Tired of those whining letters from your alma mater, the ones telling you that only your $200 check will keep the endowment from falling below $20 billion?

Well, maybe Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator of the Agency for International Development for Latin America, might get a reprieve for a couple of years from Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska, his alma mater.

An AID panel of career folks has decided to give the law school, which has no expertise in Cuba policy, a $750,000 grant over two years to study what is to be done about the properties Cuban dictator Fidel Castro seized from Americans some 45 years ago. We're told this was a highly competitive process.

Franco even went out to Omaha last week to hand over the award, reestablishing the long-standing Havana-Omaha linkage.

"USAID just wasted $750,000," a businessman who set up a private claims register told the Miami Herald. "It doesn't take rocket science to see what's already available and pull it together."

But a Creighton official promises to "systematically look at a lot of issues." And maybe they won't hit up Franco for a while for contributions?

Broadening the Mind

Speaking of Franco, he'll be joining House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) on a weeklong jaunt, starting next Monday, to Venezuela to see President Hugo Chavez and then to Brazil to see President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and to the Dominican Republic on the way back. We're hearing seven or eight members, including some not on the committee, plus some staff and spouses will be joining the always youthful, albeit retiring, chairman on the journey.

No doubt lots of World Champion Chicago White Sox paraphernalia will be aboard to give in honor of Chisox manager and Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen and of Chicago's Luis Aparicio, the first of the great Venezuelan shortstops.

Even if there's no time to stop at the spectacular Iguazu Falls, Brazil has wonderful gold jewelry and a booming plastic surgery industry for a little nip just in time for the holidays.

Perhaps your schedule is better served joining Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Max Baucus (Mont.) and some members and staff who are off to Hong Kong Dec. 12 to 18 for the sixth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference. No doubt there'll be a little time to squeeze in a side trip to the Great Wall or Xian's terra cotta soldiers.

Another trip heading out of the break is a short one, about four days or so, led by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and including Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and some House folks, going to Baghdad and Bahrain. This is not, not, a Loop-recommended trip. It's too short, and shopping in Baghdad is a bit limited these days.


Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark E. Rey was among the senior Agriculture Department folks plastered with a whipped cream pie as part of a fundraising effort for the Combined Federal Campaign. The daylong activities raised about $1,300 for the federal government's charity campaign.

Stumbling Again

Seemed for a while that the nomination of former Bush I White House counsel C. Boyden Gray to be ambassador to the European Union had overcome some stumbling blocks in the form of holds and would get through the Senate.

But there are, we're told, multiple holds on the nomination at this point, apparently from senators who took offense at an ad by the Committee for Justice, which Gray headed, which was pushing for the confirmation of Republican judges.

The ad accused "some in the U.S. Senate of playing politics with religion" in opposing the nomination of Alabama Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Catholic. It showed a sign on the doors of a courthouse saying: "Catholics need not apply."

Apparently some senators, such as Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), saw this as an exceptionally cheap shot -- even in this modern political era -- and are still unhappy about the two-year-old ad.

The senators' message, a Senate wag said, is that "Boyden Gray need not apply."

Not Off the Hook

The Democrats jumped all over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last week, demanding that his investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff not let his Republican colleagues "off the hook."

"McCain should investigate [House Speaker] Denny Hastert and [Majority Leader] Roy Blunt," Democratic National Committee press secretary Josh Earnest said. He added that there was reason to investigate a slew of other Republicans, citing an Associated Press article showing possible links between lawmakers, contributions and Indian casino interests.

The list of the to-be-investigated did not include any Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), who, the AP reported, also received contributions from Abramoff-connected tribes.