Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Book Week; Is Washington Incapable of Reform?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Book Week; Is Washington Incapable of Reform?

Article excerpt

A collection of tidbits from books read by the Times-Union's editorial page staff.

Government is so big that the usual solutions won't work. It's time for civil disobedience.

That's the thesis of social scientist Charles Murray in his new book "By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission."

His solution is bound to be controversial - a constitutional convention makes more sense - but his description of the problem is all too real.

Murray writes that there are so many laws on the books that they can't possibly be known, let alone followed. In other words, ignorance is an excuse. This leaves citizens vulnerable to an arbitrary federal government that can decide to enforce laws at a whim.

The tax code is riddled with exceptions and complications that favor the well connected.

"Between 1998 and 2004, half the senators and 42 percent of House members who left Congress became lobbyists," Murray writes.

The system is so corrupt that neither party can be trusted to reform it.

"It is impossible for a government in the grip of the disease to cure itself," Murray writes.

The bureaucrats are so entrenched - look at Veterans Affairs - that they resist meaningful reform. All 470 senior managers in the VA had received ratings of fully successful or higher. In the entire federal government, only 15 people received either of the two lowest performance ratings in the most recent year.

The typical Cabinet department has 22 layers of management - thus the ridiculous titles of middle managers.

The entire federal government fired just .55 percent of its workers in 2010.

Since the political process is broken, Murray suggests the legal system, using lawsuits to rebuild liberty.

It's a drastic idea, but he makes a good case that drastic measures are needed.

Constitutional amendments that enforce term limits for Congress and that enforce transparency for lobbyists seem more practical.

"I am frightened by how close we are to losing America's soul," Murray writes.

WAR: CUTTING LOSSES

America has been in a frequent state of war since World War II.

Here's an objective view of the results:

- One success - First Gulf War.

- Two stalemates - Afghanistan and Korea.

- Two defeats - Vietnam and Iraq.

The First Gulf War was a clear victory, the kind of quick war that Americans would like to conduct but rarely do.

In his book "The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts," political science professor Dominic Tierney suggests ways to deal with wars that lack tidy outcomes.

"Since 1945, Americans have experienced little except military frustration, stalemate and loss," he writes.

One lesson comes from Korea where thousands of American troops remain. Tierney says that a complete pullout from Iraq or Afghanistan may not be wise. …

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