Wednesday, October 17, 2007
When pork flies
In most of America, "when pigs fly" is still a good way to describe an event that will never happen. In Congress, as it turns out, pigs -- or should I say pork -- is flying all the time. And in tonight's Keeping Them Honest segment, we're uncovering three of the most blatant examples of pork in flight that I have ever seen.

The three airports that serve the metropolitan New York area -- JFK, LaGuardia and Newark -- are among the most congested in the country, with clogged runways and delayed flights and abysmal on-time records for the first half of this year.

I personally spend a lot of time sitting on the runway at LaGuardia. It's always the same. Board the flight, creep out to the runway and listen to the pilot explain that we are number 24 for takeoff and we'll do the best we can to make up some of this time in the air.

It turns out while I was sitting on that runway, Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts and their Republican colleague, Ted Stevens of Alaska, were focusing on their own congested skies and they've come up with some personal solutions.

For Kennedy and Kerry, the answer to the crowded skies is to replace the control towers at airports that make it easy for them to get to their vacation homes. The Massachusetts duo has inserted $8 million dollars in earmarks into the pending transportation bill to replace the control tower at Barnstable Airport near Hyannis (and the Kennedy Cape Cod Compound) and the control tower at Nantucket Airport (near the island home where Kerry likes to windsurf).

Senator Stevens, currently under investigation for steering federal money and contracts to political and business friends, has a $3.5 million earmark in that same bill to build an airport on an island in the Aleutians where one of his political donors runs a big commercial fishing venture.

I'm sure the senators have very good reasons why we should pay for airports that seem to benefit them and their friends while the rest of us sit on the tarmac at LaGuardia. But after weeks of asking and being turned down for interviews, I think I'll get an answer when pigs actually do fly.

-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 4:00 PM ET
  27 Comments
Hey...what else is new....the senators taking us for a ride except they get the fast track while we have to wait in "traffic"! And on top of that they are using our hard earned money! HMMM Something seems wrong here! LOL

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 4:19 PM ET
Politicians are self-serving twerps who deserve nothing but the most severe criticism. They are all involved in the money grab, just like corporate CEOs and the rest of the "me" crowd. We can't elect anyone with any decency or morals because as soon as they are installed in office the corruption begins.
Posted By A. Roy Olson, Tucson AZ : 4:22 PM ET
Hi Drew,
Well, I guess it proves that it really doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican..Pork is the Special of the Day at the big old dinner house in the sky.
I guess if you fly from "Sea to Shining Sea," or motor on down the lovely "bridge to nowhere," it's all about need. Or should I say greed.
After all, your personal transportation hub is worthy of a bloated piggy bank of fresh, green leagal tender, isn't it? Oh yes, a man's castle and his commute to it can make pork fly..I think I need an alka seltzer. Dinner was too high on the hog for this diner.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 4:36 PM ET
Does the phrase "public servant" mean anything to these senators? The only people they're serving with these projects are themselves. These earmarks really have to be scrutinized or eliminated altogether.

Thanks,
Lilibeth
Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Anonymous : 4:59 PM ET
Hi Drew,
I thank you for investigating this issue. On a recent flight to Rochester from JFK, which was all of about 45 minutes once we took off, we sat on the runway for 3 hours! I sure hope our government officials have a really good reason for funding their airports rather than provide some relief to those of us who put them in office.
Posted By Pamina, New Rochelle, NY : 5:05 PM ET
Drew:

Congratulations for winning 2007 Journalist of the Year award! You certainly are deserving of such an award!

Who doesn't like to summer at the Vineyard?

You wouldn't expect the Senators to fly to Logan, rent a car and sit in bumper to bumper traffic or then then take the Island Queen or the Hy-Line ferry like the rest of us now would you?

That would mean they would have to schlep their own luggage on the ferry while balancing their cocktails in the other hand.
Posted By Renee Bradenton, FL : 5:14 PM ET
How can Democratic Presidential candidates ask the avg. American for more tax money out of our already-overtaxed paychecks when Washington has got these kind of special interest, wasteful spending bills being considered?
Posted By Laura - Tulsa OK : 5:29 PM ET
We non-affluent Americans are getting hammered with tax increases every year, so why should we pay for airport improvements in affluent areas?
Posted By David H. - Lake Barrington, IL : 5:32 PM ET
Do Senators Kennedy and Kerry have to sit on the runway for seven hours? -- no wait I forgot -- they fly in a private jet, so guess not.
Posted By Art Bloom, Nashville, Tn. : 5:45 PM ET
So why aren't the New York senators requesting earmarks to do something about La Guardia and JFK airports? Oh, I know. One of them is too busy running for president, not that I am encouraging them to resort to this behavior. But why should travellers have to suffer because they don't keep the earmark pigs flying?

Are earmarks the only way to get financing for airport renovations? I wish I understood all this. There has to be a better way. Thanks for trying to keep Senators Kerry, Kennedy, and Stevens honest. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

Barbara, Culver City, CA
Posted By Barbara : 6:17 PM ET
So why aren't the New York senators requesting earmarks to do something about La Guardia and JFK airports? Oh, I know. One of them is too busy running for president, not that I am encouraging them to resort to this behavior. But why should travellers have to suffer because they don't keep the earmark pigs flying?

Are earmarks the only way to get financing for airport renovations? I wish I understood all this. There has to be a better way. Thanks for trying to keep Senators Kerry, Kennedy, and Stevens honest. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

Barbara, Culver City, CA
Posted By Barbara : 6:18 PM ET
Can't help laughing at the part about making it "easy for them to get to their vacation homes..."


I'm so glad to see the "New Congress" focusing on what's good for all American "people."
Posted By Diana J., Covington, KY. : 6:22 PM ET
I think one way to cut down on the number of "earmark" bills is for voters to push for term limits in Congress. Then we could more easily vote out CongressPeople who are repeat offenders.
Posted By xtina - chicago IL : 6:37 PM ET
There's your government at work !
Posted By Nancy L., Birmingham, Al. : 6:38 PM ET
Hey, don't ever say that they're not doing anything up there on the Hill. They're working hard to make life easier for themselves and their families!
Posted By Barbara D., Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. : 6:40 PM ET
The answer might be the choo-choo. Europeans zip around on those sleek trains and seem to make it work. Maybe an improved rail system is a better long-term solution than making the government step in to regulate yet another sector of American business.
Posted By Dane P. - Omaha, Ne. : 6:45 PM ET
Kerry, Kennedy and Stevens all working together to solve a problem?! I'm so glad the Republicans and Democrats can agree on something !
Posted By Jason, Chicago, Ill. : 6:48 PM ET
THIS is what we're paying salaries of Senators for ??
Posted By mark stone- portland, or. : 6:50 PM ET
I learn something new and slightly disturbing about our government in every report you do, can't wait to be schooled by the 2007 journalist of the year! Congratulations again!
Posted By Marcy, Mobile, AL : 6:53 PM ET
Thanks for looking into this abuse of power . Seems our Senate has been looking out for their own special interests.
Posted By Gregg A., Augusta, Ga. : 6:53 PM ET
Drew/AC360:
If you have ever lived near a pig farm it can smell pretty putrid from your front porch depending on which way the wind is blowing.

It is nice to know you are holding the fan, Drew.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 7:56 PM ET
These earmarks are ridiculous! Why are none of these Senators not using this money to help eradicate poverty and homelessness, or improving education in this country? I don't understand how these Senators are getting away with improving airports that are hardly used, or building bridges to no where. We have to inform our Congressmen and women that we want our tax dollars to go towards making improvements in this country where they really matter, not on pointless pet projects or favors that they owe friends.
Posted By Jessica, Bourbonnais Illinois : 7:56 PM ET
It seems that the Easton, Maryland airport (which serves Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's weekend homes) has gotten a fair amount of financial input lately too - new tower, new runway under construction. It has a few friends in high places, it seems.
Posted By Nancy Toby : 7:59 PM ET
What ever happened to honesty and integrity? I guess that is not required to represent your state or country.

Also, what every happened to "for the people, by the people?"
Posted By mary : 8:23 PM ET
Some of the older airports don't have the land available to add additional runways. Much to the criticism and the various lawsuits from the suburbs affected, the city of Chicago bought up some private property, had the remainder condemned, and even displaced an entire cemetary in order to add future runways at O'Hare airport.

In order to avoid the hassles of airport security lines and other delays, there are an increasing number of corporate and private jets now flying. Not having traveled to any of the three airports you mentioned, my guess is that the larger commercial airlines do not operate out of those airports, yet those communities are sustained by tourism, even if it is from the wealthy.
Posted By Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 8:38 PM ET
Well, Do we really think putting more money into fixing the problem is the key? I always skeptical about how government money spent on big projects? Who monitor the cost effectiveness of the whole process. Later, officials always say they under-estimate the cost and want more $$$. Try it! Let the PIGS fly! If the PIGS drop, at least many always have the enjoyment of the PORK $$.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:23 PM ET
Mr. Griffin, The funding you complain about is an appropriate public benefit. The Air Traffic Control system is so antiquated (sometimes with equipment over 40 years old), and given that those Mass. airports serve over 100,000 passengers every year (in addition to the Senators), $8million is an appropriate expense to maintain our infrastructure. Those Massachusetts airports are heavily utilized, especially in the summer, and foggy conditions often prevail. Senator Kennedy's concern can certainly be understood when you consider that his nephew's death (JFK, Jr.) might have been prevented by better ATC and local weather information.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:38 PM ET
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