Cynical Synapse

Wed, 14 Dec 2011

Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail Torpedoed

Detroit light rail sinks
Image by Jerry Paffendorf. HT: Detroit Curbed

Big news in the Motor City today is the “sudden” cancellation of the Woodward Light Rail project slated to begin construction within the next year. The line would run up Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the city limits at 8 Mile Road. The US Department of Transportation had already awarded federal funds toward the program, with more promised. Awards included $2 million for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to study expanding the line into the northern suburbs. The project, including its extension, seemed to have local, regional, state, and federal backing&ellipses;until now.

Known as M-1 Rail, for Woodward’s designation as Michigan state highway 1 (M-1), several years of planning and discussions, including such hurdles as environmental impact studies, are already done. Perhaps more significantly, the transit line represented a new era of regionalism and cooperation between city and suburbs. Add to that the $100 million in private seed money to jump start M-1 and you can sense the larger importance of Woodward light rail. Even now, the M-1 Rail consortium wants to build the 3.4 mile phase I line in Detroit. Full disclosure: I’m a rail and transit enthusiast. When entrepreneurs and private foundations still want to invest their money, civic leaders should pause and take notice.

bus rapid transit

Initially I had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cast as the bad guy. He met with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last week, so I presume this announcement has been festering since then. Even Detroit City Council had no clue, interviewing project managers just this week. It becomes apparent, however, Mayor Bing made the decision; perhaps under duress from Gov. Snyder who is not a rail proponent. In place of the Woodward light rail line is a proposal for several bus rapid transit lines. According to Bing, this is the right decision for Detroit and the region. Except no one asked the transit folks at SEMCOG, or Detroit City Council, or Detroit’s congressional delegation, any of which seem none too happy with this turn of events.

Mayor Bing contends the same money will buy bus rapid transit from downtown Detroit out Woodward and Gratiot into Oakland and Macomb Townships, a line between those suburban endpoints, and another connecting downtown Detroit with Metro Airport. There’s no question such a plan would serve more than Woodward light rail alone. As M-1 Rail points out, however, there’s been no work on funding, no environmental impact studies, or any other preparatory work. Bus rapid transit is, thus, at least a couple of years down the road—pun intended—before the first shovel-ful of dirt is turned. Never mind Detroit already has two dysfunctional bus systems. The “plan” is to overlay bus rapid transit so it complements the current Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transt (SMART) bus systems. Just what we need, a third metro Detroit bus system.

Besides my predictable chagrin at yet another nail in the coffin of Detroit rail transit, the region is left as the only major metropolitan area without an integrated transit system and, particularly, no light or commuter rail or subway systems. Taking a more pragmatic view, however, loss of the Woodward light rail line equates to a loss of an estimated $3 billion in development along the light rail route. Bus systems do not bring the same degree of transit-oriented development as rail. Did I point out the entrepreneurs behind M-1 Rail still want to proceed with at least phase I construction?
 

Previously on metro Detroit transit:

Tue, 13 Dec 2011

Nation’s Oldest Military Services Celebrates 375 Years

Filed under: Government, History, Military, National security, Patriotism, People — cynicalsynapse @ 5:49 am

The National Guard of the United States traces its roots back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, long before the United States existed or even declared its independence. On 13 December 1636, the Massachusetts General Court established a militia, which makes today’s Guard our nation’s oldest military service. The General Court’s declaration is the only colonial era government-issued proclamation authorizing a militia like that stipulated in the US Constitution.

In the spring of 1637, militia regiments mustered at Salem Common to drill in the interests of defending the colony and not just Salem. Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney (D-MA-6) introduced legislation designating Salem the birthplace of the National Guard, a measure supported by the entire Massachusetts delegation. Tierney described it this way:

Among its rich history, Salem was the site where our country’s earliest military regiment met, organized and conducted drills in preparation for defending the local community.

Guard UH-60 helicopter drops water on a forest fire

After consideration, the House included the designation of Salem as birthplace of the National Guard in H.R. 1540, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which the House passed 322-96 (with 13 not voting) in May. Of Michigan’s representatives, only Justin Amash (R-3), Hansen Clarke (D-13), and John Conyers (D-14) voted against the measure. As of 7 December, the Senate-approved bill is in conference to incorporate Senate modifications.

Just as in 1637, the Guard of today consists of Citizen-Soldiers. They live, work, and go to school in the same communities as their fellow citizens. In every state and 4 territories (District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands), the Guard is just hours away when disasters or other state emergencies strike. At least since the early 1980s, Guard Soldiers and Airmen have had to meet the same training and qualification requirements as their active duty counterparts. Guard members drill 39 days a year, unless preparing for mobilization. While no one advocates eliminating the standing Army or Air Force, the Guard’s cost-effectiveness and community ties are its strengths. As Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) noted the Guard is a great value for the country. While the Reserves of all the services are also a good value, only the Guard has a dual mission in the states and in support of the national military strategy.

Our National Guard and Reserve forces have taken on a major role in our combat missions abroad, while continuing to take the lead on the front lines during disasters here at home. This nation’s increased reliance on the National Guard has earned them a seat at the table along with our active duty forces.


 

Fri, 09 Dec 2011

Workplace Violence is Bigger than Islamist Extremism

Filed under: Congress, Deceit, Good job, Government, Hypocrits, Islamophobia, Media, Military, Politics, Terrorism — cynicalsynapse @ 5:37 pm

Rep. Peter Kane (R-NY)

Propaganda is propaganda and fabrications are fabrications. The blogosphere has come alive with claims DoD and the White House labeled the Fort Hood Massacre simple workplace violence. Normally, I would be very quick to jump on this bandwagon of apparent political correctness run amok. As it turns out, however, this is a politically-motivated twisting facts to create a sound bite by the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY-6) wanted so bad to have Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Security Stockton admit the biggest threat is “radical Islamist extremists”. While agreeing on the need for vigilance and increased security, Stockton said, “The threat we are discussing is serious and enduring. The Department of Defense has become their target of choice.” Consider the following exchange, which brings to mind the Inquisition, where Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA-3) practically waterboards Asst. Sec. Stockton:

REP. LUNGREN: I didn’t ask that — I did not ask that, sir. I asked whether we’re at war with violent Islamist extremism. That’s my question.

MR. STOCKTON: No, we’re at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates.

REP. LUNGREN: Well, al-Qaida — how does al-Qaida define itself? Are they dedicated to violent Islamist extremism?

MR. STOCKTON: Al-Qaida would love to convince Muslims around the world that the United States is at war with Islam.

REP. LUNGREN: I didn’t say that.

MR. STOCKTON: That’s a prime propaganda tool.

REP. LUNGREN: Sir —

MR. STOCKTON: And I’m not going to aid and abet that effort to advance their propaganda goal.

REP. LUNGREN: No, no, my question is, is there a difference between Islam and violent Islamist extremism?

MR. STOCKTON: Sir, with great respect, I don’t believe it’s helpful to frame our adversary as Islamic with any set of qualifiers that we might add, because we are not at war with Islam.

Capt. Humayun Kuhn's grave marker

While homegrown, self-radicalized jihadists are certainly a concern, they’re not the only ones who kill servicemembers or their families. The January 2010 Department of Defense report, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood, took a holistic approach. The report identified DoD’s need to improve its posture concerning all types of internal threats—what civilian organizations call “workplace violence”—not just al Qaeda wannabes. Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed the military to implement Fort Hood recommendations in August 2010. His memorandum referenced both workplace violence and force protection.

It is interesting to note the Pentagon’s report on the Fort Hood shootings never once mentions radical Islamists and only uses the word “terrorist” in the context of muti-agency information sharing and expanding current Army force protection training. It does refer to “workplace violence” in several recommendations, however. How is it that wasn’t a problem almost 2 years ago when the report came out but it is now? Could it be, oh, I don’t know, election season?

Fort Hood east gate

In their desires to politicize the Fort Hood tragedy, Collins and King miss the fact DoD has implemented 43 recommendations from the Fort Hood report, with another 15 to be implemented by March 2012. In what seems to be a rarity, we have a government agency addressing identified issues, but Congress wants to beat them down because they’re not blaming the right bogeyman. Collins, King, et al, are on a witch hunt and Stockton won’t play along. Even worse, they have no care or concern for non-Islamist threats. Ranking minority House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS-2) expressed concern about the Committee’s direction.

Focusing on the followers of one religion as the only credible threat to this nation’s security is inaccurate, narrow, and blocks consideration of emerging threats.


 

Wed, 16 Nov 2011

Congress Hits Rock Bottom: 9% Approval Rating

Filed under: Congress, Good job, Government, Hugo Chavez, Politics, Rants, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 8:05 pm

Congressional popularity

Colorado’s junior Senator, Michael Bennet (D) recently assailed what appears to be a sparsely attended Senate session with Congress’ abysmal approval rating of just 9%!Bennet underscored how pathetic that was before comparing Congress to the IRS, Fidel Castro, and banks.

We’re almost at the margin of error for zero!

Fricking Hugo Chavez has the same approval rating as Congress, for crying out loud! Next election, turn these arrogant, worthless buffoons out on their duffs!
 


 

Fri, 11 Nov 2011

Over 25 Million Served: Honoring Our Veterans

Filed under: Global War on Terror, Government, Heroes, holidays, Life, Military, Patriotism, Society — cynicalsynapse @ 4:18 pm

Veterans Day 2011

Today is Veterans Day, an opportunity to thank all who have served, or are serving, in our nation’s armed forces. The holiday originally marked the end of hostilities in World War I, taking on its 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month distinction from that role as Armistice Day. In 1954, the holiday’s purpose was expanded to recognize the service and contributions—sometimes ultimate sacrifice—of all veterans, living and deceased, who served in any branch of the US military.

Veterans Day is significant this year, not just for its 11/11/11 date. We mark the tenth Veterans Day since we began the Global War on Terror. It’s important to honor those who served in the nation’s longest war. Equally important is recognizing those who wore our military uniforms during wartime and peacetime going back through the centuries to the Minutemen, the Citizen-Soldiers who bore arms in defense of their neighbors even before our country was born. Their legacies are the freedoms for which we owe our veterans such gratitude.
 

Previously on Veterans Day:

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.
 


 

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.


 

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:

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:

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