Sunday, September 7, 2008

Inspector General? Here?

Dreaming of an even bigger government
spending our tax money for something we actually need? 54

This election has turned the phrase “Changing Washington” into little more than a mechanical chorus. What exactly are these people talking about when they promise something like that? The more scurrilous of the politicians pound the table, threateningly, warning the “big money boys” in D.C. that “change is coming.” Although a majority of Americans feel strongly that a good number of these leeches belong in a cell right next to Abramhoff or DeLay, we may have to accept the idea that “changes” for these lobbyists and influence peddlers will probably not amount to much more than adjusting a few numbers in their seven digit “take.”

As an ardent Obama supporter, I would love to look my readers in the eye and honestly claim the prospect of a perfect difference, a perfect “change.” That would be fool hardy. We have plenty of Democrats in the Congress who haven’t even so much as lied about wanting a Washington with less corruption since they left their high school civics class.

Shooting a rubber band at a single cock roach might be effective and gratifying, but it hardly represents a serious approach to permanently eliminating the pests from your home.

Among the citizens, cynicism runs rampant. Most of them believe that we can never regain control of our country -- spelled tax dollars -- from these pandering, criminal opportunists. “K Street” has managed to castrate “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” more effectively than the British did in 1812. Its domination of the Congress, both the House and the Senate, has no particular historical precursor. That relatively recent strategic victory for the special interests is more akin to a gay child S and M porn film.

The cynics are definitely right on one count. These high class crooks have abundantly shown that they own any part of the government which can serve them.

Enough ranting. What about a bigger government? That hardly seems like a solution to much of what is vexing us! Egads, shades of Reagan!

Well, that gloomy appraisal might be true. It depends on two questions. First, how, exactly, do we see the correct management of our national descent from a rich superpower to whatever it is we seem destined to become? Second, will we, as citizens, even dare to have the optimism to think we can still create an effective part of our government that will actually function?

What are we talking about here? What new part of government do we need to consider?

Tempting the possibility of my being, righteously, called an elitist, I direct your thoughts to a play by the old French author, Mr. Moliere. The title of the play is “The Inspector General.” It is a period comedy with a fine plot not particularly relevant right here. However, it does have a very relevant context. The basic theme of the play is about an Inspector General, authorized by the King, with the responsibility of inspecting everything all across the country, that is, roads, schools, hospitals, tax collections and essentially anywhere else that the King’s money (The King thought, in those days, that all tax revenues were HIS money. How antiquated compared to our representative form of government!) had any part in financing.

The relevance is clear for the following reason. The horrible looting which is our curse at the present moment has, as its central mechanism, fundamental deceptions with regard to issues such as cost, waste, value and effectivity. We pay monumental amounts of our tax money for things with names which suggest one thing only to get the leftover scraps of something quite completely different, utterly useless to us, after these “K Street” lobbyists have gorged themselves and their host corporations on all the sweetest meat, the freshest fruit and the finest wine in our federal expenditures.

These parasites have mastered every odious technique required to keep us confused about the actual facts concerning these undertakings of theirs. The consequences of this redistribution (a favorite word of their corporate benefactors condemning our resistance to their grotesque and growing wealth...) have grown so large as to represent a threat to national security, that is, a clear and present danger. We have become unable to squeeze enough of our tax resources through the prevailing process in Washington to accomplish things we urgently need (and should, in a more perfect world, be easily able to afford), such as school building repairs, bridges, roads, dams, hospitals and the like.

Interestingly enough, pretty much the exact things that the old French King’s Inspector General was inspecting in his ancient mission!

If our proposed addition to the size of government is to be able to confront and correct this criminal looting, it will first have to elude the inevitable sabotage which routinely perverts any actual democratic proposals from emerging from Congress alive and breathing, that is, functional in a way still consistent with some small remnant of the high ambitions of their origins.

It is no secret that the Republican strangle hold on Congress has, as its greatest ambition, the goal of proving that government will not work. Assisting these knuckle-dragging neo-cons is a convincing crowd of other half-witted reactionaries including, to our great embarrassment, more than a few fully tenured Democratic fixtures in the House and Senate. These “patriots” with such a vicious penchant to redirect honest tax money to their very close friends will clearly do anything (yes, anything...) to get the funds they need to be reelected. Their Congressional jobs are simply too profitable, we are told, to ever expect anything else from them! We regretfully embrace this dismal expectation. These “public servants” have obviously woven positions for themselves with wages so great as to unavoidably create a depressing, self-fulfilling prophecy of outrage and pilfering.

Oh yes, these bottom feeders may drink sparingly of the vast cash river rolling through Washington, just an imperceivable nip here and there when we aren’t watching, but they take enough to undercut our every ambition as taxpayers and citizens.

Can we envision a solution? Yes, we can. (!?!)

Consider the following proposal for a modern day equivalent to that old Inspector General in Moliere’s comedy. No, quite aside from mass lynchings, resurrected guillotines or straightforward wild west style American mob justice, we find these adversaries far too powerful and well entrenched for a head-on approach. Believe me, they enjoy a carefully constructed protective blanket constantly refreshed by their associates in places of great power.

First, the necessity of doing something. As Americans we face a very difficult decade of slowly recovering from the great looting ($10,000,000,000,000) successfully extracted from us by the Bush Government. We can fall blindly into our inevitable role as the weak, bad creditor, pathetically begging our lenders for just a little compassion over and over as we are repeatedly unable to repay, or we can dust off our famous national ability to successfully respond to our precarious position. That latter course will require that we seriously stop wasting money and begin to retire our debt. That is the “happy” story through which we will be able to stand on our own two feet within a mere decade. The “unhappy” version includes stories which either assume a much longer period or plots where we never again stand on those feet of ours.

Naturally, we will have to “make do” with a much cheaper military. Our lenders will, sooner or later, require that of us to free up the money we owe them. Perhaps spending only half of the combined allocation of the rest of the world will be sufficient. We will have to take steps to greatly improve the efficiency of our foreign policy expenditures, eliminating the looters who cling like vampire bats to every act of national altruism. On the other hand, acting reasonably internationally is far more cost effective as an avenue to national security than all those ridiculous and expensive Cold War weapons systems (the X44 Galactic Death Ray? just what we need in Baghdad or Basra...).

The reconstruction of our infrastructure, long a well worn threat to incite our fear during campaigns, will arrive at our door in a far more concrete style, you know, the sort of thing that comes with monthly bills. Big ones. Our government programs will be stripped of our present indulgent excesses either by our new high born ideals or the rather less glorious insistence of those who hold our loans. After all, we can hardly deny that we did, in fact, sign those notes George Bush kept rushing out to the Chinese or the Saudis for more borrowed money.

In the words of that great military genius, Donald Rumsfeld, “Sometimes Democracy can get petty messy.” We have definitely been pretty messy.

Did anyone think we were going to somehow wallow through this debt of ours without some serious belt tightening? It is so immense that we can’t even convince our lenders that we can quietly dump it on our unsuspecting children. Those who have financed this incredible, reckless debt of ours have in mind to start getting their cash back way before that.

What can we add to our government?

An office of schedule and budget. Oh, you say, we already have all sorts of bureaucracies that take care of that job. Really? Have they taken care of it? Does anyone think they can be “fixed” in a way that will cause them to take care of it in the future? Won’t it simply become another expensive layer of the failed system we have now?

Not if we do it right. And, it’s clearly time that we did it right. We elect managers in federal elections, enough of them to represent each district corresponding to the present rate of its consumption of federal money. These people become the staff of the Office of Budget and Schedule. Each successful candidate would win an election in his own region, the place where the most possible voters would be aware of his character. The day after the election, the names of all these winners would be placed in a giant pot. A random drawing would then assign every one of them to someplace else, that is, someplace other than the place where they won their election. Although hardly perfect, such an arrangement would make pre-established cronyism significantly more difficult.

The directors of this new government branch would be recruited from the Justice Department’s career lawyers, the professional, bipartisan staff of the Congressional Committees responsible for “getting our money’s worth,” career procurement staff from the Defense Department, seasoned engineers from the Transportation Department, etc. Every one of these appointees would receive a lifetime wage and benefits package (similar to Supreme Court Justices?) in the hope that many of them would not fall to corrupt motives. Whatever the cost might be, I suspect it would ultimately be an incredibly good investment.

No one could disagree that such a system would not be, theoretically, entirely redundant. Likewise, no one could disagree that such a system would actually be exactly the way to make drastic accountability changes in Washington. Everyone currently in a position to spend our money has trusted advisors. The problem seems to be that, although these money folks trust them, we, as citizens, can’t. We need our own advisors, and we need to place then in positions where no one can get to them for any more of those “special favors.” Let these new federal employees seek after our credibility as taxpayers instead of professing mastery of techniques certain to either confuse us or simply “keep us quietly in the dark.”

Oh my! The government would be paralyzed by the delay of channeling everything through yet another layer of regulation. Well, they, and we, have brought this on ourselves.

Give this new bunch the task of evaluating everything we intend to spend money on. Are the plans complete? Are they simply a place to start, to open the coffers, so subsequent cost overruns, suspicious changes and huge, out-of-scope additive alternatives can “slide through” a little more gracefully later? Does the program accompanying the expenditure actually have a reasonable chance of doing what is intended? Can we reveal exactly who wants it without a Congressional subpoena?

The Office of Budget and Schedule will have no voice whatever with respect to the programs proposed. That is a Congressional task. It will, however, have everything to say about whether or not a program has been accurately represented to the public, whether or not it has been prepared adequately to justify starting the flow of our federal tax dollars into it, whether or not it has been contracted and bid legally, whether or not it has a reasonable chance to succeed and whether or not any alternatives have been explored.

The “Schedule” part of this idea has to do with programs which should, at some point, end, but don’t. Aside from the inevitable excuses for this endless drain on our money, the graft seems to build in intensity the longer these jobs continue. As they extend further and further beyond their original (approved) scope, everything possible is added to them, unexamined, unauthorized and unassociated expenses approved piecemeal, usually offered up as desperate, last gasp chances to somehow salvage a poorly planned program -- or at least create additional excuses or camouflage for its failure.

Usually with only a few hundred million more dollars the sow’s ear at least begins to look like a silk purse. That is, if it doesn’t become top secret. From us.

Enforcing this new inspection regime is simple. Add another required signature to every government payment. It enjoys the full “brutality” of a one size fits all solution. Let these people evaluate everything -- military procurement, transportation expenditures, foreign aid effectiveness, emergency relief programs, every kind of civil works. Allow the evaluations to extend to nonmaterial areas -- educational improvements, crime abatement, climate and energy subsidies, corporate encouragement and assistance, borrowing money, social programs and the rest.

As taxpayers and citizens, these new “eyes” of ours must be empowered to see absolutely everything we are asked to spend our tax money creating. If there were areas where the past record of federal spending justified more of our trust, perhaps they could be excluded. But are there any areas such as those? The parasites have slowly embedded themselves and their interests into every penny we send to the Treasury and every penny which flows out of it.

It is highly unlikely that we would “throw the baby out with the bath water” by simply taking a look at some imaginary expenditure which finds itself somehow exempt from the looters. They are everywhere and in everything. The only arguments we hear are between them as they discuss who will savage our money first!

We really can do this. Register. Vote. Elect Barack Obama. Then,

keep raising hell!

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