Congress's international boondoggles

The Wall Street Journal leads with a great investigative piece on the overseas trips of members of U.S. congress. The travel tab, charged to the taxpayer, has increased ten-fold since 1995 -- and many trips are of, well, dubious importance to U.S. citizens. Money quote:

Last summer, Rep. Brian Baird (D., Wash.) took a four-day trip to the Galápagos Islands with his wife, four other lawmakers and their family members. The lawmakers spent $22,000 on meals and hotels, records show. Mr. Baird, a member of the House Science Committee, said the trip was to learn about global warming.

On the first day, lawmakers toured a breeding center for giant tortoise and land iguanas before dining with scientists, according to an itinerary for the trip. The next morning, lawmakers headed to the Galápagos National Park while their family members had the option of hiking, swimming or shopping. That afternoon, the group boarded a boat to visit a sea-lion colony and search for white-tip sharks.

Mr. Baird didn't respond to a request for comment.


Berlusconi model's "boyfriend" says romance was staged

The scandal around Silvio Berlusconi continues to get better and better. Yesterday, the "boyfriend" of aspiring model Noemi Letizia, whose murky relationship with the Italian Prime Minister set off his wife's divorce proceedings in the first place, claimed that their "relationship" was staged for the public on the orders of persons unknown

Domenico Cozzolino said his supposed relationship with Noemi Letizia was organised after the prime minister attended her birthday party in April.

"I believe someone put her up to it," the reality TV contestant, 21, told the magazine, Diva e Donna[...]

Photographs showing Mr Cozzolino and Ms Letizia kissing on the seafront in Naples were published shortly afterwards in Chi magazine, owned by the Berlusconi family's financial holding company, Fininvest.

The 21-year-old said he had not spoken to Ms Letizia since 7 June.

"They wanted to send me away because I know too much," he said, adding that he had "not told the whole truth, just part of it".

If true, that's a lot of effort to go through to disguise a prediliction for younger women that so many Italian politicians already knew about.