In Obama’s America, some are more equal than others

Henry Miller Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute.
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The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the federal government will not classify or treat individuals in a discriminatory manner. That fundamental right derives from England’s Magna Carta, in which King John promised that “no free man shall be taken or imprisoned … or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Although he seems to have imperial pretensions, unfortunately Barack Obama is no King John. Extremes of discrimination and unequal treatment motivated by partisan politics are commonplace in his administration.

The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of libertarian and conservative groups and the Department of Justice’s unjustified snooping on the press have received a lot of attention in recent weeks. But other executive departments and agencies — including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — have engaged in similar partisan behavior. This pattern of abuse suggests that the president and/or his closest advisors were personally involved with at least some of the bad behavior.

The EPA has been granting favors to left-wing “green” organizations that it has refused to grant to conservative groups. Government agencies are supposed to waive fees for groups that disseminate information for public benefit, but there is a marked disparity in the granting of those waivers, depending on how “friendly” the groups are to the EPA’s expansive and precautionary view of government. Left-wing environmental organizations that lobby for a more intrusive, obstructionist EPA have fared much better, according to an analysis by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Of Sierra Club’s 15 requests,” Horner writes, “EPA granted 11. And Sierra Club received the harshest of treatments. In fact, EPA granted 19 of [the Natural Resources Defense Council’s] 20 requests and 17 of EarthJustice’s 19 requests. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility went a perfect 17-for-17. The Waterkeeper Alliance had all three of its requests granted, Greenpeace and the Southern Environmental Law Center each were 2-for-2, the Center for Biological Diversity 4-for-4.”

While pro-regulation, EPA-friendly groups had their fees waived 92 percent of the time, Horner’s requests on behalf of CEI and the American Tradition Institute were rejected more than 93 percent of the time.

The administration’s political payoff to a company called Siga Technologies is even more egregious. In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed to give Siga a sole-source, no-competition contract for 1.7 million doses of a drug to treat smallpox. The feds paid about $255 per dose, well above the $170 that government contract specialists had considered a fair and reasonable markup. (The vaccine costs about $3 a dose to make.) When government contracting specialists balked at both the huge markup and the sole-source arrangement, political appointee Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Nicole Lurie replaced the lead negotiator.

Arguably, the drug isn’t needed at all, because the U.S. biodefense stockpile contains 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine, enough for every eligible man, woman and child in the country. An anti-viral drug would be needed only for people who were exposed to the smallpox virus but couldn’t get the vaccine within four days of exposure. Moreover, because the drug can’t be tested for efficacy — people cannot be intentionally exposed to a lethal virus in a clinical trial — there’s no guarantee that the drug will work. And that brings up yet another problem: In the absence of a verified imminent threat, the FDA is unlikely to approve such a product without proof of its efficacy. An FDA official admitted there is “no clear regulatory path” to the approval of such drugs. HHS officials were well aware of this glitch.

Where does politics come in? Siga’s controlling stockholder, David Perelman, and others at a Siga affiliate called MacAndrews & Forbes are major political donors. “They gave a total of $607,550 to federal campaigns for the 2008 and 2010 elections, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics,” writes David Willman in the Los Angeles Times. “About 65% of that money went to Democrats. Perelman donated an additional $50,000 to President Obama’s inauguration.”

Last year, the White House itself hijacked the impending FDA approval of an obviously innocuous genetically engineered, farmed salmon that reaches mature size more rapidly than its cohorts but is otherwise indistinguishable from them. The reasons for the lengthy delay that ensued after the needed environmental assessment was blocked were revealed in brilliant investigative reporting by science writer Jon Entine. According to Entine, the White House interference “came after discussions late last spring [2012] between Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ office and officials linked to Valerie Jarrett at the Executive Office [of the President], who were debating the political implications of approving the [genetically modified] salmon. Genetically modified plants and animals are controversial among the president’s political base, which was thought critical to his reelection efforts during a low point in the president’s popularity.” Food activism is particularly rabid in blue states such as New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon and California.

Another example of the administration’s pandering is its decision to ignore flagrant violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by anti-biotechnology activists, who often slap homemade labels on genetically engineered foods in markets. Such vigilante labels make the products “misbranded,” and therefore unable to be sold legally. (The illegal do-it-yourself labeling was the subject of a front-page New York Times story on May 24, 2012, which identified a perpetrator and the site of the crime and even included a photograph of her applying the label. I personally reported that incident to both the FBI and the FDA, neither of which has taken any action.)

This sort of discrimination in law enforcement is offensive but not as egregious as the government’s response to the intimidation of white voters by the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia during the 2008 election. Two members of the party were originally charged with voter intimidation for obstructing the entrance to a polling place while brandishing baseball bats, but the Department of Justice later lessened the charges against one and dismissed the charges against the party and the other, eliciting widespread outrage and charges of racism. DOJ official J. Christian Adams, who resigned his position in protest of his department’s conduct, said in an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that it was common knowledge around the DOJ that, “Civil rights complaints would only be pursued when initiated by people of color against white people,” but “when it was the other way around, the complaints, even when well-substantiated as with the New Black Panthers, would disappear in a bureaucratic morass.”

Glory follows virtue as if it were its shadow, Cicero wrote. History will confer no glory on Obama and his minions.

Henry I. Miller is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. A physician, he was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA.