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Mike Pence was in Scott County, Indiana today. Why? Because of an HIV outbreak that is believed to be primarily the result of sharing of dirty needles between illicit users of a prescription painkiller called Opana. I guess his advisers felt his presidential ambitions required him to at least pretend to care about public health even if he's not willing to actually take steps to improve it.

The latest numbers I've heard are 72 confirmed cases and 7 preliminary positives. Scott County neighbors the county where I grew up. It has a total population of 23,972. To put that into perspective, the entire state of Indiana, population 6.5 million, normally has fewer than 500 diagnoses of HIV in an entire year. Less than 3 percent of those are linked to IV drug use.

You might think my question for Mike Pence is why he has thus far refused to approve a clean needle exchange program, which public health experts say is the key to bringing this epidemic to an end. That is an excellent question but it's not my question. The CDC is on the ground and I am confident they will find a way to stop the epidemic even if Pence is unwilling to help them do so.

My question is, what happens if all the pharmacists in Scott County refuse to dispense HIV-related medication because of their religious beliefs? What are the 70+ and counting people already diagnosed with HIV supposed to do? As I said above, Scott County is a small, rural county. There aren't that many pharmacists. It is entirely conceivable that Indiana's so-called "religious freedom" bill that Pence plans to sign tomorrow (in a private ceremony) could make that scenario a reality.  

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I know most people's attention is on the elections a week away. But I wanted to share a quick story with you.

Today was the official dedication ceremony for the recently-completed but long-overdue Milton (KY) - Madison (IN) Ohio River bridge. It was an innovative project, the longest "truss slide" project in the country and likely the world. I previously wrote about it here.

The bridge transports 3,500 people a day and had been rated 33 out of 100 on a sufficiency scale. It had gotten so bad that we had to shut down semi traffic, which was a major hassle as it cutoff our nearest access to I-71 and several major factories in Kentucky. The nearest bridges were either 26 miles upstream or 45 miles downstream.

Indiana and Kentucky had been negotiating funding for a new bridge for 2 years. It wasn't until the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (aka "the stimulus") was passed over Republican opposition that the project materialized. The stimulus provided $20 million in funding and the two states were able to find a mix of state and federal funding to green light the project. Follow me below the orange croissant for the story of today's dedication ceremony.

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Were the local police in their right to remove me from a public ceremony in a city-owned building for silently holding a sign?

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On Tuesday, October 28 at 2:30 pm two governors will be in my hometown of Madison, IN. The occasion is the official dedication of the new Milton-Madison Ohio River Bridge.
The two governors in attendance will be Kentucky's Steve Beshear (yeah!) and Indiana's Mike Pence (boo!).  

I previously wrote about the construction of this new bridge and its importance to the local economy in a diary entitled "Want to see 7,230 tons of stimulus on the move (literally)?"

In that diary I wrote:

One last word on the political aspects of this project. Indiana's governor is Mike Pence. Pence was a well-known critic of the stimulus while holding a leadership position in the House GOP. That, of course, has not stopped him from making a couple of photo-op appearances at the bridge with all those construction workers in the background. I haven't heard of any plans for him to make an appearance when the bridge reopens but if he does, I'll just have to go down there with a sign to remind everyone of his hypocrisy.
Well, the dedication ceremony is two days away. I've been working on my sign. Anybody want to join me? Madison is roughly an hour from Louisville and Cincinnati and less than 2 hours from Indianapolis.
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I know the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka "the stimulus") is no longer a hot topic in most parts. But the stimulus is alive and well in my hometown of Madison, Indiana. Next week our new (replacement) bridge connecting us to Milton, Kentucky (and access to I-71) will open to traffic.

Our old bridge was an astounding 85 years old and had been in deteriorating condition for decades (it was last refurbished in 1997). It was rated structurally deficient after scoring only 33 out of 100 on the sufficiency scale. This for a bridge with an estimated 3,500 cars a day traversing it. I hated driving across it. It was way too narrow for modern traffic. In March 2012 the weight limit was lowered to 3 tons, which posed a significant hassle for tractor-trailers trying to get from the factories in Madison to I-71 in Kentucky (and vice versa) with the only other river crossings being either 26 miles upstream or 46 miles downstream.

The bridge was in such disrepair that there really was no other option but to replace it. Indiana and Kentucky officials had been negotiating the financing of a replacement project for nearly two years when in February 2010 the project was awarded $20 million in stimulus funding.

Here is how the grant's impact is described on the project website:

Ironically, efforts to replace a bridge born of the Great Depression gained sudden momentum as a result of the Great Recession of 2009. With new federal stimulus funding available for infrastructure projects, INDOT and KYTC aggressively pursued and obtained a $20 million grant toward the estimated $131 million cost of replacing the bridge. Source
The project was estimated to create or preserve 1,400 jobs. I've lived in Madison off and on over the last 3 years. It was nice to see all those welders, steelworkers, engineers, etc. out there earning paychecks (of which a good portion would be spent in local stores and restaurants like the Dairy Queen just off the bridge in Milton that is owned by my cousin). It was even better knowing that Democrats had made it possible by fighting for the stimulus.

One last word on the political aspects of this project. Indiana's governor is Mike Pence. Pence was a well-known critic of the stimulus while holding a leadership position in the House GOP. That, of course, has not stopped him from making a couple of photo-op appearances at the bridge with all those construction workers in the background. I haven't heard of any plans for him to make an appearance when the bridge reopens but if he does, I'll just have to go down there with a sign to remind everyone of his hypocrisy. (Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is going on a bus tour next week to highlight the need for infrastructure investment. He will be stopping in Louisville, about an hour away, where they are gearing up to build two new bridges. I contacted his office to see if he could stop by and help us celebrate the completion of our project but they were not able to work it into his itinerary.)  

That's the economic/political part of the story. The engineering part of the story is equally awesome. Follow below the fold for more details and a really cool time-lapse video.

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I live in San Diego but drove up to Sacramento to visit some friends. Since I was already in the northern half of the state, I made a last-minute decision to make a detour to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Tonight I am staying at the Grove Canyon Cabins. The plan is (or was?) to do some sightseeing tomorrow and then head back to San Diego. But I don't know if that's going to be possible due to the government shutdown (thanks, Boehner!). But for me it's a minor inconvenience. Big deal if I don't get to see General Sherman this time. He'll still be there for, hopefully, another 1,000 years. But for many of the people I interacted with today, it is their livelihood.

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Mitch McConnell at the airport in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday, March 1, 2013.
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I generally do not like to write diaries that are based entirely on somebody else's work but I'm making an exception. I was just over at Jared Bernstein's blog "On The Economy."  I realize this may not be a "must read" on everybody's checklist and this is such a strong point that I want to make sure it gets out.  Details below the orange croissant.

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This probably doesn't count as a diary but I am starting to hear from my conservative friends that the only reason President Obama will win re-election (and he will win re-election) is because people who are dependent on the government (aka "takers") outnumber the people willing to work to provide for themselves (aka "makers"). That's BS so I put together this image to prove it.  Thought some of you might like to use it with your own misguided friends.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I reject the "makers" and "takers" labels. I know people who don't earn enough to pay federal income taxes pay other taxes. I also know that in many instances they contribute more to our country than most millionaires and billionaires.  I know Mitt Romney's "47%" is comprised of people like senior citizens who paid taxes all their lives and soldiers who are risking their lives on our behalf.  

Update: A couple of people have asked how the percentage of so-called "takers" is 47% when no state on the map shows a percentage that high. For the answer, please see - and recommend - T Maysle's comment below.  Basically it has to do with the difference between percentage of population and percentage of people who file taxes.

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Hi. This will be short. My Mom got a strange letter in the mail and I'm curious how widespread it is across the country.  The letter is from a group calling itself "Americans for Limited Government" with an address at 9900 Main Street, Suite 303, Fairfax, VA 22031. Their website is http://getliberty.org/. Clearly a Republican or Libertarian outfit. Below is a picture of the letter (with names blurred to protect the privacy of my Mom's neighbors, something AFLG does not seem worried about).  

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Providing my voting history to my neighbors is

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I just got back from the Americans for Prosperity (aka Koch Brothers) bus tour stop in my hometown of Madison, IN.  

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Am I the only one frustrated that today's focus has been on when W. Mitt Romney left Bain Capital instead of what he did while he was there?

I understand the Obama campaign is trying to leverage the Boston Globe report to force Romney to release additional tax returns.  That's a worthy goal.  But the "When did Romney leave?" meme is all that's being reported in the press.  And frankly, I think voters will tune that out.  However, what if instead voters heard:

With Sankaty, Romney was using a mysterious Bermuda-based entity to invest in a Chinese firm that thrived on US outsourcing.
That, to me at least, is the most powerful sentence in David Corn's Mother Jones article "EXCLUSIVE: Romney Invested Millions in Chinese Firm That Profited on US Outsourcing" (sub-head: The GOP candidate decries China poaching US jobs. But at Bain he held a large stake in a Chinese company that did just that.)
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David Corn has a new article "EXCLUSIVE: Romney Invested Millions in Chinese Firm That Profited on US Outsourcing" (sub-head: The GOP candidate decries China poaching US jobs. But at Bain he held a large stake in a Chinese company that did just that) up at Mother Jones. The whole article is worth reading so I am only going to quote one sentence. But one sentence that has the potential to destroy the Romney campaign, especially with blue-collar independent voters.

With Sankaty, Romney was using a mysterious Bermuda-based entity to invest in a Chinese firm that thrived on US outsourcing.
I believe this was published within the last hour (around 11:30 pm EDT).  Hopefully it will get picked up by various outlets and influential bloggers tomorrow. It absolutely destroys any Romney claim to being a protector of American jobs. It's the perfect encapsulation of the message we've been trying to get across about Romney and Bain Capital: it didn't matter if an investment created or destroyed jobs as long as it generated profits. The fact that the Bain investment was based out of Bermuda is just bonus goodness.
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