A good phrase to use when you are getting the runaround on getting something done. You may have a choice between two things, lets say X and Y. But you cannot choose Y because X prevents you from doing Y. Thus you cannot choose X because Y prevents you from doing Y.
Let's say you go to the local country office to obtain a construction permit. The requirements say that you must have the blueprints of the project and must have hired contractors to work on the project, plus you also need this, that and the other forms. You have the blueprints, this, that and the other forms, however the contractors will not sign off on the project because you do not have a construction permit. So unless you bribe, I mean, "convince" the county clerk to grant you the permit so that the contractors sign off on the project or you "convince" the contractors sign off on the project so that you can obtain the permit, there will be no construction permit issued. *
In other words, there is no way to win or get ahead or accomplish anything. This is a lose-lose situation.
The term was first coined by Joseph Heller in his satirical, historical novel Catch-22. The novel is set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards. The author cited an "Air Force rule whereby a pilot continuing to fly combat missions without asking for relief is regarded as insane, but is considered sane enough to continue flying if he does make such a request." (source).
For a extended treatment of the novel, read the Wiki article here.
* I made up this example, but the more I re-read this, the more it sounds like something Mexican bureaucrats do.