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Analysis: Could this be the return of earmarks?

Murtha mostly serves Cambria County, western Pennsylvania, and the city of Johnstown, known for a murderous 1889 flood and as the setting for “Slap Shot,” the classic 1977 movie about a team of ice hockey brawlers starring Paul Newman. It’s a proud, gritty place. But does its population of 20,000 — just 80 miles from Pittsburgh International — need a state-of-the-art airport?

The airport memorializes the man who built it, a late and powerful congressman who steered tens of millions of dollars to his home district through “earmarks” — a device for lawmakers to add funding for pet projects to spending bills. John Murtha was far from alone in directing taxpayer cash to revive regions hammered after heavy industry left the Midwest for Asia. It’s tough to drive far in West Virginia, for example, without encountering a road or building named for longtime Senate bull Robert Byrd or his wife, Erma.
Earmarks were once simply the cost of doing business in Washington. There are legendary tales of Senate Majority Leader and President Lyndon Johnson calling up a lawmaker to demand the price of his vote. But when bills got laden down with “pork barrel spending,” earmarks got a bad name, and it was good politics for the conservative House majority to outlaw them from 2011.

They may soon be due for a comeback. Without backhanders, party leaders struggled to get members to cast tough votes, further cementing an era of gridlock. Now House and Senate Democrats are considering a return of earmarks so members get some credit for sending money home.

Conservative budget hawks will kick up a fuss. But even in the Republican Party, what anonymous member doesn’t nurture fantasies of their name up in lights on a bridge, highway or even an airport.

‘We want democracy’

Satellite images taken Tuesday revealed a vast message written on the street in Mandalay, Myanmar, where military leaders overthrew the elected civilian government earlier this month.

‘It’s not fair’

Mexico isn’t happy with the way coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out worldwide, saying the process favors richer countries. Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters Tuesday that the Mexican delegation to the United Nations will file a complaint at the UN Security Council on Wednesday concerning the “inequality” and “inequity” that impede vaccine access: “The countries that produce [vaccines] have higher rates of vaccination and Latin America and the Caribbean have much less. We’re going to raise it in the Security Council because it’s not fair.”

‘The world cannot afford to turn the other way’

It never rains but it pours.

The last thing the world needs is another health crisis. But new outbreaks of Ebola in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo are causing alarm, and have already claimed several lives.

The White House warned Tuesday that “the world cannot afford to turn the other way” and vowed to do everything it could to respond to the Ebola spikes, before they become epidemics. President Joe Biden has been briefed and national security adviser Jake Sullivan has spoken to ambassadors from the two countries and surrounding states.

The White House’s urgency marks a positive change from then-President Donald Trump’s denial when Covid-19 threatened the US a year ago. And this White House knows what it is doing: Chief of staff Ron Klain served as then-President Barack Obama’s Ebola czar during an outbreak in West Africa that infected 28,000 people and killed 11,000 between 2014 and 2016.

Then, the US dispatched thousands of troops to Africa in a massive, coordinated government response at home and abroad, and was widely praised. It also forged lessons that the subsequent administration ignored when it came to a much broader public health threat.

‘When you hear armed, don’t you think of firearms?’

To hear Sen. Ron Johnson tell it, the Capitol rioters seen clubbing police officers with flagpoles and fire extinguishers were hardly armed. “This will get me into trouble, but I don’t care,” the Wisconsin Republican told “The Jay Weber Show.” “Again, I condemn what happened. … But the fact of the matter is, this didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. When you hear of armed, don’t you think of firearms?”

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