Daily Archives: August 26, 2011

Expensive massages, top shelf vodka and five-star hotels: First Lady Michelle Obama accused of spending $10m in public money on her vacations


High security: Numerous bodyguards surround the First Lady and youngest daughter Sasha as they take a stroll on the Costa del Sol

Daily Mail | Aug 25, 2011

The Obamas’ summer break on Martha’s Vineyard has already been branded a PR disaster after the couple arrived four hours apart on separate government jets.

But according to new reports, this is the least of their extravagances.

White House sources today claimed that the First Lady has spent $10million of U.S. taxpayers’ money on vacations alone in the past year.

Branding her ‘disgusting’ and ‘a vacation junkie’, they say the 47-year-old mother-of-two has been indulging in five-star hotels, where she splashes out on expensive massages and alcohol.

The ‘top source’ told the National Enquirer: ‘It’s disgusting. Michelle is taking advantage of her privileged position while the most hardworking Americans can barely afford a week or two off work.

‘When it’s all added up, she’s spent more than $10million in taxpayers’ money on her vacations.’

The First Lady is believed to have taken 42 days of holiday in the past year, including a $375,000 break in Spain and a four-day ski trip to Vail, Colorado, where she spent $2,000 a night on a suite at the Sebastian hotel.

And the first family’s nine-day stay in Martha’s Vineyard is also proving costly, with rental of the Blue Heron Farm property alone costing an estimated $50,000 a week.

The source continued: ‘Michelle also enjoys drinking expensive booze during her trips. She favours martinis with top-shelf vodka and has a taste for rich sparking wines.

‘The vacations are totally Michelle’s idea. She’s like a junkie. She can’t schedule enough getaways, and she lives from one to the next – all the while sticking it to hardworking Americans.’

While the President and his wife do pay for some of their personal expenses from their own pocket, the website whitehousedossier.com says that the amount paid by the couple is ‘dwarfed by the overall cost to the public’.

The magazine also reported that Mrs Obama, whose fashion choices are widely followed, had been going on ‘wild shopping sprees’, much to the distress of her husband, who, its sources reveal, is ‘absolutely furious’ at his wife’s ‘out-of-control spending’.

The President has already come under fire this week over his decision to take a family vacation while millions of Americans are out of work and countless more are financially strapped.

But the situation sparked further anger after he and his wife elected to fly separately to the Massachusetts retreat – despite travelling on the same day.

Mr Obama left the White House aboard Marine One on his way to Andrews Air Force base to hitch a lift aboard Air Force One – along with First Dog Bo.

After landing at Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station, he then took a final helicopter to his holiday destination to complete the remarkable 500-mile journey.

His wife and daughters, who arrived just four hours earlier, were also travelling from Washington, but took a specially designed military aircraft.

They would also have had their own motorcade from the airport to the vacation residence.

Full story

Houston latest US city to end red-light cameras



Associated Press | Aug 25, 2011

by JUAN A. LOZANO

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston became the latest U.S. city to turn off its red-light traffic cameras on Wednesday, less than a month after Los Angeles did the same, in a move that camera opponents said reflects a gradual nationwide trend to abandon the devices.

But supporters of such programs, including state highway officials and Houston’s own mayor, quickly defended the cameras, claiming they save lives, improve safety and have widespread support, noting that more than 500 municipalities — including New York, Washington and other large cities — still use them.

More than a dozen cities now ban the cameras, as do nine states. In many areas where the cameras have been turned off, opponents argued that the programs simply generated revenue without improving safety. Others said they were a money drain — Los Angeles’ city council canceled its program because it was losing money — while some argue the cameras were an unlawful invasion of privacy.

Houston residents voted nine months ago to banish the cameras, which photograph vehicles as they run through a red light and send the owner a ticket. After months of legal wrangling, including a federal judge throwing out the election results, the Houston City Council voted Wednesday to end its program — even though canceling the contract could cost the city as much as $25 million.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and several council members expressed support for the cameras, believing they help save lives, but indicated they wanted to honor “the will of the people.”

“For those who may be celebrating the fact the red light cameras are turned off, it is illegal to run a red light. I will do everything I can to have police out enforcing this law,” Parker said after the vote.

Michael Kubosh, who helped organize the referendum to remove red cameras, said the cameras were only put up to generate revenue for the city.

Houston officials are hoping to reach a reasonable settlement with American Traffic Solutions Inc., which operated the programs in Houston and Los Angles, but is prepared to go to court if needed.

Company spokesman Charles Territo said American Traffic Solutions still has 300 towns and cities as customers, including New York, Washington, New Orleans, Kansas City and 80 communities in Florida. And the Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based company expects to set another record in 2011 for new camera installations.

“The issues in Houston and Los Angeles had nothing to do with the effectiveness of the cameras,” Territo said. “It had everything to do with the politics of the cameras.”

The fight in Houston seems indicative of the divergent support that such programs have received around the country in recent years.

In July 2010 in South Dakota, Sioux Falls shut down its red-light cameras and suspended payments to the contractor that operates them. The city cited a pending lawsuit by a resident who claims the camera violates due-process rights because it doesn’t capture images of those who actually are behind the wheel.

In 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down Minneapolis’ red light camera program.

Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, said he’s encouraged by such decisions. He acknowledged that in the last three years, the number of U.S. cities that have started using red-light cameras has gone up from about 150 to more than 500, “but we’re seeing a reversal in that trend,” he said.

“It’s going to be gradual though. I think it’s going to be a long battle,” said Biller, whose Wisconsin-based group supports motorists’ freedoms and rights. “We’re seeing cities like Houston, Los Angeles, very prominent examples of cities voting down cameras.”

However, Jonathan Adkins, with the Governors Highway Safety Administration, noted a June study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that surveyed drivers in 14 large cities with longstanding red-light camera programs, including Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix. It found that two-thirds of those drivers support their use.

Adkins, whose group represents state and territorial highway safety offices, said he believes “most people are supportive of (the cameras) and want them there.”