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February 26th, 2002

  The Hidden Hand of EFTA


The February 17th New York Post ran a news item headlined "The Noon Swoon." The Post had discovered that four city high schools send their students home at midday on Wednesdays, giving them the rest of the day off. The excuse offered by the schools is that Wednesday afternoons are used by the staff for "professional development." A principal at one of the schools denied indignantly that the weekly early dismissal is depriving students of class time. He insisted that, to the contrary, it helps the students "by giving teachers part of one day to improve the curriculum and their instructional skills." The diligent Post reporter tracked down one teacher polishing up his "instructional skills" at a local meeting-place named the Austin Alehouse.

As soon as I read that item, I knew that the hidden hand of EFTA must be behind this policy. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but so much of what goes on in our world can only be explained by invoking these malign secret societies that, all unknown to most people, manipulate affairs from behind the scenes. Three years ago, in the print National Review, I uncovered one of them, the SPCDH. Regardless of any personal danger I may be placing myself in, I now feel it is my duty as a soon-to-be citizen to carry forward this work by exposing EFTA, in the hope that an awakened public will prevent these sinister agents of discord from further sapping away at the moral foundations of this nation.

"EFTA" stands for "the Easier-For-Them Association."  The aim of this secret brotherhood is to infiltrate all organizations whose chartered purpose is to serve the public in some way. Once they have taken up key positions in such an organization, the EFTA moles then set about subverting all its processes and procedures — enlisting the aid of corrupt or unsuspecting legislators when necessary — so that the work of the organization, instead of being oriented towards true public service, is re-directed towards the ease and comfort of the organization's employees. Closing down a school on Wednesday afternoons is unlikely to do much for the students' educational attainment, whatever that sputtering principal may say, but it sure makes life easier for the teachers. I bet those teachers all have EFTA decoder rings.

EFTA is not entirely absent from the private sector of the economy. Say you have bought a computer for your home office, with a 3-year on-site warranty agreement covering maintenance and repair. The thing breaks down. You call the service line. Instead of just sending a guy round to fix your computer, which is what you believed you had signed up and paid for, they take you through a 2-hour phone questionnaire, the questions so dumb and irrelevant that you are soon spitting the answers at them through clenched teeth … And still they won't send a technician out, claiming your answers to questions 157 and 233 don't jibe. The hidden hand of EFTA, mark my words.

In a case like that you can at least console yourself by swearing never to buy from that computer store again. It's hard for EFTA to make much headway against the logic of the market. In the public sector, on the other hand, EFTA really comes into its own. You just have to pick up a newspaper to see them at work.

Consider, for example, the current condition of the State of Maryland under State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. (who is, like most EFTA agents, a Democrat). Curran has declared his intention that Maryland should become the first state in the Union to outlaw handgun ownership in all but the most restricted circumstances. One of his key strategies has been to have state police build a database of all convictions in the state, for any offense at all going back to the 1960s, and then to deny handgun licenses to anyone convicted of anything punishable by more than two years in jail, regardless of the actual sentence handed down by the court. An upright, conscientious and law-abiding citizen of Maryland can now be denied a handgun license because he spent a night in jail following a bar-room scuffle 30 years ago. This is, of course, an idiotic policy, but look at it from the cops' point of view. Which would you rather spend your working day doing: chasing dangerous criminals down alleys, or sitting in a pleasant air-conditioned office trawling through a database for 30-year-old misdemeanors? Easier For Them, you see.

A friend who does volunteer work in prisons tells me that the prison service is another hotbed of EFTA activism. Says he: "Why do you think dangerous and difficult prisoners get parole on good reports from the staff? It's because the staff want to be rid of them. It makes life Easier For Them."  The IRS is, of course, a great bastion of EFTA values. While Enron was sluicing billions of dollars in and out of fake corporations, where was the IRS? Now compare what happens if you, Joe Citizen, come up $300 short on your return. Why does the IRS give a free pass to Enron and Jesse Jackson, but come down on you like a barrage of JDAMs? Because it's Easier For Them. You're a soft target. Norman Mineta (another Democrat, natch) is very obviously an EFTA operative. How else can you account for the bizarre new world of post-9/11 airport security, in which 80-year-old grandmothers from Poughkeepsie are strip-searched and have their knitting unraveled while husky young Saudi males with names full of apostrophes are waved through the gate with a smile? Because this modus operandi, silly and counter-productive though it undoubtedly is, is easier for the security people. To public servants of all kinds, soft targets are just too tempting. Soft targets make life so much Easier For Them.

It is in the education business that EFTA is most securely entrenched, though. If you are the parent of a grade-school child, you probably know about Constructivist Math. It works like this. Your child brings home a "problem of the week." Example: "15 pieces of fruit consist of twice as many apples as pears. How many apples are there and how many pears?" The child gets graded from 0 (no clue how to solve the problem) to 4 (solved it successfully, and can explain his solution). No guidance whatever is given by the classroom teacher. That would interfere with the child's "exploration" of the problem, which is supposed to be the main point of the thing. What happens, of course, is that the parent ends up working out a solution, then explaining it to the baffled child. See what's going on here? It's the same thing that is going on with all these "progressive" educational fads: The grunt work of pounding knowledge into children's heads is being unloaded from the teachers onto the parents. Why would teachers do this? Why would they not do it? It's Easier For Them.

It's the same everywhere you look. In my state, New York, hospitals are not run for the benefit of doctors and nurses. (And did you mention patients? Ha ha ha ha ha!) They are run for the benefit of the hospital porters, cooks and cleaners. Dennis Rivera, the current president of the Hospital Worker's Union, is a colossal political force in this state. When Rivera says: "Jump!" the entire state Legislature, Executive and Judiciary all yell out in unison: "How high?" Given a scheduling clash between Rivera, and, say, the President of the United States, no sane New York politician would hesitate for an instant: POTUS would have to wait. Rivera has in fact just returned from his election-year visit to the governor up in Albany, bringing back with him a huge sack full of money (much of it filched from federal emergency funds meant to assist in the post-9/11 recovery) to be distributed to his workers. In an interview last year, Rivera boasted that:

More than 65,000 of our members have job guarantees … All members get health care benefits completely paid for their families … We have aggressive training programs that are used every year by 5,000 members who go to universities … We have a very successful home owner program for members … What we're trying to do is that old axiom, "from cradle to grave."  In other words, there is nothing in the lives of our members that the union doesn't touch.

Socialism in one industry. Dear Leader Rivera doesn't mention Wednesday afternoons off for "professional development," but perhaps this new sack of money will take care of that. (And if you email to tell me that New York hospitals are part of the private sector, you will get one of my Marie of Roumania boilerplates by return — see below. Let's see: I fell off a ladder and broke my leg. Should I go to hospital A, whose rates I have heard are really good, or to hospital B, where I understand that Internet access is provided free to each bed …?) Where do the poor groaning patients figure in all this? Let me tell you, as an ex-inmate of a New York hospital ward: nowhere at all. Dennis doesn't spend any more than the occasional accidental picosecond thinking about patients, just as your average teachers' union official would have severe trouble focusing on the unfamiliar concept:  "schoolchildren."

You may whine all you like about Congress and the courts; you may rail against NAFTA, OPEC, the EU and the UN. Those of us gifted with true insight, those of us possessed of the gnosis, know that the movements of these apparently awesome agencies are mere shadow plays. The real mainsprings of human events are hidden from the superficial eye, locked up in secret cabals like EFTA that few know about. It has been my privilege to lift the veil for a moment, to give you a glimpse of the waters that are under the earth …

Excuse me … Why does my coffee taste so funny this morning? Why is my vision blurring? What's this sudden sharp pain in my gut? Why do I … feel … so … drowsy …

Marie of Roumania.   I apologize to the many readers who didn't get this reference in last Tuesday's blog. Literary and historical allusions are tricky. Too obscure, you come across as a snob; too commonplace, you sound like a mere recycler of clichés. I thought this one was in the safety zone, but a lot of readers — including some who I know to be better-read than I am, though obviously in different books — didn't get it. I am sorry. The allusion is to a poem by Dorothy Parker, who I find irresistible. (She is on my CD, but with a different poem). Here is the entire poem, whose title is "Comment." Marie of Roumania was an actual person, one of Queen Victoria's numberless grandchildren, whose U.S. tour in 1927 was a great publicity success.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

So signing off as "Yours sincerely, Marie of Roumania" is a hifalutin' way of saying: "Yeah, right!"