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:

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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.


 

Fri, 25 Nov 2011

Mitt Romney: Much Ado About Nothing

Filed under: Candidates, Hypocrits, Paradoxes, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 11:05 am

Mitt Romney flip-flops

Every now and then I happen across something so well written there’s no point in me attempting to develop my own post on the topic. Such is the case with Streiff‘s post on RedState regarding the unelectable Mitt Romney.

Generally speaking, I think the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson is the most profoundly stupid and uninsightful writer on any editorial page in any paper in any country. But file this one under “Blind Hog/Acorn”.

Moderator Wolf Blitzer opened Tuesday’s Republican debate by introducing himself and adding, for some reason, “Yes, that’s my real name.” A few moments later, the party’s most plausible nominee for president said the following: “I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.”

But it’s not. Mitt is the candidate’s middle name. His first name is Willard.

And people wonder why this guy has an authenticity problem?

For a while Dem strategists have been making public pronouncements on Romney’s seeming inability to distinguish fact from fiction and his near pathological instinct to make his audience believe he is just like them. Even Jon Stewart has poked fun at Romney’s flip flops.

When the election season started I was convinced that even though I did not like Romney, he was the most electable candidate in the pack. Since then I’ve changed my views. Romney can’t win in a general election because very few people, outside the 20% who like his hair and a handful of devoted fluffers, will vote for the man.

He will lose a lot of conservatives because we fear that he will energetically return to his past persona as a liberal New England governor if he is elected. As the GOP winning the Senate in 2012 is very close to a “gimme” we have to ask: can conservatism survive a President Romney and a Senate Majority Leader McConnell?

He will lose a lot of GOP, as opposed to conservative, support because he is a supremely smarmy and untrustworthy character whose core value is defined by a strong belief that he should be president and nothing more.

While Plouffe and Carville are validating our feelings about Romney’s squishiness, the real attack, the one that will strip away the moderate center that Romney has been relying on is waiting in the wings.

Obama can’t attack Romney as a flip-flopper because many of the flips and flops Romney has held dear at one time or another are actually Obama’s own positions. The Romney response to that line of attack in a national election is easy: I held that position then but have sense [sic] developed information that makes me believe it was incorrect and I have changed it and everyone want’s [sic] a pragmatic president who can change his mind, right?

The main attack will be on Romney’s long time affiliation with the corporate chop-shop known as Bain Capital. In an environment were most people are concerned about their jobs and virtually everyone is angry at Wall Street, Romney will be the perfect poster boy for the 1% that the “99%” rails on and on about.

So abandoned by conservatives, the GOP, and moderates who is left as his logical constituency? The same tiny group of admirers that follow him today.

I don’t know if Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry can beat Obama. What I am positive of is that Mitt Romney cannot win a general election against any national Democrat figure. The only saving grace is that he probably can’t win a GOP primary either.

Previously on Mitt Romney:

Sat, 19 Nov 2011

PETA Is Out to Lunch

Filed under: Behavior, Congress, Deceit, Humor, Life, Opportunists, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 6:46 pm

food pyramid and pizza slice

So, pizza is considered a vegetable, by act of Congress, due to the tomato sauce. Minor detail that tomatoes are actually a fruit. Never mind pizza includes cheese, a dairy product, and, usually, pepperoni, a meat. Heck, even turkey bacon is part of vegetarian cuisine in some circles.

Apparently, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) didn’t get the memo. With Thanksgiving approaching, PETA requested Turkey, Texas, change its name to Tofurkey, a vegan alternative. Seriously? Change the name of a town because it was an animal some people consider vegetarian? But, wait! There’s more!

Mario savages tanooki

Lest you thought it couldn’t get any lamer, never underestimate the crusading pomposity of the lunatic fringe. With the changes in status for pizza and turkey, PETA must be running out of issues to champion that have any degree of significance. Not to be relegated to irrelevance, however, PETA began chastising Mario for his Tanuki suit. According to PETA, Nintendo’s popular video game encourages kids to wear fur or something. Get a life, you fruit cakes.

Tanooki [sic] may be just a “suit” in Mario games, but in real life, tanuki are raccoon dogs who are skinned alive for their fur. By wearing Tanooki [sic], Mario is sending the message that it’s OK to wear fur.

Update:

25 Nov 2011

Biden pardons a tofurkey

And the madness spreads, or so it would seem.

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!
 


 

Sun, 13 Nov 2011

“He’s Not a Terrorist Suspect…[He’s] an Enemy Combatant”

Filed under: Candidates, Global War on Terror, Justice, Legal, Media, Politics, War — cynicalsynapse @ 4:14 pm

Anwar al-Awlaki

Ever since US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a Predator drone strike on 30 September 2011, there’s been a hue and cry from the vocal minority of “due processors” calling al-Awlaki’s killing an unlawful assassination. Folks, this is not rocket science. Al-Awlaki is as much a terrorist and enemy combatant as if he’d been one of the 9/11 hijackers. Citizenship and birthplace have nothing to do with it, whatsoever.

I do not like Newt Gingrich and have not since he was Speaker of the House. Maybe it’s something to do with that position; perhaps not unlike “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Nonetheless, Gingrich clearly articulated the legality of al-Awlaki’s killing during yesterday’s debate of Republican presidential candidates.

Waging war on the United States is outside criminal law; it is an act of war, and it should be dealt with as an act of war, and the correct thing in an act of war is to kill people who are trying to kill you.

HT: Legal Insurrection
 

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:

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