Is the DC Metro Burning?

Back in the 1990s when I moved to the Washington DC area for graduate school, one of the things that most impressed me about the area was the subway system, the DC metro, that serviced the city along with the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. At that time, the system was relatively new; some of the lines were only a few years old, and even the oldest was only about 14 years old. The stations were modern and spacious, and the train cars also were roomy, with carpeted floors. The DC metro was so convenient that a classmate of mine commented that, even if he owned a Jaguar, he would still prefer to ride the metro every morning.

But that was over 20 years ago, and since then the DC metro has reportedly deteriorated badly. The metro, of course, is run by government, so it was inevitable that it would eventually fail. Over the years, the DC metro has reverted to the natural state of every government institution–a jobs program that barely pretends to serve the public (much like the public schools, for example). The DC metro bureaucracy is rife with corruption and incompetence. Employees know they can’t be fired no matter how lousy their performance, and the incentives are so perverse that the path to advancement primarily involves not rocking the boat by reporting abuses or safety problems. That’s right; the incentives are so perverse, that employees are better off NOT reporting safety issues.

With Metro’s budget chronically strained and reports of mismanagement coming more regularly than trains, interviews and internal records depict a likely root: an environment in which hardworking employees are actively excluded and those who rise are those willing to do the bare minimum — never causing a stir by flagging rampant safety violations, reporting malfeasance or proposing improvements.

A couple of years ago, a fire got started in a train tunnel, and incompetent employees bungled the emergency response by activating the wrong ventilation fans. The fans actually sucked smoke into a subway car filled with passengers.

Metro controllers in Landover reacted to the train operator’s report of smoke by turning on giant fans inside the L’Enfant Plaza station — behind the stationary train in the tunnel. The fans were activated in “exhaust mode,” Hart said, meaning they were sucking massive volumes of air in the direction of the station.

“This action pulled smoke” toward the station from the spot of the electrical meltdown deep in the tunnel, Hart said. As a result, the smoke was also moving in the direction of the stopped train, which was soon enveloped.

Then, at 3:24 p.m., according to Hart, the Landover controllers switched on another set of fans — inside a huge ventilation shaft about 1,100 feet in front of the train, near the source of the smoke. The shaft rises from the tunnel to the street.

But the fans in the shaft also were activated in exhaust mode, Hart said. This meant that the two sets of powerful fans, at both ends of the train, were sucking air in opposite directions, causing the smoke to linger in place, surrounding the train.

At least 200 passengers — most of them choking, many sickened and some growing panicked — waited more than 30 minutes to be evacuated by rescuers. One of the riders, Carol I. Glover, 61, of Alexandria, died of smoke inhalation, an autopsy showed.

So many fires happen on Metro that a Twitter feed called “Is Metro on Fire?” exists to warn passengers. Multiple fires were reported just last week.

As Reason magazine reports in the video below, Metro’s escalators are prone to dangerous malfunctions, and frequently break down due to lack of proper maintenance. The problem is that Metro in 1992 stopped using private contractors to repair and maintain the escalators and instead switched to using its own in-house mechanics. Metro justified the change by arguing, get this, that “government employees would do a better job for less money.” One can only hope that human civilization someday advances to the point where people reflexively respond to that particular argument with the full measure of derision that it deserves.

Last fall, Washington’s star pitcher, Max Scherzer, displayed some touching naivete after finding out that Metro refused to extend its operating hours so that fans could get home from a playoff game.

“God, I would hope to believe that playoff games here in D.C. would mean more than shutting down the lines for a couple hours,” Scherzer said last week during an appearence on a local sports talk radio program. “I mean, isn’t it a supply-and-demand issue? We have a supply of people that demand to use the line to go to the park. Why wouldn’t you want to meet that?”

Dude, rationally adjusting supply to meet demand is what happens in the private sector. This is government.

D.C. Escalator Nightmare

Dubious Government Advice: Countries with Safe Tap-Water

In which countries in the world is it safe to drink the water? The question is important because I love traveling, but getting sick would really take the fun out of it. When I went to Mexico a couple of years ago I was frankly terrified of the water, but fortunately, I didn’t end up having any problems. I know a lot of people, however, who weren’t so lucky.

The scary thing is that avoiding the problem is not so easy as drinking only bottled water. You can get sick from even a single ice cube, or just a tiny bit of water you swallow in the shower or while brushing your teeth. It’s very easy to slip up, and so even if you’re aware, the risk is real. Given the risk, I’m frankly not keen to travel to countries with unsafe water.

So which countries have safe water? The only source I’ve found online is from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In other words, the government. Now, based on what I think I’ve learned about how the world works, my general view is that you can’t trust advice that comes from the government. And after examining the CDC’s list, I retain my skepticism of government advice.

In short, I believe the CDC’s list is too restrictive. For instance, here are some maps based on the CDC’s list.

According to the CDC the continents of Africa and South America have the grand total of ZERO countries with safe water. Maybe that’s right, but I might have thought the ‘cone’ of South America–Chile, Argentina, Uruguay–was safe. Argentina, after all, was one hundred years ago one of the richest countries in the world. If the Argentines don’t have safe water, they’ve fallen pretty far.

The list for Asia is short and probably pretty accurate, but I take issue with the omission of Taiwan. When I visited Taiwan a number of years ago, I freely consumed the water, brushing my teeth without concern, and did so in cities spanning the island: North, South, East and West. I never had a problem. Taiwan is a developed country, and I believe that almost everywhere the water is safe. Why did CDC not include Taiwan? Could it have been to avoid offending China?

I also find the list for Europe too restrictive. Is there really no safe water east of the Danube? Hungary and Slovakia don’t have safe water? I noticed that in an online comments thread, some guy from Romania objected to his country’s omission from the list. He insisted that the water in Romania is safe. Maybe he’s biased, but I suspect he’s right, at least for the primary areas of the country.

I also find it difficult to believe that the Baltic States don’t have safe water. Estonia in particular, based on what I have heard, is very clean.

Admittedly, I’m not doing a scientific study here and just giving my impressions based on my limited experience. But that experience, and what I think I know about the world, does make me skeptical of the CDC’s list.

Bureaucrats Butthurt over Regulatory Repeal

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, Congress recently revived a dormant law–the Congressional Review Act of 1996–in order to repeal last-minute Obama regulations, including a so-called ‘stream protection rule’ that would have destroyed jobs in the coal industry. Well, now Politico reports that the bureaucrat who wrote the stream rule is all salty that his handiwork is getting flushed. Almost every line of the article is unintentionally hilarious.

Joe Pizarchik spent more than seven years working on a regulation to protect streams from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Ulysses S. Grant, while dying from cancer, wrote his two-volume memoirs in less than a year. Handel composed his Messiah in 24 days. This bureaucrat takes seven years to write a stupid stream regulation.

“My biggest disappointment is a majority in Congress ignored the will of the people,” said Pizarchik, who directed the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement from 2009 through January.

Unlike Pizarchik, the members of Congress who nixed his rule were actually elected by the people.

Pizarchik and other former Obama administration officials called the rapid repeal process intensely unfair. The 1996 law says any repeal must come within 60 legislative days after a rule becomes final.

“If there had been more time and Congress had not rushed this through but had actually deliberated on what was in the rule, [then] the results would have been different,” Pizarchik said.

Yeah, no. Later in the article we learn that the GOP has opposed the stream rule since at least 2011. They had plenty of time for deliberation, and a little more time wouldn’t have changed their minds. Furthermore, if Pizarchik hadn’t taken seven years to write his rule, he could have had it enacted prior to the 60-day window, which would have made it immune to repeal.

[T]he swiftness has former Obama officials wondering if lawmakers even understood the regulations they voted to kill.

“I can’t venture to say that that many people, when they’re being honest, have actually read the rule,” said Brandi Colander, who was Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management before leaving in September for the National Wildlife Federation.

I’m guessing Brandi wasn’t complaining when Congress voted on Obamacare without reading it.

“I think that when cooler heads really can prevail and you push the politics to the side, we should really be asking ourselves, should we be able, with the stroke of a pen, without requiring people to read it and not even giving these rules a chance to see the light of day — is that actually good governance?” she added.

Apparently, Brandi’s idea of “good governance” is unelected bureaucrats imposing rules with the force of law while the elected representatives of the American people just STFU.

Teitz similarly argued that the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste rule would have generated revenue for the energy industry, which could have sold the gas that the regulation would make it capture. But Republicans — backed by oil and gas companies — still made it a top target.

“People are looking for scalps,” she said. “‘It’s an Obama rule so let’s drag it down whether or not it’s actually costly to industry.’”

LOLZ. The bureaucrats would have us believe that they understand the industry’s interests better than the industry itself does. ‘Don’t those dummies know they can SELL the methane that we force them to capture!’

Before this year, the only time Congress successfully used the review act to repeal a regulation was in 2001, when it blocked the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration from enforcing an ergonomics rule intended to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.

Sixteen years later, wounds are still open for some officials who helped write that rule…

Still butthurt after sixteen years!!

Jordan Barab, who had worked on the ergonomics rule, fought to save it when he moved to the AFL-CIO after the 2000 election.

Wait, this guy makes a regulation that benefits Big Labor, and then takes a job with…the AFL-CIO. And didn’t we just see above that the lady who did the environmental rule took a job with…the National Wildlife Federation? Gee, it’s almost as if they’re already working for the interest group while still on the government job.

Pizarchik is already working on ideas to write a new version of the stream rule under a future president, though he declined to share any details.

Presidents come and go, but the bureaucracy is eternal.

He also hinted someone could mount a constitutional challenge to the review act itself, which critics have long argued tramples on the separation of powers.

“I believe there’s a good chance that, in a legal challenge, that a court will overturn Congress’ actions here as an unconstitutional usurpation of the executive branch’s powers,” he said.

Who knows what some hack Democrat judge might someday decide, but only in a bizarro, anti-matter, parallel universe is it unconstitutional for laws to be written by the legislative branch rather than the executive.

The Civil-Service System is Unconstitutional

Some of our readers believe that the U.S. presidency has grown too powerful, and in some ways, like the ability to unilaterally impose barriers to international trade, I agree. But in other ways, the presidency has been stripped of its most elementary powers. For instance, most people I talk to are surprised to find out that the president has no authority to fire ordinary federal bureaucrats for incompetence or malfeasance. This has created an unaccountable bureaucracy that freely pursues its own agenda as an unelected 4th branch of government.

Writing at the Wall Street Journal, Philip K. Howard argues persuasively that the civil-service system unconstitutionally undermines the president’s executive authority.

Executive power is toothless without practical authority over personnel. “If any power whatsoever is in its nature executive,” James Madison once observed, “it is the power of appointing, overseeing, and controlling those who execute the laws.” Taking away the president’s power over executive branch employees is synonymous with removing his executive power altogether. Yet this is exactly the case today. Because of civil-service laws passed by Congress many years ago, the president has direct authority over a mere 2% of the federal workforce.

Two percent! TWO. PERCENT.

The question is whether those laws are constitutional. Does Congress have the power to tell the president that he cannot terminate inept or insubordinate employees? The answer, I believe, is self-evident.

Federal bureaucrats are so insulated from accountability, they are the only people in America who hold their job by right. No, really. The Supreme Court in the 1970s ruled that bureaucrats have a right to keep their jobs and so cannot be removed except by due process of law, similarly to being convicted of a crime. That effectively makes the bureaucrats a kind of privileged aristocracy.

The slow dissipation of presidential power over subsequent decades is a story rich with irony. Designed to avoid capture by special interests, the civil service became a special interest of its own. First, public employees got Congress to legislate modest protections against termination. Then JFK, as payback for their support, signed an executive order allowing public unions to collectively bargain. The Supreme Court held that these legal protections made public jobs a property right protected by the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. Then Congress enshrined these protections in statute.
We’ve come full circle: Instead of guarding against public jobs as political property, civil service has become a property right of the employees themselves. Federal workers answer to no one.

Changing the system would require the president to issue an executive order and the Supreme Court to uphold it. We need somehow to appoint a Court that acknowledges the patent unconstitutionality of the present civil-service system.

On Rolling Back Government, GOP Talking Big

When it comes to rolling back the federal government, the GOP has been talking big lately.

Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending.

Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.

The changes they propose are dramatic.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

A trillion a year? I’d be gobsmacked if all this actually transpired. Does Trump really believe he can achieve all of it? Maybe he’d settle for less and this is just his opening offer to the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the GOP House has passed some very significant regulatory reforms. First, the REINS Act.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would require any regulation which would have an economic impact of $100 million or more to pass Congress and be signed by the president. If the regulation failed to do so after 70 days, it would become null and void.

The REINS Act sounds like a huge step towards restoring Constitutional government, according to which laws are voted on by the people’s elected representatives in Congress, rather than imposed on the people by unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch.

REINS sounds great to me, but law scholar Richard Epstein has some objections to the ‘factual review’ provisions that are beyond my pay grade. Epstein likes better another bill that has been introduced in the House, the Separation of Powers Restoration Act (SOPRA).

Its key provision reads that any court reviewing administrative action shall “decide de novo all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional and statutory provisions, and rules made by agencies.” “De novo” review means that the reviewing court gives no deference to the legal opinions of either the parties or lower court judges and administrators.

This compact and straightforward provision, which should be promptly enacted, takes aim at two of the most misguided decisions of administrative law that instructed courts to take a deferential stance toward agency actions interpreting the key statutes and regulations they administer. The first of these cases, Chevron USA Inc. v. NRDC (1984), written by Justice John Paul Stevens, insisted that in all ambiguous cases, reviewing courts should defer to an agency interpretation of its governing statute. Auer v. Robbins (1997), written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, similarly held that for an agency’s “own regulations, [its] interpretation of it is, under our jurisprudence, controlling unless ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’”

Letting the courts smack down the bureaucrats’ interpretations of law sounds great to me. But one thing Epstein doesn’t mention is that none of these bills can get enough Senate votes to override a Democrat filibuster. There’s just no way they can become law in this Congress, and the House must know that very well. Which raises the question: if it can’t become law, then what’s the point? Political grandstanding?

Given that the GOP House knows the bill can’t become law, there’s no cost to the members in voting for it. Which also means there’s no evidence they really support the legislation. Passing a dead-end bill doesn’t prove they really mean it.

U.S. House Revives Rule Enabling Congress to Fire Bureaucrats

Civil service laws have had the unfortunate consequence of allowing the federal bureaucracy to become politicized and relatively unaccountable. That lack of accountability is why Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the bureaucracy as the “fourth branch of government.” The bureaucracy badly needs to be reined in, but civil service laws prevent the president from firing even the lowliest bureaucrat.

Congress, however, can fire a bureaucrat anytime it wants. In fact, House Republicans this week reinstated a rule that allows a majority vote of both houses to eliminate the salary of any individual bureaucrat or group of bureaucrats. The rule is based on a law that dates back to 1876, but hasn’t been included as part of House rules since 1983.

The Washington Post report on this development is notably tendentious, taking the side of the bureaucrats, who make up a large part of the Post’s audience.

The Holman Rule, named after an Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to propose amending an appropriations bill to single out a government employee or cut a specific program.

The use of the rule would not be simple; a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment. At the same time, opponents and supporters agree that the work of 2.1 million civil servants, designed to be insulated from politics, is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

Aw, so they can be fired on a whim? Well, so can every private sector worker in America. In the private sector, your boss can fire you even if he just does not like the color of your tie. This legal principle is called “employment at will.”

The government bureaucrats are supposed to be working for the taxpayers. If bureaucrats aren’t accountable to the taxpayers’ representatives in Congress, then to whom should they be accountable? To only their god? Does the Post propose to elevate the bureaucracy to a kind of privileged aristocracy?

The rule was the first thing House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) railed against in a floor speech Tuesday.

“Republicans have consistently made our hard-working federal employees scapegoats, in my opinion, for lack of performance of the federal government itself,” he said.

Some, I presume, are hard-working, but many don’t do any work at all. A couple of years ago, EPA bureaucrats were caught watching porn for hours every day because they ‘didn’t have enough work to do.’ Thousands more bureaucrats are too incompetent to be trusted with responsibilities, so their supervisors give them no work to do. They literally do nothing, but still show up and get paid. This situation is sometimes called ‘internal exile.’ Is it OK with Hoyer if we fire the non-working bureaucrats in internal exile?

In light of recent inquiries by the Trump transition team about a list of Energy Department scientists who have worked on climate change, advocates for federal workers say they worry that bureaucrats could be targeted for political reasons.

But political reasons are the best reasons. Politics is just a term that refers to how a society makes choices. In a democratic republic, those choices are properly made by elected officials, not bureaucrats. If bureaucrats are to be fired, then the best reasons for doing so are political, not personal.

Democrats and federal employee unions say the provision, which one called the “Armageddon Rule,” could prove alarming to the federal workforce because it comes in combination with President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of the Washington bureaucracy, his call for a freeze on government hiring and his nomination of Cabinet secretaries who in some cases seem to be at odds with the mission of the agencies they would lead.

So these bureaucrats who are supposed to be non-partisan and non-ideological nonetheless find themselves ‘at odds’ with Trump’s appointees. See, that’s the problem.

“This is part of a very chilling theme that federal workers are seeing right now,” said Maureen Gilman, legislative director for the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees.

We’ll give the last word to Mr. Krabs.

Revealed: The Pentagon Supports More than ONE MILLION Desk Jobs

We wrote previously about how we like to ask people how many bureaucrats work at the federal Department of Agriculture. Many people make only a four-figure guess like 3,000 or 5,000. Occasionally, someone will guess as high as 50,000. The real answer is about 106,000. What do all those people do?

Now for the first time a study has pierced the government’s veil of secrecy to report a summary of employment at the Pentagon. The Pentagon put together a board of “corporate experts” to do the study. As part of the study, the experts made a count of the number of people working desk jobs far from the front. These are people, mostly civilians, working in the Pentagon’s “business operations,” providing back-end support services such as logistics, procurement, accounting, and property management. So how many desk jobs does the Pentagon support? More than one million.

“We are spending a lot more money than we thought,” the report stated. It then broke down how the Defense Department was spending $134 billion a year on business operations — about 50 percent more than McKinsey had guessed at the outset.

Almost half of the Pentagon’s back-office personnel — 457,000 full-time employees — were assigned to logistics or supply-chain jobs. That alone exceeded the size of United Parcel Service’s global workforce.

The Pentagon’s purchasing bureaucracy counted 207,000 full-time workers. By itself, that would rank among the top 30 private employers in the United States.

More than 192,000 people worked in property management. About 84,000 people held human-resources jobs.

The one million includes the hiring of some 268,000 outside contractors, a shadowy business that ends up costing taxpayers an average of $180,000 per contractor.

Although the board of experts was commissioned by top leadership at the Pentagon itself, after the study uncovered massive waste, the Pentagon ditched the report and tried to cover up the findings. In particular, the Pentagon feared that the board’s plan to eliminate $125 billion in waste over five years would cause Congress to make budget cuts.

For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. Among other options, the savings could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal, or the operating expenses for 50 Army brigades.

But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website.

In other words, the fact that the study uncovered so much waste shows that all that talk of austerity was a huge lie.

“They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money. We proposed a way to save a ton of money,” said Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, a private-equity investor from Jacksonville, Fla., who served as chairman of the Defense Business Board.

Stein, a campaign bundler for President Obama, said the study’s data were “indisputable” and that it was “a travesty” for the Pentagon to suppress the results.

“We’re going to be in peril because we’re spending dollars like it doesn’t matter,” he added.

While ordinary American households are clipping coupons to save a couple of bucks, the Pentagon is blowing through their hard-earned tax dollars like it’s play money.


Beware the Fourth Branch of Government

Back last summer, a local civic group asked me to give a speech. The lady who organized the event allowed me to choose as my topic pretty much anything that I wanted. So I chose to talk about the evils of the permanent government bureaucracy. In particular, I said that if Donald Trump were to be elected president, the permanent Washington bureaucracy–which Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “the fourth branch of government”–would do what it could to obstruct his agenda. At worst, the bureaucracy could even pose a threat to the very survival of his administration, as it did 40 years ago to the Nixon Administration.

Showing once again that great minds think alike, Betsy McCaughey this week published similar thoughts in the New York Post.


Donald Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton presages an even bigger battle ahead against the heart of the Democratic establishment: the federal workforce. This army of bureaucrats — almost 3 million strong — gave Clinton a large majority of their votes and over 90 percent of their campaign contributions.

Expect federal workers and their union bosses to use every trick in the book to block Trump’s reform agenda.

Trump’s ability to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs, clean up IRS abuses, roll back job-killing regulations and get taxpayers their money’s worth all hinge on uprooting the entrenched civil service. Newt Gingrich, a top Trump adviser, warns: “If you don’t fix this problem, nothing in government is going to work.”

That’s a tall order. The bureaucracy generally has a vise-like grip on the executive branch — presidents come and go, but the bureaucrats remain.

Public unions are already digging in for a fight. After the election, J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, dismissed Trump’s plans as more or less irrelevant. AFGE members have their own big-government agenda, and “that never changes no matter who sits in the White House.”

A big problem is that it’s almost impossible to fire a federal employee. The president is the head of the executive branch and, in theory, the bureaucrats are working for the president. He is their boss. But he can’t fire anyone. A lot of Americans might be surprised to find out that the president can’t fire an ordinary bureaucrat.

And on the exceedingly rare occasions when a bureaucrat is terminated, the cause has to be essentially some sort of crime. Incompetence, no matter how rank, is never a firing offense.

How hard is it to fire anyone at Veterans Affairs? One surgeon found guilty of abandoning a patient on the operating table and leaving the medical center still got an $11,000 bonus.

Back in the 19th century, it was in fact possible for the president to fire bureaucrats. But people started to think that the system was being abused, as a newly elected president would fire people for purely partisan political reasons, replacing the old bureaucrats with the president’s own loyal supporters. This became known as the ‘spoils system,’ and it was finally brought to a halt by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883.

Most historians hold a very favorable view of the Civil Service Reform Act, but it has had the effect of elevating the federal workforce into a kind of privileged caste. Everybody else in America can be fired for incompetence or disloyalty, but not federal employees.

The motivation for abolishing the spoils system was to make the bureaucracy more professional and less partisan. The bureaucracy, however, has remained very partisan, except that now the partisanship runs only in one direction. Under the spoils system, the bureaucracy would alternate between Democrat and Republican depending on the party occupying the White House. Now, in contrast, the partisan bureaucracy remains eternally only Democrat. The Civil Service Reform Act effectively cemented in place a permanent Democrat bureaucracy.

Donald Trump, once he arrives in Washington, better be prepared to defend his administration from its enemies in the permanent bureaucracy. In this regard, he should remember that the bureaucracy played a key role in destroying the presidency of Richard Nixon. In 1972, Nixon was re-elected in a landslide, winning 49 states. But the establishment in Washington DC was almost uniformly hostile to Nixon, treating his administration as a kind of illegitimate, occupying power.

Nixon’s presidency was destroyed by the Watergate scandal, but he might have survived the scandal, as other presidents have survived scandals, if he had had more support within the prevailing power structure. Of the four major loci of political power–the people, the Congress, the media, and the bureaucracy–Nixon had the support of only one: the people.

Nixon showed that having the support of only the people is not enough to survive in Washington. If he had even one more source of support, he probably could have endured. But as it was, the Democrat media fanned the flames of scandal, and the Democrat Congress passed articles of impeachment. And let’s not forget that in Watergate the bureaucracy also played its role. Nixon was largely done in by the mysterious ‘Deep Throat’ leaker at the FBI, who turned out to be Mark Felt, a career bureaucrat who was resentful because Nixon did not promote him to head of the FBI.

Back in the day, it was another disgruntled bureaucrat who served as a catalyst for passing the Civil Service Reform Act. In 1881, President Garfield was assassinated by a failed bureaucratic job seeker. The new president, Chester A. Arthur, soon thereafter signed the Civil Service Act, thus absolving presidents from the responsibility of hiring or firing bureaucrats. Chet Arthur presumably did not want to become the bureaucracy’s next victim.

Beware the bureaucrats.

Homeless 1, Homeland Security 0

The Department of Homeland Security employs tens of thousands of highly-paid bureaucrats whose job is allegedly to protect the American people from terrorism. All those fancy-pants employees with defined-benefit pensions, however, couldn’t manage to stop the recent bombings in New Jersey and New York, even though the suspected terrorist’s father warned the FBI two years ago. “Keep an eye on him,” the father says he told the FBI. But instead of keeping an eye on him, the bureaucrats did what bureaucrats do: conducted a perfunctory investigation, then dropped the matter.

On Sept. 12, 2014, the F.B.I. returned and told the father that his son had been cleared of any connection to terrorism, and on Sept. 19, the review was formally closed.

The FBI closed the investigation, even though the father’s warning was not the first time the feds had been alerted to the suspect’s suspicious activities.

Five months earlier, in March 2014, when he returned from a nearly yearlong trip to Pakistan, Mr. Rahami was flagged by customs officials, who pulled him aside for a secondary screening. Still concerned about his travel, officials notified the National Targeting Center, a federal agency that assesses potential threats, two law enforcement officials said.

And so Rahami is accused of having planted several bombs, one of which injured 31 people. There might have been many more casualties if two homeless men hadn’t found one of the bombs and wisely alerted authorities.


So there you have it. The homeless did more to protect Americans than did all the fancy-pants time-servers at the Department of Homeland Security.


Yellowstone: One Hundred Years of Mismanagement

Many years ago I told an Australian student that, in my opinion, a certain famous Australian national park should be taken out of government hands and privatized. He looked at me like I had two heads. He probably imagined the place paved over by Disney with parking lots and people standing in line to get on rides. But the truth is that governments around the world have poor records of protecting and managing parks as well as historic and cultural sites. For instance, irreplaceable buildings have been collapsing at Pompeii for years due to the dysfunction of Italian government. There’s also evidence that the U.S. government manages forests less effectively than does the private sector.

Back in 2005, author Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park) gave a fascinating talk at the Independent Institute. In part of his talk, Crichton included a devastating summary of 100 years of government mismanagement of Yellowstone National Park. Government officials in managing Yellowstone have been guilty not just of hubris and ignorance, but have also broken laws and engaged in cover ups. In other words, typical government behavior.

Theodore Roosevelt…in 1903, as President,…went to Yellowstone for a dedication ceremony… Roosevelt saw a thousand antelope, plentiful cougar, mountain sheep, deer, coyote and many thousands of elk. He wrote at that time, “Our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.”

But in fact, Yellowstone was not preserved. On the contrary, it was altered beyond repair in a matter of years. By 1934, the Park Service acknowledged that whitetail deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone.

What they didn’t say was that the Park Service was solely responsible for the disappearances. Park rangers had been shooting the animals for decades, even though that was illegal since the Lacey Act of 1894. But they thought they knew best. They thought their environmental concerns trumped any mere law.

What actually happened at Yellowstone is a cascade of ego and error, but to understand it, we have to go back to the 1890s. Back then, it was believed that elk were becoming extinct, so these animals were fed and encouraged. Over the next few years, the number of elk in the park exploded…

Roosevelt had seen a few thousand animals on his visit, and he’d noticed that the elk were more numerous than in his previous visit. Nine years later, in 1912, there were 30,000 elk in Yellowstone. By 1914, there were 35,000.

Things were going very well. Rainbow trout had also been introduced, and although they crowded out the native cutthroats, nobody really worried. Fishing was great. Bears were increasing in numbers, and moose and bison as well.

By 1915, Roosevelt realized the elk had become a problem, and he urged scientific management, which meant culling. His advice was ignored. Instead, the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.

In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.

Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they’re quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.

The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.

Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.

Now, we’re in the 1970s, and bears were recognized as a growing problem. They used to be considered fun-loving creatures, and their close association with human beings was encouraged in the park….There were more bears, and certainly there were many more lawyers, and thus the much-increased threat of litigation, so the rangers moved the grizzlies out. The grizzlies promptly became endangered. Their formerly growing numbers shrank. The Park Service refused to let scientists study them, but once they were declared endangered, the scientists could go back in again.

And by now, we’re about ready to reap the rewards of our 40-year policy of fire suppression, Smokey the Bear and all that. The Indians used to burn forests regularly, and lightning causes natural fires every year. But when these are suppressed, branches fall from the trees to the ground and accumulate over the years to make a dense groundcover such that when there’s a fire, it is a very low, very hot fire that sterilizes the soil. In 1988, Yellowstone burned, and all 1.2 million acres were scorched, and 800,000 acres, one third of the park, burned.

Then having killed the wolves, having tried to sneak them back in, they officially brought the wolves back. And now the local ranchers screamed. The newer reports suggested the wolves seemed to be eating enough of the elk that slowly, the ecology of the park was being restored. Or so it is claimed. It’s been claimed before. And on and on.

I wonder if part of the problem with putting a bureaucracy in charge of a national park is the tendency to do too much. It almost sounds like the park would have been better off with a bit more benign neglect. The Park Service should have intervened less, starting with not feeding the elk. But if the park service weren’t doing much in Yellowstone, the bureau wouldn’t be able to make their case to Congress for more funding, which is what every bureau wants to do. There is perhaps a built in bias to do too much.

Congress should just auction off Yellowstone to the highest bidder.