Very much in the news these days is the debt ceiling crisis and its possible impact on the American economy.
As a response to this crisis, the Democrats want to raise taxes and the Republicans want to cut spending. Nothing new there. But what's truly distressing is that both sides seem to be in agreement that we'll have to cut back on payments to such programs as Social Security and Medicare.
What's missing entirely from this debate is a careful look at just HOW our government is spending its money.
Space limitations in this venue will prevent me from exposing more than the tip of the iceberg of utterly astounding government waste, but I will also provide some references where you can learn more.
Let's begin with our current administration's idea of improving the image of America abroad. Oh, yes, I'm talking about our latest proud export: Lady Gaga. Here's an excerpt from The Blaze, which you can review here:
***** Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that the State Department played an instrumental role in "sealing the deal" for pop-rock star Lady Gaga to perform at a gay pride rally in Rome, Italy. Clinton specifically pointed to a letter that David Thorne, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, sent to Lady Gaga urging her to participate in the event.
"And then there is the work that our embassy team in Rome has been doing," Clinton said. "Two weeks ago they played an instrumental role in bringing Lady Gaga to Italy for a Euro Pride concert. Now as many of you know Lady Gaga is Italian American and a strong supporter of LGBT rights," said Clinton. "And the organizers of the Euro Pride event desperately wanted her to perform and a letter to her from Ambassador Thorne was instrumental in sealing the deal." *****
Good to know that your Secretary of State and foreign embassies are spending their time and your tax dollars so wisely, isn't it?
Now let's go on to a few examples extracted from Senator Tom Coburn's (R-Oklahoma) "Wastebook." This is a publication that ought to be number one on the New York Times Bestsellers List, and required reading for every American. If you've never seen it before, please take some time to review it, and make your friends and family aware of it. Then ALL of you need to get on the phone and email to tell your Congresspeople that you're sick and tired of throwing money at such ludicrous projects while we still have poverty and hunger in this country, and they are threatening to betray senior citizens who have faithfully paid into the Social Security system all their lives. Here is the link to the website for Senator Coburn's Wastebook:
Now, just a few excerpts from Senator Coburn's report:
1.) Most people have to work for a living; others get to play video games. In 2008, Professor Bonnie Nardi of the University of California-Irvine received $100,007 from the National Science Foundation to "analyze and understand the ways in which players of World of Warcraft, a popular multiplayer game, engage in creative collaboration." Dr. Nardi published her findings in a new book, "My Life as a Night Elf Priest," released in May 2010 . . . Nardi spent "countless hours (using YOUR tax dollars) in Beijing cafes and other parts of China studying how Chinese players approach the game" . . . Describing her as "a hardcore WoW [World of Warcraft] fan," the book's promotional materials say that Professor Nardi has compiled "more than three years of participatory research in Warcraft play. Professor Nardi and her colleagues at UC Irvine have since received an additional $3 million in NSF grant funding from 2008-2011 for additional research involving "decentralized virtual activity systems." The University's press release explains how "emerging forms of communication, including multiplayer computer games and online virtual worlds such as 'World of Warcraft' and 'Second Life' can help organizations collaborate and compete more effectively in the global marketplace." An interviewer asked the author to differentiate between when she was "playing" and when she was "researching." The author answered: "Except for when I am learning a difficult new raid encounter! Then I allocate 100 percent of my brain cells to preventing my character's death."
2.) Our nation currently faces many challenges; a shortage of poetry in our nation's zoos, however, is rarely cited as one of them. It is not widely viewed as an example of our nation's crumbling infrastructure or a contributor to our national economic crisis. Nor is it a dangerous disease in need of curing. Nevertheless, a federal grant program has directed a million dollars ($997,766) from the public coffers to infuse zoos around the United States with snippets of poetry. Hence, the Little Rock (Ark.) Zoo now touts a sign sharing a bit of wisdom from Hans Christian Andersen: "Just living is not enough, said the butterfly. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower." Zoos in Chicago, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Jacksonville, Florida, will also sport bits of poetry, thanks to the U.S. taxpayer. Poets House, the New York-based organization administering the multi-year program, says its goal is to "deepen public awareness of environmental issues through poetry."
3.) Located less than 25 miles north of the Las Vegas airport, the Clark County Shooting Park is not your normal gun range. The 2,900-acre facility has an archery range, a building with a 30-seat classroom, a rifle and pistol range, and 24 trap and skeet fields. In the future, the range will have another 700 developed acres that will also include an area for horseback-mounted shooting. The gun range was built because of federal legislation that procured the land and allocated more than $64 million in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) funds to plan and build the gun range, including $15.6 million this year (2010) alone. The shooting park is being billed as a huge tourist attraction. The park, however, has been losing money. This year, the park had $430,000 in revenues, but cost $1.3 million to operate. In response, Clark County sent a million dollars of local funds to make up the difference. The county funds directed to the shooting range came from an account that paid for maintenance of local public pools. The result was at least one pool had to close its doors during the summer. "We use the park fund to fund the shooting park to the tune of a million, a million-and-a-half dollars a year. At the same time, it's 102, 104 degrees and there's a lock on the gate to the pool," said (a Clark County official).
4.) In July (2010), nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money went to the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, where wine tasting and castle tours were among the events planned for the conference participants. Speaking at the conference, former U.S. President Bill Clinton joined the chorus of those criticizing the cost to human lives of wasting AIDS funds on junkets and conferences. "In too many countries, too much money goes to pay for too many people to go to too many meetings, get on too many airplanes," Clinton said. "Keep in mind that every dollar we waste today puts a life at risk."
5.) The National Science Foundation directed nearly a quarter million dollars to a Stanford University professor's study of how Americans use the Internet to find love. The project surveys over 4,000 Americans on how they met their partners and how long those relationships lasted.
6.) The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent nearly $442,340 to study the number of male prostitutes in Vietnam and their social setting. According to the project's abstract, the University of Puerto Rico examined "the impact of male sex work on the growing HIV epidemics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam." The NIH summary pointed to "an expansion of markets for male sex work and international male sex tourism." Since 2008, the project has received about $500,000 annually.
Just in case you're not yet sick to your stomach, here are some additional excerpts from a report compiled jointly by Senator Coburn and Senator John McCain, titled "Summertime Blues," subtitled "100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues," and available for your review at this website:
1.) The University of North Carolina at Charlotte received more than $760,000 in stimulus funds to help develop a computerized choreography program that its creators believe could lead to a YouTube-like "Dance Tube" online application. The grant says UNC-Charlotte will "define an evolving system that assists in the design and production of interactive dance performances with real-time audience interaction."
2.) The City of San Antonio is hoping that there aren't any fires for at least a year in the vicinity of two planned fire stations, thanks to "help" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA awarded $7.3 million to the city for construction of fire stations #50 and #51, but the projects have become so mired in red tape it is not clear when they will be built. Before the stimulus award, San Antonio was set to fully fund the two new stations with its own money, having even gone so far as to hire private contracting firm, Bartlett Cocke to begin work. After the stimulus, however, the city found itself unexpectedly navigating complicated and expensive federal regulations, requiring environmental and historical considerations -- all delaying the project significantly. The result was an estimated $2.2 million overall increase in the cost of the two stations, and Bartlett Cocke losing its contract, which in turn had to lay off employees.
3.) The California Academy of Sciences is receiving nearly $2 million to send researchers to the Southwest Indian Ocean Islands and east Africa, to capture, photograph, and analyze thousands of exotic ants. The photographs of the ants -- over 3,000 species' worth, according to the grant proposal -- will be posted on AntWeb, a website devoted to organizing and displaying pictures and information on the world's thousands of ant species. The project's goals are, to the lay person, both laudable and arcane: In addition to "foster[ing]"a large pool of ant taxonomists," it also strives to document "the vast majority of ant species known from [Africa]." "[Ants] give us back the most data on the environment than any other group. Their life cycle is shorter, they change very quickly," says the project's Principal Investigator in a promotional article on the Academy's website. "Everyone has run into ants . . . now we need to listen to them."
4.) A Georgia Tech assistant professor of music will receive $762,372 to study improvised music. The project will apparently involve the professor jamming with "world-renowned musicians" to "hopefully also create satisfying works of art." The project "seek[s] to understand, model, and support improvisation, or real-time collaborative creativity, in the context of jazz, Indian classical, and avant-garde art music," according to the project description. "They will also conduct systematic evaluation of formal models in realistic performance contexts, and use brain imaging of improvising musicians to gain insight into highly creative mental activity." How will this help pull the United States out of an historic economic slump? "We are putting money into the local economy that is supporting local jobs," the project's principal, Parag Chordia, an accomplished classical Indian music performer, told a reporter. "We are creating the intellectual capital to support future growth."
5.) Whether they use the patch, the gum, or go cold turkey, millions of Americans try to quit smoking every year for their own health. Now, Uncle Sam will give them an additional reason to quit: a taxpayerfunded smartphone. The American Legacy Foundation is slated to receive almost half a million dollars to provide quitting smokers with a smartphone so they can contact their quitting support groups by text message or phone call to prevent relapses. The project bills itself as an ideal use of Recovery Act funds because "it represents an extraordinary opportunity to jump-start a collaborative effort that spearheads the use of web-enabled mobile devices to enhance the efficiency, fidelity, and impact of an established tobacco quit-line program that benefits underserved communities in Washington, D.C."
7.) Pacific Environment, a San-Francisco based non-profit organization that "protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies," has received a stimulus grant for an experimental applied science project to assist indigenous Siberian communities in engaging Russian policymakers in local civic and environmental issues. Researchers will be helping Siberian locals with "mapping [their] cultural and metaphysical space" [to] facilitate the indigenous voice in policy and management debates" -- in other words, becoming grassroots lobbyists. Pacific Environment itself calls the project "high-risk, high return."
Enough, I think. Every time I'm exposed to this information, it makes me want to cry.
Now, if this is truly the way you want to see your hard-earned tax dollars spent, you can just sit back in your easy chair, pop another beer, and let the world keep spinning on its crazy way. But if you think your elected officials are acting like a pack of hare-brained idiots, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Make your friends and family members aware of these publications, and urge all of them to write their Congresspeople. It's time for our government to be reminded that it is "for the people" -- and "the people" definitely don't want their money going to such ridiculous ends, particularly when they're being told that the quality of their retirement and other truly worthy programs are in dire jeopardy.
Read more articles by Dan Wafford or search for articles on the same topic or others.