Cynical Synapse

Mon, 31 Oct 2011

In Detroit, Pumpkins Decorate You

Filed under: Detroit, Driving, Good job, Helping others, holidays, Humor, Life, People, Society — cynicalsynapse @ 1:41 pm

pumpkins littering I-696

Detroit has a long-standing tradition of beginning Halloween celebrations early; not always in the best light. This year was no exception as the holiday period kicked off, not with a famous act, or even an act of vandalism. North suburban Farmington Hills saw the arrival of the smashing pumpkins on I-696 last Wednesday, just in time for the morning commute. Drivers had to carve their way through the bouncing gourds which shattered at least one windshield but caused no injuries. According to Pat Carmichael, who witnessed the mayhem:

There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these pumpkins… There’s [sic] three lanes that are just covered with smashed pumpkins. I’m just now getting toward Telegraph and the truck’s been pulled over by a police officer. The back of the truck has been sheared off.

damaged I-696 pumpkin truck

Police said the driver, Brian Rose, could be cited for having an unstable load, which carries a $150 fine. But, Rose said he was cut off and struck a bridge pier. Excuse me? Why didn’t he stop to see if there was any damage? How about a ticket for fleeing the scene of an accident? How about restitution for the cost of clean up? As you can see at right, Rose’s hitting the bridge pier was more than just a little bump or scrape.

Later that same Wednesday, Detroit Zoo animals began their own Halloween festivities. In an effort to stimulate their natural behaviors, they were given pumpkins filled with appropriate treats. Some played with or guarded their treasure gourds while others enjoyed dismantling them in one manner or another. The Zoo was also decorated for Halloween, including zombies, which are not part of the Zoo’s regular exhibits.

During the mid-70s to mid-90s, Detroit’s early “celebrations” saw out-of-control arsons, approaching around 800 in later years. In 1995, then Mayor Archer countered Devils’ Night with Angels’ Night. Over the last 15 years, the Halloween holiday has become one of Detroit’s safest. The Angels’ Night mobilizations, which take place over about a 3 day period, are a model of a community taking back its streets. Kids can go trick-or-treating; adults can go on their zombie walks; everyone can have a good time. This is the real D and this is where we’re headed.
 


 

Sat, 29 Oct 2011

Snyder’s Romneyesque Approach to Michigan Transportation

Filed under: Driving, Government, Governor, Hypocrits, Michigan, Politics, Roads, Taxes, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 1:48 pm

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Although I’ve got to give Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) credit for thinking outside the box, splitting hairs doesn’t change the growing deviation from his own campaign rhetoric. While more subtle than flip-flopping Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Snyder is still back-pedaling from previous positions. Regarding his proposals for road and transit improvements, the disconnects are more significant than they appear at first glance. As a reminder, here’s candidate Snyder’s view on transportation funding in October 2010:

Asked if he’d support increasing Michigan’s gas tax, given that the state has the nation’s worst-maintained roads, Snyder said no, “because we need to get efficient first” with the state’s existing transportation funds. …

“So let’s get efficient about where we’re deploying these dollars. There’s a much better way to do things, and that’s what we should focus on first.”

First, the Governor wants a revenue-neutral change in the fuel tax. Snyder’s plan eliminates the 19-cent “current gas tax on consumers”, shifting it to a percentage at the wholesale level. Wow! I won’t have to pay state gas tax anymore! Except, does anyone believe wholesalers won’t pass the cost of that tax onto retailers? Is the average retailer likely to discount his pump price by the amount of the wholesale tax passed to him? As the Brits would say, not bloody likely. While this proposal is initially revenue-neutral for the gas tax, a percentage tax on wholesale fuels will go up as prices rise. The proposal includes another hidden tax increase. Michigan levies sales tax, presently 6% on goods sold, including gasoline. Retailers don’t include the current 19-cent gas tax when calculating the sales tax. Since the wholesale tax will be part of the price retailers pay, it will now become subject to the 6% sales tax. On day one of a wholesale tax, Michigan will collect more than a penny per gallon in additional taxes from consumers. So much for “revenue-neutral”; never mind Michigan’s fuel taxes are already among the highest in the country.

fuel tax comparison by state

Next up, Snyder figures Michigan needs an extra $10 per month from every vehicle registration. Sounds minimal, but that’s $120 per year, on top of what you’re already paying for license tabs. As Stephen Henderson noted, it disproportionately impacts poor people.

It’s a big hit to people’s wallets in a state still struggling to rebound from a decade-long recession. A family with three cars registered to one person would have to fork over $360 extra all at once.

From my perspective, the increased vehicle registration fees are neither logical nor beneficial. Snyder says they will raise about $1.4 billion for roads. They will also price many out of their cars in a state with few functioning transportation options. Don’t be surprised if there is an increase in license plate thefts or cutting their corners off to get someone else’s current year tab. Here’s a novel concept: how about charging heavier weight vehicles for the road damage they cause? A 5,000-pound car exerts a mere 2,500 pounds per axle while Michigan allows up to 17,000 pounds—nearly seven times that of the car—per axle. Financing road repairs also needs to ensure non-resident users pay their share, not just Michiganians. Earlier this year, a bipartisan legislative report said Michigan needs $1.4 billion more for roads each year. Coincidence? I think maybe not.

road workers

Snyder also proposed voluntary elimination of county road commissions, folding their responsibilities into general county government. Such a move would save money by eliminating a separate bureaucracy and improve accountability, through county commissioners, to county residents. Since I absolutely abhor my road commission, I’m tempted to support this proposal. The only problem is Snyder wants counties to be able to levy their own $40 vehicle registration fees on top of the state’s. In the 3 car example, the cost now skyrockets to $780, based on a $100 per car average at present, plus the added $120 state and $40 county fees.

Having nothing to do with the state of Michigan’s roads, or fixing them, Snyder also suggested the red herring of so-called “high-speed buses” on key metro Detroit routes. What he means is rapid-transit buses, which often operate in dedicated lanes, but are still subject to speed limits, traffic lights, and road conditions, like standard buses. The concept of dedicated lanes means either removing lanes from availability to motorists or spending money to add sole-use lanes. Personally, I’m not sold on the idea of bus rapid transit, but what concerns me about the Governor’s plan is its creation of yet another transit agency in Southeast Michigan. Say what? Just over a week ago, I posted on metro Detroit’s two dysfunctional bus systems. How is adding another layer going to fix that? How does this fit with Snyder’s push for local governments to consolidate?

Let’s summarize.

  • Candidate Snyder said no new gas tax, but even his “revenue neutral” proposal increases taxes consumers would pay on fuel
  • Candidate Snyder wanted to eliminate transportation administration/funding inefficiencies, but the Gov. Snyder wants taxpayers to fork over $1.4 billion instead
  • Gov. Snyder wants to eliminate Michigan’s extra layer of county road commissions, but will allow counties to charge vehicle registration fees on top of taxes
  • Gov. Snyder wants local governments to consolidate services, but he proposes adding another transit agency to those already preexisting in southeast Michigan

Gov. Snyder ran on the claim he was a political outsider. What he’s showing us is the same smoke and mirrors approach used by seasoned politicians.


 

Sun, 23 Oct 2011

Changing Landscapes of the Arab World

Arabian desert

Much is and has been changing in the Middle East. Syria is a holdout against the Arab Spring, but, in the first free, democratic elections in decades, Tunisians are voting today. Of course, one problem is we—the US—may not like the outcome of the election.

Second to depose its despot, former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has not made any substantial progress toward elections. Libya became the third Arab state to win its freedom with the killing of Muammar Gaddafi a few days ago. In a bizarre twist, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office called for inquiries into the manner of Gaddafi’s death.

Presidents Obama and Mubarak

Despite public diplomacy in support of the Arab Spring uprisings, the US gained substantial benefits from close ties with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. In Bahraini ports, the US has headquarters for its Fifth Fleet. Last month’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki had Yemeni complicity, if not outright support. Despite these cozy relationships, Pres. Obama warned the oppressers their time was short:

Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and those leaders that try to deny their dignity will not succeed.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Sultan Abdul Aziz al Saud, 83, died at a New York hospital. Al Saud served as his country’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Aviation. He was Saudi King Abdullah’s half-brother. While Saudi Arabia will likely remain a close US ally in the region, uncertainty of Saudi succession and other key governmental changes leave the future at least somewhat unpredictable. On top of that, on Friday Pres. Obama announced all but a couple hundred US troops will leave Iraq by year’s end. Those remaining will provide security and other diplomatic-related services as US missions, a common practice around the world.

New Year’s 2012 will usher in a Middle East vastly different from what the US is accustomed to. That’s new, and unpredictable, territory for the presidential candidates.
 


 

Wed, 19 Oct 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Filed under: Behavior, Good job, Government, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 7:36 pm

Caution Exotic Animals

Police in rural eastern Ohio were on safari last night and today. They’re hunting about 4 dozen exotic animals let loose from a private preserve, the Muskingum County Animal Farm, near Zanesville.

Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office got calls of exotic animals near roadways beginning about 5:30 PM yesterday. When deputies responded to the animal farm, they found owner Terry Thompson dead of a self-inflicted wound and the cages and pens open. Overnight, police killed all but a mountain lion, a bear, and a monkey. The president of the Humane Society of the US, Wayne Pacelle, described the situation as:

Local authorities are now spending enormous resources on personnel, helicopters, infrared, and equipment chasing down and killing free-roaming exotic animals in order to protect public safety.

Terry Thompson

Most states regulate exotic animal ownership, but not Ohio. That’s how Thompson, 62, and just released from a year in jail on weapons charges, was able to collect his menagerie. This was not the first time authorities had been called to the exotic animal farm, Muckingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said.

We’ve gotten about 35 calls since ’04, ’05, with complaints the animals were running at large and not being treated properly. We’ve handled numerous complaints here, we’ve done numerous inspections here. So this has been a huge problem for us for a number of years.

As one might expect, animal lovers are not happy with the slaughter, but they fault Ohio’s lack of legislation and Thompson’s inhumane treatment and final release of the animals. The clear message is predatory, exotic animals don’t belong in private, unregulated hands. The animals, by nature, are aggressive and unpredictable. They need to be treated with respect, dignity, and be left to their habitats or professionals at zoos or sanctuaries.

Tue, 18 Oct 2011

Smoke and Mirrors Bus Tour: Tax Cuts That Aren’t

Filed under: Congress, Deceit, Economy, Employment, Government, Language, Politics, President, Stimulus, Taxes, Unemployment — cynicalsynapse @ 8:24 pm

Pres. Obama and his stealth bus

Pres. Obama has been traveling around North Carolina and Virginia in his Stealth Bus, the all-black $1.1 million Canadian-American customized luxery coach, the Death Star of the roads. Republicans claim the trip is a taxpayer-funded campaign tour, a charge the White House denies. Let’s face it, anything a politician—of any party or persuasion—does or says in public has a campaign element to it. So, all you Republicans who felt Pres. Bush got chastised by the media for everything he did, get over it, stop pointing at Obama, sit down, and stop saying “but, but, but…”

Features in the American Jobs Act, uncannily similar to 2009’s $720 billion Stimulus, seems like a half-hearted attempt, at only $448 billion. More troubling is the fact it’s not really a new idea and, if Big Stimulus didn’t work, why would anyone think Baby Stimulus will? Maybe that’s why Senate Democrats didn’t take up Obama’s bill, but saw their own version defeated last week. Even so, it gives the President political mileage: “100 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it [the Jobs bill]. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

Pres. Obama in Jamestown NC

One of the points in Obama’s jobs plan is payroll tax cuts, intended to put more money into workers’ pockets and encourage employers to hire at reduced costs. What the President doesn’t tout is he wants to extend the current worker tax cut, due to expire at the end of the year, and increase it from 2% to 3.1%. That’s just half of the normal 6.2%. He’s already blaming Republicans if this doesn’t happen and he can just see jobs withering away from less money in your pocket.

Fact Check: First, the current extra pocket money is not making it into the economy as most people pay down debt or save it. Something else no one is talking about is the payroll tax holiday reduces contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund. Has anyone forgotten the dire predictions for the immenent collapse of Social Security?

Wizard of Oz

Smoke and mirrors: here are a few coins for your pocket today, but they won’t be there when you retire. In this case, paying it forward doesn’t make any sense to me. In his speech in Jamestown NC today, Mr. Obama obfuscated the matter (emphasis added):

So don’t be bamboozled. (Laughter.) Don’t fall for this notion that somehow the jobs act is proposing to raise your taxes. It’s just not true. Under this—here’s what will happen. If we don’t pass the American Jobs Act, if we do not pass the provision in there that extends the payroll tax cut that we passed in December, most people here, your taxes will go up by $1,000. So voting no against the jobs bill is voting in favor of middle-class families’ income taxes going up. And that’s a fact. Don’t take my word for it—all the reporters here, they can check on the facts on this thing. That’s the truth.

Are any reporters fact-checking the only payroll taxes the Federal government collects are Social Security (FICA) and Medicare?
 

Previously on Obama’s jobs bill:

Mon, 17 Oct 2011

A Tale of Two Dysfunctional Systems

Filed under: Budget, Customer service, Detroit, Economy, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:17 pm

city and suburban buses in downtown Detroit

Detroit and its suburbs enjoy bus service from not one, but two dysfunctional systems. Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses primarily serve the city while Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses serve the suburbs, including forays into downtown Detroit. It’s not at all uncommon to see buses from one, the other, or both, chasing each other—even leap-frogging as one stops while another goes to the next stop. As many as half of DDOT’s buses are in the shop waiting to be fixed. Even former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick knew way back in 2004 that DDOT was a broken system. As for SMART, individual suburbs can opt out, so the system has traverse these unserved areas to connect those that are served. Declining property values left SMART underfunded by its millage, so the system plans to lay off 123 and cut or eliminate service on 36 routes.

Nine years ago, Southeast Michigan was on the cusp of a solution called the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority (DARTA). After years of negotiating and political maneuvering, the Michigan House and Senate had passed the necessary legislation. Then, in a moment of extreme self-importance and political spitefulness, the Jaba-the-Hut-esque John Engler (R) vetoed the bill mere nanoseconds before his rotundness rolled out of office as his term as governor expired. Thanks, John. The region has been paying the price ever since.

Peter Rogoff, Mayor Dave Bing, Sec. Ray LaHood, Gov. Rick Snyder

Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was in metro Detroit today to meet with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) regarding transit in Southeast Michigan. During a press conference with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, LaHood announced $928.5 million in grants to over 300 projects nationwide. For once, Michigan faired well, snagging about 5% of the grant money. Ann Arbor will get $3.8 million, DDOT $6.8 million, and SMART almost $5 million of Michigan’s $46.7 million share to fund 16 projects.

The elephant in the room is still getting city and suburbs to put their differences aside and craft a true, workable transit solution for Southeast Michigan. Imagine how much farther along we would be if Engler hadn’t been such a jackass.
 

Well! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously on Southeast Michigan transit:

Sun, 16 Oct 2011

Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?

Filed under: Candidates, Environment, Global warming, Government, Hypocrits, Indecision, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 3:04 pm

flopping fish

In the polls, Mitt Romney is wallowing in second place at best, with Herman Cain taking first from Rick Perry. Still, 51% of Republicans expect Romney to become the party’s candidate in the 2012 elections. Why? Romney’s done more flip-flopping than a freshly landed fish. People don’t trust Romney but think he’s electable, so they’ll likely nominate him. Seriously?

Earlier this week, the long term care provisions of the Federal health care reform—ObamaCare—were rescinded, having been determined to be unsustainable. This must be why Romney opposes the Federal plan despite continuing support for its template, health care reform in Massachussetts—RomneyCare. Herman Cain summed it up this way:

I don’t think he’s a staunch conservative because he’s changed his position on too many things over the years. The other thing is, if you just look at Romneycare in Massachusetts, no matter how much he tries to pretend that it was supposed to be good for Massachusetts, a conservative would never have signed that Romneycare legislation in Massachusetts.

doctor mitt will see you know

In all likelihood, Romney probably wouldn’t repeal national health care reform as he promises during the campaign. During his public life, Romney has held opposing views on just about every key topic, demonstrating a lack of political courage or moral conviction. Consider Romney’s position on abortion in 2002 while running for Massachussetts governor: “I don’t accept either label, pro-life or pro-choice. Instead, I make it clear that I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

You may recall, Romney opposed bailouts for the Detroit-based automakers, even though his dad, former Michigan governor George Romney, had once been CEO of American Motors, which was subsumed into Chrysler. Still, Romney supported Pres. Bush and the Wall Street bailout and now opposes future bailouts. Flip-flop-flip! As if that all is not bad enough, Romney is a climate changer:

I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that.

For those who really know who Romney is and what he stands for, please let the rest of us know. As far as I can tell, he’s a liberal, not a conservative, who can’t or won’t say what he believes in, with two exceptions. He praises RomneyCare, which is just baby ObamaCare, and he believes the global warming meme. And that’s different from the current guy in the White House how?
 

Previously on Mitt Romney:

Sat, 15 Oct 2011

Herman Cain Tops Republican Polls but No Black Walnut

Filed under: Candidates, Politics, Rants, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 5:22 am

Herman Cain

When I first heard Herman Cain refer to himself as Häagen-Dazs Black Walnut, I cringed for two reasons. First, he’s using a company name for political purposes, either without permission, or they’re paying him for product placement. Second, I took the flavor to have a clear racial undertone contrary to Cain’s calling out Rick Perry for his leased camp’s former name. Maybe it’s just because Cain can say it, but if I did, I’d be considered insensitive, at best. In any case, Cain has been milking (no pun intended) the ice cream analogy.

I happen to believe there’s iced milk, and then there’s Häagen-Dazs black walnut. “Substance, that’s the difference. I got the substance. I’m the black walnut! It lasts longer than a week.

melting ice cream

Now, Herman Cain finds himself at the head of the pack of Republican contenders. This shouldn’t be too surprising since Mitt Romney speaks out of more mouths than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has and Rick Perry has performed miserably in the debates. I don’t know why her constituents elected her in the first place—Michelle Bachman’s elevator stops a floor short. Never mind the also-rans.

Well, here’s a ripple for Mr. Cain: Häagen-Dazs no longer makes black walnut ice cream. It had a limited run because sales fell below expectations. Beyond his ice cream substance and 9-9-9 tax plan, what exactly is Herman Cain standing for or offering in his presidential bid? Hope and change didn’t work the last time, so if that’s his meme, he’s going to melt away.
 

Previously on Herman Cain:

Fri, 14 Oct 2011

Gore Spews CO2 at Detroit Great Lakes Conference

Filed under: Environment, Global warming, Hypocrits, Life — cynicalsynapse @ 6:01 am

Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore linked recent natural disasters and Great Lakes health to climate change on Thursday. Gore spoke before the International Joint Commission at Wayne State University in Detroit. “There is a relationship between continuing progress in the Great Lakes basin and progress in dealing with the climate crisis,” he said.

As if there wasn’t enough carbon dioxide coming out of that emissions port Al Gore calls his mouth, he ratcheted up his climate change meme. Gore said increased water vapor in the atmosphere, due to climate change, causes more violent storms. These, in turn, overwhelm sewer systems, which overflow, and algae results. Except a report released at the concurrent Great Lakes conference found no scientific basis for Gore’s anecdotal claims.

Al Gore's mouth an exhaust port

While there is disparate information about just how big Al Gore’s carbon footprint is, but Gore claims to be carbon neutral, a slight of hand trick achieved through purchasing carbon offsets. Just how does that work, since there’s no agreed-upon standard, or even a recognized cap-n-trade exhange. If I rode the bus, would that make me carbon-neutral since I’d be using the bus as a carbon offset?

In his remarks, Gore said climate change is real:

Every single national academy of sciences of every major nation in the entire world agrees with the consensus [on global warming], and together they have called on governments and nations to act urgently. They say the need to act urgently is now, to use their words, indisputable.

Previously on climate change:

Thu, 13 Oct 2011

Undie-Bomber Pleads Guilty; Implicates al-Awlaki

Filed under: Crime, Justice, Legal, Terrorism — cynicalsynapse @ 4:14 am

Authorities take Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody

The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airliner headed to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. His bomb was a mixture of chemicals in his underwear to be set off by adding another chemical with a syringe. After a loud pop and smoke from his lap, a passenger said, “Hey dude, your pants are on fire.” Other passengers subdued Abdulmutallab and flight attendants put him out with fire extinguishers.

Abdulmutallab, who is representing himself, has been rather contentious and disrupting in court proceedings leading up to his trial, which began in Federal District Court on Tuesday, 11 October. Jury selection last week included at least one outburst and Abdulmutallab wearing his prison T-shirt to court.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab listens to US attorney's opening remarks

In a trial that was expected to last 4 weeks, Abdulmutallab surprised everyone by pleading guilty to all 8 charges at the start of the second day. “I’m guilty under U.S. law, but not under the Koran,” replied when Judge Edwards read one of the charges. While entering his pleas, Abdulmutallab read a 6-minute, handwritten statement, including:

We the Mujahedeen insist on attacking the United States because it promotes the blasphemy of Muhammed (PBUH), and the prophets, and because this country continues to support the Israelis in killing innocent Palestinians, in addition to many other [sic] of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Yemen, Irag, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond which this country kills.

So, Abdulmutallab saved us a lot of money by avoiding a long trial. The piece de resistance, however, is his testimony to Anwar al-Awlaki’s culpability and role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula activities.

I was greatly inspired to participate in jihad by the lectures of the great and rightly guided mujahedeen who is alive, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, may Allah preserve him and his family and give them victory, Amen, and Allah knows best.

Participation in jihad against the United States is considered among the most virtuous of deeds in Islam and is highly encouraged in the Koran.

Judge Edwards set sentencing for 12 January 2012. Many of his charges carry minimum 30 year sentences, some of which must run consecutively. This may effectively equal his expected punishment of life in prison.
 


 

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