Friday, March 31, 2006

Maryland Drivers: Worst in Region?

The Washington Times reports:

Maryland drivers receive the bulk of the citations every month from the District's automated traffic-enforcement system, which has generated more than $135 million in fines since 1999.

More than 64 percent of drivers cited last month were from Maryland, as the District's automated speed-enforcement program collected $2.8 million in fines, statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department show.

About 20 percent of violators were from the District, while drivers from Virginia made up 9 percent of the total, statistics show. Drivers from other states made up about 7 percent of the violators.


Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said commuters and out-of-towners are not disproportionately cited.

"Maryland drivers are not targeted -- it is what it is," Chief Ramsey said. "All people have to obey our laws. Automated systems don't discriminate."

I would like to see some statistics on where drivers in DC come from, but the worst driving I've seen so far has been in Maryland.

The AAA representative makes a questionable claim:

John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA's Mid-Atlantic region, disagreed, saying the program "smacks of deliberately targeting Maryland commuters."

"It does indeed discriminate, because most of the major commuter routes are targeted," Mr. Townsend said. "While we agree that automated enforcement is a viable approach to curbing speeding, more equity is needed."

Most traffic in DC probably is on "commuter routes" - what would the alternative be, speeding cameras in parking lots and culs de sac? However, non-automated tickets appear to have a similar distribution:
Motorists who don't live in the District routinely receive most of the speeding tickets -- particularly Maryland drivers, who account for about 55 percent to 65 percent of violations every month.
While I tend to question automated penalties, they do seem to be helping:

The percent of speeding motorists has steadily declined since the speed-camera program began in July 2001, when about 30 percent of monitored vehicles were traveling above the speed limit.

And there has been a 73.2 percent reduction in red-light runners since those cameras were implemented in 1999, according to police statistics.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Region Remains Unprepared for Attacks?

The Washington Post reports:

Nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Washington region still lacks a strategic plan to guide preparations for any future attacks or to effectively spend hundreds of millions of homeland security dollars, federal and local officials told a U.S. Senate panel yesterday.


An oversight panel for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs took emergency response officials from the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government to task for bureaucratic
foot-dragging and a lack of agreement on a long-term plan for protecting
millions of residents in the region.


Senators questioned why the Capital Region Homeland Security Strategic Plan has not been completed. The plan was promised last September but will not be available until August at the earliest, officials said. The plan would establish goals and priorities for enhancing disaster response and for efficiently spending federal preparedness dollars.

I'm not sure why it should take 5 years to come up with "goals and priorities" - they should be well past making plans and working on implementing them.

Local jurisdictions might be somewhat prepared, but not to work together in a major incident:

Edward D. Reiskin, the District's deputy mayor for public safety and justice, assured the panel that local jurisdictions are prepared to respond to individual emergencies.

"If a big, bad thing happens, we have a response plan,'' he said after the hearing. "That's not at all what is the issue here. It's about strategic planning and about what is the vision.''

Thomas Lockwood, the DHS director for the capital region, said leaders are working hard to come up with a consensus plan. But he said the effort is hampered by fragmented authority among the region's 12 jurisdictions, two states and the District of Columbia, all three branches of the federal government, more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations and numerous regional business and civic groups. Nearly three dozen police departments operate in the District alone.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Roberts Dissents

Chief Justice Roberts has written his first dissent:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police cannot search a home when one resident invites them in but another tells them to go away, provoking a strong objection from the new chief justice about the possible impact on battered women.

The 5-3 decision put new limits on officers who want to search for evidence of a crime without obtaining a warrant first.

If one occupant tells them no, the search is unconstitutional, justices said.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote his first dissent, predicting severe consequences for women who want police to come in but are overruled by abusive husbands.


Janet Randolph called police to the home in Americus, Ga., and - over her husband's objections - led the officer to evidence used to charge Scott Randolph with cocaine possession. That charge has been on hold while courts considered whether the search was constitutional.

The state of Georgia had the backing of the Bush administration and 21 other states that argued cooperation with law officers should be encouraged.


"The law acknowledges that although we might not expect our friends and family to admit the government into common areas, sharing space entails risk," Roberts wrote in a dissent that was almost as long as the main opinion.


In all, the eight members who participated in the case wrote six different opinions, swapping barbs. Conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas wrote separate dissents.

It's a slightly complicated case, but the law as previously understood makes more sense as a practical matter since the police were welcomed by a person with legitimate control of the premises. Hopefully the result will be that in similar cases in the future, warrants can be obtained quickly and searches still conducted.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

George Mason Goes to the Final Four

Congratulations to Virginia's George Mason University, headed for the Final Four:

George Mason is no longer the cute little underdog. The Patriots, by golly, are going to the Final Four.

The suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., beat top-seeded Connecticut 86-84 in overtime Sunday in the Washington Regional final, ending the stranglehold that big-time programs have enjoyed for 27 years in college basketball's biggest showcase.


The Patriots became the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU's run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986. The Colonial Athletic Association team is the first true outsider to crash the Final Four since Penn and Indiana State both got there in 1979. The Patriots, whose at-large selection was roundly criticized, celebrated after the final horn by standing on the press row table and waving their shirts to their fans.


George Mason (27-7), having by far the best season in school history, had never won an NCAA tournament game until it beat half of last year's Final Four -- Michigan State and No. 3 seed North Carolina -- back-to-back in the first two rounds. Now it can say it has beaten the last two national champions -- Connecticut and North Carolina.

As you may recall, George Mason's amicus brief was the only one to get it right in the case of Greedy, Pretentious Academics vs. Rumsfeld.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

DC's Air Ranked Fourth Worst

From the Washington Times:

D.C. residents breathe some of the most dangerous air in the country, according to an updated Environmental Protection Agency study.

The agency ranked the District fourth behind New York, California and Oregon based upon tests in 1999 for 177 air toxins...

Agency officials said 7-year-old data was used because it is the most complete and up-to-date available. They also said the risk of getting cancer or another serious illness from breathing the toxins might now be less.

The air is much cleaner where there are no people:
The agency said Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana had the cleanest air, but could not readily provide information for Maryland and Virginia yesterday.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Virginia Governor Advertises Tax Increase

Despite Virginia's $1.4 billion budget surplus, Governor Tim Kaine is running ads promoting his once-foresworn plan to raise taxes:

RICHMOND March 22 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) launched a multimedia barrage Wednesday aimed at boosting support for transportation tax increases and hammering House delegates who oppose them.


The General Assembly, divided on the transportation spending issue, adjourned March 11 without passing a budget. Kaine called for a special session, which is scheduled to start Monday, but the legislators on the budget conference committee have been meeting on and off during the interim.


The radio ad, which is being paid for by Kaine's political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward, marks the beginning of an election-style campaign aimed at putting pressure primarily on Republican delegates. Sources have said the campaign is aimed particularly at 26 Republicans who are considered persuadable.


House Republicans said the governor's telephone calls and radio ads stress transportation investments but not the tax increases Kaine has proposed to finance them.

That shouldn't be a surprise.

Now for a quick campaign flashback, from the Kaine campaign:

As he has done in his ads, Kilgore repeatedly accused Kaine of planning to raise taxes if he is elected, a charge the Democrat denied during the debate.


Kaine has been criticized by some business groups for saying he would not seek new money for transportation until the state passed a constitutional amendment that would prevent road funds from being diverted to other programs.

And from some of Kaine's most rabid supporters (quoting the Washington Examiner):
KaineƂ’s pledge not to raise any levies - including the gas tax - until a constitutional amendment that prohibits the General Assembly from making any future raids on the Transportation Trust Fund is passed should be the centerpiece of any transportation policy.


There are probably even better quotes out there, but it's really not worth the effort.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Don't Drink Under the Cherry Blossoms

The Washington Post reports on an interesting problem:

It is often the tradition in Japan to celebrate the pale-pink arrival of the cherry blossoms by sitting beneath the canopy of a blooming tree with family and friends and pouring some sake. And some beer. And then singing and dancing -- after several more rounds of sake and then more beer, late into the evening.

This is not necessarily how Washingtonians celebrate the blossoms. And in fact, the sake and beer part is very much against National Park Service regulations.

So as more and more Japanese tourists flock to the nation's capital to appreciate the fleeting splendor of cherry trees grown in U.S. soil, organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival are desperate to find ways to communicate the sometimes inelegant clash of American rules and Japanese customs.

They are trawling universities, businesses, embassies, government agencies and even Buddhist temples to find Japanese speakers who can greet the influx of tourists and offer directions and translation, particularly concerning such matters as the District's open-container law.


The National Park Service has about 20 Japanese speakers signed up to help, but it needs dozens more.

Apparently this is a very popular event for Japanese tourists:
Seeing the blossoms, American-style, during the March 25-April 9 festival is becoming a popular way for the Japanese to visit the United States. Flights from Tokyo are packed this time of year, tour groups promote U.S. blossom tours and one Japanese university near Tokyo even postponed the start of its semester this year because of the Washington festival.
The main article concludes with contact information for for English- and Japanese-language volunteers.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

I-95 Bridge Update

The Washington Times reports on the construction to replace the Eastern Seaboard's greatest bottlenecki:

The first part of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge will open to traffic in less than three months, project officials said.

Motorists on the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway will be the first to use the span in early or mid-June. Five or six weeks later, the Inner Loop will switch to the new crossing.


The overall $2.4 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is more than 50 percent complete. The second bridge is scheduled to open in summer 2008...

The entire 7.5-mile project is scheduled to be finished in 2011.

When traffic is rerouted to the new bridge on two weekends, the Beltway will be reduced to one lane in the direction of the switch and certain ramps at Route 1, I-295 and Route 210 will be closed, project officials said.

The bridge will carry both Inner and Outer Loop traffic for the next two years until the second bridge is completed.

The new bridge is well overdue:

Completed in the early 1960s, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge initially was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles a day for 20 years. Today, the bridge carries almost 200,000 vehicles a day. Improvements have been under construction since the late 1980s.

The eight-lane Beltway narrows into the six-lane bridge, creating one of the worst bottlenecks in the country.

Significant traffic improvement won't happen until the second bridge is completed:

The project ultimately will provide 12 lanes: eight for traffic, two for merging onto the interchanges and two others for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, express buses or Metro transit rails.

A study will determine the use of these final two lanes, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

A Metro line might be useful given the current spider-shape of the system that discourages use between the outer stations, but I don't know how many people would actually use it.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Darkness Looms in Belarus

Minsk, Belarus - 4,600 miles from the Center of the Free World

The former Soviet Republic of Belarus prepares to vote for President:
The results of Sunday’s election, widely denounced here and abroad as undemocratic, are a foregone conclusion. But the vote is only a prelude to the real struggle against Mr. Lukashenko’s government, one that many fear could end in violent reprisals along the monumental streets of Minsk.
Opposition candidates have already called for a mass protest in the capital, similar to those that brought down the governments of Ukraine and Georgia. This distresses Mr. Lukashenko, leading to the following interesting statement:

Mr. Lukashenko vowed to crush any protests, warning Belarussians not to participate and foreign governments not to encourage them.

“We know where they met, whom they met with and what discussions they had,” Mr. Lukashenko said during remarks made at an auto factory in Zhodino on Friday, according to the Interfax news agency. “God forbid that they should try to perpetrate something in the country. We will twist off their heads as though they are ducklings.”

What a nice guy.

The main article includes reactions and warnings from inside the Beltway.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Supreme Court Rebukes Law Schools

Observant Observations catches up with the news for a few observations about a recent Supreme Court decision:
The Supreme Court... unanimously upheld a federal law that forces colleges and universities to permit military recruiting on campus, despite the schools' objections to the Pentagon ban on openly gay people serving in the armed forces.
Click here for the details, including why Virginia's own George Mason University School of Law was the only school to get it right.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Who Prefers Aisle Seats?

As noted by Rich Galen, Northwest Airlines is considering charging for aisle seats:

Bankrupt Northwest this week unveiled a program called Coach Choice in which the carrier will save some preferred coach seating on the aisle or emergency-exit rows until check-in. Passengers can pay $15 per flight to sit in those seats, which may offer more room.


Other airlines also have creative upgrade programs, such as... United Airlines, which in 2005 started allowing passengers to pay a fee to upgrade to unsold seats in a better section of the plane at the time of check in.

I have a question for people that prefer aisle seats: what do you like better, the lack of a view, being bumped into by people walking by (and possibly the beverage cart), having other people climb over you to use the restroom, or having to get up to let me get to my seat because you rushed onto the plane before you were supposed to?

One possible cost-saving measure might make some sense:
A next step -- one that may be controversial -- could be that airlines will start charging for bag checking...
As long as they enforce carry-on size restrictions, it makes sense to charge people more for taking up more room. However, there might not be enough space for the increased use of carry-ons that would result from such a policy. Some of those bags would have to be checked for free.

The Washington Post also reports, from the AP.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

DC Wastes Thousands on Gadgets

The Washington Times reports on more questionable spending in DC. The top criticism centers around BlackBerry technology:

The D.C. Department of Mental Health in fiscal 2005 spent more than $30,000 on hand-held BlackBerry technology, prompting criticism from a D.C. Council member who says the money could have been put to better use.

"I understand everybody likes these gadgets," said D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the council's Committee on Health, which oversees the mental health department.

"I wouldn't buy myself a BlackBerry," he said of the wireless e-mail devices.


Linda Grant, a department spokeswoman, said Friday that mental health officials need the wireless technology because they are on call around-the-clock.

How did people ever handle being "on call" before the Blackberry? Providing a worker with a Blackberry for that purpose is beyond overkill.

Cell-phone use also figured prominently in the department's outsourcing for fiscal 2005, city records show.

The department paid Verizon $150,000 for cell-phone service. It also paid $36,000 for long-distance phone service, records show.

"Who are we calling?" Mr. Catania asked at the oversight hearing. "This is a waste."

He should also ask what they need cell phones for if they have Blackberries. What's next, free iPods?

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Fairfax Backs Dulles Transit Takeover

Back in December, I applauded the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's desire to "take over the state-run Dulles Toll Road and seize control of construction of a rail line to the airport" - and to do it all without federal funding.

Support seems to be growing for this effort, according to NBC-4:

Fairfax County officials are backing efforts by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to take over management of the Dulles Toll Road.

The proposal calls for the authority to assume control of the vital commuter route from the state. The authority would also plan for expansion of the Metrorail system to Tysons Corner, Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County.

Unlike some projects, this one at least relates to some notable federal interests. That makes it all the more remarkable to see someone take responsibility and decline federal funding.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spokane Valley, WA: State Money Rejected in Favor of Federal Pork

East Spokane, Washington - 2,500 miles outside the Beltway

From the Spokesman-Review:
The Spokane Regional Transportation Council will return $4.2 million the state set aside to complete the Sprague-Appleway couplet in Spokane Valley, opting instead to use federal money for the project that comes with looser deadlines.
No word yet on why federal money should be spent on city streets where even the local impact is limited.

The Sprague-Appleway couplet serves no important federal purpose, has nothing to do with federal property or activity, and runs parallel to an existing Interstate highway. It is a perfect example of a project that should be funded and controlled at the local level, not paid for through federal deficit spending.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Prince William County Will Publish Your Mail

The Washington Post runs a story that probably shouldn't have been reported:

She wanted a prince and a palace.

But a young Russian college student who sent a letter meant for Prince William -- as in Prince William, future king of England -- royally missed the Zip code. Instead of arriving at Buckingham Palace, the letter reached the Prince William County courthouse in Manassas.

The Post, of course, published the letter. The one decent thing they did was to blur the author's return address.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Politically Correct Stem Cell Research

The Washington Times reports from Annapolis, MD:

ANNAPOLIS -- Democratic lawmakers have changed the word "embryo" to "material" in a bill for embryonic stem-cell research to secure the votes of Catholic senators who did not want to be viewed as supporting abortion-related legislation.

"They didn't want to vote for a bill that had the language embryo in it," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat and the bill's sponsor.

The bill, which appears certain of passage as early as today, calls for the state to spend $10 million for research on cells extracted from human embryos...

Changing the bill's wording angered Republicans and conservative Democrats, who think that a human embryo is a human life and embryonic research is a form of abortion.

"I'm livid over that issue. Call it what it is," said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat who is supporting a Republican-led filibuster of the bill.

So they didn't actually change the content of the bill, they just played with the language enough for those senators to pretend they aren't voting for embryonic stem cell research.

Both the Times and Post report that while the amendment allows funding of adult stem cell research, it will never happen because other parts of the legislation are written to restrict funding to embryonic research.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Starbucks' Questionable Breakfast

For the people who spend more on coffee than this aspiring bureaucrat spends on dinner, some Starbucks locations are now offering breakfast sandwiches:

Now, as McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp. offer premium brew, and Dunkin' Donuts sells caramel swirl lattes, the Seattle-based coffee behemoth is more than doubling the number of stores that sell hot breakfast sandwiches this year.

Offering such trimmings as peppered bacon and Black Forest ham, Starbucks added the English muffin sandwiches to stores in Washington, D.C., last year, and in Portland, Ore., last month. That will expand to San Francisco in early April, and Chicago later this year.


The sandwiches sell for $2.95, about the price of a 12 oz. "tall" mocha, which costs $2.70-$3.40 depending on the region. The suggested retail price for a small latte at Dunkin' Donuts is $1.99; it's $2.74 for breakfast sandwiches with egg, cheese and ham, bacon or sausage. At McDonald's, the suggested retail price for a small cup of premium roast is 99 cents; for an Egg McMuffin it's $1.99.

This note was particularly interesting:
Starbucks has not disclosed exactly how its growing sandwich business is affecting its bottom line -- only that on average, it boosts same-store revenues by about $30,000 a year, or roughly 3 percent.
They are talking about a new product, but the numbers they have released sound kind of funny. Unless they're just popping them in the microwave, the wages, space, and equipment required to provide these $3 breakfast sandwiches should cut pretty far into that "boost" in revenues.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

DC Elevator Warning

The Washington Post reports:

More than half of the 10,000 elevators in the District are operating without valid licenses, including 26 at two D.C. government buildings, according to officials at the city agency that regulates them.

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs officials said they sent warning notices about license renewals last year to owners of buildings with elevators. Responses came back regarding 4,144 elevators, which have since been inspected.

But Darrell Donnelly, the agency official responsible for issuing elevator certifications, said in an interview that an estimated 5,300 are operating without valid licenses.


District law requires elevators to be inspected every six months. Building owners must request the inspections, which are frequently done by outside contractors because the city's two elevator inspectors can't handle all the work.

Graham said relying on third-party inspectors is problematic because the city is not able to monitor those inspectors closely.


In the past five years, two fatal elevator accidents have occurred in the city, both as people tried to escape elevators that had stopped between floors, said Linda Argo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. But Argo said people should not be overly alarmed about elevator safety.

"We're confident that the elevators in the District of Columbia are safe," Argo said. "People don't need to be afraid to step on an elevator. What people should focus on are the safety provisions while on an elevator."

So don't be suprised when your elevator stops working, but don't try to climb out either.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

DC Junket Update

I commented in December on the amount of money DC spends sending its employees on various junkets. Now Mayor Williams is trying to raise over $2 million for a corporate-sponsored junket to Africa:

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is asking corporate sponsors to pay as much as $40,000 apiece to underwrite his first official trip to Africa, a 19-day "trade and cultural exchange mission" with stops in South Africa, Ghana and Senegal.

In a January letter to prospective donors, the mayor said he hopes to assemble a delegation of 55 "leaders from business, industry, labor and the community" for the mission, which is scheduled for May 3 through May 21.

Highlights include accommodations at four- and five-star hotels, weekend visits to tourist attractions and a two-night side trip to a South African game park, where some in the delegation would stay in a "super luxury safari camp" with tents renting for up to $975 per person per night.

The timing trip could be an embarrasment to the District, both for practical and political reasons:

...the trip falls in the middle of Williams's final year in office, when he pledged that he would cut down on travel and devote himself to completing priority development projects at home. It also gives fresh ammunition to government watchdogs who have repeatedly criticized Williams for soliciting private donations for official travel.

"If you think the lobbying scandal on Capitol Hill stinks, you should look at the dearth of legislation or regulations we have in the District regarding the activities of lobbyists," said Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DCWatch, a nonprofit organization that monitors District government. "Especially where the mayor's trips are involved, they literally go cup in hand to lobbyists and ask for contributions. . . . It's the same situation. The office is for sale."

The trip will also require councilman Jack Evans, chairman of the council's finance and revenue committee, to miss a critical budget vote.

Mayor Williams is on weaker ground than the often-criticized traveling Congressmen. Congressmen needs to keep informed on issues of foreign affairs and international trade because of their offices. Mayors do not.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cure Insomnia - Put the Supreme Court on TV

There was an interesting development today for those who support televising Supreme Court hearings when a Justice fell asleep during:
The subject matter was extremely technical, and near the end of the argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dozed in her chair. Justices David Souter and Samuel Alito, who flank the 72-year-old, looked at her but did not give her a nudge.
Imagine the reaction if the sleeping Justice was not one of the most extreme leftists on the bench.

Among other disputes, the Court was considering the dispute over the 2003 Texas redistricting that corrected the balance of the Texas congressional delegation:

The Texas boundaries were changed in 2003 after Republicans took control of both houses of the state Legislature. DeLay had helped GOP legislative candidates in 2002, and was a key player in getting the new map that benefited him and other Republican incumbents.


Afterward, R. Ted Cruz, the Texas solicitor general, repeated his courtroom arguments that Republicans were only replacing boundaries had been drawn to benefit Democrats and that did not reflect the Republican-leaning state.

"This map on any measure of fairness accurately reflects the way Texans are voting at the polls right now," he said.

Before the 2003 redistricting, Texas, with every branch and statewide office controlled by Republicans, still sent a majority-Democrat delegation to Congress.

"The only reason it was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," the justices were told by Paul M. Smith, a Washington lawyer who represents several groups challenging the plan.

"That's a surprise," Justice Antonin Scalia joked. "Legislatures redraw the map all the time for political reasons."

The 32-member Texas delegation includes six Hispanics and three blacks - an increase of one black congressman from before the 2003 map was put in place.
Finally, it is important to note that there is no Constitutional provision addressing redistricting. There is, in fact, no provision for districts.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

No State Song for Virginia

The Washington Post reports:

A House of Delegates committee has rejected a proposal to make "Shenandoah" the interim state song.

The House Rules Committee today rejected Manassas Senator Charles Colgan's bill on a voice vote after a 13-member ensemble from Shenandoah University sang a revised version of the traditional folk song.

Committee members said they enjoyed the performance but they still didn't think the song was representative of the entire state.

Colgan had Shenandoah University Dean Charlotte Collins rewrite the lyrics because of complaints that they contained no specific mention of Virginia.

The rewritten version mentioned the state several times and did not include the original song's references to the Missouri River.

Virginia has been without an official state song since "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" was retired nearly a decade ago because of racially offensive lyrics.

It's also interesting to note that the original "racially offensive" state song "was written by an African American minstrel, James Bland." It might be harder to rewrite, but at least it mentioned Virginia.

On an almost entirely unrelated note, the current Russian national anthem is the same as the Soviet anthem, but with revised lyrics.

Update, Mar. 2nd: The Washington Times has a better article. Some highlights:

The song, most argued, is about folks leaving Virginia, crossing the "wide Missouri" to escape difficult economic times.

Sen. Charles J. Colgan Sr. brought in a choir from the Shenandoah Valley to make his case for the tune, which was changed to be more Virginia-centric. Mr. Colgan's proposal re-tooled the lyrics to "Shenandoah," deleting some of the lines about fleeing the state...

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, who applauded the Shenandoah Singers before voting against the "Shenandoah" proposal, said it is "not appropriate" to honor a song that was originally about flight out of the Old Dominion...

The refrain will continue -- most lawmakers want an official song in place by the time the state celebrates its 400th birthday with the planned Jamestown 2007 soiree.

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