Letters from the Lunar Outpost

Nature is but a name for an effect whose cause is God.
- Cowper, English Poet (1731-1800)

In Gov We TrustAhhhh, the government. Sometimes, you have to wonder if there’s anything the government can’t screw up. As a follow-up to my last post extolling the virtues of many of the things our government has gotten right, I wanted to provide some balance and take a look at how, more often than not, government intervention is like the path to hell being laid with good intention.

Let’s look at the headlines from just the last few weeks.

The GSA, whose responsibilities include developing government-wide cost-minimizing policies is now in the middle of one of the biggest scandals of fraud and waste of taxpayer money in our times. Oh the irony, oh the bitter, bitter irony. They were having such a good time over there at the GSA, at one of their conferences they even had a video-making contest with the winning video a comedy rap bragging about bilking the taxpayers.

Yep, there’s your government agency that deals with minimizing costs across the government.

From GSA to TSA, it seems every day we hear a new story of the TSA either making women and little four-year-old girls cry with intrusive pat downs, or screening a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy twice until they made her miss her flight. It seems the TSA is also getting a few drug smuggling cases going on, too.

Now if airport security was privatized and there were businesses competing to work the security detail at different airports, I very much doubt the abuses and bribery we’ve seen with the TSA would be so widespread. A security business at an airport has one too many incidents, you just drop them and bring another security company to take their place and learn from their predecessor’s mistakes. You can’t fire the TSA though, for the TSA, everything is left to their own self-review along with the occasional endless Congressional committee. In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for a consensus on what needs to be changed in the TSA policies and employee training process.

The Secret Service scandals may be the most shocking of the recent scandals, because especially for the agents in charge of presidential security, you would think there would probably be an even more stringent background check on them than almost any FBI or CIA clearance, right? Yet there they are, banging hookers and refusing to pay, bringing hookers back to their rooms and claiming they didn’t have sex because they passed out drunk (great defense, except for the part where you’re passed out and there’s a hooker you picked up off the street in your room) and all told, you have eight agents relieved of duty and now there are charges of Secret Service agents with yet another case of Latin Fever in El Salvador.

Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Secret Service duty should be outsourced and privatized, that’s the kind of job for the Federal Government, let’s just hope the Feds can continue to protect the president better than they’ve been protecting our borders, but the incidents do provide yet another example of government FAIL and it boggles the mind to imagine with eight agents fired, how widespread and how long it’s been going on like this with no oversight.

Beyond the fact that the president could have been put in harm’s way with these security breeches, hearing Senator McCain describe the beginnings of the Congressional hearings with defense officials by saying, “They didn’t even know the name of the person who’s in charge of the military detachment in the White House. They didn’t know who was in charge on the ground in Cartegena.” once again, don’t hold your breath waiting for the government to figure out exactly how this could happen and what needs to be changed.

Of course, any institution or enterprise that’s comprised of human beings can fall pray to abuse, crimes of greed or sex scandals, but the government is just so much more ripe for it. A business can cook the books, lie to its investors, make money off bad investments knowing they can plunder and walk before the business goes up in flames and the stock goes in the tank (or get a government bail out) so we all know there is no shortage of crime and corruption in business, but there’s so much more low-hanging fruit when it comes to soaking the taxpayer.

If a private business isn’t responsive to its customers, the customers can go somewhere else, and sales will suffer immediately. Taxpayers could be thought of as customers too, but when it comes to how the government responds to “their customers”, a couple phrases such as “tone deaf” and “moving at a glacial speed” come to mind immediately. There’s an arrogance you see from so many bureaucrats who often have a look that says, “I AM the government, where the hell else are you going to go?”

Private businesses leaders either make the right calls, or it will be a cry of “off with their heads!” from the shareholders. The taxpayers only recourse is to wait several years and vote the bums out.

Private businesses must be as efficient as possible and either prosper by making a profit, stay alive by at least breaking even, or eventually that business will die. Governments just borrow more money and watch as interest payments take a bigger and bigger chunk of the taxes paid. Politicians are even encouraged to do this, bring home the pork, focusing on winning this upcoming election cycle and let another Congress worry about making the tough decisions.

Now let me be clear, some of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met work for the government. During my teenage life, three teachers had a greater impact on my life than anyone I knew outside of my parents (Mrs. Cushman, Mr. Katz and Mr. Wilson, one grazy-in-a-great-kind-of-way hippie and two liberals, go figure, but lovely people all three.) Police officers for whom with every car they pull over and approach, they must keep in the back of their minds it my be that one encounter with fugitive looking to shoot first and run. Firemen who have the bravery to run into the burning building when for the rest of us, every instinct would scream to do the opposite. Social workers, my dad used to either role his eyes or grumble at the very sound of the two words “social worker”, but sorry dad, for many innocent children and elderly people, these social workers are their only hope for rescue from often horrific situations.

So don’t try painting the caricature that conservatives or Tea Partiers are a bunch of bumpkins crying, “Socializum!” while completely unaware of the collective nature of the many government services we rely on. Yes, we’re all aware that there are some necessary elements of collectivism even in the best of Capitalist systems, but while Obama tries to score points quoting Lincoln and at the same time bringing government spending up to a percentage of nearly half of GDP, I’ll end with a quote from Ronald Reagan.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.

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