Failure by public officials goes unpunished

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

On April 15, 1912, a Monday morning 100 years ago, the Titanic ? the newest, biggest and supposedly safest passenger ship in the world ? sank on its first trip from England to New York. Of the 2,224 people on board, 1,514 were killed.

We know almost every detail about that tragedy because government in America was very different back then.

Members of Congress had small salaries, no pensions, and limited power. Term limits were not needed because few people wanted more than one or two terms.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress very specific and limited powers. One of them is to ?regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states.?

Back then, members of Congress never dreamed of using this ?commerce clause? to buy re-election by spending public money on sand for beaches, or home mortgages, food, cell phones, health care, flood insurance, etc. for private citizens.

But they did use that commerce clause to quickly find out the truth as to why so many people died on the Titanic and who was responsible, regardless of politics ? and then make commerce safer.

On Wednesday morning, April 17, 1912, just two days after the Titanic went down, Republican Sen. Alden Smith called a meeting of his Senate Commerce Committee and issued subpoenas. He then went to the White House and persuaded Republican President William Taft to order the Coast Guard to escort the rescue ship Carpathia into New York and prevent anyone from leaving the ship ? especially Bruce Ismay, CEO of the huge British shipping company that owned the Titanic.

Sen. Smith then took an afternoon train to New York. His cab got to the pier that evening as the rescue ship arrived with all 710 survivors. Smith subpoenaed all the adults to testify at hearings to begin in less than two days at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Ismay was the first to be questioned under oath, starting at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 19, 1912. Neither he nor anyone else had time to rehearse his story with lawyers or others. The Senate Commerce Committee finished its work and published a detailed and accurate written report on May 28, 1912 ? just six weeks after the Titanic sank.

The report identified by name who was responsible and why ? and provided specific, realistic and effective ways to quickly make passenger ships much safer.

We teach our kids today that this was a ?Gilded Age? of ?unfettered capitalism.? But in 1912, shipping tycoon Bruce Ismay was held accountable for causing this disaster. He was disgraced and lost everything.

We don?t do that in today?s ?progressive? age. Congress did not quickly hold hearings to learn the truth about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed 3,000 Americans. It appointed a commission that held its first hearing 19 months later on March 31. Those responsible had plenty of time to talk to lawyers, fix documents, and compare and rehearse their stories.

None of the government officials who made the mistakes that killed thousands of Americans lost his or her job, pension, or even a day?s pay. Instead they were all rewarded with bonuses and kept their money and power.

Congress was even worse with the financial collapse of 2008. The investigations were led by the two Democrats who got gifts and campaign cash from mortgage companies including the government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But Republicans weren?t looking for the truth either. That is because they went along with the Democrats for six years even when Republicans controlled the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.

State and local governments today also don?t investigate failures. And so they also repeat them again and again.

They never investigated and punished police officers who covered up dangerous traffic violations by other police ? even when far too many people, including our governor, were killed or injured.

They never investigated or held anyone accountable for colossal failures like borrowing $268 million for a new empty Convention Center in Atlantic City, $100 million to turn the old Boardwalk Hall into an empty sports and entertainment complex, $16 million for a vacant baseball stadium, or $75 million for an equally empty convention center in Wildwood.

Because nobody investigates or punishes failure by public officials, we now have a political culture that rewards failure and guarantees more of it. Whoever profited from building the useless ?anti-terrorism? fence by milepost 28 on the Parkway will probably profit again by tearing it down.

(Reprinted from April 11, 2012 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties,

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see, email or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.

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  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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