|IT'S INAUGURATION DAY|
By Dianne Weaver
Pardon my tongue, but I think all this inauguration hoopla is a crock of unmitigated doody.
Particularly when there is so much loss and need here in the states with floods, landslides and recent hurricanes, and the unfathomable devastation caused by the tsunamis in Asia.
I certainly don't begrudge the President a celebration, but come on, isn't all this a tad too excessive?
Unlike presidential campaigns, inaugural committees can accept contributions in any amount and from almost any source, including corporations. Only foreign money is prohibited.
The money is rolling in.
The current committee has already collected private donations to to the tune of half their $40 million goal. They're confident they will collect the rest. Memorabilia sales are up.
Corporations and individuals donating $250,000 or more become inaugural "underwriters" and receive a sponsorship package that includes meetings with political VIPs, tickets to various inaugural week events where the President and First Lady and Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife are in attendance.
If you give $100,000, you're an "inaugural sponsor" and you get tickets to events leading up to and including the inauguration.
The $40 million will likely go toward the "celebratory activities," or shindigs as we more common folk refer to them. A big parade, fireworks, concerts, teas, lunches, candlelight dinners, the swearing-in ceremony itself, and not one but, count'em, nine official balls.
Thank goodness the office of the first lady has announced Mrs. Bush will be paying for her own duds for inaugural events. Gowns designed by Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Peggy Jennings, don't come off the rack at WalMart, Sears or Penny's.
But $40 mil is only the beginning.
Taxpayers are shelling out big bucks too, and we only get to watch the doin's on TV, if we're so inclined.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has estimated it will cost the district $17.3 million to help pay for security, which includes 6,000 law officers and 2,500 military personnel to guard the 250,000 people at the swearing-in and the half-million shivering parade watchers.
Williams said he can use $5.4 million from a fund for special events at the Capitol, but the other $11.9 million will have to come from the city's federal homeland security budget.
The expenses, Williams said, include $5.3 million in overtime costs for police officers and $2.9 million to cover logistics costs, such as "transportation, lodging, box lunches, water and granola bars." Granola bars?
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has $1.25 million to handle various production costs, such as staffing and printing, as well as catering and flowers for the luncheon in the Capitol following the oath of office. You can bet Jiffy and jelly and white bread won't be on the menu.
The Capitol Architect has a budget of $2.8 million as part of a construction project to "spruce up" the west front of the Capitol, where the ceremonies will take place. How bad could it have looked before?
To top it off inauguration day, with its street closings and heightened security, will be a holiday for federal workers in the DC area. According to the Office of Personnel Management, this will cost taxpayers an estimated $66 million.
Maybe Washington could learn something from mainstream Americans. What about pot-luck dinners and music shindigs? They're fun and don't cost much. We can celebrate almost anything with them.
Today's "celebratory activities" on satellite TV should leave quite an impression on the millions of citizens who are suffering through famine, disasters and third-world poverty.
I think I'm gonna have my own gracious celebration, boil some beans and make some cornbread, listen to some gospel music and glance across the snow-covered meadow.
Plenty for the soul that wants to celebrate.