The Titanic advances

The Washington Post’s David Farenthold has an article detailing the corruption at the Veteran’s Administration.  (H/T Richard Fernandez)  Not only does he detail the mechanics of the current scandal, but takes us in the Way Back Machine to the very inception of the agency.

Charles Forbes was chosen to head the Veterans Bureau by his poker buddy, President Warren G. Harding, in 1921. He was a poor choice. Forbes took kickbacks. He sold off federal supplies. He wildly misspent taxpayer money — once buying a 100-year supply of floor wax, enough to polish a floor the size of Indiana, for 25 times the regular price (apparently as a favor to a floor wax company).

Eventually, Forbes was caught. The president was unhappy. In 1923, a White House visitor opened the wrong door and found Harding choking Forbes with his bare hands.

“You yellow rat! You double-crossing bastard!” Harding was saying, according to historians. When he noticed the visitor, he let go of Forbes’s neck.

Forbes was eventually convicted of bribery and conspiracy. But afterward, the VA’s next leaders built in layers of bureaucracy and paperwork — to be sure that nobody would ever have the same freedom to steal.

I like that about Harding, he, unlike the current occupant of the White House, took direct, personal action, his anger was unfeigned.  The current occupant is angry, none more than he, again, once he had read the paper and found out about the problem just like everybody else, again.  Maybe if he didn’t dawdle over his morning waffle – when Michelle lets him have one (pretty often given how much time she spends on vacations) – he could make the Presidential Daily Briefing on time and he’d know about stuff before it blindsided him.  But I understand, I like waffles too.

Many years ago I had a PoliSci teacher named Mrs. Black who opened my eyes to the nature of the beast with the 5 rules of bureaucracy: 1. Perpetuate its existence, 2. complexify its internal operations, 3. expand it’s sphere of control (grow it), 4.  justify its existence, 5. do the thing it was created to do.  My best recollection, Mrs. Black, sorry if I didn’t get it perfect.  The point being that no matter what you do in a bureaucracy the thing will by its nature metastasize out of control, not because the people in it are evil, but simply because of the dynamics of human nature.

Per the article Shinseki was making really determned efforts to discover the problems within the VA.

“That’s what, to me, makes this event so shocking,” said Scott W. Gould, who spent four years as Shinseki’s second-in command. Gould left the VA last year. Gould said that Shinseki tried hard to show he was open to bad news. Three times a year, in fact, Shinseki spent a solid week meeting with regional VA medical directors.

That was 63 separate four-hour interviews, every year. But, apparently, his message of openness wasn’t enough: In those hours of meetings, nobody told Shinseki what so many people in his system apparently knew.

That’s what you get when you put an Army guy in charge.  The Army has developed a system for closely examining ‘kinetic events’ in after action reports with a view to incorporating lessons learned into future doctrine.  One of the great things they do  is to start with the junior most officer and work up to the senior most, to insure that everybody’s input is untainted by a perceived need to defer to a more senior person.  The Army wants the bad news to come out because they know that their lives depend on getting it right.  Bureaucracies are all about CYA, brown nosing, promotions, bonuses and pensions, the very last thing they are interested in, literally, is getting it right.

Shinseki would have had to develop and deploy a covert intelligence agency to infiltrate the VA in order to find out what was really going on.  If only we had some sort of independent investigative organization that would ferret out what the government was doing and report it to the public.  If only we had a public that was more interested in what the government was up to than the antics and senseless pronouncements of uninformed people of low moral character famous for being famous.

At the time we were being told that we would have to pass Obamacare the Affordable Care Act to find out what was in it the VA was held up as a model of government health care done right.  Now that we have had a closer look at the VA we are shocked to discover that the same ills afflict it as we have come to find out afflict Obamacare.  This isn’t so much because of the failure of what are essentially Socialist policies, Socialist policies fail because they believe they can legislate human nature away.

Which brings us back to Mrs. Black’s five rules.  The bigger the bureaucracy the more dysfunctional it becomes.  Government at all levels is a huge network of bureaucracies which by their nature become more insular, more controlling and more corrupt as they grow.  Which of itself would be catastrophe enough without the Socialist policies of the Party of Disappointment.

At some time in the future these bureaucracies will be pared back; their budgets are increasing (7% per year) at over 200% of the increase in GDP (0-2% depending on who you ask, and inflation is greater than that), left to themselves they will consume an ever increasing piece of the fiscal pie until the system collapses.  What can’t continue won’t continue.

The conservative position has consistently been that the government must be trimmed substantially.  Cutting .001% over ten years when government spending is mandated to increase 7% per year (baseline budgeting, it is the law) is not going to cut it.  We can’t look to the Democrats to do it, padding budgets is their bread and butter, only conservative Republicans can do it.

fool peopleThe US government has been an ever growing Titanic speeding towards fiscal catastrophe for almost 30 years.  The Democrats have been hoping that Global Warming will melt the glacier before we hit, the Republicans have been trying to slow the juggernaut down just enough to not jeopardize their re-election chances.  Neither is a survivable strategy.

The VA scandal is not so much about how we as a nation have failed our veterans.  I am a veteran myself, who, thanks to Mrs. Black, have few illusions about my government’s care  for me.  Rather, it points to the inherent incompetence of government bureaucracies.  It is symptomatic of all government bureaucracies actual or proposed.  It is also an opportunity to look beyond the bow wave of the current election cycle and make a radical turn towards national survival.

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