Cynical Synapse

Thu, 29 Oct 2009

Obama, Just Make a Decision on Afghanistan

Filed under: Global War on Terror, Indecision, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 11:02 pm

Afghani kids while a US patrol passes

As a young 2nd Lieutenant, I was fortunate to have a peer who didn’t always think things through. His bull-in-a-china-shop method always overshaddowed any faux pas I might make. One day, as we sat on a bus waiting to return to the armory, he got inpatient. Going up to the battalion commander, he asked why someone couldn’t make a f***in’ decision. I knew something was up when I saw the battalion staff officers move away from the battalion commander, scattering in what seemed like four different directions.

My peer wanted to get moving in a constructive direction, although his strategy wasn’t exactly correct. The Taliban are resurgent in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s been quite obvious over the last 6 months. The question is, do they really have that much support? Yes, they get engaged in firefights, but improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the preferred weapon. Afghanistan is a poor country with an ineffective central government. Thus, the Taliban can coerce the local populace for support or they can pay locals to emplant IEDs.

Pres. Obama with Gen. McChrystal

President Obama’s pick as top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called for more troops to avoid mission failure at the end of August. His strategy is to protect the people, to separate them from Taliban pay or threats. He’s following the same basic concept used with the so-called surge in Iraq. McChrystal’s an experienced special forces operator and no stranger to Afghanistan.

While Afghanistan and Iraq are very different places, the similarities with the warfight are eerie. Then Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Eric Shinseki said more troops were needed in Iraq and was marginalized for his views by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. That was in 2003 and it’s taken until 2009 for us to even imagine a winding down in Iraq. In the meantime, Afghanistan has been the forgotten war even though it should have been our primary focus. It’s been fought on the cheap and now some think it’s a lost cause, much like it seemed Iraq was a couple years ago.

Soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan

Earlier this week, President Obama told a crowd at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, “I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way.” Obama promised to back the military “to the hilt”. If Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) gets it, why doesn’t the President? He’s had ten months now to consider his strategy. Why has he just started having meetings on it? And how long is this going to take? It’s been two months since Gen. McChrystal forwarded his assessment.

I side with Gen. McChrystal. He’s on the ground and knows what needs to be done. Moreover, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan fostered the terrorism that led to 9-11. The fates of Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan are tied together by the Taliban insurgency. Thus, the stakes are high. At this point, it all boils down to one question for Obama: can’t someone make a f***in’ decision?


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Tue, 27 Oct 2009

Kwamegate Charges Still Surfacing

Filed under: Behavior, Detroit, Government, Justice, Kwamegate, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 5:48 am

I did not have text with that women

Detroit’s former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, cost the city millions and made national—maybe international—news at the height of the scandal over his text messages. Ultimately, that led to Kilpatrick’s plea bargain and subsequent removal from office.

Kwame Kilpatrick and his legal team

Lawyer Mike Stefani, who got an $8.4 million settlement in the 2007 police whistle-blower lawsuit, faces perjury charges before Michigan’s Attorney Grievance Commission. Stefani admitted he leaked Kwami’s text messages to the Detroit Free Press for “safekeeping”. Four other lawyers are facing professional charges—and possible loss of their legal licenses—following the whistle-blower case.

A list of those complicit, in one way or another, with Kwamegate:

And there’s still more to be revealed in the Tamara Green murder case and lawsuit. In the meantime, Kilpatrick’s shenanigans have inspired musicals, been in Fox’s “Lie to Me”, and now the film “Scandal in the City”.

Mon, 26 Oct 2009

Flight 188 Raises National Security Concerns

Crash into the south tower

Apparently we haven’t learned anything since 9-11. On October 21st, Northwest flight 188 became NORDO (no radio communications) at 5:56 PM Mountain Daylight Time. The flight remained out of radio contact for 1 hour and 20 minutes. At 8:14 PM Central Daylight Time, the crew of NW Flight 188 contacted Mineapolis Center to request permission to turn around and come back. The plane was 150 miles past its destination.

I’m not a math whiz, but we’re 8 years and a month since the terrorist attacks of September 11th. So how is it that an airliner can be out of radio contact of more than an hour without fighters up in the sky? There are Air National Guard bases all across the country. Two bases were alerted, but no planes launched. And I have to take my shoes off at airport security why? I can’t bring my own bottled water why? It’s ok for an airliner with excess fuel to go missing for 1-1/2 hours, but rule followers like me have to jump through hoops to get a seat on that plane.

Aerial view of Minneapolic/St. Pauld

Lots of people are looking at pilot qualifications and pay. While that’s not a bad thing, I don’t think that’s the key point here. We’re not talking about a regional airline (where pay generally sucks and experience is lower).

We’re talking about a major airline where the flight crew failed to perform. More importantly, we’re talking about an airliner with plenty of fuel that was out of radio contact and deviated from its flight plan. Why weren’t fighter jets in the air? Radio contact was not re-established until 15 minutes after they passed their destination! No one knew what was taking place on that aircraft but fighter-jets never left the ground.

airport security check-in

Flight 188’s Captain Richard Cole said, “It was not a serious event, from a safety issue.” Are you serious? The plane did not follow the flight plan filed for it. The flight crew was not aware of what was going on. NW 188 was not in radio contact with anyone for more than an hour.

How can this happen in the post-9/11 era? Seems to me we’re not really safer. It’s just the rule followers have to jump through more hoops to do the normal stuff. I guess the Government doesn’t realize real criminals and terrorists don’t follow the rules.

Sun, 25 Oct 2009

Racist Tax Cheat Wants Bailout for Detroit

Filed under: Bailout, Budget, Detroit, Economy, Government, Hypocrits, Politics, Racism, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 5:53 pm

JoAnn Watson's house

I don’t see any tornado damage on the house justifying JoAnn Watson’s property tax bill of $68 for the last 10 years. That’s what the Detroit City Councilwoman has been paying while her neighbors paid $5-6,000. Seems to me a councilmember should be quite aware of what tax rates are, especially with Detroit’s budget shortfalls. For someone who huffs and puffs about tax evaders, Watson was only going to pay the last 3 years, which is all the city can charge her. Media attention and her desire for reelection to council are the only reasons she paid her back taxes in full. Probably no interest, though.

Detroiters mob Cobo Center for federal housing assistance

Although she says she wants a diverse Detroit, Watson’s racist attitudes have oozed out a few times. Just last year, when trying to get former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to resign, Watson said, “Nobody wants a white woman in Lansing to decide the fate of a black man in Detroit.” Watson called for boycotting the suburbs during the time the Detroit Zoo was teetering on the brink of extinction. In fact, her racism pre-dates her tenure on the city council. At the time she was Director of the Detroit Branch—the largest&mdash of the NAACP, Watson refused to help stop the spread of black supremecist literature at Ferris State. I guess it’s just part of that whole “Black people can’t be racist” thing.

Does incumbant council candidate JoAnn Watson have a vision for Detroit? Why yes, she does and she took a whole year developing it. She calls it the Detroit Marshall Plan. She’s calling for rapid transit, renewable energy, re-population, routing housing to families in need from government resources, and providing jobs for heads of households. Since Detroit deserves its share of the Stimulus, she plans to pay for this with a $1 billion Federal handout. Watson also wants a multi-year moratorium on foreclosures in Detroit. Concerning Detroit’s $300 million budget deficit, Watson would’d cut from the top of city departments, including all deputy directors, not from the workers at the bottom.

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson during a session

While the ideas in Watson’s Marshall Plan may make sense, her concept of implementing it is just pie in the sky. No where in her Detroit Free Press council candidate online chat does she propose solutions for Detroit’s systemic problems and inefficiencies. In short, Watson is clueless to how dysfunctional Detroit government is. And she wants to remain part of the problem. Hey, JoAnn. How’s that billion-dollar bailout working for you?

I couldn’t say it any better than this guy. He gets it. Detroiters, vote out all the incumbent city council members except Ken Cockerel Jr. and Kwame Kenyatta. The others all have issues. This is probably the most important election in the city’s 308 years.


Sat, 24 Oct 2009

Northwest Pilots Can’t Find Minneapolis Hub

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Safety, Technology, Travel — Tags: , — cynicalsynapse @ 4:27 pm

They must not have remembered to turn on their GPS. The October 21st Northwest Airlines flight 188 flew right past Minneapolis, one of three Northwest hubs. The pilots didn’t realize their mistake for 45 minutes, traveling 150 miles further, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They also failed to answer radio calls for an hour and twenty minutes. The Airbus A320 reached Minneapolis (MSP) without further incident and was met by the FBI and airport police.

According to a National Safety Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statement, MSP Center air traffic controllers “reportedly stated that the crew had become distracted”. Delta, which owns Northwest, has put the pilots on administrative leave pending their own investigation as well as the NTSB’s. The NTSB statement added:

According to the Federal Administration (FAA) the crew was interviewed by the FBI and airport police. The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness. The Safety Board is scheduling an interview with the crew.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) have been secured and are being sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, DC.

Northworst 'logo'

Flight 188 was carrying 147 paying passengers and undisclosed crew, but I’d guess 4, maybe 5. Well, the highest paid guys sit in the front seats. With average salaries of $182,000 and $121,000 respectively, the Captain and First Officer have the ultimate responsibility and duty to get their passengers to their destination safely. They are aided in this by a cockpit-ful of technology, which includes auto-pilot, programmed routes, all kinds of gages and screens, radar, weather instruments, and, of course, radios. How is it, then, that even a flight attendant was trying to get them back on course?

“Losing situational awareness” causes accidents. People on their cell phones while driving lose situational awareness. I’ve worked for a half-dozen organizations over 45-plus years. My present organization, the Michigan Army National Guard falls under the domain of hundreds of Army regulations, a whole bunch of National Guard regulations, and dozens of it’s own. I’ve never been involved or seen such a heated discussion as these pilots must have been in to miss radio calls and other indicators from their avionics as to the reality of their situation. If they’re that passionate, they should replace some politicians in Washington.

It’s probably not a good day for either passengers or crew to look out the window and see a couple of armed fighter escorts. That’s what almost happened when these guys failed to answer the radio. As they left Denver Center’s airspace, if they failed to switch to MPS Center’s frequency, that could be part of the problem. But, MPS requested other aircraft to try and reach Flight 188 on the Denver frequency, to no avail. There is fairly widespread suspicion the flightdeck crew were sleeping. Maybe they were just playing video games on their Nintendo DSi or iPhone. Or, how about distracted by books on tape?

Sadly, unless the crew fesses up, we may never know what really happened. It seems Flight 188’s outdated voice recorder only has 30 minutes of memory. I gotta take a ride on NWA next week. And they wonder why flying ain’t fun anymore.

Update:

28 Oct 2009

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the pilot licenses for first officer Richard Cole and captain Timothy Cheney. NW 188’s flight deck crew told NTSB investigators they were so engrossed in a new crew scheduling program on their laptops they lost awareness of time and place. I’m glad they won’t be driving my plane.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009

Metro Detroit Loses Another Point of Light

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Life, Michigan, Sexism, Sports — Tags: , , — cynicalsynapse @ 11:56 pm

Three-time WNBA champions, the Detroit Shock are moving to Tulsa. Their championship years: 2003, 2006, and 2008. They’re winners, having reached the playoffs their last 7 seasons and the finals the last 4 seasons.

Detroit is a good sports town and everyone loves a winner. So why are the Shock moving? Attendance at WNBA games has been anemic, at best, slipping to about 8,000 per game. With injuries and when Coach Bill Laimbeer resigned 3 games into the 2009 season, it’s been a difficult year for the Shock, even though they made the finals. Palace Sports & Entertainment president Tom Wilson blames the economy.

Some see the issue as due to women’s athletics being less equal than men’s. That seems to be born out by WNBA attendance figures. That may be part of why only 5 WNBA teams of the original 10 remain from the Shock’s first year in 1998.

I think another kick in the pants here is lack of publicity. I remember hearing about the Shock being champions one year, but I didn’t realize they had three titles. And I sure didn’t know they were in the playoffs every year since 2002 or even the playoffs since 2005. I’m not a big sports guy, so it’s tough for me to point the finger on this one, but I’d blame both the team and the media. I know when Detroit’s other teams are in contention, but I didn’t even know the Shock made the playoffs this year. No press, no attendance.

As teamowens313 said: “The real Shock should be how calmly we’re watching this great team be taken from us. The Shock deserved so much better from Detroit”. And metro Detroit has one less point of light to shine on the positives the region has to offer.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009

Michigan School Cuts—Good or Bad?

Filed under: Budget, Education, Government, Michigan, Politics — Tags: , , , — cynicalsynapse @ 11:50 pm

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) finally sent the last 6 budget bills to Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). He had been holding them for nearly 3 weeks in a political gambit to pressure the Governor to sign the bills without vetos, a holier-than-thou approach. The schools funding bill was presented earlier, however, due to the federal funds deadline.

While signing the K-12 schools budget, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) used her line item veto authority to cut $53 million from the schools budget. The bill agreed to by the Michigan Senate and House chops $165 per student from every district. Granholm vetoed an additional $51.5 million in funds for the highest paid districts in the state.

Although I realize the K-12 funding cuts happened halfway into their budget year, I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for the affected districts. What they’ve lost is the money above the base; they’re still getting the $7,316 every district gets per pupil. On average, the top 6 got more than an additional $1,900 per pupil on top of the base grant last year. It’s that extra money that Granholm vetoed, not any base funding. The legislature cut $165 per pupil from every district.

It’s conceivable Granholm’s move will force tax or revenue increases. But Bishop says whatever the Governor vetoes will just remain unfunded. Meanwhile, Bishop wants to pretend the whole budget drama is a Democratic issue, but he just sent the last 6 budget bills to Granholm.

Here’s the rub. On average, Michigan schools spend less than 50% on teachers. That’s according to the Mackinaw Center, but it’s consistent with a Detroit News or Free Press article from a few years ago. I’ve tried to latch on to it; as I remember my district spent only about 40% on instructional costs. As pathetic as that is, it feeds right into my belief school systems have become bureaucracies unto themselves. In general, districts are distracted by ancillary services at the expense of their core missions.

Just like politicians tend to cut police and fire for the sensationalism, we’re seeing a similar approach to education. Funding cuts tend to impact where the real work gets done. For schools, the validity is in the veracity of the nunbers.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009

US Barrelling Toward National Debt Bubble

Filed under: Bailout, Budget, Congress, Economy, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — cynicalsynapse @ 6:24 am

While looking into the Stimulus’ economic benefit, or rather lack there of, I realized how rapidly the national debt was growing. It’s not rocket science to figure declining revenues, from spiralling job losses, cannot sustain continually rising debt. This is like the Wall Street crisis but on a much grander scale. Don’t be fooled into thinking the US is too big to fail. There’s no such thing.

Since the Stimulus failed to jumpstart the private sector, jobs in the US continue to disappear. Even construction, a heavily touted aspect of Stimulus, has lost an average of 66,000 jobs a month in 2009. And the bulk of Stimulus money has been distributed. Like the Wall Street bailout, Stimulus has not had any trickle-down effect to the masses. In a word, Stimulus has been a failure.

Many states are using Stimulus money to staunch bleeding state budgets. This is like using duct tape to fix a broken bridge. It might look ok but the problem is still there. The budget problems are structural, meaning states are spending more than they’re taking in. Failing to address these issues now will hit them like an iceberg hitting the Titanic in two years when all the Stimulus money is gone.

How do state budgets tie into the national debt? Simple. Federal programs like Medicaid and highways have state, and sometimes local, matches. When states can’t afford to offer basic services or respond to emergencies or disasters, the Feds will have to pick up the cost on some things. Those added costs can only be tacked onto the rocketing deficit. Coupled with the reckless spending of the Stimulus and Wall Street bailout, as well as annual deficit spending exceeding $1 trillion projected for the next 10 years, we’re seeing explosive growth in the national debt.

To put it in perspective, consider these facts. When President Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009, the national debt totaled $10.6 trillion, a figure that was already unacceptably high. But by the end of Obama’s first term, the national debt is projected to be approximately $17 trillion. By the end of his second term, the national debt is projected to soar to approximately $24 trillion. And these are using the administration’s own projections, which many experts believe are overly optimistic.

Perhaps even more significant, we are rapidly reaching a point where added debt will have no positive impact on gross domestic product (GDP). At that point, the national debt bubble will burst and our economy will implode. The government’s running the biggest Ponzi scheme ever! People talked about the Stimulus providing green shoots to reverse the economic downturn. I think the only green we’re going to see from the ruinous fiscal policy is this.


Mon, 19 Oct 2009

Firefighter Suspended for US Flag on Locker

Filed under: Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Justice, Legal, Life, Patriotism — cynicalsynapse @ 6:35 am

I’m sorry, but this is a travesty! There’s nothing more American than firefighters, except maybe Mom and applie pie. Firefighters represent all that is good about our country, so when one is suspended for displaying the US flag, I’ve got hearburn. Serious heartburn.

lockerflag

Chester, PA, firefighter James Krapf was suspended without pay when he refused to remove a US flag from the outside of his locker. The department says Krapf is violating a policy prohibiting personal items outside lockers. So, let’s see. The flag is a prohibited personal item, but the International Association of Firefighters local union sticker isn’t? I’m confused. At least the union is sticking up for Krapf.

This incident follows not long after a flag ban at Oregon’s Oaks Apartments complex. In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), normally a proponent of free speech, said banning the flag didn’t violate any civil rights. Excuse me? In the face of overwhelming public outcry, the apartment complex reversed its policy. Damn straight!

“I love my country,” Krapf said. “I shouldn’t have to remove the flag.” Any bets on how long it takes Chester Fire Department to realize they’ve seriously blown public good will?


Sun, 18 Oct 2009

Stimulus Money Not Helping Michigan

Filed under: Bailout, Budget, Economy, Government, Life, Michigan, People, Politics, Unemployment — cynicalsynapse @ 1:50 pm

A few days ago, the government released their estimate of how many jobs were created or saved from Stimulus bill Federal contracts. It’s not clear to me how they figure how many jobs they save. Is it “thank goodness for that Stimulus money; I was gonna lay Bob off next week”? Anyway, Federal contracts using Stimulus money supposedly equated to 30,000 jobs. These are for things like new fencing at government installations and such. Not what I consider long-lasting jobs for the future. In any case, the Federal contracts amount to about 5% of all Stimulus money.

So, how did Michigan fare in jobs from Stimulus Federal contracts? Certainly the Obama administration is doing everything they can to help the state with the highest unemployment in the nation, right? Well, no. No, they’re not. According to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan is 25th in Stimulus jobs from Federal contracts. Worse, 397 jobs compared to Colorado’s nearly 4,700 isn’t even 10% of the top job-getter. This in a state where unemployment in August fell to just 7.3%! What’s up with that?

US employment, 2009

The whole point of the Stimulus was to jumpstart the private sector. Instead, states are using a large share of their Stimulus dollars for state government life support. While that may save some jobs, mostly government jobs, it also defers making hard choices for a year or two. When there are no more Stimulus dollars, states will need to take chainsaws to their budgets or turn peoples pockets inside out. Simple as that. Politicians don’t get the structural deficits they’ve built into budgets. It’s gonna be ugly.

Back to all those Stimulus jobs, though. The US unemployment rate inched up to 9.8% in September. In fact, the unemployment rate has risen every month for the last 21 months. So far this year, 4,127,000 people have lost their jobs. Construction, an area where Stimulusshould be playing a big part, has seen a monthly average of 66,000 jobs disappear, most during the summer construction season.

recoveryunemploy-200909
Source: theblogprof

And in Michigan, the situation is even more dire. With the highest unemployment rate in the country, 204,000 Michiganians lost their jobs this year. That brings the state’s total unemployment to nearly a quarter million: 740,000. So, those 379 jobs from Federal Stimulus contracts? A mere 0.05% of the unemployed. Gov. Granholm said Stimulus money created or saved 33,000 jobs on Fox News Sunday. So, can somebody explain to me why Michigan’s official website says only 19,498 jobs were created or saved? Is Granholm math dislexic or something?

Her view of Stimulus: “Clearly the stimulus helped although unemployment is at a ridiculously high level.” Really? Using Michigan Recovery’s number of jobs saved or created, 19,498 is still only 2.6% of the total Michigan jobs lost this year. Even Granholm’s inflated number represents a pathetic 4.4%. Better than nothing, but Stimulus is not a long term solution. In fact, it’s not even a short term solution.

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