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10 Dumbest Uses of Your Tax Dollars in Stimulus Bill

by Darwin on August 3, 2010

A recently released GOP paper on the stupid use of federal stimulus dollars has resulted in the typical dismissal from the administration and the mainstream media as “right wing partisan politics”, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the results of this ill-conceived hasty distribution of dollars from our children’s generation to the current one.  While we were initially promised all kinds of permanent improvements to mass transit, high speed rails, new highways and other infrastructure projects that the future generations paying for this stuff may have actually ben able to enjoy, what we were left with was primarily aid to states that mismanaged their budgets, virtually unlimited unemployment insurance and projects like this:

1. Forest Service to Replace Windows in Visitor Center
Closed in 2007 (Amboy, WA) – $554,763

Despite having no plans to reopen a shuttered visitor center at Mount St. Helens in Washington state,
the U.S. Forest Service is spending more than $554,000 to replace its windows. One government official likened it to “keeping a vacant house in good repair,” while another official noted that there is hope to find some purpose for the building in the future, whether as a hotel, science camp or restaurant. Despite those efforts, there are no current plans to use the empty space.


2. “Dance Draw” – Interactive Dance Software Development
(Charlotte, NC) – $762,372

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte received more than $750,000 in stimulus funds to help
develop a computerized choreography program that its creators believe could lead to a YouTube-like
“Dance Tube” online application.10 The grant says UNC-Charlotte will “define an evolving system that assists in the design.

3. Ants Talk. Taxpayers Listen (San Francisco, CA) – $1.9million


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. Town Replaces New Sidewalks With Newer Sidewalks
That Lead to Ditch (Boynton, OK) – $89,298

People around Boynton, Oklahoma were left scratching their heads after the town was awarded nearly $90,000 to replace a quarter-mile stretch of sidewalk that was replaced only five years ago.
One longtime resident of Boynton, Ray Allen, said the project “had been the talk of the town recently, and none of it positive,” because it is “100 percent a waste of money.” Another resident, Mike Lance, noted that “the best indication of the absurdity of the project is what the contractor did with a section of sidewalk at the north end of town – one that fronts no homes or businesses, and leads directly into a ditch.” Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation defended the project as necessary to bring the sidewalk into conformity with federal guidelines.

Meanwhile, many local residents have focused on a more pressing financial problem—namely the
possible shuttering of Boynton-Moton Public School, which educates 97 prekindergarten through 12th grade students. As an illustration of just how strapped for cash the school system has become,
Superintendent Dr. Shelbie Williams had been struggling to scrape together just $9,300 to pay the
school’s gas and electric bills. In addition to the project itself, some eyebrows have been raised over the contractor selected to do the work, Glover and Associates, a local construction firm. The company is run by Craig Glover, a former vice president for Glover Construction, which was barred from the State of Oklahoma in 2007 after the firm’s head, George Glover, Craig Glover’s father, pleaded no contest to “conspiring to use prohibited road material and intimidating a state grand jury witness.”Craig Glover resigned from his father’s company, and upon its debarment, he immediately opened Glover and Associates, which has since gone on to receive more than $4.7 million in contracts from stimulus funds.

5. Scientist Attempts to Create Joke Machine (Evanston, IL) – $712,883


Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno was nothing. Competition among late night television hosts is about to get
very interesting. That’s because researchers at Northwestern University are using stimulus money to
develop “machine-generated humor.” And nothing is funnier than a robot repeating someone else’s
jokes. The lead designer plans to use artificial intelligence to create a “comedic performance agent” that “will be funny no matter what it is talking about.” Computer systems will mine jokes from the
Internet and then use them to create hilarious presentations that mimic real-life comedians. The lead
designer hopes to model his new creation off of News at Seven, a web-based “entertainment oriented
system that combines clips from CSPAN with topics [sic] humor and comments pulled from Twitter to
create a Daily Show-like experience.”

6. Jamming for Dollars (Atlanta, GA) – $762,372

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 avantgarde 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.”

7.  DTV “Experts” Plug Boxes Into a Wall (Buffalo, NY) – $350,000

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) spent $350,000 to hire “experts” to help people hook up digital converter boxes made necessary by the federal government’s recent digital switch. Most of
those jobs were short-term jobs, lasting only during the DTV transition. Most DTV converter boxes
are no more difficult to hook up than connecting the “antenna-in” cable, the “TV-out” cable, and the
power cord into an outlet, raising questions about the need for “experts.” The installation guide
provided by the FCC is only four easy steps, including instructions to plug the power cords “into a power
outlet.”

8.  Museum With 44 Annual Visitors Gets Funding for Bug Storage (Raleigh, NC) -$253,123

What is the best way to simultaneously preserve an insect collection, promote a haiku contest and
produce bug baseball cards? Simple. A grant to the North Carolina State University Insect Museum.
The museum boasts being an “internationally recognized resource for the study of insects and mites in
North Carolina, the Southeastern United States, and, in several insect groups, the world.” The
Museum, which has “virtually no public presence” (it gets about 44 visitors a year), will also use the
money for outreach efforts. It also hosts the annual Hexapod Haiku Challenge every March on its
blog. In 2008, the Insect Museum submitted a proposal for a National Science Foundation (NSF)
Biological Research Collections grant, which the NSF declined. Based on that same proposal, last year
the NSF awarded the Insect Museum $253,123 in stimulus funds to purchase new cabinets, drawers,
and units for its specimens and a new computer server and software. Using stimulus funds, the
Museum has started an “Insect of the Week” series on its website and plans a physical presence at the
Yates Mill Pond County Park.

9. Reducing Menopausal Hot Flashes Through Yoga (Winston-Salem, NC) – $294,958

In 1966, His Holiness Sri Swami Satchidanandaji Maharaj
created the practice of Integral Yoga, a branch of yoga
with a significant spiritual emphasis. Now, researchers at
Wake Forest University have received nearly $300,000 to
study whether Integral Yoga “can be an effective method to
reduce the frequency and/or severity of hot flashes” in
menopausal women. “The goal of Integral Yoga, and the
birthright of every individual, is to realize the spiritual unity
behind all the diversities in the entire creation and to live
harmoniously as members of one universal family.” A
total of 60 post-menopausal women who experience more
than seven hot flashes a day are being recruited to
participate.

10. Stimulus Funds Going to the Dogs (Ithaca, NY)505 – $296,385

Cornell University scientists have received
$296,385 in stimulus funds to study “dog
domestication.” Researchers believe that
there is common understanding of where dogs
descended from, but the progression from there
to Lassie “is poorly understood.” They point
out that much of the research “has focused on
breed dogs, but the diverse populations of semiferal
‘village’ dogs are likely an important key
for understanding dog domestication.” A
previous Cornell study found that North Africa
was probably the origin of dog
domestication. In that study, the scientists
examined the genetic markers of 318 African
dogs and then performed the same test on
mixed breed American dogs and street dogs in
Puerto Rico. The new study “will likely to
[sic] challenge current theories of dog origins
and develop village dogs into a useful system for
the study of domestication, speciation, behavior
and morphology.”

Of course, critics will come out saying, “Oh, it’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.  The total stimulus bill was close to a Trillion dollars and you’re hollering about a few million”.  To that, I’ll just go back to something my old boss used to say when employees were engaging in wasteful spending at work:

If this were your money, would be be spending it on this?

Waste is waste, plain and simple.  And as long as our politicians keep ignoring waste, we continue to piss our future down the drain, and our childrens’.  It’s a lot easier to spend other people’s money than it is your own.  And I wonder if taxpayer are satisfied with the utility…the validity…the return on investment…the stupidity of these projects.

These were just 10 that I enjoyed; for the full report and list of 100 such nonsensical uses of money, see the original reports:

Part 1: here

Part 2: here

What’s Your Favorite?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Samurai August 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Awesome list! I’m hoping to go on a Mediterranean cruise on the tax pay dollar too. I need to do some research on how to get a great tan!

Reply

Darwin August 3, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Nice! Perhaps we should do a bailout in a couple years and send all the Yakezie over there for a group meeting – after all, it’s free! It’s just “stimulus”.

Reply

Rob August 4, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Wouldn’t you similarly complain about #1 if they didn’t spend the money to maintain the property? Then they’d be wasting tax payer money by squandering such an asset.

Similarly do you not think it somewhat short-sighted to criticise some of the science funding (especially from what I can see, the insect work)? It certainly creates jobs. For a start, it employs scientists and it pays for lab and field equipment. But most productively, the fruits of such labors include expanding our knowledge of the various pest species which impact upon agriculture, forestry and public health. Also of species we may be able to use as bio-controllers of those pests and other species which can be useful environmental indicators. With global trade, African ants could easily become established in the US feeding on vegetable and fruit crops; wouldn’t it be useful to know how to stop them before they spread beyond control? It takes a peculiarly uninquisitive mind to blithely ignore the possibilities of scientific endeavour.

Reply

Kevin@InvestItWisely August 9, 2010 at 1:08 pm

“And as long as our politicians keep ignoring waste, we continue to piss our future down the drain, and our childrens’. It’s a lot easier to spend other people’s money than it is your own.”

Nah; the thing is, when you spend other people’s money, you’re still very aware that it came from someone else. I think the politicians treat the money as if it simply dropped out of the sky, and with the system the way it is, how could you ever expect them not to?

Reply

Debt Consolidation Nation July 31, 2011 at 10:23 pm

It all sounds crap apart from the Ant one. That sounds like pure science that has had some crap web2.0 stuff added to get attention from government departments. In my home town we get stuck with seemingly fine roadworks being redone all the time

Reply

Oldsailor65 August 5, 2011 at 7:38 am

The water won’t clear up til you get the pigs out’a the creek!!

Reply

Richard Allen January 7, 2012 at 3:22 am

I have had a belly full of the federal government spending money on stupid grants to colleges and certain individual companies and corporations. Federal money should be spent on interstate roads, protecting the borders and providing military strength. Enough is enough of the pork-belly gifts that elected officials are getting for their states. I will not vote for any politician who has been in office and woulf encourage others to do the same.

Reply

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