September 27, 2008

Before you CUT the budget, you need to UNDERSTAND it.

One item (out of many) that jumped out at me during last night's debate (or at least the part I watched before I finally turned it off in disgust) was this comment by John McCain:
MCCAIN: "You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money. And it has got to be brought under control."
It immediately struck me that he was admitting his own ignorance. He had no idea why such a study received funding, no idea what the purpose of the study was, but he was willing to cut it. At no time did he bother to find out anything about the study; he simply assumed it was a waste of money and started ridiculing it. (I say this because if he HAD understood it, he wouldn't have said that "I don't know" what the purpose was. )

Isn't part of responsible stewardship of our national researches knowing why something is being funded? Sure, knowing that it is funded is important, but you should know why. It's not like it's all that hard to discover; the budget request has to include an explanation of the project being funded.

So I was very glad to see that the Sun-Sentinel actually did something useful and posted an analysis of both candidates' claims from last night's debates. And the last item in the list is the Bear DNA project.
THE FACTS: A study regularly mocked by McCain as pork barrel spending could help ease restrictions on logging, development and even the oil and gas drilling that McCain wants to expand. Montana ranchers, farmers and Republican leaders pushed for the study as a step toward taking the grizzly bear off the endangered species list. Former Montana Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican and a McCain supporter, said the bear had been used to block the use of the state's abundant natural resources, when all along the animal was plentiful. "If it is going to remove it from the list, it is money well spent," Martz said.
You see, one of the things preventing any sort of major industry in wildlife reserves are our own laws about endangered species. If the project threatens a plant or animal that is already on the verge of extinction, the industry coming in has to spend millions of dollars to either show that they won't really affect the endangered species, or spend millions of dollars to create a plan for mitigating the damage their project will do - perhaps they'll have to fund expansion of another habitat. Or maybe create a new habitat to relocate the species in the development zone. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.

OR, you spend 3 million dollars to find out if the bear is actually on the brink of extinction. You do this not by counting bears, but by making sure they have enough diversity in their genetic material to re-populate with the existing population.

Look at it this way; if you have 300 hundred breeding pairs of bears, but they are all closely related, you get inbreeding; sickly bears that don't live very long. The population dies off, the ecosystem collapses, and now you have a problem you can't fix, regardless of what you want to spend. But if you have a hundred breeding pairs that are all distantly related, the can create a new, larger, and robust population of bears in just a few generations.

By eliminating the bear DNA project, McCain is actually adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of drilling, and might actually be preventing that drilling he wants from happening altogether.

And if he'd read the budget request, or researched the study, he'd know that. He has no excuse; the information was included in the budgets. It was on his desk. It was available to him.

Instead, he proudly admits that he's acting out of ignorance.
"I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money."
Yes, it was John. And you might have at least done us the courtesy of knowing what they were doing with it.

Haven't we had enough of presidents who act out of ignorance instead reading the reports that are placed right into their own hands?

McCain claims to be a maverick; but he's better described as a loose cannon.

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