A Costly Solar Flame-Out (III)

In recent years — where important legislation always seems to be prepared at the eleventh hour, after closed door meetings with only selected congressional leaders — it has been easy to forget that one of Congress’ more important powers is the power to investigate, obtain documents, and take testimony.  Much of the drama in the Watergate story, for example, came during the long, drawn-out congressional hearings into that scandal, as witness after witness drew the ring of scandal closer and closer around President Nixon.

The story of Solyndra — the solar power company that recently went into bankruptcy after receiving more than $500 million in government loan guarantees and then became the subject of an FBI investigation — may reignite interest in congressional hearings.  ABC News is reporting that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings on the Solyndra story tomorrow, has obtained emails that indicate that the White House was carefully monitoring the Energy Department’s consideration of loan guarantees to Solyndra, at the same time that government analysts were expressing serious concerns about the risks involved.

The Solyndra story is no Watergate, of course, but congressional oversight and investigation powers aren’t reserved only for scandals capable of bringing down a President.  Congress should determine whether federal officials disregarded clear risks and awarded more than half a billion dollars to a private company just to advance a political agenda — or, even worse, to help a political contributor who invested in a struggling business — and, if so, Congress should take steps to ensure that those officials are appropriately punished and such recklessness does not happen again in the future. Such actions would be a good sign that Congress may actually get back to doing its job and exercising its powers, rather than simply, and endlessly, fundraising and grandstanding.

The Fresno State Food Stamp Fraudsters

Technically, it is the Fresno State Bulldogs.  In view of recent news stories, however, perhaps the team name should be changed to the Food Stamp Fraudsters — which has a nice bit of alliteration to it.

According to reports, as many as two dozen Fresno State players are embroiled in a welfare fraud investigation involving a county Department of Social Services eligibility specialist.  The government worker apparently improperly obtained Electronic Benefit Transfer cards — formerly known as food stamps.  Although the names of the athletes haven’t been released and it’s not entirely clearly what they received, a statement from the University confirms that student-athletes did obtain some benefits from the process.

Presumably getting special benefits from an outsider is an NCAA violation — but the NCAA may be the least of the players’ concerns.  Given that the government worker is being charged with multiple felonies, any misguided player who knowingly participated in the fraudulent scheme to improperly obtain government benefits may end up having more to worry about than just their eligibility to play in a college football game.

 

Gram Scam

Every grandkid knows that if they are in a pinch and really need money, they can always make a discreet withdrawal from the Bank of Grandma.  Unfortunately, fraudsters have learned that same lesson and are using that knowledge to prey on the elderly and bilk them out of their retirement savings.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has been warning of scams that follow this story line.  The unsuspecting senior citizen receives a frantic phone call from a young person purporting to be their grandchild or some other relation.  The terrified kid is in an awful jam — maybe he needs money to get out of jail, or to pay a spring break hotel bill because his friends skipped town on him — and he’s counting on Grandma or Grandpa to help him out by wiring some money right away.  He didn’t want to call Mom or Dad, because they’ll never forgive him, and he knows Grandma and Grandpa will keep his secret.  And he’ll pay the money back, of course.  The worried grandparent, secretly pleased to be of help, goes to the bank or Western Union to send the money, and they never see that money again.

It’s pathetic, of course, that crooks would consciously try to cheat older people, but they’ve been doing so since the dawn of time.  What’s really heartbreaking is that the defrauded grandparents are so trusting, and have such strong senses of familial obligation, that they are inclined to send thousands of dollars on the basis of a single phone call from a person whose voice they obviously don’t know and who claims to be a relative they haven’t talked to in months.  Perhaps each of us should call the elders of our families — not only to alert them to this scam, but also to re-acquaint them with the sounds of our voices.