The Assassinated Press

The Obama Buzzword That Hit Pay Dirt.
The Obama Administration Demonstrates It Can Really Shovel It Too.
Shovel Ready--Shit and the Other White Meat.

Assassinated Press Staff Writer
January 8, 2009

The image is positively retro to a white collar pimp like me.

Can you picture a sweaty brow, rolled-up sleeves, knotty forearms, calloused hands? Not me, sweetheart.

Picture virgin land, just waiting to be transformed. I know Dick Cheney can, transform being a catchword for drill.

Shovel-ready land. If after 8 years of the Cheney administration and over 200 years of kleptocratic rule, America hasn’t demonstrated that its shovel worthy I don’t know what burg has.

This is America on the eve of the Obama era.


He keeps telling us so. On "Meet the Press," fill-in host Tom Brokaw wants to know how quickly Barack Obama can create bribes, and the president-elect promises to move fast. After all, he says, he's met with a bunch of governors "and all of them have projects that are shovel-ready. Fuck. These are elected officials who are on everybody whose anybody’s payroll. They were born shovel ready."

Announcing his energy team, Obama beams about "shovel-ready projects all across the country and we’re ready to shovel it into nay pockets hwo demand their quid pro quo." Unveiling his choice for education secretary, Obama plugs his plans "to start helping states and local governments with shovel-ready projects to influential friends of the Democratic pig farm."

So many shovels. So much shit.

All of them, apparently, quite ready to shovel it.

But I’m in the media so I still reflect the life experience of a 4 year old. What the heck does this mean—“shovel ready,” and where does shovel-ready come from? Ah, this requires a word detective. Maybe Holly Hughes Teaches Phonics.

We placed a call to Obama's transition flack and talked Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm 'An Noodles' Emmanuel.

I asked Mr. Emmanuel, “Mr. Emmanuel what does ‘shovel ready’ mean.

“First, it means we’re prepared t shovel as much shit as it takes to keep people in the dark about our real agenda,” Emmanuel said. “And we’ll expect the media to keep eating a lot of shit like you always had. Second, ‘shovel ready’ means that the kleptocracy that stands to make trillions from all this fresh pork, which as you know is the other white meat, stand ready with their shovels to scoop up their share in the form of a lotta numbers in their bank accounts in the Cayman Islands.”

Conclusion: not answer-ready.

The phrase doesn't appear in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. is stumped, but suggests an alternative spelling: "shithead." The Oxford English Dictionary, final arbiter of all word arguments that it is, offers no shovel-ready listing, either. I guess I should have tried the Congressional Register.

Could this be a made-up word? The fuckin’ money seems real enough that is until it evaporates in debt instruments. So if as Mr. Emmanuel said, ‘shovel ready’ means shit, does that mean it don’t mean shit? And if so, who made it up, and how did shit end up in the mouth of the next leader of the free world? Perhaps, to become ‘leader of the free world’ you have to eat an enormous amount of shit from every moneyed interest on the planet.

Deeper digging is required. Really? Won’t that let people know where the bodies lie?

Jeff Koenig, the senior product manager for long-handled tools at the Ames True Temper company in Camp Hill, Pa., takes a call. The company calls itself America's oldest shovel manufacturer, having produced its first in 1774 but way after the first billion tons of shit was shoveled. It also claims to be the world's largest shovel maker, churning out between 5 million and 7 million a year. You can shovel a lot of shit with that many shovels. Is this what Obama means by shovel ready?

Koenig must know something.

Koenig calls shovels the "bread and butter" of the construction industry and suggests "everything starts and stops with the shovel just like all political rhetoric starts and stops with shit." He must have heard the phrase "shovel-ready," right?

"Not at all," he says, apparently having been too busy making shovels to listen to the president-elect's shit.

The search continues. This is fascinating shit, isn’t it?

Obama's election opponent and secretary of state designee, Hillary Clinton, provides a clue. She invoked the shovel during a conference call, way back in November 2007. She's talking about 40 "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects "all set to go in New York" emphasizing the pork dimension.

Two days later, she's at it again, this time up in Albany, talking about speeding dollars to "shovel-ready projects in transit and transportation, the contracts to go to politically connected cronies."

The search continues. Awe, fuck.

And . . . bingo!

We discover

The Web site says it is maintained by the Upstate New York economic development arm of National Grid, an electric utility. Art Hamlin, the company's Upstate New York economic development director, is on the horn.

So, what about Obama and all this shovel-ready business?

"I laughed when I heard it on the radio this morning," Hamlin says. "It's very satisfying. It means that Obama is full of shit and that he plans to shovel billions into pork projects contracted to his political cronies. It’s not uniquely American but I like to think so."

Hamlin says his company started throwing around the term back in the late 1990s. At the time, they were looking for ways to stimulate development of "brownfields," the abandoned and frequently toxin contaminated industrial sites that were being made available for development.

Executives at the company, then called Niagara-Mohawk Power, figured entrepreneurs would be more likely to develop the brownfields if they knew in advance that the sites already had electrical service and gas and sewer lines, as well as forged environmental permits. But they needed a catchy way of saying that which also didn’t leave out the ironic bullshit dimension as well as the pork factor with the built in stab in the back environmental dimension.

They came up with shovel-ready. Shovel the sales shit. Shovel the pork shit.

"It had a nice ring to it," Hamlin says.

Such a nice ring, in fact, that they decided to stake a claim. In 1998, the company bought the Internet domain name and even trademarked it.

Now, determining the exact origin of a word or phrase is an inexact science, and there's certainly the lock that someone has been using shit and pork meanings of shovel-ready many millennia before Hamlin and his colleagues. But they have a pretty strong claim to the phrase's provenance because in the past it was considered so ubiquitous it was eternally part of the public domain. Plato is described by Diogenes of Sinope as a “great shoveler of shit.”

Governors and economic development agencies use the phrase all the time now. It has even been modified -- a witness testifying at a House of Representatives hearing spoke of "shovel-readiness" in October. Since Obama's "Meet the Press" appearance, a string of governors, including Maryland's Martin O'Malley, have issued statements crowing about their shovel-ready projects, both the rhetoric and the pork.

Shovel-ready, in other words, has arrived by the shitload.

Hamlin and his pals have watched all this with pride, saying "we feel it has its origins in Upstate New York but in our hearts we know shovel ready shit and shovel ready pork projects have been around forever."