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Correction to This Article
An item in the In The Loop column Wednesday incorrectly reported that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and three aides were en route to China. A China trip had been contemplated but Dodd decided not to go.
UNESCO poised to cancel Obiang prize

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 7:42 PM

The controversial decision by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to set up a life sciences award in the name of Equatorial Guinea ruler Teodoro Obiang Nguema - to be endowed for five years by a $3 million gift from Obiang - appears about to be reversed.

Loop Fans may recall that the original 2008 decision, strongly opposed by Washington, the European Union and others, appeared dormant until April, when UNESCO announced that some award winners were to be named soon.

Human rights groups objected, noting that State Department reports found Obiang's regime involved in "arbitrary arrest, detention . . . harassment and deportation of foreign residents with limited due process" and judicial corruption and so forth.

On May 20, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who oversees the subcommittee funding UNESCO, wrote the organization that "it seems highly likely" Obiang's donation "came from corruption, kickbacks and other theft."

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa weighed in that day with a sharply worded statement in opposition. All that objecting stalled the process until the UNESCO executive board's meeting in Paris this week.

A draft decision circulating Tuesday - likely to be adopted Wednesday, we're told - said the board "decides to suspend" the prize award and continue thinking about it "until a consensus is reached." (That would be never.)

"President Obiang and his family have looted their country while its people barely survive," Leahy said in a statement to us Tuesday. "UNESCO will be doing the right thing by disassociating itself from this corrupt, abusive regime."

Political? This thing?

A new video released by House Republicans, titled "Putting the Power Back in Your Hands," went viral Tuesday and raised some eyebrows on the Hill about whether it might violate rules against political activity just before an election.

But House Republicans say the video, produced by the Republican Study Committee and Republicans on the House oversight committee, just lays out the party's philosophy.

"We're presenting the governing principles guiding the Republicans," said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for the Republicans on the oversight committee. And while the video looks very professionally done, Bardella says it was done in-house by a staffer.

Besides, the House rules, impossibly arcane to begin with and focused on mailings, have precious little to say about video content.

Sure, there are times when a layman might think the video, two weeks before the election, is a tad political. For example, at the beginning of the two-minute production, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) says "many people in Washington have just stopped listening." But he never says who those "people" are - although the pictures of President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shown at the bottom of the screen might be a clue.

The Republicans, led by Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and the oversight panel's ranking minority member, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), say they are "working to cut spending, end the bailouts, balance the budget and repeal Obamacare." Ah, yes, balancing the budget.

In any event, two experts on ethics law said Tuesday that they doubt any rules were violated. "It's no more or less political than many" of messages transmitted "on both sides," said Rob Walker, former chief counsel of the Senate and House ethics committees. It would have to be "much more overtly campaign-related," he added.

Elliot Berke, who served as counsel to former House speaker Dennis Hastert, agreed. "I don't see any regulations that are really violated," Berke said, deeming the video "perfectly permissible."

Where the money is

Ever wonder why some things seem to cost the federal government so much? There are obviously many reasons. A new report by former House Appropriations Committee staff director Scott Lilly, now at the Center for American Progress, highlights one interesting case involving Emergent BioSolutions Inc., a Rockville-based maker of anthrax vaccine.

The company was originally operated by the Michigan Public Health Service but went private in a sale overseen by two men who had worked in state government and, oddly enough, became partners in the company that submitted the winning bid, according to the report, "Getting Rich on Uncle Sucker."

The company, the report says, has one product, an anthrax vaccine developed by Army scientists in the '60s, and one customer, the federal government. The company's Securities and Exchange Commission filing for 2000 says it had revenue of $217 million from selling the vaccine while the "cost of product sales" was $46 million, for a most excellent markup of about 300 percent.

In an e-mail response to CAP, Emergent insisted the pricing was appropriate, noting that "dozens of audits and financial reviews have been conducted by various government agencies and each has concluded that the pricing structure is both fair and reasonable." Drug companies, of course, are widely criticized for their big profit margins.

We're trying to find out why our broker utterly failed to buy Emergent stock years ago.

An item in the In The Loop column Wednesday incorrectly reported that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and three aides were en route to China. A China trip had been contemplated but Dodd decided not to go.

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