Good Money after Bad

Several items in the news both here and nationwide remind me that in today’s America, we will only throw good money after bad; spending precious funds and actually getting something for them in return is considered risky, wasteful, and a woefully inappropriate response to our straitened circumstances.  And how, pray, did our circumstances become so straitened?  Big, dumb, expensive and futile groupthink, which has saddled us with a plethora of expensively unfolding debacles both at home and abroad, that’s how.

Of course, the largest mistake that can only be papered over with massive doses of Guilt Money is Afghanistan.  Shocked into a futile “war” by an act of terrorism rooted elsewhere, here it is eight years later, and the American people are rightly asking the nincompoops whose stupid idea this was, “Well?”  ”Well, what?” they say.  The answer is inevitably that the reason Afghanistan looks like a waste and a defeat is that we simply haven’t spent enough on it yet; this curious logic is based on the new axiom that it isn’t what you got that counts, but what you paid.  Accomplishing nothing except temporarily making Americans think war was was not only fun but easy was the point…  A great pep rally for the big game to come, not some boring, endless quagmire that drags on and on for no apparent purpose.  And now the bait and switch is being dragged out again, with a nagging whiff of desperation that escapes no one.

Then came the big game, Iraq.  This time, we wouldn’t just win, we’d kick their ass and take their gas!  The dang thing would not only pay for itself, but be a lot more exciting to those watching at home because, as Rumsfeld noticed, their were many more picturesque targets there.   They’d show those video game makers how it was done, whether or not the extras posing for this spectacle might have preferred a different approach.  Nearly six years later the balance of the region has tipped further against us, oil prices have risen and remain high, nearly 5000 Americans have been killed, and a trillion or so has gone down the toilet.  Never mind about that.  We’re told, lamely, that as disheartening and frustrating as it all is, it would have been much worse without the surge, and thus we need to… wait for it:  Spend More Money.  Nothing covers up a genocidal blunder like bricks and bricks of greenbacks.

This mentality has trickled down to the local level as well….  Just because some busy beaver at the Army Corps of Engineers once got the neat idea that Lewiston, Idaho ought to be a seaport, we’re now saddled with four dams on the lower Snake River that have fully converted the Columbia River and one of its largest tributaries into a slackwater barge canal that can literally be raised and lowered like a bathtub, and not incidentally, several iconic species of salmon and other anadromous fish are rapidly going extinct, rail traffic in the corridor has collapsed, and with it maintenance and improvements, and factory farms growing export crops have blossomed on the free federal water.  Kind of a mess, right?  So big, even, that the only answer is more money?  You’re catching on.  A billion dollars and more have been spent on such innovative ideas as trucking the fish back and forth on the freeway (I swear I am not making this up…), predator control (PETA loves it when you blame the seals…), fine tuning the level of the bathtub here and there, and just as with the wars, avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that wasteful, delusional, and predictably disastrous “mistakes were made” that have led us to this pass, and reversal of said mistake, in this case dam removal, can’t be considered because it would force us to admit such a heresy.  The only mistakes made are the ones admitted to, you know.  Now we are being told, by the usually rational Rep. Peter DeFazio that the dams are, get this, crucial providers of “green power” that can help fight Climate Change, evidently by getting a few extinctions out of the way early.

Sometimes it works out differently, though.  For several years, we’ve been listening to politicians talk about what has of late been named the “Columbia Crossing,” an envisioned replacement for the I-5 bridges between Portland and Vancouver, the only drawbridges in the Interstate system, whose homely green trusswork spans carry a mere six lanes of traffic.  Federal dollars provided the catnip for local politicians to quickly begin rolling around on the carpet crazily, and pretty soon the thing had blossomed into a 12-lane behemoth carrying light rail, bike lanes, and some fetching concrete plinths at a bargain price tag of at least $4 billion.  Trouble is, that’s a heck of a lot of money, requiring high tolls, both to Portlanders who wouldn’t be caught dead in “Vantucky,” and Vancouverites who only visit Portland to avoid the sales tax in Washington.  Of course, it was the Vancouverites who wanted all those lanes, and Portland that wanted the light rail it had generously extended almost to the bridgehead, only to be repeatedly spurned by Clark County voters, who reliably voted down light rail whenever it came up.

Now, a right winger is opposing Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard in the next election on the issue of the bridge and its proposed tolls, and as a result, the bridge will be drastically scaled back, Portland Mayor Sam Adams has belatedly said we’ll have to cut lanes, and we’ve averted a $4 billion, obsolete disaster, basically because one city wants everything for free and the other simply doesn’t give a damn.  Think of the money we’ll save later, when this thing starts making its predictable mess.

Thanks (for once), Vancouver.  Maybe if somebody had proposed tolls to pay for the wars…..

15 Comments

  1. Karen M says:

    CH: I wish I had something, anything to add, but I’ve got nothing… the pull my pockets out of my pants kind of nothing.

    Word.

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Maybe there’s some lint in there…. Apparently desperate times are the only thing that ever wakes people up.

  3. sysprog says:

    Afghanistan: Let’s review the math.

    1. Pentagon says the answer is to double the number of troops.
    2. Obama doubles the troop level.
    3. Pentagon says the answer is yet more troops, maybe, or if that doesn’t work, then even more troops. (Mostly non-USA troops, but in the case of the Afghan local troops, the troop strength numbers seem to be imaginary numbers, not real numbers.)
    4. Obama says, “hmmmm.”
    (NYTimes: “Obama is exploring alternatives. [...] Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence.”)
    (Juan Cole: “Biden is right.”)
    5. Pundit chorus says Real Men don’t “explore alternatives” and Obama is too indecisive – - he’s a Hmmmmlet.

    • cocktailhag says:

      It really is amazing how they’ve turned the lessons of Vietnam upside down, which I should have suspected when I started hearing how we could have “won” that one, too. 58,000 killed was just not enough, and a dozen years far too short. Let’s call it the New Math.

    • Karen M says:

      Biden has not been getting much respect, so far, but I’m willing to say that perhaps in this case, the Veep may be the brakes on the Prez, rather than the other way around, as was the case in GWB’s WH.

  4. sysprog says:

    Maybe you can judge a book by the cover:

    http://press.princeton.edu/images/k9015.gif

    • Karen M says:

      Ouch! That one hurts and makes you laugh at the same time.

      That’s enough for tonight. I have to get back to Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. He’s still courting her (well, trying to) and she remains resistent.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Tell me that isn’t real. Please. I feel a bout of irritable bowel syndrome coming on.

  5. Kitt says:

    I don’t know if this “idea” of O’Hanlon’s has evolved or has been laughed out of the room, but it seems to me that co-opting Obama’s ‘volunteerism’ proposal into a backdoor Military Complex sort of job is, well, very O’Hanlon like.

    “But by tapping into President Obama’s call for a new spirit of volunteerism and national service, there may be a way to make a difference sometime in 2010. The idea involves a new type of military unit that the Pentagon should propose during its ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review.”–O’Hanlon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/13/AR2009081302900.html

    • cocktailhag says:

      That O’Hanlon really is nuts, isn’t he? Now he’s got another whole host of wars for others to fight.
      I have an alternate proposal: let’s recruit the war-obsessed think-tankers and punditocracy… They’d be just like regular soldiers except they’d have to wear diapers. Dangerous? Yeah, but to me the risk would be “acceptable.”

  6. rmp says:

    On paying tolls, it seems like our country gets into the biggest problems when the people don’t realize what and how much they are paying. That’s especially true of health care and wars. It is why no politician wants to say the word taxes, so the people are taxed in all kinds of ways that don’t use the word tax. In those “socialist” countries people know they are being taxed and what the money will be used for.

    Here’s an investor who doesn’t have very rosy picture about our economic future because of our version of capitalism and how much truth is hidden.

    Marc Faber: Capitalistic System Will Collapse, “Future Will Be A Total Disaster”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/25/marc-faber-capitalistic-s_n_299720.html

    • cocktailhag says:

      That was a dreary, but unsurprising read. I have grave misgivings about the lack of financial reform, predators like Chase bestriding the continent like a Colossus, doomed to collapse again.
      As for knowing the cost of things, I see the effects of this all the time. Vancouver car commuters expect a free $4 billion bridge, while Portland bus riders have been subjected to relentless fare increases and service cuts, to save the recession-plagued transit agency a few million.
      Welfare for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.