Judicial Watch • Obama

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The untold story of the Obama Administration’s widely reported, $335 million discrimination settlement with Countrywide Financial Corporation is that, under a secret Justice Department program, a chunk of the money won’t go to the “victims” but rather leftist groups not connected to the lawsuit.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will determine which “qualified organizations” get leftover settlement cash and Democrat-tied groups like the scandal-plagued Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the open-borders National Council of La Raza (NCLR) stand to get large sums based on the hastily arranged deal which got court approval in just a few days.  

Judicial Watch has investigated this controversial arrangement and in 2010 sued the DOJ to obtain information about the policy directing big portions of cash settlements from its civil rights lawsuits to organizations not officially connected to the cases. In response to JW’s lawsuit, the DOJ was forced to acknowledge that it has no official guidelines regarding “qualified organizations” that get leftover settlement funds and that it doesn’t monitor how the money is used.  

In the Countrywide case, details of the unscrupulous arrangement are buried deep (page 10 of the 17-page settlement) in the court document where Bank of America’s Countrywide Financial Corporation agrees to pay to resolve allegations that it discriminated against qualified black and Hispanic borrowers. The lender denies all of the charges, but wanted to end the case and caved into the government’s terms.

Here’s a synopsis straight out of the court settlement; all money not distributed to allegedly aggrieved persons within 24 months shall be distributed to qualified organizations that provide services including credit and housing counseling, financial literacy and other related programs targeted at African-Americans and Hispanics. Recipients may include “non-profit community organizations that provide education, counseling and other assistance to low-income and minority borrowers…”

This language essentially comes from ACORN’s mission statement. The famously corrupt group has raked in tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over the years but a series of scandals involving misuse of public funds, embezzlement, intimidation tactics, employee abuse, questionable hiring tactics and fraudulent voter registrations led Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the federal government from funding ACORN. The group simply transformed into various “spinoffs” and affiliated organizations and continues to get public money. Read all about it in a special JW investigative report, “The Rebranding of ACORN.”

The NCLR also stands to get money under the Countrywide settlement because the influential Mexican La Raza group is tight with the president and offers Latinos “housing counseling” that’s previously been funded by Uncle Sam. A JW probe uncovered documents in June that reveal federal funding for the group has skyrocketed since one of its top officials— Cecilia Muñoz—got a job in the Obama White House. Keeping with the mutual praise, the NCLR quickly issued a press release commending the administration for holding Countrywide “accountable for targeting communities of color.”

The landmark deal is the largest residential fair-lending settlement in history and has been widely celebrated by liberal groups as well as various media outlets, some of which believe the punishment wasn’t harsh enough. One newspaper editorial called it a “pittance compared to the grievous harm the lender brought to families across the nation.”

The money is supposed to be distributed to more than 200,000 minority victims—nearly one-third of them in California—who took out home loans between 2004 and 2008. According to the DOJ they were charged higher interest rates and fees than white borrowers based on their race not their credit. Thomas Perez, head of the DOJ’s bloated civil rights division, called it “discrimination with a smile” because victims had no idea they were being victimized and instead were thrilled just to get a home loan and realize the American dream.





In the latest federal cash giveaway to help “underserved” communities, a dance theater in Utah is getting thousands from the government to educate low-income youth about the evils of air pollution.

The Repertory Dance Theater in Salt Lake City will use its $25,000 grant to help kids understand the impacts of air pollution on the environment and their health. How, exactly? By conducting elementary-school arts programs with an environmental twist. They will include “innovative lectures, demonstrations and movement classes,” according to this month’s grant announcement.

This particular allocation is just a snippet of the Obama Administration’s multi-million-dollar “environmental justice” initiative, which aims to help low-income populations obtain the same degree of protection from health and environmental hazards as wealthy communities. Three similar grants were also awarded this month, two in Colorado and another in Utah.

So far the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has doled out north of $10 million to leftwing groups—including some dedicated to helping illegal immigrants—that teach black, Latino and indigenous folks how to recycle, reduce carbon emissions through “weatherization” and participate in “green jobs” training. The money will continue flowing in the coming year, according to EPA bulletins “seeking applicants for an additional $1 million in environmental justice small grants” to be awarded in 2012.

 “Community-based action and participation in environmental decision-making are critical to building healthy and sustainable communities,” EPA senior environmental justice advisor Lisa Garcia said this month. “By supporting local environmental justice projects in under-served communities, we are expanding the conversation on environmentalism and advancing environmental justice in communities across the nation.”

Let’s take a look at some of the groups that have cashed Uncle Sam’s environmental justice checks in the last year; a New Jersey nonprofit used its government cash to “educate and train” migrant farm workers from Mexico and Guatemala about “pesticide exposure” risks. A migrant farm workers’ group in Missouri spent it on a program to “increase awareness about the dangers of sun and heat exposure” in migrant communities.

Other community groups have used their money to teach residents of public housing about recycling, senior citizens about reducing their “carbon footprint,” inner city residents about “climate-change readiness” and students at a middle school with a “disparate economic and racial/ethnic composition” how to “identify and mitigate air pollution and solid waste disposal issues.” Here’s a detailed list of recipients and their mission.  

In the Obama Administration’s never-ending expansion of government, yet another new federal advisory committee has been empaneled to help “underserved” low-income populations succeed.

The new agency was actually created under the more popular theme of conservation, specifically of the nation’s best-known natural resources such as landmark forests, beaches and mountains. The administration made a case for the new initiative as a necessary tool to protect those precious natural resources and reconnect Americans to the great outdoors.

To lay the groundwork, a special report was issued earlier this year outlining how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from our great outdoors and thus the “natural and cultural inheritance that has shaped our lives and history.”  The nation’s natural resources remain central to our economic vitality yet they are under intense pressure from development and fragmentation, unsustainable use, pollution and impacts from a changing climate, the report says.

The solution to ensuring that our natural heritage is passed on to future generations is to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration, according to recommendations included in the document. This means improving career pathways and reviewing “barriers” to jobs in natural resource conservation and historic and cultural preservation. It also requires establishing a new 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to engage those young Americans.

Step one was to create a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Federal Advisory Committee, which happened just a few days ago. This new panel will cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, according to its charter. The investment will be well worth it because the committee will brainstorm about ways to help “low-income, underserved and diverse youth” gain valuable training and work experience.

In fact, when the administration announced this month that the committee is up and running, it stressed the new panel’s key mission; to empower young people—including low-income, underserved and diverse youth—with valuable training and work experience. Of course, all this will happen while also accomplishing important conservation and restoration work for America’s great outdoors, waterways and cultural heritage sites, the announcement says.

Now that Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial is done and the disgraced Illinois governor has been sentenced, the FBI’s extensive interview with President Barack Obama related to the case should be made public.

After all, Obama and his top aides—including Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett—were prominently mentioned at both of Blagojevich’s federal trials in Chicago because he was charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Obama got elected president. For all intents and purposes it was one of the biggest political scandals of modern times.

The nation’s commander-in-chief and his top aides were subpoenaed (only Emanuel testified) as were records associated with the mystery FBI interview, which took place after Blagojevich got criminally indicted. In the end, Blagojevich got convicted of 18 corruption charges and, this week, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, making him the fourth Illinois governor in recent history to serve time.

Throughout the scandal, the White House has insisted the president had nothing to do with Blagojevich. However, in 2009 Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Illinois Governor’s Office that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president. They include a letter from Obama to Blagojevich less than a week before the crooked governor’s arrest.

Judicial Watch has a long-standing public-records request to access the now famous FBI interviews with Obama, Emanuel and Jarrett relating to Blagojevich’s corruption case. The “most transparent” administration in history has refused to make the information available and has also denied requests to explain the president’s involvement in the Blagojevich scandal or the nature of the FBI interrogations.

What we do know is that court testimony at both trials (the jury hung the first time and Blagojevich was retried) indicates that Obama was embroiled in the scandal. Judicial Watch covered both trials in the same Chicago federal courtroom where witness after witness indicated top-level White House involvement in the Senate-appointment scheme.

President Obama is determined to push through a foreign ambassadorship for a controversial figure whose close ties to a spy from a terrorist-sponsoring nation derailed a similar post for the same aspiring diplomat in the Clinton Administration.

The tale actually dates back to the late 1990s when Bill Clinton nominated Puerto Rican activist Mari Carmen Aponte, a former board member of the leftist National Council of la Raza (NCLR) and Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), as ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Aponte had worked as a volunteer in the White House personnel office and helped raise campaign money for Clinton. But she had a rather large skeleton in her closet, a decade-long romantic relationship with a reported Cuban intelligence spy named Roberto Tamayo. Aponte and Tamayo lived together and the couple met frequently with Cuban intelligence agents, according to various news reports.

Since 1982 Cuba has appeared on the State Department’s list of countries that have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. That means restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on defense exports and sales and other financial restrictions. Iran, Sudan and Syria also appear on the list alongside the communist island.

Aponte’s relationship with the Cuban spy came out when the FBI vetted her for the Dominican ambassadorship years ago and has resurfaced because Obama is set on making her the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. To avoid discussing her relationship with Tamayo at Senate confirmation hearings, Aponte withdrew Clinton’s nomination to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Evidently, Obama thought enough time had passed to make it all disappear. The president originally nominated Aponte in December 2009 and made her a recess appointee about a year later in order to bypass Republican opposition. As her temporary, one-year tenure expires, Senate confirmation can no longer be avoided so the issue has again resurfaced.

Members of the vocal Congressional Hispanic Caucus are making it a race issue, accusing Republicans of denying a Hispanic woman a rare shot at a prestigious diplomatic post, according to a national news story. An Illinois congressman (Luis Gutierrez) took it a step further, comparing Aponte’s opposition to scrutiny Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor got during her confirmation hearings.

“Between Mari Carmen Aponte and Sonia Sotomayor, there seems to be something amiss over in the Senate with Republicans refusing to confirm strong, smart Puerto Rican women for important positions for which they are eminently qualified,” Gutierrez said.

The Obama Administration drastically inflated statistics to show that it has deported a record-high number of illegal immigrants with criminal records, according to federal data obtained by a nonprofit university group dedicated to researching the government.

The new documents reveal the figure is actually at an all-time low and rapidly decreasing, leaving the Obama Administration with egg on its face just weeks after bragging about removing an unprecedented number of criminal aliens. In mid-October, Obama’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director jubilantly announced that nearly 55% of the record 396,906 illegal immigrants deported in fiscal year 2011 were convicted of felonies or crimes.

The real figure is less than 15%, according to federal records obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research center that provides detailed information about the operation of hundreds of government agencies. The number of deported criminal aliens has been declining steadily throughout the past year, the TRAC analysis found, even though fiscal year 2010 had an already low level of 16.5%.

In the first quarter of the fiscal year (October – December 2010) 15.8 percent of deported illegal immigrants were charged with engaging in criminal activity, 15.1 percent during the second quarter (January – March 2011), 14.9 percent during the third quarter (April – June 2011), and finally 13.8 percent during the fourth quarter (July – September 2011). The average rate across the four quarters for FY 2011 was 14.9 percent, according to records obtained from the government through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

TRAC analyzed case-by-case records covering all proceedings filed in the nation’s immigration courts, which operate under the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The total number of deportation proceedings for aliens with criminal records dropped from 40,500 in fiscal year 2010 to 33,763 in fiscal year 2011. The number of individuals removed for national security or terrorism decreased from 42 to 30 during the same period.

This certainly contradicts the administration’s claims that it’s focusing on removing criminals while it grants backdoor amnesty to otherwise “law-abiding” foreigners living in the U.S. illegally. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) even issued new guidelines ordering immigration agents to prioritize deporting convicted criminals and those who pose public safety and national security threats.

Obama’s ICE director, John Morton, calls it a “smart and effective immigration enforcement” that essentially relies on “setting priorities for removal and executing those priorities.” If the goal isn’t met, just distort the figures and lie to the American people.

While the U.S. government is preoccupied monitoring and controlling what American children eat, it’s failing miserably to protect those in foster care from the devastating effects of potent, psychiatric medications that alter the mind.

Hundreds of thousands of foster children across the nation are being prescribed powerful psychiatric medications at doses that exceed the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), yet the feds are doing little to shield them. Within that number there is a subgroup that’s taking five or more psychiatric drugs simultaneously despite potential safety issues. In some cases the drugs aren’t even approved for this type of use the FDA, the federal agency charged with protecting public health by assuring the safety of medications and food.

The alarming details of the government’s failure to protect its most vulnerable citizens are featured in a federal report issued this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. It outlines the results of a two-year probe featuring five states—Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas. Of the approximately 100,000 foster kids studied, investigators found that nearly one-third were prescribed at least one psychiatric drug. Investigators also determined that foster children are almost five times more likely to take psychotropic drugs than kids who aren’t in the system.

Foster children less than a year old were nearly twice as likely to be on psychiatric drugs compared to non-foster kids, investigators found. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is being blamed for the crisis since it oversees Medicaid, which provides prescription drug coverage for foster children and has the power to withhold federal money from states that fail to comply with stricter rules.

While little kids are getting doped up by the government on potent psych drugs, HHS simply offers “informational resources for states to consider” for children in their custody with no follow-up or oversight. “HHS-endorsed guidance could help close gaps in oversight of psychotropic prescriptions and increase protections for these vulnerable children,” congressional investigators say in their report.

Ironically, the Obama Administration has put the bloated federal government stamp on other issues that don’t require it. For instance, under Michelle Obama’s multi-billion dollar law (The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) various federal agencies—including HHS—have joined forces to control what children eat as well as their exercise habits. Passed by Congress last year, the measure especially targets poor and “at-risk” kids.   

As part of that effort, the government actually wasted $2 million this year on a device that tracks what minority public children eat for lunch. The goal of that brilliant project is to calculate how many lunchtime calories poor and minority kids consume at five Texas elementary schools. High-tech cameras were installed in the cafeteria of one San Antonio campus to photograph the foods students put on their trays. The digital imaging later determines how many calories were consumed.

In what may seem like a joke, federal agencies that have long failed to meet statutory requirements for maintaining records will help the Obama Administration craft a long-awaited, government-wide system to store and manage electronic files.

The White House has ordered agencies to submit recommendations by May 2012 to help create a new directive that will ultimately transform the government’s notoriously inept record-keeping operation. In the end, there will be an efficient and uniform records management system never before seen in the bloated federal government.

The agencies will report their ideas for improving the way they store and manage electronic files, including emails, blog posts and social media activity, according a news report that cites a White House memo issued this week. The goal is to make better use of electronic document storage technology and to create a government-wide records management framework.

This 360-degree turnaround is laughable considering the current system, which lacks any sort of uniform rules. At most government agencies employees decide which emails they think they may be required to keep, which is comical to say the least. And, as the political magazine that reported the story points out, this significantly raises the risk that emails will be lost or misplaced or that employees won’t accurately determine which messages must be archived.

Additionally, 95% of agencies fail to meet statutory requirements for maintaining files, according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). How did the NARA come up with this figure? Based on agency self-assessments that indicate most aren’t saving the proper records or storing them electronically to ensure that they can be retrieved in the future. In other words, they openly admit that they’re blowing off record laws.

This development comes on the heels of a separate but equally disappointing move by the Obama Administration, which promised unprecedented transparency, involving public records. For nearly a year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a cabinet-level agency within the Executive Office of the President of the United States, has failed to approve recommendations for improving public records requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The recommendations were created by a branch, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), created two years ago to mediate disputes between those who request public records and the agencies that process the requests. The OGIS is also tasked with recommending policy changes to the president and Congress that will bring transparency and efficiency to the FOIA process.

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