Friday, June 07, 2013

Obama's Inspector General Negligence

The president was on notice at least by 2010 that the State Department was impaired by a lack of IG independence

With so many scandals breaking in Washington, one may well ask: Where were all the inspectors general when these bad things—at the IRS, at Justice, and at State before, during and after Benghazi, for instance—were going on? Where were the presidential appointees who, since the Inspectors General Act of 1978, are meant to root out gross mismanagement, fraud and other abuses at their federal departments and agencies, or among those whom the agencies regulate? The sad truth is that in the Obama administration many of the most important IGs mandated by Congress simply are not in place.

For years, President Obama has neglected his duty to fill vacant inspector-general posts at the departments of State, Interior, Labor, Homeland Security and Defense and at the Agency for International Development. The president has nominated only two candidates to fill any of these six vacancies, and he subsequently withdrew both nominations. All told, an IG has been missing in action at each of those cabinet departments and the AID agency for between 18 months and five years.

At a time when American confidence in the integrity and transparency of the federal government has been shaken, inspectors general can help Washington get back to basic principles of accountability—but only if the IGs are properly appointed and allowed to do their jobs.

Although there are 73 inspectors general in the federal system, less than half fall into a category that indicates their special importance for the effective functioning of the government. The nomination of these IGs typically involves a collaborative process between the president and his cabinet secretaries. Congress has also mandated that each cabinet-level inspector general "shall be appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations."

The story at the State Department underscores the problem. For Hillary Clinton's entire four-year tenure as secretary of State, she relied on a retired foreign service officer, former Ambassador Harold Geisel, to function as an inspector general—though he could never hold the title.

Upon the departure of State's IG Howard Krongard in 2008, Mr. Geisel was appointed deputy IG until, it was presumed at the time, a new IG could be named within the customary 210 days stipulated in the Vacancies Act. Mr. Geisel was not eligible to be the inspector general because of an explicit, congressionally mandated safeguard for IG independence that rules out "a career member of the Foreign Service" from ever being "appointed Inspector General of the Department of State."

That is one reason why, as Mr. Geisel's de facto "acting" IG role at State extended into late 2010, the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight complained about this apparent violation of law in a Nov. 18 letter to President Obama. The letter also noted the personal friendship between Mr. Geisel and State's undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, who was at the time "responsible for the people, resources facilities, technology, consular affairs, and security of the Department of State," according to his official biography.

Mr. Kennedy's long and close association with the person effectively responsible for inspecting and reviewing the department's performance wasn't the only troubling issue for many who knew and respected both men. As a group of "very concerned employees" of the State Department made clear in a letter released to Congress in January 2008—when Ambassador Geisel's appointment as "acting IG" was rumored—the ambassador was so well known as a member of the State Department family that it did not sound like a good idea to have one of their own in charge of investigating, auditing and assessing them.

Mr. Geisel's honesty and dedication were not at question. As the Benghazi whistleblower scandal unfolded on Capitol Hill this spring, however, the last Senate-confirmed inspector general of the State Department, Mr. Krongard, told me in an email that while Mr. Geisel is "an able man . . . his status significantly undercuts his authority and effectiveness within [the office of inspector general], within the Department, in the IG community, and on Capitol Hill. His status is like attaching a sign on his back that says 'Ignore Me, I am temporary.' "

The depth of the IG vacancy problem became clearer when three State Department whistleblowers testified before Congress about Benghazi. One of an IG's many jobs is to protect whistleblowers, but the three said they had suffered reprisals for telling the truth.

Greg Hicks, for instance, was the deputy chief of mission in Libya who became the top U.S. diplomat in Libya after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. Mr. Hicks told Congress he suffered retaliation within the State Department when he asked a superior about Ambassador Susan Rice's five TV interviews after the attack—in which we now know she falsely claimed that the cause of the attack was an online video. Mr. Hicks said he was told by his superiors at State that "he should not proceed" with his questions about events surrounding Benghazi, and he was later given a "blistering critique" of his management style and effectively demoted to "desk officer."

We are left wondering whether the presence of an independent and effective Senate-confirmed IG at the State Department might have encouraged Mr. Hicks and others who were aware of wrongdoing to speak out even earlier, say, in October last year, without fear of reprisal. How many other whistleblowers are not being protected as required by law in the other federal agencies without a Senate-confirmed inspector general? The fact that the IG who recently reported on the IRS tea-party targeting scandal is Senate-confirmed speaks for itself.

If the president continues to be derelict in his duty to nominate inspectors general for the Departments of State, Interior, Labor and Defense, and for the Agency for International Development, he should not expect to know about fraud, waste and abuse in his executive branch agencies—unless and until journalists inform him.

Mr. Schmitz, inspector general of the Defense Department from 2002-05, is the author of "The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional 'Enemies, Foreign and Domestic,' " just out from the Center for Security Policy Press.



Does capitalism make us dumb?

The anti-capitalists contend that the market fosters whatever has the broadest appeal, even when the lowest common denominator indulges our basest appetites.

Defenders of freedom and markets tend to fall back on one of two strategies: either explaining why capitalism’s apparent vice is really a virtue (would we really prefer a system in which a self-selected elite got to plan the supply independent of demand?), or championing the products impugned by capitalism’s critics.

Ludwig von Mises took the first position. In The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, he defended the popularity of detective stories not because of any inherent virtue in the genre but because murder mysteries were what the reading public wanted, whether or not the literati approved of their preferences.

Attempts at the second approach include compelling defenses of car culture, panegyrics to the Twinkie, even praise for shoddy products.

Some targets of disparagement, however, deserve a third approach.  One such target is the canned laughter of television comedies, which has been the object of critical censure for over half a century.  As University of Minnesota art history professor Karal Ann Marling says,

    "Most critics think that the laugh track is the worst thing that ever happened to the medium, because it treats the audience as though they were sheep who need to be told when something is funny — even if, in fact, it’s not very funny."

James Parker, entertainment columnist for the Atlantic, disagrees. In fact, he laments the laugh track’s recent decline:

    "Silence now encases the sitcom, the lovely, corny crackle of the laugh track having vaporized into little bathetic air pockets and farts of anticlimax. Enough, I say. This burlesque of naturalism has depleted us.… Who knew irony could be so cloying?"

So do we file the laugh track in the same category into which Mises put pulp fiction?

Or should we instead follow the model of the staunch defenders, and explain why the elitists are simply wrong?

The third approach is to question the premise. Is the laugh track really a product of the market, or did it dominate TV comedies for decades because of government regulation of broadcast media?

In “Did Capitalism Give Us the Laugh Track?” I act as defense attorney in the case of The People versus Capitalism, pleading not guilty in the case of the laugh track.



The past was a better country

In many things, we know we can do better than we are at the present

We Americans like our movie heroes: Tough, free thinking, adaptive, willing to defy authority to save the people. The problem is, no one ever acts like that in real life. Cheering Arnie or Chuck or Sly is a long, long way from doing something heroic yourself – and the current batch of Americans are not so big on that. (Nor are Europeans, or most others.)

One of the great Roman writers called the Romans a “royal, rebellious race.” Likewise Americans, especially in the West, had a real tradition of unflinching individualism. But, as in Rome, American virtue has been lost, while stories of the virtue remain.

21st Century Westerners obey. They do as they are told. They feel free to complain, but they never stop obeying.

You know the script that people try to follow: Do well in school, rebel a little, wear the new shoes/jeans/accessories with the popular logos, get a university degree (take student loans to do so), get a job at a big firm with great benefits, buy a house, vote, send your kids to daycare, watch TV, and so on.

The problem is that the “Obedience Script” isn’t working out very well.  Please consider these recent reports:

    Nearly one out of every four women in the United States are taking antidepressants.

    In 2010, the average teen in the US was taking 1.2 central nervous system drugs. Those are the kinds of drugs which treat conditions such as ADHD and depression.

    Suicide has now actually surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of “injury death” in the United States.

    More US soldiers killed themselves than were killed in combat last year.

    One-third of American employees suffer chronic debilitating stress, and more than half of all ‘millennials’ (18 to 33 year olds) experience a level of stress that keeps them awake at night, including large numbers diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorder.

    28 million Americans have a drinking problem, and about 22 million Americans use illegal drugs.

    People in the US are tied with the UK for the highest average number of hours spent watching television: 28 hours per person per week.

    One out of every three children in America lives in a home without a father.

    For women under the age of 30 living in the United States, more than half of all babies are being born out of wedlock.

    The United States has the highest child abuse death rate in the developed world.

    In the United States today, it is estimated that one out of every four girls is sexually abused before they become adults.

    The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world by a very wide margin.

    It is estimated that about one out of every six Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes.

    One out of every four teen girls in the US has at least one sexually transmitted disease.

    Americans spend more time sitting in traffic than anyone else in the world.

    America has the highest incarceration rate and the largest total prison population in the entire world by a very wide margin.

There are many more statistics I could add, including some pretty horrifying stats on obesity, huge percentages of people living on government checks (on both sides of the Atlantic), and astronomical government debts being laid upon generations yet unborn.

The script isn’t working out very well, no matter how much it is shown on TV. You have to wonder how much pain it will take before people will decide to give it up.



The Real Reason Politicians Want a Bigger Bite of Apple computer  company

Earlier this month, I explained four reasons why the Apple “tax avoidance” issue is empty political demagoguery.

And Rand Paul gave some great remarks at a Senate hearing, excoriating some of his colleagues for trying to pillage the company.

But this Robert Ariail cartoon may be the best summary of the issue.

What makes this cartoon so effective is that it properly and cleverly identifies what’s really driving the political class on this issue. They want more revenue to finance a bigger burden of government spending.

When I did my contest for best political cartoonist, I picked a cartoon about Greece and euro for Robert Ariail’s entry. While I still think that was a very good cartoon, this Apple cartoon would probably take its place if I did a new contest.



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