Escapades, sadly, aren’t a big surprise

By Larry Simoneaux

There’s a scene in the movie “Casablanca” that I truly enjoy.

It’s where Captain Renault is closing down Rick’s place and Rick is asking why.

Rick: “How can you close me up? On what grounds?”

Renault: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

This exchange occurs as Renault is being handed his winnings for the evening.

We’ve got two scandals in the news just now. One is an investigation into whether members of a Secret Service advance team and several members of the military brought prostitutes to their rooms before President Obama’s recent diplomatic trip to Colombia.

The second involves a “training conference” for members of the General Services Administration that was held in Las Vegas during 2010. That “conference” reportedly cost more than $800,000 and included the hiring of a clown, a mind reader, and holding a $75,000 bike building “training exercise.”

As a taxpayer, I’ll admit to a boatload of anger over both incidents. The Secret Service situation is especially galling because I admire them and still naively cling to the hope that there might be some administration, bureau, agency, group, elected body, or what have you that really is all that they’re supposed to be, all of the time.

Human nature being what it is, however, I guess such a hope is going to continue its struggle to survive.

One reason (not excuse, mind you) for such escapades is that, in any military (or similar) service wherein extensive travel is required, one of the biggest command worries is “liberty” in a foreign location.

While in the field, the troops are usually magnificent. They put in long hours, tolerate awful conditions, work like mules, accomplish their missions and make you proud. Then comes the time for liberty. The work is over, they have a gob of money, and they’re looking for things to do.

Unfortunately, there are only so many museums. The symphony and the ballet company are on the road. The theaters are sold out and all of the fine restaurants are booked.

Which means that there are always a few individuals who are going to find their way to certain bistros located in areas populated by those seeking to provide them with “entertainment” for the evening.

It also means that those in charge are likely to be on a first-name basis with the local constabulary by morning and that fingers are going to be crossed in hopes that it had been a busy news night and no one reported that certain members of their unit had been involved in some less than refined behavior.

The larger problem in this instance is that these individuals were part — in some way, shape or form — of the team responsible for the safety of the president of the United States. Think about that and you’re right to be angry, frustrated, embarrassed, and demanding action.

The GSA situation is inexplicable simply because of our ongoing economic problems. You read about this episode and — even though the words “government” and “waste” are often redundant — wonder if, perhaps, there was a GSA official who looked at the proposal and said “You want to do what, where, and for how much? You’ve got to be (kidding) me.”

Believe it or not, such individuals exist in government but, too often, they get overruled or bypassed. Then, even though similar (but far less costly) foolishness occurs, it often goes unnoticed because times are good, the money wasted doesn’t attract attention, and other news crowds everything out.

This time, though, it was far too blatant and egregious and it looks as if the news is only going to get worse for everyone involved.

It’d be great to find the individual who might’ve wanted to stop the whole thing and appoint him to head the GSA. It’d be a small step, but it would surely get noticed.

The good thing that’ll come from these scandals is that, for a while, things are going to tighten up. People are going to get fired and, let’s pray, go to jail. Rules will be reviewed, rewritten and enforced. Behavior will be watched and expenditures will be monitored.

At least they will until things quiet down and, then, it will happen again. It’s just part of the equation where OPM (Other People’s Money) is involved.

Anger, frustration, disappointment and punishment for the guilty. Such are absolutely appropriate.

Being “shocked” over either incident? I think not. Not these days.

And therein lies another — larger — problem we all face.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to larrysim@comcast.net.