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If you want a vision of the future, imagine a hand sneaking into everyone's pocket...forever


From Providence, Rhode Island, comes this tale of what Donald Trump's glorious infrastructure plan might look like: much, much higher costs to states and municipalities that want to improve their roads and bridges and tunnels. You see, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation needs to replace bridges and a freeway interchange on Route 95, smack in the middle of Providence. They had already applied for a federal grant to help fund the project under the Obama administration, under a program called "FASTLANE." But that program was killed off by the Trump administration and replaced with something called "INFRA," which sounds like it should be based in a dormant volcano and headed by a guy with a monocle and a Persian cat. The big difference between the programs is that INFRA is a "public-private partnership," meaning that instead of financing the road and bridge project with government bonds, the state will have to get financing from private equity, because the private sector does everything with maximum efficiency.

And how maximally efficient is the new scheme? To build what's essentially the same project, the cost will go from $226.1 million under the original plan to $342.9 million with the new one. The biggest chunk of the increased costs will go to cover interest on a $45-million private loan and a “15-percent return to the private partner," as mandated by the new Trump rules.

The bridges are in terrible shape, carrying a lot more than their original design anticipated, and need constant maintenance to keep them from a critical failure. Beyond being old, they're badly adapted to current traffic needs, and a complete redesign of the interchange is needed to reduce congestion. All that was accounted for in the grant submitted last year, but the new funding from the federal Department of Transportation is only available with an assist from a for-profit equity funder, which means it will be far more expensive -- even with the elimination of a $15 million pedestrian bridge that had been included in the design from last year. Just as well, since as everyone knows, pedestrians and bicycles are part of the UN agenda for world domination.

DOT spokeswoman Lisbeth Pettengill explained the higher costs in a memo:

“When the [Trump] administration came in, they stopped the FASTLANE process and redefined the grant guidelines. The new guidelines encourage states to find private partners and to take more of a role in funding projects,” Pettengill wrote. “With these guidelines in mind, we redefined the project to fit those new grant requirements” [...]

“This delivery method created additional costs, particularly due to the costs associated with private sector equity funding the project,” she wrote. “We are seeking the new grant to offset those costs.”

While the Trump administration hasn't yet put forward a formal plan for its promised trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, Trump has said from the campaign going forward that it will largely rely on public-private partnerships for funding, to reduce the amount of federal outlay for infrastructure. That sounds great until you realize it translates to much higher costs for the states and cities that want to upgrade roads, bridges, and tunnels, all so that some private equity firms can get a piece of the action. You might almost get the impression that Trump is less interested in fixing the nation's infrastructure than in steering hundreds of billions of dollars to middlemen, huh?

For a detailed 'splainer on why public-private partnerships are not the wonderful deal the name implies, check out this fine piece from the Center for American Progress. Rhode Island may be getting off easy, it turns out, since equity capital can cost "300 percent to 500 percent more than capital raised through traditional municipal bonds." And unlike a direct transportation bill, the traditional way of getting infrastructure done, public-private partnerships aren't usually aimed at funding maintenance, just construction of beautiful new expensive projects that have to be paid for with user fees or tolls. And if you're in a rural area that can't generate the toll revenue to pay back those big loans, tough luck -- you'll just have to keep patching the potholes and hoping the bridge holds a few more years.

On the plus side, maybe local governments can take a lesson from Donald Trump and save some money by simply not paying contractors once the work is done. Just say you didn't like the job they did.

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[Providence Journal / Center for American Progress via Stephen Miller (not the icky one) on Twitter]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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The producers of your favorite live-action Jack Chick pamphlet, "God's Not Dead" -- you know, the one where the Hercules dude plays an evil philosophy professor who tells all of his students on the first day that they are no longer allowed to believe in god? As all secular professors do? -- have come out with a thrilling new movie, all about how abortion is bad or whatever.

The movie tells the "true" story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic worker turned professional anti-choicer. Johnson has been a darling of the forced birth circuit ever since she made up ridiculous and provably false reasons for quitting the Planned Parenthood that was about to fire her for being bad at her job.

Basically, she claims that Planned Parenthood was pushing her to make more abortions happen so they could reel in more dough, and also that she witnessed (for the first time ever!) an ultrasound-guided abortion and saw the baby move from the light and then immediately realized that what she was doing was wrong.

The thing is, however -- no ultrasound-guided abortions were performed on the day she said it happened, and the only reason there was an uptick in abortions at her clinic was because they started offering the abortion pill on a daily basis (and had previously only been performing surgical abortions every other Saturday).

As you may have guessed, the movie does not address any of these things. It also looks very, very bad.

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Ever since Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully underwent surgery for lung cancer, conservative sites and message boards have been trafficking in a ridiculous theory that she is actually dead and that there is some kind of Weekend at Bernie's-esque conspiracy to pretend she is still alive.

Now, one would think that her recent public appearance at a concert held in her honor would have put this to rest. Alas, it did not. Rather, the "researchers" (as they hilariously call themselves) determined that the concert was actually her funeral.

No. Really. That was a thing.

I admit that I gave this a lot more thought than I should have. Like, how did they think this would go? How long did they imagine this would go on for? Why would they risk having a full on funeral concert, open to the press? Wouldn't they just have not bothered to have a funeral at all? And what did these people think was going to happen when it was announced that she died for real? Or did they think that we were going to pretend that she is immortal and thus never announce her death? It's so confusing!

Being very up to date on the "RBG is secretly dead!" nonsense, I was very curious about which way the "anons" would go with this when they announced her return to work on Friday. They did not disappoint!

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