Saturday, December 31, 2005

Top Ten Beltway Stories of 2005

Just Barely Inside the Beltway might have only been up and running since November 1st, but we've been following the news here and around the world since long before then.

I give you the Top Ten Inside the Beltway Stories of 2005:
  1. The National Zoo's Baby Giant Panda born July 9th.

  2. After eleven years without change on the Supreme Court: A Game of Musical Chairs - O'Connor Retires, Roberts Nominated, Rehnquist Dies, Roberts Re-Nominated, Roberts Confirmed, Miers Nominated, Miers Withdraws, Alito Nominated.

  3. President George W. Bush's 2nd Inauguration.

  4. Democrats demand withdrawal from Iraq, then vote against it.

  5. President Bush's lowest approval ratings remain higher than his predecessors'.

  6. John Bolton receives recess appointment to become U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

  7. TAE: "The 1,587th death in Iraq provokes no major display of eye-catching graphics in the Western media, as it is not a round number."

  8. D.C. loses a lawsuit against the U.S. Constitution.

  9. Snowman with a giant head.

  10. D.C. ranked 13th most dangerous city, behind Baltimore, Richmond, and ten others.
I had to stretch to find ten worthwhile stories - the Beltway just isn't that important. Feel free to comment on what you might have included.

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Another Boring Virginia Election

Results are in for the vote mentioned in "Vote for a new Virginia" - internet voters followed Virginia's earlier status quo election with another. The new "Welcome to Virginia" signs will be essentially the same as the ones that already exist.
The current Welcome to Virginia sign design is about 50 years old. Most of the signs are about 14 years old and need replacing. It's a good time for a fresh look. From Nov. 22 through Dec. 4, we asked the public to tell us which of the six designs below they preferred. Just over 56,400 votes were cast.
The current sign and its slightly altered but thematically identical revision received 23.2% and 31.5% of the vote respectively. My choice, featuring a ship like the one already on Virginia license plates and that would commemorate Virginia's rich naval history, came in third with 16.2% of the vote.

I forgot to vote early and vote often.
The first sign will be installed before April 22, 2006, the start of Historic Garden Week in Virginia.
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Friday, December 30, 2005

DC Junkets

From The Washington Post:

The District spends $5.5 million a year on travel for its employees, far more than other cities, and often with minimal records to justify the expense.

A review of city travel documents over the past five years shows that officials have routinely authorized overseas travel and dispatched public servants in packs to attend week-long conferences in casinos and resorts. Employees have misused their official travel credit cards and failed to account for thousands of dollars in advances.

On average, the District spends about $220 per employee on out-of-town travel each year. That compares with about $40 per employee in Baltimore, $80 in San Francisco and $150 in Philadelphia and is also higher than the figures in Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle and several other jurisdictions, according to a survey by The Washington Post.

Sometimes these figures are hard to put into context, so the comparison to other cities is definitely significant. Meanwhile, DC declares itself to be in such dire financial straits that it needs to steal tax revenue from neighboring jurisdictions.
More than any other agency, the city's school system racks up travel expenses by sending clusters of employees to training and seminars. In 2003 and 2004, that agency averaged $60,000 a month.
Predictable responses from city officials:
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a statement that he is "constantly looking for ways to make the government more accountable and efficient, and we will certainly scrub travel records to make sure out-of-town trips are done economically and strictly for professional development."
Not only are these junkets expensive, but many are simply absurd:
The definition of necessary business can be broad. The Department of Transportation spent about $2,000 in federal funds to send a traffic engineer to study highway safety in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2002. The agency said he learned that the Russians were "years behind."
Once you're done laughing at that an incredibly obvious observation, perhaps someone can explain why DC would concern itself with highway safety in Russia. They're hardly even concerned with getting jaywalkers out of the streets in the District.

Then there's the stay at a resort hotel for a self-segregation convention:

In 2003, lottery director Jeanette A. Michael decided at the last minute to attend the National Forum for Black Public Administrators but did not get the necessary authorization before the trip.

She stayed four nights in a $376 "ocean front deluxe" room on a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beach and said she spent the time mentoring young public officials. The hotel, registration, food and air travel cost taxpayers $2,346, records show.

A month after she returned, she sought authorization for the trip, offering to pay the portion of the lodging that exceeded government limits. But the city never asked her for any money, Michael said in an interview.

The full article is worth reading for the many other examples of wasteful spending.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Some People Need to be Hit

From The Washington Post:

Steve Laterra ignored the red "Don't Walk" signal and waded into four lanes of midday traffic on 14th Street NW yesterday. The Woodbridge man made it easily through the first two lanes but was forced to stop in the middle of the street to let a taxi whiz by -- inches away. Then, his eyes darting back and forth, he dashed across the final northbound lane.

"I'm from Manhattan, so it's not scary at all," he said from the safety of a sidewalk. "I make the assumption that the car will stop."

I hope it doesn't. People like that deserve to be run over They violate the law, obstruct traffic flow, and deserve the consequences of their actions.

That is the kind of death-defying assumption driving a D.C. effort to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths. Pedestrian-related accidents in the District have increased this year, bucking a longtime downward trend, city officials announced yesterday as they outlined a public education effort aimed at drivers and pedestrians.


About 3,000 pedestrians a year are hit by cars in the region, and pedestrian fatalities account for 22 percent of total traffic deaths in the District, Virginia and Maryland, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.


[A report this year on pedestrian injuries], by the Inova Regional Trauma Center, also found that most accidents happened when walkers crossed streets outside intersections and that the responsibility for crashes is split fairly evenly; drivers were cited in 52 percent of accidents.

The important thing to note here is that pedestrians are probably at fault the other half of the time. There are many terrible drivers in the DC area, but they at least generally obey traffic lights - pedestrians frequently do not. A common problem for drivers seems to be an unwillingness to yield to lawful pedestrians, but I have to wonder how much of this is due to the predominance of various types of jaywalkers.
The District has hired a full-time pedestrian-safety coordinator, made improvements to 20 of the most dangerous intersections and installed 1,200 countdown pedestrian signals since 2003, the most of any city, according to District officials. The District has also been running radio commercials this month about pedestrian safety and is paying police officers overtime to watch for traffic violations.
More enforcement is definitely needed, but hopefully they are watching pedestrians closely as well.

For now, violations continue without consequences:
At busy 14th Street and New York Avenue NW, traffic rules appeared to be followed only casually yesterday. Pedestrians crossed against the light; cars made turns cutting off pedestrians in a crosswalk; and taxis made unpredictable turns to pick up fares.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Rube Goldberg Accident on I-95

On the way to Florida last Wednesday, we were briefly delayed by a rather interesting car accident. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

The wreck occurred about 10:50 a.m. when a Budget rental truck traveling south struck a car traveling the same direction. The impact caused the rental truck to swerve left into the center median, striking a pole supporting the [electronic] highway billboard, [state police spokesman Sgt. Kevin] Barrick said.

The pole bent in half, causing the sign to dangle but not fall. A northbound tractor-trailer then struck the sign because it was hanging lower than the top of the trailer.

The sign and its metal framing ripped off the top half of the trailer, which was carrying home appliances, Barrick said.

Almost as amazing as that, injuries were few and minor:

Four people suffered minor injuries and were transported to Southside Regional Hospital in Petersburg, state police said.

At one point, all of I-95's northbound lanes and all but one of the southbound lanes... were closed, causing traffic to back up for miles...

Police reopened all but one lane at about 3:15 p.m. The last of the closed northbound lanes reopened about 5 p.m.

For some reason, we were lucky enough to pass more backups than stopped us - and hopefully the people headed north on Wednesday weren't headed back south Monday.

The Progress-Index (Petersburg) also reports, with a photo and a description suggesting the ultimate cause may have been the car:

At approximately 10:50 a.m. yesterday, a passenger sedan traveling southbound on I-95 swerved left and collided with a Budget rental truck causing it to break through the guardrail and crash into the support of the large lighted electronic display sign.

The sign tipped forward slightly, and a tractor trailer traveling northbound ran into a portion of the sign.


State Police continue to investigate the crash, and charges are pending.

Click here for an explanation of the title.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

DC Price Controls Struck Down

The Washington Times reported Friday:

A federal judge yesterday struck down a new D.C. law that tied the cost of patented prescription drugs sold in the District to wholesale prices in foreign countries.

The Prescription Drug Excessive Pricing Act of 2005 sought to permit civil sanctions against drug companies if patented drugs were sold for more than 30 percent above prices in Australia, Canada, Germany or the United Kingdom.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon yesterday ruled in favor of two trade groups that sued the District in October to block the law.

"Punishing the holders of pharmaceutical patents in this manner flies directly in the face of a system of rewards calculated by Congress to insure the continued strength of an industry vital to our national interests," Judge Leon said in a 28-page opinion.

Judge Leon called the law a "well-intentioned" but "thinly veiled effort" to force drug makers to limit prices.

The price controls couldn't be more thinly veiled - DC didn't even try to hide behind the "reimportation" lie.

The Washington Post adds:

Under the measure, the manufacturer of a drug that cost 30 percent more in the District than in the four designated countries would have to prove that the price was not excessive. The drug company could seek to justify the price based on research-and-development costs, its profit margin or other factors. If the manufacturer failed in that effort, a court could impose civil penalties.

Leon's opinion said the District law is in direct conflict with federal patent law, in which Congress designed a "carefully crafted bargain" intended to provide pharmaceutical companies with incentives to develop drugs. Those incentives include exclusive sales rights for a certain period, he said.


The opinion also said the law would violate the constitutional protection of interstate commerce because, among other reasons, the drugs are manufactured, stored and bought outside the District.

"Although no other state has adopted a statute like the D.C. Act to date, it takes little imagination to envision the harm to interstate commerce that could be caused by the domino effect of similar legislation being adopted in many, or every, state," Leon wrote

This appears to be a good ruling. Price controls are clearly bad policy, but also a policy that is preempted by Congress. It is especially absurd to demand that companies justify why they are not observing foreign price controls that the D.C. Council does not even have the guts (or more likely, the power) to explicitly impose.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Just Barely Inside the Beltway wishes you a Very Merry Christmas from far outside the Beltway.

And if you're reading this on Christmas, congratulations on finding a way to ditch the family!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Gubernatorial Christmas Cards

The Washington Post reports on gubernatorial Christmas cards:

Across Maryland, Republicans and probably a few Democrats are opening their mailboxes this month to find the smiling faces of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his family.

That's because Ehrlich (R) sent out 40,000 holiday cards this year, more than any other governor in the country, according to a nationwide survey conducted by, a Web site that chronicles trends in state politics.

The next closest, at 27,500, was Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D).

"What can I say?" Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said... "The governor has a lot of friends and supporters, which will become more evident in the coming year."

Ehrlich's mailing, which comes as he prepares for next year's reelection bid, is remarkable not just for its reach. He is one of just nine governors whose card includes the words "Merry Christmas" -- in Ehrlich's case, it is part of the inside greeting -- a sentiment not even President Bush conveyed.

Elsewhere around the Beltway:

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) stayed holiday-neutral, mailing roughly 10,000 "season's greetings." His cards, like Ehrlich's, proclaim that the greetings do not come at taxpayer expense. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) sent out about 10,000 cards with no reference to Christmas.


Rabbi Eli Backman, director of the University of Maryland Bais Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center, said the concern over holiday cards has been overblown. "If somebody tells me 'Merry Christmas,' I would nod my head and say, 'Thank you,' " Backman said. "And nobody is assuming if they say 'Happy Hanukkah' that they are endorsing your religion."

The article also reports on the various "holiday" practices of smaller local governments, but it bored me.

Merry Christmas, Governor Ehrlich.

I haven't received any Christmas cards from governors, but I did report on the White House Christmas Card.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Dulles Transit Update

From The Washington Post:

The authority that controls Dulles International Airport made a move yesterday to take over the state-run Dulles Toll Road and seize control of construction of a rail line to the airport, hoping to ensure that the troubled project moves forward.

As owner of the land on which the toll road is built and much of the rail line would reside, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority could stop efforts underway to privatize the highway if its proposal is rejected. Because of the authority's clout, the proposal carries enormous consequences for one of the biggest rail projects in the nation and promises higher tolls on one of the most heavily used commuter routes in the region.

Airport officials said they could build the entire Metrorail line from the West Falls Church Station to Loudoun County faster than current plans, which call for it to be done in two phases, completed by 2015. They said they were concerned that the second half of the project -- bringing rail to the airport -- would be abandoned for lack of funds and political will.


Under its plan, the authority would take over the toll road from the state government and use its revenue to fund the state's portion of the first half of the rail line as well as the state and federal share of the second phase.

I have questioned the desire to extend Metro rail to Dulles from the start. A "third rail" subway line would appear to require more construction and maintenance than other rail options, especially in inclement weather. Shuttle service and a directly Metro-accessible airport already exist, leading to questions about necessity and cost-benefit. The Dulles Corridor Rail Association has a website, but the answers to these questions are not readily available.

That being said, I'm encouraged by the Airports Authority's move. The new Metro line is primarily designed to serve the airport, making the airport the most appropriate party to take responsibility. Not only are they not sitting around crying about federal funding, but they plan to build it faster and without federal funding.

For our readers far outside the Beltway, Dulles International Airport (IAD) is located well outside the Beltway in Virginia, "approximately 26 miles from downtown Washington, D.C." - a Metro line to Dulles will be by far the longest in the area.

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McDonnell Wins Virginia AG Race

My "Status Quo" election post deserves a final update. Republicans won two of three statewide offices, up from one in 2001.

The Washington Post reports:

RICHMOND, Dec. 21 -- A judicial panel certified Republican Del. Robert F. McDonnell as the winner of the Virginia attorney general's race at the completion of a statewide recount Wednesday, six weeks after the election.

The State Board of Elections announced that McDonnell had widened his sliver of a lead over Democratic Sen. R. Creigh Deeds by 37 votes. Still, this remained the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history, with 360 votes separating the two men out of 1.94 million cast.

So apparently the "Bob McDonnell is a dirty Christian" tv ads weren't enough for the Democrat to win after all.

Congratulations Mr. McDonnell, and to Virginia for finding a smooth way to complete a recount.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Did They Change the Definition of "Mere"?

Der Spiegel reports on events inside the Beltway:

The US House of Representatives on Monday voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It is one of the largest pristine wilderness areas left in the US.

It's an issue that has been bouncing down the halls of power in Washington for years. But on Monday, the House of Representatives voted to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling. The vote comes as a major defeat for environmental activists across the US who have fought a years-long battle to prevent the pristine wilderness area from pollution by oil wells. For the Bush Administration, however, drilling in the Arctic has been part of a strategy to decrease reliance on foreign oil. Indeed, the drilling provision was attached to a $453 billion Pentagon spending bill -- which the Senate votes on later this week.

It's an issue which has divided Americans for years, with a number of environmental groups having made stopping the plan a priority. And indeed, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest remaining pristinely wild regions left in the United States and is home to a number of Arctic species. It also offers some beautiful scenery. Opponents also point to the fact that the expected yield of the oil fields there is marginal -- a mere 7.7 billion barrels against a daily US consumption of 20.5 million, meaning the oil reserves in the refuge could cover US consumption for a mere 374 days. Proponents of the drilling argue that damage to the habitat provided by the refuge would be minimal.

A mere 374 days? The oil reserves could merely cover all oil consumption for the world's largest economy for more than an entire year?

I'm hoping that this Christmas I receive marginal gifts that merely cover all of my expenses for the next year.

Thanks in advance!

For a great summary of the ANWR drilling issue, check out "Our Fake Drilling Debate" by George Will. We also note that a few Congressmen again lacked the guts to develop known energy resources.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lacking the Death Penalty, Germany Frees Terrorist

The AP reports:

BERLIN -- A Lebanese man serving a life sentence for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner and killing of a U.S. Navy diver has been paroled after 19 years, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.


TWA flight 847 from Athens, Greece, to Rome was hijacked to Beirut, Lebanon, where the hijackers shot U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, 23, of Waldorf, Md., and dumped his body on the tarmac.


Stethem, 23, was beaten and shot on June 15, 1985, while the plane was in Beirut. He was the only casualty during the hijacking ordeal, in which 39 Americans were held hostage for 17 days. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart decorations, and a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer is named in his honor.

Hamadi was arrested at the Frankfurt airport on Jan. 13, 1987, when customs officials discovered liquid explosives in his luggage.

U.S. authorities had requested his extradition so he could stand trial in the United States, but the Germans, who have no death penalty, insisted on prosecuting Hamadi.

So Germany misses another opportunity to rid the world of a terrorist. This time it virtually coincides with the release of a movie recalling one of Germany's biggest failures in fighting terrorism - the Munich Massacre.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Limited Recount in Virginia AG Race

From The Washington Times:

A three-judge panel overseeing the recount in the closely contested attorney general's race yesterday ordered a manual recount in nine precincts -- far fewer than the 156 precincts targeted by Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

Optical-scan ballots -- paper ballots read by machine -- will be individually examined in eight precincts in Gloucester County and one precinct in Lynchburg because of apparent problems with the equipment, the Circuit Court panel ruled.

The State Board of Elections has certified Republican Bob McDonnell the winner by just 323 votes out of more than 1.9 million cast statewide in the Nov. 8 election -- a margin of 0.0166 of a percentage point -- making it the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history. Mr. Deeds demanded a recount as allowed by Virginia law when results fall within 1 percentage point.

The recount begins today at local elections offices throughout the state and is expected to be completed tomorrow.

It looks like Washington State could learn from Virginia.

Detailed recount updates can be found here.

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Vote on Overpriced Stadium Delayed

The Washington Post reports:

Mayor Anthony A. Williams requested yesterday that the D.C. Council delay today's scheduled vote on a stadium lease agreement between the District and Major League Baseball as council support for the ballpark project appeared to be waning.

The last-minute move angered Major League Baseball officials, who threatened to take the lease deal to binding arbitration if it is not finalized by Dec. 31. But council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who complied with the mayor's request, said she does not expect to schedule a vote until after Jan. 3, when the council reconvenes from its winter break. Cropp held a rare closed-door meeting with some of her colleagues late yesterday to explain the delay.

If the lease is not approved by the end of the month, "the City will be in default on its contractual commitments and we will then have no choice but to prepare for arbitration," Major League Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said in a letter to Cropp. "In arbitration, all prior concessions by MLB would be revisited."


Council members, who approved a stadium budget of $589 million in public funds, have become increasingly worried about the rising price of the project, whose costs were estimated by city financial officials at $667 million last week.

The legal arrangements between the city, MLB, developers, and whoever else is involved remain somewhat unclear, but the increase in the stadium's cost from $244 million to $337 million is disturbing.

Click here for our previous review of rising costs and plans to spend infrastructure funds on making the stadium "classy".

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Monday, December 19, 2005

An Ambassador's Roadtrip

The Washington Post has an article about how the German ambassador and his wife took "RV tour of the US and Canada." I'm glad to hear that they bothered to leave DC, but I was very disappointed to learn that they only visited the Northeast. To put it another way, the ambassador didn't visit a single state that supported President Bush in 2004.

I've traveled all the way across America - twice. I don't expect the same from a foreign ambassador - but hopefully they will find time to at least drop by a "red state", not just a couple of "red counties".

Click here for photos and travelogs from the 2004 and 2005 Roadtrips Across America.

Click here for someone else's roadtrip, with a pinch of federalism thrown in.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Anti-Christmas Hate Crime reports:

The baby Jesus taken from a Nativity scene outside a Fredericksburg dental office is back in the manger.

The hard plastic Jesus was returned yesterday by three young men who said they had found it tied to a post on a median on the U.S. 1 Bypass, said Dr. Wayne Whitley, who has his dental practice on Bridgewater Street.


The baby Jesus disappeared between Dec. 3 and 5. Last week, the Whitleys put up a banner behind the Nativity scene that read, "Christ has been Stolen from Christmas."

Stolen and tied to a post. If it wasn't Jesus, the media would call it a hate crime. Instead, it's just an interesting story.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Tree Review

Well, we finished venturing inside the Beltway to check out the major Christmas trees. Having already seen the Capitol Christmas Tree, today's objective was the White House Christmas Tree and the tiny Christmas trees representing the 50 states and some territories.

The Capitol Christmas Tree is the clear winner for best tree. The White House Christmas Tree was relatively dull, but vastly improved by having the White House behind it. The state trees were short, with various ornaments encased in clear plastic balls. Washington State took this in one of the laziest directions - putting balls in the balls.

The Capitol Christmas Tree, however, was more effectively lit and decorated. Its greatest problem was a lack of non-muddy paths to approach the tree itself. With the view of the Capitol dome behind it, the Capitol Christmas Tree definitely wins this year.

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Yet Another DC Christmas Tree

From The Washington Times:

The National Cathedral will celebrate the holidays this year with an unusual Christmas tree: a pine seedling whose parent is said to be the oldest known tree on earth.

The seedling is a gift from the Champion Tree Project International. It breeds and clones the world's oldest and largest trees in hopes of compiling a living archive of the genes that give them their longevity.

"It's older than the great pyramids, older than Stonehenge," project President David Milarch said of the 4,770-year-old "Methuselah" bristlecone pine whose cone bore the seedling the cathedral will receive. "When Christ walked the earth, it was already 2,700 years old."

The Methuselah pine grows at an altitude of 10,000 feet in the White Mountains near the California-Nevada border.

It gets its name from a Hebrew patriarch mentioned in Genesis who was supposed to have lived for 969 years, making him the embodiment of longevity.

Just to be clear though, this tree isn't a clone, that's just one of the things CTPI does.

Mr. Milarch said project participants got special permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to collect cones from Methuselah, one of which yielded the National Cathedral's seedling.

"That's pretty good for a 5,000-year-old tree to be able to reproduce itself," Mr. Milarch said.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

The Headline Says It All

Millions of Iraqis Vote in Relative Peace

Inside Your Smart Card

DC Metro riders should be familiar with the SmarTrip Card - a "permanent, rechargeable farecard... embedded with a special computer chip that keeps track of the value of the card" used for Metro fares and parking. They're pretty convenient, but their greatest drawback is that they cannot be used for any of the day or weekly passes.

That complaint aside, I stumbled across this site yesterday where someone managed to take apart a card. They're trying to redesign it into a smaller form and haven't been entirely successful, but it was rather interesting to look at.

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Technorati Tags

You may have noticed a recent addition to Just Barely Inside the Beltway posts: Technorati Tags.
Think of a tag as a simple category name. People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense.
We're trying them out to make the site more accessible to people that aren't regular readers. From the Technorati Tag Search site or by clicking on the tags themselves, you can search for posts on a particular topic.
Technorati is a real-time search engine that keeps track of what is going on in the blogosphere — the world of weblogs.
Are they useful? Annoying? Confusing? Too slow to load? Poor choice of categories? As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shoddy Reporting on Fallen Soldiers

There's been gnashing of teeth around the internet over this story, of which I was skeptical from the moment I read it:
John Holley and his wife, Stacey, were stunned when they found out the body of their only child, Matthew John Holley, who died in Iraq last month, would be arriving at Lindbergh Field as freight.
I took a moment to look into the issue and came up with this post from The Mudville Gazette. It is too long to quote effectively here, but I recommend reading it with two considerations:
  • The first quoted article is a detailed description of how a fallen soldier is returned home.
  • The second provides little more content than editorial outrage over the designation of coffins as "freight" (as contrasted with seated passengers?).
In the end, this non-story gave Senator Barbara Boxer a chance to pander and reminded us that if it seems like reporters has left out 99% of the context, they probably have.

Update, Dec. 16th: A veteran escort officer weighs in:
To the 10News team I would repeat the cave mans response as his companion orders his duck lunch in a TV commercial – “Next time do a little research.”
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Is America Ready for Governor Eyebrow?

The Washington Times reports:
Virginia is abuzz over rumors that Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine could be asked to deliver the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address.
I doubt he can do worse than Washington Governor Gary Locke's pathetic response in 2003 or 2004's chimera response. (The 2005 response was so forgettable that I had to look up who did it.)
A Democratic aide involved in the selection process said yesterday the party has not yet asked anyone to deliver the rebuttal. The aide said Democrats are considering a host of options, including someone from the Gulf Coast who was affected by Hurricane Katrina and "people who made a difference in 2005."
In case Kaine gets the gig, this warning should suffice: America, don't worry, the eyebrow is only on television. It is not going to eat you, but since you turned off the TV when the President finished you probably won't notice.

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2005's First Year in Review

James Lileks at The American Enterprise reviews key events from 2005. I still think it's a bit early to publish such things, but for all I know it's the January edition.
Most of what occurs in any given year will be forgotten. 2006 will be the same, unless aliens land, or someone perfects cold fusion, or North America is depopulated by bird flu and tumbleweeds bounce down the streets of Fargo (more than the usual number, that is). But toting up tomorrow’s details will have to wait. For now, let us review what was memorable and forgettable in the year just now ending.
Here are some highlights, some of which may eventually be stolen for a post on top beltway stories from 2005:
  • Iraqis voted in record numbers in January. Actually, any number would’ve been a record.
  • Pope John Paul II dies. To the horror of many, his successor turns out to be Catholic.
  • An oppressive colonizer is forced to withdraw from occupied Arab land. This is initially met with dancing in the streets of Cairo, Paris, and Turtle Bay. Then everyone realizes it is Syria pulling out of Lebanon...
  • The 1,587th death in Iraq provokes no major display of eye-catching graphics in the Western media, as it is not a round number.
  • Saddam’s trial begins. His lawyer first asks for a California jury...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

VA Gov-Elect to Oppose Jobs, Affordable Housing

The Washington Post reports on Tim Kaine's plans to keep housing prices high and discourage job creation while ignoring transportation improvements. This isn't really news since it really just reflects his anti-progress campaign plank, but it's a good follow-up to April's earlier post on the housing bubble debate.

RICHMOND, Dec. 13 -- Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Tuesday that he would seek legislation that would give local governments more power to control growth despite the likely opposition of the powerful development and
home-building industry.

In a speech to reporters, Kaine said he would make good on his campaign promise that local governments be granted the power to stop development if nearby roads are not adequate. He called that a "common sense" idea.

The common sense idea would be to improve the roads, not make it more difficult for people to find jobs and homes.

Michael L. Toalson, the executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, said his organization is gearing up to defeat any bill proposed by Kaine or his allies in the legislature.

"What Tim is doing is just looking for quick fixes to a transportation promise he made rather than offer up a credible, long-term solution," Toalson said.

Of course it's easier to prohibit progress than to come up with a long-term plan to work with it.

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Perception vs. Reality on the U.S. Economy

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) gives us some rarely heard news on the U.S. economy:

Even after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the resulting spike in the cost of energy, the U.S. economy is doing remarkably well by virtually every statistical measure. So why, one might wonder, do we so often see negative headlines in the news?

Consider some data released last week:

· More than 215,000 jobs were created in November, and 4.5 million since May of 2003. “To put the November increase in perspective,” noted Kathleen Utgoff, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “from January through August of this year, payroll employment growth averaged 196,000 per month”;

· The nation’s unemployment rate, at 5 percent, is stable and lower than the average of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s;

Senator Kyl goes on to provide additional statistics and policy proposals, but the quoted section seems to be the most important.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kyoto Lives?

The Australian reports on the global warming debate, addressing the major problems with the Kyoto Protocol, but then noting the irony of demonizing Kyoto opponents:

The protocol requires 35 industrialised countries to lower their greenhouse emissions by 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, and apart from the low-growth economies of "Old Europe" – who happen to be the chief barrackers for binding limits – many of them are nowhere near on track. Canada and New Zealand, for example, face heavy penalties for missing their Kyoto targets, illustrating the particular threat the treaty poses to industrialised nations with small populations. Countries with high per capita emissions suffer under Kyoto, even if their actual contribution to the problem is piffling. Meanwhile, huge polluters such as China and India, where peasants burn cow dung for fuel in villages and millions of city-dwellers putter around on two-stroke engines, remain exempt, because they didn't participate in an industrial revolution 200 years ago.

...adding to the irony is that Australia and the US, the two highest-profile Kyoto naysayers, are doing much better on emission reduction than many signatories, because of their commitment to new technologies and alternative fuels rather than inflexible targets. Indeed, it should be remembered that the US, which is the perennial whipping-boy of the hardcore Kyoto advocates, continues to underwrite the bulk of the world's global warming research.

The National Center for Public Policy Research reported from the recent UN global warming conference/convention/party:

One camp includes the United States, China, India, Japan, Australia and much of the developing world. This camp opposes strict greenhouse gas emissions caps on economic grounds.

The other camp includes the hypocrites.

Those paying the most lip service to the Kyoto Protocol have been amongst its most flagrant violators.

For example, Canada, whose Prime Minister, Paul Martin, lashed out against the United States for failing to support the Kyoto Protocol, has increased its greenhouse gas emissions from the treaty's 1990 baseline by between 22 and 24 percent. By contrast, U.S. emissions increased by between 14 and 18 percent from the 1990 baseline and actually dropped somewhat between 2000 and 2003.

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We're Watching... Your Phone

Over at Observant Observations, I've commented on this story from The New York Times:

Most Americans carry cellphones, but many may not know that government agencies can track their movements through the signals emanating from the handset.

In recent years, law enforcement officials have turned to cellular technology as a tool for easily and secretly monitoring the movements of suspects as they occur. But this kind of surveillance - which investigators have been able to conduct with easily obtained court orders - has now come under tougher legal scrutiny.

In the last four months, three federal judges have denied prosecutors the right to get cellphone tracking information from wireless companies without first showing "probable cause" to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. That is the same standard applied to requests for search warrants.

Click here to find out why cell phone tracking isn't as big of a problem as some seem to think, and why the probable cause standard is too high.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

The White House Christmas Card

I received the official White House Christmas Card today, my first one ever. It's a beautiful card, but apparently there's been some controversy because it doesn't specifically mention Christmas. Here's what The Washington Post had to say:

What's missing from the White House Christmas card? Christmas.

This month, as in every December since he took office, President Bush sent out cards with a generic end-of-the-year message, wishing 1.4 million of his close friends and supporters a happy "holiday season."

Many people are thrilled to get a White House Christmas card, no matter what the greeting inside. But some conservative Christians are reacting as if Bush stuck coal in their stockings...

The wording... has often flip-flopped. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter put "Merry Christmas" in their 1977 card and then switched to "Holiday Season" for the next three years. Ronald and Nancy Reagan, similarly, began with a "Joyous Christmas" in 1981 and 1982 but doled out generic holiday wishes from 1983 to 1988. The elder President Bush stayed in the "Merry Christmas" spirit all four years, and the Clintons opted for inclusive greetings for all of their eight years.

The current Bush has straddled the divide, offering generic greetings along with an Old Testament verse.

To some religious conservatives, that makes all the difference.

With 96 percent of Americans celebrating Christmas (and probably a higher rate on the President's mailing list), I would like the card to mention Christmas - but I don't object to this one. Also, there are minor but noteworthy differences from the Christmas Tree controversies:
  • There is one White House Christmas Tree in one location, but 1.4 million cards sent throughout the country.
  • Trees are unique to Christmas, cards aren't. As one Orthodox rabbi responded to the Christmas tree controversy, "Using an ambiguous term that implies it has significance to Judaism is, in my opinion, extremely offensive to Jews (and presumably members of other religions) and is simply inaccurate."
Thank you for the card, and I wish a Very Merry Christmas to the President & Mrs. Bush.

I especially like the playful pets.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On the Solomon Amendment

In The New York Times, Yale law professor Peter Schuck sums up what's wrong with universities banning military recruiters and then demanding federal funding:

The Supreme Court is now considering whether to uphold the Solomon Amendment, a federal law barring federal funds to universities that deny the military the same access that civilian employers enjoy to recruit students.

In the affirmative action cases involving university admissions that the Supreme Court decided in 2003, the universities invoked their educational expertise to defend a definition of applicant merit that disadvantaged whites and Asians; now they argue that the military may not invoke its warfighting expertise to define merit in a way that disadvantages gays.

The universities' position on government threats to cut off financing to enforce public policies is also inconsistent. A quarter century ago, many universities argued that Bob Jones University's tax exempt status and access to federal loans should be revoked because its racial policies violated civil rights law. Now the universities argue that their own funding should not be revoked for violating another federal policy...

A university's moral and pedagogical duty to its students is to cultivate their capacity for independent thinking, explain its own view (if it has one) and then get out of the way. The students' duty is to listen carefully - and then make their own decisions.

The full article is worth reading, but those paragraphs sum up the issue very effectively.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

AAA Says "Stay Home" Friday

AAA Mid-Atlantic:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, December 8, 2005) – For the second time this week, the Washington region is bracing for another winter storm. But this time around, conditions could well be more hazardous, if the winter storm warning holds true. AAA Mid-Atlantic is advising motorists to stay home, telecommute, or delay their commutes, or consider mass transit, since forecasters are predicting significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice continuing through early morning hours.
I've seen that DC-area drivers have difficulty with the snow, so I might put off my trip to Wal-Mart for a few days.

The press release contains other information and winter driving tips.

The Washington Post reports as well.

I love snow.


Update, Dec. 9th: Washington Post, Storm Shuts Down Schools, Then Quits

A slippery mix of snow, sleet and freezing, spitting rain moved swiftly in and out of the Washington area today, producing hazardous early-morning driving conditions everywhere, closing down all major school systems and causing the federal government to implement a delayed arrival policy.

The storm began in earnest about 1 a.m. with the National Weather Service saying it could last until 11 a.m. Four hours later, meteorologists were rethinking. "It's moving rapidly," Steven Zubrick, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said about then. "I think we'll see a rapid cessation to the precipitation."

By 7:30, the sun was shining and the storm was gone, leaving many areas awash in slush puddles and road spray.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Virginia Recount Update

From The Washington Post:

RICHMOND, Dec. 6 -- A statewide recount of almost 2 million ballots cast for attorney general last month will take place over two days starting Dec. 21, a judge decided Tuesday.

With only 323 votes dividing the two major-party candidates, the recount to determine the winner will occur barely three weeks before the scheduled inauguration.

While the Washington State is better at discovering ballots than counting them, at least they can get a recount going in less than a month and a half. In 2004, Washington was on to it's third count by then. Part of the delay may be because the recount laws were revised after the 2000 recount debacle in Florida.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Representation Without Citizenship

Over at Observant Observations, I've posted a commentary on this issue which may be of interest inside and outside the Beltway:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican lawmaker on Tuesday proposed changing the U.S. Constitution to exclude non-citizens from the Census for the purpose of drawing congressional districts, a move that effectively would deny them a voice in U.S. politics.

Under the present system, as determined by the 14th amendment to the Constitution, the Census Bureau counts all individuals living in the country once every 10 years. This data is used when drawing up the 435 congressional districts and when determining each state's vote in the Electoral College that decides presidential elections.

Michigan Rep. Candice Miller wants to change that so that both legal and illegal aliens would be excluded.

Click here to find out why it's a good idea.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The much anticipated "region's first winter storm" has begun, as snow is falling here, just barely inside the Beltway.

I'll go wander about in the snow in a moment, but first, a few fun headlines:

DC's Overpriced Stadium Moves Ahead (no word yet on how much infrastructure funding will end up being diverted to make the stadium "look pretty")

Caffeine May Help Un-Pickle Your Liver:
Coffee and tea may reduce the risk of serious liver damage in people who drink too much alcohol, are overweight or have too much iron in the blood, researchers reported yesterday.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Death Penalty Diversion

The Washington Post reports: "Execution Still On Despite Racial Analysis"

What "racial analysis" could stop an execution? Did jurors deliberate, saying "we should execute this one, he's black"? Did the judge say that? The prosecutor? The janitor? No, the Post wonders how an execution could be scheduled when an academic study showed Maryland might not be executing enough white people.
Absent intervention by the courts or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), [Wesley E.] Baker will be executed for the murder of Jane Tyson, who in 1991 was robbed in the parking lot of a Catonsville mall and then shot to death in front of her two grandchildren...

Baker would also be the first black man to be executed in Maryland since researchers documented sharp disparities -- racially and by jurisdiction -- in how the state's capital punishment statute is used. Death penalty opponents and the study's author say neither the legislature nor the courts have responded adequately to the findings, announced nearly three years ago.

The study, commissioned by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in 2000, found that prosecutors were far more likely to seek the death penalty for black suspects charged with killing white victims, as Baker was. It also found that slayings in Baltimore County were far more likely to result in death sentences than were slayings in other jurisdictions.
Note that the study did not address the issue of Baker's guilt. In fact, the Post admits that his guilt is the one thing that isn't disputed:
It is undisputed that Baker and the other man, Gregory Lawrence, committed the robbery that led to Tyson's death. And Baker's attorneys do not claim that he is innocent of murder.
The study didn't even find evidence of discrimination, whether it would be relevant or not:
In announcing his findings, Paternoster said the explanation for the disparities rested with state's attorneys, not juries, but he was careful not to impugn the prosecutors' motives. He said that his analysis didn't mean "there is racial animus" by prosecutors, but rather that "the product of their action does result in racial disparity."
So, what have we learned here? Baker's guilt is undisputed and there isn't even an allegation of wrongdoing by any party in his case (or any other case), but he shouldn't be executed because there aren't racial quotas on death row.

For more on abusing statistics to find race, gender, and crime discrimination in death sentences, check out "End Discrimination: Execute White Female Shoplifters."

Update, Dec. 6th: Baker Executed

Who Should Run the Justice Department?

I used to think that the Attorney General was in charge of the Justice Department. In the spirit of Senator Leahy declaring himself Solicitor General, the Washington Post prefers to cede responsibility to bureaucrats. A recent story ("Justice Staff Saw Texas Districting As Illegal") makes news out of non-news: Justice Department bureaucrats reached one conclusion on the question before them, and their superiors (and later, a federal court) disagreed.

There won't be any significant quoting in this post because the "story" doesn't deserve it. Next time the Supreme Court rules a way that the Post doesn't like, I wouldn't be surprised to see a story about how someone somewhere with no authority disagreed on paper. Thank you, Washington Post, for bringing us more "nonsensical political babble."

Oddly enough, while the dispute is about the effects of redistricting in Texas on federally-required racial gerrymandering, election results were positive: "Texas now has three African Americans serving in Congress, up from two before the redistricting."

For more on the policy debate over mandatory racial gerrymandering, check out "A 65-Year Emergency?"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dining in Style

This weekend's Just Barely Inside the Beltway Italian-style dining experience contrasted significantly with last week's visit to Georgetown's Papa Razzi (deep inside the Beltway).

We got a supreme take-and-bake pizza from Costco, brought it home, and put it in the oven -- and discovered that the "Super Capacity" oven is not big enough to cook a Costco pizza. So I ask you, what kind of people have an oven big enough to cook such a thing? We had to cut it in half for it to fit.

It was a good pizza, and was followed with Jello's Pumpkin-style Pie.

Metro Changes Afoot

The Washington Post reports on coming changes to the DC Metro system:
  • The "doors closing" voice will be replaced:
    Many train delays are caused by riders dashing into cars at the last second. "The message and the door chime have become a little like the yellow signal on a traffic light," [Jim Hughes, Metro's acting assistant general manager for operations] said. "The purpose of the chime is to tell people to step back, that doors are closing. But our customers hear that, and they run to get on a train... It's got to be a different voice, something that sounds different, because right now it's background noise."
    Changing the voice isn't going to help. Even the voice of James Earl Jones would only confuse people for a few days before becoming the new trigger for launching themselves onto already crowded trains. I would prefer encouraging passengers to push those people back off the train. There will be another train in 2 minutes, relax.

  • Floor markers will show people where to crowd the platform:

    To help smooth the emptying and loading of trains, Metro will test platform markers at Union Station, Gallery Place-Chinatown and Metro Center. The markers will indicate where to line up with rail-car doors once a train pulls into a station. The idea is to get people ready to board before the train arrives and out of the way of exiting passengers. Although most riders wait at the sides of the doors to give passengers room to exit, plenty of people plant themselves directly in front of the doors. A brazen few try to muscle their way on while people are getting off...

    Platform markers assume a train is going to stop at the same spot every time, something Metro has had trouble delivering [because] Metro trains routinely overrun platforms.

    I've had to shove people out of my way several times in order to get off a train, but I doubt these will help either. Currently, people line up all along the platform, spreading out fairly evenly. When a train arrives they head for the doors and most do a good job of keeping the doors clear. I can just imagine the people that will be bunched up at the markers if they think they know where the doors are going to be. They'll be impossible to get by.

  • There appear to be two good changes coming. Escalator patterns may be changed to better accommodate passenger flow and riders will be educated about how to use escalators:
    On its 588 escalators, Metro intends to paste large stickers that say "Stand to the Right," a cue to out-of-towners that Washingtonians are not content to just stand and ride but often walk -- or run -- on the left side. Metro has more escalators than any transit system in North America, and the conflict between those trying to walk on the left and those standing in their way has become a daily aggravation.
    Apparently similar signs were taken down because of fears that they might actually work:
    Until about seven years ago, Metro escalators had metal plaques that read "Stand to Right." But an internal task force decided that those signs implicitly encouraged people to stand on the right and walk on the left, which Metro managers said was unsafe. So they ripped the signs off -- which cost time and labor but did not stop anyone from walking on the left.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

An Eisenhower Memorial?

Washington D.C. (AP) - A memorial plaza to honor former President Dwight Eisenhower is being planned for a spot near the National Mall.

The plan has won approval from the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission but must still gain the approval of two other bodies, Congress and the White House - a process that could take years...

The Washington Post reports the memorial site is slated for a lot at Independence and Maryland avenues, Southwest, near the National Air and Space Museum.

Eisenhower created the related National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well as the nearby Federal Aviation Administration during his time in office.

It sounds like a good idea, although I would like to see a design.

For more information, check out the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

Competitive Christmas Trees

Following up on the restoration of the Capitol Christmas Tree, The Washington Post reports on competition among trees:

According to the calendar of official Washington, the holiday season kicks off tonight, when the president and first lady flip the switch to light thousands of bulbs on the Colorado blue spruce on the Ellipse, the one the White House declares the nation's official Christmas tree.

Except New York flipped the switch last night for the tree at Rockefeller Plaza. It was, said some steeped in the tree wars, a careful, calculated decision to preempt the president...

The Washington-New York rivalry is legendary. But inside the Beltway, there is another tree duel: the White House vs. the Congress.

The National Christmas Tree is elaborately decorated and lighted by General Electric Co. There are snowflakes, a giant model train and singers, dancers, movie stars and TV personalities.

The event has evolved since the first tree was decorated in 1913. The lighting became a presidential ceremony in 1923, when White House aides told a somewhat reclusive Calvin Coolidge they couldn't afford an extension cord that would reach from the tree to his office...

In the 1960s, Congress decided it was time for a Capitol tree. After several failed attempts to cultivate live trees, the U.S. Forest Service delivered a 40-foot Norway spruce from West Virginia in 1970, giving birth to an annual tradition.

The Capitol tree comes from a different national forest every year, and states jockey to donate. They form fundraising committees and throw fundraising galas, in the manner of political campaigns.

Once chosen and cut down, after an appraisal from the Capitol landscaper, the tree is taken on a tour of small-town hot chocolate and caroling festivals before arriving at Capitol Hill.

Recently, the rivaly has calmed down:
This year, with a White House and congressional majority that generally agree, the discussions are civil. "It is an unspoken rule that the National Tree is lit first these days," [David] Curfman said. The Capitol tree ceremony will be next Thursday.
For more on the White House - Capitol rivalry, the rest of the article is here. I look forward to visiting both trees, probably long before the baby panda.

Maryland Community Seeks Taxation Without Representation

An odd story from The Washington Post:

Germantown Weighs a Tax That Binds
Special Levy Seen as Way To Foster Community

If Germantown were a city, it would be Maryland's second largest, after Baltimore. It is home to 85,000 people, 30,000 more than nearby Rockville. Its footprint covers 16 square miles, six more than neighboring Gaithersburg.

The difference is that Rockville and Gaithersburg are both incorporated, with mayors, councils and city managers. Germantown, an unincorporated part of Montgomery County, doesn't even have an official Web site. Until this year, there were no signs on state roads letting drivers know when they enter the community.


Lately, however, citizen groups and officials at two county agencies are pushing a proposal they say will give this fragmented place something it has been struggling to develop for decades: a sense of community and a spirit of unity.

Become a real city? No, just have the taxes of one:

The idea is to levy a tax on residents and businesses to generate money to enhance services and amenities... The improvement district, as it would be known in Germantown, would be the first of its kind in the county's northern tier.

...if the County Council approves the plan, residential and commercial property in the Germantown master plan area will be taxed a maximum of 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation annually. The revenue, an estimated $1.7 million, would go toward some services the county is now responsible for but performs infrequently -- including maintaining medians, trimming trees, removing weeds and picking up trash in public areas...

Other, more obvious community-building activities and amenities -- such as street banners, signs and flags -- would be included in the budget. So would money for Germantown's main community event, its Oktoberfest celebration, and new events such as Fourth of July fireworks. A citizens advisory group would oversee the budget, and an on-site supervisor would monitor the work.

The money could be used only in Germantown.

"It's a step forward," said Christina Hackett, president of the Chadswood Homeowners Association. "It's the next best thing to being a city."

Others see it as a waste of money at a time when there are more pressing needs, such as preventing gang violence. "I don't think that we should have to pay more taxes to get someone to mow our grass," said Germantown resident Alice Gordon, who produces a weekly cable show about issues in northern Montgomery.

So why not incorporate and create an accountable local government? Apparently that would be too much work compared to just raising taxes:
Talk of incorporation, which would give Germantown a central government, road crews and more tax revenue, pops up every once in a while. But the process would be long and costly and would require a referendum.
A local government probably wouldn't be so hard to structure - it looks like little more than a federation of home owners associations would be needed:

Germantown has long been derided as an example of community planning gone wrong, its residents identifying more with the six villages the community was designed around than Germantown as a whole. Its governance comes in the form of more than 100 homeowners associations that interact little with each other...

[Bob Fischer, a business development specialist for the county's Department of Housing and Community,] said the shortage of money for maintenance is not a snub of Germantown. Rather, he said, with the population increasing all over Montgomery, the county has struggled to meet of all of its communities' needs.

In Germantown, that's where the homeowners associations come in. They charge residents monthly fees and use part of the money to take care of roads and outdoor areas.

Pam Czarick, manager of Waters Landing, a village of more than 3,000 single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums and apartments, compares Germantown to a quilt. The villages are like the patches, she said, and the county roads are the areas that connect them.

"I really believe Germantown deserves better in its care and maintenance of common roads," said Czarick, who moved to Germantown from Gaithersburg in 1982.

DC residents like to complain about taxation without representation (even to the extent of trying to impose it on their neighbors), but at least their local government is accountable to the voters (not to mention Congress).