to pork or not to pork

It’s Tuesday night and I hope you’ve got your readin’ specs handy.

I didn’t even want to finish writing today’s entry, wanted to just scrap it. But I put so much time into it tonight, I couldn’t bring myself to trash it. I think I just ended up getting run over by the snowball it became, and ended up uninterested. It started off as serious, turned into comedy, ended up introspective – and overall comes off as a jumbled mishmash. I read it a hundred times, rewrote it half that many, and reread it half that again. All that and it’s not even that good.

To make it all worse, something about this particular entry pissed off WordPress and made it glitchy. It started doing incomplete “save and continues,” which would set me back everything I’d just written and attempted to save. At first I thought it was a cache fluke, but it happened over and over. I finally resorted to writing this whole damn thing in EditPad and pasting it into the WordPress window at the end. While it’ll never be as “good” as I want it to, here ’tis.

Oh, and for the folks who could care less about my political views, I’ve tried to highlight what I consider to be the “funny” portions of the text. Now you can skip right to them and gloss over the other crap. Also, if you really don’t care about it at all, you can hop directly to the non-politics denouement by clicking here. Sigh… so much fanfare for so little substance… it’s sad. Let’s do this.

In one of US Senator Barack Obama’s latest podcast, he expresses his displeasure about the “padding” riding on the new Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. The bill provides, among other things (some of them noble), additional funding to certain locations in the US which may be at an extra risk of terrorist attack. As part of the decision process for who gets what monies, the text gives some guidance on how to tell which sites are “risk sites:”

In prioritizing among the applications … for such funds, the Secretary shall consider the relative threat, vulnerability, and consequences faced by an eligible metropolitan region … from a terrorist attack, including consideration of:

  • Whether there has been a prior terrorist attack in the region
  • Whether any part of the region has ever had a higher threat level under the Homeland Security Advisory System than the threat level for the United States as a whole
  • The degree of threat, vulnerability, and consequence to the region related to critical infrastructure or key assets
  • Whether the eligible region is located is at or near an international border
  • Whether the eligible region has a coastline bordering ocean or international waters

Sounds reasonable. If you’ve got some critical site in your area that, because of one of the reasons above, qualifies as “at risk” for a terrorists attack, you can get some federal dough to put to use stepping up protection of said site.

Obama’s problem with the bill, however, is that some of the “risk sites” seem sorta fishy. Sites that don’t quite seem to fit the bill of “national assets;” things like Wal Marts and “bourbon festivals.” If these “fluff” sites are indeed marked for the appropriation of funds, as Mr. Obama contends, I will join him in calling foul. How did Obama get this data, though? You won’t find any reference to specific sites which were allotted funding in the text of the bill – nor in the committee reports. Just what is Obama on about? I set out to try and research his porky misgivings.

Now, because I wanted to do this entry the most justice I could imagine, I consulted an “in” friend of mine with regard to the whole bill/appropriations/legislation part of it. Being a simple layperson, I often find it hard to find all the source information I want when trying to reason about politics. That makes it more difficult for me to state a solid opinion, as I often doubt even the sturdiest seeming “facts” when they come from potentially agenda-motivated sources. (Actually, this paragraph morphed into an entirely separate thought which I felt was strong enough to carry its own weight – so I tacked it onto the bottom of this entry as an “aside.” You can read it here.)

Anyway, that’s why I wanted to do some research on the whole “Obama’s critical of the HSD Appropriations bill” thing. So I shared my thoughts with my politico friend and both of us did some fact-tracking on the HSD-pork thing. She managed to locate this very interesting report on the Department of Homeland Security’s creation of a “national asset database.” The National Asset Database is a running list of places/gatherings/events in US states which are supposedly at a greater risk for terrorist attack than normal places. After browsing the report, it’s obvious that it’s most certainly the source of Obama’s criticism of the HSD Appropriations bill. In it, the HSD Inspector General himself found and listed some “questionable” risk-sites.

This report is surely what Obama’s on about.

Below I’ve pasted in tables taken directly from the HSD Inspector General’s report which list the “questionable” national assets (remember, “national assets” are eligible for federal funding to reduce terrorist threat as part of the appropriations bill):


Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that not a single Al Qaeda terrorist with any hopes of earning the respect of his terrorist buds or his forty virgins is going to give it all for Jihad by taking out Nix’s Check Cashing. Wanna really stick it to the Americans? Hit them in their dearest national interests? If you’re serious about terrorism, you’ll not pass up the opportunity to ricin the Mule Day Parade in the bustling metropolis that is the 3,575 person community of Bishop, CA. Nor will you let the beach at end of [a] street go un-dirty-bombed any longer. Yes, terrorists, these are truly our most treasured institutions and are, in fact, representative of America’s greatness. Just ask Old McDonald of Old McDonald’s Petting Zoo, he’ll tell you.

But c’mon folks… do we really want our anti-terrorism tax dollars going to make sure that the drunk shirtless crowd at the Crossburn County Fair doesn’t have to fear pipe bombs during the free admission four-surviving-members-of-Alabama show?

In reality, it turns out that not every “asset” in the database is really considered an “asset” at all – and the Department of Homeland Security is acknowledging as much with the report. Seems the HSD moved from a population-based funding model to one where it asked the states to come up with their own “asset” lists. These lists were then combined to create the national asset database – without editing. That is, the onus was on each state to provide a list of sites it deemed at-risk, and each state did so presumably using its own criteria. According to my sources, the feds (in this case HSD) know very well that there are some “fluff” assets in the database. In fact, there’s apparently a weighted system assigning “national” import to all the assets at the HSD level (unfortunately, I have no hard source here). It’s this weighting of state-submitted assets that is supposed to ensure that funding doesn’t go to inappropriate places. Meaning, in the weighted system, one Statue of Liberty may be worth 1,000 petting zoos, and it would therefore be prioritized first for funding.

In the end, however, the federal money doled out to the states is still distributed within the state at only the state’s discretion. The state gets money, the state divvies that money how it sees fit – the idea being that the state knows better the value of its assets to potential terrorists and will do right by its allotment. I have to wonder, however, if a state is unscrupulous enough to submit its check cashing and oil change shops to the fed as risk-assets, how ethically they’ll distribute the funds at the state level. I’m sure the federal government would say that state misuse of federal funds is a state problem, not a federal one. Maybe that’s true, but certainly unethical state requests for federal monies is a federal problem, or at least a shared state/fed issue, right?

Bottom line is, while the HSD Progress in Developing the National Asset Database report does show that some states are indeed submitting “fluff” at-risk locations in a bid for federal funding, that doesn’t necessarily mean those sites will actually end up with funding. Furthermore, if they do receive federal monies, the amounts will most certainly not be flatly proportional to more “realistic” national assets like Boston harbor or the White House. This is somewhat comforting, but does not entirely invalidate senator Obama’s issues with the appropriations as a whole. After all the research, I’d call Obama’s criticism somewhat misguided. Yes, some states are submitting requests for money that would amount to “pork,” but just because they request it doesn’t mean they’ll get it – and that certainly does not undo the entire Appropriations bill, no justify calling it “pork” on the whole. I can see where Sen. Obama is coming from, though.

I suppose the best a taxpayer can hope for is that the government keeps pork spending to a minimum, as it is likely a pipe dream to hope for a Utopian spending situation where no one pads their bottom lines. While thinking this over out loud today, my dear politico friend pointed me to a resource I never knew existed: The Citizens Against Government Waste’s Pig Book. A catalog of pork spending, it lists some of the more glaring pork-barrel projects receiving federal funding. For the fiscal year 2005, for instance, the CAGW Pig Book identified 27.3 billion dollars as “pork.” Comparing this to the national budget, one can arrive at the rough conclusion that pork payouts account for about ~3% of the government’s discretionary spending (based on 2005). Going back to my original statement that one can at best hope for minimized governmental pork-barreling, I’d say this is probably a live-able amount. I don’t have to like it, and it saddens me to know we have unethical folks in positions of power who are “robbing” their own citizens/constituents, I guess it’s relatively small comparatively.

Whew, I think that wraps up the whole Obama/HSD/evil-government thing. Enough dreck for you? Yeah… I thought so. I promise not to get fevered like that for a while, but sometimes the writing takes off and I have to let it go. Turns out I’m about a week late to this story anyway… but better late than never, right?

An aside:

This is why I’m often loth to take black and white sides on political issues. This fear of not being educated enough, or being fooled by fake facts. This general mistrust of politicians and things they speak as gospel makes it hard for me to draw a line for myself on issues. I’m always wondering, “What if that’s not true,” and, “Maybe if I just do more research, my mind would change.” Thing is, I have something of a self-doubt problem when it comes to politics. In some strange way I think of myself as too far removed from the reality of it to properly understand it, and that drives me to be almost too accepting of opposing viewpoints. I do, however, have a level of education or comfort that I use to form an opinion. Once I’ve reached that level, I’m comfortable allying myself with a cause or anti-cause, as the case may be. I think this is not that uncommon of an issue with today’s youth and politics. I’ve written about it before, but it’s my opinion that that built-in doubt is a real hindrance to getting the new generation involved in government.

I’m not alone either, and there’s even data to backup my governmental mistrust. In a 1996 study by The Washington Post, Harvard University and the Kaiser Family Foundation (which was supplemented by two focus groups, interviews and conversations with Americans around the country, as well as with political scientists and other experts), it was reported that:

In 1964, three in four Americans trusted the federal government all or most of the time, a view shared by one in four persons today…

This collapse of trust in human nature has fueled the erosion of trust in government and virtually every other institution, the survey found. Mistrustful Americans repeatedly expressed far less confidence in the federal government, the military, the Supreme Court, Congress and the Clinton administration than the dwindling numbers of Americans who were more upbeat about human nature.

Government also suffers from a lack of public confidence because of other national discontents brought about by the perceived failure of government to deal with the country’s biggest problems, the survey found. Fear of crime, economic insecurity and pessimism about the lives of future generations all have separately added to the belief that government either is making things worse or is incapable of making them better.

Interesting, eh? Seems we’ve become a nation of the dubious; a wary, untrusting bunch who think everyone’s a potential enemy. While I don’t personally feel a greater sense of mistrust for humanity as a whole (on the contrary, I have a firm belief that people are, by nature, “good”), my feelings do align to this model for the most part when it comes to politicians. I don’t flat-out mistrust everyone in government, but I do feel the need to fact-check them moreso than, say, a stranger relating something to me on a train. I just do. You can read the whole six article series I grabbed the above survey info from here.

And now we’re done with this.

If you guys know Sharaun at all, you know she’s about the luckiest person in the world when she puts her mind to it. Seems she heard on the radio she could win tickets to a concert by being a certain caller. What’s more, by winning the concert tickets she’d be eligible to win a new Ford Mustang in an on-stage drawing at the show itself. It was yesterday at lunch she told me she was going to win tickets. Today at 3pm she called me to tell me she’d won them. I’m half believing she’ll actually win the dang Mustang at this point… I need to get that girl pickin’ lottery numbers, stat.

In closing: For a while now, I’ve been noticing that I’ve begun to mark the passage of days by my writing here on sounds familiar. Sounds obsessive, I know, but it’s true. The whole blogging process has become so ingrained as habit into my brain that I think of days as entries. Monday was the Keaton video, last week was stem cells, sports, and Halloween. When I think back on the week, I think first of what I wrote about. On the way home from work I think about what I’m going to write that night; on the way into work I think about what someone may read that morning. This thing has become nothing short of an obsession.

Thanks for seeing this one through with me, folks. Goodnight.

Also written on this day...

One Reply to “to pork or not to pork”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *