Thursday, February 21, 2008

AP: Unnecessary Bridge Work Would Be Expensive

Replacing Va. Bridges Could Cost $3.5B

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The Virginia Department of Transportation could spend nearly its entire annual budget to replace every bridge in the state with structural problems.

Virginia has roughly 20,000 bridges, and 1,746 are considered structurally deficient. It would cost $3.5 billion to replace them.

VDOT's budget this fiscal year is $4 billion.

On the plus side, a bridge considered structurally deficient does not mean it is unsafe.

Kendal Walus, VDOT's top bridge engineer, says the state monitors deteriorating bridges, sometimes limiting the weight of the traffic they are allowed to carry. Ultimately, the department fixes them.

He says VDOT will spend about $150 million this year to maintain and repair bridges.

This report is about as useful as telling us what it would cost to destroy and rebuild every street that has a pothole.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Could Washington State Demand Nationwide Recounts?

Olympia, WA - 2,800 miles outside the Beltway

The Spokesman-Review reports:

Lawmakers clashed today over a plan to award all of Washington's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote.

Proponents say it's a way of doing away with the winner-take-all Electoral College system under which someone - such as Al Gore in 2000 - can win more total votes yet still lose the election.


Republicans and one conservative Democrat called it a bad idea, saying it could award Washington's electoral-college votes to a candidate most Washington voters oppose.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life," said state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Opponents also argued that the bill would reduce the likelihood of presidential candidates stopping here to campaign. Instead, they'd likely focus their efforts on a handful of large cities and states, said state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield. He calculated that a candidate could get enough votes from just the 12 most-populous states to win if the race was decided on popular vote only.

"I think if you want to disenfranchise the voter, then you vote for this bill," he said.

It is interesting that they cite 2000 as a great example of when this would work, but ignore the fact that the reported nationwide popular vote was so close enough to require a recount under many state laws - as well as nationwide lawsuits trying to change the numbers. 50 Floridas. Hundreds or thousands of lawsuits. The Electoral College keeps looking better.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The Atlantic has a mildly amusing article about unhappy perfectionist women. The best excerpt crosses generations:
Even situation comedies, starting in the 1970s with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and going all the way to Friends, feature endearing single women in the dating trenches, and there's supposed to be something romantic and even heroic about their search for true love. Of course, the crucial difference is that, whereas the earlier series begins after Mary has been jilted by her fiancé, the more modern-day Friends opens as Rachel Green leaves her nice-guy orthodontist fiancé at the altar simply because she isn't feeling it. But either way, in episode after episode, as both women continue to be unlucky in love, settling starts to look pretty darn appealing. Mary is supposed to be contentedly independent and fulfilled by her newsroom family, but in fact her life seems lonely. Are we to assume that at the end of the series, Mary, by then in her late 30s, found her soul mate after the lights in the newsroom went out and her work family was disbanded? If her experience was anything like mine or that of my single friends, it's unlikely.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

PG County Residents Apply for Darwin Awards

The Washington Times reports:

Eight persons were killed and five were injured early yesterday when a car plowed into a crowd gathered to watch an illegal street race in Accokeek.

Prince George's County police said a white Ford Crown Victoria that came down the road after the racers had started off plowed into a crowd of spectators who had been standing along Route 210 at about 3:40 a.m. to watch the contest.


Police said the race began on Route 210, also known as Indian Head Highway, near the intersection with Pine Drive. Witness accounts of the number of spectators varied from 50 to 300. The cars involved in the race spun their tires, kicking up smoke before they headed northbound on the four-lane road, which is divided by a grassy median.

Cpl. Copeland said that when the race began, many of the spectators stepped into the street to get a better view as the cars pulled away.

The Crown Victoria came up from behind, speeding northbound when it ran into the spectators, crossed over a small embankment off the right shoulder and came to rest on a road that runs parallel to the highway.

The impact left the bodies of the victims strewn over 50 feet.

One of the victims who had been standing in the crowd became lodged in the windshield of the Crown Victoria, leading police initially to say that a passenger in the car was killed. Another victim was dragged in the undercarriage of the car.

Police said one of the victims appeared to have been struck by a tractor-trailer traveling in the opposite lanes as people scattered away from the accident scene. Police could not confirm the report, and later said the tractor-trailer may have struck a body that had been thrown across the median by the impact of the accident.

Seven persons were declared dead at the scene and an eighth died at an area hospital.

The driver of the Crown Victoria suffered only minor injuries, was interviewed by police and was not charged in connection with the incident. Police were still searching for the cars that were involved in the race.

Police said the tire smoke and the darkness contributed to the accident. The area of Indian Head Highway where the accident occurred is about 20 miles south of the District, near the line with Charles County and is not illuminated by streetlights. The speed limit on the flat stretch of road is 55 miles per hour.

50-300 people wearing dark clothing standing in a highway at 3:40am. Too many survived.

Perhaps the Darwin Awards will consider a group application.

Read the full story here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Voting Ourselves into Debt

Kevin Hassett writes for Bloomberg:
...a president could always demand that spending be capped and that discretionary spending be reduced to offset unexpected increases in mandatory outlays. Social Security might be the third rail of American politics, but it might not be. It has been changed before. Why couldn't it be changed again? Families do that all the time. If Johnny needs braces, then you take fewer trips to the restaurant.
Because Johnny votes, and Johnny wants both.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Senate Democrats Continue to Impede Governance

The Macaca Post reports:

...President Bush pressed the Senate yesterday to break a political impasse and confirm more than 180 judicial and agency nominees whose appointments in many cases have been stalled for months.

Bush said the backlog strains the government's ability to respond to economic troubles, to ensure national security and to dispense justice. But Senate Democrats... are playing for time in the hope that their party captures the White House this fall...

Among those in limbo are three would-be Federal Reserve governors, four members of the Federal Election Commission, the chief of the Federal Aviation Administration, the head of the Internal Revenue Service, the deputy attorney general and 17 ambassadors. Perhaps most important to the White House are 28 designated judges who, if confirmed, would have lifetime tenure to shape the courts long after Bush leaves office.

"The confirmation process has turned into a never-ending political game where everyone loses," Bush said in the East Room, flanked by nominees whose confirmations have been delayed. He said more than half the nominees have been waiting for longer than 100 days and that more than 30 have been held up for a year or longer. "These are real folks, making real sacrifices, and they should not be treated like political pawns."


Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) chastised Bush for sticking with nominees who have no chance of confirmation. One example is Steven G. Bradbury, whose nomination as assistant attorney general is opposed by many senators because he signed memos authorizing especially harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.

If a nominee truly has "no chance of confirmation," the Senate can vote to reject him.

The six-member FEC, for instance, is down to two members, short of the four needed to take official action such as launching investigations into campaign finance violations. Similarly, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission cannot decide cases or penalize mines that commit safety violations because it has more vacancies than members.

The confirmation process has stretched out so long that even with the threat of recession, a Bush-nominated economist recently withdrew because he tired of waiting. "The three-member Council of Economic Advisers is down to one person," Bush noted, "which makes for lonely council meetings."

If a Democrat is elected in November, Senate Republicans should vow to block every confirmation vote until 2013.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Fuzzier Red Tape

Stephen Barr writes:

A regulatory relic may finally fade away.

The Office of Personnel Management has called for the elimination of the time-in-grade restriction, which dates to 1952. It requires that federal employees in General Schedule grades 5 and above serve 52 weeks in a grade before becoming eligible for promotion to the next grade.

The restriction was put in place by the late Mississippi congressman Jamie L. Whitten to prevent a big buildup of the civil service and excessive rapid promotions during the Korean War. Cutting red tape is never easy, however. The Clinton administration tried to get rid of the Whitten requirement in 1995 and 1996, and Bush administration officials targeted the restriction in 2003.

In a Federal Register notice Wednesday, the OPM said the time-in-grade restriction is no longer necessary because the government has developed standards for experience and education that employees must meet to get promoted. Employees also will be able to use experience from jobs other than their current position when competing for promotions.


"Elimination of the 52-week time-in-grade waiting period reinforces the principle that promotions are based on an individual's ability to perform the requirements of the position," the OPM said. Dropping the requirement also "will help dispel the myth" that federal employees benefit from automatic promotions because they spent a set amount of time in a grade.

The problem is that OPM is trying to dispel a myth that is actually true. No doubt most "standards for experience" (or other hidden requirements) will simply duplicate the time-in-grade requirements.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Popemobile is Coming!

From WJLA:

When Pope Benedict XVI visits Washington in April he will make two trips through Washington in his popemobile.

The Washington Archdiocese says the decision means people who can't get to the pope's Mass at the new Washington Nationals ballpark will be able to see him travel the streets in his specially-designed vehicle. The original itinerary did not call for the pope to make any public appearances other than the Mass, but the archdiocese says the Vatican has changed its mind.

The routes for the popemobile trips have not been finalized. The Mass is scheduled for April 17.