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Belmont Club

Implosion

February 26th, 2014 - 4:31 pm

A little noticed news story raises an interesting question.  A significant percentage of an entire California police department was arrested for corruption and extortion, including the retired chief and the acting chief. CBS News reports:

KING CITY, Calif. — One-third of a central California town’s police force was taken off duty after several officers were arrested in a scheme to take for themselves the impounded cars of some poor Hispanic residents, authorities said.

In the scheme, vehicles were impounded and towed, and when the car owners couldn’t pay the fees, the vehicles were sold or given away for free to some officers, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said Tuesday.

Four King City officers – including the recently retired police chief and the acting chief – have been arrested in the scheme.

They’d impound cars — towed away by a firm owned by a relative of one of the cops — and sell or keep the vehicles for themselves. But how could such a situation have come to pass?

The situation illustrates what happens when corruption acquires the critical mass to take over an entire organization until there are essentially no internal controls left to stop it. Then the entire edifice rots uncontrollably and the process continues, unhindered by self-restraint until some external check brings it to a halt. In this case there were external controls which were eventually triggered and caused the arrest of the city police force.

When an institution’s internal controls failed completely it just keeps chugging along, like a runaway automaton, until Professor Arithmetic and Engineer Murphy step in to pull the plug.

On a very large scale this phenomenon describes why a Hitler, Napoleon or Stalin can do so much damage. Having overwhelmed the checks and balances of their respective countries, nothing could stop them until the very forces of the universe seemingly applied the brakes. This metaphor has often been used to describe the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. The great commander advanced inexorably to Moscow until he fell back starved and defeated — but by whom exactly?  According to one point of view it was not Kutuzov (who remembers him?) that defeated the French Emperor, but Russia itself.  Time, distance, cold and attrition, plus the inability of Napoleon to restrain himself, annihilated the Grand Armee.

Attaque à outrance

Attaque à outrance

These same factors, on a much more tawdry scale caused the downfall of the King City police force. They just went too far; didn’t stop, couldn’t stop until the whole shebang went over the cliff.  They forgot there were other forces in the universe, forces they could not control and one day these universal forces showed up on their doorstep. Looking down at the smoldering wreckage a bystander can’t help but wonder: what were they thinking? Maybe they were thinking that in this age of spin the facts can be overruled by the lie.

It can’t. Time, distance, bankruptcy, and growing resentment eventually claim their due. But the supremacy of facts surprises people who have grown up in the belief that everything can be “fixed”.  In the movie the “Godfather”, long-time henchman Genco Abbandando appeals to the Godfather to fix his cancer. “Stay with me Godfather. Help me meet death. If he sees you, he will be frightened and leave me in peace. You can say a word, pull a few strings, eh? We’ll outwit that bastard as we outwitted all those others.” It is perhaps a dying man’s ravings, but there was half-belief in the fixability of everything nonetheless.

The Godfather versus Death? Don’t be ridiculous. Well how about Detroit versus Aritmetic? Think that’s any less ridiculous? Yet the belief that politics can overturn sums runs strong and was expressed two days ago when Detroit pensioners protested the fact that their pensions could not be paid by a city with no money.

Leaders said a plan of adjustment announced last week that would slash some city pensions by 34% was unacceptable and racist. They submitted to the bankruptcy judge their own “People’s Plan for Restructuring Toward a Sustainable Detroit,” a 10-page document showing how Detroit’s crisis could be resolved without hurting city retirees and residents, they said.

Short answer: Big banks and bondholders should accept losses, said Cecily McClellan, 61, a Detroiter and city health department retiree. Applauding and shouting approval as McClellan spoke were about three dozen people gathered at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church.

While one can sympathize with pension holders who are facing destitution and who may not be directly responsible for their predicament the question remains: how can politics overrule reality? What happens when the bondholders go bankrupt too? Who’s going the bail the bondholders and the bank? Well the government, right? That’s who’s going to bail them out. You see, Genco Abbandando wasn’t so dumb after all. He only believed the Godfather could cheat death. Detroit thinks you can cheat Arithmetic.

Detroit has not had a Republican administration nearly within living memory. If the city has been brought to its knees it was by some other force than the ineffectual Kutuzov-like efforts of the GOP. The Republicans were too weak, too inept to throw a wrench into the workings of Motor City. Perhaps the primary cause of their downfall was Detroit itself; having disabled its own internal restraints it simply did on a larger scale what the King City police force did. It ran amuck and cannibalized everything until something went snap.

Snap.

Charles Hughes Smith has a model which describes the rise and collapse of an unsustainable empire. In the beginnings of an empire the program budget is much larger than administrative costs. It is lean and effective. But as it expands the administrative costs grow proportionately faster than the program budget. It gets fatter and less efficient. As it runs out taxable resources the budget remains flat but administrative costs still continues to grow as a percentage of the total. When it finally reaches the point of implosion administration comprises nearly the whole budget except for a veneer of spin. It has hollowed itself out and collapses from its own incompetence.

Maybe there’s a moral in there somewhere. Probably it is this: do you know if your car is being towed away?


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Top Rated Comments   
Seizing and selling private property through the operations of law enforcement, often without the benefit of conviction or even charges filed, is a widely-practiced form of legalized theft. It is a huge revenue source for police departments across the country. All these schmoes did was to cut themselves in on some of the action. They are two-bit embezzlers and nothing more. If the proceeds of these impoundments flowed to the King City general fund or the police department budget, there would be no crime and no headline; it would simply be business as usual for American law enforcement.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
How many times a year/month/week/day do you hear or read of some official misconduct or corruption somewhere in the country?

Now how many times a year/month/week/day do you hear or read of the responsible parties being formally charged for their crimes?

Now how many times a year/month/week/day do you hear or read of them actually going to trial?

Now how many times a year/month/week/day do you hear or read of them being convicted of the crimes?

Finally, how many times a year/month/week/day do you hear or read of them being convicted AND RECEIVING EVEN A FRACTION OF THE LEGAL PENALTY THAT ANY MERE CITIZEN WOULD RECEIVE FOR THE SAME CRIME?

The difference between the answer to the first question, and the last, is a measure of the corruption of the government at all levels.

For extra credit, you can run the same questions for relatives of government officials.

For further study, ponder the number of government officials who despite official incomes in 6 figures, have net worths in excess of 7, 8, or 9 figures despite spending their entire lives in "public service" supposedly restricted by "ethics laws". Factor in the increasing number of government officials whose actions cannot be punished because of "sovereign immunity", and the current relative impossibility of any citizen being granted "standing" to file in court against government actions.

Toss in the high probability that there will not be honest elections this year, or any elections this year; and that even if the Institutional Republicans win it will not change any of the above.

I would tend to bet on three things. Darwin, Clausewitz, and the Gods of the Copybook Headings. And plan accordingly.

Subotai Bahadur
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
"In the beginnings of an empire the program budget is much larger than administrative costs. It is lean and effective. But as it expands the administrative costs grow proportionately faster than the program budget. It gets fatter and less efficient. As it runs out taxable resources the budget remains flat but administrative costs still continues to grow as a percentage of the total. When it finally reaches the point of implosion administration comprises nearly the whole budget except for a veneer of spin. It has hollowed itself out and collapses from its own incompetence."

If you switch certain of these terms to biological processes you will be describing terminal cancer. The end result is the same. Just as General Motors has been described as a pension and benefit service that makes cars on the side many governmental entities have become mechanisms for providing employment and benefits for government workers where the original purpose for which they supposedly exist has become a dim secondary (or worse) objective.

Consider the police departments in many jurisdictions. Often a large number of their forces are assigned to traffic patrol mainly because it brings in revenue. To hell with investigating things like thefts or burglaries. There's no money to be had there. When I lived in Austin I was burglarized three times. The first time I reported it. The officer I talked to on the phone was honest about the process--if I insisted they would send an officer to my home to make a report, but no, they wouldn't investigate it at all. I told him not to bother. The next two times it happened I didn't even report it. It would have been a waste of my time. But just try driving around Austin with an expired vehicle inspection sticker or with your seat belt unfastened and you will be apprehended rather quickly. There's money for the City in that.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (30)
All Comments   (30)
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Thank you Wretchard for introducing your great audience to the very fine Charles Hugh Smith!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tcobb:

And don't forget the jaywalking joggerette here who ''resisted arrest'' (for those of you who don't live in the PRofA, a cop grabbed her from behind and, frightened, she pulled away--''resisting'', get it?).

Her fine will add the the dept revenue and, as a plus, the Ch of Police got on TV again.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
"On a very large scale this phenomenon describes why a Hitler, Napoleon or Stalin can do so much damage."

Left one out.

"It has hollowed itself out and collapses from its own incompetence."

Get rid of those propping it up.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is that the citizens adopt an "You can't fight city hall" attitude and roll over and take it. You've got to fight it.

I had a case where the sticker on my license plate either fell off or was stolen. I had bought one and put it in place. After weeks of waiting for it, it finally arrived on the day the old one expired, so I had to install it in the rain. My guess is that I did not get the surface dry enough and the water froze and expanded, preventing a good bond.

So the sticker was off when they gave me the ticket. But by fighting it, I got them to void the ticket. I had the registration proving I had paid the license fee.

"Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

AMEN
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hey!............ If the President doesn't have to follow the law and the Congress doesn't have to follow the law and the Federal government bureaucrats don't have to follow the law, why would any low-level local police force EVER think that they might have to follow the law????
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Surprise. Nobody has to do anything unless somebody makes them.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The proximate way to stop this is to make the punishment for doing this sort of thing a confiscation of the entirety of the wealth of the perpetrators and their families and a lifetime ban on public employment at any level of government.

The ultimate way to stop this is a constitutional amendment which bans the right to vote for anyone employed by the government at that level of government. Town workers cannot vote in town elections, state workers cannot vote in state elections, federal workers cannot vote in federal elections. It's a conflict of interest and the potential for abuse outweighs any possible benefits of allowing them to vote, as we have seen since the 1930's.

Add to this laws that overtly define the act of public workers organizing and forming unions as treason, with life imprisonment or execution the punishment for conviction.

That ought to fix things.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ah, yes, giving government even more power and more reason to punish will solve the problem. That way of thinking is what got us into this mess. If we just had the right set of rules ...
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment

no mo uro,
My proposal addresses this. There are only two levels in the American federal system, state and federal. Local or town governments are creatures of the state level. Also the need is to base any restriction on the percentage of household income derived, not just on employment status. Otherwise you have a vast army of contractors and welfare recipients eating out of the public trough who are not listed as "government workers."

Calm down, treason charges should be reserved for treason. Otherwise it gets debased as a term of abuse, as has happened to a charge of rape. A real investigation probably could uncover the links to hostile foreign powers among many politicians and government labor leaders. Charges based on that, while not of treason, could be appropriate.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Richard Wirick fails to note that the Nampoleon's army for the russian campain was a composite european army, there were as many Soldiers from the different countries that were under Napeoleon' s rules as French soldiers, the german's were the first to abandon the ship
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
contrary to Stalin and to Hitler who set themselves up as war chiefs while being doctrinal politicians, Napoleon was a true war chief that didn't made genocidal wars.

Note that for defeating him most of the european nations were coalised . He might have succeeded if he hadn't been betrayed by some of his lieutnents
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
King City! The wheel of Karma turns at long last!

I remember these guys. They've operated a speed trap on the 101 for decades. I got caught speeding (admittedly, I deserved it) and had to appear in court there. While I was there, I saw the cop who ticketed me come into the courthouse lobby with three teenage hispanic kids in tow. He said to a another cop , "I brought these guys in forthwith because I didn't think they would pay the fine."

Sheesh. They didn't bring me in "forthwith", but these kids got the full treatment. I don't know for sure if it was because they were hispanic, but it sure seemed that way to me at the time. There was no doubt getting the fine money out of them was priority number one to this cop.

We all know lots of cities prey on unwary travelers and their own subjects alike, and many of them are none too subtle about it. One more story for you:

If you were unlucky enough to get your car towed in the city of Agora Hills, CA, you would find yourself waiting in a bare lobby at the tow-yard, separated from the staff by bulletproof glass while you discussed their outrageous, mandated by law towing rates. There was no furniture in the lobby, and a large, framed photograph of the town service staff playing baseball with the local police department.

Pretty much says it all.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've come close to also getting a ticket in King City too.

Try picking up a towed car in San Francisco! Figure $300 in cash - the ATM is conveniently located next to the cashier's window - sucker!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
er, that should be "tow truck company staff", not "town service staff"
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seizing and selling private property through the operations of law enforcement, often without the benefit of conviction or even charges filed, is a widely-practiced form of legalized theft. It is a huge revenue source for police departments across the country. All these schmoes did was to cut themselves in on some of the action. They are two-bit embezzlers and nothing more. If the proceeds of these impoundments flowed to the King City general fund or the police department budget, there would be no crime and no headline; it would simply be business as usual for American law enforcement.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
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