Newsstand for Sept. 28-Oct. 12, 2017
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Read all about it: Your tax dollars at work in travel--and you won't like it. The war on hotel buffet breakfasts. Uber apologizes to London in its license battle, but strong-arms Quebec. Do you want to rollerblade to Houston or do you want to shut up and fly United? How to keep small towns in Italy alive. And much more.
Your Tax Dollars at Work in Travel (You Won't Like It)
It was only last week that I mentioned a T&E scandal "starring" Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who thinks he's too important to fly commercial. He's been chartering jets at a staggering pace at equally staggering prices--for increasingly questionable reasons. After a barrage of bad publicity, Price grudgingly decided to stop using corporate jets while the government investigates. But Price's profligacy reminds folks that the Trump Administration, which claims to be shocked--shocked!--by government spending, has been spending our tax dollars pretty freely on travel. Instead of taking the much more convenient downtown-to-downtown Amtrak Acela, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in August used an Air Force jet to fly between Washington and Manhattan. That little jaunt cost us $25,000. Mnuchin is already under investigation for using a private jet in August to fly to Fort Knox with his wife, which coincidentally occurred just as the eclipse passed over Tennessee. Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, also requested a government jet for his honeymoon. President Trump has belatedly noticed the trend. On Wednesday, Trump said he was "not happy with" Price's actions.
It's not just jets, of course. Someone in the government has been staying at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Florida resort at rack rate. Meanwhile, the Red Cross has come under fire for putting volunteers up at the St. Regis hotel in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. And Senator Robert Menendez, on trial for corruption, has suffered through some embarrassing revelations about his profligate use of American Express Membership Miles points. The New Jersey Democrat is accused of doing favors for a doctor fined nearly $9 million by the Department of Health and Human Services. Which puts a nice bow on all this, don't you think?
But the bow came unraveled today (September 28). Secretary Price ostentatiously declared he'd take no more charters--and promised to reimburse the nation for his private-jet travel. "The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes," Price said. The problem? Price is thinking in terms of about $52,000 for "my seat," just a fraction of $400,000+ actual cost for the charters he requested. And that was before Politico, which has owned this story, reported that the price is actually closer to $1 million when you include more than $500,000 worth of travel Price and his wife ran up this summer on military jets used to ferry them to lovely international destinations.
The Italy Report
Italy is certainly one of our favorite places, but huge sections of the country are literally dying as young people abandon old towns. The New York Times does a deep dive on how government officials and private parties are working to keep small towns alive. ... People love to visit Florence and it's hard to tell if the food or the cultural attractions are the major draw. So The Guardian solves the problem by offering a dining guide tied to the city's best-loved attractions. ... Meanwhile, the endless desire for "new" places is driving a lot of coverage of Italy these days. I wrote about visiting Genoa earlier this year and now there's a suggestion that a visit to Bologna should be next on your list. ... Meanwhile, Kathy McCabe is crowd-sourcing financial support for the second series of her PBS series Dream of Italy, which is based on her newsletter of the same name. Watch her video to explain the details.
You Want to Rollerblade to Houston? Shut Up and Get In!
There is nothing new in John Oliver's show-long rant about corporate consolidation and the state of U.S. airline service. But it is a brilliant--and a brilliantly funny--dissertation about the awfulness of the airline industry, where four carriers dominate 80 percent of the nation's traffic. "You may well be angry with the service you get from airlines," Oliver tells you with outrage in his eyes. "But thanks to consolidation, they don't need to give a shit about what you think." And to underline his point, he unveils a new slogan for United, which came under withering criticism during the show: "You want to fuckin' rollerblade to Houston? Shut up and get in."
The War on Hotel Buffet Breakfasts
I've always been a bagel or fruit for breakfast guy. But it's hard to ignore the hordes of food-crazed guests queuing up for platter after platter of free vittles at the breakfast buffets in limited-service chains such as Hyatt Place and Hampton Inn. And those sumptuous all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets offered by fancier hotels? A Forbes magazine blogger is calling them unconscionably wasteful. Hotel chefs are working to cut down the waste by making more intelligent choices about quantity and presentation. Meanwhile, The New York Times has taken on the same subject. "No good data exists about how much hotels or their buffets contribute to [food] waste," but some hotels feel they can raise awareness and alter behavior. But "people don't want to be preached to as they are going through the breakfast buffet," warns Pete Pearson, director of food waste at the World Wildlife Fund.
Tight Connections ...
Uber Agonistes London expects to revoke Uber's license to operate over a long list of infractions. Uber admits it lied yesterday, but promises to tell the truth Tuesday if it keeps its license today. But how dare the Canadian province of Quebec act to protect its riders. It seems Uber won't comply with Quebec's rules and is pulling out of the province.
Nap news The rise of airport pods and nap stations is the topic of Justin Bachman's report on the state of sleep on the road.
War planes Americans think Air Force One is where the President would ride out a nuclear attack. But it turns out the United States also has a small fleet of converted Boeing 747-200s that could manage nuclear war from the air. The aircraft are currently based in Nebraska. -- Joe Brancatelli
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