TheDC Morning: Obama accepts award for openness behind closed doors

Mike Riggs Contributor
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1.) Obama accepts transparency award in secret on the same day that Oversight Committee’s damning FOIA report comes out — The irony is so thick that transparency advocates are choking on it: “Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.” The meeting was for Obama to accept a transparency award. Later that day, the Oversight Committee released its report on FOIA violations at the Department of Homeland Security, which range from intentional deception to cluelessness, and–in the case of one DHS attorney, who attempted to walk out of a House hearing with evidence gathered by the Oversight committee in his bag–outright theft. Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, put it best when he said that the transparency award “resembles the award at the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s not because Obama brought peace to anyone but because people hoped he would be a force for good in the world.” Hoped. That sure changed.

2.) GOP accuses old people club of getting rich on Obamacare and spending none of the money on Werther’s Originals — “Three veteran GOP representatives released a report that estimates the AARP could make an additional $1 billion over 10 years on health insurance plans whose sales are expected to pick up under the new law. They also questioned seven-figure compensation for some AARP executives,” reports the AP. Released by Reps. Wally Herger, Charles Boustany, and Dave Reichert, the report says that the AARP “receives a per-member fee for every Medigap enrollee” who uses the AARP to buy Medigap insurance, and that the AARP “collects the full premium directly before remitting” payout. “That allows it to invest the money and earn interest. It also requires that seniors purchasing an AARP Medigap plan become dues-paying members of the organization.” While there’s nothing wrong with this practice on its face, Obamacare is likely to “create a bigger demand for Medigap supplemental insurance. Seniors returning to traditional Medicare will need protection from coverage gaps. And AARP sponsors the largest Medigap plan.” When asked if the possibility of a $1 billion windfall at all conflicted with the group’s stated nonprofit goals, a spokesperson for the AARP said, “You look just like my granddaughter!”

3.) SEIU officials pissing into their own tent — “The Service Employees International Union has filed internal charges against Bruce S. Raynor, one of New York’s most prominent union leaders and the head of that union’s apparel workers’ affiliate, accusing him of financial misconduct,” reports the New York Times. Raynor is charged with misreporting $2,300 in restaurant receipts. “The charges accuse Mr. Raynor of falsely stating that he had 10 meals with a male union lawyer instead of the person he had actually dined with: Alex Dagg, a female executive vice president of Workers United and one of its Canadian directors.” Raynor told the NYT that he omitted Dagg’s name because she had been told not to meet with Raynor about a “nasty turf war” between two Canadian unions, and Raynor simply wanted to protect her from political retaliation. Meanwhile, says Raynor, the SEIU is politically retaliating against him for supporting the wrong candidate for SEIU president. “What is going on here is an ugly, naked exercise in political retaliation,” said Raynor. That is pretty much all the SEIU has time for now.

4.) One reason conservatives won’t kill farm subsidies is because they apparently receive most of them — “Among the members of the 112th Congress who collect payments from USDA are six Democrats and 17 Republicans,” reports the Environmental Working Group. “The disparity between the parties is even greater in terms of dollar amounts: $489,856 went to Democrats, but more than 10 times as much, $5,334,565, to Republicans between 1995 and 2009.” There are several reasons for this: Few of the Democrats in Congress are ruralists. As the EWG, a left-of-center environmentalist group, points out, there’s something hypocritical about Republicans sparing their own cash cow from the budget slaughterhouse: “[T]he Republican-led House Agriculture Committee is backing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – previously known as food stamps – in the face of record enrollment levels triggered by high unemployment. But not even minimal reductions were proposed to the excessive payments to wealthy farms.” Also: “[T]he Republican Study Committee proposed to eliminate the meager federal funding for an organic food growers’ program without even mentioning the possibility of cutting spending for entitlements that send checks out to largest producers of corn, cotton and other commodity crops–regardless of need.” And while Dems may not receive as much in subsidies, it’s not like Obama’s Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack doesn’t agree with almost everything Republicans say about farm welfare.

5.) Meet the green snake oil salesmen who have Obama in their pocket — Venture capitalist Steve Westly is “one of President Barack Obama’s most prolific fundraisers,” reports the Center for Public Integrity. “He visits White House staff and, as a member of a government advisory board on energy policy, has the ear of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department hands out the sort of seed money sought by companies in The Westly Group portfolio. He even has hosted the president at fundraisers in his Northern California home, and co-hosted events for three of Obama’s most influential advisors.” The support has paid off a hundredfold. “Since June 2009, four companies in Westly’s venture firm’s portfolio have received more than half a billion dollars in loans, grants or stimulus money from the Obama Energy Department, a review by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News has found.” And believe it or not, CPI’s report shows Westly to be just the tip of a melting iceberg of special favors.

6.) Joe Biden is such a Continuing Resolution tease — “Vice President Joe Biden told reporters following a meeting with Senate Democratic leaders that both sides had agreed on a number — $73 billion in spending cuts — but little else,” reports National Review’s Andrew Stiles, noting that Democrats continue to inflate their cut offer by including the amount that spending would have increased had Obama’s budget 2011 been approved. Shortly thereafter, Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said, “There is no deal until everything is settled — spending cuts and policy restrictions. The Vice President simply hasn’t been at the table.” Government shutdown, here we come.

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