Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
Recently Kimberley A. Strassel had an instructive column in the Wall Street Journal that illustrated the truth of the old joke that you’re in trouble when you hear, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”
Strassel’s column was about a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the Music Teachers National Association. It seems the FTC worries that and MTNA’s code of ethics includes a provision that one music teacher shouldn’t poach the students of another.
“Horrors!” said the FTC. “That could be anti-competitive.” And though it has no authority over such organizations, it began to put the MTNA over the investigative jumps, which the organization can’t afford to put to a judicial test case.
Strassel concludes that the current national administration “has a tendency toward abuse of power.”
This may be more true of the Obama administration than of some others, but many a federal agency has ridden roughshod over individuals and organizations because, as Strassel says of the FTC, “it can.”
Here are some examples encountered in my own experience:
Our error, too bad: Way back in the Carter administration, an agent of the Federal Housing Administration required a woman to effect repairs on her house before she could refinance. An FHA inspector said the repairs were fine, but the contractor actually had damaged the home to the point that it could not be resold.
Yours truly investigated and wrote a story about the problem. I found FHA documents that said, in essence, “It’s our mistake, but there’s no mechanism for remedying it, so the homeowner is out of luck.” Eventually, a Washington Post writer produced a column based on my story (no attribution, of course), and the agency was shamed into making it right.
What? Us petty? Then there was the time the Federal Emergency Management Agency created its own emergency by “moving” a creek from one side of a little valley to the other. The water course didn’t move in actuality, but it did move according to FEMA’s revised and very official map.
A homeowner, trying to refinance, discovered the error, because his mortgage company said, “Hey, buddy, did you know your home is in a flood zone? Sorry, we can’t lend on that.”
Calls and letters to FEMA netted the bureaucratic equivalent of “you’re out of luck,” but a letter to a congressman brought swift action, and the home in question was moved out the nonexistent “flood zone.”
Of course, FEMA, rather than repair the entire erroneous map, only corrected it for the one home. In the future, when property owners on that side of the valley try to refinance or sell their homes, they will discover they are in a “flood zone.” The bureaucrats would rather put one owner after another through the agonies of getting the error corrected than fix the faulty map once and for all.
‘Affordable’ Care Act – really? Some hard-working, very low-income workers we know actually made their way through the Covered California website and discovered, much to their delight, that due to their meager incomes, they were entitled to health insurance that – with subsidies – would cost them only about a dollar a month.
This sounded great to the workers, because the health insurance they could buy through their company’s plan was prohibitively expensive.
But their attempts to sign up for the subsidized insurance were rebuffed. They were told that because their company offered its own plan, they were ineligible for the plan they could afford.
Efforts to explain their plight so far have been met with the bureaucratic response: “A rule is a rule. You’re out of luck.” Next comes the letter to the congressman.
We have a friend who once told us he believed some problems were too big for anything but government to solve. We’d suggest no citizen’s problem is too small for big government to ignore.
Time out! Yours truly will be absent from this space for a few weeks, following my second total hip replacement. Meanwhile, my spouse and I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.