Of Tourists and Junkets
isiting Faraway Places Can Be Educational, or Not
Benchley in Venice: Famed wit Robert Benchley once cabled the New Yorker magazine from Venice, where he was on assignment: “Streets Full of Water. Please advise.”
Well, summer’s here and Santa Barbara’s streets are full of tourists. Face it, if anyone had any doubts: We’ve become a tourist town.
Cruise ships have discovered us, and thousands of rubberneckers and potential shoppers come swarming ashore.
Tourists on wheels do not understand our one-way streets or roundabouts. On foot, they trek up from the beach and do not understand why the first few blocks of State Street are boarded up like a ghost town. (I don’t either.)
They drink too much and have a hard time finding a really great place to eat. But when they do, they support a multitude of wonderful restaurants, more than little Santa Barbara could ever support on its own.
Their buses churn out clouds of toxic fumes, take up miles of parking spaces downtown, and get lost.
Still, it’s nice to be loved, wanted, even cherished. Relatives back in flyover country are impressed that we live in this (expensive and fast becoming more so) seaside wonderland, laden with mansions, money, and celebrities.
Trippy Work: But when it comes to vacations, few working people can top Congress. It’s a job with 239 days a year off to head off to Paris, Rome, Hawai‘i, and points east, west, north and south, compliments of lobbyists and other influence peddlers.
All in the name of (ahem) education. We can’t have Congress full of know-nothings when they have to deal with burning issues all over the globe, can we?
Or in the California Legislature either, for that matter. After State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) took a spring break to Eastern Europe, the Los Angeles Times reported that it was “bankrolled by groups lobbying the Legislature, including PG&E, Chevron, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Southern California Edison, among others.”
Five other state solons went along. How did the trip benefit California and his district? “Poland and California are similar,” Huff explained.
Representative George Miller of California and his wife explored education abroad by means of 30 trips to exotic locations (including Rome, Venice, Florence, and China) for conferences sponsored by the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit.
Total value of his trips with the Mrs.: $200,000. Oddly, although Miller sits on the House Committee on Education, only three of the conferences related to education, according to policymic.com.
Junkets for Jesus: That’s how the Mother Jones muckraking magazine headlined a piece about “the oldest and most politically influential Christian conservative organization.” Variously called The Family and The Fellowship, and based in Washington, D.C., it dispatches God-fearing politicians abroad, sometimes on the taxpayers’ dime, according to Mother Jones.
Led by octogenarian Doug Coe, it has sent emissaries to strongmen like Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, who’s been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide. So what do the strongmen get? Legitimacy and “champions back in Washington,” the magazine said.
The Bonner Party: You may never have heard of another supposed do-gooder organization, the Washington-based International Conservation Caucus Foundation. The ICCF’s Conservation Council includes ExxonMobil, American Petroleum, Malaysian Palm Oil Board, “and other groups that represent environmentally destructive industries,” according to Mother Jones.
Last August, it bankrolled a $47,000, 10-day excursion to a 66,000-acre Kenyan ranch for a group of GOP lawmakers that included Alabama’s Representative Jo Bonner. He was then head of the House Ethics Committee, so the trip presumably was oh-so-squeaky-clean under Congress’s tightened (but oh-so-leaky) new junket rules.
The visit ostensibly was to hear about threats to the ranch landscape and its herds of wild animals made famous in the 1985 film Out of Africa. The ranch happens to be owned by the Wildenstein family, which Mother Jones described as a “a secretive, embattled” Franco-American family that’s been accused of buying art looted by the Nazis and is accused by France of evading $800 million in taxes.
But when you’re willing to travel so far in the interest of protecting Africa, why expect your host to have clean hands? The Wildenstein family also happens to have donated $150,000 to the GOP, peanuts in these days of the anything-goes political sweepstakes okayed by the Supreme Court.
In stark contrast to all this dubious junketeering, Santa Barbara’s Rep. Lois Capps flew to Turkey in April for a bipartisan fact-finding trip about Mideast problems with about 20 other members of Congress. The prestigious Aspen Institute paid for the $6,500 trip, including air.
Find Your Grail: Zany, irreverent, bawdy, crazy, silly, outrageous — and above all — fun. That’s what I found at PCPA’s staging of Monty Python’s Spamalot at Solvang Festival Theater. I’ll never think of King Arthur’s legend the same way. It’s lovingly lifted from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and shows through August 10).