html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: No, asshole. I'm not.

Friday, June 29, 2007

No, asshole. I'm not.

That scares me and reminds me of Hayek's chapter in The Road to Serfdom where he talks about how nearly all of the German scientific elite lined up quite voluntarily behind the Third Reich. They didn't do it because they were Nazis. They didn't do it because they were Facists. They did it because they believed that they could be part of a government that would allow them to run society "scientifically" and would let them run with things without having to convince a bunch of poor benighted non-scientist common people (i.e. voters). Essentially, what they wanted was a combination of power and non-accountability.

You seem to be advocating the same thing. Are you?


I will never understand you. I just don’t. We are in a political landscape where our top elected officials have renounced the rule of law. Bush and Cheney between them have:

Lied to the American people to start a war against a country that didn’t attack us;
Started an unprecedented policy of using torture;
Disappeared people to foreign countries to be tortured;
Decided that the right to a trial was voluntary, including for American citizens;
Destroyed American credibility abroad;
Turned the Attorney General’s office into their hand-picked bullies, with political affiliation as the standard for whether a person should be prosecuted;
Illegally eavesdropped on American citizens;
Decided that laws circumscribing their behavior simply didn’t apply for reasons so facially ridiculous as to mock the Constitution.

They are outside any traditional definition of 'conservative' or 'ethically bound by law'. They are rogue; their guiding standard is to consolidate power and perpetuate war.

In this climate, with this cabal leading our country, you somehow look around you and decide that what scares you, the real threat to our democracy is a bunch of civil servants? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK WE DO?

I am dead serious. What do you think we DO? We sit here, thousands of us, infiltrating the entire nation. Every day we come to work and do something that is scarier than making a mockery of the Constitution, disappearing and torturing people, killing thousands of our own and theirs in a country that wasn’t an aggressor, spying on Americans, evading laws to tilt elections. What the hell could that BE?

Part of me wants to explain this one more time. I can tell you what we do. Dave, upstairs? He monitors a bunch of gaging stations in the Delta and likes to talk about telemetry. Amy? She tracks grants and reads invoices very carefully. The guy down the hall? He holds public meetings, dozens per year, to figure out what the public wants us to do with our water. Three cubes over? He surveys culverts along the 1 to see whether salmon can get through them. Also upstairs? They inspect dams and think about whether sirens or radio announcements are more effective for announcing a dam break. Those FIENDS! There are some people whose jobs I don’t know. Maybe they’re the ones doing whatever it is that terrifies you.

But what we are actually doing isn't the real point. Here is the real point. Civil service is not inherently evil. Even regulators who have faith in their professional opinions are not inherently evil. Just because an evil regime had bureaucracies DOES NOT MEAN that bureaucracies have an intrinsic inclination to do evil. It means that evil regimes also require banal logistics. Hayek attributed one set of motives to bureaucrats under the Third Reich, and for all I know, he was right. But those motives were a characteristic of the Third Reich. Contemporary American agencies are ostensibly guided by different ideals: respecting the rule of law, balancing the competing needs of the American people, serving the people of this country with our professional knowledge. What the bureaucracy is set up to do, checks and balances within the system and the ideals of its leaders determines whether it will be corrupted, not some inherent quality of bureaucrats.

It is ironic that I am defending the agencies and civil service at a time when they are the closest I’ve ever seen to being turned into single purpose agents of a rogue executive. Hearing that Cheney and Rove gave presentations to upper managers about the close elections in their districts and how that agency’s actions could be influential offends every piece of me. Knowing that they staffed their agencies with people chosen for ideological purity is fucked up. Knowing that their decisions were so blatantly political that ethical people felt they had to leave makes me scared that agencies are being hollowed of the very critical thinkers and moral leaders they need most. So I’m telling you that you are wrong about the American civil service just when I am afraid that you are right. But I think that is a function of a power-hungry administration; I keep thinking that when the Bush leaves office, the civil service will return to our usual American ideals of governance. I hope so.

42 Comments:

Blogger billo said...

"Dave, upstairs? He monitors a bunch of gaging stations in the Delta and likes to talk about telemetry. Amy? She tracks grants and reads invoices very carefully. The guy down the hall? He holds public meetings, dozens per year, to figure out what the public wants us to do with our water. Three cubes over? He surveys culverts along the 1 to see whether salmon can get through them. Also upstairs? They inspect dams and think about whether sirens or radio announcements are more effective for announcing a dam break. "

Yep. Sounds like Nazis to me.

Joking, only joking, Megan :)

Great post.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know, I agree with anonymous. I don't know about his tone, I don't see anything wrong with it, but it seems like he makes a lot of good points.

Anyway, all of this is part of the way politics work. You're always agitating for more government involvement, and more government control, then you get angry anytime that power isn't used to your liking.

I'm sure the farmers in that case are plenty happy about the outcome. I'm not sure why you're so concerned about it. Someone had to win, and someone had to lose there.

And, as far as Cheney breaking the law, I'm not seeing that either. Specifically what law did he break? Maybe I'm just not seeing it, but, I don't think using his influence to push for decisions he wants is illegal. Of course, I'm not reading everything here very closely.

Justin

12:46 PM  
Anonymous D said...

*kicks back in the comfy chair*
not wanting to disturb the flow so much, but thought I'd point out a couple of things, that we kinda glossed in the original thread to Anon 12:11...

1] "tony said...
hey, Godwin's Law in 6 comments! Woot! 1:47 PM "

12:11? you should go look this up.
try:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

If you were wanting to front a political argument from Hayek, you should have stuck with the Soviets, to avoid the invalidation of Godwin. And some of the laughter from the cheap seats...

2]Pointing out the example of the public servants, kind of misses Hayek's overall argument about tyrannical governemnt heads, don't you think?

If we follow Megan's assertions and the overall complexion of the current administration based on documented things that they have done, you might find it is THEY that are starting to fit Hayek's tyrannical proposition, by generally going about things either disregarding long held policy, or forcing change using unacceptable application of their political will.


Personally I assert that this is done early and often in the legislative and exectutive branches of government both, and has often been so. So, this is broader than Megan's assertion about THIS administration. Still, it remains that the big difference between tyranny and democracy, IS US... and our disagreement with elected officials about how things are run. For that reason your assertion about civil servants, and Hayek... is kinda out there...

perhaps I would go so far as to call it ... wrong.

D

12:48 PM  
Anonymous lance_parrish said...

"Dave, upstairs? He monitors a bunch of gaging stations in the Delta and likes to talk about telemetry. Amy? She tracks grants and reads invoices very carefully. The guy down the hall? He holds public meetings, dozens per year, to figure out what the public wants us to do with our water."

Butthole Surfers:

Marky got with Sharon
And Sharon got Sharice
She was sharing Sharon's outlook
On the topic of disease
Mikey had a facial scar
And Bobby was a racist
They were all in love with dyin'
They were doing it in Texas
Tommy played piano
Like a kid out in the rain
Then he lost his leg in Dallas
He was dancing with a train

12:52 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dude, I love that song, especially the chorus. But I don't get the allusion, unless you're saying that we all have the same mindset (and that it is a fatal one?).

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin,

Megan isn’t saying the law was broken in this case, rather that Cheney did an end-run around the law (Megan’s words). And that’s what the article is getting at when it’s talking about the ESA and Cheney as evidenced by this quote (the first 3 articles in the series deals with Cheney’s law-breaking ways):

"What does the law say?" Christie, the former aide, recalled the vice president asking. "Isn't there some way around it?"

And then Cheney and his staff use their influence to push the issue and ensure that the NAS will due a review of the original study (and yes, this is typical politics):

"For months and months, at almost every briefing it was 'Sir, here's where we stand on the Klamath basin,'" recalled Christie, who is now a lobbyist. "His hands-on involvement, it's safe to say, elevated the issue."

Smith also wasn't sure that the Klamath case -- "a small place in a small corner of the country" -- would meet the science academy's rigorous internal process for deciding what to study. Cheney took care of that. "He called them and said, 'Please look at this, it's important,'" Smith said. "Everyone just went flying at it."

And when a critique of the NAS review was done by the NMSF lead biologist, the editing was apparently judicious:

When the lead biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service team critiqued the science academy's report in a draft opinion objecting to the plan, the critique was edited out by superiors and his objections were overruled, he said. The biologist, Michael Kelly, who has since quit the federal agency, said in a whistle-blower claim that it was clear to him that "someone at a higher level" had ordered his agency to endorse the proposal regardless of the consequences to the fish.

I think what offends Megan (and myself as well, but I guess I have to qualify this by stating I’m also a state bureaucrat and therefore one step away from being a Nazi) is that Cheney clearly and deliberately did do an end-run around ESA and the corresponding decision-making processes, and for purely political gains. When a critique showed up that didn’t agree with the NAS findings, that critique was eviscerated and the farmers got their water. Of course the revised plan was overturned in Court because it didn’t comply with ESA, which like it or not is the law. Megan’s right: if Cheney or anyone else doesn’t like the law, they need to work on changing it, because using political power to bypass the law for political gain kind of makes a mockery of the whole concept of the rule of law.

But Megan said most this already, and rather eloquently.

Tony

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't speak for this guy, and I haven't read the original post, but... To a libertarian, lists of the completely egregious things the government has done (and FWIW, I agree with you on every point) is not an argument for giving any part of the government more power. If civil servants are limiting the damage right now, I applaud them, but in 10 years the situation could be reversed. And while the civil servants may be doing wonderful things now, and may be so wonderful that "power corrupts" doesn't apply to them, any agency with power will attract exactly the type of people we wish to be protected from.

That's why libertarians have such a fixation on small government. It fixes the root of the problem, rather than the symptom.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

Clearly you haven't returned that spine yet.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous D said...

"Ennis said...
Clearly you haven't returned that spine yet. "

I think it's the whup-a$$ talkin' too...

anon 2:05... c'mon go read it all to give the commentary some context...

D

2:33 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Alright. Ennis challenged me to write a piece on turf battles, agency capture, self-interest and narrowmindedness in agencies. I will. One day. That day is not now though, because the WHUP-ASS is still surging through my veins.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous robd said...

Great post, Megan.

The Libertarian line seems to be:
"this government is doing things badly,
so we need less government".
Megans line seems to be:
"this government is doing things badly,
so we need a better government".
(correct me if I'm wrong...)

If I look at the things that went really badly wrong, Katrina, Iraq, the fact that the US lost most of the world's goodwill and support it had after 9/11, shit at the Justice Department, it is mostly because party-political hacks were appointed to rule over professional government employees.

So advantage to Megan on points.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, if only we lived in a dictatorship where government employees were free from any political pressure, that would solve all of our problems.

Justin

3:08 PM  
Anonymous mrh said...

Megan: awesome.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous ted said...

How does this post (and the subject line in particular) fit in with the whole "affirmative kindness" policy?

3:12 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Um. It fits in much better than my next post.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous robd said...

Justin,
you misunderstood me.
I do not say politics cannot make rules;
I say PARTY-politics overruling laws is the problem. This is more common under dictatorship than under democracy and rule of law.
Perhaps it is also a good argument to have the US president and majority of Congress from different parties.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...

Justin:

environmental laws exist to constrain actions of both private parties and the federal government.

As much as the current bunch believe to the contrary, the ESA limits the power of the Vice President to pick voters over fish. The law could be written the other way, but it's not.

Did Cheney break the law? Hard to tell. Did Cheney cause the Department of Interior to issue a legally invalid document? YES.

And to the anon. libertarian -- without the ESA, the bald eagle, the grey wolf, otters, various bears, many fish runs, etc. would all be already gone forever.

Without the ESA, the Klamath farmers, the commercial fishermen, the Indian Tribes, recreational fishermen, environmental groups, dam operators and probably some other groups I'm missing would be tied up in never-ending complex litigation under common law theories of nuisance, public trust, tribal rights and many more.

what continues to baffle me about libertarians, especially in the environmental context, is their belief that the federal laws create the disputes.

that's precisely backward -- laws are drafted and powers given to such monsters as Megan (oooh, scary!) in response to disputes.

but even without the statutory law, the disputes would still exist, just fought over in different ways.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're missing the point. I don't know anything about the ESA.

But, really what you're bitching and moaning about is Cheney having too much power. Then your solution isn't to limit the power of government, but to just shift it around.

Cheney has too much influence, so we should take that away, and put it in the hands of the bureaucrats.

I think the libertarian line is more along the lines of, we don't trust any of you. We don't think, oh if we could just get the RIGHT person in office everything would be perfect.

Justin

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...

Justin: I'm bitching about the Vice-President of the United States directing a senior government official to deliberately issue a legally invalid document that has tremendous ecological impact.

that's not the exercise of power, that's the abuse of power.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Your long list of Bush and Cheney "usurpations" is repetitious political talking points from the loony left playbook. If all is as you say it is, Pelosi and her ilk would have acted by now. She doesn't and won't, because it's not politically expedient anymore. The democrats are in power. That was the goal. No more, no less. They will continue to talk endlessly about those points you listed but will do nothing.

Thomas Jefferson in his bid for the presidency, savagely attacked his most likely opponent, Alexander Hamilton, over supposedly unconstitutional usurpations of power; but once in office - he did nothing about Hamilton's so-called usurpations of power; because, of course, he did nothing wrong. In fact, Hamilton's policies were good for the country. Alas, when Jefferson decided to consumate the Louisiana Purchase, he was usurping the constitution - but no matter, he was in office now.

So it goes....

Your political rantings are very pedestrian boarding on juvenile. You need to read more.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Benquo said...

Justin, the problem with the simple more/less government framing here is that this sort of this is always going to be disputed. Property rights are not obvious, and some kind of rules need to be applied. I would hope that a good Hayekian would realize that, given these constraints, the bureaucratic approach is the less-government approach. The simpler or the more objective and predictable a regulatory regime is, the more nearly it approximates a law of nature, which is not harmful in the same way as rule by whim. Making decisions based on which swing constituencies or pressure groups need to be appeased in order to remain in office is exactly the worst kind of whim-based government.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Benquo, you kick ass. Great comment. A truly law-abiding civil service limits the authority of the executive to engage in arbitary rule, and as such acts as a limitation on government power.

In a related point...

And while the civil servants may be doing wonderful things now, and may be so wonderful that "power corrupts" doesn't apply to them,

The civil service system is designed precisely to limit the true power that any one bureaucrat has. First of all, the personal (financial) rewards that can legally accrue to a civil servant from a decision are limited. Second, ideally civil servants can do nothing without simultaneous concurrence from two outside parties, the legislature to make the law and the executive to agree on how to implement it. This makes the civil service a key part of the checks and balances system; they need sign off from two competing political entities to act, and ideally this works to limit the arbitary power of government.

Of course, a determined executive that does not respect the rule of law can roll the civil service.

12:39 AM  
Blogger jasé said...

Just over from Ezra.
Well done, you.
May be a bit of a go cleaning up
the mess tho...no?
Peace & accomplishment to you.
[Unless they're utterly incompatible?]

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also from Ezra Klein... Bravo, Megan.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

There is no kind way to say this. You are a freaking idiot.

You clearly don't read. You clearly don't know what Cheney has done. You clearly don't follow the news. Otherwise you would know that Cheney has claimed the vice-presidents offices are not part of the executive branch of government. This is clearly the most radical reading of the Constitution in our nations history. Otherwise you would know that Scooter Libby, one of the best lawyers in Washington, lied to a grand jury for some reason.

If you think Megans points are leftist talking points, you clearly don't know the difference between facts and propaganda. If you think something like "they all do this", then you don't follow history at all, because no, they don't all do this. Regan didn't even do stuff like this. I wish the biggest scandal of the GWB was a proxy war in a central american country.

We are far past high crimes and misdemeanors for Cheney. We're into treason territory. He clearly thinks he is above the constitution, and as the supreme law of the land, means he is engaging in treasonous behavior. He is waging war against our government by not following its highest dictates. We are nothing but our laws, nothing without our laws, and as the second highest elected official in the land, there should be little question that he is bound by the constitution, and all of the traditions and legal interpretations that go along with it. To claim he is not part of the executive branch isn't just radical, its a high crime. If he and his office are not bound by the constitution, what are they bound by? The only logical answer is "nothing". If this is not treason, betraying an oath of loyalty to our nation, which is founded by the constitution, then what can be treason?

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, a truly law abiding civil service.

The point still is, you're angry that Cheney was able to influence this decision. But, rather than seeing the problem as anyone having the ability to exercise that kind of influence, you still think it's just a problem with who's currently holding the power.

Justin

1:16 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Yeh, Justin, that is pretty much how I see it.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Wow. Good post. You are really on fire today - it's great reading!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Real, real quick:

Mike and Anon 11:19:

Use a respectful tone, please.


Justin:

I don't think I've ever written anything here that would support saying that I am only opposed when the other side oversteps their power. Your assertion at 1:16 is false; I am incensed at governmental abuse of power no matter who does it. Please take that back and give me more credit for not being a hypocrite.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Use a respectful tone? Please...did you reread your stuff?

Hey, Anon - you rant.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

See all those other commenters? They rose above my tone and had a respectful and thoughtful conversation despite me. They reminded me to do better. My failures don't excuse yours. Please comment with affirmative kindness here, to inspire us all to do the same.

2:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan

Just remember libertarians (of the web blogger stance) believe there is no global warming, or if there is it's far too dangerous to have society do something about it, as opposed to just sitting back and seeing how it plays out.

Global warming is just a leftist plot to expand the role of the state. The unfettered market will sort it out.

There can be no winners if the government intervenes. Always, always, government destroys value for individuals and hence for society.

And remember there is no society, other than the aggregation of individual utility.

As long as you keep that in mind, you'll understand the tenor of the debate about public policy on the internet. Public policy about anything.

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps of course Von Hayek talks about the Third Reich.

So it's inflammatory, and 'Godwin's Law' to talk about Von Hayek's comments on bureaucrats and the Third Reich.

3:06 AM  
Blogger Xanthippas said...

It will never cease to amaze me, the number of people who, using very high-falutin' language, arrive at idiocy.

People forget that many an idiot is well-spoken.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't say you only care when a republican abuses his power.

I said, you think the problem is with the person, and if you could just get the right person in every job in government everything would be perfect.

But, both sides abuse the power. Civil Servants accept bribes, and lie, and steal, at least as often as people in the private sector.

My point is, you're looking at this one situation and saying the problem is Cheney, and ignoring every other problem like this.

Some of this may be necessary. In this case, there's a limited, shared resource. But, putting everything under government control is what gives these people the ability to manipulate the system.

Justin

1:18 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

xanthippas:

I haven't seen you here before, so you may not know that my comment policy is more stringent than neutrality or civility. I ask my commenters to rise to the level of affirmative kindness. We'll just assume you were making a rhetorical argument about some imaginary people and that it isn't applicable to anyone here.

Justin:

You said exactly that at 1:16, and it is a nasty accusation.

Moreover, it is simply not correct that all powerholders are corruptible to the same degree. There is a range of how corruptible they are, and I am outraged when I see someone be as extreme as Cheney is. Our system is resilient in the face of ordinary biases (which I fully agree aggregate into real problems), but someone like Cheney is cynically exploiting the system and avoiding the law to consolidate power for one political party. That is NOT how all vice-presidents behave.

1:44 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

But, both sides abuse the power. Civil Servants accept bribes, and lie, and steal, at least as often as people in the private sector.

This sounds like a variation of the "everybody's doing it." excuse. Highly popular among teenagers of all ages.

So the proffered solution is what? Insuring that all corruption is "privatized" by abolishing the civil service? Doesn't this ignore the source of the presumed bribery? Wouldn't the source of the bribe, rather than the bribe taker, be the "root of the problem'?

My point is, you're looking at this one situation and saying the problem is Cheney, and ignoring every other problem like this.

You object to dealing with specific instances of corruption as opposed to waiting until all instances of corruption can be identified and dealt with?

Yes, I suppose that would pose a problem.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think it's a nasty accusation, then I'm not phrasing it correctly still.

Maybe they're not all corruptible, but corrupt people always end up in office. It's hardly a rare occurrence. I don't see how you expect that to change. It seems ridiculous to just blindly hope that we'll stop electing, or hiring corrupt people into positions of power.

Getting outraged over what Cheney seems ridiculous too. Maybe it was bad, and he should be held accountable. But, you're still ignoring the root of the problem. How was he able to do this? How are the others able to get away with it?

In this case, I still haven't seen anyone say he actually did something illegal, though it's possible I missed it there are a lot of comments across several posts.

Justin

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not excusing anyone's behavior in this either.

And, certainly, if someone accepts a bribe, or does something illegal, they should be held accountable.

But you shouldn't stop at that. And, like I said just before, I don't think anyone has made any argument that what Cheney did was actually illegal. So, the only thing to be outraged about is his ability to influence.

And, really, the point here is, Megan is always for more government control over everything, even private decisions that don't affect anyone but the person involved. She'll just argue that if anyone is hurt anywhere, it hurts her, and that's reason enough for the government to step in.

And, that's really what I see as the root of the problem.

Justin

2:49 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

She'll just argue that if anyone is hurt anywhere, it hurts her, and that's reason enough for the government to step in.

Justin, I'm a newbie here so I can't judge whether your allegation that Megan is everywhere and at all times in favor of giving greater power to the government is correct or not.

However, I have to point out that there is, in principle, nothing extreme or outlandish in the attitude you describe above. There is nothing in US law or traditional governence dictating that an action must impact all members of society before the government intervenes.

Indeed, unless you advocate the abolition of all laws except those pertaining to contract, the principle you object to is inherent to the legal system.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

Justin,

I understand what you are trying to say, and I agree with you.

I don't have anything useful to add, but I wanted you to know that somebody did.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@mike
What are you talking about Hamilton being good for the country? Is imposing ineffectual price controls and tariffs a good idea? It stifled American growth and stopped capitalism from doing what it does best: enrich the poor. ("Free to Choose" by Milton Friedman)

10:25 PM  

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