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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

 
He Said Earmark

by digby

...heh... heh.

I'm listening to this ongoing nonsense about "earmarks" and "bridges to nowhere" in the stimulus package as the Beavis and Buttheads Republicans and their giggling fangirls in the media and it's frustrating. I noticed several days ago that Jack Cafferty actually dropped his facile worldweary cynicism for a couple of minutes and featured some reader responses that actually made the case for necessary government spending, even though the names of these expenditures make the mentally pre-pubescent gasbags dissolve into laughter.

Here's a typical segment today between Tamron Hall on MSNBC and reporter Bob Franken:

Franken:These earmarks are important to the poeple back home. It's very easy --- I'm going to make something up here -- to rail against a study of the sex life of catfish, for instance. But catfish farming is very big in many southern states and perhaps it's very important to understand the sex life of catfish. Important to those states that rely on catfish farming.

Hall: (giggling) Maybe they should change the name of some of them. Because when you hear some of them, you know, pork sweat and whatever, it sounds odd. But it can have a good use.


So true. Beavis and Butthead are in important national political and media positions and they just can't help having a fit of the giggles when they hear these things. Somebody should find different words so these programs don't "sound" funny. It's at least a step in the right direction that they are having the conversation. (And frankly, I think it's probably due specifically to Paul Krugman. He used exactly the right metaphor to get their attention.)

Earlier on CNN there was a long feature story about a stimulus infrastructure "road to nowhere" that you really have to see to completely comprehend the condescending yet sophomoric level of the reporting on these things. (Kyra Phillips needs to be grounded and told that she won't be allowed to go to the spring dance if she doesn't stop acting up in class.)I'm sure we will be forced to endure many more of them as the press searches madly for these cheap shots which mainly serve to give the wealthy TV celebrities an excuse to look down their noses at the dumb rubes who are foolishly grateful for the projects and the money these projects are providing.

Unfortunately, this problem wasn't just created by the B&B conservatives, although they are the ones who have really turned it into a hypocrisyfest with their maidenly tutting about overindulgence as they waddle and roll over each other getting to the feeding trough. Democrats asked for this too, with their sanctimony about earmarks. Their complaints about the culture of corruption under the Republicans were right on, but in using earmarks as an example of "the fleecing of America" they misdirected the anger of the public to public works programs when it should have been squarely aimed at the cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists. They had Abramoff and they had Ted Stevens taking bribes. Why make such a fetish of earmarks?

They didn't need to make a fetish of the Bridge to Nowhere, which, as it turns out, was a false impression, one I actually didn't know until Bob Somerby pointed me to it (and I have connections to Alaska!) The multi-million dollar bridge, which "everyone" knows was being built to a nearly uninhabited island was actually being built to connect the town of Ketchican to its airport:

Two years ago the small Alaska town of Ketchikan, where five generations of my family have lived, became the poster child for all that is wrong with the United States government. We wanted a bridge to connect us to our airport, which is on a different island from our town. The bridge had been promised to us 30 years ago when the government chose—over the objections of many in this community—to put our new airport across the narrows from Ketchikan. Unfortunately, when it finally arrived, the money for that bridge came in the form of a congressional earmark.

Earmarks were once considered a good way for elected representatives to meet the needs of their communities. The federal bureaucracy could not move fast enough or act specifically enough to meet those needs, whereas a targeted earmark could.

But since then earmarks have become synonymous with the worst excesses of federal spending, the pork-barrel projects that bloat our budget, compound our deficit and raise our taxes.

Earmarks actually make up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, but they are the political equivalent of a big, slow softball floating toward the plate. Politically, it's as pointless to be "for" earmarks as it is to be "against" moms and apple pie.

But the politics of earmarks didn't mean much to us up here in Alaska. We were too busy focusing on the need for a bridge to get to our airport. Then somehow our bridge became known as the "Bridge to Nowhere."

To us, the name seemed odd. Ketchikan was never "nowhere." It is 90 minutes north of Seattle by plane. The rest of Alaska, including Anchorage, with a population approaching 300,000, lies to the north—well beyond "nowhere." The media reports never seemed to mention that Ketchikan has a year-round population of 14,000—making it the fourth-largest community in the state. And they forgot to account for the more than 250,000 people who pass through our airport every year, and the nearly 1 million visitors who come here each summer, mostly on cruise ships.


Why the next thing you know those bastards will be asking for earmarks to monitor volcanoes and earthquakes too! (heh heh ... heh heh.)

Now, there is no denying that Ted Stevens was a crooked piece of work. It was pure delight to see him run out of Washington on a rail. But the problem wasn't his penchant for earmarks, which for a small population state like Alaska with far flung communities with many unusual needs are often necessary. The problem was with his cozy relationship to the oil companies and contractors. The crime wasn't the earmarks, it was the kickbacks.

But our trusty Dem message strategists, who never think beyond the cute soundbite of the moment, jumped on the bridge to nowhere meme and put it into the common vernacular so now the gasbags can just say "earmark" and the whole country starts snorting like Beavis and Butthead at the mere mention of the word. Democrats should never feed into this pernicious anti-government rhetoric, especially when it comes to funding things that actually benefit communities and real people. That's the fundamental function of government, it's what we think it should do. Cost overruns, of course. Corruption, absolutely. Insist on transparency, no doubt about it. Shoddy work? Sure. But joining the Beavis and Butthead crowd and laughing at government work because it "sounds funny" is shooting themselves in the foot and they shouldn't do it.



*I'll put up the relevant portion of the transcript when it becomes available.