One way or another, politicians get their pork

Posted Friday, 12 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The latest draft of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act floating around the House Armed Services Committee would authorize the purchase of 90 F-35 fighter jets — a dozen more than the Pentagon requested, and far more than common sense would dictate. Recently, the Government Accountability Office published yet another dismal report about the F-35 program. Apparently, spare parts are in short supply, repair capabilities are severely limited, and the global network in place to supply spare parts is “immature.” None of this is out of character for the program, which, at $1.5 trillion, is one of the priciest weapon systems in human history and, considering its price, isn’t performing that well — last year, F-35s failed to fulfill their tasked missions slightly over a quarter of the time. Yet, this incongruence between cost and results isn’t unusual; it’s the typical outcome of the latest development in pork barrel politics. That colorful phrase, which likely derives from the way slaves crowded around savory barrels of salt pork in the antebellum south, refers to the dubious legislative practice of directing funds (“pork”) from the federal budget to finance local projects in the interest of winning the favor of one’s constituency or appeasing special interests. For most of U.S. history, such legislative maneuvering was considered wholly unconstitutional. For example, in 1792, a bill that would have granted bounties to cod fisheries was lambasted by one of the Constitution’s signatories, Rep. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina. Citing the Constitution’s articles on taxation, he argued, “The clear and obvious intention of the articles mentioned was that Congress might not have the power of imposing unequal burdens — that it might not be in their power to gratify one part of the Union by oppressing another.” He prophesied that, if the bill were to pass, it would not only be fishermen claiming federal funds but eventually “all manner of persons … until they have eaten up the bread of our children.” And for almost two centuries, this sort of attitude was the norm. In the 1990s, however, provisions tacked onto appropriations bills directing funds to particular recipients, known as earmarks, began to be widely used by legislators as a way of funding pet projects without much scrutiny — making earmarks and pork barrel politics almost synonymous. When Newt Gingrich ascended to the speakership of the House, earmarks became his signature, albeit costly, tool to help re-elect Republicans — a 1996 memo from Gingrich’s office regarding an appropriations bill included the famous line, “Are there any Republican members who could be severely hurt by the bill or need a specific district item in the bill?” Unsurprisingly, costs ballooned in the years that followed. Fortunately, this month, Senate Republicans voted to permanently ban earmarks. Yet, even if that effort succeeds, pork barrel politics will still thrive. Defense contractors, cognizant of legislators’ taste for pork, have spent the past few decades cooking up incredibly savory weapons programs that allow legislators to circumvent the earmark process while still getting pork out of the federal barrel and into their districts. Chiefly, defense contractors accomplish this by spicing rich financial benefits — usually in the form of manufacturing jobs for particular locales — into their programs. For example, Lockheed Martin, which controls the supply chain for the F-35, touts in its brochure for the program that it supports “over 220,000 direct and indirect jobs” in the United States, though it doesn’t mention that most of those jobs are geographically concentrated. Notably, the site of Lockheed’s assembly plant for the F-35 is in Fort Worth, Texas, which is within the district of Rep. Kay Granger, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee and formerly the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations. A comparable story is involved with similarly otherwise inexplicable high-cost and low-result, labor-heavy purchases, like additional M1-Abrams tanks and littoral combat ships — even though the Army and Navy respectively didn’t ask for them and have expressed skepticism about their relative usefulness. In all of these cases, powerful legislators, whose illicit appetites are being fed by titanic defense contractors, are using federal funds to win favor in their constituencies by voting for defense contracts that are often badly managed, unwarranted by national security concerns and unjustifiably costly to Americans taxpayers. In the long run, systemic reforms akin to those that curbed earmark-abuse ought to be developed, but in the short run, legislators ought to immediately decry and stymie the legislative abuse of their more gluttonous peers. Michael Shindler is a research fellow at the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Other articles published by Las Vegas Sun

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

NEW YORK — ESPN is reminding employees of the network's policy to avoid talking about politics after radio talk show host Dan Le Batard criticized President Donald Trump and his recent racist comments and ESPN itself on the air this week. The reminder...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

RENO — UNR officials are negotiating to house 1,300 students in a tower that is part of a casino resort while two dormitories are closed to repair damage from a July 5 natural gas explosion. Officials said the talks with Eldorado Resorts call for the...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The sixth season of the annual Play of the Day betting competition between the Sun's sports staff is now under way, effective July 1. Bankrolls start at $10,000 for each of the four participants, with the objective to increase it as much as possible over ...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

LA MONGIE, France — The first super-tough 2,000-meter (6,500-foot) climb of the Tour de France proved to be no obstacle for Julian Alaphilippe, the race leader who kept his yellow jersey while defending champion Geraint Thomas struggled up the...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker near the Persian Gulf was in response to Britain's role in impounding an Iranian supertanker first, senior figures in Iran said Saturday, prompting condemnation from the U.K. and its European allies ...

Co-stars say Huffman remorseful for role in college case Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

LOS ANGELES — Felicity Huffman's co-stars in a new Netflix movie say they found her remorseful about her role in a college admissions scandal. Actress Angela Bassett said Huffman appears ready to take whatever steps are necessary in her case. Patricia...

In border city, asylum seekers band together to bear the wait Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Mexico — A small group of asylum seekers sit under a canopy on the side of a road leading into the United States, chatting to pass the time as a blazing desert sun pushes the heat into triple digits and fumes roll in from dozens...

Polish city's first LGBT pride parade disrupted Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

WARSAW, Poland — Police in eastern Poland say they detained a number of people who verbally abused and tried to block participants in the first LGBT pride parade held in a city that hosted far-right marches in the past. Police in riot gear and border...

What consumers can do as regulators weigh compounds' risks Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

WASHINGTON — At first, Tomas Monarrez didn't notice the labels when he went shopping for pots and pans. 'Completely toxin free!" said a big green message on a line of nonstick frying pans in the cookware aisle at a store in the nation's capital. "No...

Germany marks 75th anniversary of plot to kill Hitler Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Europeans to confront populism, nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism as she paid tribute to the Nazi resistance in her own country. Speaking Saturday at a solemn ceremony marking the anniversary of...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Many folks, the man himself included, considered last season a disappointing one for William Karlsson. The 26-year-old was practically Superman in 2017-2018, when he netted 43 goals and put up 78 points in a breakout season. Fans clamored for an encore,...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

LOS ANGELES — Manny Pacquiao has had a whole lot more to say about boxing ever since he became a politician. The 40-year-old Filipino senator who once understandably shied away from lengthy conversations in English is more comfortable in the language....

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The iconic trees that give Joshua Tree National Park its name could be virtually extinct in the park by 2020 if no action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, a new study from UC Riverside has found. The study focused on western Joshua...

Test your knowledge of the space race Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Today marks the 50th anniversary of U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s historic walk on the moon. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong famously said, as an estimated 530 million...

Posted Saturday, 20 July 2019 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The sixth season of the annual Play of the Day betting competition between the Sun's sports staff is now under way, effective July 1. Bankrolls start at $10,000 for each of the four participants, with the objective to increase it as much as possible over ...