Cynical Synapse

Tue, 20 Sep 2011

Matty Moroun the Loon; Efficacy of a Second Detroit-Windsor Bridge

Filed under: Business, Detroit, Driving, Economy, Government, Greed, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 5:47 am

MDOT gateway project

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. (DBIC) had a legal agreement on the Gateway Project to connect I-75 and I-96 directly to the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge. Construction, which cost Michigan taxpayers $230 million and shut down I-75 to facilitate construction for over a year. Still, DBIC failed to live up to its commitments and 18 months after a court order to comply, DBIC is no closer to meeting its obligations.

At the heart of the matter, DBIC wants to twin its Ambassador Bridge. Officials in Canada and the US oppose twinning the Ambassador Bridge. While Canada and Michigan consider a second bridge across the Detroit River, Moroun and DBIC don’t want to hear about competition from a government-owned span. Uh, did it even occur to you guys if you’d simply lived up to your agreement with MDOT, which steers traffic (or would if DBIC didn’t block it) to the very doorstep of the Ambassador Bridge?

twin spanning the Ambassador Bridge

What makes this newsworthy today? It seems Matty Moroun and/or DBIC have been running ads against the proposed publicly-owned bridge. In fact, Ambassador Bridge owners have spent $4.7 million on advertising opposing a public Detroit-Windsor bridge this year alone. That’s a lot of money on local advertising.

In the past, DBIC claimed there is not enough traffic to support an additional span. If that’s true, why does DBIC want to build its own twin span? Obviously DBIC believes current, or future, traffic at the busiest US-Canadian crossing warrants another bridge. The question is, should it be publicly owned or subject to the whims of Moroun’s monopoly? Considering DBIC’s record on living up to its agreements, the public option seems in the best interests. Just sayin’.

What’s really interesting about this is both former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and current Gov. Rick Snyder (R) support the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) public span, at odds with Moroun’s second private span.
 

Previously on the Ambassador Bridge:

Sun, 31 Jul 2011

These Are Not the Oil Profits You’re Looking For

Filed under: Business, Congress, Economy, Gas Prices, Government, Greed, Hypocrits, Oil, Politics, Rants, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 2:41 pm

big oil's big gusher

ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, the five biggest oil companies, reported skyrocketing profits for the second quarter. The profit jumps result from higher oil prices, which seems counterintuitive to me. Obviously the cost is simply passed along to consumers and not absorbed by the oil companies. The top 5 Big Oil companies increased profits almost 10% over second quarter 2010. Their combined profit for second quarter 2011 was $35.1 billion.

Although second quarter profits were up 41% compared to last year, the results are “below expectations.” Investors called BP’s 13% improvement in profit over 2010 “disappointing” at $5.6 billion in the second quarter 2011.

Hoekstra on healthcare

On top of increased, but disappointing profits, Exxon Mobil pays a lower effective tax rate than individuals, at 17.6% compared to 20.4% for individual US Federal taxpayers.

With record profits and low effective tax rates, why do big oil companies get $70+ billion in tax breaks? How about slashing those to reduce the deficit? Silly me, Big Oil owns Congress.

Previously on Oil:

Sun, 20 Feb 2011

Opportunity Knocks; Jackson, Sharpton Run to Answer the Door

Filed under: Behavior, Deceit, Economy, Government, Greed, Hypocrits, Media, Opportunists, Politics, President, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 3:50 pm

Revs. Jackson and Sharpton

Politics is full of opportunists and there’s certainly no shortage of people weighing in on the Wisconsin budget protests in Madison. The main stream media has become complicit in the rallying cry this is about preventing Gov. Scott Walker (R) from union busting. As a result, people and the media liken the Madison protests to those in Egypt. The reality is the budget repair bill limits public employee unions to wage increases tied to the Consumer Price Index. Unions can still bargain for higher raises, but the bill calls for those to be approved in a referendum before the people.

It’s no secret unions back Democrats and, not surprisingly, Democratic politicians tend to be pro-union. Thus, Pres. Obama has decried Walker’s blatant attempt to disempower workers. Never one to miss an opportunity to be a famewhore, Rev. Jesse Jackson descended on Madison to demonstrate his solidarity with the embattled workers.

Forty-nine million Americans are in poverty, 44 million are on food stamps, we give the wealthiest Americans tax cuts at Christmas time, and now lay off public workers. It’s not right, the workers ought fight back, and they are fighting back…That spirit of fighting back to close the north-south gap between the surplus culture and the suffering culture.

I payed for your pension

Jackson’s co-opportunist, Rev. Al Sharpton joined the labor movement under attack set, as well. Besides efforts to dimish public unions’ collective bargaining rights, Sharpton decries the detrimental effect on take-home pay the budget repair bill includes. Key elements elements at issue is the increase in pension contributions to 5.8% and in health insurance premiums to 12.6% for state employees.

Do you have a pension? Only 31% of US workers have a pension. I submit those are on the surplus side of Jackson’s culture divide.

got your race cards ready?

Another unfair burden Sharpton takes exception to is the higher health insurance premium costs Wisconsin workers may have to pay. But wait. According to the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US workers pay 26.7% in health care premiums, more than double the 12.% proposed for state workers. Am I missing how downtrodden these guys are? They sure don’t seem to be just a step away from Jackson’s references to those in poverty and on food stamps.

Regarding public employee layoffs, Gov. Walker promised no furloughs and no lay off for 6,000 state workers if the bill passes. The only ones not working right now are those who are protesting, most of whom are teachers. Wisconsin teacher salaries average $77,718, nearly $24,000 more than the average of $53,724 for workers in Milwaukee. In 2009, the average statewide salary in Wisconsin was just over half that of the teachers: $38,500.

Sharpton, Jackson, and Obama have not come out in behalf of the downtrodden or even union rights. They participate in fomenting an issue to keep the working people of the suffering culture in their place. Sustainability is irrelevant.

Sun, 31 Oct 2010

Trick or Treat, the Lure of Free Candy

Filed under: Behavior, Greed, holidays, Life, Opportunists, People — cynicalsynapse @ 10:58 am

halloween candy

Some cities have official trick or treat times. In my area, they vary from only an hour to three hours. For the cities that “officially” allow trick or treating from 6 PM to 7 PM, have you noticed it’s not even dark yet? My city recommends 6 to 8 pm.

teen halloween

I have no clue where some people come from to trick or treat in my neighborhood. You see them get out of cars. I’m ok with that, but don’t ask for candy for the 3 month old or the sibling that got sick.

On the other hand, I don’t really like it when the big kids show up. You see, there’s an age when you’re too old to trick or treat. Just sayin…

Thu, 24 Jun 2010

Kwamegate Goes Federal

Filed under: Congress, Crime, Detroit, Government, Greed, Kwamegate, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:05 am

Kilpatrick taken into custody after violating probation

Authorities indicted Kwame Kilpatrick on 19 Federal charges Wednesday, 23 Jun 2010. Charges against Detroit’s former mayor include 10 counts of mail fraud, 5 counts of falsifying tax return, 3 counts of wire fraud, and 1 count of tax evasion. If convicted, Kilpatrick faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000.

Charges layed by a Federal grand jury stem from investigations into misuse of funds from Kilpatrick’s non-profit Civic Fund. The improper spending involves a variety of personal expenses:

  • Yoga lessons for Kilpatrick
  • Golf expenses, including lessons, a set of clubs, and golf bag
  • Summer camp for Kilpatrick’s kids
  • College tuition for relatives
  • A birthday party
  • A video documenting Kilpatrick’s family history
  • A spokesman to manage Kilpatrick’s public image after the text messaging scandal
  • Personal moving expenses when Kilpatrick moved out of the mayoral mansion and lease of his new personal residence
  • Personal travel costs and private jet flights
  • Car rental and leases
  • Counter-surveillance and anti-bugging equipment

Kilpatrick is already serving 18-60 months in a northern Michigan prison for violating his probation on his perjury conviction. What’s funny is Kilpatrick spokesman Mike Paul pointed out there were no bribery charges. Is that supposed to be a sigh of relief? As in “heck, it’s just fraud charges”? Kilpatrick and Paul probably better not hold their breath. The FBI is still looking into Kilpatrick running a criminal organization. Don’t be surprised if more charges get filed.

US Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick

Here’s the next big question: will Kwame’s mommy’s political career suffer? As far as I can see, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick has done little to nothing for her constituents. Never mind Rep. Kilpatrick (D) narrowly escaped House ethics charges. She also changed her vote from no to yes for the Wall Street bailout after the Senate added another 100 billion to the package. How many of her Detroit constituents benefited, do you think?

Previously on Kwame Kilpatrick:


Tue, 01 Jun 2010

Ambassador Bridge Owner Gets Double-Tapped

Filed under: Budget, Business, Greed, Justice, Legal, Paradoxes, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:32 pm

Detours remain at Ambassador Bridge

Grosse Pointe billionaire and Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun did not have a good week leading up to the holiday.

First, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Moroun’s case against the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) lawsuit over the Gateway Project. MDOT says Moroun, or more precisely his Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), failed to provide freeway connections according to the agreed upon designs and signed contract. Unless Moroun takes the case to Federal court, he’ll have to reconstruct connections to I-75 and I-96 at, perhaps, a cost of millions of dollars. If Michigan invested $230 million in taxpayer dollars on the Gateway project, why couldn’t Matty Moroun meet his part of the bargain? Maybe because Moroun built a duty-free store and gasoline pumps in anticipation of his second span, at least partially on land owned by the City of Detroit. Kind of arrogant and presumptuous, don’t you think, Mr. Moroun?

Second, the Michigan House passed a bill to allow Michigan to finance a second, publicly-owned Detroit River crossing (aka bridge). Ambassador Bridge owner Moroun has been seeking Coast Guard approval for a second span. Nonetheless, he claims a second—Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC)—span is not economically viable. What he means is “I want my own second span, but yours is no good.”

No to Moroun's second bridge span

Considering that Detroit-Windsor is the highest volume border crossing between the US and Canada, it’s not prudent to leave a private entity with total control over cross-border traffic. Granted, there is the tunnel, but it’s not really a commercial crossing; trucks use the bridge. And, since Moroun doesn’t want to live up to the terms of the Gateway Project, a public span seems more in the interests of citizens in the region than a second Ambassador Bridge span.

Granted, the Michigan House bill still needs to make it past the Michigan Senate and Gov. Granholm who supports DRIC. Canada has already offered to fund Michigan’s part of the span, to be reimbursed by tolls until paid off. Environmental impact studies are, essentialy, done. This all seems like a no brainer to me.

Previously on the Ambassador Bridge:

Tue, 06 Apr 2010

Big Branch Mine Disaster Preventable

Filed under: Behavior, Government, Greed, Life, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 10:17 pm

Upper Big Branch mine

With 25 dead and 4 missing, the Upper Big Branch disaster is the worst coal mining accident in the US since 1984. Although the reason for the explosion remains to be determined, it’s highly likely methane gas is the culprit. Upper Big Branch is eerily like the Sago disaster that killed 12 miners in 2006.

As for the 4 missing miners, officials hold out hope for their survival, but it seems unlikely. Rescuers are unable to enter the mine, due to the methane levels, until 1,200-foot ventilation shafts are drilled. If the methane levels will support explosive combustion, they also suppress breathable oxygen, meaning survival of the unaccounted for miners is not likely.

Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine is a non-union operation. Significantly, it “liberates” 1.5 million cubic feet of methane gas in a 24 hour period. United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith had this to say about the mine’s safety violations.

Ventilation—which is very important in mining and when a mine liberates as much methane as this one—and maintenance of mine escapeways are two of the most serious.

mine injury rates

Sadly, the Upper Big Branch disaster should never have happened. The mine received 39 violations regarding extracting methane in 2009, 15 of which were considered “significant and substantial.” It should be no surprise, then, that Massey is a big political donor, and not necessarily to candidates in so-called mining country.

Owners of the mine, Massey Energy, have a history of safety infractions. The Upper Big Branch mine alone has been assessed about $1.8 million in safety violation penalties. Of that, the company has paid a mere $365,000.

The Upper Big Branch mine liberated, or off-gassed, 1.5 million cubic feet of methane every day! That’s a helluva lot! What about capturing that for generating electricity? I get worked up about a local landfill that routinely burns off minor amounts of methane gas. In any case, ventilation of the mine is critical for safety and the amount of methane warranted spot inspections by regulators every 5 days.

Sago mine disaster crosses

Massey’s 2009 safety violations were double 2008. Massey Energy paid nearly $900,000 for safety violations last year. The Upper Big Branch mine, alone, was cited for 458 safety violations in 2009. Many of those were related to the ventilation plan and its implementation. According to Davitt McAteer, former director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) under Pres. Bill Clinton:

That’s a high number. That’s a number that suggests that you’ve got some problems and should be a red flag for people who are involved in management to say “are we going in the right direction here?”

So, Massey’s safety violations were up, along with penalties. The company donates big to political campaigns. And the Upper Big Branch mine has excessive methane gas. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Yet, according to McAteer:

We ought not to have disasters of this magnitude in this country. We’ve got mines that operate 25, 30 years without a fatal. Um, we’ve got mines that operate 40 years without a disaster. Tens of dozens of mines. We shouldn’t have a standard that allows for mines to have this kind of accident, uh, where you kill 25 people.

Preventable? You betcha.

Tue, 02 Feb 2010

Toyota Downshifts, Grinds Gears

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Cars, Congress, Greed, Politics, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 7:07 pm

Toyota rollover

Although, to their credit, the so-called foreign automakers were largely silent on the collapse of domestic US automakers, it seems they weren’t that far above the fray. I don’t mean this as a vindication of domestic auto manufacturers. There’s no doubt their arrogance has been part of their legacy. The Big Three have been working on quality since the 1990s and have made great strides.

It is, therefore, particularly ironic to find that Toyota sacrificed quality, resulting in a major recall action. The recall involves more than 4 million cars across 8 nameplates. This should be a significant emotional event, although the mainstream media isn’t portraying it as such. What if this had been GM, Chrysler, or Ford? They’d be all over it like stink on rice.

Brake, accelerator pedals

Unfortunately, it seems Toyota has been ducking the issue for years. Don Slavik, an attorney representing a California man, said, “I think Toyota is still scrambling to find the root causes of all the sudden acceleration that’s been reported to them.” Slavik’s client’s wife died when their 2005 Toyota Camry crashed off a cliff.

There have been hundreds of complaints about Toyotas’ sudden acceleration, however. The complaints date back at least to 2003, but NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) routinely agreed with Toyota’s data that showed no evidence of defects. Some sources claim the issue dates back to the ’90s.

Since this problem surfaced, Toyota has issued two recalls. One, for floor mats, has been greatly expanded, as has the other, for gas pedals themselves. As part of an agreement with NHTSA, Toyota is applying a software change to shut down accelerator pedals when the brake is applied.

Toyota City

Everyone seemed quite comfortable dissing domestic automakers despite increasing quality gains. Where are those folks now that Toyota is having quality problems? Long-standing ones, I might add. Toyota’s January sales were down 16%, largely due to the recalls. That just adds to the woes of a sluggish economy which is hammering Toyota City, Japan’s own motor city.

Toyota has factories in 8 different US locations. They’re represented by 5 Democratic Senators and 9 Republicans. Of those, one Republic did not vote on the domestic automaker bailout while 7 Republicans voted against saving US-based car companies. They are Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Kay Baily Huthison (R-TX), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Roger Wicker (R-MS). Of these, Hutchison and Wicker voted for the Wall Street Bailout. How does that make sense? The point is half the Senators—all Republicans—from states with Toyota factories didn’t vote or voted against the domestic auto industry. Coincidence? I think not. Question is, what was their motive? Pro-Toyota? Anti-union?

Sun, 03 Jan 2010

What Happened to Good Old-Fashioned Bowl Games?

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Detroit, Greed, Life, Rants, Sports — cynicalsynapse @ 11:23 am

Rose Bowl stadium

For football fans—and their widows—we’re in the midst of college bowl season. Maybe there are too many bowl games. Just as most major league ball stadia have corporate sponsorship under naming rights agreements, so, too, do most of the bowl games. I think this commercialization of our entertainment is a travesty. It highlights our society’s shallowness and could well be one of the reasons those in less fortunate quarters of the world hate the US. But I digress

I’m not a big football fan, nor do I play one on TV. But I am a bit of a traditionalist. I liked the Rose Bowl being played on New Year’s Day. We don’t have that anymore—now it’s the Rose Bowl Game by Citi. And is Citi paying for those naming rights with taxpayer dollars (from the bailout)?

My other issue is if Citi is presenting the Rose Bowl, why do I have to buy tickets? If I have to buy tickets, it’s paid for by me (and everyone else and the broadcasters). To add insult to injury, this year’s game was the 96th Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi. Um, the current corporate sponsor did not present all the previous games, so stop pretending like you did. For the record, I’m not more likely to do business with Citi because they “present” the Rose Bowl nor am I any more likely to attend the game.

Here’s a list of former bowl games that are now under the corporate spell. A spell, by the way, those corporations write off on their taxes just so we have to say longer names for games we’re interested in. Those in bold have no single blatant corporate sponsors in their names or on their web sites. I’m not opposed to sponsors—that’s just advertising. But don’t make it part of the name. Only 5 out of 34 (15%) fit that bill.

Bowl game logos

  • December 19th games
    • St. Petersburg Bowl Presented by Beef ‘O’ Brady’s
    • New Mexico Bowl IV—no blatant single corporate sponsor
  • December 20th game: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
  • December 22nd game: MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
  • December 23rd game: San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
  • December 24th game: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
  • December 26th games
    • Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl Presented by GM, Ford, and Union Carpenters and Millwrights)
    • Meinike Car Care Bowl
    • Emerald Bowl—no blatant single corporate sponsor
  • December 27th game: Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl in 2010)
  • December 28th game: Advocare V100 Independence Bowl
  • December 29th games
    • Champs Sports Bowl—no blatant single corporate sponsor
    • EagleBank Bowl
  • December 30th games
    • Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl—any irony in a truck stop chain being associated with humanitarian?
    • Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
  • December 31st games
    • Texas Bowl—no blatant single corporate sponsor
    • Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
    • Insight Bowl
    • Brut Sun Bowl
    • Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly the Peach Bowl)
  • January 1st games
    • 96th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
    • 75th Anniversary Allstate Sugar Bowl
    • Outback Bowl
    • Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
    • Capital One Bowl
  • January 2nd games
    • PapaJohns.com Bowl
    • Valero Alamo Bowl
    • AT&T Cotton Bowl
    • 51st AutoZone Liberty Bowl
    • International Bowl—no blatant single corporate sponsor
  • January 4th game: 39th Annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
  • January 5th game: FedEx Orange Bowl
  • January 6th game: GMAC Bowl—no wonder they got into trouble; the countdown to kickoff says 367 days, but I figure it’s 3 days
  • January 7th game: BCS Championship Bowl in association with Fox Sports

pizza bowl

As if the bankruptcy of two of the Big 3 domestic automakers wasn’t bad enough, Detroit suffers another blow. The Motor City Bowl is now a pizza bowl. Nothing against Little Ceasars, but couldn’t they have gone with the Motor City Bowl Presented by Little Ceasars? Sheesh!

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