“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” — G.K. Chesterton
At the beginning of his narrative of the last decades of Imperial Russia Nicholas and Alexandra, historian Robert K Massie relates the theme of scores of Russian fairy tales: If those in distress are able to get to Moscow for an audience with the Czar, he will cure their troubles, whatever they may be, so they can live happily ever after. Given the number of “Czars” the current administration has installed in the White House, that appeared to becoming an American fairytale, with a somewhat less Kremlinesque setting, as well.
Perhaps no more.
Our high drama President Obama lost little time last week when the White House announced tours of the presidential mansion were being curtailed as a result of the Sequester. Part of the reason, I have heard, was that there were not enough Secret Service agents to provide appropriate security as a result of forced budget cuts. I suppose that may well be true seeing as that the President spends a lot of his time gallivanting around the country seeking to drum up support for his agenda. That travel, legitimately, requires an entourage of bodyguards to guard against assassins and other madmen. But is there really not enough funds to allow tours of the People’s House? Kim Strassel, Wall Street Journal columnist, believes so, and in expressing her opinion writes an entertaining essay entitled “Jumping the Sequester” in the March 8, 2013 issue.
Ms. Strassel learned that the cancellations of White House tours saves approximately $18,000 per week. That equals approximately 2 hours of operating Air Force One. She further reports that the government gave a $3700 grant to build a miniature street in West Virginia out of Legos, a $500,000 support for research on specially shampoo products for cats and dogs (I’ve shampooed my cats and can testify they won’t like it regardless of how well the product works, but then they don’t vote), and $340 million for 894 conferences last year each costing more than $100,000. The White House itself employs three calligraphers who together earn $277,000 in year. You’ll have to read the article to see the rest of the outrages.
All of this shows that the more things change the more they stay the same. It is reminiscent of the late Senator William Proxmire (1915 – 2005) efforts several decades earlier. Senator Proxmire (D-Wisconsin 1957 – 1989) instituted what he called the “Golden Fleece Awards” that demonstrated the more egregious wastes of public funds by Congress. Beginning in 1975 and continuing until he left the Senate, Proxmire announced these awards in monthly press releases. They include the following:
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded project by psychologist Harris Rubin for $121,000, on developing “some objective evidence concerning marijuana’s effect on sexual arousal by exposing groups of male pot-smokers to pornographic films and measuring their responses by means of sensors attached to their penises. (Known as plethysmographs, PPGs, or, less formally as peter-meters, See this link.
The NSF for spending $103,000 to compare aggressiveness in sun fish that drink tequila as opposed to gin.
National Institute for Mental Health for spending $97,000 to study, among other things, the social pecking order [pun intended, I suppose] in a Peruvian brothel; the researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy. (Ya think?)
Office of Education for spending $219,592 in a “curriculum package” to teach college students how to watch television.
Unite States Department of the Army for a 1981 study on how to buy Worcestershire sauce.
United States Department of Defense for a $3,000 study to determine if people in the military should carry umbrellas in the rain. (That was a no-no when I was in the Army. Always wondered why, but not for $3,000)
United States Department of Justice for conducting a study on why prisoners want to escape.
United States Postal Service for spending over $4 million on an advertisement campaign to make Americans write more letters to one another. (This was long before e-mail and text messaging).
The list goes on and on. See it at the Wisconsin Historical Society
Though Proxmire continued his list for nearly 15 years, the only demonstrable result was proving the impossibility of shaming legislators who have influential constituents with their hands out.
There is only one reason why all this abuse continues to occur. We the people, or enough of us, don’t pay attention to what’s going on. Talk about transfer of wealth? Most of the transferees are those who get grants to do absurd research projects which turn out to be mostly pleasure trips. I suppose, however, certain Peruvian prostitutes are big fans of our Congress.
I wonder if I wonder if any of them lived happily ever.