January 19, 2011
Obama's Cellophane ManBy Mike Johnson
Every romping, stomping version of the musical comedy Chicago has its "Mister Cellophane." The Oscar-winning movie has John C. Reilly. The ongoing national tragedy currently running in Washington has Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce. Why did Obama choose a Cellophane Man for Commerce Secretary? Because Obama had already been twice embarrassed, and he does not like to be embarrassed.
Bill Richardson was his first choice, but Bill got in trouble (and not for the first time) and had to pull out. Second choice was Judd Gregg, a Republican. Judd's ego was flattered, but his innate New Hampshire common sense kicked in, and he also withdrew his name from consideration.
Third choice, Gary Locke, had been the Governor of Washington. He supported Hillary in the presidential election. A safe and noncontroversial nominee, but not an Obama groupie. No problem getting him confirmed, but you can bet that he was told that he was essentially a figurehead, to be rolled out at appropriate galas, but otherwise to be kept wrapped in cellophane -- "invisible, inconsequential."
The year 2010 did not contain a good summer in the Department of Commerce (DOC) and its major satrapy, NOAA. The Gulf oil spill was an ecological disaster, made all the more embarrassing by gross mismanagement, ugly public relations, and the inevitable cover-up. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Obama's environmentalist rock star and anointed administrator of NOAA, received particularly hard hits over the Gulf spill, as exemplified by this Huffington Post piece.
Every black oil cloud has a silver lining -- the Gulf oil spill publicity masked another nasty scandal within NOAA, a scandal of NOAA's own making. NOAA and NOAA's Fisheries Service represent a horrible example of big government run amok, a frightful combination of Bigfoot and Big Brother.
Over the past several years, there has been an increasingly bitter adversarial relationship between the federal government and the commercial fishing industry, particularly in New England. The relationship has further deteriorated under Dr. Lubchenco. Shortly after Lubchenco's confirmation, the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation requested an Inspector General investigation of the law enforcement situation. The results were stunning and highly embarrassing for NOAA. The IG has revealed incompetent management, corrupt disposition of funds generated by fines and property seizures from fishermen, and vindictive enforcement of regulations.
The initial response from NOAA was to look forward, not backward. They would rewrite procedures and policies, improve communications, and become better custodians of the people's oceans. That is just bureaucratic double-speak for doing nothing substantive. Nobody would be punished, not in Dr. Lubchenco's NOAA. There would be no revisiting the improper fines and penalties identified by the IG; no fisherman would be made whole for inappropriate government aggressiveness. Nope. Let us put this nasty business behind us and get on with ruining the fishing industry.
Everything seemed normal until the IG's final report (previously linked) of 23 September 2010. And then -- surprise! -- Gary Locke became personally involved and appointed a Special Master to look into the IG's findings and determine "whether to take action to modify or remit the penalties." This was a direct contradiction of Dr. Lubchenco's approach and a major victory for the industry.
Blots like the Gulf spill and the NOAA corruption scandal are not résumé-enhancements, but I don't think this is what pulled Locke out of his cellophane seclusion. I think Gary Locke was genuinely embarrassed to be the nominal head of such a screwed up organization. Whatever -- he became visible, and strangely, Dr. Lubchenco went into eclipse.
Secretary Locke, showing his newfound boldness, began meeting with politicians and fishing industry leaders. He met with a Congressional delegation in Washington on 23 September; met with a larger delegation of Congressional, political, and fisheries executives in Boston; and then went on to Maine, where he met with Maine congressional members and several fishermen. He committed to several corrective actions aimed at the fisheries law enforcement scandal, appearing on Maine Public Broadcasting on 27 September to say:
The industry and the local politicians were jubilant. Finally, somebody of note in the Washington establishment was showing interest and a desire to help the fishermen.
On 14 October 2010, Secretary Locke sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, saying in part that "I am prepared to issue an emergency regulation to revise catch limits whenever there is both sufficient economic and sound scientific data available to meet these requirements."
Another apparent victory for the fishing industry. A friend at court. High hope. Nobody noticed that Locke did not make this announcement in person, but rather by letter. Nobody commented upon the significantly increased visibility of Dr. Lubchenco. Only Nils Stolpe, the noted fishing industry reporter and commentator, identified Locke's commitment as no more and no less than required of him under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
A few days later, Governor Patrick sent Secretary Locke a study to justify raising allocations on his emergency authority. The data in the report more than justified emergency action by the new, bold Secretary of Commerce. But silence reigned. Nothing was heard from Secretary Locke until 7 January 2011, when he sent the governor a letter denying any changes to the status quo.
Outrage replaced optimism. "Betrayal," bellowed Barney Frank, representative from Massachusetts. Frank declared in a radio interview that he doesn't "think that Locke has the courage to stand up." He went on to say that the fishing industry struggle has moved beyond a fight on the merits to a political fight. He would not go so far as to blame Obama, preferring to emphasize Dr. Lubchenco and her minion, Eric Schwaab, as the culprits.
I cannot agree with the congressman. It makes no sense that a cabinet secretary would be taking direction from his underlings. It makes plenty of sense that an angry Obama should come down heavily on Locke and in no uncertain terms return him to his cellophane standing -- an "unimpressive, undistinguished you-know-who."
Rush Limbaugh addressed the subject on his 1/14/11 program. He said this is one of those areas where the public has no idea what is happening because the "drive-by media" will not report upon it. Rush also took exception to Frank's position that it is not Obama at fault. Rush said, "Your [Frank's] constituents' livelihood doesn't matter a hill of beans compared to the [fish]" to Obama and company. Dittos, Rush -- you are right on. Please stay involved.
In summary, there has been another victory for the Obama agenda and another defeat for the American economy, and the fishermen are reduced to litigation to stave off disaster. And so, as the curtain comes down on this American tragedy, we see the cellophane-like husk of a once-promising political career caught up in the detritus of the Obama administration, and we must reflect that this is indeed the Chicago Way.
Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small-government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire.