This time of year is one of the few times I miss being a Congressional staff member in Washington.
It I were still there in my previous position as a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science & Technology — one of several posts I had during my time in Congress — I most likely would be off to the Paris Air Show, where aircraft manufacturers and some assorted weapons makers, would be strutting their stuff at the historic airfield where Charles Lindbergh landed after his solo flight over the Atlantic from America.
In many ways, the Paris Air Show is the Las Vegas of government gluttony and wishful thinking. Aircraft companies like Boeing here in the United States and Airbus (the British-French combine) jockey for prime placement of new and revamped models to sell to airlines and governments. These manufacturers and their lobbyists wine and dine those who make decisions — along with a lot of hangers-ons — throughout the the fabled French city and on trips to the countryside.
One year, the British vertical takeoff and landing Harrier fighter jet hovered over the McDonnell Douglas tent and offered a salute. The American company’s attempts to duplicate the Harrier wasn’t going well at that time. On another, an Airbus jumbo jet misjudged its speed and crashed beyond the runway, but fortunately didn’t kill anyone.
On one of my trips to the Paris Air Show, I got a day trip from Paris to Lyon on the high-speed TGV train and lunch at a 5-star restaurant, one of several sit downs at fancy restaurants over the week there. My Congressional delegation also took side trips to Germany, Stockholm and a couple of other places that can’t be mentioned.
The trip included a state visit to the American Embassy and, of course, time for shopping — all paid for by taxpayers.
When I returned to Washington, I would write a report for Congressional members of the Science & Technology Committee. Few, if any, ever read the reports.
I also had to duck phone calls from aides to muckraking columnist Jack Anderson, who wrote about each visit to the Air Show and documented how much money was paid.
All in a day’s work on Capitol Hill. At least it was that way back in the 1980s. As for now? Who knows.