Saturday, November 17, 2012

“Fiscal cliff” negotiations are akin to a Thelma and Louise trilogy

posted at 1:01 pm on November 16, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

How best to describe the recurring nightmare that has been the debate over budget policy ever since, er, the Democratic Senate stopped producing budgets? In my column for The Fiscal Times, I struggled to find a cultural analogy for watching the same horror plot over and over again. I originally thought of the Halloween or Friday the 13th franchises, but those involved actual cuts, and so were disqualified. Instead, the third round of essentially the same debate in two years, dancing on the edge of a “fiscal cliff,” reminded me of Roadrunner episodes — or if the final scene in Thelma and Louise had been turned into a trilogy.
Just as with every bad horror-movie franchise, the sequels get more complicated and even worse:
Finally, now we have the third installment of the series, where none of the problems have been solved, and where all of them converge. We still have the question of the Bush-era tax rates, expiring again after the two-year reprieve from 2010. Sequestration has been added to the mix, and we still have no budget from the Senate and yet another trillion-dollar deficit. On top of that, the credit ratings agencies may re-evaluate US credit downward again if Washington can’t come up with a solution, which will make the borrowing that enables the deficit spending even more costly by driving deficits up faster.
Has our political class learned anything from the first two installments? Not so you’d notice. While Boehner has offered to return to the so-called “grand bargain” offered in a brief moment of hope in August 2011 that would have added $800 billion in new revenues, Obama has refused to offer a reasonable compromise. He gathered left-leaning business leaders Wednesday to pitch his proposal to demand twice as much in new revenue, while postponing any spending cuts and locking in current tax rates for middle-income earners.
Obama insisted during the campaign that he wants a “balanced” solution to the budget crisis. How balanced is Obama’s budget? Jim Pethokoukis at AEI calculated it — and let’s just say that it leans pretty significantly, at best:
During the presidential campaign, Obama insisted that he would be open to a compromise solution to the fiscal cliff, as long as it was “balanced.” Jim Pethokoukis analyzed the latest proposal from the White House to determine what “balanced” means to President Obama. “Of the supposed savings, then, $1.6 trillion comes from tax hikes, $577 billion comes from spending cuts, not counting saved interest,” Pethokoukis writes for AEI. “So 73 percent of the savings comes from taxes, 27 percent from spending cuts. That’s $3 of tax hikes for every $1 of spending cuts.”
And even that assumes that Obama will get around to actual cuts. When it comes to budget cuts, this administration hasn’t exactly been Michael Myers or Jason. Unfortunately, Obama remains publicly committed to prioritizing “fairness” over both compromise and growth, which precludes the obvious path to a bipartisan solution:
The better way to resolve the fiscal cliff is an approach that solves the main problem of rapidly-increasing spending and producing better revenue through economic growth and tax reform. Both parties want to reform the corporate and personal tax systems to eliminate complexity and provide stability and predictability. Rather than aim specifically at revenue, start by realizing the bipartisan goal of tax reform, which will boost investor confidence, and then address the spending that drives the deficits. That will be the only way to have a truly balanced long-term solution and a reliable increase in revenue, one that will keep America on a firm path to solvency.
However, not everyone wants to see an end in this lame-duck session to the fiscal-cliff franchise. John Aloysius Farrell argues for another round of kick-the-can to gain more breathing room for a comprehensive solution. Arguing that the debate over Bush-era tax rates are about the means rather than the end — real economic growth that will produce real revenue increases – Farrell suggests postponing everything for another two years:
A two-year delay in planned tax hikes and budget cuts would boost growth by 3 percent in 2013, the CBO estimates, with the creation of as many as 5.8 million jobs.Continuing all the expiring tax cuts would boost GDP by about 1.5 percent in 2013 and result in about 1.8 million new jobs, the CBO says. … Continuing all the tax cuts except for the high-end rates on couples earning more than $250,000 a year would pare that growth to about 1.25 percent and cost the country 200,000 jobs in 2013.
So Democrats may want to be flexible. Republicans might see the wisdom of cutting a quick deal if Obama agrees to keep the high-end tax rates below the Clinton-era top rate of 39.6 percent; or to accept a higher threshold of $500,000 or $1 million. The GOP won’t and shouldn’t “fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood,” in the now-famous words of William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. …
Obama has his legacy to consider. Congress can’t move on to other crucial needs until it gets the country’s finances fixed, said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a member of the Gang of Eight senators hoping to lead their colleagues to a bipartisan deal. But once that’s accomplished, success could build upon success. You could “add real velocity,” he said.
It’s not the time for a prolonged confrontation, such as the showdown over the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011.
Kicking the pain down the road takes a page not from Conan but from St. Augustine: “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
The problem with that analysis is that the extension would be temporary, and short-term. It would be the same kind of gimmickry that has characterized both Obamanomics for the past four years, and the tax codes themselves for decades. We might see that kind of growth if investors felt any kind of permanence about the solutions so that they can price risk more rationally over the next three to five years, or we might see a pause in that decline with a much shorter extension, say the first quarter of next year as a deadline, so that the solution doesn’t have to get put into place during an election year.
If we put another two-year extension of this debate in place, we’ll see exactly the kind of decline in investor confidence we’ve seen for the past two years, plus set the table for yet another election-year round of Thelma and Louise-style brinksmanship at the edge of a “fiscal cliff.” That’s not wise policy. That’s just Looney Tunes. We need to finally solve this problem rather than postponing the inevitable.

Twinkies – and 18000 jobs – fall victim to union-management dispute; Update: Teamsters throw bakers union under the bus?

by Ed Morrissey

Hooked on Ho-Hos? Find Ding-Dongs delectable? Were Twinkies an indelible (if particularly edible) part of your childhood? Be prepared to consign them all and many other junk-food delicacies to nostalgia. Hostess, which has made these sugary staples for years, announced this morning that they will liquidate their business and end production after failing to negotiate new labor contracts with several unions. Along with these confections, 18,000 jobs will also disappear:
“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said Gregory F. Rayburn, chief executive officer. “Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders.”
About one-third of the company’s workers are union members who are unhappy about the company’s cutbacks during its bankruptcy reorganization.
But problems with several unions — including the Bakery, Confectionery, and Tobacco workers and the Grain Millers International Union — have prevented the company from moving forward. Hostess said it will seek bankruptcy court permission to sell all of its assets. The company said bakery production has already shut down.
Without much more data than this, it’s impossible to say whether the unions or the company has been unreasonable in this dispute, or whether it might be a blend of both, as is usually the case. Sugary snacks like the kind Hostess produces have fallen out of political favor, certainly, but I doubt that sales have dropped dramatically. They have been a ubiquitous presence in supermarkets, convenience stores, and kid’s lunch bags since before I was a child, and in moderation don’t do any harm to anyone who is otherwise healthy.
Those aren’t the only places where Hostess-brand snacks have impacted the culture, either. Twinkies have especially captured the cultural imagination, and in one notable case, the legal imagination. When Dan White stood trial for the 1978 murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco, his attorneys tried to argue that White had a diminished capacity to form an intent to murder, thanks to depression that became intensified by consumption of large amounts of sugary snacks. The media dubbed this the “Twinkie Defense,” and it proved successful, as White only got a seven-year sentence. California eliminated its diminished-capacity defense shortly afterward.
On a more fun note, we’ll always have this scene from Ghostbusters:

That used to be a big Twinkie. Perhaps all sides can take one last deep breath and try working together to save 18,000 jobs rather than see an American institution disappear, along with a lot of livelihoods.
Update: I updated the headline to highlight the jobs as well as the Twinkies. Also, the jobs lost were nationwide, not in Texas, so I deleted that reference.
Update II: Like I said, I haven’t paid much attention to this fight, so I don’t have a lot of insight into whether labor or management has been more unreasonable. However, the Teamsters’ web site seems to lay the blame on the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) for refusing to go along with the Teamsters to accept the last offer from Hostess:
In fact, when Hostess attempted to throw out its collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters in court, the Teamsters fought back and won, ensuring that Hostess could not unilaterally make changes to working conditions during the several months’ long legal process that recently ended. Teamster Hostess members were allowed to decide their fate by voting on the final offer conducted by a secret mail ballot. More than two-thirds of Hostess Teamsters members voted with 53 percent voting to approve the final offer.
The BCTGM chose a different path, as is their prerogative, to not substantively look for a solution or engage in the process. BCTGM members were told there were better solutions than the final offer, although Judge Drain stated in his decision in bankruptcy court that no such solutions exist. Without complete information, BCTGM members voted by voice votes in union halls. The BCTGM reported that over 90 percent rejected the final offer and three of its units ratified the final offer.
On Friday, Nov. 9, the BCTGM began to strike at some Hostess production facilities without notice to the Teamsters despite assurances they would not proceed with job actions without contacting the Teamsters Union. This unannounced action put Teamster members in the difficult position of facing picket lines without knowing their right to honor such a line without being disciplined.
As is our longstanding tradition, Teamster members by and large are honoring Bakery Worker picket lines when encountered and complying with their contractual obligations when not encountering picket lines. The BCTGM leaders are putting Teamster members in a horrible position – asking them to support a strike that will put them out of a job when they haven’t even asked all their members to go on strike.
That strike is now on the verge of forcing the company to liquidate – it is difficult for Teamster members to believe that is what the BCTGM Hostess members ultimately wanted to accomplish when they went out on strike. We may never know unless the BCTGM members, based on the facts they know today, get to determine their fate in a secret ballot vote. Teamster members would understand that the will of the BCTGM Hostess membership was truly heard if that was the case.
That’s a pretty remarkable statement from the Teamsters.
Update (MKH): Just a little background. There’s a lot going on, here, though the bakers union strike was certainly the last straw for Hostess. The company has been in bankruptcy twice in the last decade, and as Allahpundit notes, the culture of organics and calorie-counting was working against them.
But the bakers union deserved to get thrown under the bus by the Teamsters because it looks like they threw the Teamsters under the bus, first. The Teamsters and the bakers worked together to come to a deal with Hostess in September. The bakers were quiet during negotiations, and apparently pulled a surprise move when they rejected the deal.
Hostess, which also owns Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Wonder Bread and other celebrated baked goods, has been in Chapter 11 since January, its second such filing in a decade. The key parties have been two major hedge funds and two big unions, and they’ve been fighting over wages and pensions. Hostess contends givebacks are needed for the company to emerge from bankruptcy. The unions respond they’ve given up enough. Last month, Hostess made what it said was its “last, best offer.” CEO Greg Rayburn told Fortune that union rejection would result in the company immediately filing to liquidate—and putting thousands of employees out of work. Union members were faced with a Hobson’s choice: accept drastic concession or lose their jobs.
Late last Friday the largest unions—the Teamsters—announced that by a narrow vote, 53.6% to 46.4%, its Hostess rank-and-file had approved the new collective bargaining agreement. (Out of 7,900 Teamsters voting at the company, slightly more than half cast votes). Rayburn and Teamsters leadership both offered up measured words about the “difficult” decision.
But shortly thereafter, word came that the 7,000 employees of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union had rejected Hostess’ proposal. (No details of the vote were announced, though some press reports suggested there were only voice votes at locals rather than a written mail tally.) Though the leader of the bakers’ union in recent weeks had excoriated the proposal, the rejection was nonetheless curious. That’s because the bakers’ union had been quiescent for months in bankruptcy court, letting the Teamsters engage Hostess management and the hedge funds over the company’s demands to restructure by scuttling existing labor agreements.
This is what the deal looked like. It sounds like the Teamsters really did make sacrifices, and many of them were crossing the bakers’ picket line to keep the company functioning:
The proposed new labor deal consists of an immediate 8% wage cut and work rules more favorable to the company. Employer contributions for health insurance would decrease 17%. Hostess contributions to multi-employer pension plans would cease until 2015, at which point the current required level of funding would plummet from $100 million to $25 million. According to Rayburn, the proposal has been endorsed by Hostess’s key secured lenders, which are led by hedge funds Silver Point Capital and Monarch Alternative Capital. One estimate put cost savings for Hostess in the neighborhood of $200 million.
For their part, the unions would receive two seats on a restructured nine-member board of directors and 25% of equity. That would make the unions part of Hostess’ capital structure for the first time.
Maybe they can still come to some deal. I’m guessing after the company’s previous threats to shut down, the bakers might have thought they were bluffing. The deal the Teamsters took was painful, but it’s because the company was truly in dire straits. The roughly 6,000 bakers are really handing a raw deal to 12,000 of their colleagues. And, barring that, the brand is still worth money. It won’t immediately help those who will lose their jobs in this dispute, but Twinkies may be back owned by someone new, their labor obligations vacated, and likely in a right-to-work state.

Hunch: Obama doesn’t want a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff!

 by Jazz Shaw

Everyone came away from the initial summit meeting between Obama, Boehner and Reid with big smiles and a public air of confidence that Friday’s kumbaya moment would lead to The Big Deal. Call me a cynic, but I’m still not buying it. Yesterday, AP touched on a part of this story, tossing out some ideas about how everyone – particularly Democrats – might walk away with relatively clean hands if no deal is reached on the fiscal cliff this year. It’s all true, but for some of us there’s a bit more to the story. The Democrats, for their part, seem to have plenty to gain and not much to lose.
Some Democrats are pushing an unorthodox idea for coping with the “fiscal cliff”: Let the government go over, temporarily at least, to give their party more bargaining leverage for changes later on.
The idea has plenty of skeptics, and the White House regards it frostily. But it illustrates the wide range of early negotiating positions being staked out by Republicans and Democrats as lawmakers gathered Tuesday for their first post-election talks on how to avoid the looming package of steep tax hikes and program cuts.
But why would this work for Barack Obama? Because – as we learned the hard way on election day – he can watch the polls with the best of them. And if this train goes off the rails he has reason to believe that he won’t be left holding the bag.
A new poll by Hart Research’s Geoff Garin, conducted for Americans for Tax Fairness — a group that wants the Bush-era tax cuts to end for those who earn more than $250,000 — found that a majority of voters cited changing the tax system as a key factor in their votes, and that the majority broke for President Barack Obama.
The survey also found that Democrats have changed the landscape on an issue that has eluded them for years — taxes. The survey found that most want the Bush-era cuts on top earners to expire, but that Republicans will shoulder blame if all of the Bush cuts, including those on the middle class, expire because a deal can’t be reached.
Basically, this works out to a win-win for Obama. Yes, he could look like the great peacemaker and try to strike some sort of grand bargain with Boehner. And if he did, he would likely get some of what he and the Democratic majority want in exchange for taking a slightly less than maximum raise on taxes for the most wealthy. But why?
If he takes a very hard line and forces the showdown to a collapse in discussions, several potentially positive (for him) results are baked into the cake. He can claim that Republicans refused a “balanced approach” and it’s their fault that everyone’s taxes went up. He then has the Democrats force a vote on a bill to only lower taxes on the middle class and the poor and just dares the GOP to vote against it. (They won’t.) At this point he has the tax / revenue increase he promised without giving up a single thing. Now the negotiations start anew to talk about “spending cuts” but the GOP’s major bargaining chip is gone. Obama gets to put up a far more shallow version of cuts, and if the Republicans don’t like it, they can choose to reject the deal and just let the deficit continue to skyrocket.
What Republican in their right mind could go for this? Perhaps more than we might think.
The Republican Party took the rap for the debt ceiling and is under suspicion for the fiscal cliff. A new Washington Post-Pew Research poll has 53 percent of Americans ready to blame Republicans if America actually goes over the edge and only 29 percent planning to point fingers at President Barack Obama.
Understanding this, thoughtful Republicans are feeling freer to risk the tea partiers’ wrath and cooperate with Democrats. The teams may disagree on much, but at least they’re now playing in the same ballpark.
How does that work? Fairly simple. Just as I’ve been saying since earlier this year, if you needed congressional action to raise taxes it would never happen. But in this case, to raise tax rates all you need is for Congress to do nothing. And when you need nothing done, there’s no better crack team than Congress. And once the taxes are up, even the GOP reps who have signed the Norquist pledge are free to sign a bill that lowers taxes… even if that doesn’t apply to the wealthy. They get to remain covered on their voting record in their home districts and blame the fallout on the Democrats.
Here’s the part where I reveal my secret strategy of how the GOP can thwart this plan and come out on top.
Hang on… there’s somebody at the door.

BREAKING: The president knew the truth about Benghazi

Washington Post ^ | 11/17/2012 | Jennifer Rubin

In a blockbuster report, John Solomon, the former Associated Press and Post reporter, has ferreted out the president's daily brief that informed him within 72 hours of the Sept. 11 attack that the Benghazi attack was a jihadist operation.
Citing officials directly familiar with the information, Solomon writes in the Washington Guardian that Obama and other administration officials were told that "that the attack was likely carried out by local militia and other armed extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida in the region."
He adds:
The details from the CIA and Pentagon assessments of the killing of Ambassador Chris [Stevens] were far more specific, more detailed and more current than the unclassified talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice and other officials used five days after the attack to suggest to Americans that an unruly mob angry over an anti-Islamic video was to blame, officials said.
Most of the details affirming al-Qaida links were edited or excluded from the unclassified talking points used by Rice in appearances on news programs the weekend after the attack, officials confirmed Friday. Multiple agencies were involved in excising information, doing so because it revealed sources and methods, dealt with classified intercepts or involved information that was not yet fully confirmed, the officials said.
Solomon cautions that there were bits of evidence pointing to a spontaneous attack but, as Eli Lake of the Daily Beast and others have reported, he writes: “Among the early evidence cited in the briefings to the president and other senior officials were intercepts showing some of the participants were known members or supporters of Ansar al-Sharia — the al-Qaida-sympathizing militia in Libya — and the AQIM, which is a direct affiliate of al-Qaida in northern Africa, the officials said.”

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

Petraeus Knew Benghazi Was Terrorism - Blackmailed To Lie?

IBD EDITORIALS ^ | November 17, 2012

Scandal: David Petraeus' admission that he knew almost immediately that Benghazi was a terrorist attack raises anew our question: Was he coerced into telling lawmakers Sept. 14 that it was caused by a video?
The tangled web that is Benghazi-gate got more tangled Friday when, according to Rep. Peter King, David Petraeus testified in a closed-door hearing that his agency determined immediately after the Sept. 11 Libya attack that "al-Qaida involvement" was suspected — but that the line was taken out in the final version circulated to and by administration officials.
"No one knows yet exactly who came up with the final version of the talking points," King told reporters after the House hearing on Friday. "His testimony today was that from the start, he had told us that this was a terrorist attack," he said.
King, a New York Republican, said he told Petraeus he had a "different recollection," referring to his Sept. 14 briefing to members of Congress that the attack on our Benghazi consulate was a "flash mob" gone wild in response to an Internet video.
"The original talking points were much more specific about al-Qaida involvement. And yet the final ones just said indications of extremists," King said, adding that a CIA analyst specifically told lawmakers that the al-Qaida affiliates line "was taken out." By whom and for what reason remain open questions.
This begs the question, which we raised in an earlier editorial, of whether Petraeus' Sept. 14 briefing was influenced by an administration that had knowledge of his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
If he knew almost immediately it was terrorism, as his CIA station chief reported in the first 24 hours, why did he reportedly parrot the administration's false narrative three days later?
(Excerpt) Read more at ...

NLRB to Force Businesses to Give Employee Information to Unions ^ | 15 Nov 2012 | Tony Lee

President Barack Obama's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is considering a rule that would force private businesses to turn over their workers' personal information -- such as phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules -- to union organizers.

While this rule would be intended to make it easier for union bosses to organize workers at businesses that do not have a union presence, it would also have the unintended effect of making workers vulnerable to harassment.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk argued this will allow union organizers to bother workers even after the worker tells an organizer "no" by bombarding them with phone calls, emails, and visits to their home.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has already said unions would demand card-check legislation from Obama during his second term. Card-check would essentially end secret ballot elections and force workers to vote on whether or not to join a union in front of their colleagues and union bosses, making them more susceptible to peer pressure, harassment, and intimidation...

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

The Twinkie, a Suicide (Unionside)

WSJ ^ | November 16, 2012 | Editor

Perhaps it says something about America—though we're not sure what—that iconic junk foods like Twinkies, Devil Dogs, Ho Hos snack cakes and Wonder bread have endured since the 1930s despite changing consumer health and eating habits. It does say something about institutions that can't—or refuse to—adapt to new economic times that the company behind those products has chosen to go out of business overnight.

Hostess's owners have decided to liquidate rather than ride out a nationwide strike by one of the largest of its dozen unions, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.

[snip] Union work rules usually required cake and bread products to be delivered to a single retail location using two separate trucks. Drivers weren't allowed to load their own vehicles, and the workers who loaded bread weren't allowed to load cake. On most delivery routes, another "pull up" employee moved products from back rooms to shelves.
(Excerpt) Read more at ...

Twinkie Tribute


Our perception of the insidious slide from freedom to tyranny powered by a democratic system which ignores constitutional limits can best be described as that of a slowly boiling frog. It is important for DC to chip away at our institutions rather than bring in the demolition team. Proud Americans, like a frog thrown into boiling water, would revolt if we saw politicians take all our freedoms at once…
So, it will be interesting to see how America reacts now that the temperature in our pot shot up from simmer to boil this week. I am not talking about the realization that our government has taken over the health care system with Obamacare, or that it controls our credit markets with Frank Dodd… I speak of the loss of our collective Twinkie.
Literally, Big Labor just took our Twinkies away from us. It is not surprising that socialists would target the Twinkie. To our secular society, Twinkies were the closest thing we had to the “opiate of the masses”. As a society that frowns on heroin usage, the opioid receptors of our brains depended on that creamy filling surrounded by moist cake and yellow #5 for a daily rush. In a society with BMI’s high enough to make walruses heading north green with envy, letting our Twinkie industry go down was a serious miscalculation. Where were you in this Chapter 11 Obama!!! My fellow Americans complain all the time about the not-so-mysterious rattling sound in their Chevy, but I have NEVER heard a disparaging word about the Twinkie…
There really isn’t a generation in my lifetime that hasn’t celebrated the Twinkie as an iconic symbol. Who doesn’t remember this scene from the 80′s:

Over 20 years later, Twinkies would serve as a motivating influence for life itself in a post-apocalyptic zombie world:

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give the impression that Twinkies are perfect. If they were, people wouldn’t have to deep-fry them to get the full daily recommended allowance of calories in one cake:

Needless to say, Big Labor and the Democratic party should be expecting a ton of outrage from Americans. Granted, that could just be three people, but they will be really really angry…
As a side note, 18,500 people lost their jobs in an economy that probably won’t be quick to pick up ex-Hostess factory workers…

We still have Ding Dongs!

Thank A Union

Alleging Republican 'blind eye' on defense spending, GOP senator proposes cuts!

NBC ^ | Nov 16 2012 | Tom Curry

A Senate Republican fiscal hawk offered a 74-page menu of Defense Department spending cuts Thursday that could save taxpayers nearly $68 billion over 10 years. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he and his staff had identified several categories of “non-defense spending at the Pentagon,” outlays which he said had “little to do with national security.”

At a Capitol Hill press conference, Coburn accused his fellow Senate Republicans of “having a blind eye on spending.” He summed up their approach as “It’s OK to cut spending anywhere except the Defense Department.”

But, he said “to be legitimate and have any integrity on the issue … everything has to be on the table.”
In the fiscal year which ended Sept. 30, defense outlays amounted to $651 billion, 18 percent of total federal spending, which was a decline of about 3 percent from the prior fiscal year.
One target of Coburn’s proposed cuts is personnel. He said there were too many admirals and other high-ranking officers for the size of the military. “We almost now have an admiral for every ship in the Navy,” he told reporters.
(Excerpt) Read more at ...

Benghazigate: The Disaster That Should Have Sunk Obama -- and Still Could!

The New American ^ | 16 November 2012 | William F. Jasper

Evidence continues to mount that President Obama and his administration intentionally left Benghazi diplomats unsafe and, after the 9/11 attack, tried to cover up their actions regarding Libya.

President Barack Obama has survived Benghazigate — thus far. In the weeks and days leading up to the November 6 elections, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and their advisors, no doubt, had containment of this Libyan fiasco foremost in their minds. Would toxic details of the deadly debacle leak out and spell doom for the struggling administration in the closing hours of the campaign?

A CBS News national telephone poll of likely voters conducted October 25-28 did not portend well for Team Obama. Locked in a dead heat with Mitt Romney, and with the economy in shambles and sliding toward a fiscal cliff, unemployment sky high, and a looming debt tsunami, the last thing the Obama White House could afford was a late-inning foreign policy disaster, especially when Obama propagandists were touting foreign policy and national security as their candidate’s great strength.

According to the CBS poll, only 38 percent of voters approved of President Obama’s handling of the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead: U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, his assistant Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Over half of all voters (51 percent) and 57 percent of Independents disapproved of his handling of Benghazi.

Even though the conventional wisdom held that pocketbook issues would determine the outcome of the race, Benghazi could have spelled the end for Obama. The numbers were looking very bad, and that was even with the overwhelmingly pro-Obama mainstream media bending over backward to cover for the White House and keep Libya off the media radar screens. As more and more troubling details about Benghazi began leaking out, the major corporate media smothered the facts and stuck to the White House talking points.

The full details about precisely what transpired at the American “consulate” in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012, still remain largely suppressed by the Obama administration and its accomplices in the major media. However, the damning evidence that has surfaced paints an ugly picture of a commander in chief who ignored months of repeated warnings about escalating violence and terrorist activity in Benghazi, ignored and/or denied requests for additional security, and after the attack on our “consulate” began, refused to send adequate backup and assistance to the American defenders who were vastly outnumbered and under fire.

Most of President Obama’s harshest Benghazi critics have focused on these twin security failures: failure to heed the prior warnings of those on the ground in Libya, and failure to aid our forces after they had come under attack. In addition, critics have blasted the administration for its coverup of these failures, most especially its insistence for weeks that the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was not a coordinated terrorist attack but a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video, Innocence of Muslims, that escalated out of control. (For a more extensive review of the White House disinformation campaign claiming the Benghazi attack resulted from a reaction to the video, see Alex Newman’s articles here and here ) However, what is far more damning for President Obama, and potentially far more damaging politically, is the charge that the so-called U.S. consulate in Benghazi was actually a staging center utilized by the administration for meetings between Ambassador Stevens and militant jihadist leaders and as a distribution center for supplying weapons to these anti-American jihadists, including al-Qaeda affiliates.

Charges Flying

Investigative reporter/best-selling author/radio talk-show host Aaron Klein began reporting in September that according to his Middle East sources, Ambassador Stevens and other U.S. personnel were involved in the Obama administration’s effort to destabilize and overthrow the government of Syria. Klein, the Jerusalem bureau chief for WorldNetDaily (WND), wrote in a September 24 WND column:

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador murdered in Libya, played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials speaking to WND.

Stevens served as a key contact with the Saudis to coordinate the recruitment by Saudi Arabia of Islamic fighters from North Africa and Libya. The jihadists were sent to Syria via Turkey to attack Assad’s forces, said the security officials.

This reporter interviewed Aaron Klein in Appleton, Wisconsin, on October 23, where he appeared at a joint speaking engagement with New Zealand author/researcher Trevor Loudon, author of Barack Obama and the Enemies Within.

Klein emphatically took issue with the numerous media reports that referred to the U.S. compound that was attacked on September 11 as a “U.S. consulate,” and explained why that distinction is important.

“It was not a consulate,” Aaron Klein told The New American. “According to Middle East security officials I talked to, this was a major meeting point — I would say the central meeting point — for the American diplomats, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador who was killed, to meet with officials of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, about supplying the opposition in Syria and Libya. Well, who is the opposition? In Libya, the opposition openly included jihadists, included al-Qaeda elements. In Syria, right now, the al-Qaeda elements are leading the opposition.... According to the different sources I spoke to, what we have here is a U.S. policy of arming rebels, knowing or not knowing — but I can’t understand how they would not know — that many of these rebels are jihadists.”

Consistent History

These revelations are not at all shocking to those who are familiar with the Obama administration’s record of support for virulently anti-American Islamists in Libya, including those closely allied with al-Qaeda. As we have reported previously in The New American, the Obama administration’s “Arab Spring” strategy infamously embraced terror “Emir” Abdelhakim Belhadj and his Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

The LIFG’s role in Libya as an al-Qaeda franchise was no secret. A 2007 study by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point entitled Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq reported:

Recent political developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prevalence of Libyan fighters in Iraq, and evidence of a well-established smuggling route for Libyans through Egypt, suggests that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al-Qa’ida.

The West Point study by Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman is based on an extensive cache of documents captured by U.S. forces in the Sinjar District of Iraq, including profiles of hundreds of foreign fighters who were engaged in killing U.S. and NATO personnel.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group is listed by our National Counterterrorism Center and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism as a “Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.” The United Nations Security Council likewise lists the LIFG as an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group. Nevertheless, Abdelhakim Belhadj and the LIFG received blessings (and aid) from the Obama administration. After Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, Belhadj was installed as the chief of the Military Council in the new U.S.-backed “rebel” regime in Tripoli. And Belhadj is only one of several notorious terrorists aided by the United States in our “humanitarian intervention” in Libya.

Aid for Terrorists but Not for Americans

However, while the Obama administration appears to have been hell-bent on providing aid to some of the worst terrorist elements in Libya, it repeatedly denied basic security to the Americans who were tasked with carrying out its policies. One thing that is not disputed is the fact that in the months leading up to the September 11 attacks on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi, the area had become increasingly dangerous and Ambassador Stevens and others had repeatedly requested that security be beefed up. Those requests fell on deaf ears. At a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on October 10, security officers testified concerning their exasperation at being denied increased security by State Department higher-ups during the escalating violence occurring around them in Libya.

“We were fighting a losing battle. We couldn’t even keep what we had,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, former head of a 16-member U.S. military team that helped protect the embassy in Tripoli.

A February 2012 e-mail from foreign-service officer Shawn P. Crowley to Eric A. Nordstrom, then chief security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, about the “lack of security” at the compound in Benghazi paints a grim picture. “Apologies for being a broken record, but beginning tomorrow, Benghazi will be down two agents,” Crowley wrote, noting that “we have no drivers and new local guard contract employees have no experience driving armored vehicles.”

The State Department’s Eric Nordstrom was likewise frustrated and testified regarding a conversation he had with a State Department official when asking for more agents on the ground. After being denied the requested security detail, Nordstrom said he told the State Department official:

You know what (is) most frustrating about this assignment? It’s not the hardships, it’s not the gunfire, it’s not the threats. It’s dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.... For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.

On October 19, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent President Obama a letter and 166 pages of documents related to security threats and the process of “normalization” in Libya. The letter requested that the White House respond to questions about its role in the decision to have the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya pursue a course of “normalization” that was intended to help create the perception of success in Libya and contrast it to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The letter by Reps. Issa and Chaffetz states:

Information supplied to the committee by senior officials demonstrates that not only did the administration repeatedly reject requests for increased security despite escalating violence, but it also systematically decreased existing security to dangerous and ineffective levels. We have been told repeatedly that the administration did this to effectuate a policy of ‘normalization’ in Libya after the conclusion of its civil war. These actions not only resulted in extreme vulnerability, but also undermined Ambassador Stevens and the diplomatic mission.

“Multiple warnings about security threats were contained in Ambassador Stevens’ own words in multiple cables sent to Washington, D.C., and were manifested by two prior bombings of the Benghazi compound and an assassination attempt on the British ambassador,” the Issa-Chaffetz letter continued. “The American people deserve nothing less than a full explanation from this administration about these events, including why the repeated warnings about a worsening security situation appear to have been ignored by this administration. Americans also deserve a complete explanation about your administration’s decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering American lives. These critical foreign policy decisions are not made by low or mid-level career officials — they are typically made through a structured and well-reasoned process that includes the National Security Council at the White House.”

Rather than respond substantively to the serious questions posed by the committee chairmen, the White House and its surrogates in Congress and the media went on the attack, accusing Chairman Issa of leaking classified documents that compromised national security and endangered the lives of Libyans, by revealing the identities of those who are cooperating with the United States. However, a perusal of the documents appears to bear out Rep. Issa’s assertion that these claims by Obama defenders are baseless and are aimed at diverting attention from the ongoing coverup of a Libyan policy that was, at best, irresponsible.

In an October 28 op-ed in the Washington Times entitled “Obama needs to come clean on what happened in Benghazi,” retired Admiral James A. Lyons charged that there is “an urgent need for full disclosure of what has become the ‘Benghazi Betrayal and Cover-up.’”

“The Obama national security team, including CIA, DNI and the Pentagon, apparently watched and listened to the assault on the U.S. consulate and cries for help but did nothing,” wrote Adm. Lyons, who was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

“If someone had described a fictional situation with a similar scenario and described our leadership ignoring the pleas for help, I would have said it was not realistic — not in my America — but I would have been proven wrong,” he continued.

According to Adm. Lyons:

We now know why Ambassador Christopher Stevens had to be in Benghazi the night of 9/11 to meet a Turkish representative, even though he feared for his safety. According to various reports, one of Stevens’ main missions in Libya was to facilitate the transfer of much of Gadhafi’s military equipment, including the deadly SA-7 — portable SAMs — to Islamists and other al Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting the Assad Regime in Syria....

Once the attack commenced at 10:00 p.m. Libyan time (4:00 p.m. EST), we know the mission security staff immediately contacted Washington and our embassy in Tripoli. It now appears the White House, Pentagon, State Department, CIA, NDI, JCS and various other military commands monitored the entire battle in real time via frantic phone calls from our compound and video from an overhead drone. The cries for help and support went unanswered.

“Our Benghazi mission personnel, including our two former Navy SEALs, fought for seven hours without any assistance other than help from our embassy in Tripoli, which launched within 30 minutes an aircraft carrying six Americans and 16 Libyan security guards,” Adm. Lyons noted. “It is understood they were instrumental in helping 22 of our Benghazi mission personnel escape the attack.”

Was there more that could have been done? Absolutely, says Adm. Lyons. “The Obama national security team, including CIA, DNI, State Department and the Pentagon, watched and listened to the assault but did nothing to answer repeated calls for assistance,” he charged. “It has been reported that President Obama met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in the Oval Office, presumably to see what support could be provided. After all, we had very credible military resources within striking distance. At our military base in Sigonella, Sicily, which is slightly over 400 miles from Benghazi, we had a fully equipped Special Forces unit with both transport and jet strike aircraft prepositioned. Certainly this was a force much more capable than the 22-man force from our embassy in Tripoli.”

Adm. Lyons stated:

I know those Special Forces personnel were ready to leap at the opportunity. There is no doubt in my mind they would have wiped out the terrorists attackers....

I also understand we had a C-130 gunship available, which would have quickly disposed of the terrorist attackers. This attack went on for seven hours. Our fighter jets could have been at our Benghazi mission within an hour. Our Special Forces out of Sigonella could have been there within a few hours. There is not any doubt that action on our part could have saved the lives of our two former Navy SEALs and possibly the ambassador.

“Having been in a number of similar situations, I know you have to have the courage to do what’s right and take immediate action,” says Adm. Lyons. “Obviously, that courage was lacking for Benghazi. The safety of your personnel always remains paramount. With all the technology and military capability we had in theater, for our leadership to have deliberately ignored the pleas for assistance is not only incomprehensible, it is un-American. Somebody high up in the administration made the decision that no assistance (outside our Tripoli embassy) would be provided, and let our people be killed. The person who made that callous decision needs to be brought to light and held accountable.”

Adm. Lyons’ charges followed reports on FOX News on October 26 that operators at the CIA annex in Benghazi, about a mile from the compound where Ambassador Stevens was under attack, had been ordered to “stand down” rather than respond when the initial attack began. Charles Woods, the father of ex-Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, who was killed in a later attack on the CIA annex, went on a number of radio and television programs to blast President Obama and Secretary Clinton for their “cowardice” in failing to protect his son and the other trapped Americans.

In an interview on the nationally broadcast Lars Larson radio show, Woods told of meeting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the publically broadcast memorial service for the slain Americans at Andrews Air Force Base only days after the attack.

“When [Obama] came over to our little area” at Andrews Air Force Base, said Woods, “he kind of just mumbled, you know, ‘I’m sorry.’ His face was looking at me, but his eyes were looking over my shoulder like he could not look me in the eye. And it was not a sincere, ‘I’m really sorry, you know, that your son died,’ but it was totally insincere, more of whining type, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Woods said that shaking President Obama’s hands at his son’s memorial service was “like shaking hands with a dead fish.” “It just didn’t feel right,” he said of his meeting with Obama. “And now that it’s coming out that apparently the White House situation room was watching our people die in real time, as this was happening,” Woods said.

Team Obama responded to these revelations with more stonewalling and denial. Retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, was trotted out on National Public Radio to provide a plausible timeline and an explanation of why more was not done to aid the besieged Americans in Benghazi. Gen. Keane, interestingly, conceded that the Benghazi compound “was essentially defenseless.” “And we should never have left it in a defenseless status that it was in,” said Keane. “That was certainly tragic and, frankly, irresponsible.” But, said Gen. Keane, the administration did everything possible to assist the Americans in Benghazi once they came under attack. According to Keane, we did not have the proper assets at our Sigonella base to reach the besieged compounds in time.

Steve Elson, an ex-Navy SEAL, says he doesn’t buy Gen. Keane’s explanation. “That’s more coverup,” he told The New American. “From my experience, and knowing the assets available to the military and Special Ops units, I would say that Admiral Lyons’ assessment is far more credible,” said Elson. “Lyons has been in charge of the Pacific and has utilized those assets. There’s no way that fight should have gone on for 6-7 hours without air assistance at least. Our jets could have been there within an hour.”

“The Benghazi response — or, more accurately, Obama’s failure to respond in Benghazi — is completely in keeping with this administration’s record,” Elson said. “It fits completely with his traitorous ROE [rules of engagement] for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, which had them going on patrol and facing the enemy without being allowed to have their weapons loaded! How can you order men into battle and then handcuff them like that? It’s immoral and treasonous! I don’t pull any punches or mince words on that, and I can assure you all of the soldiers, sailors, marines, special operators I’ve talked to feel the same way. And Benghazi is just more of the same.”

An active-duty Navy SEAL who asked to remain anonymous concurred with Steve Elson. “Everyone in the Special Ops community detests the way Obama exploited the [Osama] bin Laden takedown,” says the SEAL. “He rushed to reveal sensitive sources and methods to score political points, to appear macho, even though it compromises future operations and endangers our lives. To him it didn’t matter; we’re expendable, like the Americans in Benghazi.”

“If Congress and the American people allow President Obama to get away with this,” Steve Elson told The New American, “we’ll be seeing repetitions of it happening all across the globe.”

Related articles:

Obama vs. the Brass: Benghazi Cover-up, Agenda to Gut Military?

Benghazi Backfire: Was Obama Arming Jihadists?

Obama Scandals Around Libya Attack Keep Growing

Lawmakers Grill Obama: Was Lax Security at U.S. Libya Post a Political Ploy?

Regulators R Us: Feds Crank Up Regulations -- on Everything!

The New American ^ | 16 November 2012 | William F. Jasper

Get set for the Obama administration’s post-election tsunami of business-killing, job-killing, economy-killing federal regulations. It’s already begun.

Regulators R Us: Feds Crank Up Regulations — on Everything

The New American
16 November 2012

Get set for the Obama administration’s post-election tsunami of business-killing, job-killing, economy-killing federal regulations. It’s already begun. Take a look at, the administration’s regulatory website. The home page informs us that in the last 90 days, the administration has posted 5,934 new regulations.

Yes, our federal bureaucrats have been very diligent. The above-mentioned website informs us of their daily productivity of regulations over the past 90 days:

Today (121)

Last 3 Days (274)

Last 7 Days (371)

Last 15 Days (826)

Last 30 Days (1,915)

Last 90 Days (5,934)

How will these regulations affect you, your family, your job, business, ranch, or farm? You may not have federal SWAT teams descend upon you, as has happened to dairy farmers and natural food store operators who dared to sell raw milk products not approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration (see here and here) or the hundreds of other Americans subjected to Gestapo-type treatment for running afoul of the volumes of murky and convoluted regulations that fill the 169,301 pages of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) published in the Federal Register. However, even if your home, farm or business is not personally “visited” by agents of the FDA, EPA, OSHA, SEC, or any of the myriad other federal agencies, you will pay a huge price nonetheless, both in economic costs and in loss of freedoms.

A cost analysis by the Small Business Administration in 2008 found that the cost to our national economy of compliance with federal regulations was an astronomical $1.75 trillion!

That was in 2008. The cost, of course, has escalated dramatically in the four years since that study was conducted. We should note also that the 169,301 pages of federal regulations referenced above covers only those promulgated through 2011; it does not include thousands of pages added in 2012. Nor does it include the thousands of pages that are expected to soon be dumped into the pipeline by bureaucrats who had been instructed to hold off until after the election.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2011 the Code of Federal Regulations increased by 11,327 pages — a 7.4-percent increase. The regulatory burden is now a crushing weight on the entire economy, a hidden tax which is equivalent to roughly half the current federal spending and equal to the entire federal budget of the late 1990s.

A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce entitled Project No Project found that a broad range of energy projects “are being stalled, stopped, or outright killed nationwide due to a broken permitting process and a system that allows nearly limitless opportunities for opponents of development to raise challenge after challenge.”

The impact has been truly mind-boggling. The Chamber of Commerce study reported:

In total, the 351 projects identified in the Project No Project inventory could have produced a $1.1-trillion boost to the economy and created 1.9 million jobs annually during the projected seven years of construction. Moreover, these facilities, once constructed, would have continued to generate jobs, because they would have operated for years or even decades.

That’s nearly two million jobs annually, just in the energy sector, that are being killed by the federal regulatory straitjacket.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on November 13, attorney Keith A. Ashmus noted that the regulatory cliff rivals the fiscal cliff among small business owners’ biggest concerns. And it is almost certain to get worse, if Team Obama has its way.

“Following President Obama’s reelection and the continuation of the current majorities in the House and Senate, we can expect continued difficulty moving initiatives forward legislatively in Washington,” noted Mr. Ashmus. “That means more regulatory activity, unrestrained by the any concerns about the president’s reelection. The Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board are likely to go after employers, large and small, with regulations that make it more difficult to manage workforces and obtain outside help understanding the legal requirements concerning unions.”

Obama Regulatory Plan: Sly, Not Shy

Not that President Obama has been shy about using executive branch regulations to get the Big Government programs he has been unable to get passed legislatively. In fact, following the 2010 congressional elections, in which the Democrats suffered historic losses in the House of Representatives, the Obama White House indicated it was going to move ahead with its agenda by executive fiat. The New American reported on this unconstitutional regulatory usurpation plan at the time. (See Obama Eyes "Executive Orders" to Circumvent Congress.)

However, with the economy imploding, unemployment skyrocketing, and with eyes fixed firmly on the 2012 presidential election, President Obama began a major effort, in 2011, to make it appear he was sensitive to the needs of job producers, especially stressing his administration’s commitment to easing the regulatory red tape that is so fatal to small and medium businesses that create most of our jobs.

Amid great fanfare, on January 18, 2011, President Obama signed “Executive Order 13563 — Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.”

If words signified genuine intent, then there would be cause for rejoicing. The executive order stated, inter alia:

Our regulatory system must protect public health, welfare, safety, and our environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation. It must be based on the best available science. It must promote predictability and reduce uncertainty. It must identify and use the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. It must take into account benefits and costs, both quantitative and qualitative. It must ensure that regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand. It must measure, and seek to improve, the actual results of regulatory requirements.

That was balm to the ears of struggling producers. Six months later, on June 13, President Obama launched follow-up public relations effort, signing “Executive Order 13576 — Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government.”

President Obama and members of his Cabinet made repeated ovations about the importance of small businesses and reducing the burden of regulation. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got on the bandwagon. In a speech to Arab leaders in New York on September 28, she sang the praises of deregulation as the solution to economic stagnation in the Middle East:

On the economic front, we are zeroing in on small and medium-sized enterprises because they are the growth engines in any economy. They create the bulk of new jobs and they spread wealth more broadly through more communities….

So the OECD is helping emerging democracies find ways they can loosen regulations and make it easier to start or expand a small business.

Regulation reform figures prominently on the White House’s 21st Century Government: Campaign to Cut Waste website. It is also a major feature of the White House’s Open Government Initiative, which says it’s all about “Transparency, Collaboration, Participation.”

To this end, President Obama issued a “Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.” It is entitled: “Transparency and Open Government.” The opening paragraph reads:

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Where’s the Transparency?

The White House’s Open Government Initiative web page is filled with self-congratulatory entries lauding the administration’s supposed triumphs in bringing transparency and efficiency into all departments, agencies, and programs of the federal government. Sounds great, but what’s the real story?

On November 13, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) announced that it had filed suit in federal court to force the Treasury Department to release more than 7,300 emails believed to discuss a massive new “carbon tax” that Obama administration allies in Congress are expected to propose in the upcoming lame-duck session.

“Although President Obama repeatedly promised openness and transparency in government, even liberal watchdogs have despaired that his has become one of the most secretive administrations ever,” said Christopher Horner, an attorney, CEI senior fellow, and author of the recent book The Liberal War on Transparency. “This administration has attempted to conceal its involvement in this proposal not just until the elections were over but beyond, to the point where disclosure will come too late to meaningfully inform the public. This shameful lack of transparency must stop, beginning with the administration coming clean about its effort to impose a massive, harmful new energy tax.”

But it’s not just the secret carbon tax that the administration is stonewalling on. Wayne Crews, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s regulatory expert, says its next to impossible to get a glimpse of the tidal wave of federal regulations about to be unleashed. In a November 1 column published in Forbes, the CEI regulation watcher stated:

Despite the written commitment to transparency and two executive orders since January 2011 instructing federal agencies to review and roll back rules, it’s hard to tell what federal regulatory agencies are doing in the aggregate and relative to one another.

That’s because the Spring edition of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, published since forever (or at least 1981), never appeared.

“Now it’s November and almost time for the Fall Agenda and its supplemental Regulatory Plan,” notes Crews. “So the Agenda is two editions behind. Not only that, the Administration’s final 2012 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates never appeared.”

Members of Congress are not at all happy about that, but the “transparency” president seems determined to keep his regulatory agenda behind opaque barriers. On October 25, four committee chairmen from the House of Representatives sent a stern letter to Mr. Boris Bershteyn, President Obama’s Acting Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) requesting once again information about the long overdue Spring 2012 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions and the 2012 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulation. These documents “that provide basic regulatory transparency, and are required to be published by law, remain outstanding,” they note.

The chairmen are: Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary; Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law; and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs. The chairmen’s letter pointed out that a month earlier (September 21) they had sent a letter to OIRA requesting information on the status of the overdue regulatory reports only to be told that agencies were still “compiling the most updated information.”

This was puzzling, said the chairmen, since the OIRA had set April 13, 2012 as the “firm deadline” for completion. “Due to the impending election,” says the chairmen’s letter, “it does raise concerns that the Administration is holding back this information for fear it will be met with dissatisfaction by the public, or even worse, perceived as breaking the Administration’s promise of regulatory reform.”

The sorry spectacles cited above, of citizens being forced to sue the federal government in court to obtain regulatory records, and committee chairmen of Congress — the elected “people's representatives” — being forced to plead with bureaucrats for a peek at regulations, graphically illustrate the absurdity, the dangerous absurdity of our federal regulatory system.

The Unconstitutional Fourth Branch of Government

In 2011, Congress passed 81 bills into law. During the same period, federal agencies promulgated 3,807 regulations — rules that are treated as if they are binding law. These agencies are under the executive branch, which means they are under the president. However, under the U.S. Constitution, the president has no authority whatsoever to make laws. Neither do any of his subordinates. The president’s role is to faithfully execute (i.e., administer) the laws passed by Congress, provided of course, that said laws comport with the Constitution.

The very first sentence of Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” It is difficult to get plainer and more definitive than that: “All legislative powers.” Congress is the legislative branch, and it possesses “all legislative powers.” The executive and judicial branches have their own peculiar jurisdictions and purviews, but their powers do not include lawmaking. Nor does the Constitution allow the Congress to sublet or delegate its lawmaking authority to the president, bureaucrats, or judges.

Nevertheless, Congress (and the American people, whose duty it is to vigilantly monitor Congress) have allowed the executive branch to stealthily, steadily build an enormous fourth branch of government — the federal regulatory agencies — that have usurped legislative, executive, and judicial powers. According to our Founders, this is “the very definition of tyranny.” James Madison, frequently referred to as the “father of the Constitution,” addressed this issue in essay No. 47 of The Federalist, noting:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

So, it should not be surprising to find federal bureaucrats acting, well, tyrannically, since they have been allowed to accumulate “all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands.” Consider. An agency (FDA, EPA, OSHA, etc.) issues regulations (legislative), then sends out agents to monitor and enforce the regulations, demand compliance, levy fines, make arrests (executive), and if a citizen wishes to contest the regulatory action, he must appeal to an agency tribunal (judiciary).

That was the plight faced by Mike and Chantelle Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, who were stopped from building their dream home because the EPA had arbitrarily declared their property in a residential area to be a “wetland.” Moreover, the EPA threatened the Sacketts with fines of $75,000 per day, if they didn’t restore the property to the natural condition dictated by the agency. Thankfully, after a nearly five-year battle, the Sacketts received relief through a U.S. Supreme Court decision, in March of this year.

Congress has completely abdicated its responsibility. It has allowed executive branch agencies to get away with usurping powers for so long that it has become an accepted practice. Now the chairmen of committees of Congress are reduced to the pathetic practice of beseeching third-level bureaucrats of myriad agencies simply to be allowed to examine the mushrooming multitude of regulations that are being fastened upon the citizens of this land.

The regulations are as unconstitutional as the agencies that issue them. Not only should virtually the entire Code of Federal Regulations be abolished, but all of the unconstitutional regulatory agencies as well.

As James Madison famously explained in The Federalist, No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined” and “will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.”

“The powers reserved to the several States,” Madison continued, “will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Which is to say, that if the people decide some sort of government regulation is necessary to deal with a particular concern, then, under our constitutional system, it is to the state or local governments they should look for solutions.

The federal government’s powers, besides being delegated to it by the states, are also enumerated. Hence, the federal government’s jurisdiction, Madison explained in The Federalist, No. 14, “is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.” All other powers are retained by the states or the people.

This is a principle that was well understood in the Founders’ time and was later reaffirmed in the Tenth Amendment, which states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Since federal powers are limited to those “few and defined” found in the Constitution, Congress may not pass laws that trespass on the innumerable powers reserved to the states and the people. “No legislative act … contrary to the Constitution can be valid,” Alexander Hamilton noted in The Federalist, No. 78. “To deny this would be to affirm that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

If this constitutional principle applies to legislative acts of Congress, it most certainly applies to the massive regulatory maze erected by unelected, unaccountable, and unconstitutional agencies of the executive branch.

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EPA Declares Human Breath (CO2) a Pollutant

Will EPA Admit Economic Impact of Regulations?

EPA Rule Proposes First-Ever Carbon Limits on Power Plants

Hillary Clinton Advocates Less Govt. Regulation in Libya, Egypt

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