Things We Read Today (51): Wednesday

Ethical Hardship for a First Choice

The latest on Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee’s quest to push on through the state Code of Ethics and appoint Board of Education Chairwoman Eva Marie Mancuso as $200,000-per-year Interim Commissioner of Higher Education:

… Chafee acknowledged: “We are looking at our options.”

“I am aware there could be an adverse ruling from the Ethics Commission … [and] want to be prepared in case that’s an eventuality,” he said.

Asked if that meant he was interviewing other candidates, he said: “I wouldn’t go that far … just aware that the revolving door, the waiver might not be granted.”

For the background on the proposed appointment and the precedent for providing hardship waivers, see here, here, and here.  The Ethics Commission is scheduled to consider the matter on August 20.

The Board of Education’s willingness to sit on its hands for a month, combined with Chafee’s admission that he “wouldn’t go that far” as to suggest that he’s looking for a less ethically compromised candidate, should be all that’s necessary in order for the Ethics Commission to deny the hardship waiver for which the Code of Ethics allows in such cases.  The administration’s behavior clearly indicates that Mancuso is the first choice, not a last resort after even a cursory search (much less an exhaustive one).

“We need somebody in this job, and I’m not inclined to look for anybody else” is not an indication that the abstract barrier of ethics has to give because concrete barriers, like a complete dearth of qualified applicants, leave no other option.  If the Ethics Commission grants this waiver (and if its rulings aren’t going to be completely arbitrary going forward), then it will have reduced its authority to cover only government officials who want to follow the Code of Ethics.

The Missing Culprits

If this cartoon were honest, it would show President Obama and representatives of the mainstream media in the background holding paintbrushes still wet with dripping white paint.

The Latest (You Probably Haven’t Heard) on the IRS

Three items on the continuing Tea Party–targeting scandal of the IRS appeared this morning, and their nature gives some indication as to why the President (along with the media) is race-baiting on the Zimmerman-Martin trial and trying to stir up talk about the economy (five years into both his presidency and economic hardship for the American people).

First, I mentioned in passing, yesterday, that the scandal has now reached the White House’s appointed chief counsel for the IRS, William Wilkins, who appears to have met with President Obama for quite some time two days before an important milestone in the targeting.  Today, an anonymous source writing to a reliable blogger suggests that meeting was pretty unusual:

Understand, agency general counsels are not authorized to give legal advice to the President. They advise their agency heads. Only the AG and by delegation the Office of Legal Counsel to the President is authorized to give legal advice to the President. In my seven years of working at a General Counsel’s office, I have never once heard of our general counsel meeting with the President. OLC would go crazy if he did. I have worked on a couple of legal opinions that did go to the White House. And each time they were staffed through OLC. Nothing went to the President that wasn’t signed off on by OLC and delivered to him by OLC.

I offer this report with no experience by which to judge its accuracy, but with the opinion that it sure would be nice if journalists with access to powerful people would start digging and asking some questions.

Second, one person with whom such investigators might want to speak is the former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Jeffrey Zients, who met with IRS officials the day before Wilkins’s meeting with Obama.  It appears that Zients left the country a couple of weeks before the IRS scandal broke, this spring, and has not returned.

And third, initial investigation into the inappropriate search and release of the tax information of Delaware Tea Party Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell has raised a pair of peculiar red flags.  Her records were accessed through special permission sought on a Saturday, and computer records of the involved state officials’ actions are “likely destroyed.”

Getting Out of the Pension Business

Speaking of likely destruction, the pension issue continues to float around the periphery of public consciousness, at the moment cresting with the news of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing.  Sometime-policy-analyst for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity Eileen Norcross joins with Roman Hardgrave to suggest that Detroit is evidence that state and local governments really need to extricate themselves from the pension business:

Instead of governments managing defined-benefit plans and investing assets, the plan would let municipal or state employers purchase a portable annuity from an insurance company that would manage and invest the funds and deliver retirees’ monthly checks. …

One of the biggest advantages for both public employees and taxpayers is that there would be no more accounting shell games or unrealistic assumptions about the future performance of the economy. Governments would have to face the bill and fund employee benefits fully by paying the insurance company upfront. Public employees would own the annuity as they earn it and wouldn’t have to bank on the promises of politicians or budgetary vagaries. And taxpayers would no longer have to fear a sudden pension crisis that requires raising taxes or cutting services.

The critical sentence in the essay, though, is this: “Detroit is no anomaly.”

Rhode Island can pat itself on the back that Central Falls has become a case study for how to handle municipal bankruptcy.  General Treasurer Gina Raimondo can continue to ride the ripples of her pension reform.  The reality is that nothing has really been done but to buy time in the hope that some solution will appear out of the ether.

Remember that half-decade or so when it seemed that the General Assembly lurched from one budget to the next on one-time fixes, whether prematurely cashing in tobacco settlement money or shuffling around the magic Obama stimulus money?  Well, the entire country is now doing that on a massive scale.  Inasmuch as Rhode Island has been forced to be among the first to buy itself more time for some deus ex machina, it will also be among the first to face an admission that there’s only so much machina that the deus can ex.

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