Driving out the competition

In one of the first acts of his presidency, Barack Obama crafted an Executive Order reinstating the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on federal construction jobs where total costs to the government exceed $25 million. This gift to Big Labor overturned a previous ban on the practice President Bush instituted early in his term back in 2001.

It took bureaucrats almost a year to devise the regulations, which were released last week. Naturally the Administration was pleased with the effort. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis called the new red tape “a win-win; they benefit businesses, workers and taxpayers. I’ve seen the track record in cities like Los Angeles — high quality work on projects done on time, on budget and good job and training opportunities that strengthen our communities.”

But Obama’s first attempt at enacting a PLA resulted in the cancellation of bidding on a New Hampshire job training center because a non-union contractor balked at the restrictive pro-union rules it would have to follow as a winning bidder.

Most telling about the arrogance of Washington bureaucrats, though, is their claim (page 8 here) that these regulations are not a “major rule,” which allows them to circumvent the Congressional Review Act. Their ludicrous assertion is that PLAs will not create an effect on the economy of more than $100 million, cause a major increase in costs, or lead to significantly adverse effects on competition.

It’s a claim which is laughable. According to the Associated Builders and Contractors, these PLAs will increase construction costs 20 percent at a time when 1 of every 4 in the industry is unemployed. Thus, taking the ABC at face value, just $500 million in construction contracts let would bring the price of these new regulations above the $100 million threshold and certainly a 20 percent increase would be termed “major” to most unbiased observers. The Associated General Contractors also weighed in, calling the new regulations, “unnecessary…costly and counterproductive.”

While the proposed rules leave some wiggle room for discretion against PLAs in certain situations, it’s unlikely that this labor-friendly regime will allow exceptions but for rare cases. With billions of dollars in stimulus money still to be given out, the timing of these rules is key to promote the cause of Big Labor just in time for the midterm elections.

This is another article I did for Red County National; they chose to title it “Another Day, Another Economy-Wrecking Gift to Big Labor.”

Earmarks: the gauntlet has been thrown down

With the 2010 elections looming and the lack of fiscal responsibility by Washington becoming a larger issue, both parties are taking steps to curb the use of earmarks, which are loosely defined as appropriations added to spending bills to benefit a particular interest, usually within the sponsor’s state or district.

Democrats Wednesday proposed an end to earmarks designated to for-profit entities, which will mainly affect defense spending. This ban was passed by the House Appropriations committee.

But in the game of “can you top this” they were trumped by the Republicans’ decision Thursday morning to enact an immediate, unilateral moratorium on all earmarks. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence was excited about the move, calling it, “very uncomfortable for business as usual.”

In truth, earmarks are but a small portion of the federal budget, accounting for only about 1% of total spending. Yet crusaders in both the House and Senate (most notably Senator John McCain) have attempted with little success over the years to curtail the earmarking practice. Even President Obama was on the anti-earmark bandwagon originally but had to capitulate early on by failing to veto a pork-laden omnibus spending bill.

Obviously, the impact of these efforts will only be felt if House Republicans have the stomach to carry out that which they’ve proposed after winning back the majority. Meanwhile the Senate is cool to such restrictions on their own spending. As we’ve seen with Senator Jim Bunning’s stance against a blatant violation of the PAYGO regulations passed weeks earlier, that which is passed into law has no effect on Congress if they interpret the rules in ways that make sense only to them.

And the temptation to bend these new rules is great – according to a study by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a politician’s share of the vote increases anywhere from 4.1 to 5.7 percent for every 100 percent increase in earmarks obtained by a legislator. Before too much faith is placed into Congress, though, we have to remember this is an election year and job one for a sitting member is to be re-elected.

Buying votes seems to be a Democrat pattern

Speaking from the safety of civilian life and not seeking political office, former GOP Senator Mel Martinez of Florida told the Hotline in a Tuesday interview that he could have named his own price to support last year’s stimulus bill. But he noted instead, “I wanted a better bill.”

Expressing that talks with the White House on the stimulus left him “disillusioned,” perhaps this issue was one thing which hastened his surprising departure from the Senate last year. It’s also worth noting that while Martinez avoided a Florida version of the ‘Cornhusker kickback’ Florida Governor Charlie Crist still liked the stimulus as it was. Now it’s costing Crist in his Senate race against upstart Marco Rubio.

One also has to ask what GOP Senators Snowe, Collins and Specter (now a Dem) who crossed over to vote with the Democrats got for their votes? Likewise, in scrutinizing the jobs bill which just passed the Senate, people should be asking what Ohio, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Maine are getting as bribes for their support.

Yet this revelation brings up a more general question about how Democrats and the White House are attempting to push their legislative agenda through. Certainly, Congress has always been a home of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” horsetrading of favors, but when you consider the Democrats won Congress in 2006 in part by vowing to clean up a “culture of corruption,” the outright bribery which they’ve engaged in to get their legislation passed doesn’t match the image they campaigned on.

The GOP is on the right side of issues as the “party of no” and voters are now paying attention to what bribes and favors the White House and Democrats are dangling in front of soft Republicans to gain a bipartisan fig leaf for their unpopular legislation. The Martinez example shows what the acquisition and pursuit of total power has done to the Democrats, and voters need to remember this come November.

Senator Jeff Sessions speaks out on interrogation

Those on the left may think Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has his own underwear in a wad over the decision to treat “panty bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a civilian and accord him Miranda rights. But Sessions, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, makes some brilliant points.

First, though, a bit of background is in order.

In most cases, enemy combatants captured on the battlefield remain in some sort of detention facility until cleared for release. This practice makes logical sense because those who took up arms against us may have useful information about other enemy operations – data which could save untold lives both in the field of battle and among innocent civilians otherwise caught in the crossfire.

However, Abdulmutallab was captured in a unique venue, one which most wouldn’t associate with the shadowy war between radical elements of Islam and our nation. Instead of carrying a rifle or rocket-propelled grenade launcher, the Nigerian national who trained for his assignment in Yemen boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit without luggage or a coat, but with underwear lined with explosive material. In short, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was destined to be a suicide bomber in a bid to kill hundreds of Americans on Christmas Day.

We all know what happened on Flight 253, but because the Obama administration has taken the unwise course of treating the war on Islamic terror like a civil case, the Nigerian national had a brief 50 minutes of questioning before he was informed of his Miranda rights. Not surprisingly, Abdulmutallab clammed up.

Understandably Sessions is fuming about the decision. “Instead of trying to excuse the inexcusable,” he said, “the administration should take responsibility for the dire consequences of its decision to swiftly grant civilian rights to this foreign terrorist. Civilian interrogation means that a suspect must be told he does not have to answer any questions and that he will be provided a lawyer. Captured combatants do not enjoy these same privileges.”

By changing the rules of the game and granting Constitutional rights to non-citizens, Obama and his dovish allies may cost more lives in the name of granting “justice.” Instead, Sessions is calling for, “a clear protocol…for the detention and interrogation of captured terrorists so these dangerous mistakes are not repeated.”

Apparently the only clear protocol we have now is bending over way too far backwards to those who would never even consider allowing us similar rights if the situation were reversed. Sessions is correct in pointing this out, but unfortunately isn’t in a good position to change the policies in place just yet.

This article ran on the Red County national page yesterday.

Senate Republicans finally decide to FIGHT!

As the debate over nationalizing health care moved to the Senate, it was clear that the biggest procedural hurdle to its passage would be getting all 60 Democrats to agree on cloture as a means of starting and ending debate. Obviously, that meant some give-and-take on various portions of the bill, and a lot of that occurred behind closed doors as powerful Democrats and equally powerful lobbyists argued over the public option, paying for abortions, and how to fund the bill, among other things.

Once the bill finally made it to the Senate floor for debate, the Republican strategy seemed to be one of suggesting amendments to “improve” the bill, figuring these sacrificial amendments would be defeated while making the point that the bill was poorly conceived.

Some conservatives, though, grumbled that amending a bad bill to pay lip service to free-market principles wasn’t going to improve the system should the bill pass – the overall victory would belong to power-hungry Democrats and their special interest allies.

One conservative in that camp was Erick Erickson of RedState, who argued that because the minority in the Senate is much more powerful than their House counterparts, GOP Senators had a number of procedural methods at their disposal – IF they have the guts to use them.

In a brilliant, powerful article that quietly burned through the right-side blogosphere over the weekend, Erickson wrote not only a fiery call to action for Republican Senators, but a great rundown on some of the tools of delay at their disposal.

Please be sure to read this terrific article: FIGHT!

Lo and behold, this week Republicans started to do exactly that.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced a 767-page amendment to the Senate health care bill which, for all intents and purposes, converted the bill into a vehicle for single-payer nationalized health care. Generally amendments, regardless of size, have their required reading waived by unanimous consent – but in this case, Oklahoma’s Sen. Tom Coburn objected to this waiver and demanded the amendment be read. By one estimate this reading would’ve taken 38 hours, so not long into this process Vermont’s Bernie Sanders withdrew his amendment.

Notice Erickson’s influence–his fingerprints, if you will– on this? After the powerful impact he has had on both NY-23 and on behalf of Marco Rubio in Florida, it is not a stretch to give him such credit.

Obviously there may come a day when slash-and-burn tactics such as these are used to thwart items near and dear to a conservative majority, but as Erickson argued in his commentary: killing this bill is worth the fight. And utlimately, in the end those tactics will only go so far as the people will allow them to go.

Those that gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to call on the Senate to reject the Democrats’ eventual plan for socialized medicine – many of whom were also veterans of the similar appeal to the House in October, the 9-12 Taxpayer Rally, and TEA Parties across the land – can only do so much from the outside. But the true leadership on this issue has to come from the inside, and Republican Senators should know this change in tactics is a beautiful thing indeed to all of us who believe our liberty is worth fighting for.

If this health care debacle is to pass, let it be known that the Republicans in the Senate fought it kicking, screaming, and with every weapon at their disposal. Polls clearly show that the people do not want Obamacare, so the minority should have no qualms about battling to the end.

It now looks like they may be willing to fight tooth and nail to kill socialized health care. If so, Erick Erickson has earned no small debt of gratitude.

NPR pressured Liasson to leave Fox News

According to a recent Politico story, National Public Radio reporter Mara Liasson was asked to “reconsider” her regular appearances on Fox News programming. Liasson, whose most recent duties have involved commentary on the “Special Report” and “Fox News Sunday” programs, has worked for the network since 1997 but NPR executives were concerned about Fox using her and fellow NPR political analyst Juan Williams as “balance” for their other conservative commentators, leaving the perception that NPR is a left-leaning outfit. NPR tries to project itself publicly as a middle-of-the-road network.

While this can be considered a small part of the Obama admistration’s war against Fox News, it’s very interesting to note that NPR was a cheerleader for government intervention in the newspaper business. Readers may recall my Red County commentary last week where NPR CEO Vivian Schiller hilariously claimed that government funding doesn’t affect their reporting, that it actually makes them even more of a government watchdog!

The facts suggest otherwise.

NPR has been among many news outlets asleep at the switch as Fox News has uncovered damaging information about a number of Obama nominees and led the way on other investigative reports, while smaller, upstart publications have exposed other scandals, ACORN included.

In its own right, Fox News has placed so much heat on the administration that the White House fought back, attempting to shut Fox out of a reporting pool and continually referring to the network as an arm of the Republican Party. Obama himself snubbed Fox when he made the rounds of five other Sunday morning network commentary shows back on September 20.

For her part, the reporter in question has decided to continue her work with Fox, reportedly stating she’d seen no significant change in the network’s news coverage. It seems Mara Liasson is too good for NPR, but the network is too blinded by ideology to realize it.

The next bailout: media?

What radio and television could not do – despite the dire predictions of observers at the time – the Internet is poised to achieve. That was the description made by many who testified this week at a Federal Trade Commission workshop which pondered “How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?”

While many argue that the forces eroding the print media’s share of the news market in favor of Internet-based information should be allowed to continue, a number of those testifying at the event believed their industry was worthy of a government bailout just as the financial sector and automakers had received. Their call for devoting “significant financial resources” to newspapers and the media industry fell on receptive ears, as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated, “Government’s going to have to be involved, in one way or the other.”

One Senator has already made such a move. Back in March, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act, which would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational services, using a status similar to public broadcasting companies. The bill, S. 673, is languishing in committee (as is the similar H.R. 3602, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Democrat from New York), but that didn’t stop representatives of public broadcasting from making their pitch for helping out the newspaper industry with our tax dollars.

Jon McTaggart of Minnesota Public Radio called government involvement “traditional, mainstream, and all-American” and continued by claiming, “as a civil society, we don’t trust the open market or the free market” for the services media provides. Piling on, National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller also stated her belief that a government-supported media outlet could still be fair, asserting that federal support makes them even more of a watchdog when it comes to government affairs.

However, it’s only print media’s business model that’s in peril, and while many blame the Internet for its demise they can’t discount the fact that these daily papers also have a presence on the World Wide Web. In his testimony Waxman pointed out that daily newspapers in Denver and Seattle had recently failed, joining other closures in Baltimore and San Francisco as casualties of a declining market. (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer continues as an online-only edition.)

But there’s no less of an appetite for news; it’s just the source of the news that’s changing. While the daily newspaper has been around for centuries, the very fact that the content is dated as soon as it’s printed makes a newspaper much less useful as a source of current information than its media cousins television or radio. Remember, those media were supposed to signal the demise of the newspaper years ago when they came out, too.

The advent of the Internet added a new dimension to news gathering, though – no longer was the distribution of information at the discretion of a newsroom editor. One thing all the old media had in common was a filter where loads of information entered but only that which was approved for distribution came out and was made available to the public. Once in awhile journalism was a great tool of investigation but more often they told you what they thought you should hear.

But the Internet has changed all that by eliminating the filter, and the real story behind the bid to have a government bailout of the newspaper industry may be one of placing the camel’s nose under the tent.

There’s an old takeoff on the Golden Rule which states, “He who has the gold, rules.” While government may have the best of intentions for the newspaper industry, the prospect of maintaining a free press when government funding hangs in the balance is dubious at best and laughable on its face. As we’ve seen with the recent scandal over information being withheld and falsified in the climate change debate, when billions in government funding is on the table the editors may not be as worried about accurate reporting as they are with how to keep Uncle Sam’s financial spigot flowing.

Open season on Bush appointees

In a policy reversal reminiscent of a tinhorn regime, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) distributed a memorandum last week subjecting certain political appointees to retroactive rules regarding OPM approval before taking a civil service job. While the policy has always been in place during election years and for higher level Senior Executive Service positions, the new regulations taking effect January 1 will subject all aspirants who have worked in a politically-appointed position over the previous five years to review, adding the element of retroactivity to established policy.

The obvious idea behind this memo is to preclude Bush-era employees from garnering civil service protections which would allow them to continue serving the public despite their political affiliation with the party currently out of power.

Needless to say, this likely purge of former low-level Bush appointees attracted little attention in the press and didn’t come to light until Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit broke the story and Erick Erickson at Red State amplified it.

Yet the implications are patently obvious. Making the regulations retroactive will give those who would be simply graded on their job performance and not their political views pause before seeking a position in the federal government and discourage otherwise qualified applicants who don’t share President Obama’s radical socialist views on the purpose of government.

OPM Director John Berry attempts to add a fig leaf to the process by “delegat(ing) decisionmaking authority over these matter to career Senior Executives at OPM to avoid any hint of political influence.” Yet Senior Executives already fall under those very same guidelines so they know which way the political winds are blowing.

The Berry memo also notes that, “while political appointees may not be excluded from consideration for Federal jobs because of their political affiliation, they must not be given preference or special advantages.” What’s left unstated though is that affiliation should not be held against them, either.

On October 16, Berry, who is described on the OPM website as “the Federal Government’s Chief People Person”, put out a memo complaining “our current SES population does not yet reflect the diversity of our Nation or even of the rest of our Federal workforce.” Of course, the concept of diversity only reflects certain physical or behavioral traits in the eyes of liberals while other traits won’t count. Diversity of thought isn’t on their radar screen.

The true litmus test for the new policy and emphasis on a diverse workforce will be in how Bush-era appointees are treated as they seek the protection civil servants are afforded by law. But given the hostility and blame President Obama has heaped upon the previous administration, the sign may as well be put up that “No Republicans Need Apply.” Only those who measure out as true blue will likely pass the test soon to be required for civil service protection.

It’s also pretty safe to assume that the five-year rule will be quietly rescinded just before Obama leaves office and howls of protest arise should a Republican try to reinstall the rule.

So much for diversity. With these guys, it’s all about power.

A chat with Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-5)

I was asked by the editors of Red County to speak to the freshman Congressman from the Keystone State yesterday. So while I’m away (quite possibly to speak with him again in person) I’ll bring this interview to you.

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of speaking to the Pennsylvania Congressman, who was one of just 17 Republicans in the 111th Congressional freshman class.

Obviously the initial conversation turned to Tuesday’s election results, and aside from categorizing the New York-23 race as an “outlier”, Thompson was pleased with the returns. The swing between the 2008 results favoring President Obama in those three jurisdictions presented a “message to the country (in) two bellweather states” that Americans had had enough of spending, taxing, borrowing, and intrusive government.

The Hoffman-Owens-Scozzafava race was also intriguing to Thompson as a former Republican county chairman. Part of the issue with how the race turned out was not having any voter input as to who the GOP candidate would be because of the compressed election schedule. Having a more normal timeframe to campaign may well have yielded a batter result, GT argued.

But health care was the “front and center” issue, and Thompson planned on being one of the Republicans participating in today’s rally on the Capitol steps sponsored by Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota.

As one of the seventeen freshman in the minority party, I asked him where he could be most effective. Thompson noted that the newly-minted Republicans had “stayed on message” and intended to be a “force to be contended with” as the events of the 111th Congress played out. He decried the “wedge in decision-making between physician and patient” that current Pelosicare legislation encouraged.

I also found out that a “manager’s amendment” was added to the House health care bill Tuesday, with 42 additional pages designed to buy off individual members, or, as Thompson called it, “let’s make a deal.”

Having spent nearly three decades in the healthcare field, most recently as a nursing home administrator, Thompson assumed when he was elected last year that health care and Social Security would be the predominant issues he’d face upon being sworn in. His idea to improve health care was to increase access and affordability (indeed, he voted in favor of SCHIP expansion) but instead this legislation would create a “legacy of debt” using figures that were “worse than fuzzy math.” Meanwhile, Medicare would remain “systematically underfunded” according to GT.

In other Congressional matters, Thompson was “disappointed” in the “cap and tax” legislation which would negatively impact his largely rural district, which is Pennsylvania’s largest geographically. It’s quite comparable to my home district in Maryland, so I asked Thompson about having a GOP district in a heavily Democrat state.

Perhaps, though, even his state is not so blue. Rep. Thompson pointed out that , in addition to the well-publicized win in neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania had a little-noticed GOP win Tuesday as Joan Orie Melvin won election to their state Supreme Court, giving the Republicans a 4-3 majority at a time when redistricting after next year’s census could end up being reviewed by that body. So the Republican brand isn’t completely out of favor as pundits thought after last year’s election of Barack Obama.

It’s these election results which cheer Thompson and present hope that he’ll be part of the majority party soon. With a relatively safe seat (no Democrat has represented the 5th District area since 1979) it’s likely that GT can stay the course provided he remains conservative enough for the voters of the district.

al-Qaeda beats the system

This is a post I wrote for the Red County National page and was their featured article earlier this afternoon. It’s a reversal because generally my RC pieces start here and then go to that site. But I was asked to take on more reporterly assignments for the RC site and this is my first.


In case you missed it, last Thursday a federal judge reduced the sentence of an al-Qaeda sleeper agent and enabled him to be freed– in just five years.

Disdaining a maximum fifteen-year sentence, U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm, a Reagan appointee who recently announced his retirement upon confirmation of a successor, sentenced Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri to eight years and four months in prison. al-Marri’s legal team pled for a shorter sentence based on time served as an enemy combatant before his case was shifted from the military justice system to a civilian court in February, shortly after President Obama took office.

The defendant, a citizen of both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, was taken into military custody in June 2003 after the Bush Administration reviewed his case and determined he was an enemy combatant. While al-Marri’s legal team maintained he had the right to habeas corpus in 2004, the request was denied because of his non-citizen status and al-Marri remained in military prison. Once his case was moved to an Illinois federal court earlier this year, al-Marri pled guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to terrorists, which carries the maximum penalty of fifteen years in prison.

Al-Marri, who graduated from Bradley University in 1991, purportedly returned to the United States with his wife and five children on September 10, 2001 to pursue graduate studies at the school, but in fact he rarely attended classes. He was first detained shortly after the September 11 attacks, and FBI agents found links on his laptop computer to sites of distributors of hydrogen cyanide, programs for computer hacking software and “proxy” software, as well. They also found dozens of bogus credit card numbers listed in al-Marri’s laptop case.

It was deemed that possible targets he had in his sights included a number of dams and reservoirs, apparently part of an abortive plot to poison a domestic water supply.

Phone records acquired as part of the al-Marri investigation also reveal a number of calls placed to Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi, a leading financier of al-Qaeda, at a phone number based in the United Arab Emirates. It’s also alleged that al-Marri used an alias and dummy company to falsify credit card transactions during an earlier visit to the United States in 2000.

Yet despite the strong evidence that al-Marri was a “continuing grave threat” as an al-Qaeda operative, Judge Mihm reduced his sentence based on time already served. Worse, he credited al-Marri nine months for time served in military custody, in what his defense attorneys argued were “harsh” conditions!

While Judge Mihm may have been swayed by al-Marri’s tearful defense testimony where he claimed he “was glad I have no blood on my hand,” make no mistake: al Marri was an al Qaeda sleeper dedicated to doing great harm to America. Witness this statement from a now-unclassified declaration by Jeffery N. Rapp, Director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force on Combating Terrorism:

“Multiple intelligence sources confirm that Al-Marri is an al Qaeda “sleeper” agent sent to the United States for the purpose of engaging in and facilitating terrorist activities subsequent to September 11, 2001, and exploring ways to hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks and otherwise disrupt the U.S. financial system. Prior to arriving in the United States on September 10, 2001, Al-Marri was trained at an al Qaeda terror camp. He met personally with Osama Bin Laden (Bin Laden) and other known al Qaeda members and volunteered for a martyr mission or to do anything else that al Qaeda requested. Al-Marri was assisted in his al Qaeda assignment to the United States by known al Qaeda members and travelled to the United States with money provided for him by al Qaeda. Al-Marri currently possesses information of high intelligence value, including information about personnel and activities of Al Qaeda.

Yet this reality didn’t faze Judge Mihm: “My personal belief as a judge is that (treatment) was totally unacceptable. That’s not who we are,” he remarked.

The lenient sentence for al-Marri rightly worries domestic security advocates who already question the wisdom of trying detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay in civilian courts. Mihm’s light sentence and his consideration of time served under military custody could set a precedent for future trials of the more than 200 detainees presently held in Cuba.

Thus, in just over five years, a known al-Qaeda operative will be free to return to his homeland and hatch more terrorist plots against America and her allies. With national security still in peril by those allied with al-Qaeda, punishment meted out off the battlefield isn’t proving to be a strong deterrent against recruiting America-hating terrorists either overseas or domestically.

The sentence also shows that the January announcement by President Obama to close Guantanamo Bay by next year may do further damage to national security now and in the future. Placing the fate of suspected terrorists in the hands of civilian judges will prove harmful to both the concept of justice and the plan to deter Islamic terrorism on our own soil.

Hopefully, last week’s sentencing travesty gave our young administration a dose of reality; perhaps now it will re-consider its plans to grant terrorists access to our courtrooms, a battlefield on which we most certainly will lose.