Tuesday, February 8, 2011


February 8, 2011:

In today's NY Times I was pleased to see a piece on p. A16 about the end of Congressional earmarks. I knew this would come back to bite them. Last fall on a cold Sunday Lorraine and I were in Montauk, having just had lunch out at a local restaurant, and we parked in a parking lot overlooking the entrance to Lake Montauk, no longer a lake in fact but an inner harbor used by commercial fishermen, a yacht club, and five or six boatyards. To the commercial fishermen it's an essential place; nowhere else in that area could they find such a beautifully safe docking area. But the entrance periodically silts up. So who dredges it? The Federal government. And I said to Lorraine, what happens if earmarks get killed? What if we get a Tea Party Congressman out here committed to ending earmarks, and suddenly his constituents discover that he's the guy responsible for making it impossible to get this entrance dredged; he's the guy who's destroying the Montauk fishing industry, and forcing boatyards to close, etc. etc.? According to the Times, this is now happening across the country. Congress ended earmarks, and now the people who voted for these ideologues are finding out that some of those earmarks that are no longer acceptable were for them; they were some of their favorite projects, in fact, that were going to provide jobs and fix roads and fund research and all the other things that require more money than is available locally to make them happen. That idiot John McCain has made earmarks his favorite target, thinking maybe that would get him elected next time, and has gone most recently after research projects involving honeybees, apparently unaware that honeybee colonies are suffering, and have been suffering for years, long term colony collapse. In other words, bees are dying off, bees are essential to the pollination of food crops, particularly fruit trees, as well as flowers, and food supplies will be in serious trouble if bees disappear. So a million or two of Federal money devoted to figuring out what's going on and how to fix it is very much money well spent.

It goes without saying that not all earmarks make sense. Under ex-Senator Ted Stevens Alaska, the crybaby of the Western world, got fat on bad projects, the famous "bridge to nowhere" being just one of them, all the while complaining endlessly, mindlessly about Federal involvement in Alaskan affairs. But Stevens is gone, and throwing out earmarks because some of the projects seem wasteful doesn't solve the problem. Nothing actually solves the problem; the problem is one of those things you have to live with in order to make use of it when it's not wasteful, when it's absolutely necessary. It's politics, it's all local, as Tip O'Neill said, and the process of scratching somebody else's back when they've scratched yours is just part of the game.

The real problem is ideology: the purist, or Puritan, mentality that sees the world from one perspective only, recognizes no virtue in the other side, and can't compromise on its so-called principles. Spare me your angst, liberals and conservatives alike. Conservative demagoguery is just ridiculous. Listen to Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity for five minutes, which is about all it takes, and you don't know whether to laugh or throw up. Conservative economics is merely a screen for maintaining the status quo and keeping the rich, their own kind, rich; it has been taken apart again and again by the facts, but it lives on nevertheless. The liberals have fewer demagogues but they can be blind to the reasoning behind various conservative positions, which are based, fundamentally, in a much darker conception of human nature than theirs, and therefore blind to the serious flaws of American democracy, which, if it is to survive, is in desperate need of a better educated populace, which probably isn't going to happen.

In the name of balancing the budget, then--to which one can only say, get real--we no longer have earmarks, and communities all over the country are going to suffer, losing useful research projects and essential infrastructure repair and all manner of other things that need doing. Good work, guys. You've made your silly point. Now could you please wake up from your neat little dreams and start actually governing the country?