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The Bridge to Nowhere and the politics of earmarks


Fri, Jan 19th, 2007
Posted in Commentary



Just yesterday someone told me they thought our past US Representative Gil Gutknecht lost his seat in Congress because he forgot about constituent service.

"You mean," I said, "he quit returning peoples calls?"

"No," he said. "Look around, can you find one special project in the district he could take credit for?"

"Oh you mean he didn't bring home any earmarks!"

I told the person I thought the Iraq war may have had more to do with Gutknecht losing or perhaps the huge budget deficit. But, indeed, to his credit, in my opinion, Gil wasn't considered one of the kings of pork.

The conversation struck me because it hasn't been very long since I was approached to work for a company who "sells" earmarks to local units of government. Yes, it has gotten to that point.

By definition an earmark is an appropriation set aside by politicians outside the regular funding formulas for "special projects."

The most famous of these projects was the "bridge to nowhere" earmark for $223 million of tax dollars to build a bridge in Alaska to an island with a population of 50 people. It created quite a stir last year and was, quite frankly, just one of many "special projects" for federal legislators. Past Majority leader Dennis Hastert of Illinois was able to acquire $150,000 for the Batavia Police Department; $2 million for Waubonsee Community College to build a science building; $250,000 for Aurora Municipal Airport; $200,000 for a waste-water project in Newark, Ill.; $750,000 for the Provena Mercy Medical Center and $450,000 for the health department in Rock Falls, Ill.

Sometimes these "special projects" go to state or local governments like the bridge in Alaska but often they go to private businesses under the guise of serving the public good like $200,000 to Ocean Spray to market white cranberry juice in England or $2,000,000 to the University of the Incarnate Word, a Catholic college in San Antonio, Texas for a parking facility.

Earmarks have ballooned during the past decade: Citizens Against Government Waste reported the number of earmarks increased to 13,997 in 2005, up from 1,439 in 1995. The 1970 Defense Appropriations bill had 12 earmarks, the 1980 one had 62 earmarks. The 2005 Defense Appropriations bill had 2,671 earmarks embedded in it. Included was money to eradicate brown tree snakes in Guam and a spray paint simulator in Pine City, Minnesota. What brown tree snakes or paint simulator .....
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If you think medicine is expensive now, just wait until it's free

Fri, Jan 19th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

I see that Tim Walz is in favor of socialized medicine. Of course he says that it's really not socialized medicine, it's a single-payer system. Let's not play word games with this. It is what it is even if some aspects of it might be privatized. If ..... 
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What do we owe the environment?

Fri, Jan 12th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

"Hey Sara, is this a real job?"

This question was posed to me as I was out recently with some students doing a winter pond study. At first, I thought that maybe the question was an unintentional insult in regard to my choice of careers.
..... 
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To rise high and roll onward

Fri, Jan 12th, 2007
Posted in Commentary



Surge, they are calling it.

Insert more than 20,000 troops into Iraq, deploy them in Baghdad, take control of security, stay a short time and get the hell out.

A linguist I heard on the radio analyzed surge as being a wave o ..... 
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The Swamp

Fri, Dec 22nd, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker to be, promised to "drain the swamp" of ethical corruption if the Democrats captured control. They did and the back tracking by the old bulls of the party has started all ready.

Here are some quotes pu ..... 
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White Christmas

Fri, Dec 8th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

The Iraq Study Group has issued its report, instilling some well-needed reality to the debate on Iraq.

The greatest accomplishment of the study group, given the political weight of its members, is truly a political one - changing the level ..... 
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Shop Fillmore First

Fri, Dec 1st, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Twenty years ago you used to be able to buy jewelry and clothes and shoes in our small towns in Fillmore County. For the most part, you can't anymore, those specialty stores are gone. You feel fortunate if your town has a grocery store, a hardware s ..... 
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So, what exactly is the problem?

Fri, Dec 1st, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Ho-hum. Another dire warning about the impending crises and calamities to be visited on us because of "overpopulation." Let's see, how many unfulfilled warnings does that make in the past century or two? I would guess that Herb Panko's makes somewhe ..... 
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Election hangover: Bipartisanship

Fri, Nov 24th, 2006
Posted in Commentary

"Bipartisanship is another name for date rape" Grover Norquist

For those who are not news and political junkies, Grover Norquist is a Republican guru and activist. His statement above, quoted in the Denver Post, is likely to be taken literall ..... 
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