Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spinning at a Tea Party

They held another Tea Party in Orlando today.

The frigid Downtown Orlando wind could not keep conservative voters from airing their discontent on the way Washington and Tallahassee politicians are running the show.

President Obama and Democrats were not the only targets of the hundreds of Tea Party activists, as many of those gathered outside of City Hall felt that their own Republican candidates had failed them.

"We're upset with [both] parties. That's why we're standing out here today – we have no friends," said event-organizer Jason Hoyt of the Tea Party Patriots Live radio show.

The stimulus package and health care bill were main targets, but complaints about the pending construction of the SunRail commuter-rail system was prominent.
Now for some background. SunRail is a proposed light rail system for the Orlando area. The idea is to use existing tracks owned by CSX for a route that would run from Poinciana in Osceola County to Deland in Seminole County, with downtown Orlando as the center.

CSX is not planning to enter the light rail business. They plan to sell their tracks, build a new inter-modal facility in Winter Haven and run their freight trains through Lakeland to the west of Orlando. Currently those trains run through Orlando, Winter Park, and surrounding areas.

Local opponents of SunRail have concerns about the cost and utility of the system - everything from complaints about paying CSX for the rails to concerns about the volume of riders.

Personally I'm ambivalent about it. I'm concerned that too few people will ride it to justify the cost. On the other hand, routing freight rail traffic out of Orlando would be a definite plus. But a lot of the opposition comes from the same stupid "We Don't Want to Pay for ANYTHING" attitude that defines so many of the "locals". I put locals in scare-quotes for this reason: Many of those people have moved here because of the (once) low taxes, and they do not want to pay for anything. That includes building new schools, roads and other public facilities needed by the population growth that they represent. Their parsimony wouldn't be so bad if the idiots wouldn't constantly bitch and moan about the lack of schools, roads and other public facilities. (Yes, I'm quite annoyed with these idiots. They've spoiled Paradise with no awareness of their own role in the despoiling. And I've been listening to such foolishness for 30 years now.)

Now back to today's Tea Party. Several Florida elected officials turned up, including gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland). Dockery is a state senator, and well-known for her opposition to Orlando's proposed light rail system, SunRail. She made much of that today.
Long-time opponent of the rail, gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), headlined the 30 candidates that attended the event, and didn't mince words about what she would do in Tallahassee.

As state senator, Dockery failed to defeat the $1.2 billion SunRail deal in December. But she promised voters on Saturday she will derail the project and return the money to taxpayers if she's elected as governor.

"The first thing I'd like to do as governor is stop the bad stuff," Dockery said, referring to the SunRail. "When I'm governor, I'll take my veto pen and stop that bad stuff."
It's true that Dockery has been an opponent of SunRail, perhaps the most effective elected official standing against it.

At times it seems she has been a one-woman veto, thwarting the will of the Governor, both US Senators, several other members of our US Congressional delegation, the state House of Representatives and the State Senate. She has been masterful in in her procedural fights, and it took forever to finally defeat her efforts. Light rail has been discussed as a tool to lower road congestion in greater Orlando since at least 1986 that I remember. Dockery hasn't been around that long, but in recent years she has been the biggest stumbling block.

But her opposition has nothing to do with saving money for the taxpayers of Florida. Paula doesn't have any problem with the billion dollar boondoggle that high-speed rail will become but opposes SunRail's $600,000,000 price-tag. Ostensibly she has been fighting against the SunRail project because the shift in CSX freight rail traffic to Lakeland will mean more noise and traffic congestion in Lakeland. (Nevermind that Lakeland-Winter Haven has one quarter the population of Greater Orlando.) There is also a bit of personal vendetta involved - and that involves high-speed rail.

Paula's husband "Doc" Dockery had been a long-time proponent of high-speed rail for the state of Florida. Doc has been something of a mover-and-shaker in Florida Politics for some time, and helped get Jeb Bush elected governor in 1998. Our tale continues:
In 1999, his first year in office, Bush had grave reservations about the work of the commission and especially the contractor. He stopped the high-speed rail program, saying the money would go to interstate construction instead.

Doc Dockery was not happy, so he spent $3 million of his own money on a campaign that convinced voters to pass an amendment to the state constitution requiring the state to build a high-speed rail system eventually connecting at least five major urban centers.

Bush considered the Doc Dockery-led passage of the amendment in 2000 to be an affront to his decision to kill the old high-speed rail program.

Relations grew worse between the two former friends. Bush spent much of the rest of his two terms in office fighting high-speed rail while his administration was apparently secretly working on an Orlando commuter-rail system, according to documents later requested by Sen. [Paula] Dockery.
Doc Dockery has had a take-no-prisoners attitude towards high-speed rail. Everything else is secondary. Given the relative price-tags involved, I doubt that Paula Dockery truly cares about saving the taxpayers money, contradicting her spin to the Tea Partiers.

And there's one other thing. In opposing light rail, Paula has allied herself with a group that probably isn't terribly popular with the Tea Partiers - trial lawyers. One of the wrinkles of the CSX deal to sell their tracks included a waiver of liability for CSX. Let me rephrase - after the deal, CSX could not be sued for anything that went wrong with the tracks.

I'm not certain of all the details so I can't say if it's a bad deal or not. But if it means that once the tracks are determined to be in good shape, that CSX can't be held liable for future problems, that seems fair to me. But the trial lawyers have screamed bloody murder. They want the ability to sue anyone and everyone ever involved with the tracks in the almost 100% likelihood of future accidents. And that has been the secret of Paula Dockery's ability to block the SunRail deal until recently - the immense money and influence of the trial lawyers has been the wind at her back. Paula Dockery is playing the role of fiscal conservative and outsider for the Tea Partiers. It remains to be seen if they have the wits to see through her charade.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

If you question the Obama Administration ...

... then the terrorists have won. Obama has sent out one of his minions to question the motives (and by inference, the patriotism) of the critics of Obama's handling of the Christmas Day Pantie Bomber Attack:

Politics should never get in the way of national security. But too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points, instead of coming together to keep us safe.

...

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.
Thus wrote John Brennan, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in the current edition of USA Today.

This would be another example of President Obama "expecting us to just kind of sit down and shut up". As per usual with this Administration of hypocrites and assholes, it's only bad if Republicans do it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

More financial worries....

Remember how the Democratic Congress was going to increase the US Debt Ceiling by $1.9 trillion ($1,900,000,000,000) so that they wouldn't have to raise it again later this year, right before the mid-term elections? Well, it won't work. From the AFP:

The US debt is on track to hit a congressionally proposed debt ceiling of 14.3 trillion dollars by the end of February, the Treasury said Wednesday, a day ahead of a key vote to raise it to that level. [emphasis added]
I know that the government expects more revenue as we approach April 15, but I don't see how they will be able to get by without upping the limit again. Moody's Investor Service has once again issued a warning, according to the Financial Times:
Moody’s Investors Service fired off a warning on Wednesday that the triple A sovereign credit rating of the US would come under pressure unless economic growth was more robust than expected or tougher actions were taken to tackle the country’s budget deficit.

In a move that follows intensifying concern among investors over the US deficit, Moody’s said the country faced a trajectory of debt growth that was “clearly continuously upward”.
In other good news, the mortgage delinquency rate has hit 10% (total non-current rate at 13.3%) and the BLS should revise the number of jobs lost upwards by 824,000 this Friday.

That last bit is old news, though. The government announced this change several months ago. The BLS revises its methodology once a year, and that change is incorporated into the January report (released in early February) each year. It's old news, but most people probably haven't heard this before.

ADDED: CNN/Money has a better story about the adjustment to the employment numbers, complete with graphical goodness. Two things about the story jumped out at me. First, this story fails to mention that this revision had been publicized many months ago. (Here's a link to the BLS announcement itself, last updated October 2, 2009 as of this update.) Second, it contains this nugget of bad news.
There is a concern that this problem didn't end in March of 2009. In fact, the adjustment added even more jobs -- 990,000 -- in the nine months reported since then.
In other words, the adjustment should probably be 1,814,000 fewer jobs instead of 820,000 fewer jobs.

This is not good news.

A Conflict of Interest? [UPDATE]

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called for drivers of Toyotas subject to the recent recall to stop driving their cars until fixed.

LaHood's warning came Wednesday in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation. LaHood says his advice to owners is to "stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer because they believe they have a fix for it."

LaHood told reporters earlier in the day that Toyota owners should contact their dealer immediately and "exercise caution until repairs can be made."
The article goes on to rake Toyota over the coals for its many sins.

I assume that the recall has some merit. But one has to wonder if the government has other reasons for being so forceful. Two things spring immediately to mind. First, the government has an interest in GM doing well. Given that auto sales are falling and likely to remain low, the only way for GM to do well is at the expense of someone else. Second, the Administration is famously in the tank for unions, and I wonder if this is attempt to punish a non-UAW auto-maker.

I doubt whether the second bit has anything to do with this. But I can't help wondering about the first point. Yet another problem with massive government intervention in the economy - one can never be sure of the government's actual intent.

UPDATE: From AP:
LaHood told reporters it was "obviously a misstatement" when he told a House panel earlier Wednesday that he would advise owners not to drive recalled vehicles. The remark came during testimony to the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation.
Nice rollback now that the damage has been done! Now I'm really suspicious....