The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

VDOT had loads of warning that wetlands could kill the U.S. 460 project but the state charged ahead with a design-build contract that everyone knew could explode.

Read More

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

A California developer is teaming with Daimler AG to bring buses, shuttles and ride sharing to an Orange County community -- with no government subsidies.

Read More

Putting the “Garden” in Rain Garden

Putting the Garden in Rain Garden

Soon Virginians will start spending billions to meet tough storm-water regs. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden wants to show how we can save the bay – and look really good doing it.

Read More

Tech Insurrection

Tech Insurrection

Smart cities, says Anthony Townsend, will be forged by geeks, activists and civic hackers through bottom-up technological innovation.

Read More

Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

Sprawl's Hidden Subsidies

The answer to sprawl isn't more regulation, says Pamela Blais, it's fixing the endemic biases embedded in taxes, utility fees, municipal services and mortgages.

Read More

Misery in High Places

Maureen McDonnell flanked by daughters Rachel (left) and Cailin.  Old view of Maureen: wicked witch of the Governor's Mansion. New view: miserable spouse looking for attention. Photo credit: Associated Press.

Maureen McDonnell flanked by daughters Rachel (left) and Cailin. Old view of Maureen: wicked witch of the Governor’s Mansion. New view: tragic figure. Photo credit: Associated Press.

In his post on the McDonnell trial, Peter Galuszka asked a profound question (something I don’t normally give him credit for!). Does living in the fishbowl of the Governor’s Mansion, with all the attendant pressure, put incalculable strain on a governor’s domestic life? “What should ‘public service’ be and how much should it take from one’s private life,” Peter wondered. “More importantly, why can’t it support men and women who pursue it? Should it be only for the rich?”

I had that question in the back of my mind this morning as I combed through the media reports of yesterday’s events. All newspaper accounts led with the revelation that the marriage between Bob and Maureen McDonnell had essentially broken down, and that Maureen had a “crush” on Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific who sought favors from the McDonnells to help his business. Maureen and Jonnie exchanged 1,200 phone calls and text messages. As William Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lead defense attorney, said: “Unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell.”

That picture received confirmation from testimony recounted by the Virginian-Pilot. Prosecutors called Cailin McDonnell Young to the stand to recount circumstances surrounding Williams’ offer to cover the $15,000 expense associated with her wedding reception. On cross-examination she revealed the following:

Young said that, during Bob McDonnell’s tenure as governor and his previous service as attorney general, “I hardly ever saw my father.”

“Anytime I wanted to see my dad, I had to go through a scheduler,” she said.

A daughter needs a scheduler to see her dad? That’s brutal. But that’s what family life is like with a man who works 14- to 16-hour days. Life couldn’t have been much better for Maureen McDonnell. For a long time, I regarded her as the heavy in this whole affair. But now I have a keener appreciation of the domestic dynamics. She spent much of her time feeling isolated, frustrated and anxious. She often lost her temper with her husband and staff. For the first time, I feel a modicum of sympathy for her. She was a lonely, stressed-out and unhappy woman.

None of this excuses her actions, much less McDonnell’s alleged failure to exercise full disclosure. But it does provide context. I return to Peter’s question regarding what kind of financial pressure does being governor put on a First Family of modest means? I would expand the question to include, what kind of strain does the time demands of public office put on a family?

– JAB

Poor Blacks Must Abandon Negative Learned Behaviors

Morris Daniels

Morris Daniels

The discussion about poverty in America is dominated by politicians, academics, journalists and members of the professional caring class, most of whom have their own biases and agendas. We hear very little from poor people themselves.

The Richmond Sheriff’s Department has launched a new program, Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles, to help inmates convicted of violent crimes prepare for re-entering society. Program leader Sarah Scarbrough leads participants in regular discussion of current events, drawing from newspapers, magazines and blogs. One of the participants, Morris Daniels, wrote a letter to Scarbrough in response to a Bacon’s Rebellion post about Mayor Dwight Jones’ anti-poverty plan. Daniels has no institutional agenda. He speaks from the heart. I publish his letter (with light editing, as I would do for any writer) with his permission. – JAB


By Morris Daniels

You posed two questions to the group on Wednesday: (1) What are the problems with the people having subsidized housing? and (2) What can be done to resolve these problems?

For question #1, the problem is the people. Blacks are a “broken people” who acquired hundreds of “learned behaviors” from their slave masters a long time ago. When we were brought to this land, we learned how to discipline our children and we learned how to feed our children. I don’t know of any Caucasians who eat pork belly, chitterlings, pigs feet, pigs tail, or pig ears, let alone fried pig skin. We are the best improvisers in the world because we can take “something from nothing” and make it work for our good.

The problem is that we learned negative behavior, probably starting from watching the white man build his stills and sell moonshine. We bought and sold the moonshine to “provide for our families,” despite the fact that it turned us into alcoholics. This act became a “cultured mind state pattern” to the black people. We started selling marijuana in the ‘60s, gambling, opening up shot houses (places that sell liquor/beer and food), gamble and play numbers. Women prostituted themselves. Then came cocaine, heroin, crack, and back to pills.

After the Civil Rights movement, I feel, black people “gave up the good fight” and reverted back to those learned behaviors. They settled for subsidized housing, welfare checks and food stamps because it was free money that they didn’t have to work for. That’s what they knew from so many years of negative learned behavior. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Oh Mighty Whites are the cause of the black man’s problems as a whole, because we do know right from wrong, according to the laws of the land. We make our own choices, according to what we desire to have instead of what’s best for our lives.

The difference between whites and blacks is culture. The whites have their culture through education and training, but blacks had their “culture” imposed on them: miseducation, uneducation, inequality, inferiority, impoverishment, genocide and homicide, self-hate, envy, pride, racism and exploitation just to name a few examples of self-destruction through ignorance.

The problem in subsidized housing is that black people are addicted to their own culture. The only solution is to change the culture itself. It will take over a hundred years to fix what happened to the mind of black people over the five hundred years as an enslaved people. The new and old generations have to die off and a “rebuilding” of the mind of the black nation has to take place because if you start with a negative “as a people” you are going to end with a negative.

We need a rebirth.

One Very Sad Day In Court

maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

One literally could have heard a pin drop in U.S. District Court in Richmond today.

William Burck, lawyer for  Maureen McDonnell, said in his opening argument in a trial that Virginia’s Former First Lady who has been indicted no 14 corruption charges along with her former governor husband was “collateral damage” in a deeply troubled marriage. She had developed a “crush” on the businessman who had given her and her husband more than $150,000 in loans, gifts and cash.

“Their marriage had broken down,” Burck said. “They were barely on speaking terms,” Burck said. Ms. McDonnell was angry and frustrated that her husband had been working 16-hour days in public service for 20 plus years and had little to show for it. They had five children. Big debt. Bob wasn’t paying attention to her.

As John L. Brownlee, McDonnell’s lawyer, said, McDonnell’s hard public service work “took a toll on his family and a terrible toll on his wife. He was not nearly as successful as a husband. He tried to keep from the public the most painful aspects of his marriage. He never humiliated her. He never scorned her.”

In pops Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a smooth-talking entrepreneur pushing a new anti-aging cream made in part from tobacco plants (although his firm, Star Scientific, had lost a couple hundred million over the previous decade.) Brownlee described the star witness for the prosecution as a “master manipulator.”

“This marriage broke apart and an outsider, another man, would invade and poison their marriage,” Brownlee said.

At one point, Maureen was said to have “hated” Bob who wrote a lengthy email to her trying to reconcile. In fact, Brownlee said, the Governor will read the email when he goes on the jury stand during the trial that is expected to last at least five weeks. When McDonnell sent the email, however, “that evening, Maureen was distracted by other interests.”

One could get snarky about this seemingly over-the-top soap opera. But no one in the courtroom seemed to be smirking. It is strange enough to be at a trial like this in a place like Virginia that considers itself above the petty corruption that plagues other states. It is even stranger to hear such excruciatingly personal and painful things about the state’s top former executive and his wife.

It could be that a “throw Maureen under the bus” strategy may work to get both of them off. After all, she wasn’t a public official and could do what she wanted as far as gifts. The prosecution’s opening statement drew a rather detailed and concise outline of just what and when the McDonnells solicited Williams’ largesse, right down to the “thank you” emails when money arrived in the bank to Maureen’s cell phone snap shot of Bob wearing slick, wraparound sunglasses while driving Williams’ Ferrari.

Giving the McDonnell’s the benefit of the doubt, I have to say I’ve heard this kind of story before among long-married couples suffering through middle age as their children are ready to fly away. Their stories may not be dramatic but I’ve got to admit that Bob McDonnell never seemed to exhibit such grabby behavior before.

This raises another tough question. What should “public service” be and how much should it take from one’s private life. More importantly, why can’t it support men and women who pursue it? Should it be only for the rich?

McDonnell slogged through relatively low-paying jobs like the General Assembly, Attorney General and Governor. He had five kids and a wife who seemed very freaked out by being First Lady – a role she apparently never wanted. She came from a Northern Virginia civil service family that didn’t exactly have a grand disposable income.

Consider two other Virginia governors –former and current. Mark Warner, now U.S. Senator, is rich from his telecommunications investments made years ago. At one point he was said to be worth a couple hundred million dollars. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, another former businessman, is likewise wealthy but probably not as rich as Warner.

Should these people be in office because they are rich? Should public service be available only to those with great portfolios? What would Thomas Jefferson say?

Diet Denier

Perhaps you could call Nina Teicholz a “diet denier.” The journalist and author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Health Diet,” is part of the growing backlash against a half century-long orthodoxy that aimed to limit fat and cholesterol in the American diet. That orthodoxy, which ruled the medical establishment and the federal health apparatus, unwittingly engineered a society-wide shift to the sugar-heavy diet now deemed responsible for the surge in obesity and heart disease that afflicts the country.

In her book, Teicholz delved into the history of how fats, trans-fats and cholesterol came to be demonized and how public policy strove to drive fats out of the American diet. The movement began in the 1950s with a famous study by Ancel Keys, which postulated a link between cholesterol and heart health. The American Heart Association jumped on the bandwagon in 1961, the United States Department of Agriculture issued new dietary guidelines in 1978, and momentum built from there. Food companies rolled out low-fat, low-cholesterol food products, typically substituting sugar and salt for fat. Pharmaceutical companies introduced anti-cholesterol drugs. Schools and media brainwashed generations of Americans to change their behavior.

How could things have gone so wrong? As Teicholz explains in her TED talk above:

The same group of people were on all the expert panels. They all reviewed each others’ papers. These groups controlled all of the funding, so if you didn’t get on this cholesterol bandwagon, you couldn’t get funding, you couldn’t do research, you couldn’t be a scientist. Over the course of 25 years, this diet-heart hypothesis became ingrained in the institutions. There became an institutional bias. There was a bias in the media. And everybody lined up behind this hypothesis. You couldn’t be a scientist if you didn’t get on board.

Thankfully, a new generation of scientists questioned the orthodoxy. Now researchers are focusing on the excess consumption of sugar as the main culprit responsible for our dietary woes.

Fortunately, we’ve learned from our mistakes. Our scientific, media and government officials would never enforce another orthodoxy on the grounds that “97 percent of all scientists” in a given field agree that “the science is settled.”  We’d never rig the peer-review process to suppress unpopular scientific viewpoints. We’d never channel billions of dollars of federal funding into supporting one particular point of view of a massively complex phenomenon while de-funding dissenters. We’d never demonize skeptics as “anti-science,” tools of evil, self-interested corporations and moral analogues of holocaust deniers. We’re far too enlightened in the United States to ever let that happen.

Or are we?

– JAB

Virginia’s Trial of the Decade

Maureen Williams and Jonnie Williams. Photo credit: Daily Progress

Maureen Williams and Jonnie Williams. Photo credit: Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

Jury selection for the trial of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen begins today. The 43-page federal indictment against the former First Family piles up a mass of detail to present a devastating portrait. Particularly damaging are revelations that the McDonnells intervened behind the scenes to help their friend and patron Jonnie R. Williams Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, in his efforts to establish research relationships with the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Opinion seems universal, even among those inclined to defend McDonnell, that the First Family’s behavior recounted in the indictments are beyond the pale — not only insufferably “tacky,” as a lawyer friend of mine put it, but downright shameful. However, before we convict the former governor of corruption, let us pause a moment and catch our breath. The indictment represents a cherry picking of the facts most damaging to the McDonnells. Let us also remember that the McDonnells will seek to establish a different narrative. At this point, we don’t know what that narrative will be. But whatever it is, I will hazard a guess that it will reveal a lot of information that has yet to surface about the relationship between the McDonnells on the one hand and Jonnie Williams Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, and his wife Celeste on the other.

The indictment consists of a recitation of facts shorn of context. The feds charge that the events described amount to “a scheme to use Robert McDonnell’s official position as the Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members.” They list a series of events and communications in chronological order, creating the strong impression that favors Williams performed for the McDonnells were directly related to favors the McDonnells performed for Williams. That may be an accurate impression. But it also might be a deceptive one. The way in which the information is presented precludes the possibility that anyone was acting out of personal friendship.

Missing from the indictment is any evidence describing the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell and Mr. and Mrs. Williams, which would be highly relevant in interpreting the events described by prosecutors. Celeste Williams barely figures in the picture at all. Reading only the indictment and the news reports based upon it creates the impression that Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams were extraordinarily close — almost creepily so. What kind of man takes his friend’s wife shopping in New York? As outside observers, we have to consider the possibility that Maureen McDonnell and Celeste Williams were close, too, that Mrs. Williams was a participant in the shopping expeditions and conceivably that she cajoled her husband into helping the McDonnells financially out of friendship. If that were the case — and I have no idea if it is or not — it would complicate the prosecution’s narrative immeasurably.

From the published record, we have only a few clues by which to piece together a portrait of the two families’ friendship.

“We had a very positive relationship for three or four years,” a somber McDonnell told The Associated Press last August.

McDonnell, who carefully couched his relationship with Williams in the past tense during the AP interview, said the enterprising venture capitalist had been his kind of guy: a self-made man from working-class stock who, like the governor, got his start in the health care services and supplies field. Both are in their late 50s. They discovered they had even both honeymooned in the same spot, Bar Harbor, Maine.

“I admire people who are entrepreneurial, who are finding ways to create opportunities in Virginia and that’s one of the reasons that when I first met him back in ’09 (or) ’10 that we established a friendship,” McDonnell said. “We both had big families. He had four kids, I had five.

“We had interesting early discussions about the field of health care and about our families,” he said.

The two men met in March 2009 when McDonnell was running for governor and Williams, a major bankroller of a previous Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore, loaned him his airplane. When McDonnell was elected November 3, according to the indictment, “they had no personal relationship and were merely professional acquaintances at that time.” Continue reading

The McDonnell Trial Gets Underway

mcdonnells arraignedBy Peter Galuszka

This morning marks the start of the long-awaited corruption trial for Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen, the first ever involving the governor of a state that fancies itself above petty corruption.

McDonnell, a Republican, faces 14 felony counts in federal court including wire fraud and lying on a federal loan application. This morning’s session at U.D. District Court before Judge James Spencer will involve jury selection. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

It promises to be a cross between a soap opera and a reality show with overtones of a Greek tragedy. Involved are strong personalities, a classic triangle (the governor, his wife and Jonnie Williams, a businessman who is the feds star witness) and lots of big, big Virginia names. The lawyers’ list reads like the wine list at a five-star restaurant.

There will be lots of politics and lots of venality, such as why Ms. McDonnell insisted on Williams supplying luxury trinkets and money, whether the First Family, regarded as a fine example of Virginia public service, was living far beyond their means and why the state’s squeaky-clean image is a myth.

A few more takeaways:

  • This is a federal case, not a state one. There is no way the case could ever have gone anywhere in state court – the laws are nonexistent. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a federal case and, traditionally, federal courts are used to go after local politicians and business people. Remember that it was the feds who nailed Al Capone in federal court, not Chicago or Illinois state courts. Just arguing that state law doesn’t go that far is irrelevant.
  • It’s going to get very ugly. Much of the melodrama takes place in the governors’ Capitol Hill house ruled by Ms. McDonnell and from which the case originally stemmed. It had to do with an executive chef who was accused of theft and was tried. He blew the whistle on the relationship between McDonnells, the gifts and Williams. Now, we find that the defense may subpoena the housekeeper for previous Democratic Govs. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both now U.S. Senators. It could be an episode of “Housewives of the Executive Mansion.” Stay tuned.
  • There’s no getting around the politics. I have to admit that it seemed very curious last year that the McDonnell case seemed to spring up from nowhere in the governor’s last year in office (he can’t succeed himself). It happened during a bitter gubernatorial race between hard-right Republican Kenneth Cuccinelli and Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe. There were media leaks galore last summer which made for great, gossipy reading but one did wonder about the propriety of it all.
  • Suppose the McDonnells are acquitted? If so, what was all the Sound and Fury about? Blogger Paul Goldman, former head of the state Democratic Party, believes an acquittal could bring calls for the resignation of U.S. Atty. Gen Eric Holder. Sounds extreme.

All in all, the trial represents a transitional phase for Virginia. Its old ways, conceited and quaint they may have been, have faded. Welcome to the 21st Century, y’all!

How Not to Shift From Coal

coal-plantBy Peter Galuszka

Coal is rightly the scourge of environmentalists. Economic pressure is on to shift to cleaner natural gas made plentiful by controversial hydraulic fracking. Political pressure is on to replace fossil fuels with renewables such as wind, solar and other methods.

In Virginia, Dominion, the state’s largest utility, relies for 46 percent of its generating capacity on coal and is moving in fits and starts to natural gas. It doesn’t get much from renewables. How much and how fast should it shift?

Yet out of Colorado comes a cautionary tale. According to The Washington Post, a family in the impoverished city of Pueblo is at odds running power. They only use a window air conditioner part of the time. They avoid using their oven in the summer. It uses electricity they not longer can afford because it overheats the house in summer.

For the family of Sharon Garcia, the problem is Black Hills Energy, which recently bought the local power company – Aquila, which got some of its power from a coal plant that was first built in 1897 with peaking extra power from Xcel, another utility.

Then, in 2008, Black Hills bought out Aquila and everything changed. Xcel decided it could make more money selling power at retail rates in Denver and not at wholesale rates to the utility serving Pueblo. In the midst of these events, a state law prompted Black Hills to shut down older coal plants for cleaner natural gas.

The state approved rate increases so Black Hills could build new infrastructure to handle natural gas and and rates when up significantly.

The problem is likely to be further complicated if the utilities move on the renewables, which, in the short term, are more expensive than either coal or gas.

This is not to say that companies should stick with coal forever, or natural gas. Renewables should still be the goal. But during the transition, green activists, many of them affluent, need to realize who pays the price. What’s a few dozen extra dollars for some is a tragedy for others.

The Movement Grows

City living -- not just for liberals anymore.

City living — not just for liberals anymore.

Political and philosophical conservatives in the United States are far more likely to live in rural areas or suburbs than in the city  – and that augurs ill for the conservative movement and for America, observes Michael Hendrix, in the inaugural guest blog post in a new blog, “New Urbs.”

Cities are the centers of wealth creation and cultural influence in the modern world. By concentrating disproportionately in small towns and rural homesteads, conservatives isolate themselves from the institutions that dominate the country. “If conservatives feel like they’re on the outside looking in on culture-making now, just wait a decade or so—it’ll get worse,” Hendrix writes. “Both for our culture’s sake and our own, conservatives should learn to stop worrying and love the city.”

If Hendrix’s contribution is any indication, New Urbs is likely to make a lively contribution to the small but growing ranks of conservatives who advocate development of more compact, urbane, fiscally sustainable communities.

The blog is an initiative of The American Conservative. Explains Associate Editor Jonathan Coppage:

This is an emerging discussion on the right, and we’re excited to take a leading role in pushing it forward. Talk of conservative reform can only get so far before it accounts for the actual ways in which people live. Transit, development, zoning codes all shape our culture, and are ripe for conservative engagement. Conservatives have too often neglected cities to their own disadvantage. We aim to fix that.

Keep it coming!

Update: I just came across by a great essay by Matt Lewis (a denizen of Alexandria) explaining why New Urbanism (an urban design movement which bears much in common with Smart Growth) “isn’t just for liberals.” Conservatives, he argues, should embrace it, too.

– JAB

Tim Kaine Versus the Mole People

mole peopleThe Silver Line extending the Washington Metro to Tysons is scheduled to open Saturday, and people are getting excited about the impending event. Mass transit supporters are hailing the momentous achievement, which provides the impetus to transform Virginia’s largest business district into a more balanced, livable and walkable community. Indeed, there is much to celebrate.

But others are lamenting the plundering of Dulles Toll Road commuters to pay for much of the project, especially the soon-to-start second phase to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond. Critics have ample grounds for their bitterness. The Silver Line constitutes a massive wealth-redistribution scheme. Riders and property owners enjoying windfalls in property values will pay for only a fraction of the cost of building and operating the system.

Some day, someone will write a book about the Silver Line project and the extraordinary political maneuvering it took to make it happen. When he (or she) does, they’ll find a treasure trove of source material in the Library of Virginia. The state library is archiving 1.3 million emails generated by Governor Tim Kaine and members of his administration. The Kaine Email Project is making those emails searchable and accessible online.

Out of the Box, the Library of Virginia blog, is highlighting correspondence regarding selected topics, including the furor over whether to build the Silver Line under ground or above ground where it ran through Tysons. The controversy was covered heavily by the press but the Kaine Email Project gives a closer look at Kaine’s decision-making process. In a quick and superficial perusal, I didn’t find any great surprises here — Kaine was a pretty straightforward guy — but the emails do show whom he communicated with as he worked his way through the controversy.

This email dated Dec. 12, 2006, and addressed to Chief of Staff Bill Leighty, Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer, Communications Director Delacey Skinner and Counselor to the Governor Larry Roberts, provides some color.

Yesterday in our leadership meeting, we talked about the rumor that the [Federal Transit Administration] would send me a letter saying “the choice not to pursue the tunnel was yours alone and we had nothing to do with it.” Last night, Lin Holton gave me a letter circulating in Northern Virginia. The Tysons Tunnel group asked William Coleman — former Secretary of Transportation under Nixon and Ford — to write a letter that seems to suggest that the tunnel or no tunnel decision was not the FTA’s but the Governor’s. This may be the rumored letter — or it may give a hint of what a forthcoming FTA letter would say. I will give the letter to Delacey — she can provide copies to you.

At some point, we will be asked for some statement on the whole thing. Just to have a statement ready if and when we need it — for a press response or for a letter to the Mole People or someone else — I thought I would put into my own words a quick narrative of the process up to this point, trying to be diplomatic and not heedlessly hack anyone off (i.e., Congress people, Fairfax, FTA, etc.)

It’s fascinating to see Kaine grappling with rumors, responding to the circulation of letters by advocacy groups and referring to “Mole People.” Is that what he called the tunnel zealots? Pretty funny.

– JAB

How to Convince Your Mom that Congestion Pricing Is Good

by Michael Brown

Odds are if you show up at a family reunion and try to convince your parents and siblings that congestion pricing is good, you’ll be lonely pretty quickly. People want the freeways to work but they hate paying tolls! If you are reading this, then you’re probably part of the choir. My goal isn’t to convert the converted as much as to provide new arguments and sound bites when talking to others.

So, how do we reach others? Millions must be convinced to put down their pitchforks long enough to test the theory and decide for themselves if congestion pricing is worthwhile. Elected officials are afraid to take a position contrary to polls, and polls are overwhelmingly dominated by uninformed opinions.

Too many citizens “learn” the issues of the day in 30-second television spots. Even those who make an effort to stay well informed are not the best ones to ask.  There are many fine teachers, dentists, and doctors with intelligent opinions but if you ask them about Congestion Pricing, most would focus on a single point – “double taxation.” Because no one listens long enough for a good explanation, politicians conform to polls of the uninformed rather than risk trying to change public opinion.

congestion_pricing1

=================
This is the fourth part of a four-part series.

Part 1        ◊       Part 2
Part 3   
     ◊       Part 4
=================

Geeks and used car salesmen

Congestion Pricing’s true believers are insiders who spend years exploring how market mechanisms can solve our transportation headaches. Typically, they are “nerdy engineer” types and Ph.D.’s at universities. They come up with great ideas but their main focus is convincing other geeks. Peer-reviewed articles loaded with incomprehensible equations and data may be good stuff and true, but the world will never move out of the congestion morass until the world “gets it” at the lowest-common- denominator level of things that matter to them.

Many geeks know Congestion Pricing is worth billions but they’re poor at delivering the message personally. So they set aside “public awareness budgets” that are embarrassingly tiny relative to the potential payoff. That’s like hiring a used car salesman to deliver the message. That approach may persuade a few but it won’t convince your mom – it won’t even reach your mom. Great ideas need great enlightenment efforts.

congestion_pricing2Evangelists and professional marketers

When the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, they actually had a hard time selling it. Everyone was intrigued, of course, but few understood how it could help them in a way that was worth the price. The airplane seemed like an exciting new toy that could kill you! So the Wrights became evangelists. They met with government officials and anyone else with the means and potential motive to buy, and sold them hard on dozens of potential uses. Now we could scarcely imagine the world without planes.

Think of the Bible. Many find it very difficult to read and hard to get excited about. But some people are very passionate about the bible, and very gifted at translating its meaning to large crowds. Congestion Pricing and Freeway Optimization have been peddled mainly by geeks and insufficient public awareness efforts. Are we really surprised that people are skeptical?

Gifted evangelists are essential but so is “Hollywood.” By that, I mean it takes people who have figured out how to sell stuff to people. We need marketing artists who can place an object in the hands of a big star, then watch that object fly off the shelf in the following month. For ideas worth billions, we should spend millions to attract the top-notch marketers, and give them a budget to craft emotionally persuasive visuals and sound bites. Continue reading