Cynical Synapse

Tue, 20 Sep 2011

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

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

MDOT gateway project

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

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

twin spanning the Ambassador Bridge

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

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

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

Previously on the Ambassador Bridge:

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Fri, 09 Sep 2011

Déjà Vu: Obama’s Jobs Plan is Just Stimulus 2.0

Filed under: Budget, Business, Congress, Economy, Employment, Government, Life, Politics, President, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 5:00 pm

the new homeless

Déjà vu is the feeling of experiencing what’s going on now repeats some previous similar event or activity. President Obama’s jobs speech to Congress, in an 8 September 2011 joint sesssion, feels like that. Some other concepts that come to mind:

  • “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
    Winston Churchill
  • “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
    Henry Ford
  • “Hope is not a method.”
    Gordon R. Sullivan
  • “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
    John Heywood

The size of Obama’s proposed $447 billion jobs bill is over half that of 2009’s stimulus bill. Like its predecessor, the jobs bill includes tax cuts designed to spur private sector jobs and give working class people more take-home pay so they can spend it and create a need for more workers. It also includes money for education and infrastructure projects, just like the stimulus bill. Counterintuitively, both the stimulus and jobs bills also called for extended unemployment benefits.

Pres. Obama makes his jobs bill speech

Obama urged Congress to pass his jobs bill, pointing out it includes proposals from both parties and will be fully paid for:

There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans—including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.

With no plan for where the bill’s nearly a half trillion dollar cost will come from, Mr. Obama tasked the bipartisan deficit reduction supercommittee to pay for jobs on top of the deficit reduction they’re already charged with. Since unemployment is now 9.1%, compared to less than 8 (7.6%) prior to 2009’s stimulus package, why does anyone think “Stimulus Lite” will work? If they do, they’re part of the Chain of Fools (meaning no disrespect to Miss Aretha).
 

Previously on the stimulus bill:

Sun, 04 Sep 2011

To Hybrid or Not to Hybrid

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Deceit, Environment, Hypocrits, Life, Oil, Paradoxes, People, Technology — cynicalsynapse @ 12:17 pm

hybrid in front of wind turbines

It depends. The hype with hybrid vehicles is they’ll save you gas money and will help reduce dependence on foriegn oil. The benefits of hybrid technology apply mostly at lower speeds, so if you do a lot of highway driving, a hybrid is probably not for you. In my job, I visit a number of work sites around the state. I have a Ford Fusion hybrid assigned to my office. It averages 36 mpg, largely due to mostly highway driving. I also commute 87 miles to work with 80 of those miles on Interstates. After calculating gas savings, I figured out the break-even point was over 10 years if I were to buy a Chevy Volt compared to a new Hyundai Tucson. Why? Because of the substantially higher cost of the hybrid Volt. Oh, and the Volt’s generator requires premium fuel, which is poor engineering, if you ask me.

Another fallacy of hybrids, especially the plug-in ones, is they use clean energy. Based on data from the US Energy Information Administration, only 14.2% of our electricity comes from clean (wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro) sources. Another 17.6% is generated at nuclear power plants. The rest comes from burning stuff, mostly (42.5%) coal. And, did you know many of the hybrids have idiosyncracies concerning their expensive batteries? Like, if the Chevrolet Tahoe and silverado shut down if you run out of gas. Talk about being stranded.

Thanks to Big Government for putting hybrids on my mind:

Today, in 1957, Ford introduced the Edsel. Think Chevy Volt.

1957 Ford Edsel

Previously on hybrid cars:

Wed, 03 Aug 2011

Dollar-Foolish, Dysfunctional Congress Goes on Vacation

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Congress, Economy, Flying, Government, Indecision, Michigan — cynicalsynapse @ 9:43 pm

Oakland International tower construction

Our penny-wise, dollar-foolish, dysfunctional so-called representatives (Congressmen and Senators) in Washington barely managed to cobble together a debt ceiling deal before the economy tumbled into the abyss. Then they went home for a month-long vacation, leaving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) without appropriations to operate. As a result, about 4,000 FAA employees are on furlough, meaning they don’t work and they don’t get paid. How many of them, do you suppose, live paycheck to paycheck? How many of our elected officials will help them out during their involuntary layoff? Add to that another estimated 70,000 construction workers idled by stop work orders on various FAA-funded projects. They’ll all collect unemployment, thus adding to the cost of doing business and the cost of government. The 74,000 laid off will also skew the jobless numbers, which will affect stocks and other aspects of the economy.

The previous FAA reauthorization expired 22 July. There has been no long-term (meaning 2-4 years) for the FAA since 2007. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts the government is not, presently, collecting. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending your checks to me—it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

Boarding a plane in Iron Mountain

At issue in the debate are, essentially, two fundamental aspects. The most publicized is the Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy, which pays airlines to provide commercial service to largely remote areas. In Michigan, that affects 8 airports with EAS subsidies:

City Airport Enplanements Non-EAS District
Alpena Alpena County 7,519 87 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)
Escanaba Escanaba 5,307 56 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Houghton Houghton County 25,354 68 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Iron Mountain Ford Airport 3,998 59 mi (Sawyer) 1—Benishek (R)
Ironwood Gogebic-Iron County 1,524 68 mi (Rhinelander) 1—Benishek (R)
Manistee Manistee County-Blacker 2,087 50 mi (Cherry Capital) 2—Huizenga (R)
Muskegon Muskegon County 30,051 40 mi (G R Ford) 2—Huigenga (R)
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie 13,269 90 mi (Charlevoix) 1—Benishek (R)

The other key point of contention is an “anti-union provision in the House bill. At best, airlines, and in particular, Delta’s labor practices leave much to be desiredIn reality, this is a partisan matter with Republicans taking the nuclear option. Democrats paint this as Republican anti-unionism, largely at the behest of Delta Airlines.

When the House version of the bill, HR 658, passed, the vote was 223-196, largely along party lines. In Michigan’s delegation, only Justin Amash (R-03) voted against his party’s view. What’s interesting is the 8 Michigan airports at risk in the EAS are all in Republican districts, which voted in favor of ending the subsidies. Six of the eight at-risk airports are in Dan Benishek’s First District, but he spun it this way:

This FAA bill funded the EAS for two-and-a-half years. So that would be stable funding for two-and-a-half years rather than a few months at a time. I think it’s a good program and I’m all for it. As far as I was concerned, it was a vote for the program.

I can see clearly now

So, let me see. Benishek votes against the FAA reauthorization, but it’s really a vote for the Essential Air Service program. Reminds me of “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Is anyone else confused by this? That said, however, the travel distances to “non-essential” air service facilities seems to justify ending this taxpayer subsidy. Heck, I live in metro Detroit and it takes me about 45 minutes to get to Detroit Metro. Suck it up and drive an hour to another airport.

Interestingly, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-03), a Tea Party freshman from Grand Rapids, broke party lines and voted against HR 638. He’s the only Michigan representative that didn’t vote with his party. Apparently, he was opposed to the general fund subsidy, according to Amash’s Facebook post:

[Justin Amash] just voted no on H R 658, FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act. The bill authorizes FAA activities through 2014. Under the bill, the authorized FAA spending level is flat-lined at the FY 2008 level for FY 2012-2014. That is a savings of $495 million per year over current spending. Even so, the bill relies on subsidies from the general fund to cover about 25% of total costs. The bill passed 223-196.

lost tax reveuesn

Even worse than the impact on jobs are the lost tax revenues. Several taxes are no longer in effect because the FAA authorization bill remains unpassed and the previous reauthorization expired 22 July. As a result, the US Treasury is missing out on $20 million per day, an amount that will exceed $1 billion if reauthorizing the FAA stretches into September. Meanwhile, some airlines have raised ticket prices, pocketing the previous tax amounts. Do you suppose they’ll lower prices when the taxes come back on line? If you do, just start sending me your paychecks; it’s more productive than just burning your cash.

In a nutshell, Congress’ failure to reauthorize the FAA is reckless partisan politics at its worst.

Sun, 31 Jul 2011

These Are Not the Oil Profits You’re Looking For

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

big oil's big gusher

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

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

Hoekstra on healthcare

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

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

Previously on Oil:

Fri, 15 Jul 2011

Green Jobs Evaporating from Michigan

Filed under: Business, Deceit, Economy, Government, Hypocrits, Michigan, Technology, Unemployment — cynicalsynapse @ 10:52 am

Annual green job changes

Riddle me this: how is it that Michigan is the only state to lose so-called green jobs? According to a report released this week by the Brookings Institution, Michigan lost 1,596 “green” jobs from 2003 to 2010. That is a 0.3% decline during each of those 7 years.

With excess manufacturing capability, skilled labor and engineers aching for work, and a good transportation network, Michigan should have been gaining high-tech “green” jobs. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) made growing the state’s “green” economy a priority of her administration. As recently as two weeks ago, Granholm bragged “green” economy investment helped Michigan:

In the space of about a year and a half. we were able to convince 17 battery companies or their suppliers to locate inside Michigan, and those companies promised to create 63,000 jobs.

Apparently the part Granholm missed was where all those new jobs were going to be. Former Gov. Granholm’s administration focused on growing “green” jobs during most of the time Michigan was actually loses such jobs.

Previously on jobs in Michigan:

Sat, 19 Mar 2011

TSA Jackboots Assault Train Passengers

Filed under: Business, Citizen rights, Duh, Government, Life, Oppression, Passenger rail, Railroads, Rants, Transit, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 6:53 pm

VIPR team expands

Frequent readers may know that I am a railfan, meaning I like railroads. That may bias me, but I also believe passenger rail is essential to America’s prosperity. We cannot spend out way out of road congestion and there are physical constraints on air travel. A coherent rail passenger policy, including high-speed rail, is essential to our country remaining competetive in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, many myopic politicians can’t see past the measley Federal subsidies to Amtrak. That’s different from airport and highway subsidies how? Never mind Amtrak ridership has been rising since 2000. But, I digress.

Most frequent readers probably know of my disdain for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). On February 13th, the government thugs took over the Savannah GA Amtrak station to screen passengers. Two big problems. First, TSA was screening passengers after they got off the train. Second, passengers don’t have to go through the station to get to or from the train platforms. More pointless security theater.

subject to mandatory screening

While TSA claims they made prior arrangements with the rail passenger agency, the Amtrak police chief says TSA’s actions were illegal and a surprise to Amtrak. In fact, Chief John O’Connor thought initial blog posts on the TSA extremism were a joke. He noted Amtrak police operate within the Constitution and TSA agents have no right to go beyond that.

TSA justifies their actions, saying people didn’t have to enter the station. I’m sorry—doesn’t that prove the idiocy of TSA’s whole concept? If you don’t want to be screened, just go around the station. If you don’t want a full-body scan, just go to one of 85.6% of airports that don’t have the scanners.

TSA at Tampa bus terminal

February’s assault on Savannagh was part of TSA’s VIPR program. While it sounds good, VIPR—Visible Intermodal Protection and Response—teams are randomly executed and consist of ad hoc groups. These include Air Marshals—to provide TSA with armed agents on the ground—and bomb detection teams. They descend on bus terminals and wherever else they happen to want to.

Not satisfied with harassing the flying public, TSA has teams of shock troops running amok to subjugate bus riders and intimimdate train passengers. Didn’t we used to claim these were the evils of communism? Can anyone show any tangible security benefits to the TSA’s excesses?

Previously on security theater:

Sun, 13 Feb 2011

What’s Next for Egypt?

Filed under: Allies, Business, Diplomacy, Government, Middle East, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

Egyptian protests

While hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated Hosni Mubarek’s ouster as president, others were more skeptical. Numbering a few hundred, they stay in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of demonstrations that forced Mubarek’s resignation. They want a civilian-led interim government and an end to emergency laws. Amr Shalkami said:

The rest of the revolution is not complete. Since the beginning of the revolution we have trusted our army but if we leave the square our revolution will die. We must keep the revolution alive so that we get the 100% freedom we are asking for.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised democracy, saying the military will:

guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state…The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties.

Egyptian military near Tahrir Square

It’s ambiguous what the Egyptian populace wants. It becomes clear, however, the Egyptian military is pro-Western and wants to honor the Camp David Accords. A democratic Egypt that honors existing agreements is an ideal situation.

Apparently, Defense Minister and head of the military Supreme Council, Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, said “The army is not an alternative to the authority of the demands of the people.”

Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi

Nonetheless, Field Marshal Tantawi leads the interim government in Egypt. The Egyptian military confirmed this in Communique 5. The document dismisses the parliament and suspends the civil government and parliament (with the Military Supreme Coucil in charge) until new elections.

Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, said Egypt foresees maintaining close ties with the US.

These issues are driven by mutual interest, by Egyptian interest and the interest remains a close association to the United States.

Previously on Egypt:

Mon, 07 Feb 2011

Never Underestimate Detroit

Filed under: Bailout, Business, Cars, Congress, Detroit, Economy, Sports — cynicalsynapse @ 7:30 pm

Spirit of Detroit

Detroit, like any urban area, has had its issues, some for a very long time. And some have a considerable way to go before resolution. But never underestimate the spirit of Detroit.

When the Big 3—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—were in deep financial trouble, many wanted to write them off. Now they’ve rebounded and it turns out the real quality issues are with one of those much-touted Japanese car companies.

As if with some kind of synergy, Chrysler introduces the 200 model by highlighting the strengths of the Motor City. Don’t dis the D because it will never be out. Not even when everyone wants to write it off.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011

TSA Tightens Fascist Grip; Stamps Out Competition

Filed under: Business, Citizen rights, Flying, Government, Hypocrits, Politics, Take action, Travel, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 3:16 pm

US Department of Security Theater

Only a couple months after the uproar over full body scanners, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has put a halt to the private screening option. Only 16 commercial airports, out of 494, use private security screeners in lieu of the TSA. Amazingly, the TSA and its union are obviously intimidated by privitization. John Gage, President of the American Federation of Government Employees, said:

The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11. We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force.

Clearly, the union is happy to not face challenges from privatized (whether union or not) security personnel. Despite what he says, there’s no mistaking Mr. Gage’s primary concern is not losing dues-paying members.

TSA pats down old lady in a wheel chair

Just two months ago, TSA was “neutral” on private screeners. Now Administrator John Pistole’s attempt to protect his fiefdom is thinly veiled, at best. Loss of airports to private security means reductions in personnel—and funding—for the TSA. Pistole’s comment:

“I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.

Since when does government have the authority to limit free enterprise? If private companies can meet (or exceed) the government standard of service, why are they being denied the opportunity to do so? And why is capitalism being stiffled in deference to the interests of a monopolistic government agency? If the Screening Partnership Program is no longer part of TSA policy, why is it still on their website?

More importantly, why are Americans willing to surrender more of their freedoms to Government? Ask your Congressman and Senators to question TSA’s business unfriendly position.

Previously on security theater:

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