Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 13, 2009 9:01PM

A Stimulus Defense (in pictures)

Rate: 18 Flag

I present: Stimulus Defense in Pictures (because words clearly aren't getting through).

John Boehner, House Republican Leader, is the representative of the 8th District of Ohio, pictured here.  Today on the floor of the House, Mr. Boehner asked, "Tell me how spending $50 million for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio?"

This is the salt marsh mouse.  He lives in, hey, salt water marshes, but particularly those surrounding the San Francisco Bay.  He's been endangered since the 1970s, because of development encroaching on his natural habitat. 

This is part of the recommendation for conservation of Mr. Salt Marsh Mouse: "Up-to-date data are needed on range-wide habitat occupancy and relative abundance. Research is needed on the effects of plant salinities on water balance and habitat use of mice."  It's also included in larger efforts to conserve the San Francisco Bay.

As you may have guessed, to conserve an entire Bay, you have to do things like hire researchers (who may or may not buy cars).  You also, if you're part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that's overseeing these efforts, give grants every year to community groups for "on-the-ground actions, information collection for decision makers or advocacy/outreach.  Our priority is to fund projects leading to on-the-ground results benefiting fish and wildlife."

Right now, the Coastal Program at San Francisco Bay has $180,000 total available each year to distribute for these projects.  In the stimulus package (in which the salt marsh mouse never appears -- read it yourself), there is $165,000,000 set aside for "maintenance and construction on wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries and for habitat restoration."

What does it take to maintain and construct wildlife refuges and to restore habitats?

Front-end loaders, like the one pictured here that's part of the effort to clean up the San Francisco salt marsh.  Now, if one were in the market to buy or repair a front-end loader, where might one go?

How about The Dana Corporation, "the world's leading supplier of off-highway drivetrain components and systems."  Now, Dana is also well known as an automotive drive-train producer.  Making it part of the auto industry as a whole (it supplies, for instance, drive shafts for Cadillac).  But it also provides compete drive-trains for front-end loaders and excavators, which, it seems to me, might be useful to a department looking to do a bunch of earth moving.  Oh yes: The Dana Corporation hails from Toledo, Ohio.

But maybe that's not direct enough.  What else does it take to clean up a marsh?

Oh, yeah.  People.  People must be employed to do the work -- and not just the aforementioned possibly-car-buying researchers.  The Fish and Wildlife folks will need to hire people to run the Ohio-supported front-end loaders and the dredge boats and the shovels.  And to get to these marshes, these people will need cars, because, as told by the South Bay Restoration Web site, that's pretty much the only way to get out there.

Now, maybe in California there's a system by which people can travel powered just on the strength of these tiny, endangered mice and the will of Nancy Pelosi to do progressive work in the world, but I haven't yet heard about it (so, no picture available).  So until then, I think Ohio's auto workers might, indeed, benefit from saving the salt marsh mouse.  As might have Ohio's most famous House of Representatives members.  (that guy --->)


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He's such an ass. Such a g-d-damn ass. He will NOT think in these terms ever. It would burst his brain open.

I told you what a fellow advocate ( for LIHEAP) said about the recovery act last week on a national call, right? She said, "Damn right we're all getting on this train! It's the only train in the station!" and I added, "And it's the first train in eight years!"

And PS. You had better tell me when I'm wrong! It's pretty frequent.
This is absolutely seminal, Saturn. What a must-read post, not just for the particulars you offer here but for the concept. While there may be legitimate philosophical differences in economic theory regarding stimulating the economy, critics who lazily point out one earmark or another entitlement demonstrate a failure of imagination; only by following the trail of opportunity down to the ground do we see how it works. Thanks a million for this. Did you send it to Boehner? You should. (btw, I live in OH's 13th Congressional district. We used to be the 10th--Kucinich's district--but we got gerrymandered.)
Man it’s tough watching the showboating going on in all those House speeches. Wasn’t much better in the Senate.
OK, the train station image -- possibly my favorite of the day. Thanks for that. I'm totally going to use it to explain thing. And re: PS -- I will if you will!

Lainey, augh, the pain of being gerrymandered away from Kucinich! I kind of adore him (and could possibly have substituted his picture for the salt marsh mouse, heh heh). It does drive me nuts, too, when people say, "Well, but how does that help MY people?" "A failure of imagination," like you say. And it's been a day full of that, as David notes.
The Kucinich - salt marsh mouse joke is a keeper!

Great post, Saturn. However, this kind of logical thinking will get you nowhere in DC!
Thanks, Silkstone! Lucky for me, I'm 3,000 miles away from D.C. (or many more thousands, if you believe my picture).
You are as always astute and enlightening.

I think you need to replace the guy who ends Rachel Maddow every evening. Seriously. You could present photo essays that educate and entertain.
Here's the flaw in your logic Saturn. The salt marsh mouse does not have any money to pay for all this service that it receives.

The way an economy works is that person/entity A provides services to person/entity B who values the services more than they value the money they are paying. Person/entity B then produces goods/services that it can sell to persons/entities C, D, E for more than it cost to make. Persons C,D, E, etc produce goods/services also, one of which person A values more than the money they made from person B so they buy it, thereby circulating the money they were paid from person/entity B. So, new value is always being created.

Now, while the salt marsh mouse does participate in an ecological society that cycles resources through natural processes and life, it does not participate in a financial-based society. Therefore, there is no end customer for all the goods/services taregted to it and therefore it does not produce a true cycle of value creation.

So, where are the customers? Easy, it's the people who value the survival of the salt-marsh mouse. Those folks long ago could have donated money to protect the mouse and thereby been the direct recipients of a service that they value more than money. Except, the people must not value the mouse more than their own money so they make all taxpayers pay under the guise of staving off a catastrophe.

End Result: John Boehner is right to criticize this spend.

For the more extreme environmentalists, the mice might actually be better off from a complete collapse of the human financial economy since they seem to be able to take care of themselves just fine if humans leave them alone. Any takers on that?
Bone-er doesn't like welfare mouses, I guess. What a jerk. How much of his (and Ohio's) money comes from California taxpayers, I wonder.

If the salt marsh mouse goes, the hawk, snake, and owl have to find something else to eat, or die also. The mouse is already endangered by stray house cats because of the housing incursions.

If we let idiots like Boehner keep it up, we'll find out what grows out of control because there's nothing to eat it, or what dies because it has nothing to eat.
Good stuff. McGarrett - it's not about the mouse. It's about restoring the habitat which involves spending money on people and machinery to do the work - money that is in short supply in the private sector. Improved wetlands and environmental restoration of a wildlife area draws tourism dollars and also helps the encroachment of development from squashing our necessary oxygen supplying ecosystems.

Granted, it's not going to stimulate resource extraction which may hamper our efforts at producing goods for consumption and waste. Decisions, decisions.
Heh. I defer to Yablonowitz. Nicely said.
Thank god I live in the blue part of Ohio. Very nice explanation.
Yablonowitz, you partially seem to get my argument which is that unless the end customer of the spending is a participant in the economy, then the government's spending is not truly stimulative. It is just make-work spending that results in a dead-end, not an upward spiral of value creation spurring value creation (i.e. something we call economic growth).

However, you don't fully get it or you would realize that the eco-tourism dollars associated with this are likely dwarfed by the government outlay and therefore this is not a good use of stimulative dollars, especially given that the money has to be borrowed to pay for things like this. If we are going to borrow money for government spending (which I do oppose but accept political reality right now), it at least should be for things that bring real economic value to the economy. Roads that enable more efficient transportation do this. Environmental clean-ups that restore land to productive use do this. The example Saturn chose because of her irrational hatred of Republicans does not do this.

Lastly, if this is about creating oxygen so we don't all suffocate (which you and I both know it is not, but anyway), then the more efficient way to do this would be to just plant trees. This would also have the benefit of not producing as much carbon as the tractors will produce cleaning up for this mouse.
Thanks, voicegal.

McGarrett, I didn't choose the example; John Boehner asked the question, and I answered. I disagree, unsurprisingly, with your assessment that eco-tourism is non-stimulative or more expensive than it's worth, and with your assessment that this kind of effort doesn't create long-term employment. The more people who visit, the more people who will have to be employed to care for the land; and the more people who learn to care for this area, the more who will be able to participate in other similar projects around the area, of which there are many slated. But I'm sure you have an external source for your analysis that's based on something other than a firm belief that I'm wrong. Could you point me toward it?
Well done. People need more explicit examples of the interrelatedness of preservation, research, and economic stability. Thanks.
See, you're missing the subtext: the are San Francisco salt marsh harvest mice. You know...from San Francisco...if you get my drift? They probably hang around Castro picking up other salt marsh harvest mice of the same sex.

Remember, there's a Real America and a Traitor America. Letting the Traitor parts suffer is evidently more important than giving relief to the Real parts, especially since the Real Americans (or some of them, anyway) seem to be bad enough at connecting the dots to swallow the tripe that Boehner and his ilk have been serving up since forever.
Federal aid to education is dangerous to someone like Boehner because better schools might lead to an informed populace. And that would end his career in a hurry.
Saturn, I answered your logic and speculation that the $50 million for the mouse is stimulative with my own counterpoint of logic and speculation that it is not. Given that Yablonowitz is who brought up ecotourism revenue as a justification, I could choose to ask for that cite first from either you or him. As it is, I did a quick look at the Department of Interior budget.

http://www.doi.gov/budget/2009/09Hilites/2009_Highlights_Book.pdf (caveat: this is a 55MB PDF)

If I am reading appendix N correctly (admittedly an "if" since I am not familiar with this budget), it appears that nationwide revenue for *all national parks including concessions sales* runs between $300 and $350 million a year. This would include famous parks like Yellowstone.

So, I think my speculation is not unreasonable that annual revenue from ecotourism for this one mouse habitat would be dwarfed by the $50 million investment. It will take many, many years for this to pay for itself.

Now, it is intellectually consistent to say that this warrants inclusion in the general budget on some merits *other than stimulus to save the economy*. For example, schedule G looks like a regular budget item of ~$70 million for Everglades restoration. But, you are not arguing that and in fact made the title of your specifically "A Stimulus Defense."
Thanks, Merc8tor. And lsujp, that's an interpretation I hadn't thought of. I do think this particular item -- which actually isn't textually present in the stimulus at all but was instead culled from a list of projects the departments want to work on -- was chosen for its proximity to San Francisco, but for different reasons: it's Pelosi's district.

Are visits to national parks considered ecotourism? I actually don't know how to quantify that. And is the $50 million meant to be spent within a single year, or over the longer term? My understanding was it was a multi-year investment (though I'm taking that almost exclusively from GOP speeches on the House floor, since the outlay for this isn't written anywhere in the bill), so the National Parks numbers aren't as convincing to me unless taken altogether. And I think that's the wrong department to look at for this, anyway, since their line-item allocations in the stimulus ($589M for road/park construction, $146M for maintenance) are separated from the item that would include the mouse, and then, by extension, these kinds of habitat restoration efforts.

I will agree, though, that eco-tourism alone to the home of the salt marsh harvest mouse will never add $50 million annually to the economy. But I won't agree that habitat restoration and the creation of preservation areas like this can never be economically stimulative for the reasons I've written above.
Hey McGarrett50,

You handle yourself well. I find it fascinating the lengths people will go to justify their own failed perspectives. To try to connect the dots on this one is beyond anyones rational imagination. Reagan said it best. 'The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that just isn't so". What's real is that nobody in Ohio is going to benefit from this mouse being preserved, period. This is a racist, elitist ploy to keep those lands from being developed and sold to private owners therby increasing the value of the current residents land.

Another argument for these folks is the evolutionary one. If that mouse could talk, he would tell people to leave him to the evolutionary process and let people develop. It's supposed to happen this way. Every species has their time. It's time for him to adapt or go the way of the Wholly Mammoth and the Saber Toothed Tiger. Hang tough. Peace