Shuffling federal paperwork
The right-wing part of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, with John Boehner in the role of spineless lackey rather than courageous speaker, has shut down much of the federal government.
Eighty Republicans signed a letter expressing their intent to shut down the government. It was a political act of defiance against government by people who themselves were government. The millionaire representatives have grabbed the media, which they publicly say they hate - except for one TV network and a few loud-mouth blowhards on radio - to proclaim their demands.
They demand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, be defunded. To these ultra-conservatives, the most important health care insurance protection in the nation's history is a socialist trap, just like Social Security, Medicare and VA benefits. The Republicans tried more than 40 times to abolish Obamacare; more than 40 times they failed. The law was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president (who was re-elected by a majority of the people who fully knew where he stood on the ACA), found to be constitutional by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and has the support of a majority of the American people.
And so they develop slogans, and have plastered the media with the words "negotiate" and "fairness." It is the president's responsibility, they declare, to negotiate and to be fair.
Apparently, political gesturing plays well in their newly-gerrymandered districts.
What doesn't play well is the crass overt politics. In numerous polls, more than half of Americans place the blame for the shutdown not on the Democrats or President Obama, but to the Republican minority that has regressed to their lives as two-year-olds when they could scream, cry, kick and hope to get their way.
But, the minority of the Republicans do have one point when they say government (but not the Defense Department) is too big and too unwieldy - although what they don't say is that President Obama has already significantly trimmed the federal government to make it much more efficient at representing the people's needs and concerns.
We now take you back to 1975, when government began trimming itself.
In 1975, Congress had created a Federal Paperwork Commission which recommended a cabinet-level Department of Administration, "to promote more efficient, effective and responsive administration of the federal government." These transcripts may or may not have been recordings of the newly-formed department almost four decades ago.
Deep in an obscure federal building is Wilson P. Throckmorton, the first secretary of the Department of Administration. With him are his two key assistants, career administrators Samuel J. Stonewall and Waldo P. Rockbottom.
"Excuse me, sir," says Stonewall, "but I notice that you have only the American flag behind your desk. You also need a cabinet flag."
"All right, make it blue with the department's gold seal in the middle."
"Before you can get the flag, you have to fill out form DA-504 in quintuplicate. According to regulation 42, as explained in executive memo 11-07, as amended by executive memo 15-11 section 4, subsection b, all requests for executive-level flags must be approved by the Department of Administration. I don't see any problem, though. I'm sure that the Department of Administration will give its approval."
"But we are the Department of Administration."
"No, sir, you don't understand," said Rockbottom. "We have a Department of Administration in the Department of Administration. It's to handle all the paperwork. It's really very efficient, effective, and responsive."
"Well, if you say so. Now, Stonewall, what form do I fill out?"
"DA-504, sir. It's to request Form DA-505B which is what you need to request a flag. Unless, of course, the request is for items of value more than $24.95, in which case you'll need form DADA 554-332B. Or, unless you aren't willing to wait more than a year. Then, you need to requisition Form OBDADA 442.11. That's the emergency authorization form that allows you to request DADA 554-332E that'll allow speedier action within the Office of Budget of the Department of Administration of the Department of Administration."
"So, all I have to do is fill out this stack of forms and I'll get my flag."
"I'm sorry, sir. It's not quite that simple. We also have to requisition the director of the Office of Graphic Arts, his senior artist - make sure you fill out a DA36C - the chief of the Office of Public Information, and a senior-level clerk to handle the notes of the meetings."
"And what form do I use to request all of them?" asked the harassed secretary.
"It's right here," said Rockbottom, producing a handful of forms. "Forms DA-675.3 and DA-675.4, as amended. Fill them out in triplicate and the Office of Budget will probably approve your request and forward it.
"Then, will I get my flag?"
"Not quite, sir," said Rockbottom, "you'll get the authorization to request the personnel."
"But I just want a simple blue flag with - "
"Sir?" asked Stonewall.
"What is it, Stonewall?" demanded Throckmorton.
"The people you just requested have no authority to determine color. You'll have to fill out form DA-763.69 to request the Office of Budget to recommend that you break Smeltgrass free to work on the color scheme."
"All I want is a blue background!" Throckmorton cried out. "A simple blue background!"
"I'm truly sorry, sir, but regulations require a person of Smeltgrass's expertise to determine what shade of blue."
"OK, so give me Form 763.69."
"I'm terribly sorry, but first you need to fill out form DADA-1106 which requests Form DA-763 to request Smeltgrass."
Two weeks later, Throckmorton, assisted by Stonewall, Rockbottom, two stenographers and four clerk-typists, finished filling out the appropriate forms.
"Sir," asked Stonewall, "did you also want a stand for your flag?"
(Walter Brasch, an author and retired university professor from Bloomsburg, writes "Wanderings" for each Sunday edition.)