Thursday, August 06, 2015

Arrogant, Incompetent, Criminal Government

In last week's column defending Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) Establishment Republican takedown, I further explained Americans were also disgusted with a status quo in Washington, DC, that has given us de facto one party government. It is that status quo, along with an equal amount of public contempt directed at a corrupt media — so elitist and out-of-touch they don’t realize every time they bash Trump they add another fan to his side — that promises to make the 2016 presidential campaign anything but ordinary.

It’s time to throw another log on that populist fire. Because if there’s something about government that enrages people more than the insufferable arrogance of that ruling class, it would be the gargantuan level of incompetence accompanying that arrogance that infests virtually every government department at every level. And if there is one primary culprit fueling that arrogant incompetence, unaccountability goes right to the top of the list.

In short, we have a unionized, federal workforce chock full of no-account hacks.

The poster child for such unaccountability is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A report provided to the Huffington Post by Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, and a past whistleblower who had previously testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, reveals that such unaccountability has produced deadly results. As of April 2015, there were 847,822 veterans listed as waiting to be enrolled in VA health care. While they were waiting, 238,657 of those veterans died before being enrolled.

The VA’s fallback excuses? The number may represent people who had died years ago (which the VA has no way of knowing because it has no mechanism to purge the list of dead applicants), some vets may have never completed the application but remain listed anyway, and because the data are “decades old,” vets may have found other insurance, insisted VA spokeswoman Walinda West.

Or not. Davis disputed West on every point.

Remember when Congress was “outraged” by this scandal? Remember when we were promised they would do something about it, as in cleaning house, when this kind of nonsense was first bought to the public’s attention? Anyone still remember the devastating report produced by former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) detailing “waiting list cover-ups and uneven care reflective of a much larger culture within the VA, where administrators manipulate both data and employees to give an appearance that all is well?” A report that was released more than a year ago?

So, how’s that “house cleaning” going? In February, current VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who replaced Eric Shinseki following his “resignation,” told NBC he had fired 900 people since he took the job, including 60 “who have manipulated wait times.” Unfortunately for McDonald, in late April New York Times reporter Dave Phillips revealed that a VA internal document shows the number of terminated employees is a tad lower — as in three.

It gets worse. “The documents given this month to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which provided them to The New York Times, show that the department punished a total of eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal,” Phillips wrote. “One was fired, one retired in lieu of termination, one’s termination is pending, and five were reprimanded or suspended for up to two months.” And the one person who was unambiguously axed was Sharon Helman, director of VA facility in Phoenix, the location that first brought this scandal to the nation’s attention. Removed for manipulating the wait times? Nope. Terminated for receiving “inappropriate gifts,” according to the department.

Seriously now, do you feel like you’re one of the “bosses” of government employees?

I don’t know about you, but every boss I worked for made more money than his employees. What about “our” employees? A 2012 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study revealed federal employees earned an average of 16 percent more in total compensation, meaning pay and benefits, than workers in private sector companies. And a Heritage Foundation study reveals they work three hours less per week and approximately one month less per year than private sector workers.

But they work really hard, right? At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a top level employee was discovered by investigators to have watched porn two to six hours a day while at work — since 2010. And despite the reality those investigators found 7,000 porno files on his computer — and even caught him in the act of watching it — he was still on the payroll as of March 2015. That’s because government workers have a civil service protection system known as the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) that ostensibly prevents them from getting fired for political reasons, and gives employees the right to appeal any termination.

That appeal process can take as long as two years.

Remember the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal in 2012, involving $822,000 of taxpayer funds spent on a lavish blowout in Vegas that included high-end meals and plenty of entertainment? The two managers fired for that abuse got their jobs back when the MSPB reversed the decision. The appeals board was nice enough to admit that extravagance has “no place in government,” but insisted the GSA failed to prove the two managers “knew or had reason to know of these ill-advised planning and purchasing decisions.” Not only were they ordered to be reinstated, they were given back pay plus interest. The organizer of the event? Allowed to retire, presumably with his pension and benefits intact.

Just before they left for summer recess, the House passed the VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994), a bill that would give the VA the ability to fire or demote an employee based on misconduct or performance, and greatly compress the appeals process timeline. Obama promised to veto it, if it reached his desk. The Senior Executives Association (SEA), a “tax exempt, non-profit corporation representing the interests of career federal executives and committed to effective, efficient and productive leadership in government” (read protectionism), was equally aghast. “HR 1994 represents a series of unnecessary legislative ‘fixes’ to a system that already provides the VA and every other federal agency the power to fully address performance and conduct problems in its workforce,” it said in a statement. “The system that exists today is fair and reasonable, but may not be used to its greatest potential. Congress should not pass another mean spirited piece of legislation designed to promote more anti-public worker sentiment and further demoralize the federal workforce.”

No one is more demoralized about the state of our federal workforce than the American public.

Beth Moten, the legislative and political director of the American Federation of Government Employees, added insult to injury. “Under H.R. 1994, every whistleblower, along with every other VA employee, would become at-will employees,” Moten wrote. “Without due process rights no VA employee who wishes to keep his or her job will ever feel safe blowing the whistle in the workplace or at the Congressional witness table.”

The bet is here is the overwhelming majority of Americans would like nothing better than a government chock full of “at will” employees — as in people who could be held directly responsible for their behavior.

Instead we have a system chock full of protectionism that breeds incompetence. It also breeds unabashed lying. Remember when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) computer hacks were first revealed? We were initially told that 4.2 million Americans had their Social Security numbers and other sensitive information stolen. That’s because Obama administration officials avoided disclosing the true severity of the breach by defining it as two separate breaches — and revealing only the smaller one. The two breaches combined? We now know that 25 million Americans data were hacked.

Incompetence and lying also breeds potentially criminal arrogance. Remember when the IRS told us Lois Lerner’s emails were irretrievably destroyed? We now know that even the backup tapes were destroyed by the “Media Management Midnight Unit” located in Martinsburg, W. VA. And they were destroyed after an agency-wide preservation order and a congressional subpoena were issued. We also know Lerner’s hard drive was physically damaged. Moreover, both the IRS commissioner and Department of Justice of attorneys have been threatened with contempt of court charges by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who characterized the excuses for their refusal to turnover ordered documentation as "indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.“

And then there’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency so intent on facilitating Obama’s illegal amnesty agenda, its name is rapidly becoming an oxymoron. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen was incensed that DHS officials continued to implement that agenda after he ordered a halt to it.

I could go on (and on and on) but you get the picture. From the lowest workers on the unionized civil service food chain, to the highest echelons of political appointees, a deep-rooted culture of incompetence and corruption has made it virtually impossible for government to function fairly and efficiently. And because most government employees are shielded by layers of protection, they couldn’t care less. Never before in the history of this nation has there been a greater divide between a self-serving federal leviathan and millions of Americans who are closer to feeling like slaves than the "bosses”.

“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Ronald Reagan reminded us during his inaugural address in 1981. Nothing’s changed since then, with one exception: It’s gotten far worse



Creating a Case for Conservatism

Being conservative in a politically correct culture has never been easy. Whether you’re a politician trying to explain a controversial sound-bite, or a voter attempting to defend your stance on a hot-button issue to co-workers, you either grow a thick skin — or learn to keep quiet.

Sadly, you get used to having your motives impugned by people who assume that no one could possibly believe what you believe. You must have some ulterior motive, right? Say, for example, we need less regulation, and you’ll be accused of shilling for some corporation. Call for more defense spending, and you’re a warmonger.

It’s an old trick, clearly designed to save the accuser from having to marshal any actual evidence for his position. But it usually works. Everyone retreats to their corners, leaving us with poorly thought-out policies that wind up helping no one.

Small wonder, then, that the phrase “compassionate conservative” entered the political lexicon at one point. The defensive character of that label is understandable, but think about it: It only resonates if you assume that conservatives lack compassion in the first place.

Yes, some of them do (you find flawed human beings on both sides of the aisle), but only the most superficial analysis could conclude that conservatism attracts only those who don’t care about their fellow citizens. In fact — irony alert — conservative solutions often spring from a genuine desire to help people.

Take welfare reform. If you criticize a huge government program that hands out checks with virtually no strings attached, opponents say you must hate the poor. On the contrary: If you care about your fellow man, you know that turning him into a passive welfare recipient robs him of his dignity and often dooms his children to a soul-deadening cycle of poverty. Making sure that welfare is a true hand-up and not a hand-out is, in fact, the true compassionate stance.

The problem is that many conservatives fail to frame the issues this way. As American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks points out in his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” we need a new approach.

“The only way to set things right is for conservatives to show we care and offer a new vision for the country,” he writes. “This new vision must be guided by the optimism of opportunity. It must declare peace on a prudent, reliable safety net for those who truly need it. It must harness the tools of private entrepreneurship, acknowledge the profound value of hard work, and echo the moral clarity of the Good Samaritan.”

Mr. Brooks introduces us to people who illustrate all too well what happens when government policies run amok. Take Jestina Clayton. When she moved to Utah from Sierra Leone, she decided to pursue her piece of the American Dream by starting an African hair-braiding business for children adopted from her native land.

Jestina had been braiding hair since she was five, and the business was soon providing a steady paycheck. Then someone told her that it was illegal to do such work without a cosmetology license which would take 2,000 hours of classes and cost $16,000. And all for something she already knew how to do.

It took a lot of work and a successful lawsuit for Jestina to get her happy ending. (A federal judge ruled that such a requirement, which far exceeded the ones for many other professions, was unreasonable.) But as Mr. Brooks notes, she’s one of the lucky ones.

“Millions of Americans without her drive, grit — and the help of a law firm — have little hope to rise in America,” he writes. “Currently, all they are offered are promises that the government will stick it more to the rich through higher taxes and greater redistribution. But this will never help a poor American climb out of poverty, find a better job, and get a good education — let alone start a business.”

As conservatives, we know that our policies help provide opportunity for all. But we can never assume others know that. It’s time to take “heart” — and make sure they do.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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