The Selfishness of OIMBY

The child-like, bouncy-sounding acronym NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) represents a type of collective selfishness whereby a community uniquely affected somewhat negatively by an otherwise broadly positive initiative strives to derail said initiative on the grounds that although it benefits the masses it must be rejected because it impacts the quality of life for the few who must not be called upon to bear a burden. Consider the proposal to site numerous wind turbines off Cape Cod miles from the shore – a superb location given the constant, predictable breezes that are necessary to make wind power financially justifiable, and its proximity to densely populated regions in oil-dependent New England. Despite the benefits, liberal, eco-minded Ted Kennedy fought vigorously against the project because he claimed the infinitesimal profile of the turbines in the distance would spoil the sunsets viewed from his family’s tony Hyannisport estate. A pure case of NIMBY – great idea, just don’t do it in my back yard.

Still, however obstructionist the NIMBY crowd has become, I submit that a more evil case of selfishness has taken root across certain parts of America, a mindset that demands special treatment for a privileged few that must be denied others. It’s sort of the opposite of NIMBY – something I’ve dubbed OIMBY: Only in My Back Yard. Proponents of OIMBY vigorously oppose projects that would benefit others, usually basing their recalcitrance on unaffordability, but behind the scenes these same budget hawks actively pursue similar projects for themselves.

Such is common behavior inside the cloistered United States Senate where the words “shame,” “hypocrisy,” “mendacity,” and “cravenness” have no meaning. Consider these galling cases of OIMBY:

Rick Scott (Governor of Florida). Scott, the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, the world’s largest private-sector health care provider captured the governorship of the Sunshine State after extolling his business acumen as an executive qualification. A Tea Party candidate and hospital network executive, Scott naturally railed against Obamacare as a big government intervention into the finely-tuned US healthcare market. Scott said, “The free market does everything better than the government does it. Every time the government gets involved, costs go up, access goes down,” which although absolutist in tone cannot be denied categorically. So imagine my surprise when I read this story about the decimation of the oyster habitat off the Florida panhandle. The response to a potential total collapse of the oyster population in Apalachicola Bay: “Economically, the situation has become so desperate that Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican who is not inclined to ask for federal help, wrote to the United States Commerce Department last year and asked it to declare the oyster harvesting areas a fishing disaster.” My question: why is Scott asking the federal government – bastion of incompetence – to interfere in the comings and goings of freedom-loving, God-fearing oysters?

James Inhofe (Senator from Oklahoma). Rabid climate-change denier Inhofe is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and was its chairman from 2003 to 2007, which is like placing the president of the Flat Earth Society in charge of NASA. Inhofe is another member of the Senate who is a strident opponent of government spending, going so far as to vote against a bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy – people predominantly residing in the Northeast, far from Inhofe’s home state of Oklahoma. But given that Oklahoma is ground-zero within the treacherous Tornado Alley, it was bound to happen that many of Inhofe’s constituents would eventually suffer not unlike the victims of Sandy to whom Inhofe gave the finger. And guess what: Inhofe wants federal aid to flow his way. Imagine that. Getting some grief from people who called him a hypocrite, Inhofe claimed the two disaster relief programs were “totally different,” which means one program benefits him, and the other doesn’t.

Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina). A one-time centrist Republican, Graham was forced to tack hard to the right after facing a primary challenge in 2008. To build credibility among the primary voters, Graham put on his Halloween Tea Party costume and held onto his seat. Although not as dogmatic of many of his colleagues, Graham pushed for the simple-minded “Cap-Cut-and-Balance” pledge, and refused to support raising the debt limit which merely represents authorization to pay for things Congress already bought. Graham is also a major advocate for federal funding to dredge Charleston harbor so that huge, modern-era ships can dock in the too-shallow waters. According to Graham’s website, “U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today said a new provision placed in the Senate Energy & Water Appropriations bill could be a breakthrough for next year’s funding of the Charleston Harbor Post-45 Deepening effort. Graham is a member of the Appropriations Committee and worked to include the language which passed through committee.” Graham even got the Senate to add $10.5 million just to study the project – the exact type of expenditure that the Tea Party would normally categorize as “waste and fraud” if it weren’t happening in their own back yard. By the way, how does stuffing an additional $10.5 million into the budget square with “Cap-Cut-and-Balance”?

Stephen Fincher (Representative from Tennessee). In a blatant example of OIMBY, Fincher has made it his mission to take a $20 billion weed-whacker to the budget for Food Stamps which is one of many government subsidies inside the humungous Agriculture bill that also helps put food on the table for multi-billion dollar ag firms like Archer-Daniels-Midland – and, as it turns out, Stephen Fincher himself, who, when not vilifying food stamp recipients, takes handouts from the same agency that coddles the poor. It seems the Finch-meister collected nearly $3.5 million in subsidies from 1999 to 2012, and last year he received about $70,000 in direct payments, money that is given to farmers and farmland owners, even if they do not grow crops. Ag subsidies? Only in my back yard!

Mitch McConnell (Senator from Kentucky). Senate Minority Leader McConnell made it abundantly clear that his mission starting in 2009 was to deny Obama a second term. Short of engaging in criminal activity the only way Mitch could accomplish this task was to obstruct every Obama administration initiative regardless of merit. His strategy was to scuttle whatever initiatives were offered by lining up the opposition of 40 percent – or as it’s known in the Senate, a “majority.” Like the colleagues on his side of the aisle, McConnell takes a dim view of budget deficits. To demonstrate his commitment to stanching the flow of red ink, he railed hard against stimulus bills designed to pump money into the economy via investments and tax breaks. But some tax breaks qualify as OIMBY – and McConnell valiantly defends one that helps out the poor, struggling owners of racehorses that hang out in Mitch’s beloved Kentucky. Sometimes referred to as “The Sport of Kings,” horseracing is big business in the Bluegrass State, but who knew it was so vital to the “farm economy” that McConnell was compelled to include a $126 million tax break for it in the 2008 Food, Conservation and Energy Act.

Charles E. Shumer (Senator from New York). Known to some as Chuck E. “Cheese” Shumer, the Senator from New York, home of Wall Street, is a strident protector of a poor, neglected outcast from society: the hedge fund manager. While bounding about denouncing Republican tax cuts for the rich and benefit slashes for the lower and middle classes, Chuck E. Cheese has been the biggest defender of the fantasy that “carried interest” – that is, money made by hedge fund managers for investing other peoples’ money – should be taxed at a far lower rate than income made by doing real work, like running a restaurant or conducting cancer research. Consider Steve Cohen, the billionaire manager of SAC Capital. In 2005 his gross income was north of $1B. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to the combined annual salaries of 20,000 average Americans. But when Chuck Shumer makes a visit to the Statue of Liberty and reads the famous quotation – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – he thinks of poor Steve Cohen and redoubles his efforts to protect the man’s right to a tax rate lower than that of the guy who piloted the ferry to Liberty Island.

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