Olympia Snowe in Europe: retiree junket?

By Al Kamen, The Washington Post
Posted Aug. 04, 2012, at 10:02 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The euro zone is in crisis! What to do?

Time for some Capitol Hill types to head over to talk to the finance ministers and central bank heads of what some call the PIIGS — Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain — Europe’s most troubled economies.

We know what you’re thinking. But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, N.D., insists: “No side trips. This is business.” The delegation will be moving quickly, he said, leaving Saturday and returning next Friday. About a country a day.

The delegation includes Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif. Some spouses and staff members will be on board, along with Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for Europe, Chris Smart.

There have been briefings from Treasury and CIA officials, Conrad said, and he’s meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner before taking off. The journey is important, Conrad said, because the euro zone’s economic crisis is “weakening our recovery.”

So, since Conrad and Snowe are both leaving the Senate in a few months, isn’t this what one wag called the “Retiree Junket” and another dubbed the “Swan Song Codel”?

No, Conrad said. “Important decisions will have to be made” on these issues before the end of the year.

Okay. But it’s still Europe on a miljet. No better way to travel.

Nino takes off the gloves

It was only a matter of time before Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia returned fire.

The battle was joined, Loop Fans may recall, in late June, when conservative jurist and appellate judge Richard Posner sharply criticized Scalia, saying his dissent in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Arizona immigration case was political.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Justice Scalia’s opinion were quoted in campaign ads,” Posner wrote in Slate, adding that part of the opinion had the “air of a campaign speech.”

Scalia was asked about this on “Fox News Sunday,” where he appeared to promote his new book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.”

“He is a Court of Appeals judge, isn’t he?” Scalia asked. (Ouch.)

Scalia and Posner were faculty colleagues at the University of Chicago law school. In fact, in his book, Scalia cites at length a passage from a Posner text and concludes: “The analogy limps.” (‘Mongst the legal scholars, this is considered a devastating shot.)

When assured that Posner was, indeed, an appeals judge, Scalia said, “He doesn’t sit in judgment of my opinions as far as I’m concerned.”

“You sit in judgment of his opinions?” host Chris Wallace asked.

“That’s what happens,” Scalia replied.

“And people wonder why you push people’s buttons every once in a while,” Wallace said.

“It’s fun to push the buttons,” Scalia said. “When Richard Posner comes out with a statement like that, I should fire back a statement equally provocative.”

So it wasn’t political?

Lobbyists and nonprofits

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and his wife traveled to Bahrain last year, a House Ethics Committee-approved trip with a $20,000-plus tab that was picked up by a nonprofit organization.

That all sounds A-okay, right?

Maybe not, says ProPublica’s Justin Elliot. He’s reporting that the trip illustrates just how easy it is for people intent on influencing Congress to skirt reforms enacted in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, including the rule that says lawmakers can’t accept gifts or trips from organizations that hire lobbyists.

Seems the Bahrain American Council, which paid for the Burtons’ trip, is awfully cozy with an organization that does hire lobbyists. It shares staff and an address with Policy Impact, a lobbying firm that “would be barred from paying for Burton’s trip,” Elliot reports.

Burton’s office didn’t respond to ProPublica’s calls. The council president told ProPublica, “Policy Impact has helped with the business development of the BAC, as well as extending public relations services.”

The old set-up-a-nonprofit trick is tried and true among certain interest groups (ProPublica cites the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as one), but this might be the first time a lobbying firm has been caught using the nonprofit-spinoff strategy.

Who says there are no new ideas in this town?

Don’t #fail to enter

It’s last call for entries to our contest suggesting what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should say in her debut foray into the twitterverse. Clinton has never tweeted.

The question: WSHT? (As in “What should Hillary tweet?”) Keep your submissions to the Twitter-standard 140 characters, plz, and send them to intheloop@washpost.com. Be sure to provide your name, profession, mailing address and what size T-shirt (adult M, L or XL) you’d like if you’re a winner. You can enter “on background” if you like.

The 10 best entries win a coveted Loop T-shirt.

Our triumph in Iraq

The Loop Quote of the Week — maybe of the 21st century — comes from Stephen Cambone, who was undersecretary of defense for intelligence under Donald Rumsfeld.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum over the weekend, Cambone told a panel that the decision to invade Iraq was “one of the great strategic decisions of the first half of the 21st century, if it proves not to be the greatest.”

Brookings Institution fellow Noah Shachtman, who was the panel moderater, wrote on his blog for Wired magazine that Cambone’s observation, and his analysis that the invasion paved the way for the Arab Spring sweeping the region, “surprised” folks at the conference. No doubt.

Well, the century’s still young.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/08/04/politics/olympia-snowe-in-europe-retiree-junket/ printed on July 31, 2014