Recessions bring out the worst sort of pandering in politicians. Here's a choice excerpt from GOP chairman Michael Steele's weekly radio address opposing the stimulus legislation that is making its way through Congress (ellipsis):
Democrats in Congress want a one-trillion dollar spending bill. You’ve heard about the pork-barrel programs they want to fund... 45 million dollars for ATV trails and removal of fish passage barriers is one that caught my eye. Exactly what is a fish passage barrier and why does it cost 45 million dollars to stimulate the economy with it?
Let's take Steele literally for a moment and discuss the idiocy of this passage. First of all, I'm pretty sure Steele (and most other people) can figure out what a fish passage barrier is just from the name. (If not, he can use what George W. Bush calls "the Google".) Second, how idiotic would it be to oppose a legislative provision because you were too lazy to look up the meaning of a phrase? (I understand that Steele is asking a semi-rhetorical question, but it is -- at a minimum -- a blatant appeal to ignorance.)
Let's also note that fish passage barriers are a real environmental issue. For example, here's an article on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website that was last updated during Michael Steele's term as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland under Bob Ehrlich:
Fish migration barriers are anything in the stream that significantly interferes with the upstream movement of fish. Unimpeded fish passage is especially important for anadromous fish which live much of their lives in tidal waters but must move into non-tidal rivers and streams to spawn.
...With a fish blockage present and no natural way for a fish to repopulate the isolated stream section, the diversity of the fish community in an area will be reduced and the remaining biological community may be out of natural balance.
If you see a fish barrier you can call Department of Natural Resources at 1-877-620-8DNR and ask for the Fish Passage Program.
In fact, the Ehrlich administration touted the success of its Chesapeake Bay fish passage restoration program. Ron Franks, the Secretary of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, testified before Congress on May 4, 2006 that "The original migratory fish passage restoration goal of 1,357 miles has been surpassed by nearly 500 miles and a new goal of over 2,800 miles has been established." Now, however, the issue is being used to score political points.
Of course, people will have different views about the pros and cons of a fish passage barrier removal program as both environmental policy and economic stimulus. But hopefully we can all agree that this sort of pie-throwing is not a serious contribution to the national debate.