Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Administration with Only Low Level Employees

As one who spent the early part of my career in Washington, I have been bemused with the continuous claims of this administration on responsibility.   Remember, that when they came in they claimed that this would be the most "transparent" administration in history.  In four recent incidents they have been both murky and arrogant (not a good combination).

#1 - The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit in the Department of Justice was caught in a hair-brained scheme to transfer to and then track illegal firearms with the Mexican drug cartels.   The scandal blew up when it was discovered that there were about 2000 guns where the ATF transferred ownership - or allowed it to happen - to the cartels.   Problem was that the guns ended up being used in illegal activity (SURPRISE!!!!).   When that fact became known, the Administration went into defense mode and claimed that some low level operative in the Phoenix ATF office had developed this plan to move a couple of thousand guns to illegal contacts.  (SOUNDS CREDIBLE DOESN'T IT)  These were not BB guns, many were high caliber weapons.  Evidently the standards that the ATF used for this program were different than the one used on the Obama Gun Control proposal.

#2 - In September 2011, Islamic militants (this administration seems incapable of using that term) attacked embassies in Egypt and Libya.  There is plenty of evidence that the Administration had knowledge of the attack while it was going on.  Yet, there is also plenty of evidence that they fiddled with it.   The President claims he described this as a terrorist incident - but the transcript of his statement does not confirm that.   What is more troubling is that the Administration tried to foist a story on the American public that the cause of all this unrest was a video that no one in the middle east had ever seen.   (Note - All this happened on 9/11 - but the Administration did not seem to grasp that the date somehow had significance.)   The Administration's dereliction of duty came in two ways - first, it consistently denied requests by the embassy in Libya to beef up security and second, it failed to send any kind of assistance as the attacks were taking place.   Neither the President nor the Secretary of State could be bothered.

WP Graphic of the Results of the IG report
#3 - IRS Scrutiny - Until yesterday  morning the Administration's most recent example was evidence that an office of the IRS which used the Exempt Organizations unit to give extra review for 501(c)(4) (Social Welfare Organizations) if they espoused conservative ideas or if they had certain terms in their names.  That started, according to an Inspector General's report in 2010 and then the Director of the Service told them to cool it.   Then in 2012, a "rogue" group started it up again.  (Is is coincident that 2012 was also an election year?) Reminds one of the Nixon administration.
#4 - AP Phone Records - Yesterday, a story developed that the Department of Justice used secret subpoenas to obtain home, office and cellular phone records of individual Associated Press reporters, allegedly to assist on an investigation about disclosure of classified information on a failed attempt by Al Qeada plot.   Most of the news class (and indeed anyone with a sense of the First Amendment) think this might have been a bit of an overstep by the Attorney General.   The AG defended his actions as a "one of the most serious breaches of security" in his 35 years as a prosecutor.

Second administrations often have problems.  But there are a couple of themes that tie these four together.   First and foremost, in each there is an almost megalomanic sense of authority - the Administration's officials know better how to do things than even the laws that are designed to constrain government.   That was what Frederich Hayek saw as a branch "knowledge problem" - the ultimate inability of officials to know enough about events to be able to control them.   Second, although this has not come out completely on the phone records fiasco - there is a pattern after inappropriate behavior.   Each of these steps happens at some point.   A) The President denies responsibility.  B) He promises to get to the bottom of the problem - and hold those who perpetuated this outrage responsible.   It is remarkable how he uses the same phrase repeatedly and then ignores ever actually holding anyone responsible.  C) He claims that the actions are a result of some low level functionary who acted without proper authority.  D) His spokesman dismisses efforts by the press or Congress to understand what happened by discounting the story as "old news."

Lord Acton was only partially right - his famous aphorism should be revised - absolute power (or even the assumption of absolute power) corrupts absolutely.

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