Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some Rides ARE Free

The contrast could hardly have been starker.

“Congressional aides took $30 million in trips paid for by private groups from 2000 to mid-2005.”

That sum, according to The New York Times (June 7), is 60% of the combined cost ($50 million) of these “free” junkets by Members of Congress and their staffs for this period.

The paper cited a just completed in-depth study by the Center for Public Integrity at Northwestern University and the American Public Media program which found that:

-- 90 trips were paid for by lobbyists – which is illegal;

-- 500 trips cost at least $10,000, and 16 were more than $25,000;

-- $20 million of the $50 million went for travel overseas.

And where did most of those “tripping” end up?

-- The City of Light (Paris – France, not Texas) 200 trips and counting. Perhaps there has been a need to discuss France’s opposition to the Iraq invasion, World Trade Organization findings in trade disputes, and how France is coping with its large North African Islamic population.

-- Hawaii, 150 jogs. I’m not sure what’s so unique and critical to learn that could not as easily be seen or briefed closer to Washington, DC). If these destinations had been Guam, which is to become the home port for a beefed-up USN forward presence, they might make more sense.

-- Italy, 140 trips. My favorite. The Times article does not single out any city – e.g., Naples, home of the USN European headquarters and right next to the Isle of Capri – as a destination. One can never see too much or learn too much in Italy.

The contrasting pictures are not in the Times or The Washington Post or any newspaper – at least not that I have found – but in emails.

-- On June 6th, Diana Cardon arrived at the Capitol in Washington DC. She had walked the roughly 600 miles from Walterborough, South Carolina to get the attention of and encourage ordinary citizens to contact their representatives in the Congress to act to end the war in Iraq.

-- Meanwhile, Marshall Massey, of Omaha, Nebraska, set out on May 13th to traverse the 1,150 miles from that city on the Missouri to Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has traversed Iowa and is across the Mississippi and at Monmouth, Illinois. His timetable puts him at his destination by July 31st, the last day of this year’s annual gathering of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He plans to meet with the various communities of Friends as he travels east to find common ground for dealing with ecological matters.

The theme of bringing peace to the earth and to humankind reminds me of something you can find, with minimal travel, in The Washington Post on-line for June 3rd – still free if you act quickly – or in the newspaper if you still have it or your local library subscribes (hence the minimal travel).

With a now-much faded sign reading “Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty,” for 25 years (June 3, 1981) William Thomas and (almost as long) Concepcion Picciotto have kept a vigil for peace in Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Their story can be found in David Montgomery’s “Long Wait for Peace” starting on page C01 or on the Post’s website at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/02/AR2006060201885.html

They have, I fear, at least a few more years of waiting.

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