Your Government Inaction In Action
I know Bush has taken a lot of heat over federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Much as I like to bash a sitting president, I don't think I can pin this one on him. Can't blame Clinton for it, either. Can't blame the first Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, or Nixon. LBJ, JFK, Eisenhower, Truman, and even that other three-letter president, FDR, manage to escape the blame. Sure, FDR really made the bureaucracy huge, stripping Americans of freedoms they once had and subjecting those freedoms to review by a federal agancy or, more likely, a state or local agency created to fulfill a federal mandate, but he's not the one who started the whole bureaucracy ball rolling.
No, I have to reach back to 1816, when Congress ran things more than the President. I lay the blame for the bureaucracy at the feet of the 119 Jeffersonian Democrats in the House of Representatives and the then-Speaker of the House, Henry Clay.
I know Andrew Jackson would love to help me heap disdain and disrespect on Henry Clay, but I'll forego his assistance in this case, as he was instrumental in entrenching Clay's expansion of the bureaucracy for purposes of political patronage. And even though the US doesn't allow direct political appointment at all but the highest levels of the bureaucracy, there are bureaucratic agencies everywhere, created to favor this Senator's whim or that Representative's re-election hopes.
So what do these political gifts actually do for the tax dollars or deficits run up to pay for them? What benefit do we, the citizens of America receive for them? We all know the politicians get re-elected: incumbency is a powerful indicator of a politician's chances of success in an election. Those guys love a big bureaucracy, as it gives them more chances to dish out favors and increase their power base. But what about us?
I'll pass over the FEMA debacle in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I'll not mention how CIA intelligence was ignored for ideological reasons in making the decision to invade Iraq. I'll skip consideration of the Cobell v. Norton case, in which Native Americans allege the Bureau of Indian Affairs either stole and/or lost over $150 billion in handling the revenue generated from lands owned by Native Americans. No, I'll skip over all of these to focus on something which I have first-hand experience with.
I want to know about getting my free buffalo.
Back in March, 2004, I was teaching US History in high school. We had gotten to the Vietnam War and the antiwar movement. I mentioned Abbie Hoffman as one of the activists in the movement to stuff the Establishment and that he wrote a book called, Steal This Book. I remembered twenty years ago, when a friend of mine brought that book to school and showed us the fun inside. I hadn't read the whole thing, but remained intrigued.
Then it hit me: This is the Internet Age. If there's any modern book that's available online in its entirety for free, it had to be that book. A trip to Google produced a mass of links. The first three were blocked by my school district's content filtering program, but the fourth link worked just fine, proving you can't block everything objectionable.
And there it was... Steal This Book. I read it for free, which means I stole it, just like Abbie told me to! I scrolled ahead to the "Assorted Freebies" section and read an intriguing bit about "free pets":
"Every year the National Park Service gives away surplus elks in order to keep the herds under its jurisdiction from outgrowing the amount of available land for grazing. Write to: Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone, Wyoming 83020. You must be prepared to pay the freight charges for shipping the animal and guarantee that you can provide enough grazing land to keep the big fellow happy."
Now, the addresses had likely changed, but there it was. Federal herd management programs meant free elks. The next paragraph mentioned how to get free buffalo. Wow. The mental image of "the big fellow" grazing in my suburban Dallas backyard was enough to make me laugh more than fifteen seconds, which meant it would not be a good idea to actually get one.
I was nevertheless intrigued. I wanted to know more. I thought I'd pop off an email to a few federal departments and get a quick answer on the elk/buffalo situation. I must admit, I'd been spoiled by the excellent US government websites loaded with tons of useful facts and figures - the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Center for Disease Control in particular. Moreover, I'd recently gotten tremendous help in some historical research from the Library of Congress, going over and above what I'd expect anyone to do, going through presidential correspondence from 150 years ago to locate a set of letters of resignation, photocopy them, and send them to me. My impression was that, if the information was a matter of public knowledge, the US gov't was ready to dish it out on demand.
So I sent this email to the Bureau of Land Management and the Forestry Service:
Hello. I'm an American History teacher at a high school in Texas. Recently, I read that the Department of the Interior had a herd management plan that would allow private individuals to request excess elk or buffalo be sent to them for free, provided they had sufficient grazing land and would pay the freight charges.
I would like to know if this plan is still in place. If not, what has replaced it? If it is, what resources exist to assist the enterprising young elk or buffalo requestor? I don't have any desire or intention to actually acquire such animals for myself or anyone else, but the thought of shipping one as part of an overall herd management strategy is certainly intriguing.
Hope you got an answer for this one!
That was 30 March 2004.
Nothing came back after that. I wondered for a month or two, then gave up.
Then, I get this email:
Your message has been received by the Department of the Interior, National
Business Center Webteam. Thank you for your interest.
The date on the email: 17 October 2005. One year, six months, and 17 days after I sent the inquiry. And this wasn't the answer: this was the delivery receipt! Ten minutes later, I got another one, exactly like the first. Makes sense: I sent the two messages one after the other back on March 30th. If one took one year, six months, and 17 days to reach me, the other should take one year, six months, 17 days, and ten minutes to get to me.
But why it should take that long is beyond me. Shouldn't we have a right to a speedy response to normal inquiries? This wasn't a Freedom of Information Act request. I just asked if the free buffalo program was still on.
Maybe my previous experiences were anomalies. Given the lack-of-response concerns I passed over above, perhaps this is symptomatic of a wider problem - a government insulated and unresponsive to the governed, representative of and accountable to only an aristocracy of corporate interests and major wealth. If that conclusion's right, we need to be about the business of challenging the existing power structures so we can recieve representation.
If it's incorrect, then where's my free buffalo?
by Dean Webb