A Black Hole Party: Five Things You Would Send From The Imperial City

It’s the new jenga you’ve seen on the InterTubes. You know, throwing black hole parties. How does it work? For example, GameLife offered a list of games so bad they should be tossed into a black hole (Sonic was number one). In July gadgets got The Gong.

Why not here? The Imperial City in August itself is relatively quiet if one is not enmeshed in the health care morass. Brownshirts are out on location. Even Novak’s Corvette doesn’t menace drivers and pedestrians like just a few scant years ago.

So, what should go into a black hole? We’re setting some boundaries. First, we can exile things or persons that started in, or have a {Barry McCaffery’s-best-closing-new-client-retainer-voice} ‘center of gravity’ {/Barry-McCaffery-voice} in D.C. So, for example, News Corp. itself is out of bounds. Conversely, Britt Hume’s All Stars aren’t. And so on. Here’s our list and why. By all means, offer better suggestions or save a candidate:

1. Focus Groups

They’re a disgrace. What a crude thing to exert such a cynical, corrosive impact on political conversation in America. Two specific individuals are probably responsible for staking this statistically meaningless, rare and theatrical practice into the heart of American politics. What followed for those two was a tsumani of personal wealth, empty posturings and professional copy catters. These farcical bull sessions with 20 or so participants are the political equivalent of the Wall Street fake wealth creation of the 2000s. CDOs with zero real value and lots of toxicity. Yet the practice determines the very vocabulary that almost everyone uses on a policy issue, changing estate taxes to ‘death taxes’, global warming to ‘climate change’, and so on whether they know it or not.

We cop to using them, too, to manipulate a Congress, media and White House on behalf of private sector clients. Mostly because our clients believe in the stuff like some arcane druidic rite. Sadly, it also works. (You’d be surprised how ‘sophisticated’ media, politicians, other operatives lap it up). There was a time when a politician or their speechwriter offered the best words they knew how at the time. America was a better place then.

Don’t believe us? You must adore Xe!

Extra Credit For Those Who Smile Seeing This

2. 501(c)(3)s and the IRS Itself

Get rid of them all. Completely. Start over. Keep the valuable and honest ones going. Cut out cynicism from the system.

Too good to be true? A black hole can work wonders. The 501(c)(3) designation is from the IRS. It identifies non-profit, non-partisan organizations to whom donations might be made tax exempt. Originally, no irony was intended. The claim is that the IRS bans ‘action’ organizations — that may be the funniest thing on the entire IRS website. Charitable organizations naturally are permitted to do ‘some’ lobbying. The IRS even permits tax free entities to do ‘some political activities.’

The IRS Code is not known for ironic humor but it’s here in spades. Does Heritage do ‘some’ lobbying? You betcha. We’ve been in the meetings on the Hill at the personal office and Committee levels. But are those meetings ‘some’, ‘eh, not so much’, ‘alot’? That speeding ticket is so old everyone’s eyes just roll. Norquist’s ATR is another huge joke. Particularly now, given their role in networking and communicating with the ‘angry, white Jesus-lovin’, Obama-fearin’ Amerikhuns storming recess town halls. Now Grover, whatever you may think of him personally, is not stupid. ATR’s public appearances and (we are confident) emails are all tailored to sail just this side of IRS regulation ‘on their face’. We suspect Armey’s shop is as well lawyered up. But one never knows. You’d be surprised how dumb smart politicos often are.

What we could type. But D.C. is littered with so many similar 501(c)(3)s you can’t shake a stick and . . .

All of them could become 501(c)(6)s and openly lobby, but they lose that crucial tax exempt status. In this economy particularly, that status is essential. We’ve set up 501(c)(3)s to represent industries educate lawmakers and the public. And worked for 501(c)(6s). We know the line. And how it is such a quaint Ward Cleaver notion in practice at the State level, on the Hill, across Democratic and Republican Administrations and of course, the media.

Send all the 501(c)(3)s into the Black Hole. Followed by the IRS itself. Forget reform. It’s time to start over. For the 501(c)(3)s, let’s have them re-apply under more simple, clear cut and non-arbitrary or discretionary conditions. And as for the tax code? Blank sheet of paper, baby. (And you thought health care reform drew out lobbyists?).

3. Regulators, Oversight Mechanisms and Contracting

Here’s the catch all bucket that would have included IRS anyway. The U.S. economy is now too complex, too baroque, too gamed to benefit a select few against the interests of the many. (Thought we were going for the Spock there, didn’t you?) From the FCC to the EPA to GSA to DoD and so on — one has only to look at the C.F.R. to understand that regulation is a game already won by the regulated and their familiars. Of course, their lawyers et al. bill $450 an hour to read the C.F.R. You would, too. A normal person would put a gun to their head within half an hour otherwise. The word in academia on regulation is ‘captured’. Or in the case of SEC, gutted, captured and over matched. The game is complicated and understood by the alleged regulators and and the alleged ‘regulated’ — everyone else is deliberately cut out.

The FCC was and remains one of the most gamed systems in town. We say this having sat with Reed Hunt and Blair Levin (his then CoS) trying to explain why their particular administrative coercion in favor of CLECs (not that we were carrying water for the LECs) or this or that designation of spectrum would only further distort market forces and regulatory barriers to entry. Or on other matters. But we digress. We’ve seen it at every regulatory entity we’ve either been before. It’s all the very definition of inside baseball.

This black hole expedition we would synchronize, like swimming but without the water, swimmers or pool. First would go the feeble governmental entities that are the lifeblood of this ecosystem. After they slip the event horizon, then the courtiers (lobbyists). Later, the parasites (the lawyers). Then, finally, the D.C. offices of the allegedly regulated entities. Making them witness the fin de siecle before going. Buh bye. All into the black hole.

Siecle might be misplaced. Perhaps this toilet flush is necessary every 25 years or so. If so, we’d consider frequent flyer benefits at the event horizon duty free shop. We’ll put out a RFC (request for comment) and hold some administrative hearings after the Federal Register heads up.

Start new. With regulatory frameworks designed for a 21st century economy. Designed to understand and guard against the concept of capture.

4. Networked Right Wing Authoritarian Religious Infiltration

Obvious, we know. The whole C Street thing. Ensign, Sanford, Pickering, etc. But it’s far more pervasive and subversive. First, it’s as authoritarian and hostile to civil society as reported. Second, it is all about infiltration; it is an active, expanding self-aware network. We’ve seen it in action and been approached personally. It’s similar to EST and Scientology and many other organizations discussed in Margaret Singer’s “Cults in Out Midst.” Typically, we’ve seen it with Right Wingers in their fifties to early sixties. They wait for a ‘friend’s’ (this is Washington) hiccup in life or they deliberately misconstrue an event as a hiccup as an excuse to offer essentially Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’ Cliff Notes – although it is not ‘evangelical’ per se. The invitations to Church follow, Bible study, ‘coaching’ as ‘Christian duty’. Most tend to be Catholic that have approached the Stiftung (but not all). We won’t go into more here but will say within say two layers of relationships usually is a Senator or two you would recognize. But it’s not limited to Congresscritters.

And we are not amused. All of them. Off to the black hole.

5. The Tweeties

Ah, the Tweeties. No elegance, just shove em out the hatch. And not just the big mack daddy himself. Dana Milbank? Buh bye. Stephen Hayes? GONG (that beard and Cheney bio were beyond camp). Kristol, Krauthammer, Cokie, Gregory et al? GONG, GONG, GONG and GONG. And so on.

Now, we understand the murmurs. “OK Stiftung, we’re on board for this black hole thing, but here, we’re not so sure. I mean, isn’t Chris Sillizza kind of dope? And what about Chris Hayes at the Nation? Can’t we pardon some?”

It’s a legitimate concern. We have those same nightmares doubts, too.

“Stiftung, wouldn’t this black hole trip leave a huge swath open for cadres of Rachel Maddows? They’d be enthusiastic, well-intentioned, perhaps even good hearted. But wouldn’t they be also profoundly over their head, too? You know, Stiftung, proof what the Brits have shown for centuries? That an Oxbridge degree (especially via endowed slot or to up front paying Americans) means squat?”

Personally, we’d take the hit. And the karmic balance works. David Korn and Fred Hiatt in heated debate across billions of years inside the black hole. Who knows, David Broder might even decide to retire during the interregnum.


  1. Hunter says

    Agree that politically a reset is impossible, much less a decent one. I was just wondering if we could imagine a decent system being produced if a philosopher king were given absolute power for a day (long enough to set up the new institutions, but not so long as for power to corrupt). The libertarians claim that even in this situation, the result is always already captured. I’m pretty sure they’re wrong, but would love to see some of that poli-sci literature. Or a dedicated discussion thread. Over at Wilkinson’s place, I’ve been getting into it over tangentially related issues (also related to the next post here), but a dedicated forum would be nice. Maybe I could threadjack Tyler Cowen’s attempt to define progressivism in a respectful manner? I’ll have to look up Balkin et al.

  2. Anon says

    Yah, I misread it the first time, sorry. Don’t think it will happen though. As you say, it is a subject fraught with opposition from all sides.

    John Stewart does it much better than KO. He even manages to get mild conservatives to watch him. But KO is a balm for us who are sore after 20 years of Rush one sided frantic yelling.

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Anon, this item is not about ‘doing away’ with regulation. But starting over and doing it better.

    The current system is broken and was before the Warlord simply decided to be Oprah and tell every industry ‘You get a car! You get a car!’ etc. We make this point not to advance a particular ideology (libertarian, conservative, or progressive) but as a practical matter based on personal observation.

    Hunter, that’s a great idea for a specific discussion thread. Frankly something that Jack Balkin et al. might hit out of the park (if they haven’t already done so – I only get over there now and then). There’s academic research on regulation and capture from a political science point of view that might be interesting. From a practical political matter it would take more than er, audacity as a new slate would be opposed by every conceivable special interest, including the existing regulatory apparat.


    He’s in the City and thus technically outside our Black Hole party. We still thought Olbermann Monday night was particularly incoherent and random in his ‘No-Longer-Special Comment’. Had a great topic but Keith really needs an editor. He was so over the top and covered so many things at the same tenor that he became Spinal Tap. Note to Olbermann’s producers: Eric Clapton stopped wanking on the guitar and realized random speed notes and making music are not the same thing. He, like Apple, learned that less is more. Think about it.

  4. Anon says

    Doing away with regulation is an old libertarian mantra but proof it works very badly is in the Peanut Butter pudding. Or the dairy tainted with melanin.

  5. Hunter says

    “Start new. With regulatory frameworks designed for a 21st century economy. Designed to understand and guard against the concept of capture.”

    Now THAT would be change I could believe in! If anyone cares to take this amusing exercise somewhat seriously, what would such frameworks actually look like? Are there general ways to guard against capture? Or would each specific industry need special designs? The libertarians say that all regulators are always already captured… The current system does seem too baroque to function, but if I understand history correctly, it did function for a time. Didn’t it. How can we build a new system that does once again?

  6. says

    Re FCC: you probably ought to be interviewed on Gordon Cook’s list. I mean it…if you’re not a member, in which case hi.

    Further re 501(3)c, I know one intimately that took over a highly profitable commercial operation, without having any obvious sink for the money; we all reckoned the solution was that the management was simply sticking to it.

  7. Proper Gander says

    I have to take slight exception to the characterization of the phrase “climate change” as a focus-grouped abomination deserving of an eternity on the other side of an event horizon. Climate change, if one allows for the unspoken modifier “human-caused” is much more scientifically descriptive. I agree, however, that it lacks the oomph of “global warming,” in a manner which is reminiscent of the degeneration of the phrase “shell shock” to “post-traumatic stress disorder”.

    To return to my central thesis, however, Human-Caused Climate Change is better, to a scientific audience, because it denotes a broader category of problem with the same source. Will the earth warm because of human activity? Certainly, this process is well-evidenced. Will great harm be caused by this warming? Almost certainly. But to simply label the process “global warming” invites disingenuous and pig-ignorant comments every snowfall.

  8. Hunter says

    Yeah, I love the thick of it (the bbc series in the loop is based off of), and can’t wait to see it.

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