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Americans Outraged at Sudden Realization Interstate Highways Are Government-Run

 

As the debate continues to rage on over whether or not the U.S. should include a public, government-funded plan in its healthcare reform, many citizens abruptly noticed that the federal government funds and regulates all Interstate Highways in the nation, and has done so for over 50 years.

 

Now, many are up in arms over the largest public works project in history, which has somehow gone unnoticed since the mid-20th century.

 

"I can't believe I didn't think of this before," said conservative analyst Paul Dobson, slapping his forehead in disbelief. "We were all so focused on the idea of the government ruining healthcare forever that we forgot how President Eisenhower -- who was obviously tricked by President Barack Hussein Obama -- already ruined our highways by building and then socializing them in the 1950s."

 

READ MORE AT:

http://buffalobeast.com/138/roads.htm


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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Cleveland's own Drew Carey argues in favor of privatizing the freeways:

 

http://reason.tv/video/show/gridlock

 

I was a little bit puzzled watching that video.  Their possible solutions to relieve congestion were "double deck highways!", "express lanes!", and "helicopters!".  If only there were some other form of transportation that moved people faster and at a greater density than highways....

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Funny stuff but I'm tempted to throw some James Kuntsler in the mix to make fun of our tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, etc.

 

As someone with libertarian tendencies I think the "privatize the roads" argument's impracticality does more harm than good.  But I welcome any opposition to our transportation policies that I can find.  State, local and federal all use big bucks on road expansion with no concern for people, neighborhoods, benefits of mass transit, etc.

 

That said, I hope the two-thirds of the Stimulus that hasn't been spent yet will be spent on more sustainable forms of transport than the typical highway/road construction I've seen around town.

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Socialism road? Sure, but we help pay for it via state and federal gasoline taxes. The same can be said about rail to an extent, but passenger revenues cannot come close to paying off the operating costs of rail, let alone the construction costs. Tolls on interstate highways do, but it is politically infeasible to toll all interstate highways.

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Like, say, rail?

yes, in all its forms.  i've read it would take ~$500B for a fully developed HSR system in America.  add to that local, regional and state efforts and light rail/streetcars and we'd be really getting somewhere.  the stimulus was $787B and won't have nearly as big an impact over the long-term.  i'm just saying.

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yes, in all its forms.  i've read it would take ~$500B for a fully developed HSR system in America.  add to that local, regional and state efforts and light rail/streetcars and we'd be really getting somewhere.

 

Well, $500 billion is cheaper than the Iraq War. If we can just go a decade without starting any new wars, we might pull it off.

 

As for privatization of highways? Short-term solution for a long-term problem. The best solution is to sprawl less, shorten commute distances (live closer to work), and add mass transit. No amount of private highways can solve LA's traffic problems. And let's get real. This would probably require mass demolitions and massive swaths of new infrastructure to be built. Do private companies get to use eminent domain to complete a second round of 1950's-style highway buildout? And double-deckers? Can we actually build that without shutting down the highways underneath?

 

The unfortunate truth is that our urban planning is a hot mess, and we've built an environment too dependent on one form of transportation. Privatization of highways won't solve that problem. Now if a private company wants to try their hand at rail transit, I'm all for it...

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yes, in all its forms. i've read it would take ~$500B for a fully developed HSR system in America. add to that local, regional and state efforts and light rail/streetcars and we'd be really getting somewhere.

 

Well, $500 billion is cheaper than the Iraq War. If we can just go a decade without starting any new wars, we might pull it off.

 

As for privatization of highways? Short-term solution for a long-term problem. The best solution is to sprawl less, shorten commute distances (live closer to work), and add mass transit. No amount of private highways can solve LA's traffic problems. And let's get real. This would probably require mass demolitions and massive swaths of new infrastructure to be built. Do private companies get to use eminent domain to complete a second round of 1950's-style highway buildout? And double-deckers? Can we actually build that without shutting down the highways underneath?

 

The unfortunate truth is that our urban planning is a hot mess, and we've built an environment too dependent on one form of transportation. Privatization of highways won't solve that problem. Now if a private company wants to try their hand at rail transit, I'm all for it...

 

If privatization means tolls, then I think it's a good idea. Making heavy users pay for these expensive roads would, necessarily, make people consider how much they relied on them to get back and forth to work, and thus where they live relative to employment centers. This could push people to use public transport more, or on the contrary, businesses could abandon city centers for the 'burbs.

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Do Roads Pay For Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding

2011-01-04

 

Executive Summary

 

Highway advocates often claim that roads “pay for themselves,” with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering – or nearly covering – the full cost of highway construction and maintenance. They are wrong.

 

Highways do not – and, except for brief periods in our nation’s history, never have – paid for themselves through the taxes that highway advocates label “user fees.” Yet highway advocates continue to suggest they do in an attempt to secure preferential access to scarce public resources and to shape how those resources are spent.

 

To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy – particularly at a time of tight public budgets – it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century. Toward that end, this report shows:

 

· Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees” in any meaningful sense of the term – The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes.

 

· State gas taxes are often not “extra” fees – Most states exempt gasoline from the state sales tax, diverting much of the money that would have gone into a state’s general fund to roads.

 

· Federal gas taxes have typically not been devoted exclusively to highways – Since its 1934 inception, Congress only temporarily dedicated gas tax revenues fully to highways during the brief 17-year period beginning in 1956. This was at the start of construction for the Interstate highway network, a project completed in the 1990s.

 

· Highways don’t pay for themselves -- Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called “user fees” by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.

 

· Highways “pay for themselves” less today than ever. Currently, highway “user fees” pay only about half the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s network of highways, roads and streets.

 

· These figures fail to include the many costs imposed by highway construction on non-users of the system, including damage to the environment and public health and encouragement of sprawling forms of development that impose major costs on the environment and government finances.

 

To make the right choices for America’s transportation future, the nation should take a smart approach to transportation investments, one that weighs the full costs and benefits of those investments and then allocates the costs of those investments fairly across society.

 

READ MORE AT:

http://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/transportation/transportation2/do-roads-pay-for-themselves-setting-the-record-straight-on-transportation-funding


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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Here's a point that's come up in some of these arguments that I'd like to get some opinions on.  Namely that most of the cost of driving is born by the driver, through the purchase and operation of their own vehicle, and that road subsidies (even the cost of roads as a whole) is a very small part of the total cost of driving.  Transit by comparison is subsidized a lot more because the fares and government subsidies also have to pay for the driver's salary and the rolling stock. 

 

The point of the argument is that we harp on highway subsidies, but if the gas tax (or whatever) was raised to pay for all the road maintenance and construction without any subsidies from general funds, it wouldn't make an appreciable dent in the overall cost of driving.  It might cost another $1-2 per gallon for gas, which is just a few cents per mile.  On the other hand, removing all transit subsidies would triple or quadruple the fares. 

 

Of course the TOTAL amount we spend on roads and highways is an enormous sum, and it dwarfs what we spend for transit.  Still, when you divide it out you do see that a much higher proportion of government money is spent per person/trip/mile/whatever for transit than for driving. 

 

So what are some of the counterarguments to this?  Of course road spending isn't the only subsidy to driving, there's also military protection of oil tanker ships and "stabilizing" of oil-rich regions, which may be the largest subsidy of all.  There's also parking subsidies, both on-street and through zoning on private property.  Then there's the externalities of air/water/noise pollution, water runoff and sewage treatment, cost of accidents, wasted time in traffic, etc. as well.  However these things are much harder to quantify.  Are there some other points I'm missing?  I'll admit I'm having a tough time countering the argument myself with anything but subjective claims about the externalities or issues of livability, etc.

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How about this counter:  If you're breaking it down per person/mile, and you're including the rolling stock for trains, seems like the other side of the equation has to include all the cars and buses we buy.  It's not a subsidy but it's still a cost passed on to the consumer, just handled differently. 

 

This way you can account for the economic inefficiency of making everybody buy their own separate rolling stock.  Rail is a complete transit system.  Roads only get you halfway. 

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But that just reinforces the argument.  The person would say "why should the car driver have to pay for their car, while the transit rider's train is subsidized?"  I'm not saying it's isn't inefficient that people have to buy cars to use the roads, but the argument is that transit has to be subsidized more than cars precisely because car owners have to buy their own vehicle. 

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  It's hard to say what the cost of driving is. The AAA pegs it at $0.55 per mile or something like that. This only counts the cost to the driver such as the purchase price of the car, fuel, repairs, insurance, license, and so on. In theory, the cost of the highway is included in the cost of fuel, but we all know that local property taxes, police levies, general fund money, and all kinds of other things go into the highway. Of that $0.55, you are right that most of that goes to the purchase price of the car. (If you drive a beater that you bought for $500, you are below the average. Balance that with the family that bought a $35,000 minivan.)

 

Meanwhile the cost of taking the bus might be $1.75 for a 10 mile trip, averaging $0.17 per mile. Clearly, the bus is less expensive for the user. I can conclude from these numbers that cost is NOT the primary reason why people choose to drive instead of riding the bus. People drive to save time. Automobiles are free from routes and schedules.

 

Unfortunately, I think that people really miss the big disadvantage of cars, which is the need to park them. At home in the suburbs it's not too bad, but parking in the city is just awful. Suburban shopping strips are wastelands of parking lots and highways. It's really the shopping strips that make the suburbs awful, not the residential streets. This is where the external cost of driving is the highest. To top it off, going shopping in the suburbs by driving to the big box actually involves MORE walking than shopping in the city, because the distance from the parking space to the inside of the store is so great. Parking lots have ruined are cities and generated awful suburban shopping strips. 

 

If there's any good news, suburban shopping strips are getting more pedestrian friendly than they were for the last 40 years. I have been wanting to take some photos of suburban strips and remove all the parking lots using photoshop and see how it compares to a traditional city.

 

But yes, you are right that the road portion of the cost of driving is a small proportion. The variety in the price of cars is actually an advantage of cars over transit, since rich people can buy nicer cars and poor people can buy beaters in the used car market. We don't have luxery buses for rich people and beaters for poor people, though I suspect that our friends at Queen City Metro are steering newer buses toward the richer part of town because the rich riders don't abuse them by tagging.

 

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We need somebody in Congress to introduce legislation banning the use of general revenue dollars on highway spending and call for ending the subsidies to auto travel. It wouldn't pass, but it would force discussion of the fact that all transportation is "subsidized."

 

And we need somebody in the Ohio General Assembly, or Democrats on the Controlling Board, to try to stop funding for the I-70/71 split in Columbus (or other highway boondoggles) on the grounds that the cost keeps going up and the plans keep changing and we don't know what the ultimate fiscal impact will be.

 

We need politicians willing to force their colleagues to face facts and put transportation spending on a level playing field.

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^But it's not about improving mobility; it's about white-collar welfare. Politicians don't do what's right; they do what's popular. Anyway, they don't need to introduce legislation banning highway spending; they need to just stop spending money on highways.

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Better idea:  put on the ballot a voter referendum making it illegal for any transportation costs to be borne by sources other than their users. That means everything:  no more "free" roads, no "free" parking lots, no subsidized transit fares, assigning military and environmental costs with a tax on each gallon of fuel consumed, etc. etc. etc.

 

And please note that this would apply to all transportation modes nationwide, not just roads; not just rails. Everything. I'm sure that, shortly thereafter, each interest group will file a spate of lawsuits to eradicate the competing mode's subsidies. But I'm more comfortable in settling this in the courts than in the legislatures where the process of achieving justice is far more corrupted in favor of the powerful interests protecting the status quo, in my opinion.


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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^But we can't even measure how much money is spent on highways, much less control it.

 

I often wonder how much of the local police levy is spent on motor traffic - not police chasing criminals, but police directing traffic or responding to accidents. How much of our fire and ambulance fund is spent on responding to motor vehicle accidents? How much of our health care is spent on treating motor vehicle accident injuries? How much electricity do we buy for highway lighting? How many storm sewers?

 

Somehow, motor vehicles got out of hand in this country. We can't change that fact. What to do about it, I don't know.

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Somehow, motor vehicles got out of hand in this country. We can't change that fact. What to do about it, I don't know.

 

When humans create something, only humans can change it (or nature changes it for us in usually destructive ways). We can change it the American way -- via lawsuits. All we need is the law to provide the grounds to establish what's a car user cost and what's not.

 

Of course, cars are nothing without cheap, portable, safe energy, and that may be when nature intrudes and tells us when we've gone too far.


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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Better idea: put on the ballot a voter referendum making it illegal for any transportation costs to be borne by sources other than their users. That means everything: no more "free" roads, no "free" parking lots, no subsidized transit fares, assigning military and environmental costs with a tax on each gallon of fuel consumed, etc. etc. etc.

 

You'd have to do that state by state; there is no voter-referendum provision in the Constitution.  Even constitutional amendments are not voted on directly by the electorate.  And, of course, it would get resoundingly shot down in all fifty states, by sufficient margins that you would have significantly hurt your cause rather than helped it, the way all losers of landslide defeats tend to fade to obscurity quickly.

 

If it *did* pass in even a single state, I would likewise expect it to get returned to the ballot and voted down in the next election, once it became clear that you had confined the majority of the population to a de facto state of house arrest.  Subsidized transportation makes this country work.  It has been critical to essentially every successful Western civilization since the Roman Empire.  We can and should talk about changing the mix of subsidies (road, rail, bike, air, sea) and the overall level of subsidies.  Even I wouldn't consider completely getting the government out of the transportation business and returning the transportation sector completely to the free market a viable proposition, though--and I'm one of the more ardent free-marketers on this board.

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And, of course, it would get resoundingly shot down in all fifty states, by sufficient margins that you would have significantly hurt your cause rather than helped it, the way all losers of landslide defeats tend to fade to obscurity quickly.

 

 

Hard to predict. But given all the tea party reactionaries running around these days, they might just pass.


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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The way to restrict automobile use - and this is the only way I can think of, legally or otherwise - is to construct the environment so that it does not accomodate cars. Namely, place bollards, moats, stairs, narrow passageways, etc. in the street.

 

Cars are not allowed in buildings (except garages,) and some buildings today have more square feet of floor area than entire traditional towns. The real reason why cars are not allowed in buildings is not some law, but because they physically cannot get in, and if they could, they would be useless. Buildings remain the world of the pedestrian. Some buildings have moving sidewalks, or golf cars for transportation within the building, and many have elevators.

 

There are a few cities in the world that remain car-free. Some such as Fez, Mykonos, and Sienna do so with very narrow streets that will not accomodate cars. Venice has canals. Doi Suthpei is situated at the top of a mountain. Macanac Island is isolated from other roads.

 

Many German cities have a car-free town center, where cars are very limited. There are a few car-free areas in the United States. Fountain Square in Cincinnati is one of them. Newport-on-the-levy is another one.

 

What else can be done? Well, in most commercial areas it is very hard to prohibit cars, but perhaps the sidewalks can be widened at the expense of the street in traditional town areas. Certain streets can be closed to cars. (Think of the Cincinnati steps.) And most importantly, stop widening existing roads and highways!

 

The federal government was not in the highway construction business until about 1915, other than a few exceptions such as the National Road. What might have happened if the interstates had been tolled makes for some interesting discussion. But few have considered the simple fact that the federal government built miles of interstates and other federal highways WITHOUT accomodating any parking!

 

So, picture this situation. It's 1950, and American cities are densely built with few parking lots. Some early expressways such as the New York Thruway and Pennsylvania Turnpike have captured the attention of politicians, engineers, and automobile owners everywhere. States start building highways, but without a coordinated plan. Some engineers get together and start drawing lines on the map, basicly connecting cities with a web of interstates.

 

This drawing is given to another set of engineers for detailed design. The Engineer begins designing a highway from, say, Columbus to Cleveland. The highway doesn't go directly downtown, because property is expensive, but comes close, where there are a lot of worn out buildings. The engineer designs a ramp from the highway to the local city street.

 

At this point, the engineer could have also designed a parking garage, or a big surface lot, right at the end of the ramp. He didn't even have to connect the ramp to the street! But that's what he did, and it was repeated in every city in the country.

 

Now suppose that the ramp has a capacity of 20,000 cars per day. There's plenty of capacity, so that should be good. But no one ever checked if the local street had that capacity, or if there were enough parking spaces in the city to accomodate all those cars! Herein lies the drawback to the interstate highway system. Soon, engineers were widening the local streets, until many of them were wider than the interstates themselves. Property owners starting tearing down buildings for parking lots. Eventually, things sort of came to an equilibrium, with enough activity moving to the suburbs until urban density and suburban density were about equal. At this point, it doesn't make sense to walk or take transit, because the density just isn't high enough, even in the old urban core. Entire generations have been born in the automobile era, and have never been away from home without a car, because it's too far to walk out of their own subdivisions.

 

The reason why it's so hard to sell a transit project today is because automobiles are the default mode for most people in most places. Construction of any kind of rail in an area with a lot of parking lots just doesn't have the density to support the rail transit. The Cincinnati Streetcar, etc., is based on the assumption that the proposed transit will ATTRACT higher density development, and although it does not pay today, the transit will pay in 20 years. This is a tough sell in a local economy that is stagnant or declining, though it certainly makes sense if the economy is already growing.

 

 

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Earlier today, the House voted along strict party lines to adopt House Resolution 5. This is the package of changes to the House Rules and includes the previously discussed change to the Highway Trust Fund. HTF spending will now be treated as other general spending.

 

Full text and a summary of HR 5 are available here:

http://rules.house.gov/singlepages.aspx?NewsID=50


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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This is also a cautionary tale for the debate on leasing the Ohio Turnpike. This road (below) was built as a public-private partnership but is now wholly government-owned/maintained (like nearly all others) because the price for motorists to use the privately owned road was too high for it to be sustained privately. Perhaps the title of the article should instead be: "Americans don't love their cars at the free market price." How many other roads in the U.S. would never have been built or remained open if the free market was the actual determinant?....

 

San Diego County regional government to buy bankrupt toll road

July 30, 2011 |  9:34 am 

 

A San Diego regional government organization has agreed to purchase the bankrupt State Route 125 toll road near the U.S.-Mexico border for approximately $345 million.

 

Opened in November 2007, the 10-mile toll road in southern San Diego County was described initially as an example for Los Angeles and other traffic-beset regions on how a private-public partnership could build new roads and ease congestion.

 

Instead it became a cautionary tale about risky assumptions, and the stubborn opposition of motorists to paying tolls. In March 2010 the road's operator filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, noting that traffic counts were less than 50% of projections.

 

READ MORE AT:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/07/san-diego-regional-government-to-purchase-bankrupt-state-route-125-toll-road.html


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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Who Really Benefits From Socialism In America? Drivers.

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto  on 08.30.11

CARS & TRANSPORTATION

 

It is a standard Republican meme, that Obama is a socialist. But who are the real socialists in America? James Schwartz of the Urban Country quotes a definition of socialism:

 

Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

 

Schwartz notes that this pretty much defines the American road and highway system, as well as the automobile and oil industries.

 

From subsidies given to oil companies to produce cheap oil, to government bailouts/ownership of auto manufacturers, to road construction and maintenance on streets that cost nothing to use, to highly subsidized parking spaces, to government health care costs associated with pollution from automobiles, to the detrimental health that results from sedentary lifestyle that cars promote, to the vast government policing forces required to enforce our streets: it is undeniable that driving places enormous costs on our society, and this cost is highly subsidized by our government.

 

Unlike other forms of socialism that benefit society as a whole, the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested, our air polluted and the growth of alternative modes of transportation are stifled.

 

Schwartz goes on to explain how this socialist subsidizing of the driver puts America at odds with the rest of the world, comparing the price of gas vs transit in other countries.

 

READ MORE AT:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/08/who-benefits-from-socialism-in-america.php


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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I suppose this could go here as this in China. There, houses that are difficult to take for public works are called "nail houses" because they are difficult to remove like a stubborn nail -- presumably because the owner has put up a fight (probably physically) to stop the taking. So in China, you just build the motorway around the house until it can be taken.....

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/02/pictures-of-the-day-live-3rd-december-2012_n_2228080.html#26_no-more-nails-

 

o-CHINA-HOUSE-MOTORWAY-DEMOLISHED-570.jpg?6

 

o-HOUSE-IN-MIDDLE-OF-MOTORWAY-DEMOLISHED-CHINA-570.jpg?2


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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I wonder if that grey car circled the house all day and night blasting death metal to get the people to leave.

 

Like U.S. troops did to Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989?


"Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege." -- Tommy Douglas, Scottish-born Canadian Baptist minister and the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan

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