Cynical Synapse

Mon, 08 Aug 2011

Jill Biden Visits Starving Somalis to Address Their Concerns

Filed under: Africa, Famine, Helping others, Hypocrits, Opportunists, Paradoxes, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 6:37 pm

Dr. Jill and VP Joe Biden visit Somali refugees

All the media hype has been about Jill Biden visiting a Somali refugee camp in Kenya. As it turns out, Dr. Jill’s husband, Vice President Joe Biden is clearly pictured as being there, too. The US officials are touring the most populous refugee camp in the world “to underscore the United States’ commitment to working with the governments and people of the region, and the international community, to assist the people of the Horn of Africa.” How do you suppose Somalis in the Dadaab camp felt about their VIP visit?

To be sure, hundreds of thousands of children may die in East Africa’s famine, perhaps up to 12.5 million total, according to the UN. Dr. Biden’s whole point is to bring awareness to the crisis and increase donations.

What I’m asking is for Americans reach out and help because the situation is dire. There is hope if people start to pay attention to this.

C-32/Boeing 757

How do you suppose Dr. Biden got to the refugee camp in Kenya? Probably by C-32, the US Air Force designation for a Boeing 757 aircraft. The flight to and from cost taxpayers about $797,066, based on official costs of $25,547 and flight times of 15.6 hours. On top of that, add Secret service and protection costs, ground transportation, and lodging costs.

At a cost easily exceeding $1 million, can someone tell me how Jill Biden’s visit to a refugee camp is helping address the problem? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to provide direct aid to the Somalis? Just sayin’…
 

Sun, 07 Aug 2011

Honoring the Warriors Shot Down by the Taliban

Filed under: Afghanistan, Allies, Global War on Terror, Heroes, History, Military, National security, Terrorism — cynicalsynapse @ 1:20 pm

Revs. Jackson and Sharpton

Yesterday, I had the priviledge of attending the 1225th CSSB’s homecoming ceremony at the Detroit Light Guard Armory. The Combat Sustainment Support Battalion was deployed in August 2010 to Afghanistan. These Soldiers set logistical support records and earned a Meritorious Unit Citation. More importantly, everyone came home without serious injury. I served many years in that Battalion and personally know several of the Soldiers in the unit. I’m proud of them!

I was truly saddened when I learned the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing all 38 on board in eastern Afghanistan. Those killed were 30 US military personnel, including 20 Navy SEALs, 7 Afghan special forces, and a civilian interpreter, who is most likely also Afghan. These heroes paid the ultimate price in the service and defense of their countrymen. The Commander of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), Gen. John Allen summed it up best:

No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss. All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who are now waiting for their loved ones to return home. We will do everything in our power to support them in this time of need. We also mourn the loss of our heroic Afghan partners who fight with us shoulder to shoulder, every day.

Afghan National Policeman on guard

Far more Afghans than most people realize have taken the risk, for themselves and their families, to serve with the Afghan National Army and National Police. Do some have ulterior motives. Certainly, but so do some of our service members, such as Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan. Those who question Afghan resolve should talk with some of my comrade who have been there mentoring Afghan Army and Police, unanimously described to me as rewarding experiences.

We mistakenly assess things from our very ethnocentric perspective. Afghanistan is a poor country with minimal infrastructure, traditions of tribalism instead of a central government, and proud people whose culture includes very little of what comprises our culture. None of that is wrong; it’s just different.

Afghan National Army soldiers marching

Lest anyone forget, the Taliban harbored bin Laden and al Qaeda when they were in charge in Afghanistan. This sanctuary allowed al Qaeda to plan and conduct the attacks on 9/11.

If we do not ensure a stable Afghanistan, capable of preventing the Taliban from reasserting itself, we will end up recommiting US forces at some future point. It will cost less blood and treasure to finish the job now than it will to start over again.

Regarding the propaganda coup for the Taliban in killing these highly trained special operations warriors, I’m angry. If reports they were members of sEAL Team 6 are true, the Taliban gets twice the bragging rights. It, in no way, dimishes the sacrifice and patriotism of our warriors, however. And it will not even dent our progress toward success as long as we maintain our political resolve. Even thouh we now call it Overseas Contingency Operations, we are still fighting the Global War on Terror.
 

Sat, 06 Aug 2011

Seriously? North Korea Heads Non-proliferation Effort

fox done guarding the henhouse

Talk about the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. North Korea assumed the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament today. The presidency rotates alphabetically among the 65 participating countries for 4-week terms. Ri Jang Gon—deputy to North Korean Ambassador to the UN in Geneva So Se Pyong, now chairing the Conference—had this to say to the body:

The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] remains consistent in its support for total and complete elimination of nuclear weapons in the world and is fully committed to this goal.

Really? North Korea has proven that it’s not trustworthy. They are, obviously, actively pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities, to include missile delivery systems.

Conference on Disarmament

As the Council on Disarmament plenary session opened, Canada boycotted the session and no less than 28 groups protested. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans criticized Canada’s boycott. But, as U.N. Watch’s director Hillel Neuer said:

Allowing an international outlaw to oversee international arms control efforts is just plain wrong. North Korea is a ruthless regime that menaces its neighbors and starves its own people, and should not be granted the propaganda coup of heading a world body dedicated to peace.

While the propaganda point certainly has merit, this is really mostly meaningless. You see, it seems it’s time to recognize North Korea is part of the nuclear club.

sign not in use

It’s apparent the Conference on Disarmament hasn’t done anything substantive for years, maybe even a decade. Perhaps, as the UN considers budget cuts, they UN should consider eliminating the Conference on Disarmament.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011

Dollar-Foolish, Dysfunctional Congress Goes on Vacation

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Congress, Economy, Flying, Government, Indecision, Michigan — cynicalsynapse @ 9:43 pm

Oakland International tower construction

Our penny-wise, dollar-foolish, dysfunctional so-called representatives (Congressmen and Senators) in Washington barely managed to cobble together a debt ceiling deal before the economy tumbled into the abyss. Then they went home for a month-long vacation, leaving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) without appropriations to operate. As a result, about 4,000 FAA employees are on furlough, meaning they don’t work and they don’t get paid. How many of them, do you suppose, live paycheck to paycheck? How many of our elected officials will help them out during their involuntary layoff? Add to that another estimated 70,000 construction workers idled by stop work orders on various FAA-funded projects. They’ll all collect unemployment, thus adding to the cost of doing business and the cost of government. The 74,000 laid off will also skew the jobless numbers, which will affect stocks and other aspects of the economy.

The previous FAA reauthorization expired 22 July. There has been no long-term (meaning 2-4 years) for the FAA since 2007. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts the government is not, presently, collecting. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending your checks to me—it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

Boarding a plane in Iron Mountain

At issue in the debate are, essentially, two fundamental aspects. The most publicized is the Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy, which pays airlines to provide commercial service to largely remote areas. In Michigan, that affects 8 airports with EAS subsidies:

City Airport Enplanements Non-EAS District
Alpena Alpena County 7,519 87 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)
Escanaba Escanaba 5,307 56 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Houghton Houghton County 25,354 68 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Iron Mountain Ford Airport 3,998 59 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Ironwood Gogebic-Iron County 1,524 68 mi (Rhinelander) 1—Benishek (R)
Manistee Manistee County-Blacker 2,087 50 mi (Cherry Capital) 2—Huizenga (R)
Muskegon Muskegon County 30,051 40 mi (G R Ford) 2—Huigenga (R)
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie 13,269 90 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)

The other key point of contention is an “anti-union provision in the House bill. At best, airlines, and in particular, Delta’s labor practices leave much to be desiredIn reality, this is a partisan matter with Republicans taking the nuclear option. Democrats paint this as Republican anti-unionism, largely at the behest of Delta Airlines.

When the House version of the bill, HR 658, passed, the vote was 223-196, largely along party lines. In Michigan’s delegation, only Justin Amash (R-03) voted against his party’s view. What’s interesting is the 8 Michigan airports at risk in the EAS are all in Republican districts, which voted in favor of ending the subsidies. Six of the eight at-risk airports are in Dan Benishek’s First District, but he spun it this way:

This FAA bill funded the EAS for two-and-a-half years. So that would be stable funding for two-and-a-half years rather than a few months at a time. I think it’s a good program and I’m all for it. As far as I was concerned, it was a vote for the program.

I can see clearly now

So, let me see. Benishek votes against the FAA reauthorization, but it’s really a vote for the Essential Air Service program. Reminds me of “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Is anyone else confused by this? That said, however, the travel distances to “non-essential” air service facilities seems to justify ending this taxpayer subsidy. Heck, I live in metro Detroit and it takes me about 45 minutes to get to Detroit Metro. Suck it up and drive an hour to another airport.

Interestingly, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-03), a Tea Party freshman from Grand Rapids, broke party lines and voted against HR 638. He’s the only Michigan representative that didn’t vote with his party. Apparently, he was opposed to the general fund subsidy, according to Amash’s Facebook post:

[Justin Amash] just voted no on H R 658, FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act. The bill authorizes FAA activities through 2014. Under the bill, the authorized FAA spending level is flat-lined at the FY 2008 level for FY 2012-2014. That is a savings of $495 million per year over current spending. Even so, the bill relies on subsidies from the general fund to cover about 25% of total costs. The bill passed 223-196.

lost tax reveuesn

Even worse than the impact on jobs are the lost tax revenues. Several taxes are no longer in effect because the FAA authorization bill remains unpassed and the previous reauthorization expired 22 July. As a result, the US Treasury is missing out on $20 million per day, an amount that will exceed $1 billion if reauthorizing the FAA stretches into September. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending me your paychecks; it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

In a nutshell, Congress’ failure to reauthorize the FAA is reckless partisan politics at its worst.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011

Joe Walsh—Fiscal Responsibility, But Not for Me

Filed under: Behavior, Congress, Government, Hypocrits, Opportunists, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 6:57 pm

ranting Joe Walsh

Illinois freshman Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL-8) considers himself a fiscal conservative. He’s one of the so-called tea party Republicans. Walsh’s been blasting Pres. Obama and Democrats on the debt ceiling and just ended deficit stand-off. For the record, Walsh voted against raising the debt ceiling.

But, Walsh is not so fiscally responsible himself. Walsh has a history of foreclosures and tax liens. On top of that, Walsh owes over $117,000 in back child support, plus another $9,000 in expense obligations, and associated legal fees. Why is this guy sitting in Congress?

Walsh sued for past due child support

Here’s the vivid reality of Rep. Walsh’s failure to be fiscally responsible, according to Jeanne Dauray:

Rep. Walsh claims that he wants to curb federal spending to protect future generations of Americans. But this rings hallow in the face of recent disclosures that he’s failed to pay his own child support. Because my father never paid child support, I know firsthand how devastating it can be on families. Joe Walsh should be ashamed.

Rep. Walsh’s perspective on the debt ceiling seems to be just as flippant as his view on taking personal responsibility for his own obligations:

It’s almost comical to do a lot of these media interviews last week and this week because everybody is so atwitter about Aug. 2. I’m not. I want to get it right. And if it takes another week or two to get it right, I think as a country we’re going to be okay.

Easy to say when you don’t even pay your own personal obligations, Congressman. How about getting it right by your kids?

Really? I don’t think so.

Mon, 01 Aug 2011

No No-Bid Biden’s No-Bid Big Deal

Filed under: Deceit, Economy, Government, Hypocrits, Opportunists, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:06 pm

smirking Joe Biden

During the run up to the 2008 election, candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden blasted no-bid Federal contracts over $25,000, largely to paint the huge Halliburton no-bid contracts of the Bush-Cheney administration in a bad light. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no supporter of Halliburton’s no-bid windfall, but some politicians mesh the no-bid portion with competitively bid parts, both of which were awarded legally. Given the pre-election Obama-Biden position on no-bid contracts, imagine my suprise at learning Vice President Biden is the beneficiary of a no-bid contract likely to bring him $66,000 of taxpayer money. By anyone’s math, that’s $41,000 more than the Democratic candidates promised would be the cap for no-bid, sometimes called sole-source, contracts.

Obviously, $41,000, or even $66,000, is not the point here, considering the current deficit and national debt. At issue is Biden’s hypocrisy in benefiting from a no-bid contract at any value. Biden has already made $13,000 since March on the deal. What’s even worse is the government agency Biden is charging rent to is his Secret Service protection detail. Granted, the cost of protecting US top officials is a legitimate public expense, but taxpayers are also footing the bill for the protectee’s charges to enjoy that protection. It doesn’t matter the $2,200 monthly rent is the same charged to the previous tennant.

Biden's $2,200 a month cottage

After his mother, who originally occupied the cottage next to his waterfront residence, passed in 2010, Biden’s security detail decline his offer to rent the cottage. Granted, the logic of his Secret Service detail being next door to the VP’s personal residence is inescapable.

How would you feel, however, if you were part of that detail knowing the Secret Service is paying rent to the guy you might have to give your life for? You can tell a politician is lying when you see their lips move. And I’d say Joe Biden is not my idea of a public servant. Maybe he’ll write a check for the rent to the Bureau of the Public Debt. Naw! Otherwise, he would have let the Secret Service use the cottage at no charge and deducted the contribution or “business loss” on his taxes.

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