Hamming it up

HAMMING IT UP…. Far-right blogs and Republican staffers thought they’d found a delicious new anecdote to attack the stimulus package. As is usually the case, they neglected to think it through before making themselves appear silly.

Drudge, running with contracts from the government’s stimulus website, claimed that the Obama administration had spent, among other things, $1.19 million on two pounds of ham. Some conservative bloggers, following Drudge’s lead, ran with the story. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office complained about the “pork” in the stimulus. Republicans sent “blast e-mails of screenshots from the Drudge Report, highlighting the contracts as wasteful spending.”

By yesterday afternoon, the Department of Agriculture felt compelled to issue a statement, explaining how terribly wrong conservatives are about this.

Through the Recovery Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $100 million available to the states for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which acquires food that is distributed to local organizations that assist the needy — including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens.

The Recovery Act funds referenced in press reports allowed states to purchase ham, cheese and dairy products for these food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries that provide assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food. This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession.

The references to “2 pound frozen ham sliced” are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy “2 pounds of ham” are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound. In terms of the dairy purchase referenced, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese. The canned pork purchase was 8,424,000 pounds at a cost of $16,784,000, or approximately $1.99 per pound.

While the principal purpose of these expenditures is to provide food to those hardest hit by these tough times, the purchases also provide a modest economic benefit of benefiting Americans working at food retailers, manufacturers and transportation companies as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce our food supply.

In other words, the conservative activists who pounced on this were thoroughly confused about every relevant detail, including the underlying claim.

I’m curious, though, why these folks don’t apply some critical thinking skills to stories like these. When a story seems outlandish, there are four simple words that I find helpful: “That can’t be right.”

Sure, I realize right-wing bloggers think the Obama administration is some kind of reckless spending machine, so they’re inclined to believe the worst. But $1.19 million on just two pounds of ham? That didn’t strike conservatives as implausible? Maybe something that warrants a closer look before publication?