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The city that never...stops spending, AOL slides, and French cheese

By Jackson Murphy
web posted April 29, 2002

"The City that never...stops spending"
Newspapers were titillating readers last week with sexy headlines such as, "Budget Deficit for '02 May Top $100 Billion." Even as the US economy cruises to 5.8 per cent growth the revenues seem to be trickling in, leaving a shortfall of at least $46 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office. That number may hit $100 billion with less revenue and a $27 billion supplemental requested by the president.

Sen. Robert Byrd: The king of pork
Sen. Robert Byrd: The king of pork

Opponents will attempt to blame Bush and his tax cut. But consider that $21 billion (Yes BILLION) of spending each year is what they call "pork"-for good reason. According to Martin Gross in The Washington Times, three Senators alone (West Virginia's Byrd, Alaska's Stevens, and Hawaii's Inouye) bring home a collective $1.2 billion in pork cash.

"This was hardly the intention of the Founding Fathers for whom 'pork' was meant for a Sunday diner and not for such an extravagant idiocy as $384,000 for a federally paid census of cats and dogs in Ventura County, California."

Indeed, the information gleaned in Ventura County about our feline and canine friends will make Ventura a better place to live for our four legged co-citizens, but they don't pay taxes so who why count them, talk to them, or waste a penny on them.

But it isn't just dogs and cats benefiting from what Gross simply calls "porking", there are over 8,000 programs. $50,000 for Tattoo removal, $25 million for funding a golf video, $8 million for trips to Coors Brewery-all right I'll give you the last one. Thankfully the city that never stops spending has spent considerable time passing campaign finance reform, yet allow this sickening behavior to go on, and on.

It is not all pork and spending and the congress here isn't all bad. Since I have been in town they have named a post office, and one lucky Representative was named "Zestiest Legislator". Max A. Sandlin (D-Texas) claimed his title when he ate eight jalapeno peppers in less than five minutes.

"The AOL slide"
It isn't just the public sector that is mismanaging funds. Media Conglomerate AOL Time Warner Inc. announced last week that it lost $54.2 billion in the first quarter-the largest in U.S. history. Wasn't it the anti-globalization crowd that has warned us about these huge corporations that have endless resources and endless ambition which will undo our sacred democracy? The truth as echoed by Patrick Ruffini from www.patrickruffini.com:

"It turns out that all those big corporate mergers in the late 90s were a bad idea - not because the combined companies became too powerful, but because it made them flaccid, impotent, and weak. And that's just in terms of their weight in the financial markets. What do you call a company that's $54 billion poorer as a result of merger-related writeoffs? Hint: not a sprawling behemoth capable of gobbling up anything in its path! If corporations had actually become more powerful as a result of mergers, that would be a good thing, redounding in rising returns for shareholders, a group that's coming to represent the People, not the Powerful. But they don't, at least not in the case of AOL Time Warner or Daimler Chrysler."

"French Cheese"
I don't suppose that people like Naomi Klein will buy this argument that sin of sins, the market does actually work. Enron has collapsed; AOL Time Warner is not the company capable of gobbling up small business at every turn. Nope, instead she is weighing in on the Middle East problem.

Writing in The Globe and Mail Klein suggests that, "The globalization movement isn't anti-Semitic, it just hasn't fully confronted the implications of diving into the Middle East conflict. Most people on the left are simply choosing sides and in the Middle East, where one side is under occupation and the other has the U.S. military behind it, the choice seems clear. But it is possible to criticize Israel while forcefully condemning the rise of anti-Semitism." Too bad she doesn't actually condemn the anti-Semitism in her article.

And since we're talking about Klein, it was surprising that she doesn't make any connection between anti-globalization and the recent first round of France's presidential election. While she was perfectly able to praise the convergence of anti-globalization and pro-Palestinian causes, she seems amiss that France's second most popular presidential candidate was Jean-Marie Le Pen-failing to see that he is fighting the same anti-American and anti-globalization battle that she is. Are we to believe that the similarities of fascism and socialism never occurred to her?

Rather than some sea change in France where the right has triumphed, Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online, reassures us that, "France is still a menagerie of lefty jackassery. Le Pen's strong showing just increased the biodiversity a bit." Goldberg brings up the famous Charles De Gaulle question:

"How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" And discovered that, "No one has answered that question satisfactorily, but it's pretty obvious that running 16 candidates, like they did this time, isn't the right way to go. Not one of these jokers - the "winners" included - got over 20 per cent of the vote. According to The Economist, in order to get on the ballot, candidates needed the support of at least 500 elected officials in at least 30 'departments' (I assume that's a total of 500, rather than a requirement that each candidate be endorsed by at least 15,000 elected officials). This year, that meant 16 people qualified to be on the ballot, including several admitted Trotskyists. Olivier Besancenot, the famed 'Trotyskite postman' being my personal favorite."

I remember the line from the 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "It's a test on European Socialism. I mean really, what's the point. I'm not European, I don't plan on being European, so who gives a crap if their socialists."

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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