hurdles the handicapped face in this world.  It’s also true that many handicapped access ramps and bathroom stalls extend an unexpected benefit to moms with strollers.  However, as I’ve blogged before, there has to be some cost/benefit analysis before we give over huge sums of public money, not to benefit all or most of the handicapped, but to benefit one person (as in Alioto-Pier, the only wheelchair bound supervisor ever) or, as is often the case with relentless bureaucratic initiatives, no persons at all.