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Tough Love: U.S. isn't world's worst overspender

If there’s one thing history has taught us about the U.S. government, it’s that in times of economic depression, the government can propose and get away with absolutely anything.

Even if that includes building a canal through the middle of Florida.

To those who think President Obama’s 2009 stimulus was wasteful, I present to you the 20th century case of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal! The famous Cross-Florida Barge Canal was actually first proposed by the forward-thinking Spanish settlers of the 1570s. It was designed to go through the middle of Florida to link the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

When Americans took over Florida, the canal plans were raised a few times by overzealous lawmakers, but U.S. citizens reasonably rejected the silly idea throughout the 19th century.

Then the Depression struck in 1930.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed office, he began searching for more ways to pour money into the American economy. Through the New Deal, FDR put more than 3 million people back to work by having them do odd jobs, ranging from cleaning airfields to stuffing rare birds, all of which was subsidized by the government.

And suddenly, when the Florida canal idea was presented again, turning half of Florida into an island of old people didn’t seem like a bad choice anymore, as long as it put even more people to work.

FDR ended up signing off on the canal, allocating money from economic-recovery emergency funds. Construction quickly began on the 107-mile “canal.”

But, in the end, the Cross-Florida Barge Canal hit a snag that even it couldn’t recover from: The environmentalists began talking. They complained that the canal would disturb habitats.

Subsequently, work on the canal switched on and off sporadically as Florida activists beat their war drums. All construction was halted in 1942 until President John F. Kennedy endorsed it in 1963 with an allocation of $1 million to the canal. But when activists complained again, the project sunk anew in 1971.

The Cross-Florida Barge Canal lingered for a few more decades, until it was officially canceled in 1991. But by then, it had already sponged the equivalent of more than $120 million from the U.S. government, with nothing to show but some 30-mile-long ditches.

Even today, the remnants of the canal can be seen from space. Images from space show obvious variations in vegetation cover along the path of construction, as well as the canal fragments. The pieces of the canal remain in Florida today, where, sometime in the distant future, alien travelers will see the pockmarks on the land and see firsthand the painful short-sightedness of a human government caught up in the canal fad.

But if you feel bad about the U.S. government’s sketchy record with spending, don’t worry! Italy has had it worse.

In 2003, the Italian government secured $1.66 million from the EU to build the First Tel School of the impoverished Campania region. The First Tel School was designed to train women exclusively from Campania, which boasts the most beautiful women of Italy, in the study of diction, show-presenting and makeup in the hopes that they would find jobs in television. For each class the pupils attended, they received $2.44.

More than 1,200 women and a few men applied for the 97 student positions available, with students admitted on basis of telegenic beauty.

The school was, unsurprisingly, lampooned by Italian newspapers as a “school for bimbos.”

And it’s not hard to see why. When students from the school were interviewed, Simona Toto, “a diminutive blond,” had this to say: “I want to be famous, rich, and marry a footballer.”

Thank goodness Americans don’t have that kind of bait for the press to gobble up.

Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Would a Florida canal be worth building? Email Kevin at kh319910@ohiou.edu.

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