By Tom Quiner

imagesI began traveling regularly to New York City in 1989. I was struck by something amazing. As I drove from the LaGuardia Airport to Long Island, I saw abandoned cars everywhere.

I saw cars that were burnt-out carcasses. Some sat on cinder blocks, stripped bare. They had clearly been there a long time.

The city didn’t do anything about it. They let them sit there and pollute the landscape.

It became kind of a game to me. Each trip, I would count how many cars littered the roadside. My New York client wasn’t particularly amused by my ongoing tally of New York decay. I think he felt kind of ashamed knowing the rest of the country wasn’t like this. In a trip in 1993, I remember my count hit thirty-nine abandoned cars along New York expressways.

New York City had been governed by liberal Democrats most of the century. The last Republican was Mayor La Guardia who left office in 1945. (John Lindsay was a liberal Republican who switched parties in the 70s, so I don’t count him as a Republican.)

In a trip to New York in 1995, I noticed the cars were gone. Something had changed. A new mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was in charge. Giuliani inherited a city in decay. Interestingly, he began fixing New York by attacking little things like petty crime. He characterized the decay as a street tax:

“It’s the street tax paid to drunks and panhandlers. It’s the squeegee men shaking down the motorist waiting at a light. It’s the trash storms, the swirling mass of garbage left by peddlers and panhandlers, and open-air drug bazaars on unclean streets.”

And his clean-up of the city included towing junked cars away as a first step toward beautifying a magnificent city.

Little things add up. They create a culture that cares about big things, which leads me to the current debate in Washington over spending.

Leading Democrats have taken the position that the government doesn’t have a spending problem. This morning, the Des Moines Register, no critic of Big Government, nonetheless gave Secretary of Agriculture a “thistle” for his irritation over being asked about government spending.

Evidently, the federal government has spent $400,000 in the past two years for oil-on-canvas portraits of cabinet officers. That’s some $28,000 per portrait. Secretary Vilsack bristled at being asked about the expenditure and snapped back that it was a “small ball” question.

When the government is adding a trillion dollars a year to the deficit under the Obama administration, maybe he is right.

Mayor Giuliani would say he is wrong, that you have to take on the small stuff first in order to tackle the big stuff. You have to demonstrate that you have an attitude of zero-tolerance for crime, or in this case, wasteful spending.

Everyone knows there is a lot of wasteful spending, which we call pork barrel spending. Here are a few examples:

$107,000 to study the sex life of the Japanese quail.

$1.2 million to study the breeding habits of the woodchuck.

$150,000 to study the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

$84,000 to find out why people fall in love.

$1 million to study why people don’t ride bikes to work.

$19 million to examine gas emissions from cow flatulence.

$144,000 to see if pigeons follow human economic laws.

$219,000 to teach college students how to watch television.

$20 million for a demonstration project to build wooden bridges.

$160,000 to study if you can hex an opponent by drawing an X on his chest.

$800,000 for a restroom on Mt. McKinley.

$100,000 to study how to avoid falling spacecraft.

$16,000 to study the operation of the komungo, a Korean stringed instrument.

$1 million to preserve a sewer in Trenton, NJ, as a historic monument.

$6,000 for a document on Worcestershire sauce.

$10,000 to study the effect of naval communications on a bull’s potency.

You get the idea.

Now I’m sure some liberals could make the case that $19 million to examine gas emissions from cow flatulence is a noble endeavor.

On the other hand, a Mayor Giuliani says eradicate the small stuff first to establish credibility on the big stuff. I wish more reporters would ask Tom Vilsack about the 400 grand we’re spending on fancy portraits at a time that the middle class is sinking under Obamanomics.

I wish more people would ask President Obama if playing golf with Tiger Woods at a million dollars a pop is a good idea when so many of us are struggling in this era of Obama-induced stagnation.

I wish the president was a little more in tune with with our dire economic situation instead of throwing a lavish party for Michelle’s 50th birthday, complete with Adele and Beyonce for the entertainment.

A final thought: I’d wager that those pigeons mentioned in the the study above do a better job of following human economic laws than Democrats do.

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