Cynical Synapse

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:

Fri, 24 Dec 2010

Driving With Hood Up Part 2

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Duh, Humor, Safety, Stupid car tricks — cynicalsynapse @ 8:57 am

A year and a half ago, I saw a guy driving down the freeway with his hood laying against the windshield. I wondered how that happened. Now I may have the answer. Driving with the hood up at highway speeds, it’s likely the air pressure will force the hood beyond its normal stopping point.

In a scratch-your-head moment, apparently this is more common than anyone would imagine.

Thu, 18 Feb 2010

Epic Fail: “Terrorists are So Dehumanized”

Filed under: Behavior, Duh, Flying, Global War on Terror, Government, Legal, Life, National security, People, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:27 pm

US Attorney General Eric Holder

US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the Federal Bar Association luncheon in Detroit February 17th. I wonder if he realized Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was only 45 minutes away in Milan Federal Prison, awaiting trial for his attempt to blow up Northwest flight 253. Holder avoided the topic of terrorism and trying terrorists in civil courts. Here’s as close as he came:

We face new legal challenges, new missions, and new threats to our nation’s safety. In the face of these challenges, we have, I believe, an opportunity—an obligation—to choose collaboration and civic engagement over cynicism and over criticism.

WTF? Can’t we all just get along syndrome. Holder decided to let the Christmas Day Undie-bomber lawyer up so he can be tried in civil court. So now everyone is calling him an alleged bomber or a suspected terrorist. Ask anyone on the plane; I’ll bet they were terified. Under immense criticism for this, Holder wrote to Congress that the FBI informed its “relevant partners in the Intelligence Community” on Dec. 25th that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would be charged criminally. He also said “no agency objected to this course of action.” So why, then, does it turn out none of the intelligence chiefs were consulted about extending Miranda rights to an enemy combatant?

Jay Howard

Maybe it’s because the man who sat next to Abdulmutallab thinks he’s a nice guy. You can’t make this stuff up! In an interview, National Public Radio’s Michelle Norris asked college student Jay Howard, 22, of Grand Rapids MI, why he kept referring to Abdulmutallab by his first name. Howard answered, “I only call him that because I mean, I don’t want to call him a terrorist because he hasn’t been treated as a terrorist and it wasn’t a national threat, and so using Umar seems to be more human.” Excuse me? The extremist tried to kill you and 289 other people. I’d take that rather personally, myself.

In his interview, Howard described what happened when Abdulmutallab tried to murder the people on Northwest flight 253.

Well, there was a large pop – like, almost everyone on the plane, I’m sure, I heard it. So, I was very curious to what had happened because it sounded very close to me. So, I was looking around and I noticed that my neighbor, Umar, had his blanket up over him, up to his chin and but I saw that there was smoke coming from underneath his blanket. And I also noticed a repulsive smell. And so I kind of questioned him, and I asked him about the smoke but he didn’t respond. And so, I removed his blanket from him and smoke dispersed throughout the plane.

And he had his hand down his pants. So, when he removed his hands from his pants, fire erupted. And he and another passenger, who had come over from a couple of rows away, tried to put it out together.

Way to go, Jay. Why didn’t you use the blanket you took from Umar to put out the fire? Instead, you sat there and the Flying Dutchman Jasper Schuringa put the fire out with his hands! Good job! Not!

Jihadist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

In an interview for his college newspaper, Chimes, Howard said “terrorists are so dehumanized.” Are you kidding me? Howard understands Abdulmutallab is a radical jihadist, but he’s ok with that. Here’s the full quote; emphasis is mine:

[Abdulmutallab]’s 23, like our age, trying to blow up a plane. … He had extremist views and he wanted to kill us all, but he didn’t seem like that bad of a guy. That’s a weird thing to say, but I’ve kind of thought about this; these so-called terrorists are so dehumanized, but my interaction with this kid was that he was an ordinary guy, just a human being.

Just an ordinary guy who wanted you dead. We call those enemy combatants; they’re extremist militants who will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. Mr. Howard, you can talk about this only because you were lucky or the jihadists were extremely inept. If your friend Umar had succeeded, NPR would be interviewing your parents.

I’ve previously blasted Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who said the system worked. What an idiotic thing for someone in her senior level of government to say. She should have been fired! But there’s another troubling aspect to Abdulmutallab’s case. After Holder let him lawyer up and lied about consulting other agencies, he withstood severe criticism from Congress and ordinary people. He, too, should have been fired. What’s worse, though, is now someone in the administration is leaking Abdulmutallab is talking again. I’m sure those leaks are intended to make us all feel better, that terrorists will give us information, depite advice of legal counsel, probably just because we’re all around good guys. As I see it, though, this is just lies or someone is telegraphing what we know by giving sensitive intelligence to the media. Here’s the surprise, folks. We are waging a war with a cunning, thinking enemy. It’s just plain stupid to think Abdulmutallab’s jihadist friends are going to sit tight waiting for the authorities to come scoop them up after reading about him talking on the front page of whatever rag they read.

Previously:


Thu, 24 Sep 2009

Think an Elipses is When the Moon Moves in Front of the Sun?

Filed under: Behavior, Duh, Humor, Language, Life, People, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 9:22 pm

Who knew that today was National Punctuation Day?

In an era of instant messaging and texting, some may think punctuation almost irrelevant, except as elements of emoticons (which have been around since the 19th century, believe it or not). Others might argue there is a growing misuse—and misunderstanding—of punctuation. A number even consider the demise of proper punctuation as representative of the decline of civilization as we know it.

One of my pet peeves is apostrophe catastrophes. I think this is the leading punctuation faux pas in US English. I often wonder what the item is possessing when I see an apostrophe before an ending S that doesn’t belong there. Consider the sign in the opening picture: the baguette’s what? What does the baguette have? And who cares if Baker has a baguette? If Baker had a lot of baguettes, that might be worth a sign.

The misplaced apostrophe is a bigger deal than just the possessive. What about the difference between your and you’re? This not uncommon mistake has different meanings. Its corollary is even more insidious: there, they’re, their. How many times have you seen the wrong word in that context?

Although it doesn’t usually “bother” me, probably the next most common punctuation error is the unnecessary quotation marks—you know, when a word or phrase is place inside quotes for no good reason. While you have to see improper apostrophes, the unnecessary quotes can also occur in speach. Remember the last time you saw someone make the “quotes” gesture? If they’re making the gesture, it’s probably not proper use of quotation marks.

The sign at right is a nice sentiment, but it leaves me with two questions. Congrat’s what, or does Congrat own the Class of “2009”? Is it really the class of 2009 or are we “just saying” it’s the class of 2009?

So, is punctuation and language a big deal? I don’t know. Why not ask “Punctuation hero” Stefan Gatward?

Copyblogger has six common punctuation errors that bedevil bloggers. Whitesmoke has some other guidance on punctuation.

Think punctuation doesn’t really matter? Consider this. But, is it a big deal in the blogospere? Blogs can be corrected. Maybe the real concern is punctuation and usage based on millennia does matter.

Sun, 20 Sep 2009

Kilpatrick Still Dissing Detroit

Filed under: Behavior, Detroit, Duh, Justice, Kwamegate, Legal, People, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 5:25 pm

Despite his lavish lifestyle, or maybe in spite of it, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lost his bid to cut restitution payments to the city. Claiming he no longer received advance payments that doubled his salary, Kilpatrick sought to reduce restitution from $6,000 to $3,000 per month.

The former mayor’s legacy is a patchwork of dysfunctionalism, from the Jayne-Laskey Family Fun Center to the Detroit Zoo. Both were places emblazoned with the former mayor’s name. But no more. Today, the zoo is run by the Detroit Zoological Society and the recreation center is closed for renovations.

Kilpatrick’s administration squandered countless opportunities. These included redevelopment deals at the base of the Belle Ilse bridge. And many others, no doubt.

Still, Kwame is doing better than the city he abandoned. He’s living in a gated community outside Dallas, while the city he “would never quit on” struggles with 28.9% unemployment. Nonetheless, Kilpatrick claimed he couldn’t afford his restitution payments.

Today, Kilpatrick lives in a million-dollar house in affluent Southlake, TX. He gets six-figure salary from Compuware subsidiary Covisint. On Thursday, the narcissist was a day late and $3,000 short with his restitution payment. Seems the >Michigan Court of Appeals said pay up anyway. They denied Kilpatrick’s motion reduce his payments “for lack of merit.”

Hard to claim poverty when you’re living in a million-dollar mansion. In a gated community. I’m thinking Detroiters aren’t feeling your pain, Kwame.

UPDATE Sept 23, 2009:

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy filed a motion saying Kilpatrick has violated the terms of his probation. A court date’s been set for October 28th. The Detroit Free Press has the details and Worthy’s motion. And here’s a question: why isn’t Kwame using a lawyer with offices in Detroit?

Sun, 13 Sep 2009

Michigan Politicians Don’t Get Budget Crisis

Filed under: Bailout, Budget, Duh, Economy, Government, Michigan, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 4:14 pm

Playing partisan politics resulted in a brief Michigan state government shutdown in 2007. It sure as hell looks to me like House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm are headed for another government shutdown in, oh, about 17 days. The Democrats did nothing all summer and Granholm spent the weekend in Japan.

Failing to understand the magnitude of the budget crisis, Michigan’s politicians plan to use Stimulus money to plug some of the gaps. The state has a structural operating budget deficit, however. Using federal recovery act money masks the magnitude of post-Stimulus deficits and defers the hard choices for two years. Just like deferred pay cuts, next term is when the real budget crisis will hit.

Michigan is in dire straits. Even a rebounding economy won’t fix budget issues. Especially in Michigan. And, especially after Stimulus money runs out. From the Wall Street Journal: “The Coming Reset in State Government“.

State government finances are a wreck. The drop in tax receipts is the worst in a half century. Fewer than 10 states ended the last fiscal year with significant reserves, and three-fourths have deficits exceeding 10% of their budgets. Only an emergency infusion of printed federal funny money is keeping most state boats afloat right now.

Most governors I’ve talked to are so busy bailing that they haven’t checked the long-range forecast. What the radar tells me is that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. What we are being hit by isn’t a tropical storm that will come and go, with sunshine soon to follow. It’s much more likely that we’re facing a near permanent reduction in state tax revenues that will require us to reduce the size and scope of our state governments. And the time to prepare for this new reality is already at hand.

The coming state government reset will be particularly wrenching after the happy binge that preceded this recession. During the last decade, states increased their spending by an average of 6% per year, gusting to 8% during 2007-08. Much of the government institutions built up in those years will now have to be dismantled.

For now, my state’s situation is far better than most, but it won’t stay that way if we fail to act in Indiana. At present, we are meeting our obligations, without raising taxes, and still have over $1 billion in reserve. But the dominant reality is that even assuming the official revenue projections are accurate (and they have been consistently too rosy for the past two years), the state of Indiana will have fewer dollars to work with in 2011 than it did in 2007. Most other states face similar or worse prospects.

And, unlike the aftermath of past recessions, odds are that revenues will take a long time to catch back up to their previous trend lines—if they ever do. Tax payments have fallen so far that it would require a rousing economic rally to restore them. This at a time when the Obama administration’s policies on taxes, spending and more seem designed to produce the opposite result. From 1930 to 2008, our national average annual real GDP growth rate was 3.49%. After crunching the numbers, my team has estimated that it would take GDP growth of at least twice the historical average to return state tax revenues to their previous long-term trend line by 2012.

I doubt even that would suffice to rescue most states…

So, Michigan’s politicians, who refuse to even work together on the state’s current shortfalls, would rather play whack-a-mole with each other’s preferred fixes. Republicans chop Promise Grants. The Gov. cuts local revenue sharing and State Police. House Dems twiddle their thumbs. And the next election season is the only reason they’re even thinking about the 2011 budget. Michigan politicians have no clue the state budget will suffer meltdown in 2012. Some simply don’t care because term limits will dump their sorry asses.

HT: theblogprof

Thu, 10 Sep 2009

Guess He Can’t Read…

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Duh, Humor, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 1:16 pm

or maybe English isn’t his first language. I’m talking about the guy in the white truck driving in the “No Trucks” lane.

With the bilingual nature of South Florida, you’d think Florida Department of Transportation would be a big believer in symbol signs. Perhaps this guy just needs a sign in braille instead.

Tue, 11 Aug 2009

Was Hillary Sleep-Deprived Again?

Filed under: Behavior, Duh, Government, Paradoxes, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:57 am

I had serious reservations about candidate Hillary Clinton. She left her name on the Michigan primary ballot, but said Michigan’s vote would “not going to count for anything.” Then she hoped Michigan would make the difference between her and Barack. Talk about two-faced! Add to that her sleep-deprived memory of coming under imagined sniper fire when landing in Bosnia in 1996. Are the duties of First Lady so intensive they cause sleep deprivation?

During the presidential campaign, candidate Clinton trashed Obama’s foreign policy experience. With Hillary’s total lack of foreign policy experience herself, I questioned Obama’s naming Clinton Secretary of State. The woman seems such an opportunist that thrives on a facade of mistrust.

So, the country’s top diplomat acted outright nasty yesterday in the Congo. Hillary snapped at a Congolese student’s question. Either the French-speaking student or the translator erred with the question. Either way, Hillary suffered a meltdown at hearing husband Bill’s name:

You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not secretary of state, I am. If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.

If Secretary Clinton can’t handle the pressure of a student’s question, how could she function in a real international or diplomatic crisis? At best, her reaction was unprofessional and disrespectful. At worst, this incident clearly shows her incompetence and ineptitude. She should do the graceful thing and resign. The US does not need a sleep-deprived Secretary of State who obviously has issues.


Sun, 19 Jul 2009

Way to Go, Bozo!

Filed under: Behavior, Budget, Detroit, Driving, Duh, Legal, Rants, Stupid car tricks — cynicalsynapse @ 8:26 pm

Burning fuel on I-75 under 9 Mile Road
Courtesy: jalopnik.com

A 2004 Honda Civic apparently lost control on northbound I-75 in suburban Detroit on July 15th. The car hit a semi between the cab and its tanker trailer, breaking the trailer loose. With 14,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, the tanker erupted. Flames reached 150 feet into the sky. Another semi carrying produce was able to avoid the original collision but was caught in the inferno.

Immediately following the accident, other drivers went right on through the burning flames. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. The east half of the 9 Mile overpass eventually collapsed as a result of the intense heat. As a result, I-75 was closed in both directions from I-696 to 8 Mile Road. Nine Mile is also closed, obviously, at the I-75 service drives. The service drives are closed as well during the clean-up. Southbound I-75 reopened today; the northbound side may reopen late Monday. As for the 9 Mile bridge—not before November or December.

MDOT spent $78,000 to demolish the 9 Mile span over I-75 south and clean up the debris. Repaving I-75’s damaged roadway is costing another $90,000. Replacing the 9 Mile bridge, which had just been re-built last year, will cost $2 million. Total expense, which MDOT hopes to get reimbursed from insurance companies: $2,168,000.


State Police look at Haidarian-Shahri’s burned out Civic
Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press

State Police and National Transportation Safety Board officials are investigating. There have been no citations pending the outcome of the investigations. Saied Haidarian-Shahri, who caused the accident, was apparently going about 70 MPH on the S-curve before the bridge. Although that’s the speed limit, the curve carries a 50 MPH advisory speed.


Saied Haidarian-Shahri (from his WSU web page)

The 27-year-old Iranian-born PhD student has only had his license since May. Haidarian-Shahri offered no apologies, saying “I don’t think I made a mistake”. So, let me see. He lost control, hit a fuel hauler that crashed and burned, destroyed a major surface street bridge, and closed one of metro Detroit’s key north-south arteries for as much as a week or more. I’d hate to see the outcome of what he considers a mistake!

Sat, 27 Jun 2009

Monica Conyers Pleads Guilty to Bribery

Filed under: Behavior, Detroit, Duh, Justice, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 12:55 pm

Monica Conyers, September 2008 (AP photo)

Controversial and scandal-riddled Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to bribery charges in US District Court this morning. She could get 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said Monica Conyers admitted to “a pattern of conduct of accepting bribes.”

Monica Conyers’ plea deal said she received two payments from Synagro officials. Rayford Jackson and Jim Rosendall, of Synagro, have already pleaded guilty of bribery. At the same time, the Feds said they are not investigating other Council members. While still a black eye for Detroit, the city can now move forward, putting the Kwame catastrophe and Monica malevolence behind it.

[US Attorney Terrence]Berg said the Conyers plea doesn’t end the Synagro investigation, but it does mark the conclusion of the probe into elected officials in the case. He called the plea deal an “appropriate and fair resolution to the matter,” with a “high-level public figure pleading guilty” to bribery.

Next up: Since U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn said, “The defendant now stands convicted,” Conyers should no longer be a Detroit City Council member. But her lawyer, Bill Goodman, said Conyers’ plea does not mean she will immediately leave office automatically. If Conyers is officially convicted, as Cohn says, Detroit’s city charter states she’s subject to forfeiture. But Mayor Dave Bing isn’t calling for Conyers to step down and Council’s attorneys say she’s not officially convicted until sentencing.

Conyers, who could receive up to 5 years in prison, just do the right thing for Detroit and its citizens she so patheticly let down. Any bets on whether she’s big enough for that? I’m not holding my breath…

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