Washington Watch



Anyone who had any lingering doubts about the inherent statism of Jimmy Carter can have little doubt after the natural gas crisis brought on by the Winter of '77. Jimmy may not have known his way to the executive washroom yet, but he knew how to move his hands to the levers of increased personal power. He moved swiftly and surefootedly, this "outsider," as if he had been a Washington bureaucrat all his life.

It was a classic situation. A problem was escalated into a "crisis" by years of government price controls and regulations. Carter orchestrated the crisis with dramatic helicopter trips and expressions of grave concern. Then, instead of taking the sensible step of removing wellhead gas price controls, he moved more authority into the president's hands. Thus he could allow prices to rise to alleviate the "crisis," but that temporary crisis authority is likely to be about as temporary as that other "temporary" response to a crisis, the Federal Energy Administration.

There were other bonuses in the crisis. A civic-minded appeal to conserve gas and cut thermostats further inculcated the habit of jumping when the president tells you to. With pricing and allocation authority now more capricious and unpredictable than ever, new crises can be manufactured more quickly to justify future power grabs.

Jimmy Carter may have a great deal to learn about the subtleties of Washington power politics, but his instincts are firmly statist. We've got our work cut out for us.


The battle over OSHA is now being waged in the Supreme Court. With an Idaho court's decision to ban OSHA's illegal searches on Fourth Amendment grounds, the struggle has moved to the Supreme Court. There's just an outside chance that the Court will declare OSHA's modus operandi unconstitutional. The key may be whether the Court mandates outright abolition of the agency or gives it new life with a "reformed" concern for privacy rights.

Letters to your Congressmen supporting abolition of OSHA might be helpful right now. Alternatively there's a bill by Rep. George Hansen of Idaho to reform OSHA and cutback its arbitrary power which may have a real chance of passage, especially if it's given a little impetus by a favorable Supreme Court ruling.

The American Conservative Union (422 First St., S.E., Washington, DC 20003) is conducting a fairly aggressive anti-OSHA campaign. They are also interested in deregulation of the Civil Aeronautics Board and Interstate Commerce Commission. You can get details by writing them.


Libertarian Advocate is making an attack on the postal monopoly a major project this year, along with opposition to any new calls for a military draft and opposition to AT&T's new monopoly power grab.

Rep. Philip Crane will be introducing legislation to repeal the private express statutes and permit private carriers to deliver first class mail. Chances for passage are not overwhelming, but this is one of those issues where persistence may pay off, especially if a new postal rate hike arouses a new wave of public indignation. You might send a letter of support to Crane (House of Reps., Washington, DC 20515) as well as to your own Congressman.


A Crane proposal which may just have a chance this year is a bill to provide government compensation of legal fees to persons (primarily corporations dealing with regulatory agencies) which are proven not guilty in legal actions initiated by the government. Crane's bill, H.R. 1817, has been introduced with about 60 co-sponsors. A similar bill made pretty good progress during the last session of Congress.

This could be an important concept. Many corporations now sign consent decrees when attacked by regulatory agencies simply because the legal costs of proving their innocence are too high to justify a fight. A number of companies have undergone the whole legal rigmarole and proven themselves innocent of charges, but the legal costs have been stratospheric. If companies know that they can recover legal costs, they are more likely to stand up for that abbreviated version of their rights which the present regulatory structure still permits them.

Crane has also introduced companion legislation, H.R. 2034, which would grant the same compensation of legal costs to successful defendants in criminal cases. That could prove very interesting if passed.


Marvin (Mickey) Edwards, the new Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, is introducing legislation which would provide for Congressional salaries to fall as inflation rises. It doesn't have a snowball's chance of passage, of course, but it's a fun concept. More legislation like this would be welcome.


If you want to be a little frightened, write to the General Accounting Office (Washington, DC 20548) and ask for their report on U.S. participation in INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization. INTERPOL, beloved by James Bond fans, is a private organization which charges countries dues for its services (the U.S. pays about a half million a year). But the U.S. government provides INTERPOL offices in the Treasury Dept, and tax-paid civil servants for U.S. operations.

INTERPOL has access to all the data banks the U.S. government keeps, but not even the limited accountability which the Freedom of Information Act and privacy statutes mandate for U.S. government agencies. The upshot is that Interpol, at the request of a Communist or military government, could get whatever the government has in its files on you, and then ask the local police to do an investigation. The information would then disappear, except for requests by the Interpol member governments. 85 percent of Interpol requests for information in the United States involve people with no criminal records or known history of criminal activity.

The GAO recommends tighter controls on release of information to Interpol. But the GAO pulls its punches. If you really want to get concerned about the forces of international fascism, write to the National Commission of Law Enforcement and Social Justice (5930 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028) and ask for its submissions to Rep. Edward Roybal on secret Interpol agents, the CIA-Interpol connection and documentation of lying by Interpol witnesses before Congressional committees.

A new Congressional investigation of Interpol could be fascinating.