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Blinded by Pork

Distracted by a sense of entitlement. Barack's poltergeist. The Royko prize. Channeling smut. Plus more.

4.25.08

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PIG-HEADED
Re: W. James Antle III & Richard B. Spencer's Let Them Eat Pork:

The lead-in to "Let Them Eat Pork" asks, "What's wrong with a little earmark spending?"

Apart from the fact that "winking" at our own principles is what got conservatism into the current mess in the first place, the Constitution does not permit it.

Next question?
-- Daniel H. Fernald, Ph.D.
Mountain View, California

I realize that it must be tough to turn out attention-grabbing columns week after week, but the need seems to produce some bizarre topics.

Along this line, the arguments of Antle and Spencer in favor of fiscal pork sound like some other meat to me -- baloney. Assuming I understand them correctly, it's ridiculous for the government to save a few discretionary bucks while spending far more on entitlements.

Do they, in their private lives, take this same approach? Do they ignore frugality on food and clothing while worrying only about the mortgage and car payment?

Personally, I prefer the broken windows approach to saving federal money. If we can wean lawmakers from attempting to buy votes with questionable expenditures of minor sums, perhaps it will someday be easier to get them to look at entitlements more realistically. In other words, if we can encourage a small-scale habit of parsimony, we might ultimately get them to stop buying votes wholesale through spending trillions on programs that are difficult to rein in.

"Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" is an old saying but one that still has some merit, even today when the pennies are counted in quadrillions.
-- Richard Donley
New Lyme, Ohio

The problem with the transportation pork is that it bypasses processes that could sort out the difference between a good road project and a bad road project. Theoretically, the difference between a good project and a bad transportation project is the difference between consumptive spending and productive spending. Nationwide, transportation departments have been doing a terrible job of making such decisions anyway, so I can see how someone might come up with the idea that a congressman or senator could not possibly do worse. This however is not an adequate justification for wasting taxpayer money. The current system works a little like this: They build the road and then we try to adjust to the damage or mistakes.

The process of transportation project selection, nationwide is awful. In the Sixties there were benefit cost formulas that allegedly took into consideration the value of human life, the cost of accidents with and without human injury and many other factors. This formula changed over time in such a way that it began to include a very high fraction of intangible and questionable benefits. If the formula worked then, over time, there would be a decline in highway deaths, damage and general economic chaos. That did not happen. most declines in fatalities are attributable to safety improvements in the engineering of the vehicle, not project location.

In fact, there is a decline in rate of return on transportation investment since the construction of the Interstate. Proof that the benefit formulas failed is this: The cost of financing the car and insuring the car went up faster than the consumer price index while the cost of gasoline and the cost of a new car, when inflation adjusted since 1980, actually went down slightly. (That may not be true for California or Arizona any more)

Being frustrated with the difficulty in transforming pavement into economic advantage, our senators and congressmen have seized the opportunity to turn pavement into votes or as constituent service. This is malpractice of traffic engineering by people whose real job is fundraising to get elected next time around. We can build a road anywhere but we have no good system of selecting projects that derives the greatest good for the greatest number. We don't even have a good definition of need. This system tramples property rights in that it gives the government the right to take property without there being a clear understanding of the magnitude of public benefit. No property, public or private should be taken for a remote possibility of public benefit. No taxpayers money should be taken if it is to be used to build a road that costs more than the actual benefit conferred on society, especially if it ends up as an overnight sleeping place for dogs.
-- Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

W. James Antle III & Richard B. Spencer may have had their tongues planted deeply in their cheeks when they suggest that the American tax payer let their congressmen pork the American tax payer royally. And if they are serious, allow for pork but very little funding otherwise, they offer a pragmatic solution but abandon principle. Bottom line, the money Congress spends does neither originate with nor belong to Congress; the money they so profligately spend is yours and mine. Mr. Congressman, hands off my stack!

Taxation for anything other than for services rendered is thievery. The services the federal government need provide (i.e., that cannot be met by anyone organization or agency) are clearly spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Taxing and spending wildly does nothing to secure the blessings of liberty, promote our national defense, and is directly contrary to our general welfare and of our posterity. If I need a plumber and carpenter to fix my house, I don't sell a bond so that my grandchildren can pay for housing they have never known, let alone enjoyed.

Allowing the wild dogs to eat pork may satisfy them, temporarily, but in time, they will hunger for more. They will not learn to be satisfied with scraps; they will raid the cupboards; ultimately, they will even consume their benefactors. Starving them out may seem cruel, but teaching them that they need not live within their means was the original sin. Domesticating them, teaching them discipline, is the only possible moral act of contrition.

Congress must be taught what anyone who has ventured out of the protection of their parents' munificence has learned: to survive on what one has, not what one wishes he had.
-- Ira M. Kessel
Rochester, New York

I thank W. James Antle III for his perspective on pork. Put the way he did, I agree. The trouble is that we have both hugely destructive entitlement spending and pork, and it is surely a pipe dream that we could ever negotiate the kind of trade-off he describes. Both entitlement spending and pork are deeply entrenched for the same reasons. Politicians use both to keep themselves in office because the American people are strongly addicted to them. If ever we are cured of it, then entitlements will vanish and my guess is that the same sense of self-reliance which led to their curtailment will also produce a strong distaste for pork (though diminished, it will probably always be with us). I'm sure Mr. Antle knows this, but I think he misses an important point. The purpose of browbeating politicians over pork is not about petty and possibly useful projects, but to make the cower; to let them know they're being watched. Personally, I want every politician to feel like a misbehaving boy under the jaundiced eye of a stern schoolmarm, who has a paddle behind her back. The last thing we want is proud "public servants."
-- Douglas Skinner

During the 1980s, despite seven major tax increases, the Federal deficit skyrocketed to an unheard of 5.9% of the GDP (today the deficit is 1.6% of GDP and well below the 40 year average) and conservatives essentially acquiesced, because Ronald Reagan was President. Reacting to Democrat campaign propaganda about out of control spending in 2006 conservatives decided to punish Republicans and hand control of Congress over to Democrats who make "big spending" Republicans look miserly (see James Antle III's "A Trillion Here, a Trillion There" TAS 2/15/2008). Now reversing course, Antle Spencer suggest rewarding Democrats with more pork spending and earmarks in hopes that they will agree to reform entitlements. They might want to ask George H. W. Bush if Democrats can be trusted to cut government spending. Antle and Spencer's suggestion is reminiscent of Jimmy Carter telling Bill Clinton to trust North Korea and give them the means to build nuclear weapons or Zbigniew Brzezinski proclaiming extremist Muslim theology was not the future of Islam after creating the dictatorial Iranian theocracy (the latter is one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisers and Carter is an undeclared supporter of his political heir Obama).

Rather than trusting Democrats and rewarding them with more pork we should take them at their word that they want to appease terrorists, increase taxes and spend more on pork and entitlements. They have been very forthright with their plans and agenda to reverse the quarter century of Reagan's dominance of politics and take us back to the disastrous Carter policies that produced double digit inflation, interest rates and unemployment coupled with a foreign policy that subverted our allies, rewarded our enemies and humiliated the U.S. Why is it so hard for some conservatives to believe Democrats? Even the heralded "conservative" (gag) blue dogs are terrorist appeasing big spending liberals as illustrated by Jim Webb of Virginia and his peer Mark Warner.

Conservatives need to think outside the box. To get control of entitlements like Social Security why not suggest means testing, removing the caps on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax, cutting Reagan's tax increase on the self-employed (he doubled it) and then cutting the tax in half for the majority of working Americans who aren't rich like Democrat politicians and their real base? Why should rich liberal Democrats refuse to pay their fair share and benefit from this Federal program when they don't need or "want" the money? Might rich Democrats actually consider reforming the system like President Bush proposed if they have to pay more out of their pockets for it? If not then those who proclaim the benefit of higher taxes can lead the way by paying more for Social Security...

Democrats are the party of the very rich and the proponents of class warfare. Rather than defending rich Democrats conservatives need to treat them like the money grubbing hypocrites they are and look for ways to make them pay more in taxes while cutting those same taxes for the vast majority of hard working Americans who are the victims of Democrat lies and tax increases. When Democrats begin feeling the pain they cause others we might actually be able to audaciously hope for change in D.C., but never should we reward Democrat politicians with more pork. That's just asking for trouble.
-- Mike Tomlinson

I agree with James wholeheartedly. However, we know that they are not going to give up their real Pork of 3 trillion dollars. So we have to take what we can and keep chipping away at it.
-- Joseph D'Ambrosia

BITTER SWEETS
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Obama's Paranormalcy:

The only thing left is for him to star in horror movies? Silly me, I thought that's what he]s been doing in the past months.

But if he's still got horror flicks in his future, then what do we call his political career and to-date presidential-wannabe campaign? Farce? Fantasy? Political pornography? Grade-B movie? Shockumentary?

Whatever, filming seems to be in black and white.
-- C. Kenna Amos
Princeton, West Virginia

One can only hope Obama's charm is limited to the folks that comprise his audience. I shudder to think we have sunk in our standards to a president who, when introducing some local pol, exhorts his supporters to "Give it up for" my friend, Mayor Sleazeworthy." Shades of Monteil Williams! "Give it up" is the hip way of asking for applause. It may have other applications.

Have you noticed Obama's hesitant speech cadence has evolved into a stutter? Started right after the SF slip of the tongue. You ask how this slip, in a private setting, got out? Easy. Far left liberals would rather be thought cutting, caustic and cute by their own than most anything else on earth. Huffington Post is home to them. It is their big, comfy couch where they feel they are among friends -- sort of "what's said in HP stays in HP." Only it didn't.

Obama was merely attempting to educate the residents of the rarefied atmosphere of Pacific Heights. Explain a sub-culture in the United States they had never heard of and could not possibly understand. Why would they? 90% of the people in this country have no idea what "red-neck" means. It describes (or did, originally) a permanent sunburn on the back of the neck of a person in the South who works out of doors, usually farming. Not his education or his politics. Of course, if you were a yachtsman, you could have a red neck, too. But your yacht and your deck shoes would separate you from the farm labor class. So, redneck has come to mean some lowly hayseed with a six-pack and a gun rack in the back of his pick-up truck and it gives rich liberals in SF something to feel superior about. Obama, the nouveau riche, brash hustler from Chi was merely ingratiating himself with the richer, nouveau and old.

How did Obama come to be called an elitist? I thought people of his sort were merely "climbers." How do you go from "community organizer" to elitist? What kind of organizing does a community organizer do? Something like fomenting to riot? We don't know as much about this man as we should. Of course, for Democrats, the other choice is Hillary, who defended a Black Panther before ideals collided with ambition.
-- Diane Smith

In what was an interesting article you drop this right in the middle of the piece -- "...in 2005 the newly elected senator from Illinois bought a $1.65 million dollar house for $300,000 under the asking price." I have to ask of what relevance is it? Do the math, it's only an 18% price adjustment.

Being a former Realtor there is an old saying: "Sellers lie and Buyers cheat." Sellers usually lie to the south of fair market value of their property and buyers usually cheat on the contract for a price south of that figure. Only in extremely hot markets do sellers get their asking price. So other than what appears to be a Big Number there is nothing paranormal, based just on price, for such an adjustment.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

The following paragraph in "Obama's Paranormalcy" very much reminded me of Mike Royko's writing style. I have read 6 or 7 of Mike Royko's books (reprints of his columns, as well as "Boss") so needless to say I am a big fan of what he writes about and his writing style.

How did that tape ever get out, and why would Obama's friends at that website not recognize its potential for ruin? Or consider a more recent and even more bizarre interlude. Senator Obama is having breakfast in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A reporter asks for his reaction to former president Jimmy Carter's meeting with the thugs of Hamas, and Obama waffles. Perhaps, that is not so surprising, for he has frequently waffled along the campaign trail. But now comes the paranormal part. He waffled while actually /eating/ a waffle reportedly a Belgian waffle, not even an American waffle. Weirder still, Obama acknowledged his waffle, exclaiming to the reporter: "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" and "Just let me eat my waffle."
-- Tom Scheffelin
P.S. I especially liked the use of the word "wretch."

Barack Obama bought a $1.65 million dollar house for $300,000 under the asking price in 2005? So he's the one who started this mess!
-- Dan Martin
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Will Obama win the Nobel Prize before the Oscar, or vice-versa?
-- David Govett
Davis, California

CHANNEL NO. 9
Re: Quin Hillyer's Hooray for Censorship:

As a father, I agree with the spirit of Mr. Hillyer's article "Hooray for Censorship," but I must object to his methods. Is it not better to allow the citizens of this free country to regulate their own affairs, particularly what happens 9 times out of 10 in their private homes? Is this not the more conservative approach?

Promote individual responsibility, not dependence.

If we label certain things "vulgar" or "smut," it does not seem a giant step from there to oppression of the very ideas I espouse here. Let the market vet this.
-- Johnny Meredith
Lexington, Kentucky
P.S. I also don't like the implication that the airwaves are somehow public property. I've heard that before.

I like a lot of pretty raw stuff...but I can also see why others might want to avoid it, or shield children from it.

But I don't think censorship will be needed. As cable's audience grows, the broadcast media will die the death-of-a-thousand-nibbles...and once it's gone, the programs one wants to watch will be on a big variety of channels. One can watch what one wants, and avoid what one doesn't want to watch. Waiting for sports shows will just involve watching something of similar tone and content.

And even right now, if one is displeased with anything on these channels, one can block them out. Problem solved.
-- Robert Nowall
Cape Coral, Florida

Absolutely correct. We know that advertising works, and here we have television continually advertising, in the most subtle way possible -- through drama and comedy -- that all sorts of degenerate actions are acceptable, even popular. And the actual advertising itself is almost as bad in some cases.

It's hardly surprising that our youths engage in sexual and criminal actions that years back would have been considered unbelievable in America.

In the early sixties Newton Minow condemned broadcast television as a vast wasteland, but his complaint had to do, as I recall, with intellectual content as well as the relatively low level of violence at that time. What term would today be adequate to describe a medium where even nature programs seem to feel required to show critters engaged in their particular animalistic forms of sexual congress? Perversion seems too weak a term for some of this.
-- Richard Donley
New Lyme, Ohio

MURDER, INC.
Re: Doug Bandow's Declaring Human Rights:

If Mr. Bandow's intent was to convince the reading public that the UN is unfit for ANY serious purpose, he probably didn't need to make the trip. If we had a supreme court made up of Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia, and their peers, we would get the kind of justice to match the kind of defense of human rights that we get from the UN.

On the other hand, if Mr. Bandow's purpose was to elicit the visceral desire to demolish the UN, then he has certainly achieved his purpose. I exist in a continual state of amazement at several obvious truths that loom so large over everyday life that they nearly block out the sun. The UN not only achieves no good, it actively enacts evil. The federal government befouls everything that it touches. The nation's producers are grossly overtaxed. The high cost of gasoline is the result of the "Greens" preventing the construction of new refineries (none since '76) and preventing us from tapping oil deposits more extensive than those in the Middle East. Big oil companies earn between 8 and 9 1/2 cents per dollar of revenue while banks and software companies earn almost twice that amount. Twenty-five cents of each petrodollar goes to, yep, that same government that has fouled up everything else. Need I go on?

Is it any wonder that an organization made up of governments would be as antithetical to the lives of ordinary people as is the UN? I would ask Mr. Bandow to exercise his considerable writing talents on some more worthy subject. Perhaps he could hold forth on the coming Cub Scout Jamboree. It will be of more coherence than the average UN meeting.
-- Joseph Baum
Garrettsville, Ohio

STUDIES PROVE NOTHING
Re: Patrick Basham & John Luik's Phantom Plastic Peril:

Basham and Luik did a very good job of presenting just the facts on the Bisphenol A scare, but they should have added an important bit of context. As good science writers they are aware of this limitation of epidemiological studies, but the public needs to be reminded of it often. Statistics is a dry subject for most of us, but one concept we all need to understand is the confidence interval. For example, the most decisive of the Vioxx studies "proved" that taking Vioxx doubled the risk of a heart attack for some patients. What the report actually said was that, with 95% confidence, the risk was increased by a factor between 1 and 3. This is the accepted standard of proof for this type of study, but it means that there is a 1 in 20 chance that the results are completely wrong, just a random fluke. It also means that if you did 400 standard studies of whether a completely harmless chemical causes a particular disease, that about 380 will "prove" with 95% confidence that it is harmless and about 20 will "prove" that it actually does cause the disease. This is a purely random phenomenon and is expected. To claim the 20 positive studies prove anything at all is misleading to the point of lying with statistics.
-- D.M. Duggan

PLAYING GOD IN SAN ANGELO
Re: Robert Stacy McCain's Searching for "Sarah":

Four hundred-plus children have been deprived of liberty without due process of law.

The "informant" has been proven to be a hoax...like the Duke lacrosse accuser.

If they're worried about underage girls having sex, they can approach any high school in Texas with their tanks and automatic weapons drawn... Then haul the entire student body off and put them in foster homes.

If they're worried about polygamy, the Supreme Court has ruled that sodomy is a constitutional right, and polygamy at least is natural. Many great men in the Old Testament like King David, Abraham, King Solomon practiced polygamy.

One judge down there is San Angelo is playing God.

I can't believe one of these lawyers won't go to federal court to protect these children and return them to their families.

If they want to charge anybody with a crime, they need to do so without trampling on their constitutional rights: freedom of religion; freedom from unwarranted search and seizure; right not to be forced to be a witness against themselves; right to confront their accuser; etc.

Thanks,
-- C. Baker
Fort Worth, Texas

ON THE BIO
Re: Ty Knoy's letter (under "Malthus is my Muse") in Reader Mail's Never Ending Swansong:

At least in temperament, like Mr. Knoy,. I am not particularly sanguine about the future. Of all my concerns, I worry least about what would happen under free markets in grain or most anything else for that matter. While most during his life had high regard for Thomas Malthus, I don't believe subsequent events have "served" him well. Unfortunate to his memory and more unfortunate to the well-being of millions of others, his theory had been put to evil purposes -- not the least of which is complacency for some in the face of human misery

More germane to our discussion, empirical observations have not borne Malthus' predictions out. The mistake Malthus made was that he assumed a number of factors as being constant when most realities in human societies did not remain the same. (Not the least of which were improvements in agriculture.) He also misjudged a feature of human nature. The effect of higher incomes and readily available food has not resulted in larger families as he posited. In fact, birth rates in highly-developed nations have dropped to bare replacement-levels, such that many Western nations like the U.S. and Canada only grow due to immigration, and Japan faces a declining population when the post-World War II generation dies off.

"Pre-modern" parents didn't have more children simply because they liked them. The economic reality was 1.) Children supported the family in terns of labor and care for the parents as they become old. 2.) Mortality among children was savagely high. As incomes and food increased and medical care vastly improved and become more widespread, parents were relieved of the economic pressure to have large families. Instead, enrichment could be invested in a smaller number of children and parents could rely more upon themselves in old age.

My misgivings about bio-fuels are more in acceptation they will prove to be giant boondoggles than they will deprive food to the hungry in perpetuity. For all its faults, the free market still is the best in providing foods and materials to the populations of the world. If some go hungry, let us turn to our generosity rather than turning to the clumsy levers of government.
-- Michael Dooley

EXPORTING PROPERTY LAW
Re: Tom Bethell's Property and Its Discontents:

It is difficult to believe that something so internationally massive as exporting democracy and capitalism can be so wrong-headed -- but it is. The emphasis needed is to export, if anything, the principles that produced the two artifacts of democracy and capitalism. What are these principles? Read the Federalist Papers, the history of the writing of the U.S. Constitution, etc. But perhaps before we talk about exporting we should talk about restoring those here at home. The best teaching is, and always has been, by example.
-- L. J. Chisholm
West Virginia

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