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Investigative Reporting

We used to call it 'theft'

| Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004

As surely as Christmas songs and commercials began flooding the broadcast airwaves last week, so too did the flood of news releases from U.S. senators and representatives begin clogging reporters' mail bins.

They carried exciting tales of fabulous riches redirected home, the fruits of a laborious effort to bag the beast featuring the most succulent of public meat known to man -- pork, cut from the taxpayer shoulder.

Never mind that, as The Heritage Foundation calculates, the cost of government now stands at more than $20,000 per household per year. And never mind that the federal budget deficit has zoomed past $400 billion, the 108th Congress cut the pork thick and ladled the gravy heavy.

There's $450,000 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. What, Major League Baseball didn't get enough money when it molested taxpayers in its host cities for billions of dollars over the last decade for new ballparks?

The Clark County, Nev., school district got $25,000 to develop a curriculum to study mariachi music. Mariachi is said to encompass the essence of Mexico and its people. So go buy some tequila and bid on some old Baja Marimba Band records on eBay, for crying out loud.

The Lady B Ranch in California got a $150,000 public subsidy for its "Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program." Indeed, the goals of this effort appear to be worthy -- a unique attempt to help disabled children and adults overcome their handicaps. But is it really the role of the federal government to "improve the ... self-esteem of every rider"?

Nearly $100,000 is going to the Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va., to train students in the motorsports industry. This is a government function• And, gee, shouldn't organizations like NASCAR and the Indy Racing League (IRL) be responsible for developing future talent?

The National Association of Promoting Success is getting $100,000. Given that I could not find any references to this group following an exhaustive Web search (other than the announcement of the appropriation), I'll turn ornery and wonder aloud if it's a shell group that actually covers the cost of politicians' news releases touting the pork they've secured.

The good folks of Walla Walla, Wash., are getting a quarter-of-a-million dollars to "study" surplus federal property. What's to study• If it's "surplus," sell it to somebody who'll turn into something productive -- remember, the federal government produces nothing -- and get it back on the local tax rolls.

A cool $3 million is going to the Center for Grape Genetics in Geneva, N.Y. Another $3 million is going to the Grape Genomics Research Center in Davis, Calif. Hey, I'm all for better grapes that will produce a better Merlot. But I'd rather pay for my share of research and development at the checkout counter instead of being mugged by Washington, thank you.

Bakersfield, Calif.'s, retail district is going to get a nice facade and sidewalk improvement, thanks to $280,000 in public money. And after it's all done, there will be some federally funded "street furniture" to take it all in. If you find in your copy of the Constitution the warrant for this kind of expenditure, let me know -- I've got a porch swing that needs replacing.

We're all going to help those nice folks in Ottawa, Kan., and Prescott, Alaska, build new municipal swimming pools; $100,000 and $72,750, respectively (but hardly respectfully) is being picked from your pockets.

Also in Alaska, we'll be paying $150,000 for something called "Fishing Rationalization Research." Is there a psychologist in the house?

The Waynesboro, Miss., police department will be relocated, thanks to another $300,000 extracted from your purse. What, the FBI's going to have an office upstairs?

Taxpayers will underwrite, to the toon (for it is car toonish ) of $1.5 million, the cost of transporting "naturally chilled water" from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga in Syracuse, N.Y. It's all about cooling buildings. What, we now have the right to life, liberty and taxpayer-subsidized air conditioning•

Public radio station KENW in Portales, N.M., will get $500,000 for new equipment. That, I guess, will enable it to continue to broadcast such fine programs as "Gregorian Chant With and Without Organ" and the liberaled-up rants of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," disguised as contemporary, whimsical folktales.

All of this Brobdingnagian wealth redistribution is, as defined more than 400 years ago by 16th-century English composer John Northbrooke, "liberality" incarnate -- "the giving away of other men's goods."

We used to call this "theft." Now we call it "government." There's no way to prosecute these thieves. And if we try to starve these purveyors of fine, excised pork, taxpayers would be the ones who end up in jail.

Sweet. For the thieves, that is.

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