Thursday, May 01, 2008

M'Aidez - Send Pork!

Back when I was learning about civics in junior high, there was a sentence in the text book about "logrolling" and "pork barrels." Logrolling is basically legis-speak for "you scratch my back, I scratch yours." The "pork barrel," which has since been chopped down to mere "pork," is the mythical repository of taxpayer funds that members of Congress used to secretly tap to provide roads for real estate developers, bridges to nowhere and a Woodstock festival museum for Hillary Clinton.

It used to be you had to suck up to an appropriations committee member and promise your firstborn in order to get goodie bags for your constituents. Now, the process is so open that a member of Congress merely need fill out a form demanding his or her percentage share of earmarks to be placed in an entirely nongermane pieces of legislation that must pass, like funding for troops.

Opponents, including John McCain -- who represents a state that would be a limited-population, desert moonscape without an earmark known as the "Central Arizona (water) Project -- say taxpayers are bilked billions by special interests bribing lawmakers with campaign contributions in return for pork. Supporters say earmarks are "democracy in action," by which the people's will is enacted by elected representatives instead of faceless bureaucrats who know nothing about a particular congressional district.

Back in civics class, we learned that Congress holds hearings on good ideas and through a lengthy committee process and amending process in each house arrives at compromise solution for our nation's problems. Only Congress, not the president, not the bureaucrats, can appropriate money.

OK, let's get real. A certain reporter in Washington, who last year exposed earmarks as devices that rob minority districts of their share, today reports that what's apparently good for the goose makes the gander sick.

Barack Obama, who, like McCain, rails against the special interests, has as a campaign manager, David Axelrod, a very well connected Illinois consultant who has a child with epilepsy. Axelrod has worked in the past to elect Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill, a power in the House of Representative and former Bill Clinton adviser. Somehow, an earmark to support an epilepsy research foundation got slipped into a Pentagon spending bill by Emanuel. Axelrod said he never asked his friend for help. It was the head of the foundation who asked. Her name would be Mrs. David Axelrod.

This seems harmless enough, because it is for a good cause, but if you were the steward of public money, woudln't you want medical experts deciding the relative merits of spending on research instead of big city machine pols?

You might answer, "no," it's a public policy decision best left to politicians. But some of you aren't even here because you died of preventable or curable heart disease when for decades the government was spending wildly disproportionate amounts on AIDS, whichs affects relatively few.

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