Saturday, April 7, 2007

Congressional Tourism

Tuesday on All Things Considered Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported on the high incidence of bombings in Iraq's markets, which are attractive targets because with many people in a small area there are often many casualties. She then reported on a US congressional delegation, led by John McCain, who visited the market under extremely tight security (they closed the market down to everyone else and were accompanied by 100 troops). One of the representatives, Mike Pence of Indiana, was apparently very impressed by the market and extremely moved by the fact that a carpet-seller in the market, touching his heart, refused payment from him. NPR wisely went back and interviewed the carpet seller, who said that he actually didn't like the Americans very much but that he knew he should give them a good impression of all Iraqis and after all, they were surrounded by soldiers.

Leaving aside the horror that I imagine Iraqis must feel knowing that they can be blown up while buying bread for their family (by the way, the same horror Israelis feel when going shopping, except that their security forces have had more time to get better at gathering intelligence and stopping the bombers), this story raises several questions.
  1. Why on earth are we paying for our congressional delegation to go shopping? I could understand if they wanted to see the security situation at the markets for themselves, but then they shouldn't have blocked the market off so that they could get an accurate assessment.
  2. Why would a (comparatively rich) congressman from Indiana accept a gift of a carpet from a poor Iraqi carpet salesman whose business has gone down directly because his country invaded? And isn't that a breach of some law about expensive gifts?
  3. It's reassuring to know that congresspeople are just as naive as anyone else. (Well actually it's not remotely reassuring - I would like to think that my elected representatives are much more intelligent than your average person and thus suited to make decisions that affect us all.) It was pretty pathetic that Rep. Price actually thought that the carpet seller was giving him a rug because he was so grateful to US. I will only say this: his previous occupation before being elected was as a (presumably right-wing) radio talk show host.
  4. Props to NPR for being sneaky enough to go back and interview the carpet seller. As I was listening to Rep. Pence gush about what a touching moment it was I was thinking, "I bet the carpet seller didn't see it that way." It's nice that Ms. Garcia-Navarro agreed.

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