30 January, 2009

The Pork, The Parks, The Politics

This is how fat cat Democrats line their own nests.

What will a double-budget for the National Parks do to ‘stimulate’ the economy? Nothing. But it will enrich Democrats, give them more power, and help get votes.

It’s PORK!!!

Nothing else.

Against all better judgment I’m going to go in an obviously imprudent direction and tackle the world of politics as it relates to the current stimulus plan. Masochist that I am, I often enter the world of Rush Limbaugh on my way to and from lunch as a means of taking the pulse of the Right Wing in our country. I laughed as I heard him complain about the cost of the inauguration ceremonies during a time of economic distress, as if he would complain so loudly given a newly-minted Republican president with the ability to draw such a huge throng to the National Mall. Every once in a while I think the guy has a point, though by and large I just yell at the radio and worry about a large segment of our country who look to Rush as the epitome of sanity (I feel the same distress when I check out lefty blogs as well – the curse of being a “spineless” moderate). I was moved to tackle this post when I heard Rush yesterday complaining about the presence of nearly 2 billion dollars in the House stimulus bill for the National Parks Service.

The quote at the top of this post, which is reflective of the comments I heard from Rush, came from the comments section of this newspaper article detailing the beef some Republicans have against the money in the bill. Apparently the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee happens to have a son who lobbies on behalf of the NPS. It has been made clear that the son does not lobby his father directly (makes you wonder why ethicists haven’t pointed out the massive conflict of interest inherent in having Jesus lobby Dad on our behalf), though this has done little to keep the opposition from crying “Pork!” on the whole business. Apparently the commenter feels that this 2 billion dollars would only serve to enrich Democrats, though he offers no mechanism for how this scenario would come about. In reality, the NPS has a maintenance backlog which runs as high as 9 billion dollars according to some estimates. It is hoped that this stimulus money would take a large bite out of that backlog while improving the quality and attractiveness of park facilities and putting large chunks of money into the design and construction industry accomplishing those projects. While you could argue that a lot of design professionals fall to the left of the political spectrum, it would seem that the lion’s share of this stimulus money would go to the construction companies and contractors working on park infrastructure projects – not necessarily a hotbed of liberal advocacy.

It is this thought process which has led me to lament the emergence of “pork” as the new taboo of American politics. While I understand the problems posed by conflicts of interest in appropriating taxpayer funds, I don’t think that the presence of a possible conflict of interest should preempt an honest investigation into the merits of the appropriations being discussed. Rather than bothering to find out what the NPS would do with an extra 2 billion dollars, the opposition simply tarred the whole pot with the pork label, conveniently allowing them to ignore actual issues while painting Democrats as purveyors of nepotism. They ignore the fact that it wasn’t even the father who introduced the earmark and somehow insinuate that both the father and the son are getting some sort of underhanded benefit from the whole mess. Why is it so awful that the son was successful at his job? It is his job to scrape together as much funding as possible for the NPS seeing as how their annual operating budget has not been enough to prevent the accumulation of a 9 billion dollar maintenance backlog. When he is successful at carving out a chunk of the American Bailout Pie Rush gets his panties in a bunch because Daddy happens to be a congressman on the Appropriations Committee. I mean, come on, it’s not as if anyone else in the country cares what the hell happens to our National Parks – right? Not to mention the fact that the son is a federal employee, meaning his compensation is regulated by federal executive compensation rules. He is not going to mysteriously end up with millions of dollars in his bank account to share with Daddy.

All of that and I’m not even a huge supporter of an extra 2 billion dollars for the NPS! I think its effectiveness as a stimulus is dubious at best and while I would love to see the National Parks infrastructure improved, I’m not sure it’s the best use of stimulus dollars in the current situation. However, let’s make those judgments based on the issues and not as a response to some sort of sinister inside baseball on the part of the evil Democrats.


clarky pooh said...

I don’t think democrats are evil, nor do I find republicans to be a bastion of virtue and correct thought. However, if my dad was on the board of a public hospital and my firm got the commission for a new surgical wing addition, you better believe it would be news, and it would be unethical. Now if my father removed himself from the discussion and funding decisions for that project then we might be in a better situation, but it is still inside baseball.
I don’t mind if company X hires company Y because of a family connection, however when it is my tax dollars you better believe I care.
National Parks is rolled out for the ecology factor to make pseudo-environmentalist happy. The best things we could do for the parks would be to keep the people who are not on foot, camping, and packing out their garbage out. The NPS includes national forest which people like to drive motorcycle groups and SUVs through at high speed whilst “communing” with nature. It is Nature as theme park, and its infrastructure helps families on vacation. From a stimulation stand point we should be giving Six flags money for repairs to the Scream Machine, I bet you get a better return on investment.
This bill is full of crap; it is a payback for every organizing group from the campaign, with a stamp of economic recovery branded on top of it. I hope the thing fails. It won’t and my kids will be asking why in their mid-thirties they are paying back something from mom and dads thirties. We will tell them hey we didn’t vote for the Change and Hope, because we know it is not what could be delivered. We knew the change and hope vote was really a tax and deficit spending vote, but I would have never guessed that proposed democratic Cabinet members wouldn’t have paid the taxes that they want others to pay. You can say a lot about the old administration: dumb, liars, brash, ill informed but at least they tend not to be Hippocrates.

clarky pooh said...

Perception and your money

As the kids took nap one of the day I watched our President speak in Ft. Myers. So much of this packaged that just got passed (I wonder how many who voted on it read the whole thing) is labeled stimulus. The question I want answered is looking at every item and asking is it gonna both bring jobs and have a positive long term effect.

Case in point: The President discussed with a contractor who does school work in Florida about updating science classroom. The term “state of the art” got used. Not to sound like a cheapskate, but why? Many of the scholars earning PhD’s in science in our countries high quality universities are from nations like China and India; what do you want to bet that those students in high school had “state of the art” science facilities? For my tax dollars let’s put “state of the art” labs in universities in the path of future scientist; and not in a classroom where one or two in a graduating class might become scientist. Maximum yield should be the order of the day.
My graduating high school class has one person who earned an advanced pharmacy degree; in a class of 275 we got one scientist. Now we had a couple lawyers, a handful of engineers, and a lowly designer. We all sat in the same physics and chemistry classes, the lab rarely got used. Even without the “state of the art” lab one woman still earned an advanced degree and is an asset to her hospital. One of the few other scientists is a radiation specialist who graduated a few years before her…it was her sister. This was not a rich family, the father was an intelligent skilled mechanic and their mother was an insurance salesperson. They had high I.Q.’s and parents who wanted their kids to be good students. These two women worked their tails off in both high school and university. The success they have had is not because of a school building but because of internal drive. I doubt seriously putting a bunch of money into labs in high school will rise up a new generation of scientist. However some good science basics and Advanced Placement Calculus classes would be helpful. Politicians, principals, school boards, architects, and contractors can’t stand in front of a top quality Calculus teacher (I did have one at my high school BTW, because of her I was able to get through the math required for my degrees) and say look what we built. Like so many things in education the solutions put forward by those who have a vested interest in the appearance of success are visuals. A shinny new lab with a hood, glass test tubes, and a teacher in a lab coat hold one end of extra large scissors with the school superintendent. It looks great, but no one has learned anything. It is set dressing. It is not education. However teach great textbook fundamentals and watch some episodes of Mr. Wizard on Hulu, get kids interested in science and when they have proven they have the drive to finish send them to one of the great research universities our tax dollars already fund.
Every kid is not going to be a scientist, but we could all use some great fundamentals. Let’s use our socialist school system to teach reading, math, and Latin. Then when they earn the chance, hand over the keys to the “state of the art” labs to the next Dr. Salk.

Got go the angels who are gonna fit the bill for this drunken sailor on shore leave spending spree are waking up.

Not to restate the point but if you crate 5 million jobs with 800 billion dollars isn’t that like six figures a position. Somebody said like $300,000.00 a job, I know if my office got a tax cut of just $70,000.00 grand we could and hire two people, but of course my boss is one of those rich guys who have been getting it too good for too long.

Matt said...

You're not going to get much of an argument from me on either of your comments. I tend to agree on most points.

I understand that it is largely the fault of parents and culture that we have uninterested kids in school and that a state of the art science lab in a high school may not be the best use of public funds. However, if that lab means that the school delivers 4 scientists a year to colleges instead of 1 or 2 then it is still going to pay for itself through indirect contributions at some point. Maybe "state of the art" is the problem term. We should be looking at providing lab facilities period for schools that might not have that capacity or are relying on obsolete equipment. I don't think that we can regain a leadership role in science education without starting earlier, and that sometimes means better facilities for a lot of snotty kids who won't appreciate it. But is it worth it if it helps one or two a year discover a love for science that they'd never get from their disengaged parents? Whether or not that should be in a stimulus package is an entirely different question.

Last comment: in order for your company to be able to spend a $70,000 tax break on 2 new employees it would have to have the work to support it. Being in the only firm in my town that hasn't slashed its workforce is a blessing for me, but I know every other firm in town would take that $70,000 and put it in the bank because there isn't enough work to necessitate hiring people. I think a lot of companies are in similar situations. That is why I don't mind some spending on infrastructure or other construction initiatives. What I don't like is the amount of the check we're writing.

Bottom line, we're on the same page that there are some serious problems with this idea.