Road trips

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Republicans are urging passage of President Bush's stalled energy bill as one way to remedy rapidly rising oil prices. Democrats are calling on Mr. Bush to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a means of stabilizing the cost of gasoline.

As for Clark Grisvold.

Based on the rapid rise in fuel prices in recent months, were the Griswold family, from National Lampoon's "Vacation" movies, to go on holiday to Wallyworld this summer, they'd pay an extra $130 for gasoline compared with last summer's prices.

"And that's not even accounting for extra gasoline consumed by the surplus baggage of a dead aunt strapped to the roof of the car," says Sarah Leonard, of America Coming Together, an organization, for once, not authorized by any political candidate.

Apart from the Griswolds, a family in Portland, Ore., driving to Walt Disney World in Florida this summer will pay $631 in fuel costs - up $159 from one year ago; a family in Columbus, Ohio, driving to the Grand Canyon in Arizona will pay $397 for gas, a jump of $99; and a family in Pittsburgh traveling to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming will pay $404, a $106 increase over 2003.

And if Congress doesn't act fast, Bush could be paying an extra $53 for a one-way drive home to Crawford, Texas.

PREFER A HANDSHAKE

The nation's lawmakers are increasingly using e-mail to communicate with constituents, but these same elected officials don't trust the authenticity of e-mails sent to them.

"What we heard was that (special) interest groups can generate tons of e-mails from anywhere, and the legislators don't even know if they're from authentic people," says Lilliard (cq) Richardson, associate professor at University of Missouri at Columbia's Truman School of Public Affairs.

"So, they don't know anything about these people, yet their e-mail boxes are filling up. Rather than 'grass roots,' the legislators call this abuse 'AstroTurfing.'"

Richardson says nearly 80 percent of respondents in his survey expressed concern about fake e-mail. Even photos can't be trusted, as several news organizations learned of late after publishing doctored photos related to the Iraqi war.

Most legislators surveyed, he adds, expressed concern that relying upon e-mail communication could result in biased representation, as many constituents do not have access to e-mail. They also were concerned about the confidentiality of e-mail, and whether the sender was actually a constituent. For this reason, many prefer more traditional means of interfacing with their constituents.

"Legislators still place a higher value on phone calls or letters, and especially personal visits," Richardson says.

GOING BUGGY

"Why all the foreign television coverage?" we inquired of Vivian Deuschl, Ritz-Carlton's international spokeswoman, after observing film crews from as far away as Japan setting up tripods outside the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton, just outside Washington.

"Cicadas," she says.

Are you kidding?

"The entire world seems to be intrigued by the Washington invasion of the bugs," Deuschl says of the 17-year Brood X cicada, which is displaying its noisy manners from the White House to Capitol Hill.

To acknowledge - with humor - the arrival of the pesky critters (and draw TV crews), the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton is serving guests handmade chocolates imprinted with images of red-eyed cicadas. And for those who prefer sipping their cicadas, hotel bartender Michael Brown mixes a colorful and tasty "Cicada Cocktail."

We have it on good authority that the hotel looked into serving genuine cicadas as hors d'oeuvres and garnishes but couldn't locate a licensed distributor of the rare breed of bug.

LANDLOCKED SAILORS

Vice President Dick Cheney paid his first visit Wednesday to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where he delivered the 123rd commencement address.

Cheney observed that the institution carefully selects each incoming class from a pool of America's finest apprentice seamen. Thus, he was interested to learn that one of this nation's future Coast Guard officers hailed, as he does, from Wyoming.

"I found out there's only one - a rising junior from Ranchester, Wyoming," said Cheney, who joked, "I would have expected more, considering the breadth of Wyoming's coastline.

"But I'll remind this future Coast Guard officer of the motto that I had when I was Wyoming's sole member of the House of Representatives: It may be a small delegation, but it is quality."

FAN OF CAMELOT?

"And next January, I look forward - as president of the Senate - to swearing in Richard Burton as the next - Richard Burr - as the next senator from North Carolina." - Vice President Dick Cheney, at a fund-raising reception in Winston-Salem, N.C., this week for Republican congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Burr.

NO COUCH POTATO

On the heels of this column observing that George W. Bush has "no nose for news," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) walked onto the House floor to express his astonishment.

Interviewed by Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent for The Washington Times, for his new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters," Bush admitted:

"I don't watch the nightly newscasts on TV, nor do I watch the endless hours of people giving their opinion about things ... I don't read the editorial pages; I don't read the columnists." In fact, Bush said he barely "skims" four newspapers delivered daily to the Oval Office: "The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post and USA Today."

"The time has come," says Frank, "for the president to acknowledge the fact that his method of getting information only from people within his own administration, who may have their own motives for misrepresenting or not giving him information that might be embarrassing to them, that has broken down, and the time has come for the president to dip into the budget that he gets and buy a subscription to some newspapers and watch the TV news."

'PERILOUS TIMES'

More tyranny in Alabama, where thou shalt not wear faith-based lapel pins.

Ask Christopher Word, who's been fired as membership director of the Hoover Chamber of Commerce for wearing a Ten Commandments pin.

One person who knows how Word feels is former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, who was stripped of his robe for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the court's lobby.

"The Hoover Chamber of Commerce should be embarrassed and ashamed to force a young man like Christopher Word to chose between his faith and his job," says the former judge. "This demonstrates the perilous times in which we live."

VICTIM RESTITUTION

Fed up with seeing victims of crime sometimes treated worse than perpetrators in court, Republican Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio, John Shadegg of Arizona and Kevin Brady of Texas have introduced a crime victims' rights bill.

It would: 1) allow crime victims to confront the accused in court and at sentencing or parole hearings; 2) require that victims be notified of the release or escape of a perpetrator from custody; 3) require that the victims' safety be considered in determining a release from custody; and 4) guarantee victims the right to seek restitution from their attackers.

ARTICLE VI

America's fight for independence is being waged all over again.

Concerned that Supreme Court justices are with "growing frequency" relying upon decisions of foreign judicial courts, the House subcommittee on the Constitution has approved the "Reaffirmation of American Independence Resolution."

The passage "is a salute to the framers of the Constitution and a victory for those dedicated to the protection of American sovereignty," reacts Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, who introduced the measure with fellow Republican Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia.

"This resolution reminds the Supreme Court that their role is interpreting U.S. law, not importing foreign law," he says.

Article VI states that the Constitution and laws of the United States are the supreme law of the land. Yet lawmakers point out that at least five justices, in order to justify their decisions, have written or joined opinions citing foreign courts from Jamaica and India to Zimbabwe and the European Union.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned of late, "I suspect that over time (the Supreme Court) will rely increasingly ... on international and foreign courts in examining domestic issues."