Saturday, September 6, 2008

Porky Pigs and Earmarks

My understanding of Pork Barrel spending (also referred to as "Earmarks") is that it is money allocated by the government and spent on unnecessary or useless things... like researching the effect of bovine flatulence on the environment.

I found this article that was last updated in March 2008. It is most interesting because it was written before John McCain won the nomination and before most had ever heard of Sarah Palin. It ranked Alaska #1 in pork barrel spending and Arizona last.

I decided to do a little digging to find out just what those earmarks were for and found this site! (just so you know, it looks like the page comes up blank... just scroll down) You can click on each of the states to see for yourself what that money was spent on.


$300,000 (Anchorage) for: Family Medicine Center, for the Alaska Family Practice Residency Program

$200,000 (Nenana) for: Nenana Student Living Center, for a residential facility for high school students from villages throughout Alaska

Total: $500,000

Arizona: Total of $7,200,000 Go here for breakdown of what it was all for.

For some kicks, let's take a look at Illinois.

Illinois: Total of $20,830,000 Go here for the breakdown of what it was all for.

The reason I included the list for Alaska here is because there were only two things on it. Arizona and Illinois both have very long lists. Nothing jumped out at me on either the Arizona or Illinois list as being something along the lines of cow fart studies. It is all pretty much for schools, medical facilities and community programs for kids, homeless, etc.

I find it interesting that some of the stuff I read before finding this that people have totalled the amount of earmarks for Alaska for the entire time Palin has been in office and are hollering that she's a big spender. I do remember reading about a community sports complex she had built in Wasilla that some were unhappy about while refusing to build a new library... Anyone want to dig up what that is about?

Why is this even an issue?

Alaska ranks highest because of the low population there and they figure out how much money that means per capita. Obviously, it is going to be higher up there. I don't know... maybe since they all live in Alaska they shouldn't have a family medical center that isn't in an igloo and high school kids that live in outlying villages should be homeschooled or hook up the family dogsled everyday to get to school rather than have somewhere they can stay while receiving an education?

On the other hand, should Obama be penalized for the overall total for the Illinois earmarks without taking the population there into account?

This one is a non-issue all the way around for me.

*editing to clarify that pork barrel/earmark spending is definitely an important issue! The non-issue, for me, is whether Palin or Obama is worse. They are both earmark spenders. McCain, however, has the best record in that regard and his feelings on that kind of spending are well known... and he is, afterall, the one running for president.


Two Dogs said...

Federal spending is an issue in any election for me because it removes money from the economy. Yes, we can go through the spending bills and find all kinds of things that seem legitimate, but they are not, unless they are military bills to protect our country's interests and borders.

Point in case, people in Africa are starving. It is not because there is not enough food to feed them, it is because they live where there is no food, like Death Valley. If you want to help those people, quit supporting them and transport them to where there is intelligence and food growing capabilities abound.

"Uh, I know that your people have lived here for thousands of years, but they used to be nomadic. They moved seasonally to where food was. If you follow the logic you have now, your clan will be dead in months. Choose."

Just because something seems okay from the jump, doesn't mean that there are not repercussions to enabling bad behavior.

I know how to spend my own money better than someone that deosn't even know me.

I thought this site was about politics, not philosophy.

Coffee Bean said...

What I was addressing is just what I've been hearing in the last couple of days about earmarks and how I don't think it is useful to be going back and forth on who is the bigger spender right now and getting mired in the numbers. I've noticed some are stuck on that.

I completely agree that that spending needs to be cut! I looked through those lists and wondered why those things weren't handled by the individual states. But... as you well know, I am an uneducated housewife and don't know exactly how that works. When I stated that this was a non-issue for me, it was not that the spending was not an issue. Maybe I need to be more clear. The whole who is better or worse on earmark spending... Obama or Palin... that is a non-issue. They both have spent. I was just pointing out that because Alaska's population is lower it comes out more per capita but that there were only two things on her list. McCain's record on that is clear. You are not a fan of McCain but you should respect him in this area.

I am just trying to bring this one issue into perspective in regard to the candidates (Obama & Palin... to be honest I didn't even check on Biden. It just seems that from what I've been hearing and reading that this whole earmark thing is focussed on Palin and Obama).

It has nothing to do with philosophy. I didn't get that.

Roland Hulme said...

Brilliant post! Very well researched.

Two Dogs comments about Africa seem... erm... 'overly simplistic.'

Liam said...

Earmarks are like drugs... They can be good or bad depending on how they're used. To say "Earmarks are bad!" is a gross oversimplification... There are a lot of important things that are paid for with earmarks. Many military clinics on bases are paid for with earmarks. Levees to prevent flooding along the Mississippi, paid for with earmarks. All those bridges that are supposed to be fixed after the Minnesota bridge collapse, paid for with earmarks.

Of course the system is abused and it's abuse of the system that criticized, not the system itself. One of the initiatives pushed by Democrats (specifically Rep Obey from Wisconsin) is to list all the earmarks a congressman has requested 1 month prior to their approval.

As for Two Dogs... yeah I'm not even going to bother.

BLBeamer said...

Our democratic system functions best when our politicians' decisions are arrived at in a transparent fashion, and this usually means that some debate is conducted on either the floor or in open meetings. My biggest complaint is not whether certain projects are good or bad projects but that many of the earmarks are not debated at all but merely inserted by Congressmen or Senators into bills which have nothing to do with the purpose of the earmark.

I am not singling out any particular party, they both conduct themselves in this manner.

If a project is worthwhile, then debate it and demonstrate why it should be funded. Way too many members of Congress act as though federal funds are unlimited and budgets are meaningless.

Even the oleaginous Trent Lott recently admitted that earmarks have gotten out of hand and he wishes now he had reined them in when he was Majority Leader. Hey, thanks a bunch Trent! If even Trent is seeing the smoke, maybe there is a conflagration.

Just Me said...

On Africa, I don't claim to know the politics of the region. What little bit I do know is that many peoples are plagued with all sorts of problems compounding their starvation.

I hope someone more familiar on the subject weighs in and sheds a little light for me. Thank you.

Coffee Bean said...

Hi Just Me,

I became very interested in Africa two years ago when I was teaching Geography to my girls. To me, the problems are much more complex than just the issues of famine and disease.

I often hear people talk of Africa as if it is a country. It is a continent containing 47 countries and each with their own form of government, which are often times crooked. In addition to that there are so many warring clans/tribes...

There are also countless children of all ages that have been orphaned. These innocent children need help...

In order for things to change in Africa there needs to be peace between the clans/tribes. These people need to be educated and taught how to use the resources that each of their countries has for the betterment of their country (meaning, if they live in a country that has good soil... farm it and farm enough of it to be able to export some of what they grow so that they can then import things that they cannot provide). People tend to think of Africa as just being this huge desert. That is not the case.

From everything I've read, the underlying issue that makes it so difficult to change is the fighting between tribes/clans. In South Africa it was apartheid.

Two Dogs used people starving in Africa as an example and suggested moving them to where they can grow food. After World War II the UN divided Palestine into two states, one Arab and the other Jewish (Israel). I think we all know how well that has been working.

We have a situation here in the states with New Orleans. That area should have never been inhabited, but it was. Originally, it was to control that port of entry into the United States through the Mississippi River. Should the entire city be relocated? Many left New Orleans after Katrina and found their way to other states. What if it was mandated and the government relocated the people... how would that affect the economies of the different states? How would people react? Would there be racial problems brought on by resentment? Mother Nature herself may yet claim New Orleans and make the decision for all.

I don't know if that helped or confused you more. The fact is, where Africa is concerned, there is no easy fix.

One Salient Oversight said...

I was going to reply on this thread but Beamer basically said everything I wanted to say, and said it better.

One Salient Oversight said...

Re: Africa.

One way to understand this is to understand human cultural standards over time.

Back a few thousand years ago, all over the world, there suddenly spring up the "agricultural revolution". Rather than being nomadic and tribal, people began to make farms and live in villages.

Go forward a few thousand years and the industrial revolution, and technology generally, resulted in a massive movement toward centralised living and a complex financial environment.

The problem with Africa is that, by the time they got colonised by the West, they had not yet moved from the Nomadic way of life.

Think of all the indigenous people around the world - The "Indians" in the US, the Amerindians in South America, Indigenous Australians, Canadian Aborigines - all of them suffer from very low standards of living and education in the nations they live in.

In many ways, therefore, you could then classify African nations in the same sort of way - not culturally "backward", but with a culture that is difficult to cope with the complex, industrial life that we "enjoy" here in the West.

And that, of course, affects the way they run their politics and the economies. It's why Mugabe runs his nation into the ground and why Thabo Mbeke, the president of South Africa, has presided over a country that is falling apart and dying or migrating elsewhere.

Roland Hulme said...

My parents used to live in Kenya, East Africa, and if you saw pictures of it, you'd realise Africa isn't a 'big desert.' I have another friend who worked in the Congo - a lush, green jungle.

Coffee Bean is absolutely right - the problems are caused by wars, fighting, violence and disease.

As it is, Africa has so many natural resources it's amazing. That's why so many European countries stuck their oar in during the 19th century (and caused many of the problems that still exist there now!)