Where the Obamas should go on vacation

Al Kamen
Columnist July 12, 2012

The White House said last week that President Obama and his family would not be vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard this year.

Phew. Good thing, since we had already launched a contest the week before inviting Loop Fans to suggest where the Obamas might want to go instead of the super-tony Vineyard.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

We got a boatload of entries, most recommending spots in battleground states — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado or Wisconsin — and even some recommending overseas travel.

The winners:

●Next door to Chief Justice John Roberts’s place on Hupper Island in Maine, “where they can help him build a treehouse and where he can sit out on a limb.” Submitted by Richard Crowley, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor now living in Annapolis.

Cedar Point, an amusement Park on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. (And not far from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.) Suggested first by Fran Stockdale, a Buckeye-born retired schoolteacher.

●Chicago. “It’s their home town. Shows he has roots and enjoys them.” Suggested by Gerald Rafshoon, a movie and television producer who was White House communications director in the Jimmy Carter administration.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich. “It’s presidential worthy — five presidents have visited, including Kennedy and Clinton. I would recommend a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore.” Suggested by Janet Martin, a Michigan native and finance manager for a Tennessee company now living in Silver Spring.

●A “staycation,” to show that they’re in touch with cash-strapped American families who are staying put this summer. Visit a few museums, maybe a day trip, suggests Elizabeth McGlynn from Bethesda, executive director of the nonprofit group Girls on the Run. “They live in one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions, and they should take advantage of it.”

●Greece. “A typical Michelle Obama vacation would bail out the Greek economy.” Suggested by John Lehman, a musician from Independence, Mo.

●Israel. Nice beaches, tourist attractions. “They could stay at the same lodgings as Vladimir Putin has just used. The security arrangements there are already in place.” Submitted by Seth Perelman, a retiree from Verona, Wis.

●A beach spot in a solid-blue state, perhaps Ocean City, Md., or Rehoboth Beach, Del. To show the critics that he’s not pandering, Obama should take the family to a Democratic stronghold, suggested previous contest winner Howard Walderman, a retired federal lawyer from Columbia, Md.

●The Jersey Shore. The Obamas might like Wildwood Crest for its all-American boardwalk and beaches. Bonus: The prez could time his vacation to coincide with “Ukrainian Week” in August, says Roma Hadzewycz, editor in chief of the Ukrainian Weekly and Svoboda, who lives in Parsippany, N.J.

●“Oil City, Pa., where oil was first discovered, then south to Cambridge Springs to visit Alliance College, the only Polish college in America.” Submitted by Bill Topolsky of Gaithersburg, a retiree formerly with the Institute of International Education. (Unfortunately, our contestant notes, the school has closed.)

Thanks to all for entering and congratulations to the winners. T-shirts (almost) in the mail.

Turn the page

The Pentagon bowed Thursday to pressure from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), and rescinded its policy of requiring that reports to Congress be no longer than 10 pages.

McKeon learned of the year-old policy Wednesday after receiving a 19-page report on China’s military. In a sharply worded letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, McKeon said the report was “wholly inadequate” and, along with other department actions, “reeks of obstructionism.”

The policy reflected concerns over congressional demands for what the Pentagon considered duplicative and time-consuming reports that went largely unread.

The department’s initial response Wednesday indicated it was not going to change the policy.

But on Thursday, Defense Department spokesman George Little, reading from a memo announcing the change, said “the explicit intent was to ensure more concise and well-written reports.” But the policy “appears to have been misinterpreted and has generated concern” that the Pentagon did not take seriously “its congressional reporting responsibilities.”

So final score: McKeon 1, Pentagon 0. Trees 0.

Tales from the safety net

Spanish-language telenovelas typically feature evil twins, star-crossed lovers or switched babies. But a radio novela produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a more prosaic plot — a woman’s choice to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.

Not to say there’s no drama in the educational series pitched to the Spanish-language community, which is titled “Hope Park.” Each short “episode” ends with a cliffhanger, like “Will Ramón convince Diana how easy it is to apply for SNAP? Don’t miss the next episode.”

The USDA is using the soap-opera-style format to promote the availability of food stamps, according to a report from the Daily Caller. Its segments center on a mother who wants to lose weight and serve more-healthful food to her daughter.

Over the 10-episode “season,” the woman overcomes misinformation and doubts about applying for assistance and finally enrolls.

But the plot is thickening. Conservative critics are targeting the novela, which was first produced in 2008 but continues to air, and they’re not talking about the acting or pacing. The right-leaning Caller griped that the outreach effort is targeting non-citizens along with Spanish-speaking citizens. The USDA noted that food stamps are generally not available to those in the country illegally, though some non-citizens, including children under 18, are eligible.

A staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sent reporters a link to the Caller story, flagging a scene in one of the episodes in which a character is convinced to apply for food stamps even though she argues that “I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us.”

Sessions, the staffer said, has questioned whether food stamps are being pushed not only to the needy “but to individuals whose existing resources and support network made various welfare benefits unnecessary.”

A USDA spokeswoman tells the Loop that Congress mandates “public education about the benefits of SNAP and how to apply to help reduce hunger in America.” And it’s probably way easier to engage people with a soapy drama than with a dull PSA.

Who needs an evil twin when there’s intrigue like this?

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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