Senator John McCain, man, that guy hates him some earmarks! And, from time to time, he likes to take to his Twitter account, make a listicle, and ridicule various proposed expenditures without any concern whatsoever to the context or the substance of the funding matter at hand.
Usually, it goes like this: McCain sees an earmark that would spend some chump change regulating a teensy woodland creature, he'll bleat out a tweet, a nation of like-minded bloggers will tell America that Nancy Pelosi loves the critters more than she loves freedom, and then you come to find out that the earmark was funding an effort that would keep said creature from destroying an entire region's agriculture. Fun for the whole family, provided that family loves ignorance.
Well, McCain's spat out another paroxysm of earmark angst on Twitter, ridiculing expenditures that would relocate people to new homes and rebuild bridges and retrofit college radio stations that probably play old records by the Feelies. Now, my dad used to be in the Coast Guard, so this tweet in particular caught my eye:
Right away, I'm thinking: Seriously? Is it wrong for the Coast Guard to have piers, to tie boats to, so they don't float away? Well, I decided to do what McCain would never do for his constituents, which is to find out what the actual earmark actually funds. Turns out it's "for accelerating the renovation and replacement of the pier historically used to berth the Coast Guard Training Vessel EAGLE. The pier constructed in the 1930s has major structural deficiencies that have left it nonoperational for berthing the EAGLE, which is currently anchored at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center."
Now, unless I am mistaken, the "Eagle" is an an old "three masted barque" that that is the only "active (operational) commissioned sailing vessel in the U.S. maritime services." Built in 1936, here's what the Eagle does:
Eagle serves as a seagoing classroom for approximiately 175 cadets and instructors from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. It is on the decks and rigging of the Eagle that the young men and women of the Academy get their first taste of salt air and life at sea. From this experience they develop a respect for the elements that will be with them throughout their lifetime. They are tested and challenged, often to the limits of their endurance. Working aloft they meet fear and learn to overcome it. The training cadets receive under sail has proven to be an invaluable asset during their subsequent Coast Guard careers.
On Eagle, cadets have a chance to practically apply the navigation, engineering and other training they receive in classes at the Academy. As upper-class cadets, they perform the leadership functions normally handled by junior officers. As under-class cadets, they fill positions normally taken by the enlisted crew of the ship, including helm watch at the huge brass and wood wheels used to steer the vessel.
Okay, so, this sounds like a cool thing to fund. But it is not some sort of high-priority counter-terrorism priority, as some have suggested. Nor is this an example of McCain telling the Coast Guard, "Well, in the Navy, we didn't need any piers! We just beached our vessels on the shoals and we liked it!" Really, this is McCain simply saying, "Screw that dumb old boat."
But, let's take a look at the earmark that McCain cites as the #1 example of wasteful spending:
Turns out, this one is pretty important:
The Memphis region sits above the New Madrid fault line, which causes concerns if another major earthquake were to occur. This project would allow FEMA to work with the county to prepare for an earthquake scenario by assessing the needs of the community, with particular focus on public utilities, communication, transportation, hospitals, and emergency response teams. This project would not only address regional concerns, but a national one as well. Memphis has the largest freight airport in the world, the nation's 4th largest inland port, 3rd in Class 1 railroad service, 3rd most active trucking corridor, and over 40 percent of the natural gas supplied to the northeast comes through the region. This project was recommended by the Mayor of Shelby County and is also being requested by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.
There hasn't been a significant earthquake on the New Madrid Fault since the early 1800s, but that one was a doozy. Nevertheless, FEMA has serious, extant concerns about future seismic activity, and have warned that a serious quake in the region would do "widespread and catastrophic" damage, to the tune of... oh, just "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States."
Obviously, only some sort of psychopathic spendthrift would want to spend money monitoring seismic activity so that the city of Memphis doesn't get obliterated!
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