Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Our tax dollars at work
Elijah Wald writes in an article on AlterNet:
Discussing the worries of civilians in Baghdad, where missiles are destroying hotels and suicide bombers are killing or wounding hundreds, the Times assured its readers that, "The United States is doing everything it can to fight their fears. All over the city, the occupying authorities have put up large billboards featuring bucolic scenes of date palms arched over a riverbank. Inspirational messages are splashed over the pretty pictures. 'Baghdad is getting better,' says one."

This sounds like the most cynical political satire. Iraqis have lived for decades with a constant barrage of optimistic pronouncements from Saddam Hussein's government, even as they lost wars and underwent suffering from an international embargo. They are among the least likely people on earth to believe cheery billboards that are contradicted by the evidence of their own eyes and the experiences of their friends and neighbors.

During the seventies and eighties, a regular political event was Senator William Proxmire’s (D-WI) monthly Golden Fleece Award for the most “wasteful, ridiculous or ironic use of the taxpayers’ money.” Since Proxmire’s retirement in 1989 a number of taxpayer groups have taken up the cause and name and issued their own Golden Fleece Awards, but none has garnered the attention that the original did.

Pouring good money after wishful thinking like this is just the kind of waste that needs a good public skewering like Proxmire used to give.

Historical note: Although he pointed out a number of genuine boondoggles, I found Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award as often to be annoying as it was enlightening. Proxmire frequently went for the easy laugh by taking cheap shots at basic scientific research. It's hard enough to explain the the benefits of basic research when given the time and space to do so, it's almost impossible to defend it in an arena of fifteen second soundbites and sloganeering.

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