MediaMatters: The axe-grinding good-government poseurs at Judicial Watch are in a twist over First Lady Michelle Obama’s June trip to Africa, calling it “a nice taxpayer-funded ‘working’ vacation.” According to documents they obtained via FOIA requests (and their own “calculations”), the trip cost taxpayers $425,000 in travel and food expenses. Their “report” has already been picked up by Drudge, and it’s being flogged by the dimmer corners of the right-wing media.
….. First, it’s ridiculous to criticize the First Lady for the travel costs of an official trip to Africa. She’s the First Lady; if she travels anywhere, it’s going to be funded with public money. She can’t exactly fly stand-by on Southwest.
Second, the South Africa safari was paid for with the Obama’s private funds. What’s more, in taking her daughters on safari in Africa, Mrs. Obama was following in the footsteps of her predecessor. (Read here about Laura Bush and her daughters’ safari in Africa)
(A quick peek at Judicial Watch’s press release archive doesn’t turn up any outraged denunciations of Laura Bush’s safari-going ways.)
…. to say that the trip “was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration’s agenda in Africa” is absurd. The six-day trip was dominated by official events and meetings with world leaders…..
…. Judicial Watch doesn’t really explain how a meeting with Nelson Mandela constitutes “tourism.” Also, the other events Judicial Watch considers “tourism” – visits to museums and historical landmarks – are standard fare for visiting dignitaries. Laura Bush, during the same Africa trip noted above, toured museums and memorials dedicated to victims of apartheid and genocide…..
ABC: ….. The White House says a number of assertions made by conservative government watchdog Judicial Watch are in error:
The group calculated that the use of the C-32A aircraft cost taxpayers $424,142 (34.8 flight hours x $12,188 per hour).
“The number stated is misconstrued and out of context,” says a senior White House official. “The hourly rate is not the marginal cost of operating the plane – it is an accounting figure that prices in a number of fixed costs from maintaining the Air Force fleet for this kind of plane over a year. For example, it includes estimated replacement parts, depreciation, repairs, and costs that would have been incurred regardless of this flight.”
Judicial Watch says that Sasha and Malia Obama are listed as “Senior Staff.” Not true, says the White House.
“The Obama daughters were not listed as Senior Staff – that only designates the area of the plane where they were seated,” says the official. “The Air Force categorizes the passengers by compartment on the plane.”
…. The senior White House official says that private safari “was designated as a private event and paid for personally.”…. “It was an official trip with a 5-7 official events each day,” the official says.
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA’S VISIT TO SOUTH AFRICA AND BOTSWANA
TUESDAY, JUNE 21 – PRETORIA & JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
Mrs. Obama began her day by traveling to Pretoria where she met with President Zuma’s wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma ….. she then attended a reception with South African leaders organized by the U.S. Embassy … She then visited the Nelson Mandela Foundation, meeting with Graca Machel, Former First Lady of Mozambique, and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela. She also met with former President Mandela, before touring the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22 – JOHANNESBURG & CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Mrs. Obama visited Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, where she delivered the keynote address to a U.S.-sponsored Young African Women Leaders Forum. She then visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial, honoring the twelve year-old boy who protested apartheid and was shot and killed by apartheid government police. In the afternoon, Mrs Obama attended two sessions of a forum of Young African Women Leaders. Mrs. Obama completed her visit to Johannesburg by leading the final group of forum participants in a community service project.
THURSDAY, JUNE 23 – CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Mrs. Obama began her day in Cape Town by thanking United States Consulate employees and their families. She then visited Robben Island – where former President Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. She then delivered remarks and took questions from students at the University of Cape Town. She then visited the Cape Town Soccer Stadium where she met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and organizations dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
FRIDAY, JUNE 24 – CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA & GABORONE, BOTSWANA
Mrs. Obama visited the Botswana Baylor Children’s Clinic Center of Excellence’s Teen Club that was assembled to teach leadership among teens and encourage young people to teach others about HIV/AIDS. Mrs. Obama joined Teen Club members in a service project. She then had a meeting with President Ian Khama.
SATURDAY, JUNE 25 – GABORONE, BOTSWANA
Mrs. Obama began her day by thanking U.S. Embassy employees and their families. Following this event, Mrs. Obama and her family departed for private family safari events.
SUNDAY, JUNE 26 – GABORONE, BOTSWANA
Mrs. Obama and her family left Botswana to return to the United States.
But this trip was okay:
Laura Bush in Cape Town, South Africa, July 12, 2005
July 2005: After a safari weekend, Laura Bush stepped out of a dusty SUV with her twin daughters on Monday to serve as a goodwill ambassador in Africa for President Bush.
The first lady’s whirl through South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda this week comes on the heels of a Scotland summit where British Prime Minister Tony Blair made alleviating Africa’s mass suffering the top agenda item for Bush and leaders of other wealthy countries.
Mrs. Bush and her 23-year-old daughters, Barbara and Jenna, spent the weekend at the Madikwe Game Reserve on the South African-Botswana border….
The first lady’s staff asked photographers to refrain from shooting the twins as they boarded the plane in Gaborone, Botswana, for the flight to Cape Town, on grounds that they were not part of the official delegation.
In 2010 Judicial Watch released its list of ‘Washington’s ten Most Corrupt Politicians’ – the list included President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, Jesse Jackson, Jr, Barney Frank, Barbara Boxer and Maxine Waters.