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1198 Failed Government Projects

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,198 – Failed Government Projects.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,198. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and become a member of ESL Podcast. If you do, you can download a Learning Guide for this episode that contains a complete transcript of everything we say.

This episode is a dialogue between Mariana and Klaus about government projects that don’t seem to be very successful. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Mariana: How long do you think it will be before the stadium is finished?

Klaus: Don’t hold your breath. The plan for the stadium is fundamentally flawed, but the government rammed it down the throats of the voters.

Mariana: Do you really think the project is doomed?

Klaus: Haven’t you heard the reports of corruption and poor management? They’re cutting corners left and right. I wouldn’t be surprised if the stadium is being built with shoddy materials.

Mariana: Then the entire thing is a joke!

Klaus: Yes, and the joke is on us. Government officials are going through the motions, not caring about the results. All they care about is lining their pockets.

Mariana: I have heard about the cost overruns. Do you think the city will ever recoup the money spent on this project?

Klaus: Maybe a little, if we can sell the entire thing as scrap metal!

[end of dialogue]

Mariana begins by asking, “How long do you think it will be before the stadium is finished?” A “stadium” (stadium) is a large building with many seats – many places to sit in it, usually – that is used for sporting events or other large gatherings such as music concerts.

Most large cities in the U.S. and in most cities in the world have stadiums that are used for playing sports. It may be a football stadium in many parts of the world. Here in the U.S. there are baseball stadiums and football stadiums. Some stadiums are used for playing more than one kind of sport. Here in Los Angeles we have several large stadiums used for sporting events and concerts – not only professional sporting events, but also ones for college sport teams.

Mariana is asking when the stadium is going to be finished. Klaus says, “Don’t hold your breath.” The expression “Don’t hold (hold) your breath (breath)” means don’t expect too much to happen very soon, or don’t expect this to be completed anytime soon. We use this expression when we’re telling someone that they shouldn’t get too excited or they shouldn’t look forward to something too much because it is not likely it will happen anytime soon.

The expression “to hold your breath” means to take air into your lungs and not to breathe out. We hold our breath when we, for example, go under water. If you hold your breath for too long, of course, you could eventually lose consciousness. You could, what we would say in English, “pass out.” “To pass out” means to become unconscious suddenly. That’s what would happen if you held your breath for too long. So the expression “Don’t hold your breath” means that you shouldn’t be waiting for something. If you actually held your breath, you would probably pass out before anything good would happen.

Klaus says, “The plan for the stadium is fundamentally flawed, but the government rammed it down the throats of the voters.” To say something is “flawed” (flawed) means there is something wrong with it. It isn’t going to work properly. To say something is “fundamentally flawed” means that the problems are so serious that you can’t fix it, that you might as well start again or get a new one. If you say that a plan is “fundamentally flawed,” you’re saying that it’s so bad, it’s never going to work.

Klaus says that the plan for the stadium “is fundamentally flawed, but the government rammed it down the throats of the voters.” “To ram (ram)” something “down the throat” (throat) of someone or of a group of people means to force someone or some group to do something that he or they didn’t really want to do. “To ram something down someone’s throat” is to say that they have to do it. They don’t have any other choice. Even though it may look like they are saying yes to something, in fact they had no other option.

The “voters” are the people who vote in an election in a democracy. So, “to ram something down the throats of the voters” is to tell people voting they have no choice, they have to accept this. Sometimes we use this expression when you actually do have a choice. If you’re a voter, you can always vote no on something. But we use it when the government is using some pressure or using some “tactic,” some strategy to make people do something that they don’t really want to do. They are persuading people to do something by using arguments, perhaps, that aren’t completely honest.

Mariana says, “Do you really think the project is doomed?” If something is “doomed” (doomed), it is expected to fail. It is something that will not work, will not be successful. If something or someone is “doomed,” that thing or that person will not be successful – bad things will happen. Klaus says, “Haven’t you heard the reports of corruption and poor management?” “Corruption” (corruption) is when people in power, especially in the government, do things that are dishonest, illegal, or unethical, often because they are getting money illegally to do something. Corruption is a problem in all governments in every country in the world.

Klaus says, “They’re” – meaning the government – “They’re cutting corners left and right.” “To cut corners” (corners) means to not do what you are supposed to do, in order to get something done more quickly. “To cut corners” means to find a cheaper, faster way to do something, but in a way that lowers the quality of whatever it is you are doing. We usually use this expression “to cut corners” to mean to lower the cost of doing something to try to save money, but often you’re saving money by doing something that you shouldn’t do or that might even be dangerous.

The expression “left and right” here means “in many different places” or “in many different areas.” We put the two together – “to cut corners left and right” – and we get an expression that means to try to save money in many different parts of the project. Klaus says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the stadium is being built with shoddy materials.”
“Shoddy” (shoddy) is an adjective meaning of low quality – something that is poorly made, something that won’t last very long.

Mariana says, “Then the entire thing is a joke.” When she says, “the entire thing is a joke” (joke), she doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to make you laugh. Here the word “joke” means that it wasn’t being done properly, and therefore is a complete failure. Here the word “joke” is used in an insulting way to describe some action or some plan or some project as being very poorly done and not worth taking seriously. Klaus says, “Yes, and the joke is on us.” Here we see another meaning of the word “joke” in the expression, “The joke is on us.” “The joke is on us” means that someone has made us look stupid – someone has tricked us, someone has fooled us.

He says, “Government officials are going through the motions not caring about the results.” “To go through the motions” (motions) means to do something but not with very much commitment – to do something without trying very hard, to do something without being very enthusiastic about it. “To go through the motions” means to do your job, to do what you’re supposed to do, but not very well or not with very much dedication and interest. Klaus says, “All they” – meaning the government officials, the people who work for the government – “care about is lining their pockets.”

The expression “to line (line) one’s pockets (pockets)” means to do something in order to make a lot of money, usually to do it in a corrupt way – illegally or unethically. It’s an expression we often use when we’re talking about corrupt government officials. They are getting money illegally. They’re only doing what they are doing in order to make money. They are “lining their pockets.” Your “pockets” are those things in your pants that you use to put coins in or your keys in or your cellphone in. So, in effect they are putting money into their own pockets and getting rich.

Mariana says, “I have heard about the cost overruns.” “Cost overruns” (overruns) refers to when a project costs more than you thought it would. You thought it would cost 100 million dollars and it ends up costing 500 million dollars. That’s a “cost overrun.” Most government projects have cost overruns. They say they’re only going to cost this amount of money, but then you find out it costs twice that much.

Mariana says, “Do you think the city will ever recoup the money spent on this project?” “To recoup (recoup) the money” means to get the money back, to regain the money. What happens often in U.S. cities is that the local government will help build the stadium. They will pay money to build the stadium with the idea that eventually all the business that the stadium will bring will get that money back to them through taxes – that the city will, in the end, make more money than it spent. Usually that’s not what happens.

Klaus says, “Maybe a little,” meaning maybe the city will get some of the money back that it spent to build this stadium. It will recoup some of the money. That will happen, however, “only if we can sell the entire thing as scrap metal.” “Scrap” (scrap) is something that is no longer used anymore for what it was made to be used for. You could talk about “scraps of food” – food that you are not going to eat anymore or very small pieces of food. Some people feed their dog “scraps” from the table. The food that they are not eating, they give to the dog.

“Scrap metal” (metal) are small pieces of metal that are no longer being used and that are usually melted down and used for something else. Klaus is saying the only way the city will make money or recoup some of its money on this project is if they tear the stadium down and sell it as scrap metal.

Now, let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Mariana: How long do you think it will be before the stadium is finished?

Klaus: Don’t hold your breath. The plan for the stadium is fundamentally flawed, but the government rammed it down the throats of the voters.

Mariana: Do you really think the project is doomed?

Klaus: Haven’t you heard the reports of corruption and poor management? They’re cutting corners left and right. I wouldn’t be surprised if the stadium is being built with shoddy materials.

Mariana: Then the entire thing is a joke!

Klaus: Yes, and the joke is on us. Government officials are going through the motions, not caring about the results. All they care about is lining their pockets.

Mariana: I have heard about the cost overruns. Do you think the city will ever recoup the money spent on this project?

Klaus: Maybe a little, if we can sell the entire thing as scrap metal!

[end of dialogue]

We never cut corners with our scripts here at ESL Podcast. Nothing but the highest quality comes from the pen of Dr. Lucy Tse, our scriptwriter. Thank you, Lucy.
From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
stadium – a large building with many seats with or without a roof used for sports events, concerts, and other large gatherings

* The championship game was attended by enough people to fill the stadium.

to not hold (one’s) breath – to not become too excited about something and not look forward to it too much or expect too much from it; to control and limit one’s expectations

* This solution has only a small chance of success, so don’t hold your breath.

fundamentally flawed – with serious, severe weaknesses or problems that permanently weakens something or make something unlikely to succeed

* Some say that democracy is fundamentally flawed because people will never have access to all the information they need to be informed voters.

to ram (something) down (one’s) throat – to force someone to have, do, or accept something, without giving that person a choice; to be extremely insistent and forceful

* We didn’t want to accept the new department changes, but the executives rammed it down our throats.

voter – a person who participates in an election, indicating his or her preference for a person to fill a position or for a law to be passed or rejected

* What percentage of eligible voters normally participate in local elections?

doomed – almost certainly to fail; expected to have a poor outcome

* Given the severe storm, any hikers on the mountain tonight are doomed.

corruption – dishonest, illegal, and unethical behavior by people in power, especially in the government, who perform actions in exchange for money

* People who try to pay police officers to avoid traffic tickets are contributing to corruption.

to cut corners left and right – to take a lot of shortcuts; to repeatedly find cheaper or easier way to do things, even though they lower quality

* If we keep cutting corners left and right, customers will notice how poorly made our products have become and we’ll be out of business soon.

shoddy – poorly or cheaply made; weak; not nice or high-quality

* The new home seemed nice, but after we lived in it for a few months, we started to see signs of its shoddy construction.

the joke is on (someone) – someone has been tricked or made to look like a fool

* If you actually believed those lies, then the joke is on you.

to go through the motions – to do the minimum required for something, without enthusiasm, dedication, or commitment, and without making any special effort

* Normally, Jackson is a strong athlete, but during yesterday’s competition, he seemed tired and people thought he was just going through the motions without really trying to win.

to line (one’s) pockets – to do something that helps one make money, often illegally or unethically; to earn money in a corrupt way

* We were shocked to learn that Becca had been lining her pockets for years by stealing small amounts of money from the store every few days.

cost overrun – when something costs more than expected or budgeted

* The contract requires notifying the company immediately of any cost overruns.

to recoup – to regain; to recover money that was lost or spent; to be paid back in some way

* How long did it take the restaurant owners to recoup their initial investment?

scrap metal – small pieces of metal that are no longer needed, especially parts of large machines or cars, that are taken for recycling

* The Boy Scouts are collecting scrap metal and selling it to recyclers to earn money for their annual camping trip.

Comprehension Questions
1. Why does Klaus say, “Don’t hold your breath”?
a) Because he wants Mariana to calm down.
b) Because he wants Mariana to lower her expectations.
c) Because he wants Mariana to speak more loudly.

2. What does Klaus mean when he says, “All they care about is lining their pockets”?
a) The government officials want to have nice uniforms.
b) The government officials are hiding information from the public.
c) The government officials are only interested in making money.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
doomed

The word “doomed,” in this podcast, means very unlikely to succeed or expected to have a poor outcome: “When the plane’s engine caught on fire, a passenger screamed, ‘We’re all doomed!’” The phrase “to be doomed to failure” means that one is certain to fail: “Twenty year ago, people thought that any attempt to create a self-driving car would be doomed to failure, but now it seems possible.” The phrase “a sense of impending doom” means a feeling that something very bad is going to happen: “Ravina should have been cheerful that evening, but she couldn’t ignore her sense of impending doom.” Finally, the phrase “doom and gloom” describes a lack of hope: “All the newspaper articles are about doom and gloom. Isn’t there any good news?”

to go through the motions

In this podcast, the phrase “to go through the motions” means to do the minimum required for something, without enthusiasm, dedication, or commitment, and without making any special effort: “After his daughter died, Jake seemed to be going through the motions of his daily life, without any real passion or joy.” The phrase “to put (something) in/into motion” means to start a process or a series of events: “Once these plans are put in motion, it will be almost impossible to stop them.” In a formal meeting, the phrase “to make a motion” means to propose something: “I’d like to make a motion that we delay discussion of the remaining issues until our next meeting.” Finally, the phrase “to approve a motion” means to vote to accept someone’s proposal.

Culture Note
“Boondoggles” and “Pork Barrel” Projects

Americans often complain about how their “elected representatives” (people who are voted into positions to represent others in the government, such as Senators and Representatives) are “engaged in” (participating in and contributing to) “wasteful spending,” or the use of money in unproductive or unnecessary ways. They often complain about “boondoggles” and “pork barrel projects.”

A “boondoggle” is a project that seems to have “value” (meaning, importance, and an ability to make contributions), but is actually “wasteful” (using valuable resources in unimportant ways) or “meaningless” (without purpose). Boondoggles often “drag on” (last for a long period of time) and result in costing much more than expected. A “pork barrel project” is similar, but is a government project that “designates” (assigns) money for a particular purpose, pleasing a small group of voters, but not benefiting all taxpayers. The people who benefit from pork barrel projects are generally expected to “support” (help) the politicians who have arranged for those projects.

One of the best-known boondoggles or pork barrel projects was a 2005 “earmark” (money that has been set aside for a particular purpose) of $452 million to build two bridges in Alaska. But one of those bridges would have connected an island where only a few “dozen” (a group of twelve) people lived, so it became known as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

An example of a pork barrel project was the Big Dib in Boston, Massachusetts, where 3.5 miles of a freeway was moved underground at a cost of more than $4 billion per mile. The project benefitted local residents in Massachusetts, but had “minimal” (very little) value for “taxpayers” (people who pay money to the government) in other parts of the country.

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c