Cracking the Czars

As expected, Obama's second term has deteriorated into a welter of scandals unmatched by any previous administration, including those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Watergate was a minor scandal that simply grew amid the hothouse of D.C. politics and media, while most of the Clinton scandals involved either skirt or money grabbing. The Obama scandals uniquely strike at the heart of American democracy, based as they are on Obama's attempt to transform the nation to reflect his Augustan image of himself.

The scandals have not yet had the impact they should, due largely to media manipulation, public inertia, and serious fumbling among Republicans and conservatives -- for instance, Darryl Issa allowing the odious Lois Lerner 5th Amendment protection she was not entitled to.

The only solution is to continue the pressure. Watergate required nearly eighteen months of simmering before it boiled over. The same is likely to be true here. This leads us to the question as to why one of the most potentially fertile fields for administration scandal, the Obama czars, has been so far overlooked.

As with everything else, the concept of the czar -- extra-constitutional public officials hired by the Executive branch to spearhead particular efforts on an emergency basis -- has been abused by Obama. Czars go back to FDR's "dollar-a-year" men appointed to oversee various aspects of the war effort. The concept was revived in the 1960s to attack drug abuse, presented as a crisis situation not amenable to ordinary solutions.

In truth, the "drug czars" were no more than a PR gimmick. Drug smuggling could have been (and still could be) shut down utilizing already existing resources. This has not been done for a number of reasons, including relations with Mexico, criminal infiltration of law enforcement and politics, and the fact that many leading political families - the Kennedys and Gores, for example -- have drug addicts in their ranks. It would be going too far to assert that thousands have died, a criminal class has been nurtured, and American cities crippled to assure that David Kennedy had a steady supply of heroin and cocaine, but that factor can't be overlooked either.

The drug czars were a method of making it appear that something was being done without actually going to any real effort. This remained true as the concept was expanded to include other "intractable problems" such as race relations, health care, and housing. By Bill Clinton's term, their number had expanded to eight, not a single one of whom is on record as having accomplished anything.

In his genius for sleaze, Obama saw something else in the position of "czar": a means of overcoming the limitations of the system of checks and balances that would enable him to carry out programs under the radar and without oversight by Congress -- or anyone else either. The czars were tailor-made for Obama's cards-in-sleeve method of government. A more fitting example of the perils of monkeying with the constitutional order could not be devised.

Obama has applied the concept of czar with alacrity unknown to previous administrations. He began with 32, shortly expanded to 39, and thereafter to the mid-40s. The numbers have shifted but have always remained within that range. 

How many are there now? That's difficult to say. So opaque is the cloak of bureaucratic secrecy surrounding these positions that there is no complete, accurate, and up-to-date list of Obama czars active in 2013. The administration has played a consistent game of three-card monte all down the line, abolishing some positions only to reestablish them under other names, consolidating some into a single position while spinning off others, and every other conceivable bureaucratic trick.

What have the Obama czars accomplished? We don't know. They don't report to anybody (except perhaps the Chicago Augustus himself). They don't testify before Congress. They don't publish. We don't know how many personnel are involved, or who they might be. We don't know how much has been spent by them, and on what. We don't know, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, what we don't know.

We do know the names (well, some of them). While a few are well-known figures of weight and achievement such as Paul Volcker and Ashton Carter, most are political and academic hacks of the progressive type who share in Obama's vaporous ideals and, much like him, have never directed or managed anything in their lives.

And like their master, a number of them have been involved in scandals.

Vivek Kundra - Obama's first "infotech czar" (excuse me -- Federal Chief Information Officer) was appointed in 2009. In between leaving his previous job as chief tech consultant for D.C. and taking up his new federal post, his business was raided by the FBI and two of his staffers, including his right-hand man Yusuf Acar, were arrested. Acar had been steadily promoted by Kundra to positions of increasing responsibility. Along with Sushil Bansal, he had formulated a scheme combining bribery and kickbacks utilizing ghost employees and forged time sheets. Kundra went on leave for five days before it was confirmed that he was not under suspicion, whereupon he ascended to czarhood. For the next two years, American infotech was given to the oversight of a man who had no idea that a vast fraud was being run out of his own office.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, erstwhile health policy czar, could serve as a revolving-door poster girl. After a stint as Medicare chief for Bill Clinton, she departed government for the health-care industry, where she earned something on the order of six million dollars from various directorships and boards. Unfortunately, many of those companies wound up under investigation or worse. Several were involved in kickback and related billing schemes, others violated federal quality standards, (including one that "neglected" to issue warnings about a flawed implanted heart defibrillator responsible for 12 deaths), while still others were hit with whistleblower lawsuits. One company, Boston Scientific Corp., received no less than five state or federal subpoenas during a single year. While it can be argued that as a director DeParle was not directly responsible for operations, we could also paraphrase Oscar Wilde to note that while sitting on the board of one corrupt company might be a misfortune, sitting on the boards of six seems a little... careless.

Adolfo Carrion was Obama's original "housing czar", or "Head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs." While serving as Bronx borough president, Carrion benefited from tens of thousands of dollars  in donations from development companies that coincidentally received borough contracts worth hundreds of millions shortly afterward. An architect who renovated Carrion's City Island home magically ended up working on three Bronx housing projects, though he didn't actually get paid for the work he did for Carrion until questions arose surrounding Carrion's nomination. Funny how New York politics looks so much like Chicago politics, isn't it?

Steven Rattner, Obama's car czar, was actually nudged out of office due to scandal. His previous investment firm, the Quandrangle Group, came under SEC scrutiny so intense that not even an offhand word from the Chicago messiah could avert it. The company wound up paying $12 million in fines due to a kickback scheme involving a New York State pension fund -- a scheme in which Rattner, it seems, had personally arranged the payments.

● Then there's Carol Browner who... well, we actually have no idea what Carol might have done. You see, when selected as Obama's climate czar, the first thing she did was order all electronic records of her previous government service as EPA chief, including hard drives, to be destroyed. She also refused to use email under any circumstances. It seems that an email involving a department she once worked for had been subject to some kind of "misinterpretation." All perfectly understandable -- if somebody working for the government didn't want to use phones, or writing, who would ever object?

And the others? See Rumsfeld, Donald. We don't know, and nobody -- in the Congress, the media, or anywhere else -- has bothered to ask. (And I'm not overlooking Van Jones -- being a communist is an abomination, not a scandal.) But nobody is going to tell me that among several dozen handpicked Obama goofs, operating in complete secrecy and under Chicago rules, there is no mischief going on.

The czars represent rich pickings for any congressman with a spine of titanium and a suitable committee seat. Staffers and investigators need to be dispatched like Bolshies storming the Winter Palace. Obama will doubtlessly squeal "executive privilege," but it would be worthwhile in and itself to establish once and for all just how far that extends.  If necessary, the courts can be utilized, with subpoenas aimed at where the funding for these positions came from, who got how much, and where it all went.  I guarantee you that rocks will start to flip over, with all kinds of interesting specimens wriggling out. Those with the power of speech will start to talk. Who knows -- one of them may even have an old hard drive of Carole B. in its mandibles. 

Hitting the czars would open a valuable second (or third, or maybe fourth, if anyone's counting) front in the scandal campaigns against Barack Obama. Increase the weight and pressure and eventually something will give.