A Junket in the Jungle? How Can You Ask?

By Al Kamen
The Washington Post
Friday, April 14, 2006

Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and a staffer and some military officers are spending part of the Passover/Easter holidays in a traditional setting.

And what could be more traditional than the heart of the Amazon jungle -- or in Brazil's spectacular Ariau Amazon Towers, the most famous of Amazon resorts, a place where the treetop "Tarzan" suites can run $3,000 a night?

The purpose of the trip, according to Specter's office, is to discuss immigration, drugs and trade. Earlier in the week, they talked about guest workers with the president of Colombia, which has programs with Canada and Spain. Funding for drug interdiction is another issue they worked on.

Then the hardy travelers took their military 737 executive jet -- all business class, windows in the bathrooms -- over to Brasilia on Wednesday afternoon, where we're told Specter apparently had the embassy arrange his usual late-day squash game and a tee time so his wife and a physician who accompanied them could play golf. (There's grumbling that the embassy covered the difference when ungrateful caddies were unhappy with the tips.)

But it was hardly all pleasure: There was a later meeting at the Brazilian foreign ministry. However, a "country team" briefing at the embassy and a dinner with senior embassy officers were canceled, we were told.

Then it was off yesterday to Manaus, near the headwaters of the Amazon, before heading to Ariau, 35 miles northwest, said to be the actual birthplace of the matzoh ball.

And why there?

"They are looking at the status of the rain forest as it helps to combat global warming," we were told. Specter "was there previously and wanted to get an update." The average high temperature year-round ranges from about 87 to 91 degrees. That's pretty warm. Unclear if that's warmer than the last time Specter was there.

This was not one of those controversial, ethically suspect, lobbyist-paid junkets. We all got to chip in.

Barak, We Hardly Knew Ye

Detroit radio talk-show host Nancy Skinner is trying to unseat seven-term veteran Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) in November. Knollenberg has overwhelmingly won his last two races, with 58 percent of the vote.

But Skinner, in a recent campaign mailer, says the suburban 9th District has trended Democratic in recent years, with Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm and Sen. Carl M. Levin carrying it.

Skinner doesn't have a lot of political experience, but says she has "run for federal office once before" for the Senate -- not in Michigan, but in Illinois, where she'd gotten a radio job for a while. She lost the Democratic primary "to Democratic superstar and now friend, Sen. Barak O'Bama," the newsletter said.

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