John McCaslin

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.


John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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