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Tilting at Windmills

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July 21, 2009

HAMMING IT UP.... Far-right blogs and Republican staffers thought they'd found a delicious new anecdote to attack the stimulus package. As is usually the case, they neglected to think it through before making themselves appear silly.

Drudge, running with contracts from the government's stimulus website, claimed that the Obama administration had spent, among other things, $1.19 million on two pounds of ham. Some conservative bloggers, following Drudge's lead, ran with the story. House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office complained about the "pork" in the stimulus. Republicans sent "blast e-mails of screenshots from the Drudge Report, highlighting the contracts as wasteful spending."

By yesterday afternoon, the Department of Agriculture felt compelled to issue a statement, explaining how terribly wrong conservatives are about this.

Through the Recovery Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $100 million available to the states for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which acquires food that is distributed to local organizations that assist the needy -- including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens.

The Recovery Act funds referenced in press reports allowed states to purchase ham, cheese and dairy products for these food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries that provide assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food. This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession.

The references to "2 pound frozen ham sliced" are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy "2 pounds of ham" are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound. In terms of the dairy purchase referenced, USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese. The canned pork purchase was 8,424,000 pounds at a cost of $16,784,000, or approximately $1.99 per pound.

While the principal purpose of these expenditures is to provide food to those hardest hit by these tough times, the purchases also provide a modest economic benefit of benefiting Americans working at food retailers, manufacturers and transportation companies as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce our food supply.

In other words, the conservative activists who pounced on this were thoroughly confused about every relevant detail, including the underlying claim.

I'm curious, though, why these folks don't apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these. When a story seems outlandish, there are four simple words that I find helpful: "That can't be right."

Sure, I realize right-wing bloggers think the Obama administration is some kind of reckless spending machine, so they're inclined to believe the worst. But $1.19 million on just two pounds of ham? That didn't strike conservatives as implausible? Maybe something that warrants a closer look before publication?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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Comments

I knew Iberico de Bolleta Paleta was a little pricey, but........

Posted by: berttheclock on July 21, 2009 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's not meant to be correct. It is now in the "public discourse" and will be quoted without question for the next 7 years, regardless of its accuracy.

Posted by: Wyrm on July 21, 2009 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

THe Idiocracy is upon us.

Posted by: johnnymags on July 21, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives aren't really upset about the money. They're upset about those benefitting from it. They couldn't come out and say what they were riled about, which is feeding the poor. So they harp about a cover story for accomplishing the goal of slighting the destitute and homeless. If just a few indigent are denied food while suffering hunger pangs their goal will be achieved. Maybe just enough in Congress will believe this bile to vote down an appropriation or two in the future for food and shelter. Mission accomplished.

Posted by: steve duncan on July 21, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

"Sure, I realize right-wing bloggers think the Obama administration is some kind of reckless spending machine, so they're inclined to believe the worst. But $1.19 million on just two pounds of ham? That didn't strike conservatives as implausible?"

Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve -- this presupposes that right-wing bloggers not only can read the words but understand them.

Shame on you.

Posted by: Prof_B on July 21, 2009 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Facts don't matter. What matters is emotional response. Budget-busting fascist socialism for lazy welfare cheats with my tax dollars!

That's all you need. It could be pure fiction and it would still work.

Posted by: bleh on July 21, 2009 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

The wingers are, 1) addicted to the endorphin rush of vindicated resentment 2) dealing with cognitive dissonance through group bonding. Facts, reality, actual policy choices are just farts in the elevator to heaven.

Posted by: MattF on July 21, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

I eagerly await the upcoming correction and apology that Drudge is certain to run.

Posted by: menthol on July 21, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

it doesn't even hafta be close to making sense...

they'll lie about anything any time... pathologically.

Posted by: neill on July 21, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Still stuck in a high school mentality (at best), Republicans, as well as both their masters (Drudge, Limbaugh) and servants (everyone else) in the media, will never let the truth get in the way of a lie that's fun to tell and smears their enemies. They've moved on to 2 or 3 more fires whilst sane responsible patriots try to douse the last bunch of fires they started.

Posted by: slappy magoo on July 21, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wonder if it's too late for them to pull Jonah Goldberg's next column?

HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Southern Beale on July 21, 2009 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

I think they knew well in advance that it was a typo, but they want to spend the next three years generating an image of wasteful spending. The old "if you repeat a lie often enough people will think it's the truth". After all, it worked so well against Al Gore with "He thinks he invented the Internet" and with the "swiftboating" of John Kerrey.

Unfortunately for them, the trend has changed. Now it's "if you repeat a lie often enough you will end up like the boy who cried 'wolf'." (in other words, losing so much credibility no one believes you when you do tell the truth).

Posted by: Saint Fnordius on July 21, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

To quote that little boy from New Orleans made famous during Katrina "Pitiful just Pitiful"

Posted by: John R on July 21, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Howard Fineman was on Countdown last night (Shuster subbing), and he said something very disturbing. In effect, he said that the Republicans on the Hill he has spoken with (DeMint, McConnell, etc.) to a person, actually believe Obama is destroying the country, that he is engineering a total government takeover of all private enterprise. It sounds like, at least according to Fineman, that they are not just playing politics, they really are delusional. So, they, and far-right blogs, are inclined to believe anything as long as it fits their fear profile.

Posted by: Rolla on July 21, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Steve writes:

As is usually the case, they neglected to think it through before making themselves appear silly.

I don't think it makes them appear silly. I think it makes them appear to be liars. It's not that they were too stupid to find out the truth, it is that they intentionally misrepresented the facts, but in a way that they can claim later (if called on it): "Sorry, my mistake."

Having people call them stupid instead of liars works to their advantage, I think.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on July 21, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

As Wyrm correctly indicates, it's 'out there.'

As the consummate Villager Cokie Roberts said, "It doesn't matter if it's true or not, what matters is that it's out there." The goal is to inculcate doubt and a reflexive pessimism about anything that Obama does.

"Hey, I don't know about this Obama fella. I mean, I heard that he spent like $1 million on a couple of pounds of ham! Do you believe that?!?"

Mission Accomplished.

Posted by: terraformer on July 21, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Saint Fnordius, certainly you're mistaken in thinking repeated lies don't become the "truth" in the public's mind. It's ALWAYS worked, for thousands of years, and always will.

"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."


Posted by: steve duncan on July 21, 2009 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Can a gang e-mail be far behind from your idiot conservative "friends"? Perhaps a new musical mix from a Glenn Beck rant...something like EIEIO!!! TIME TO STEP UP AND SUPPORT OUR PRESIDENT!!! Get those busy fingers going...

Posted by: Dancer on July 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

steve duncan, Yeah, they must have picked up today's menu from Central DC Soup Kitchen.

Iberico Ham, caviar, foie gras, Kopi Luwak coffee.

We, libs do tend to "spoil" the homeless, eh?

The far right is made up of lemmings with no brains in their leaders.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 21, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Saint, it's not a typo. They were purchasing individually wrapped items called 2-pound hams. This is what contracts look like: 2 pound frozen ham sliced, 380,000 count. If you know literally nothing about how commodities are purchased - if all you have in your head is the ability to read at a 5th grade level - you could make this mistake. Otherwise, no.

Posted by: Bloix on July 21, 2009 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

I call it "lynch mob psychology".

1. be afraid
2. be angry
3. whatever you do, don't think

Posted by: Jim Ramsey on July 21, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'm curious, though, why these folks don't apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these.

Oh, come on, Steve. The modern conservative movement, as represented by the likes of Boehner, Drudge, etc., is a cult. Those with critical thinking skills need not apply.

And anyway, since when has something being factually wrong -- from "two million dollar ham" to "Al Gore invented the Internet" to "cutting taxes raises revenue" -- stopped Republican propagandists from repeating it until it's accepted as true?

Posted by: Gregory on July 21, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

As the director of a food bank I can tell EVERYONE how beneficial this additional food is. In this economy we have seen a 30% increase in people requesting emergency food. Our donations are down and being able to provide people with food other than high sodium can goods is a God send! Our clients can only come once a month and we provide about a weeks worth of food! This program enables us to provide MORE FOOD FOR AT NO COST TO US!

The media needs to get out and do some reporting from the trenches to experience how REAL people are being affected!

Posted by: Dorothy on July 21, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Your comment reminds me of the song 'Suicide Bomber'.

Aren't you the suicide bomber that blew up the bus last year.
.....

You're not thinking this through.

Posted by: rmp on July 21, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I already saw this referenced on a right wing thread somewhere. Its amazing how they have washed out the memory of those pallets of shrink wrapped money that we threw down the rat hole of Iraq--and how they don't struggle at all against the money bush and obama both threw down the financial system drain. But zombie lies will never die.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on July 21, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Everyone seems to miss the point about how snazzy this "$2 million for 2 lbs of ham" phrase is for the GOP. Once Rush and Beck get hold of it, it will go viral, then we'll see grocery ad style posters at the teabagger functions. They will throw Tea and Ham parties. Boehner will cry on the House floor and decry the "audacity of 2 lbs of pork". Bachman will no doubt say the 2 lbs of ham came from a pig concentration camp set up by FEMA.

Dept. of Agriculture?!!? What they said is not catchy.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on July 21, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

When will someone actually attack the Right for their lack of reading comprehension?

Yes, call folks like Beck illiterate and lacking reading comprehension. Point it out on the contract and play the quote. Juxtapose that with a successful reading program (for kids or adults...hell, even use Sotomayor's story) and then end with this question:

Which do you want for yourself, your family, your country?

Posted by: TonyB on July 21, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Beck = Boehner

Posted by: TonyB on July 21, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

"That can't be right"

Which in a sane world would debunk two talking points floating around Wingnuttia.

One is that the House version of the Health Care legislation bars private individual health insurance after 2013.

The other is that in proposing to pay for a part of the cost via surtax on the wealth Obama is breaking a promise to not increase taxes on people making over $250,000.

The first claim at least relies on a misreading of the significance of Sec 102 of HR3200 but still should fail the "That can't be right" test. The second simply reverses reality, Obama spent his whole campaign insisting that people making over $250,000 would not only see their income taxes go up but might well have to pay FICA on income over the cap. Yet the people on Talk Radio are reporting this 'promise breaking' with a straight face. I got in a shouting argument with a friend who simply wouldn't listen when I said Obama never promised anything of the sort and in fact the reverse, but no since he heard in on the Dori Monson Show on KVI it had to be true.

'Reality impaired' doesn't begin to describe these people. They don't feel any obligation to even by restrained by reality. Because they believe, and rightly, that substantial parts of their audience will just lap this stuff up.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 21, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Dorothy is so correct - The Oregonian has reported shelters, food banks and soup kitchens serving more families than before. These are people who have never had to stand in any type of line before to ask for food. This is a worsening situation. The right loves to decry the substance abuse of single males and anyone else asking for a helping hand. This onslaught of those needing help goes far beyond that argument. Many have lost jobs, which will never return. They are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their medical, their hope. Woody Guthrie would be very, very busy today.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 21, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget, these are the same people who happily waved their hands in the air like they were going on a school outing when the Bush "government" declined to say how much it would spend this year for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, preferring to finance a manifestly foreseeable expense with "emergency supplementals" so they would not have to put an outrageous figure out there.

Republicans rely on the easily-aroused rage and fear of the Proles. If thinking people outnumber low-browed boneheads in America, you've still got nothing much to worry about, and the Republicans are piling up great stupidity footage to be used against them in the next election. If not.....

Posted by: Mark on July 21, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I googled this and it appears they are changing over to complaining that the $1.50 for a pound of ham is twice what should be paid for it, thereby saving their "pork in the stimulus" meme.

Apparently, though, the very idea that the government purchasing ham and cheese for food programs helping those hard hit by the recession can provide a stimulus strikes some conservatives as ludicrous. This ideological opposition to valuable government programs that provide for those in need and help the economy concerns me more than the proposensity to trumpet demonstrably ridiculous non-facts.

Posted by: Vicki Linton on July 21, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

oops coined a new word, proposensity = propensity. LOL.

Posted by: Vicki Linton on July 21, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Why, when I think of how that "ham money" could have been better used for new toilet seats.........

Posted by: General Ripper on July 21, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Vicki...
They had mentioned on Drudge and LimpBalls that it was cheaper at Food Lion

I took 45 seconds:

Deli sliced ham in the weekly flyer from Food Lion $3.99 a lb

http://foodlion.mywebgrocer.com/Circular.aspx?c=41590&n=1&s=53116722&g=d8f82eea-5485-4501-97ba-2052db9b5c7e&uc=7B35461

In the same flyer - bone in ham shank - on sale $1.09

regular price $1.69 a lb

I sure the premier investigative journalists of the mass media will debunk this in no time by take the same 45 seconds to look it up on the internet.

Posted by: John R on July 21, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

You'd think the wingnuts would question why Obama is buying ham at all, seeing as how they're convinced he's a "Muslin."

Posted by: PattyP on July 21, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

So Gateway Pundit followed up with a non-apology, and a claim that Food Lion sells sliced ham at $0.79/lb. These guys just can't stop the stupid.

The sliced ham in our fridge cost $6.49/lb. It may have not been the cheapest available, but it was certainly not the most expensive. I rarely buy deli ham (or ham in general) because of the cost, despite how tasty it is. In fact, that's why I remember the price -- I'm always shocked at the price of ham and bacon.

For $0.79, I'm guessing Food Lion was selling something like bone-in ham shank with two or three "Manager's Special" labels slapped on them?

Posted by: drew42 on July 21, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

@ drew42 Se my "Investigative journalism" above. I don't think I'll be eating any 79 cent ham products any time soon.

Posted by: John R on July 21, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

MattF said:

The wingers are, 1) addicted to the endorphin rush of vindicated resentment 2) dealing with cognitive dissonance through group bonding. Facts, reality, actual policy choices are just farts in the elevator to heaven.

This is the most awesome comment in the history of the blogiverse.

Posted by: PattyP on July 21, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

It's those damn facts and their damnable liberal bias!

Posted by: The Fool on July 21, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

I've notice how the GOP keep saying 'big gov't spending' and big gov't.

At the same time, they are re-drawing districts, adding more seats for gov't officials.

Here in Cali - Arnold "the terminator" has done everyone in. This GOPer will let thousands of prisoners go free. Cuts in k-12, cuts in college, cuts in daycare, cuts in Welfare, take (not borrow) revenue from cities & counties. State employees still have to take 3 days off a month without pay. Hike in college fees, sheriff deputies and local police officers face cuts.....

I heard on the news that he is also trying to close (shut down or sell) some of the Universities.

With all of this, as I said before, why do we need all of the gov't officials...
City council members, City manager, county supervisors, state assembly, state senators, federal senators, federal representatives.....As far as I'm concerned, it's top heavy. Too many top mgmt while rank and file workers get the boot!

Hate to say this, but, it looks like we are starting to govern like Mexico - the govt officials and business (meaning corpations) are what rules, everyone else will just be dirt poor. Maybe that's why Boy George took so many trips to Mexico.

On the other hand, Costa Rica is doing the exact opposite, he said he wanted to keep his 'Middle Class' because the Middle Class is what will save and strengthen the economy. Costa Rica rocks!!!!

Posted by: annjell on July 21, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

When a story seems outlandish, there are four simple words that I find helpful: "That can't be right."

Right-wing kooks use a different four-word phrase: "Hey! A potential scandal!"

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on July 21, 2009 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I know your tone of wonderment is partly rhetorical Steve, but the way in which you are approaching this and other stories (pointing out conservatives supposed gullability)is basically wasted effort. Until you internalize the fact that:

1) The conservative noise machine, even when shown to be way off base factually on a story like this neither cares nor will waste time on walking the story back because they have effectively spread their wingnut urban rumor for at least a short period of time generating more fuzzy headed outrage which is really their sole intention.

2) It is also likely that they actually knew the true facts of the story but saw a window of opportunity to build on lack of public knowledge.

So the more you waste time attacking these stories with a "look at the silly wingnuts" approach the more it will continue to happen, and sadly that silly wingnut group will just build and feed on its own ignorance and process and the noise machine will continue to hum along.

Instead of this approach and outcome I would simply ask that you and other bloggers, when falling into a story like this attack it from the angle of pointing at the noise machine and its mendacious, corrupting influence on american democracy. It needs to be recognized for what it truly is; a deliberate method used by political interests to subvert and mislead the american people. Until you reach that point your posts are basically trite and throw away.

Posted by: Condor on July 21, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

aimai: I would add, those pallets of shrink-wrapped thousand dollar bills that we shoved into the pockets of Halliburton, Blackwater, and various other Dick Cheney pals.

Posted by: stinger on July 21, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Further proof, if proof were necessary, of my theory that "being Republican" is a mental disorder.

Posted by: TCinLA on July 21, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

"Sure, I realize right-wing bloggers think the Obama administration is some kind of reckless spending machine, so they're inclined to believe the worst. But $1.19 million on just two pounds of ham? That didn't strike conservatives as implausible? Maybe something that warrants a closer look before publication?"

You seem to believe they'd care if they were proven wrong.

As the way wingnut in the wingnut welfare edifice get paid is the manufacture of artificial outrage to attract eyeballs, it's inevitable they'll get the facts wrong some, if not most of the time.

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan on July 21, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I'm curious, though, why these folks don't apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these. When a story seems outlandish, there are four simple words that I find helpful: "That can't be right."

But "that can't be right" is what we said over and over and over and over again for the past eight years, every time Smirky/Darth announced some new absurdity: attacking Iraq over 9/11, letting Osama escape, torturing detainees, wiretapping, detaining U.S. citizens as enemy combatants ...

It's been non-stop proof that what "can't be right" can and indeed is.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on July 21, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm curious, though, why these folks don't apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these.

Ummm...'cuz they know that their audience won't apply any criticial thought to the story, either? A story like this is written to misinform and to inflame the passions of the ignorant.

Posted by: AK Liberal on July 21, 2009 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

"In other words, the conservative activists who pounced on this were thoroughly confused about every relevant detail, including the underlying claim."

And this is new, how ?

Posted by: Joe Friday on July 21, 2009 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I can't wait until I visit my folks for Thanksgiving and listen while my dad makes a few jokes about how we're having turkey because Obama made ham so expensive. And I'll have a polite smile on my face while I try to explain the truth to him, but he'll insist that he read the original contract and it was all there: Ten million dollars for one ham (yes, like a bad game of telephone, he'll have goofed the details). And even if I get him to realize the truth, by Christmas, he'll be saying the same damn thing. That's just how it works.

But all the same, these sort of goofs are absolutely HORRIBLE for conservatives. While the base gobbles it up, anyone who isn't fervently anti-Obama will smell a hoax, which will create yet another divide between the sane and insane in our nation. It's been a long, long time since Republicans have truly benefited from a fake scandal.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 21, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Right wing lies = distraction. Not that we shouldn't correct them but their willful ignorance is just another way to keep progressives from concentrating on our own message. If we feel we have to keep going back and explaining every nuance to Drudge, et. al., we spend less time crafting or communicating progressive values to others. I say we call them on the lying and be done with it. It's obvious that they are determined to suck every bit of energy out of this administration and those who support it.

Posted by: Lianne16 on July 21, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't two pound hans usually the ones with bone-in?

If so, doesn't buying 380 tons of it get you a better price than that?

Still, I recall fondly when conservatives thought only the Bible was a source of infallible truth.

I wouldn't have thought Drudge was runner up for the honor.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on July 21, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

When will someone actually attack the Right for their lack of reading comprehension?

I'd rather someone attack the Right, prominently, in the national media, and often, for their dishonesty.

Remember McCain ridiculing all those spending line items in the stimulus bill? And it turned out there was a good reason for all of them? They were just things he thought would sound wierd -- "Oh, a million dollars for bee research!"

As opposed to spending billions of dollars on a fighter jet we can't use. Right

Posted by: Gregory on July 21, 2009 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

People, it's 2009...We're all entitled to our own facts, just like in the good old days (circa 1009). Give it four or five hundred years and a Renaissance of thought and reason will put things back in order. Till then, keep the cave fires burning!

Posted by: Tom on July 22, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

you didn't read the post. you jumped to conclusions.

i didn't think it was about two literal lbs of ham. i thought it was a list of expenditures.

did any of you read through the expenditures? drudge did. keep that in mind.

drudge immediately posted up the rebuttal release.

and posted up the actual market price of 2 lbs of ham right below it.

the government is paying twice the price that those of us who shop at food lion are.

that was the news story.

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