Cynical Synapse

Thu, 10 Nov 2011

Rick Perry Steps In It Big Time

Filed under: Candidates, Economy, Government, Indecision, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:14 pm

Rick Perry confused

Conventional wisdom held that Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry doesn’t do well in debates. That’s an understatement compared to the new extremes Perry demonstrated in his debating ineptness during the GOP debate at Oakland University, in suburban Detroit, on 8 November. On his own policy position, Perry burned through two lifelines and came up empty handed. It was so painful even people who didn’t watch the debate were wincing. Afterwords, Perry summed up his mental blocks:

I’m glad I had my boots on tonight. I stepped in it out there.

Ya think? Perry stepped in it so deep it was over his head. As for what he had such trouble with, Perry couldn’t name the three agencies of government he planned to shut down if elected. “There were so many federal agencies that come to mind, that I want to get rid of, that the Energy Department would not come out,” Perry told ABC’s “Good Morning America”. Perry remembered Education and Commerce, though with some trouble for the latter, but Energy only came to mind later in the debate.

burning man

Perry’s candidacy has got to be so done that it makes a self-immolating protester seem merely medium rare. Too bad he doesn’t see it that way; Perry is continuing his campaign.

No matter how good his ideas or how effective his programs might be, we just can’t afford to take a chance on Rick Perry. He can’t remember key points, he can’t debate, and he can’t think on his feet. Simply put, Rick Perry is just not presidential material.
 


 

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:

Wed, 28 Sep 2011

Detroit: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: Detroit, Economy — cynicalsynapse @ 6:08 pm

Detroit Renaissance Center

Metro Detroiters are fiercely loyal to the D. We’re so accustomed to negative news, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear something good about Southeast Michigan. Such was the case yesterday when I heard only Detroit and Washington DC saw housing values increase over the last year. Unfortunately, experts think renewed foreclosures will erase any gains achieved during the Feds looking into robo-signing and other lender irregularities.

After a nearly 3 year investigation, the former chief and 5 other Romulus police were charged in a corruption scandal. Former chief Michael St. Andre faces 10 charges; he and his wife could each be sentenced to 20 year terms. What’s bad is the allegation the chief and detectives used drug forfeiture money to buy drugs (marijuana), alcohol, and pay for prostitutes. Their criminal enterprise converted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to personal gain, but I can’t believe the amounts were worth the penalties they face.

Detroit map

Detroit and its suburbs have a love-hate relationship. Coleman A. Young, the city’s first Black mayor, characterized Detroit as surrounded by hostile suburbs. The suburbs, for their ugly part, are reluctant to play nice with Detroit. There are separate city and suburban bus systems—DDOT and SMART—in the tri-county service area. The suburbs get their water from Detroit Water and Sewerage, and the suburbs regularly posture for more control of the board.

Fundamentally, though, city and suburban acrimony stem from the 1967 Detroit riot. The region is still struggling, 44 years later, to move beyond its past. This is not rocket science, folks. Detroit needs the suburbs and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties need the city. Like Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
 

As an aside, it’s interesting to note then Gov. George Romney—father of presidential candidate Mitt Romney—called out 4,000 Michigan National Guardsmen in response to the riot. Subsequently, Romney requested Federal troops to augment DPD, the State Police, and National Guardsmen. While I’m not wearing his shoes, that’s a pretty significant escalation of forces in a very short period of time. It’s also a part of the elder Romney’s legacy you don’t hear anyone talking about, considering 43 (34 rioters) lost their lives in the 4 day period.
 

Fri, 23 Sep 2011

Obama Grandstands for Stimulus 2.0 Jobs Bill

Filed under: Budget, Economy, Employment, Government, Politics, President, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 10:50 am

Obama pushing his jobs bill in Cincinatti

Pres. Barack Obama was in Cincinatti yesterday to push for passing his jobs bill, which is really just the Stimulus on diet pills. At $447 billion, Obama’s proposal is just over half the $850 billion economic stimulus package of 2009. Like the original Stimulus bill, Obama’s jobs bill focuses on infrastructure.

Behind us stands the Brent Spence Bridge. It’s located on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. It sees about 150,000 vehicles cross over every day. And it’s in such poor condition that it has been labeled functionally obsolete. Functionally obsolete. It’s safe to drive on, but it was not designed to accommodate today’s traffic, which can stretch for a mile.

If the Brent Spence bridge is in such bad shape, why didn’t it get fixed by the original stimulus bill? Why is Obama advocating for it as part of his jobs bill? Could it be, oh, I don’t know, the bridge links House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH-8) district with Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home? Why, yes; yes it does. In his remarks, Obama said:

Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work.

will code for food

Obama’s jobs plan focuses on construction, which had 13.5% unemployment in August, compared to 9.1% overall. The the President talks about putting unemployed construction workers back to work. Unfortunately, his jobs bill won’t help the right people. Jobs grew over the last year in every construction sector except residential; they’re not the ones who build bridges. And what about all the unemployed in other industries? Less than chickenfeed for them.

Considering its questionable effect, Big Stimulus was very costly with little benefit. Unemployment was at 7.3% before enacting the stimulus bill; it’s 9.1% today. The government reports stimulus saved or added about 2.4 million jobs which means taxpayers spent $288,000 on each of them. That equates to 976 weeks (almost 19 years!) of unemployment benefits at the averge US amount of $295 per week. Seriously?

Tell your Senators and Congressperson we cannot afford Stimulus 2.0. It’s too costly and it won’t fix unemployment.
 

Previously on the stimulus bill:

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:

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:

Tue, 06 Sep 2011

Irony: Arethra Franklin Sings Chain of Fools Before Obama Speech

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, Michigan, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 8:55 pm

Aretha Franklin in Detroit

President Barack Obama spoke in Detroit on Labor Day about the comeback of the Big 3 automakers and the importance and significance of labor unions. The warm-up before the speech included Aretha Franklin singing Chain of Fools. Is anyone else seeing the irony here?
 

Mon, 05 Sep 2011

In Detroit: Obama’s Jobs Plan? Just Stimulus 2.0

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Economy, Government, Politics, President, Stimulus — cynicalsynapse @ 7:31 pm

black hole

Sen. Debbie Stabinaw (D-MI) was there. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14) led cheers for jobs. Seriously? Can anyone see Conyers cheering for anything? His speaking style is the most depressing I’ve ever seen or heard. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) rode with the President on Air Force One to Detroit. It was like a black hole of hope amidst the ruins of reality.

Obama speaking in Detroit

At a Labor Day speech in Detroit, President Obama praised unions, which isn’t a surprise considering the event he spoke at was an AFL-CIO rally. But, Obama fell back on the meme of the failed Stimulus bill:

We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding. We’ve got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building. We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board.

So, while unemployment remains at 9.1% and there were zero jobs added to the US workforce in August, Obama’s solution is just a repeat of the ineffective Stimulus from 2008. It didn’t work then, so why would it work now?
 

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.

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