Cynical Synapse

Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Regional Transit Takes Another Blow in Detroit

Filed under: Detroit, Government, Life, Politics, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:19 pm

DDOT and SMART buses on Michigan Avenue

Detroit is the only major metropolitan area without a functional, integrated public transportation system. The city has its Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the suburbs have the Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART). Far from being smart, the two systems don’t coordinate services and SMART doesn’t even service all surburban communities. DDOT buses don’t venture out of the city and SMART buses follow DDOT buses to downtown, often stopping at the same stops. Case in point: it’s not uncommon to see 2, 3, or more buses in line along Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare to downtown.

While many are advocating regional transit, something which former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) put years behind when he vetoed a bill as his last official act, it’s definitely an uphill battle. Today, Oakland County Commissioners decided to keep the local opt-out millage plan rather than adopt a county-wide millage. While some argue that recognizes local autonomy, it really doesn’t. It allows city and village councils to decide on behalf of their citizens rather than allowing citizens to vote.

Two SMART buses in Detroit

The biggest problem is it stands as a large roadblock to developing a truly regional transit plan. Currently, Novi, which is home to many retail centers, does not participate in the SMART system. As a result, only people with cars can get to jobs there. If SMART buses went to the retail centers, the pool of available workers—and customers—would be much larger. That benefits both the city and the region.

And that’s the crux of metro Detroit’s problem. Until everyone can get beyond their parochial viewpoint and look beyond the end of their damn noses, the region is stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day that’s collapsing in on itself. We finally agreed to a regional authority for Cobo Hall, but we don’t really want regional transportation. Does that make sense? Not to me, but apparently we’re satisfied with the opt-out approach to transportation.

We cannot achieve a regional system when one of the region’s largest and most affluent counties does not support a county-wide system itself.

Sadly, even if the proposal had made it through the Oakland County Commissioners, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson likely would have vetoed the measure. So much for regionalism.

Sun, 29 Nov 2009

Thanksgiving is More Than A Meal for Some

Filed under: Global War on Terror, Heroes, holidays, Life, Military, National security, Patriotism, People — cynicalsynapse @ 8:36 pm

SGT Matthew Bosch at the US Flag at home

SGT Matthew Bosch, with the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade, has been serving in Afghanistan. As a Guardsman, this is particulary significant to me since the 48th was the only Guard combat arms Brigade certified deployable for Desert Storm, although it was not deployed. In my mind, that was a travesty and academic research seems to validate that perspective. But, I digress. Today, the National Guard and Reserves are clearly operational forces, serving alongside their active component brothers and sisters. In fact, it’s obvious active component forces could not sustain the warfight without the reserve components.

Nobody knows the involvement of the National Guard and Reserves better than the families. Not to take away from active duty families, but reserve component families don’t have the benefit of living on base with all its resources. Such is the case for the Bosch family in Zeeland, a western Michigan community. The closest active duty military base is Great Lakes Naval Station, in Illinois. It’s 190 miles, or 3 hours, away. An additional complication for the Bosch family is living in Michigan while SGT Bosch serves in the Georgia Army National Guard. Nonetheless, they’re doing well.

On Thanksgiving Day, SGT Bosch surprised his mother and father, Esther and Roger, by showing up for the family’s big meal.

“I just wanted to show up. It’s something I always wanted to do,” said Matt, a 27-year-old 2000 Holland Christian High School graduate.

Esther, husband Rog and family members experienced a variety of emotions and reactions as a uniformed Matt stepped into the house around 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Seeing Matt home from Afghanistan evoked shock, surprise, screaming, dropped jaws … more screaming and hugs,” said Esther.

The Global War on Terror has a human face. And it has real meaning for average Americans. “It was one of the better covert operations he’s pulled off,” Bosch’s mother, Esther, said.

SGT Bosch, thank you for your service.

Sat, 28 Nov 2009

Hazel Park Council Just Being Stupid

Filed under: Government, Legal, Life, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:49 am

Former Days Hotel

Hazel Park City Council recently approved replacing the Days Hotel with a CVS drug store in a settlement reached with developers. The Days Hotel has been vacant after the operator defaulted on payments to the property owner. The 9-story former Holiday Inn had also been a Quality Inn, Guest House Inn, and La Casa Inn, as well.

Developers sued the city for refusing to change zoning for the 1.69 acre parcel to allow a drug store on the site. Since there’s already a shuttered former Rite Aid right across the street, building a CVS in place of the hotel doesn’t make sense. There are already two CVS stores in the 2.8 square mile city of 18,000. And there is a Walgreen’s just across the street from the city’s southeast corner. And the Kroger across the street has a pharmacy as well.

Having prevailed in the suit, why did the city settle? The obvious benefit is the removal of the hotel building which has been a troublespot, especially during the early part of this decade. Beyond that, the only change to the developer’s plan is to add a coffee shop. Big deal.

So, the city will get another strip mall at it’s heart, with the nothing unique about it, except maybe a coffee shop. This does nothing to add to Hazel Park retail traffic. The currently vacant retail storefronts will stay that way. And, in all likelihood, the two CVS stores already in the city will close, adding to the retail vacancies. Not to mention job loss, since a single store won’t need the staff from two stores. I’m thinking there’s a net tax loss here.

The city should have held out for something more appropriate for the site, located at the 9 Mile exit from I-75. Another strip mall won’t make Hazel Park the walkable, desirable city these guys talk about. Another case of government being penny wise and dollar foolish.

Fri, 27 Nov 2009

Getting the War on Terror Back on Target

Filed under: Allies, Congress, Global War on Terror, Government, History, Military, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 5:49 pm

Michigan Army National Guardsmen preparing for deployment

As a Michigan Army National Guardsman, I personally know a lot of Soldiers who have, are, and will serve in harm’s way, fulfilling their role in the Global War on Terror. The politically correct term now is overseas contingency operations, but that doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not a contingency when you respond with military force against an enemy that attacked our homeland, killing thousands of ordinary civilians just going about their daily lives. They were clearly non-combatants.

Michigan Guardsmen have been involved since Day 1. At first, Air Guard jets took part in Combat Air Patrols to defend our skies. Then Army Guardsmen took part in airport security and border security missions. Michigan Guard units have been involved in Iraq since the beginning and there’s not been a day since that Michigan has not had citizen-Soldiers and/or citizen-Airmen in country. Afghanistan is no stranger to Michigan Guardsmen, either. Many have served in both countries.

Michigan Army National Guardsman using night vision device

Today, Army Guardsmen are preparing for their next deployment. While Iraq is still a dangerous place, it’s far better off, its government more stable, and troop casualties down following the surge there. The surge, then, is a strategy that’s proven to work and Gen. Stanley McChrystle, the commander in Afghanistan, knows how to implement it.

Protecting the populace from Taliban brutality and depriving the Taliban access to terrorists-for-hire are the key objectives for a surge in Afghanistan. The counterinsurgency approach won’t work on its own in Afghanistan for a number of reasons.

But Afghanistan is extremely tribalistic, a concept most Westerners don’t truly understand. Nonetheless, engaging tribal leaders is critical to success in Afghanistan. Combining the surge and counterinsurgency operations will help, along with training the Afghan National Army and security forces. All of these measures can be summed up as “show me.” Talk is cheap, but actions are telling.

Marines meeting with tribal leaders

And that is the problem with the central government which we see as corrupt. Average Afghans don’t see any benefit from Pres. Hhamid Karzai’s regime. The central government certainly should be made more accountable to the people. Still, what Westerners call corruption takes place at the local level as well. US policy should focus on the local level, therefore. The mission, afterall, is to deny the Taliban control in the region in order to prevent Al-Qaeda from safe refuge. Unfortunately, I think people like Hilary Clinton want to cast Afghanistan in the likeness of the US. US politicians oversimplify Afghanistan, either to dumb it down for us mere mortals, or because they really don’t get it.

US Soldier in Afghanistan

We—the US—also need to ensure Pakistan doesn’t fear US abandonment in the region. Because the US wiped its hands and walked away after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, conventional Pakistani wisdom is to expect the same. Their concern about this is India will step in, leaving Pakistan surrounded by its long-time enemy. Still, the US needs a stable Pakistan and that means a stable Afghanistan. Consider, for just a moment, a nuclear armed Taliban.

Did I mention Afghanistan and its Taliban governance is what harbored and permitted Al-Queda’s attack on the US? It’s a shame we were distracted from the primary mision by Pres. George W. Bush’s incursion into Iraq, sanctioned by our inept Congress.

Thu, 26 Nov 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Filed under: holidays, Humor, Life — cynicalsynapse @ 7:06 am

Turkeys saying moo for blind farmer

Whether it seems like it or not, all of us have something to be thankful for. It might be family, friends, or maybe just freedom. With today’s technology and social networking, you can see what others are thankful for.

Take a moment to be thankful for our citizens in uniform. Thousands of them are not home for the holidays and there’s a feeling that few of us appreciate what they’re doing for us. They didn’t pick the fight, but they serve nonetheless. Maybe they’ll be recognized by a visit from the commander-in-chief.

I love my family and friends! Do what y’all enjoy doing on a holiday. And enjoy!

Wed, 25 Nov 2009

Obama Finally Makes a Decision on Afghanistan

Filed under: Global War on Terror, Government, Indecision, Military, National security, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 2:48 pm

Barrack Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Almost 90 days after Gen. Stanley McChrystal asked for more troops in his report on the situation in Afghanistan, Pres. Barack finally made a fricking decision. Now that’s what I call exceptiona deliberative leadership (hint: that’s code for taking a really long time to reach the same conclusion as everyone else). While the President won’t announce what that decision is until next week, probably Tuesday, he did say:

“It is in our strategic interests, in our national security interest to make sure that Al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively in those areas. We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks.

After eight years—some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done—it is my intention to finish the job. And, I feel confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.

[T]his is important not just to the United States, but it’s important to the world. And, that the whole world has, I think, a core security interest in making sure that the kind of extremism and violence that is seen eminating from this region is tackled, confronted in a serious way.

[I]n order for us to succeed there, you’ve got to have a comprehensive strategy that includes civilian and diplomatic efforts.”

US Army Soldiers of 6-4 Cavalry

Since no one can keep a secret these days, or perhaps because no one was made to pinky swear, likely details of the plan have come out. About 34,000 additional troops will deploy to Afghanistan, a number less than McChrystal’s request for 40,000.

Come to think of it, this whole scenario is kind of like deja vu. When the former US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, requested more troops last February, Obama took his time making up his mind. McKiernan’s request was for 30,000 but Obama authorized only 17,000 troops. That means McChrystal’s actually only getting 21,000 more from where US forces should have been last spring. I wonder if Obama realizes he’s getting consistent advice from his military commanders. And, I hope his consistent under-resourcing doesn’t lead to another

Tue, 24 Nov 2009

Healthcare Reform is Just a Shell Game

Filed under: Budget, Citizen rights, Congress, Economy, Government, Legal, Medicine, Michigan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:08 pm

Evil shell game

Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the release of extensive studies she says detail the local benefits of healthcare reform. Healthcare reform is vital to Detroit, Sebelius said during a conference call. She added the region has too many people without health insurance or with costly premiums. In a sort of stick-and-carrot approach, she added “So doing nothing would just…I would suggest…continue to increase what is already a very dramatic gap in who has insurance coverage and who doesn’t.” According to her, Michigan’s uninsured would jump to 1.6 million without reform.

The carrot Sebelius is offering is healthcare coverage for Michigan’s 1.3 million uninsured. She claims thousands in Michigan will benefit from coverage, lower premiums orpremium subsidies, and better coverage. Her implication is by avoiding growth in the rate of the uninsured, we’ll save money. And here’s where the shell game comes into play. A majority of the newly insured will fall under an expanded Medicaid program.

Pickpocket

First, we are already paying for the uninsured, either through taxes or the insurance premiums we pay now. Shifting the cost entirely to the taxpayers doesn’t really change anything. A rose is a rose no matter what you call it. Next, supporters of healthcare reform say 94-96% of the population will have coverage. Let’s split the difference, so 95% of Michigan’s 10 million people will enjoy health insurance. That’s 9.5 million compared to today’s 8.7 million. An additional 800,000 will be covered. That still leaves .5 million without coverage of any kind. So, healthcare reform will only fix less than 62% of today’s uninsured.

About those Medicaid costs. If you didn’t know, Medicaid is a joint Federal-State program. Anyone see a problem here, especially Michigan’s current economic morass? In 2006, nearly 1.5 Michiganians participated in Medicaid at a per capita cost of $5,482. The Feds match 58.1% of that, meaning Michigan has to come up with 49.1%, or $3.4 billion.

Healthcare reform will add about 800,000 people to Michigan’s Medicaid rolls. Under the Senate plan, the Feds would cover the additional cost, including the state’s share, for 3 years. After that, the Medicaid balloon payment comes due. Assuming no change in the Federal match, Michigan will need an extra $1.8 billion for Medicaid annually beginning in year 4. Sounds like an unfunded mandate to me. And the Congressional Budget Office states the costs of unfunded mandates on the private sector exceed those allowed in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Beyond the dubious constitutionality of healthcare reform, the bill violates the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. How can anyone vote in favor of a bill that breaks the law? I think that’s how the Nazis used to legalize their behavior. In fact, the healthcare reform bill doesn’t even manage to contain skyrocketing costs. In short, it’s a failure all the way around.

All of that leads me to wonder. Has anyone read the bill?


Mon, 23 Nov 2009

Most Dangerous: Michigan in Top 10; 2 Cities in Top 5

Filed under: Detroit, Government, Life, Michigan, People, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 4:36 pm

Michigan State Police control an angry crowd

CQ Press released it’s 2009 lists of most dangerous places. They based their rankings on the following types of crime rates: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Michigan has 12 cities on the list of 393 cities. Twelve Michigan metropolitan areas, out of 332 evaluated, also placed. Saginaw metro ranked as number 3 with Fint metro at number 14. The Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn metro area is not rated.

You might be surprised to learn Michigan is 10th in the nation for crime. That’s not an enviable ranking to have. But, considering the state has been tops in unemployment for 43 straight months, I’d say Michiganians are doing pretty good for themselves. Here are the 10 most dangerous states:

  1. Nevada—Gov. Jim Gibbons (R)
  2. Louisiana—Gov. Boggy Jindal (R)
  3. South Carolina—Gov. Mark Sanford (R)
  4. New Mexico—Gov. Bill Richardson (D)
  5. Florida—Gov. Charlie Crist (R)
  6. Tennessee—Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)
  7. Alaska—Gov. Sean Parnell (R)
  8. Arizona—Gov. Jan Brewer (R)
  9. Maryland—Gov. Martin O’Malley (D)
  10. Michigan—Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D)

Detroit Police at a crime scene

Sadly, it should come as no surprise that Detroit is Michigan’s most crime-ridden city. But nationally, Detroit ranks 4th, followed by Flint at 5th. Here are the five most dangerous cities and their mayors:

  1. Camden NJ—Gwendolyn A. Faison (D)
  2. St. Louis MO—Francis Slay (D)
  3. Oakland CA—Ron Dellums (D)
  4. Detroit MI—Dave Bing (D)
  5. Flint MI—Dayne Walling (D)

Michigan has four other cities with crime rates about the national average:

  •   83.   Lansing
  • 114.   Grand Rapids
  • 185.   Southfield
  • 200.   Dearborn

Other Michigan cities that made the list had crime rates below the national average. These are:

  • 277.   Clinton Township
  • 338.   Ann Arbor
  • 353.   Sterling Heights
  • 354.   Farmington Hills
  • 362.   Livonia
  • 372.   Canton Township

It’s interesting to note the governors of the highest crime states split 60-40 Republican-Democrat, with Republicans dominating the most dangerous states. On the other hand, the country’s top 13 most dangerous cities all have Democrats for mayors. In fact, the 7th most crime-riddled city, Birmingham AL, has an acting mayor because the elected mayor was convicted of 60 counts of bribery just over 3 weeks ago. I’m just sayin’.

Sun, 22 Nov 2009

Reid’s Healthcare Transparency Dark Already

Filed under: Behavior, Congress, Government, Hypocrits, Politics, Rants, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 4:03 pm

Harry Reid announces vote on healthcare debate

On Saturday, November 21st, the Senate voted 60-39 to debate the healthcare bill. I wanted to check the roll call, but no record of the vote. I wanted to see the official roll call even though I already know how my Democratic Senators voted.

No record of this vote represents a total lack of the transparency promised by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). And on the very first damn vote! Why the hell is there no record of this vote?

Do you suppose any of those guys have read the damn bill beginning to end? I’ll be asking my Senators to see what kind of form letter comes back.


Sat, 21 Nov 2009

Michigan’s Stool of Tears

Filed under: Behavior, Budget, Economy, Government, Michigan, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 3:35 pm

michigan scenes

Michigan is a beautiful state with many things going for it. It touches all but one of the Great Lakes. It’s the only state in the union where residents describe where they’re from by pointing at their hand: right hand for the lower penninsual and left hand for the upper penninsula. Michigan played a key role in the industrial revolution when Henry Ford introduced the production line. Detroit was the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II but is now in serious decline. And so is Michigan.

broken legged stool

As I see it, Michigan’s problems are three-fold: declining manufacturing sector and lagging replacement jobs, a structural deficit, and a dysfunctional political process. Michigan won’t truly mend and become great again until all three of those are addressed. All the legs have to be present, stable, and durable for the stool to be useful.

Jobs in Michigan

national unemployment rate

Michigan continues to lead the nation in unemployment, dropping slightly to 15.1% for October. This is the 42nd consecutive month Michigan has had the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Pres. Obama extended unemployment benefits and Michigan wants to add to this.

Unemployment lines

Don’t misunderstand. I’m in favor of programs that facilitate displaced workers finding new employment. Until new jobs show up in Michigan, however, evisceration of automotive jobs is not a step forward. Underfunding of Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program isn’t helping, either.

Gov. Granholm touts so-called green jobs and jobs in the film industry. Still, Michigan has lost more jobs than it’s gained. So, no matter how you count them, Michigan is further behind in jobs. According to University of Michigan economists, that will be the case until 2012.

 
Structural Deficit

Just as jobs have been declining over the last decade, state government operated with a structural deficit each of those years and continues to do so. A structural deficit will not be fixed by better economic conditions. Michigan’s structural deficit predates the recession.

Money down the drain

The economic downturn exacerbates the structural deficit by adding a cyclical deficit. That problem will go away when the economy improves. Conventional wisdom claims Michigan’s tax system needs restructuring because it’s out of sync with the new economy. This is an easy argument to make with charts showing decreasing revenues from various taxes such as income and sales and use taxes. Well, duh! With increasing job losses, there’s less income and, therefore, less buying. Looking below the surface, however, a Pew Center on the States report finds Michigan tax revenues not doing so badly. From a Mackinac Center for Public Policy summary:

In the current recession, despite having the worst economy in the nation, Michigan’s tax revenues have fallen less than those in 31 other states, when measured in relation to state employment and personal income declines.

Fixing the structural deficit comes down to four options: raise current taxes, expand the tax base, curtail government spending, or a combination thereof. Unfortunately Michigan politicians don’t understand the problem. They grandstand, like Bishop blaming the Democratic House and Gov. Granholm. They punish the citizens, like Gov. Granholm laying off State Troopers to save only half of what it cost to train them just a year ago. And they waste time, like the House taking two months last summer. I used to be in favor of term limits since voters don’t seem to be able to dump inept politicians on their own. I’m afraid the side effect is politicians with a myopic view of the issues and no incentive to find real solutions. Bandaid fixes are good enough until the next guy takes the chair.

What to do about the structural deficit, then? We need to look at a menu of reforms, starting with spending. This isn’t a simple matter of just slashing budgets or taking a one-size fits all view. It requires prioritizing the tasks of government and drilling down into the detail of what we’re spending money on. A lot of things can be done more efficiently and there are a lot of costs that can be reduced. Any look at taxes can come after that.

Dysfunctional Political Process

Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon (D-Redford) and others say Michigan’s political process is dysfunctional. The state government shutdown in 2007 and two subsequent near-shutdowns over budget deals is clear evidence of that. Again, I’m beginning to think the root cause is term limits. There’s no long term planning taking place in Lansing.

State of the State: Dillon, Granholm, Bishop

It doesn’t help that Speaker Dillon, State Senate Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), and Gov. Jennifer Granholm all hate each others’ guts. Granholm has failed to display clear leadership throughout the fiscal year 2010 budget process. She laid out her budget proposal in February and then pretty much disengaged from the process except to lay off 100 state troopers in June. She finally came out of hibernation after Labor Day and has been rather vindictive in dealing with the budget.

Michigan’s House of Representatives is little better. Representatives most of the summer off. Then they pretty much left fixing the 2010 budget up to Speaker Dillon to work out with Senate Leader Bishop. They’re scheduled to be off the last half of November and December. That’s not convincing evidence a part-time legislature can be just as effective as the one we have now?

As for Mike Bishop, the State Senate Majority Leader? He’s been pretty much hands off since GOP-dominated Senate passed its versions of balanced budget bills in June. Since then he just waited for the Democratic House to come crawling to him. Bishop’s stance has been no new revenue all along, only budging slightly in a few cases. Even with Granholm slashing money out of the schools budget, Bishop says the Senate’s not putting money back in there. Last time I checked, compromise involved give-and-take on both sides. Smug Bishop is standing there with his arms folded across his chest not doing much giving.

Michigan’s top politicians are like The 3 Stooges, only they’re not funny. And Michigan’s citizens are not laughing. Those clowns can’t sit down together and get anything done. Apparently they don’t realize they can’t just be running around, not paying attention to anyone or anything else, if they want to arrive at the same destination, which is presumably a better Michigan. All three of them needs to just grow up.


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