28 February 2009

John McCain's Beef with Pork

You may find it curious that a self-identified liberal such as myself would do it, but I have "become a fan" of the Senator on Facebook.  I've always respected him as an honest, decent man and I was genuinely disappointed that his presidential campaign became such a train wreck.  In any event, I discovered today a note he posted (or, at least, authorized to post) concerning the Omnibus Spending bill.  Senator McCain has identified what he characterizes as the...

Top Ten Porkiest Projects in the Omnibus Spending bill

10. $1.7 million "for a honey bee factory" in Weslaco, TX
9. $475,000 to build a parking garage in Provo City, Utah
8. $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program that could help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past
7. $300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center
6. $1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah
5. $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi
4. $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York
3. $332,000 for the design and construction of a school sidewalk in Franklin, Texas
2. $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii
1. $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa
What I find interesting about this list is that items are not ranked according to their monetary value; elsewise, item #8 would be item #10 and item #4 would be item #1.  What this suggests is that Senator McCain's beef with these pork items is not their cost, but their very existence in the bill.  Now, I would agree on first glance that many of these items seem entirely frivolous; they are not the sorts of things that scream, "federal tax-worthy."

Before passing final judgment, though, consider the Ripple Effect.  We'd be quick to dismiss the value of a school sidewalk, for instance.  The middle school I attended many years ago buried a student not so long ago because a driver going through the drop-off lane struck him.  Granted, there was a sidewalk, but there were no barriers to protect pedestrians.  (I never really followed the incident, but in the interest of full disclosure, I never understood how this could possibly have been an accident and rumors persisted that the driver had an abominable anti-Hispanic racist streak.)  My point is that we don't know the impetus for the sidewalk demand, and depending on the size of the building, $332,000 for designing and constructing it doesn't seem unreasonable.  I'm sure the project could be done more affordably, and someone ought to look into that, but on the whole I don't find it as outrageous as does Senator McCain.

My defense of the sidewalk request rests on its value to the locals, though, and I readily concede that it will have very little value to the rest of us.  Were this a line-item situation, I would ax this project.  But what about the honey bee factory in Weslaco, TX?  Did Senator McCain not see Bee Movie?  For the benefit of anyone else who missed it, it presented a cartoonized idea of what would happen if honey bees were no longer active participants in the environment.  Now, in the film, they quit because they won a lawsuit over the rights to honey production, but in real life studies have demonstrated that honey bee productivity--and population--are declining.  [Those of you who can't get off your cell phones for five minutes should be aware that the signals generated by your addictive gadget are shown to repel bees and you're at least partly to blame for the situation.]  Spending $1.7 million to ensure some healthy bee activity is well worth the cost as far as I'm concerned, despite the face value of the project seemingly small.

I also note that the list does not identify which locality has requested funds for its gang tattoo removal program.  Tattoo removals aren't cheap, and youth violence is, unfortunately, a real epidemic in many places.  If there's a chance that taking off a tat can help some kid turn away from the street life, I think we need to take it.  It would be far less expensive than investigating, prosecuting and imprisoning that same kid later.  Granted, there's a big, fat "If it works" at the end of that hypothesis, but given our spiraling justice department costs I think we need to pursue the possibility that a few hundred grand of prevention is worth several million of cure.

It's easy to pick apart everything in the bill and call it "pork."  We can cynically recall that "all politics is local" and think that our federal Congressional members are doing nothing more than pandering to special interest groups at home.  I don't deny that's bound to be true of at least a few projects.  When we start saying anything that only directly benefits someone local, though, we do two things.  Firstly, we miss the entire point of a representative government.  Secondly, more importantly, we continue the "You're on your own" approach to government that has clearly failed us.  That entire line of thinking only leads to one place--and we're desperately trying to get out of that place now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on the bee factory, though it could probably be called something much more appealing and federal sounding, like "The Department of the Interior Beehive", "Obama's School for Gifted Bees", or "The Federal Anti-Africanized Bee Foundation" (that last one is nothing personal Chad, it's just that they're breeding out our native honeybee population).

    Seriously though, there is a serious problem with our national bee population and they are a huge part of plant pollination. Plants do have other ways to pollinate, but bees are easily the most active, so this is truly a national problem.

    I would wonder though, what are the real reasons for McCain's disagreement with these as the "top ten".

    I find nothing wrong with tax dollars going to many of these things, however local tax dollars should be covering many of these first and foremeost, then state, then federal.

    In that light, and as Travis already pointed out, the fact that they are not ranked monetarily, I might wonder why they are listed as the top ten. Perhaps it's not because these are not seen as national interests, but rather perhaps these expenditures are being made wastefully, hastily, or perhaps even that they are simply not as important as other projects that were cut off on the chopping block.

    It's sad that politics have become so much about getting elected that serving the public falls second (or third) to disinformation and obfuscation of the truth. Properly informing the public as to how they are being served should our politician's top priority.

    I'm all about spending some tax dollars to build a triple-stuffed Oreo factory. That'd put americans to work, generate income, and build moral across the nation as folks dip their triple-stuffed Oreao's into the cool, creamy milk of unity.