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Repubs slam Napa wine train stimulus project, then take their own pork


Whether or not you like the Napa Valley Wine Train, the fact is that if downtown Napa is to be protected against another winter flood, like the one it last experienced on New Year’s Eve, 2005, some major infrastructure work is going to have to be done, including relocating the train tracks. Planning for that is in the works, financed by a $54 million grant from Pres. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package.


Flooded Wine Train Station at Soscol Ave.

Predictably, Republicans are criticizing this (and many other) projects as “wasteful” and “silly.” The Weekly Calistogan reports that the charge is being led by Arizona’s Sen. John McCain and Oklahoma’s Sen. Tom Coburn. From the article, this: “McCain and Coburn scoffed at the hefty price tag associated with the track relocation, noting mockingly in the section of the report titled ‘All Aboard The Wine Train!’ that one of the most popular meals served on the Wine Train is the $124 Vista Dome four-course lunch with a glass of sparkling wine.”

Sparkling wine! Fancy food! There must be some brie lurking around somewhere. Just the kind of effete symbols Republicans love to bash!


The Maverick: more of a hot dog kinda guy

But what’s that old saying about people who live in glass houses? Oh, right; they shouldn’t throw stones. Here are a few tasty little appetizers from Arizona and Oklahoma that are also enjoying funding from the dreaded stimulus bill:


There’s a project to renovate the “streetscape” in downtown Flagstaff by building a “multi-use trail.” For $500,000 in taxpayer money the new trail will include “landscaping and irrigation components [that] will enhance the grounds of the Visitors Center [and] improve the appearance of the downtown area…”.

Gee, I guess it’s more important to Republicans to “improve appearances” in a red state than to actually save lives and property from floods in a blue state. But wait, there’s more. Here’s another grant for $322,000 for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “to award between 19 and 21 Arizona Arts Job…to arts organizations in rural, urban and suburban areas…”. [Click on #16, “The Arizona Commission for the Arts.”]

What kinds of jobs? Here are some of the listings that went up on the Arizona Commission for the Arts’ website after the federal stimulus money grant was announced.

I’m in favor of the arts, but isn’t it Republicans who are always against government funding of them? Well, I guess it’s more important for the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts to hire a program services manager than for an American city to be protected against a flood. Or so John McCain would suggest.

And then there’s $110,548 awarded to the Desert Botanical Garden to add “94,000 [plant] specimens at two herbaria” and $168,091 to Arizona State University to study “peers and peer networks.”

Can you imagine if instead of ASU it was San Francisco State University? The horror! We’d be hearing all about “the homosexual agenda.”

And what’s happening in the great state of Oklahoma?

Glad you asked. They got $2.6 billion in stimulus funding. Don’t forget that Sen. Coburn’s complaint about the “wasteful, silly” spending was accompanied by this zinger: “[T]he money we spend ought to be a high priority for the American people as a whole.”

The state’s Transportation Secretary just announced that millions of Oklahoma’s stimulus money will be spent on “bridge projects, including “rehabilitation of more than three dozen bridges in the Tulsa area” in addition to dozens of others elsewhere in the state.

I guess when money is spent on bridges that need rehab in California it’s “silly and wasteful” but when money is spent on bridges in Oklahoma it’s a good thing.

And the state’s Indian tribes, a very powerful constituency, are to get $135 million even before they know what they’ll do with it, according to Oklahoma public radio KOSU, which reported that tribal leaders “are hastily coming up with suitable ways to use the money.” [If they offer me $135 million, I’ll figure out something pretty cool to do with it, you betcha!]


Didn’t she take federal money for the “Bridge to Nowhere”?

Anyhow, you get the idea. It’s easy to make somebody else’s project look ridiculous. McCain and Coburn are just making trouble, criticizing something connected to California wine (a reliably odious concept to conservatives) in a reliably Democratic (Rep. Mike Thompson’s) district. Sad.

  1. You seem to think that wasteful spending in California is okay because Republicans are wasting money in their states. Waste is waste no matter what party spends it in what state. The states should pay for wasteful spending projects that only benefit its own residents, not the national taxpayer. There should be a rule/law/principle that unless a Federal expenditure materially benefits the residents of at least five states it should not be done, let the state(s) that will benefit from the projects pay for them. Let the Feds focus and work on the bigger, national problems, something that they cannot seem to do well or efficiently either.

  2. Bruno, you are assuming that the Napa project is wasteful spending. If you lived in one of the 1,000 homes that were flooded or destroyed during the 2005 flood, you would not think that efforts to prevent another one were wasteful.

  3. And Bruno, when a natural disaster occurs, like a flood, it is the Federal Govt that comes along and helps pick up the pieces. Disaster relief has been part of the Federal budget for decades, and it has not mattered which party–save for Bush Jr’s irresponsible reaction to Hurricane Katrina, was in power. It is understood that the country, no matter where it is, has to pick itself up and get on with life after natural disasters, and that it is for the good of the country.

    It simply does not matter whether we are talking about New Orleans or Napa City, where by the way, real people live in proximity to the river. McCain should never have picked on that project. It does nothing for the Wine Train. It already has a bridge. It is a project for the protection of a thousand homes, not unlike the levees on the Mississippi River which the Corps of Engineers maintain, just like they were supposed to maintain the flood protection barriers in New Orleans.

    McCain’s staffers screwed up on this one, and they ought to be embarrassed and apologize to all those real people who live in a flood prone area and have spent already millions of dollars to correct the situation and will be spending millions more.

    In addition to which, Bruno, this is a “shovel-ready” public works project that meets every test of the economic recovery act. Funny thing is that while it includes moving a bridge, it does nothing for the wine country per se. This project is in a city and there is not a grapevine in site.

    Disaster avoidance is good business. It meets your test of being good for the country.

  4. Morton Leslie says:

    The fact that Napa flooded in 2006 is, in itself illuminating if you consider all the re-novating of the downtown of Napa which has been done in the name of “flood control” since the elaborate plans were unveiled in the 1980’s. Once you control the floods, the money dries up, so put that off until last.

    The money to the wine train is to relocate it, not control flooding. If you count the major underpass overpass modification to highway 29 and this flood zone relocation project taxpayers will have spent over 100 million to accommodate and improve a barely profitable amusement ride which still snarls traffic whenever it operates.

    This is a waste of money no matter how you cut it. A better solution would have been to use the 100 million of public money to buy the wine train and turn it into a walking/bike trail. But that would require politicians with imagination, a sense of what people really need, and some understanding of the value of the taxpayers dollar.

    Unfortunately that does not exist in Washington. When it comes to being accountable for spending, neither party has any respect for us. They know they can get away with just about anything. The only good sign is that earmarks are down this year to less than half what they were under the previous administration.

  5. I think Bruno’s more important point has to do with the impact of the activity. Let that element of government or assessment district pick up the tab for something like the Flood District work, not those living in another part of the country. The closer the funders are to a project, the better the oversight and the determination of the worth or lack thereof when compared to other needy projects. The federal system of funding produces too much pork which is to say, not outright waste, but paying for programs and facilities that while serving some local purpose are handed out to secure more votes for members of Congress. Not right.

  6. Bruno, You are right; “waste is waste”. The improvements the senators call “wasteful” were approved by the voters in Napa. If voters are willing to pay for a project, that’s a pretty good test of its usefulness. The stimulus is allowing this approved project to be completed sooner. As we all know, the policies of these same senators led to an economic mess that has required economic stimulus. The “waste” here is the irresponsible information spread by the senators.

  7. Tom, I never understand this “let the locals pay for it.” When Northern California was wrecked by Loma Prieta, it was understandable for all the citizens of America to contribute to our rebuilding. Ditto for New Orleans/Katrina, Mississippi flooding in the midwest and other natural disasters. We are after all one country and we come to each others’ assistance when someone is hurting.

  8. Steve, your viewpoint is not shared by a large segment of the population. Many don’t want to have any public support of their fellow citizens of any kind, even for relief during a natural disaster that isn’t covered by private market insurance. Many also are unwilling to provide any private support as well. What I don’t understand is the connection these people feel to our country when they have very little connection to their fellow citizens.

  9. Brad, yeah, the “Hell no, we won’t pay for them” crowd are the first ones to howl for help something happens to their town.

  10. Jim Caudill says:

    This work would have ultimately been requested and planned for regardless of the Wine Train as it relates not just to flood control but to restoration of a rail link that could be/can be used by freight as well, with all the benefits of moving things in and out on rail rather than 18-wheeler. Whether that’s realistic or not is a topic for further exploration, but there’s clearly more here than meets the train whistle. After more than 10 years on the tracks, I think the Wine Train has proven to be far more than an amusement ride, and has generated a fair share of economic activity for Napa without fulfilling the dire predictions of those who were sure it would surely sink the Valley in a blaze of Disneyfication.

  11. The whole thing stinks. There are certainly projects that need to be done for the greater good- as in the case of the Napa project. But the larger issue to me is just how short sided our leadership is when it comes to spending. No wonder our national debt is increasing at a rate of $3.84 billion per day- yes this is a real statistic.


  12. Hey – just noticed this piece about “Wine in the Age of Twitter” … interesting story.

  13. I was speaking with some friends about this over the weekend. The irony I love is that if the wine train had fought the move stating they did not want to relocate and the government had to claim emanate domain over the property to continue the flood project then conservatives would be backing the wine train and attacking the liberals for trying to destroy another small business in main street America.

    I do not know anyone except politicians receiving the funds that like pork barrel spending. This is like complaining about spending money to fix levees in New Orleans (albeit on smaller scale).

  14. I just found this letter to John McCain from a Wine Train employee. Very interesting…

  15. There are natural disasters and then there is local flooding, which happens in the majority of communities near bodies of water, just as you get forest fires in the wilderness. If people in the midwest choose to move into a flood plain then they better have insurance, if it can be gotten. If it can’t, then expect the consequences. Why should I pay for their stupidity/stubborness.

    But in this instance we’re talking about a public works project, and the locals did vote to tax themselves, as Brad notes, to protect their downtown. It is on this level that a sense of community operates, just as it should in Oakland, only Oaklanders , those of the white skin, would prefer to worry about national and international issues, insisting that Other People’s Money can be tapped into to deal with them.

    Though a bit guilty, I’m glad to receive Uncle Sam’s largesse. I have no kids/grandkids who’ll be left with the bills.

  16. Tom the same could be said as to why millions in federal funds should not be spent to aid earthquake retrofitting so stupid/stubborn bay area residents such as you and I do not have to worry about bridges and large building failing.

    In addition many residents in the Napa flood zone do have insurance but that does not cover the millions of dollars in clean up and infrastructure repairs needed to get the city back up and running again.

  17. Note to Tom Merle–

    Someone today described me as cordial–and I liked it. And because of that, and our long friendship, I am going to be cordial.

    Please explain what in the world you are up to with your comment about white people in Oakland. There is an accusation in there, and I think it needs to be explained or removed from this board. Or maybe both.


  18. I highly respect your opinion . . . about wine . . . . because that is a subject about which you have experience, knowledge, etc. However, if I want a political opinion, there are plenty of places I can get one that is better developed and more thoughtful than yours.

    Of course, whether or not your opinion, about wine or politics, is deserving of respect, I do respect your right to express that opinion. At the same time, whether or not you respect my opinion about this, perhaps you or you employers do care about the many dollars I have spent (and may in the future choose not to spend) on Wine Enthusiast products.

    Take note: I will not have my wine served with politics.

  19. Ha wine without politics. Good luck with that. Each bottle of wine you consume is loaded with political issues such as probation, land preservation, green washing, interstate commerce, Undocumented labor and many more.

    Just because you choose to ignore the political issues connected to a product you consume does not mean they do not exist.

    Many political issues are directly tied to the wine industry and rulings and actions on such issues directly affect the industry and the people it supports. Simply being ignorant to the political issues does not make you impervious to it’s many consequences.

    This issue has a strong tie to the wine industry as this is yet another situation of a group trying to demonize the wine industry through the perspective of a bunch of wealthy tourists throwing money around. The majority of Napa is a hard working community of blue collar workers including many that work for the wine train. This project will benefit thousands of people in our community and due to the increased protection for downtown allow for further development and industry growth.

    So I am sorry but no. you cannot have your wine without the politics.

  20. To Charlie and others:

    I have close to a hundred white friends and acquaintances (and a few “People of Color”) who live in the west side East Bay from Albany to Berkeley to Oakland/Piedmont. Not one of them, as near as I can fathom, are grappling with the social issues facing their communities. Instead they rant on about Global Warming, the Public Option and Joe Lieberman, the wars in the Middle East, the Repubs in Sacramento who won’t let the majority tax the minority, and on and on.

    As you read, I’m a strong believer in thinking globally but acting locally. Instead of railing against the night, people should be tending to their neighborhoods. If the main community issue is flooding or agricultural preservation or downtown rejuvenation, then deal with these topics. But this is simply a restatement of my words above, not an explanation, which I thought were clear.

    With people like Merle jumping on his hobby horse, I’m sure Steve won’t introduce such topics in the future. Give me an opening and I’ll take it. So best to follow Bathus’ admonition.

  21. Gee, Tom, as one who has worked alongside community groups in Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, I have to say that you have missed the point. Yes, we all think globally and we do act on global issues. We cannot avoid them.

    We do not live in a Parliamentary system where we only vote for a local candidate. We expect our votes for national and statewide office to have meaning at those levels.

    My vote for City Council is a different thing entirely. With that, I am worried about the library, the police, the parks, the redevelopment of the old Navy base. These are separate issues.

    The reason why I think Steve was right to call out criticism of the Wine Train was that the project got somehow criticized because it was viewed INCORRECTLY as a project that helped the wine train and thus was a boon doggle. It was the conflation of wine and boondoggle that, I presume, set Steve off. It certainly was what pissed me off so greatly.

    In the first place, it is a project about flooding. In the second place, McCain used wine, my livelihood, to make a political statement. I will no more countenance that disgraceful misrepresentation than I will the stupid arguments of folks like the Marin Institute.

    Tom, politics found wine. Wine did not go looking for this fight. But neither wine nor the good people of Napa City deserve to be so gratuitously and incorrectly pilloried by a politician looking for a cheap laugh line. Rather than ignoring this situation, Tom, you should be outraged. McCain has used your industry for cheap political laughs.

    He gets no pass from me.

  22. Dear Phil, perhaps your palate is more discerning, but when I drink wine, I don’t taste politics. When you say “each bottle of wine you consume is loaded with political issues,” you seem to forget that you speak only metaphorically. The bottle is not loaded with politics; it is loaded with fermented grape juice. If you taste politics, it is a result of your imagination only, and the specious taste of politics cannot improve the wine.

    Yes, yes, I know, of course, that wine, like everything in this world, is affected by politics. However, it is beyond boorish to suggest that a social delinquency and moral inferiority afflicts those, like me, who consciously choose not to attend to the myriad of political issues that might arise in the production, transportation, sale, consumption, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam. Indeed, there is nothing in this world that is not–metaphorically speaking–loaded with political issues.

    But being puny humans, each of us can effectively attend only to a few such issues. We all have to choose–and I choose not to have my wine served with politics. If you choose otherwise, then I say, good for you, but also that I’m sorry for you because I can’t imagine why anyone, especially anyone who actually enjoys wine, would choose to burden such a pleasure with the cares of politics unless his profession or his circumstances required him to do so.

    Cannot these moralist (uniformly of the left, it seems) allow a moment’s rest from their persistent insistence that we all display an active political purity in all things at all times?

    Must they disallow every careless harmless joy? Even those found in a glass of wine?

    Is it not enough that I respect the grape-grower’s labor and the vintner’s craft enough to concentrate my attention on the qualities of the wine they have worked so hard to produce? Do they really want us to distract ourselves from the quality of their wines to attend to their social, political, moral, and environmental matters? And will they return the favor to bother themselves about those issues in my little life? With honest money, earned of honest labor, I pay the price they charge for their wine. Is that not enough? If not, then they should raise their price.

    Can I not drink my wine without being lectured about my duties, as some modern day moralizers perceive them to be, with respect to all sorts of fashionable political, social, and (heaven save us all especially from this last one) environmental dogmas.

    Yes, as to that last one, the religious oppressors of the dark ages might soon be surpassed by their modern counterparts, according to whom inattention is sin and disagreement is heresy!

    No, really, I won’t have my wine served with politics.


  1. STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG » Blog Archive » Repubs slam Napa wine … | The Bottle and Cork - Napa and Sonoma Wine blog - [...] STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG » Blog Archive » Repubs slam Napa wine … Uncategorized, [...]

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