Monday, April 12, 2010

How Washington Really Works, Part 2

In my previous message, I promised to give you some details on how things really work in Washington. The illustration you see above is just the beginning. Three more are yet to come, and even that is the tip of the iceberg--or rather, the first whiff of the sewer.
You may have noticed that there's no place for the taxpaying voters in the illustration. That's because the taxpaying voters are not in Washington. Most don't contact their congressmen at all. This doesn't mean that your opinions don't mean anything to him. Election Day means a great deal to him. It's just that--well, maybe you've heard the old song, "When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near." The illustration you see here reflects whom our congressmen are near.
Our nation's Founding Fathers designed a system of checks and balances among three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and executive. They never authorized the erection of a fourth branch of government: the regulatory agencies.
Instead of taking the time and trouble of writing and passing laws that are clearly understood, Congress passes laws that can best be described as Chinese fire drills or soup sandwiches. If a congressional committee were in charge of creating new animals, they would create something like the platypus. Then the executive branch has to do its job of enforcing flexible and sometimes vaguely worded or contradictory laws.
The executive branch doesn’t want to create reasonable laws either; and, besides, that’s not their job. They kick the can down the street by creating what they call regulatory agencies. Basically, the job of regulatory agencies is to transform Chinese fire drills into Chinese puzzles. On any given day, they create puzzles that the inventor of Rubric’s cube would envy.
Though these puzzles hamstring and often destroy small- and medium-sized businesses, the CEO’s of giant corporations love them. They can afford to hire people to work out these puzzles. Besides, their people create those puzzles in the first place.
Here’s how it works:
Congress appoints the regulators from the business community; that almost always means the giant corporations. The top regulators are changed from one presidential administration to another, so where do they work when they leave government “service”? They go where they’re most qualified to work: a company in the industry that they’ve been regulating. How’s that for a sweetheart deal?
It gets worse. If you see a congressman’s name on a bill, it doesn’t mean that the congressman wrote it. It means only that he introduced it. It may have been written by an official for a regulated business, by members of a regulatory agency, or both. There’s nothing wrong with that practice, because those people have more expertise in that area than the average congressman does.
It does, however, create a potential conflict of interest. Imagine yourself accepting campaign contributions from someone who has handed you a bill to introduce—a bill that, for all you know, may benefit that person at the expense of everyone else. It’s a potentially corrupting system, and it behooves the congressman to study it more carefully and seek other expertise.
Congress is advised by experts who work only for the Congress, but where do they get them? Usually, the same places they get the regulators.
You can see how the system can be used to benefit the few at the expense of the many. In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll describe an iron triangle of potential conflicts of interest among congressmen, news reporters, and corporate CEO’s.
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Pray for wisdom in the 2010 congressional elections.
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