Cynical Synapse

Mon, 31 Aug 2009

Bing Gives Detroiters A Stay of Execution

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Economy, Government, Life, People, Politics, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 9:13 pm

Detroit’s working class gets to keep their jobs for another week or so as Mayor Dave Bing backed off plans to cut Sunday and Saturday night bus service. Still, the mayor zapped the D’s transit:

I came to work this morning, I passed six buses, three of them were totally empty, the other three had anywhere from five to six people on them. We can’t continue to pay the kind of overhead that we have right now and that’s the kind of bus ridership that we have.

One problem is Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) bus schedules are not synched with the suburban SMART system’s schedules. That’s an issue for both systems. And that’s an inefficiency left over from December 2002 when then out-going Michigan Gov. John Engler vetoed transit agency legislation for southeast Michigan. That buffoon’s political spitefulness is part of today’s problem, 7 years later. What an oversized ass. But I digress.

Bing also took exception to the 50 DDOT drivers who called in sick Saturday.

One of the things that happened this weekend that really bothers me is that in our negotiations with the bus drivers’ union is, on Saturday, they had 50 sick call ins. Which is ridiculous, I think. I don’t think they’re negotiating in good faith. That those 50 sick call-ins did not retard us in any way for the services that we provided says that’s at least 50 bus drivers that we don’t need.

I realize Bing’s in the “trick seat” and I appreciate he’s not pulling any punches, something the city has needed for a long time. But, he’s got to take the time to mesh DDOT and SMART so Detroiters can keep their jobs. Otherwise, he’ll see reduced income tax and increased foreclosures, which means reduced property taxes.

Mayor Bing says he’s amazed there’s not the same outcry about shootings as there is about bus service. Here’s the point the chauffer-driven mayor is missing: DDOt’s not just a bus line, it’s a lifeline! From the comments I’ve seen, Detroiters would rather see the fare jump to $2 than see service cuts.

Kudos to Bing for not putting police and fire on the chopping block–yet. He’s also not slashing water and sewerage jobs at present. Next on the “protected” list should be DDOT so those who still have jobs can keep them.

Sun, 30 Aug 2009

Train Cam of Crash that Killed 5

Filed under: Behavior, Cars, Driving, Life, People, Railroads, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 2:11 pm

Five metro Detroit kids, aged 14-21, lost their lives on July 9th. This tragedy happened because the driver was trying to beat the train. As the video shows at the 0:12 mark, the kids never had a chance. Nor did the Amtrak engineer have any warning of what was about to happen. A conductor discovers the tragic outcome at 2:25.

It’s simple physics: a 530-ton train, with steel wheels on steel rails, going 70 mph takes a long time to stop. And a 2-ton car is no match for the train.

HT: theblogprof

Sat, 29 Aug 2009

Urban Forests and Farms–Detroit’s Future?

Filed under: Budget, Civil liberties, Detroit, Economy, Environment, Government, Life, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 2:56 pm

It seems urban farming is all the rage these days. Even the Michigan State Fair is touting the idea, despite this likely being the fair’s last year, ending it’s record-holding 161-year run. Genesee Co. Treasurer Dan Kildee has long been a proponent of land banks.

There’s no question that blight in Detroit is a problem. Now Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tom George wants to create a Detroit land bank authority. As you can see, the intent is to shrink the city and, thereby, reduce the area requiring city services. The reclaimed land would turn into urban forest and urban farmland.

A key benefit land bankers see for the country’s declining urban areas is downsizing them. By concentrating remaining populations, the cities can save money by eliminating services to the green space. Things like police, fire, garbage, and snow removal only need to be delivered where people live. And deteriorating infrastructure in the new green space can just be left to return to nature. The problem is, however, the greening of cities means bulldozing neighborhoods.

So, who decides what neighborhoods are vibrant; which ones get to survive? Which ones don’t? Where are the remaining folks forced to relocate to? And who forces them to relocate? Absent some policy of forced relocation, like WWII’s Japanese-American internments, how will land banking’s objectives be met? Neighborhoods exist and thrive because people want them to, not because someone plants them somewhere.

And what if Detroit doesn’t want to be greened? I think Tom George needs broader support in the city than just Motor City Blight Busters. And George needs more than that if he hopes to be a serious contender for governor.

Thu, 27 Aug 2009

Young Fuol: Bing’s Bus Cuts Hurt the Ordinary Folk

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, Life, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:51 pm

Detroit rapper Young Fuol opposes Dave Bing’s plan to cut bus service. Detroit’s Mayor proposed eliminating Sunday buses and other DDOT service reductions.

In addressing Detroit’s budget woes, Mayor Bing has taken a new tack. Rather than threaten to cut police and fire, like most politicians, he’s holding ordinary citizens hostage. Detroit already has unemployment blowing past 28.9% , but if there’s no Sunday bus service, hundreds and even thousands more won’t be able to get to work. Think they’ll keep their jobs? Like Young Fuol says:

How could [Bing] lay off city workers like 211 then tell us he’s stopping buses on weekdays at 7?

There’s a lot more people who are gonna lose there job when it’s already hard as hell to get that job. I hate it.

What doesn’t make sense, though, is how Young Fuol apparently thinks convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick was better for Detroit. Whether you agree with Bing or not, he obviously realizes how much financial trouble the city is truly in. That’s a reality Kwame totally ignored; in fact, he added to it.

Wed, 26 Aug 2009

Internet Inventor Behind the Power Curve

Filed under: Business, Congress, Customer service, Economy, Government, Life, Michigan, Technology — cynicalsynapse @ 8:55 pm

According to Yahoo News, the US is 28th in Internet speeds. Excuse me? The US developed the Internet! How can we have fallen so far behind? And that’s not the only bad news. The US rates a mere 16th in access to broadband. The data comes from a Communications Workers of America report.

Countries like South Korea, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have faster Internet connectivity and more broadband access per capita than the US. According to the CWA, South Korea has the fastest connection with download speeds of 20.4 megabits per second (mbps). The US? Only 5.1 mbps, which is up from last year’s paltry 4.2 mbps.

The CWA also has a report on Internet connection speeds by state which has some good news for Michigan, sort of. Michigan connects at 5.3 mbps, above the national average of 5.1 mbps, but it ranks 24th out of 53 states and territories (DC, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands being the territories). Delaware is in first place. Test results show the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have the fastest Internet connections and even DC, at 10th, outperforms Michigan.

Curious, I used the speakeasy site to test my Internet connections. At work, I got results of 4.97 mbps download and .535 mbps upload. At home, which seems like a faster connection to me, I recorded results of 2.935 mbps download and .956 upload. I can’t complain; that’s consistent with the 3 mbps speed U-Verse advertises. Guess I need to upgrade to 6 mbps for an extra five bucks.

I still have to wonder, though. How could the country that invented the Internet fall so far behind in broadband and connectivity? With so many web-based applications these days, imagine how productivity would jump if the US doubled it’s connectivity? A move to just 14th would surely represent substantial economic benefit, wouldn’t it? Another example of failed government policy and lack of direction in the private sector.

Tue, 25 Aug 2009

Detroit’s Mayor Bing: On the Wrong Bus

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Economy, Government, Life, Politics, Take action, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 11:08 pm

Detroit’s finances are in the toilet and I sympathize with Mayor Bing on that. I really do. There’s no solution that everyone will like; any choice he makes will be unpopular with someone or other. But, the idea of cutting bus service is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s penny wise and dollar foolish!

Every other major metropolitan area in the US has a transit system of some kind beyond just buses. Detroit is handicapped without regional rail, a subway, or light rail. Detroit has none of those but is considering light rail along Woodward Avenue and there’s the study of commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Both ideas are heavily dependent on Federal money for construction. How will the Feds feel if Detroit eviscerates it’s only public transportation, the buses? I’m thinking they won’t be real interested in funding other transit for metro Detroit. Let’s not forget that nanoseconds before leaving office, Michigan’s former governor John Engler vetoed regional transit for southeast Michigan. This is the same puffed up mass of flesh that thinks Michigan should house the Gitmo terrorists. Remember, Engler now lives and works in the DC area.

But, I digress. The point is, Detroit doesn’t have a functional mass transit system. Southeast Michigan has two separate bus systems. Transit is critical to flourishing regions, but Detroit’s Mayor Bing wants to eliminate Sunday bus service completely starting at 6 PM on Saturday, end overnight service on about 21 routes, slash 4 routes altogether, and increase wait times on many routes. In essence, the Mayor wants to eliminate 24 hour service and slash weekend service to almost worthless levels. In a city where one-third of households don’t have a car, does this make any rational sense? I think not. Putting Detroiters out of work to save bus money is just idiotic.

With no Saturday night or Sunday bus service, a lot of people who rely on Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses to get to work will likely lose their jobs. In a region with 25% unemployment already, this is not helpful. It will also translate to reduced tax revenue for the city, thereby offsetting any perceived savings. Has anyone considered this ripple effect? If people can’t get to their jobs at the casinos, the Fox, or the ball parks, those venues will have problems with weekend events and, thereby, suffer decreased revenues, again whittling away at Detroit’s tax base. In turn, this will also negatively affect those employees who don’t rely on the buses.

Although I don’t support any cuts in DDOT’s service, that doesn’t mean the city’s bus system should be exempt from fiscal responsibility. After reviewing the National Transit Database for 2005, DDOT costs 30% more than the Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART), the suburban bus system for equivalent service. That tells me DDOT’s employees can give up some salary, a move that’s definitely better for citizens, not to mention the DDOT employees likely to be layed off under Bing’s plan. DDOT could also hike the fare from $1.50 to $2.00, like SMART is considering. I realize that’s not popular, but it’s better than cutting service, especially totally whacking Sundays!

It’s not clear to me how much Mayor Bing expects to save by hacking at public transit. I suspect, however, it doesn’t equal the cost of the Detroit People Mover (DPM), which seems to be a sacred cow. In 2005, the People Mover cost $10,302,600 to operate. DPM spends $5.32 in addition to every 50-cent fare. DPM’s 2.9 mile circuit doesn’t even compare to the bus system’s route miles along 44 fixed routes. Similarly, DPM carried only about 2 million in 2008 compared to DDOT’s 38.7 million. So, I’m thinking cut the People Mover, which is a $10 million dollar tourist attraction, and keep the bus service so Detroiters can get to work. Seems like simple math to me.

If you live in Detroit, let Mayor Bing (313-224-3400) know your feelings. Attend one of the public hearings. Vote in the Detroit News poll. This issue is critical to the entire region, not just the City of Detroit.

Fri, 21 Aug 2009

Aftermath of the 9 Mile Bridge Collapse

Filed under: Budget, Driving, Economy, Government, Legal, Life, Michigan, People, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 5:12 pm

After claiming he would fight his speeding ticket, Saied Haidarian-Shahri paid the $150 fine earlier this week. State Police ticketed Shahri after he lost control of his car on July 15th. His accident caused the destruction of the 9 Mile bridge over I-75. Shahri’s car struck a tanker truck, separating the trailer from the cab. The tanker’s 14,000 gallons of fuel erupted in flames, weakening the 9 Mile bridge’s steel beams and causing the collapse. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Now the Michigan Attorney General wants insurance companies to pay $3.4 million toward rebuilding the 9 Mile bridge over I-75. Under Michigan’s no-fault insurance laws, the state wants insurance carriers for Shahri, as well as the tanker truck and a follow-on produce truck, to share in the costs. The amount covers expenses for last year’s remake of the bridge and this year’s clean up after the accident as well as repaving I-75 so it could reopen.

Original plans by MDOT called for replacing the 9 Mile bridge, with an intended opening by the end of the year. That’s now changed since current bridge design standards call for engineering a bridge to last 80 years. That means MDOT needs a bridge designed to accomodate plans to add a lane in each direction on I-75.

So, instead of $2 million to replace the bridge, now the project will cost about $10 million. Although MDOT claims the feds will pick up 90%, they don’t have an answer on their request for emergency funding. Oh, and there’s no start date for the project, but a contract won’t be let until end of September. A likely completion date is now probably next summer at best, although MDOT remains optimistic.

More commuting hassle. Not to mention the economic impact on local businesses.

Thu, 20 Aug 2009

Michigan Legislature Uses Fuzzy Math on Public Safety Budgets

Filed under: Budget, Economy, Government, Michigan, Politics, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 6:48 am

National Guard Soldiers respond to flooding.

Michigan’s legislators and governor are being irresponsible with 2010’s budget. They’re playing “let’s see who blinks first” with a lot of programs, including public safety. Some of the games they’re playing amount to dirty pool. Consider this: the House version of SB 250 cuts $1.1 million from National Guard armory utilities. It also cuts the same amount from Air National Guard bases. On the surface, it may appear to be saving energy. The reality, however, is the likely closing of 10 armories and shuttering of two air bases. The net result: loss of about 675 full-time jobs from the affected communities.

Beyond the immediate economic impact, there is the additional travel time for traditional Guardsmen—the part-time Soldiers and Airmen who usually drill one weekend a month—to get to new armory locations. That’s counter to efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil, seems to me. Never mind the fact none of the armories have excess capacity to house additional units. This could result in degraded unit readiness due to inadequate training space and competing demands for limited resources. Michigan Guardsmen will likely be less ready to serve the state in case of a natural disaster and less ready to fight in the nation’s wars.

Penny-wise and dollar foolish, the Michigan House wants to cut $2.2 million in utility expenses, a move that will impact affected communities by at least $33.8 million in lost salaries. Add to that the money spent in the communities by Guardsmen during weekend drills. In addition, those communities will have another building just sitting there empty.

Michigan Youth ChalleNGe cadets at Camp Grayling, MI.

Not to be outdone by their House colleagues, the Michigan Senate hacked at HB 4447, the school aid bill. Among other things, their actions eviscerated funding for the Michigan Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a National Guard run program for disadvantaged kids. From their website:

The MYCA is a no-cost, voluntary residential program for 16-19 year old high school drop-outs and potential drop-outs looking to turn their lives around for the better.

So, let’s see. In addition to cutting 100 State Police officers, local revenue sharing (which local governments use for police and fire), and closing 8 correctional facilities, let’s also cut the cost-effective Youth ChalleNGe program. Michigan’s high school dropout rate is 15%, about 21,000 from the class of 2007. According to the Department of Justice, 88% of high school drop outs without a GED will be incarcerated by age 25. Michigan’s dropouts of 2007 will account for 18,480 prisoners, costing taxpayers upwards of $591.4 million annually.

Conversely, the Michigan Youth Challenge program has an 80% GED pass rate compared to the national average of 40%. According to director John Wemlinger, as many as 90% of the 100 or so cadets in each class earn their GED. Wemlinger added about 98% stay out of trouble with the law after they graduate the Academy. On that basis, ChalleNGe graduates reduce incarceration costs by about $2.8 million for each school year. That savings is more than double what the Senate wants to cut from the budget. Do you think the Senate’s savings of less than $1.3 million makes sense?

I guess the legislature used the same crazy math when they stood by while Gov. Granholm cut 100 State Troopers. Write your state representative and senator. Tell them what you want the second highest paid state legislature to do on these budget issues.

Wed, 19 Aug 2009

Michigan Unemployment Down, But Not Really

Filed under: Cars, Economy, Government, Michigan, Unemployment — cynicalsynapse @ 9:40 pm

Grand Rapids Press

At 15%, Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is down two-tenths from June’s figure. That’s still 55% higher than last July’s rate of 8.3%. And, experts figure Michigan’s rate will still be the highest in the country.

But, hey! Michigan gained jobs, right? If you consider 7,000 were in the hotel and leisure industry, it’s not rocket science to realize most of those will disappear after Labor Day. While there were other gains, notably in government and healthcare, retail and construction jobs were down. Excuse me? What happened to all those Stimulus bill construction jobs?

While Michigan “gained” 18,000 manufacturing jobs in July and fewer factory workers were laid off, don’t forget most autoworkers were already laid off. Since they were already unemployed, the Big 3 didn’t need to do their traditional July changeover shutdowns. To put it in perspective, from the Grand Rapids Press:

The rise in manufacturing jobs “does not reflect any real improvement in the job picture, but is just an artifact of the seasonal adjustment process,” said Rick Waclawek, director of the state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

Michigan has lost 119,000 manufacturing jobs the past year. About 281,000 total nonfarm payroll jobs have been lost in that time.

Hang on to your hats. Michigan’s unemployment ride is bound to be bumpy for the rest of the year. It’s likely we’ll see month-to-month fluctuations, making the overall picture less than clear.

Mon, 17 Aug 2009

“Recession is Over” Party—Not!

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Economy, Government, Life — cynicalsynapse @ 7:37 am

The recession is over

During the last week or two, a number of sources have been talking about seeing an end to the recession. It seems the so-called experts have been clamoring for the “recession is over” party. The problem is, ordinary folk don’t see it that way. From the Common Peoples Source for News:

Standing in line for unemployment benefits.

A special report by The Washington Post, “A Recovery Only a Statistician Can Love“, says although the statistics point toward a recovery, there’s no reason for the average person to get excited. They point out the fact that once the 2001 recession ended it took 55 months (4 years, 7 months) “before a greater share of Americans had jobs”.

While July unemployment numbers seem superficially better, they don’t reflect reality for most Americans. In mid-July, Michigan reported unemployment at 15.2%, the highest in the nation. And the change may reflect folks hopeless about finding a job.

Beyond the ordinary folk, even Wall Street is not back up to snuff. Consumers are no longer willing to reward “less bad” news. And significant bailout money is still out there.

So, while the recession may be over, the recovery may still be slow.

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