2008-12-31 / Opinion

Financial Holiday Hangover

by Alex McRae

At most homes, all that's left of the annual Christmas Retail Orgy is a pile of leftover wrapping paper, a thirsty evergreen tree and —if you have small children—a jumble of mysterious parts from toys that fell apart minutes after they were fondled for the first time.

Most of us are glad the retail part of Christmas is over. After all the socializing and spending, we need a break to smooth out wrinkled nerves and replenish thinner-thanever wallets.

For many Americans, this was—financially speaking— the toughest Christmas in memory. Most are just hoping 2009 won't be worse.

But while 2008 was a financial nail-biter for most, it was swell for some. Mostly because Americans who are barely getting by sent some wonderful gifts to total strangers.

It wasn't a random act of generosity, though. It was armed robbery, courtesy of the U.S. Congress, which spent 2008 wasting tax dollars on projects a sensible person would find laughable if they weren't so infuriating.

For instance, You didn't see it printed on any of the campaign brochures now bloating the nation's landfills, but in 2008, Congress spent $9.4 million of our dollars searching for outer space aliens.

Maybe next year congress will follow ET's advice and phone home first for a second opinion.

Another $2.4 million went for a retractable shade canopy. Maybe it was used to cool Las Vegas casino workers taking breaks from their $784,000 tax-paid "training classes.'"

Our Congress also spent $9,000 on a non-functioning gas station shaped like an airplane. Don't ask.

If you think these are just a few silly examples of government waste, think again. Congressional watchdogs have produced a report almost as thick as the New York City phone book listing thousands of tax-funded 2008 Congressional pork projects.

A big winner in the Waste Derby was the $39 million spent on a new program at the National Drug Intelligence Center (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

The only problem is, the program didn't work. Even a former NDIC director is on record as saying, "...a lot of reports were god awful, poorly written, poorly researched, and, in some cases, wrong."

Another swell expenditure was the $66 grand that went to a local library in Colorado. Not for books. The money purchased bicycles that library patrons can check out at no cost.

Folks in South Carolina must be overjoyed they got to contribute to that one. Probably as happy as the Florida fishermen who learned that $188,000 of their tax dollars went up the Atlantic coast to fund Maine's Lobster Institute, which allegedly promotes the Maine lobster industry by doing such cool things as operating an underwater LobsterCam.

Meanwhile, even though people are still cleaning up debris from Hurricane Katrina, congress felt it was swell to spend a cool million to build bike paths atop Louisiana levees. That is, if the levees are ever repaired.

And who isn't proud to know that $517,000 tax dollars went to the Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps, which used the money to teach 55 teenagers to make homemade salsa.

Program director Geri Unger, pointed out that "For many, this is the first time they've eaten vegetables they actually see growing."

Glad the tax-funded salsa scam makes Ms. Unger happy. Too bad such news ruins the appetite of average taxpayers.

I'm no genius and I'm certainly not a politician, but I don't know anyone who doesn't recognize a waste of money when they see it. And in 2008, we all saw plenty. In 2009, we'd all be better off if our congressional "leaders" spent what little is left of our money to buy themselves one-way tickets home.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan. com)

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