May 22, 2010
The Speaker Who Won't Speak with the PeopleBy Kirk W. Kelsen
Everywhere we turn, we stumble over Nancy Pelosi. Or rather, we stumble over the micro-regulations Nancy Pelosi adores. These regulations are vast new bureaucratic steps that exact compliance in the most everyday of transactions.
In my case, I stumbled over the Speaker as I converted a pre-tax retirement account to an IRA -- essentially transferring money from one bank account to another bank account. What could be simpler for a constituent (as I am) of the all-powerful Nancy Pelosi?
Ah, would that it were so. Unlike common bank transactions from, say, savings to checking, where an online click or a telephone call to customer service is all it takes, federally regulated retirement accounts require an application to control. Keep that word in mind. Applications by their nature are subject to review, and may be rejected.
It turns out that this particular application to manage my federally restricted bank account requires a Guaranteed Signature, which is like a notary on steroids -- and more difficult to find. Who requires this super signature? Well, banks are required to require it, but finding out exactly why banks are required to require a Guaranteed Signature means wading through thousands of pages of dense federal regulations with an attorney at hand; and in the end, knowing why does not even matter, so why bother?
In my case, a trifling six weeks later, the application was granted, and my (sadly small) retirement account lumbered from one exquisitely federally controlled bank to another.
Six weeks to transfer money? If those check-cashing businesses serving the poor and "undocumented" communities worked like that, Mexico's economy would collapse tomorrow. On the other hand, for those using more traditional institutions to manage a more conventional life, regulations are the rule -- without exception. Compliant and easily controlled, go-along-to-get-along citizens patiently wait. And wait. And wait.
This is how micro-regulations work in practice. No private company will knowingly defy the law on a customer's behalf, so the distinction between government authority and personal business becomes increasingly meaningless. As massive new regulations blur the division between private business and federal government, choices will become limited to products supplied only by large corporations able to comply.
Or our choices disappear altogether.
Whether for banking or health care or -- if cap-and-trade regulations become law -- selling a home or choosing what to eat, these transactions will be subject to a barrage of applications, either filled out by the citizen directly or shuffled upstream to companies supplying the goods and services we use every day. You like trans fats? Too bad. New York's Bloomberg regulations are going national.
But we'll get used to it. Engaging in federally restricted activities is like playing a board game: Comply, and your application wends through a series of non-negotiable authorizations, albeit at glacial speed. Interrupt the normal process, and it could be "back two spaces," so better to keep one's head down. Better instead (as I did) to sign the Penalty of Perjury statement swearing that I am who I am and wait for a bureaucrat to agree.
In the case of my retirement funds, Pelosi-style regulations are supposed to regulate the banks. Fair enough. Unscrupulous things can and do happen when individuals fail to exercise good judgment in their erstwhile private affairs. To protect the careless or unwitting, we cede much responsibility to the law. But my experience is that bank regulations have not regulated banks as much as they have regulated me.
What if I needed that retirement money to prevent mortgage default? Feed my family? Move to another state? Too bad: Those choices would cost, big-time. Speaker Pelosi embodies this. She'll "allow" citizens to "apply" to control things that are technically "theirs," but over which they have increasingly limited charge.
As it is with federally-limited banking, so it will be with Pelosi-architected health care. Not now, but very soon, we'll fall into the habit of "applying" for care we hope will be "granted" by some distant office whose control reaches inescapably into every home, regulating our most anxious moments. Supposing to constrain insurance companies, we shall find that Nancy Pelosi's health care act instead polices our individual freedoms.
There's a lot of stumbling to be had there, especially when confronted with life-and-death decisions. To whom will we apply for a loved-one's desperately-needed kidney, or our own? And who will grant the kidney and the procedure to replace it? Based on what criteria? In practice, there will be no distinction between federal regulations and the insurance companies required to enforce them. Intentionally or not, Nancy Pelosi has asserted jurisdiction over our bodies. In what sense do we remain free individuals now that she has done that?
Calling Speaker Pelosi to argue the finer points of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms -- or writing, or e-mail -- is pointless. For months, as a resident of District 8, I diligently contacted Pelosi's local Constituent Services Manager, Dan Bernal. Mr. Bernal thwarted my every attempt to schedule a meeting or obtain answers. To be totally clear, I asked whether the Speaker's (then-)proposed health care act abused Article 1, § 8 of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution by setting an illegal condition on my birthright citizenship.
I imagined Speaker Pelosi would want to know whether she was inadvertently making conditional the citizenship status of her ward. To that end, I asked Mr. Bernal if he would "assist me in navigating this new health care law." His reply? "No." Ultimately, Dan Bernal (the Constituent Manager managing constituents and their tiresome inquiries) cut off his constituent services to me by advising, "There is no one in this office who handles matters of constitutional law." Boy, I'll say.
In her 23 years in office, no one has seriously challenged Nancy Pelosi, politically or anywhere else. One senses little contrarian thought among her staff. They simply hang up on to their jobs and stymie, or ignore, constituents who disagree with their boss.
Is it really so hard to imagine that the contempt demonstrated by Pelosi's retinue of staffers accurately channels that of the Speaker herself? After all, Nancy Pelosi was and is the principal architect of health care legislation that was (and is) rejected by an overwhelming majority of Americans. But she did it nonetheless.
What to do? Well, vote. Americans at large have an opportunity to relieve the Speaker of her role. Having been treated with contempt, citizens can return the favor. More locally, voters in District 8 could do something altogether more commanding: We can eject her from office. While some believe that Nancy Pelosi's power helps San Francisco and that she therefore is worth keeping around, how powerful would the person who successfully runs against her be?
That is what Republicans John Dennis or Dana Walsh might find out. They are facing each other in the California June 8 primary to decide who will run to unseat Nancy Pelosi in November. A long shot? I don't know about that. Are all District 8 voters in lockstep with a Speaker who emphatically won't speak to her ingrate constituents? Well, unless they enjoy being abruptly disconnected, best not to call.
Back to that word -- "application." The distant office we shall be applying to under the health care act and which we shall all come to know -- and which will come to know us and our most intimate details -- is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Nancy Pelosi has made certain that every American will unerringly identify this department in the coming years. Did you, Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen of Flyover America, consent to that? No? Frankly, if the auto-disconnects by Speaker Pelosi's staff mean anything, she doesn't care. She's moved on.
"H-H-S." We might want to practice saying it, without stumbling and perhaps with an appropriate tone of servile respect, because, as things stand right now, our lives are going to depend on it.
Kirk W. Kelsen is a San Francisco resident and voter.