mardi, juin 06, 2006

Paris with a little ethanol on the side?

"WASHINGTON, June 5 — Congressional aides took $30 million in trips paid for by private groups from 2000 through mid-2005, surpassing the privately sponsored travel of their bosses by nearly $10 million over the same time, according to a new analysis of publicly disclosed travel expenses.
Together, aides and members of the House and Senate filed 23,000 public disclosure forms on their individual trips, the survey found, for an estimated price tag of about $50 million. Among the most popular destinations were Paris (at least 200 times), Hawaii (150) and Italy (140).
Congressional travel paid for by outside organizations like trade groups and corporations has been under intense scrutiny following scandals involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While much attention has been focused on elected officials and corporate jet travel with lobbyists, the new study, conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Medill News Service of Northwestern University and American Public Media programs, is the most extensive in recent years because it tallied the costs, purpose and destinations of trips by Congressional aides and politicians.
The study concluded that about 90 of the trips were paid for by lobbyists, which is an ethical violation, during the five and a half years examined. About 500 trips cost $10,000 or more each, and 16 cost $25,000 or more apiece, the study showed. About $20 million was spent on overseas travel." New York Times, June 6, 2006 Are we on outrage overload? Are our circuits about to blow?

If my immediate reaction to the news of a huge Congressional scandal in the making is any indicator of the way the American public thinks, then we are right here in the danger zone.

When I first heard on the radio yesterday that members of Congressional staffs were being bought and sold with costly junkets from lobbyists, and that many of the "fact-finding" trips were upfront ethics violations, my first feeling wasn't rage. Instead I thought, rather cooly..."of course they'd go after the staff, doofus."

Who are your decision-makers? It's the probably senior staff, rather than the pretty faces in Congress. The staff are also probably more likely to be susceptible to the lure of a nice vacation in Paris or Hawaii than some of the multimillionaires in the House and Senate.

As we can see from recent news about Senator Harry Reid and the allegations about Congressman William Jefferson, Democrats have no reason to gloat. Nonetheless, if there is going to be reform, it will probably have to come from the minority party (if and when they ever become the majority).

I'm not quite willing to throw up my hands and cede our democracy. Not yet. I'd like to think that we have something to say in which companies get huge tax breaks, who gets to pollute our air, and what products get safety recalls. But before I rail against the cynicism in of the American citizen, it would probably be therapeutic for me to get up, put in my contact lenses and take a long the mirror.

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