Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 5, 2009

IF THESE ARE THE WORST OF THE WORST.... I don't doubt for a moment that there were probably some wasteful spending projects in the stimulus package. Likewise, it seems plausible that there's some "pork" in the omnibus spending bill, too.

But have you noticed how difficult it's been for conservatives to come up with real, credible examples? Given all the spending involved, it should be a lot easier.

The list of failed examples is getting rather long. Disney-to-Vegas HSR? Doesn't exist. The gang tattoo-removal program? Money well spent. Marsh-mouse preservation? Doesn't exist. Disaster insurance to livestock producers? A sound investment. Volcano monitoring? Seems like a pretty good idea.

John McCain also blasted "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah." Matt Yglesias, without the benefit of a Senate office staff, spent a few minutes on Google and discovered that Mormon crickets are reaching high levels in Utah, and destroying large areas of alfalfa fields. Given the impact on the area and industry, "$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah" doesn't sound especially wasteful.

McCain also condemned "$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway" as #1 on his list of the "porkiest" projects in the omnibus bill. Again, this hardly sounds like an outrageous expenditure.

The Oregon Solar Highway is "the nation's first solar panel project on a major U.S. highway," which seeks to use a row of solar panels about five feet wide and two football fields long to feed electricity directly into Portland General Electric's systemwide grid. It is meant to "account for 28 percent of the energy needed to power lights that illuminate the highway's sweeping interchange at night."

A pilot program for no-emissions alternative energy on a federal highway, costing less than $1 million, is the single most offensive "pork" project in a spending bill? In some ways, doesn't that prove the opposite of McCain's point?

It gets back to a point we discussed yesterday. McCain -- or more likely, some of his interns -- went through the bill looking for measures that they thought sounded funny. This led to McCain's list, which some in the media were quick to promote. McCain could have taken the time to look into these expenditures, evaluating their merit, and in some cases, their ability to actually save taxpayers money. But that would have been mature and intellectually serious -- and where's the fun in that?

As Jon Chait put it, "What's on display is the worst elements of political demagoguery meeting the worst elements of the instant-reaction internet culture. They think the very idea of trying to learn about something before you take a position on it is a joke."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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it's hard work bein' a republican

Posted by: neill on March 5, 2009 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter McCain: "How can it be money well spent if it doesn't blow anything up?"

Posted by: howie on March 5, 2009 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Every one of those spending initiatives has a genuine constituency -- who should be reminded that the GOP made fun of them in the weeks before next year's election.

Posted by: anonymous on March 5, 2009 at 7:58 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, you'd think there would be a Bridge to Nowhere or two in there somewhere....

Posted by: Calvin Chin on March 5, 2009 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

It's frustrating how simplistic the reporting on earmarks is. For example, yesterday Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered an ammendment to strip about $26 million in earmarks out of the bill, because they were perhaps (?) related to PMA, a lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in Nov. There are a lot of reports about this on the web, but I haven't been able to find a single one that describes what any of the specific earmarks was for.

Posted by: Danp on March 5, 2009 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Though the weary campaign trail is long behind with its humiliation in the grim gauntlet of American public, John McCain perseveres, still dragging himself to the microphone, still searching for that sound bite to glory.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on March 5, 2009 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

Intellectual dishonesty runs in GOP circles. In fact it practically gallops...(apology to "Arsenic and Old Lace)

McAce is proving time and again why the electorate banished him from his wet dream to run this country further down the rabbit hole.

You'd think given the amount of sunshine appearing daily in his home state that he'd be taking a leadership role in bringing that renewable energy source into play. Sometimes dolts like him can't, or won't, see the forest from the trees...

Posted by: Stevio on March 5, 2009 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

As Krugman wrote earlier, the GOP are like Beavis and Butthead laughing at funny-sounding earmark's.
I guess McPain is Butthead.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 5, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

I think it would be especially appropriate to phrase the "Mormon cricket control" expenditure in terms of Jesus dollars.
If you spent less than $1.50 per day, since the day Jesus was born, you'd have about enough money to control Mormon crickets.
Or, to coin a phrase, "For the cost of a cup of coffee..."

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on March 5, 2009 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

How soon we forget William Proxmire and his Golden Fleece awards, spun into comic gold by Johnny Carson's writers and their multiple successors. The industry was in place; it's simply been adopted to the needs of the 24 hour cable news cycle.

"The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity."
-Harlan Ellison

Posted by: Steve Paradis on March 5, 2009 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

Ya know, the more I hear about these "outrageous" programs, the better I feel about the Obama Administration...so far most everything seems like a good idea - the solar highway thing is pure genius!

McCain? Is he trying to fill the vacuum between Limbaugh and Steele? If so, he needs to try harder.

Posted by: neilt on March 5, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, but no thanks, Steve.

This post is not only wrong, it's dangerously wrong.

Do you think you can fool the American people, Steve?


I'd have more, but I haven't read your post yet.

Posted by: henry lewis on March 5, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, are you planning to write on the Daily Show? Last night was a riot. CNBC should be sued for journalistic malpractice.

Posted by: Micheline on March 5, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

A related upcoming fun thing will be the flip side of this process, which we will see during the debate on reducing waste in military procurement. But then it will be Dems pointing out the boondoggles, billion-dollar tire changing systems for Hummers and such, and the GOP screaming "To cut funding for the $763 million Raytheon portable bullet polishing unit is equal to supporting the Taliban".
To be fair, McCain has sometimes been on the correct side of these issues. Not that he deserves fairness.

Posted by: richard greenslade on March 5, 2009 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

McCain's just bitter because as a young man, he had a golden investment opportunity, but turned it down. "PRINTING Press? And put them monks outta work? Heh, nice try Gute."

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 5, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Henry Lewis - Now that was funny!

Posted by: Scott F. on March 5, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

What could be "porkier" than planning for America's future? Solar panels along the highway? Are you crazy?

I imagine there were plenty of Senators back in the day who fought pork projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority because it had the batshit insane premise that in the future people would need electricity.

Posted by: chrenson on March 5, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Dare I ask: When did crickets start converting to Mormonism?

This gives me new respect for all those clean-cut dark-suited "missionaries."

Posted by: Virginia on March 5, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe the embarrassment of repeatedly being found to blare earmark rubbish doesn't bother John McCain that much, because what really matters to him is to try and make good with the hardcore GOP base. You know, the boys and girls that listen to Rush because he feeds them their daily dish of outrage. Works for Rush, why shouldn't it work for the Maverick?

For a brief moment McCain had the choice to become an elder statesman, despite the disgraceful venom he spouted during the presidential campaign. Apparently however, he is suffering from the delusion that he might have a future role in the GOP, like running again in 2012?

John, they will never forgive you for having lost to that socialist!

Posted by: SRW1 on March 5, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

They all sound like someone's cranky, curmudgeonly relatives. Maybe the real problem is lack of dietary fiber.

Posted by: Varecia on March 5, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

McCain could have taken the time to look into these expenditures, evaluating their merit, and in some cases, their ability to actually save taxpayers money.
Somebody who cared enough about the country to put it above making laughably incorrect points in the hope of getting a laugh from one of the few far-right lunatics who don't already hate John McCain for being, God help us, a socialist tool, could have taken the time.

And, equally, McCain could have too?

For my part I doubt it, and that's reasonable as long as we're in fact-free speculation land. You're equally free to believe that he could have.

In the land of actual fact, obviously, of course he didn't. And anyhow, John, they're not laughing with you, they're laughing ... oh, well, what the hell.

The Internet Said It
I Believe It
And That Settles It

Posted by: That Settles It on March 5, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I get Steve's message, but earmarks, by definition, are bad. They're thrown in without a cost/benefit analysis or comparison with other projects competing for those resources. I'm not saying that all earmarked projects are bad. I'm just saying that the process is unsavory.

That said...since these expenditures make up less than one percent of the budget, worrying about them isn't at the top of my list. As usual, complaints about earmarks are a form of misdirection. Republicans don't want the electorate to see the forest for the trees in this budget for fear that they might like it.

Posted by: CJ on March 5, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are simply ridiculous. For them "it' all pork" or "it's not pork if you look at the rules" or " it's only pork when Democrats are earmarking".

What's another word for Republican Integrity?

Posted by: bcinaz on March 5, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

"Mormon Cricket control" - I can see how they went after that one. I didn't even know Mormons played cricket, let alone that they couldn't control it... OK, I know it's bad, but it was the first thing that popped into my head when i heard the phrase. I wonder if that's what they were hoping?

Posted by: Atlliberal on March 5, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I learned in grade school about the plague of locusts in Utah that almost caused mass starvation in the Mormon settlement, before seagulls got the destructive insects under control. That, folks, is why there's a statue of a seagull in Salt Lake City. Where was John McCain in history class? Well, I think his rank-in-class at Annapolis tells us all we need to know about that, doesn't it?

Posted by: T-Rex on March 5, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

2005-over 15000 pork projects
2009-over 8000 pork projects
2005-republican controlled congress
2009-democrats control congress.
Facts are pesky things.

Posted by: Gandalf on March 5, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

How about $1 million for Mormon control?

I'd pony up in a minute for that!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 5, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

As the sub prime borrower didn't say, can we borrow so much and make our payments?

Will the Chinese loan us the money? Will they feel sorry for Hillary Clinton when she comes hat in hand begging for money all remorseful for previous criticism of China's human rights problems? (Seems like they're more interested in increasing military spending.)

Will we even be able to pay the interest on the national debt, which by itself is about the size a responsible budget would be? Have libs extrapolated what this might be?

Posted by: Luther on March 5, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

T-Rex, I learned the same thing in grade school, but I remembered it as being a plague of crickets, and when I checked just now it was indeed a plague of *Mormon crickets*.

Posted by: DavidNOE on March 5, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't realize that the Mormon cricket control was specifically focused on alfalfa crop protection. If McCain were a real cowboy, as opposed to playing one in the bedroom, he might know that all over the West for the last year or so there has been a major problem with a shortage of hay and other livestock feeds. Which may sound silly, but it has a lot of economic and social problems radiating from it.

By the way, crickets and locusts are two separate beasts.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on March 5, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Little League baseball in West Jordan must be protected, at any cost.

However, Double Talk's ranting is akin to Michelle Malkin blasting, a few years back, about Fed money being used at Oregon State U to study eradication of the Brown Snake, which had hitchhiked via USN and USAF ships and planes, from the Solomens to Guam, wiping out the bird population, to Hawaii. This poisonous snake breeds like rabbits. Hawaii is afraid how their once non-snake environs will be affected, especially in tourism, by an invasion of this venomous snake. Another example of the right wing nut jobs getting hepped up whenever some "cricket, snake, marsh mouse or owl" is mentioned. It is always the canard that liberals care more about critters than people. They have stood truth on it's head.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 5, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Shout out to Double Talk - What do you have against Buddy Holly?

Posted by: berttheclock on March 5, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

when john w. mcsame took history, the mormon cricket plague hadn't happened yet.

(and maybe the crickets haven't really converted. they could just have been baptised in absentia, like the mormons are doing to victims of the holocaust.)

Posted by: mellowjohn on March 5, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "McCain also condemned '$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway' as #1 on his list of the 'porkiest' projects in the omnibus bill."

As a bought-and-paid-for tool of the fossil fuel and nuclear power corporations, McCain has a long history of denigrating and discouraging investment in solar and wind energy. So this is no surprise.

I am very glad to see the government funding this particular project since I have thought for a long time that installing photovoltaic arrays on highway rights-of-way would be a great idea.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 5, 2009 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

You know, there's something that's troubled me about the HSR discussion in this forum. I agree, the right's using the line about Vegas to Disneyland is ludicrous. The bill isn't written to specify any particular rail projects.

But, as a long time and avid believer in HSR, let me ask this question: does anyone that's traveled north on the 15 freeway on a friday afternoon NOT believe that such a line would be a good idea?

It would cut down on pollution. It would serve the economies of both states by making easy tourism between these two international destinations far less cumbersome. In short, it would serve us all well. Why aren't we talking about HSR from SoCal to Vegas in a positive way? It's a fantastic plan!

I think, in ridiculing the fact that it's not in the bill, we're missing the chance to talk about why it should have been.

Posted by: shantyhag on March 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Just think where we'd be today if this moron had won last November.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 5, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

"They think the very idea of trying to learn about something before you take a position on it is a joke."

I'm pretty sure that's the most accurate thing I've ever read about the Republicans in my lifetime. But I'm pretty old, so my memory isn't that good.

Posted by: fostert on March 5, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

High speed rail service from LA to Vegas would be a very good idea, there are dozens (hundreds?) of flights between the two cities every day, McCaran Airport is nearing capacity and car traffic can turn a 4-hour drive into 9 hours on busy days.

Some form of HSR (either a new maglev route running at over 300kph or upgrades to existing tracks to let Amtrak run Talgo trains at 125-200kph) is likely to be implemented at some point.

However, it doesn't belong in the stimulus bill (and of course, isn't there) because it isn't even close to being "shovel-ready".

Posted by: tanstaafl on March 5, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK



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