AAF Ridership Study is Out All Aboard Florida (AAF) produced their ridership and fare projection report and Nicole Rodriquez of our own TCPalm did a fine job of reporting on it. Here is a link to her article. (Rodriquez just happens to be one of the few bright spots at TCPalm, IMHO) The report was done by the Louis Berger Group, (LBG) amultinational corporation of engineers and bean counters that issue reports on infrastructure projects around the world. The report was paid for by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), parent of AAF. I have no doubt that the cost of the 150 page report was quite high, and when you pay a lot for something you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get in return. The report has a lot of information. LBG will tell the reader the numbers produced are assumptions. These assumptions amazingly fall in line with what AAF has projected all along. The report does not delve into the cost side of the equation. Just best case scenario ridership and what a ticket will cost. These numbers equate to best case scenario revenue. LBG has a long history of producing reports for governmental infrastructure projects worldwide, where cost benefit and profitability are rarely if ever taken into consideration. Yet their website does list financial feasibility as an area of expertise. This report lists itself as an “investment grade” report; LBG is the company you call in to do these reports on huge undertakings. Why not allow them to look at both sides of the ledger. Both revenue and cost, and do a real economic feasibility report. I’m sure the investors, taxpayers and legislators would have liked to see that all in one place. I wonder why FECI didn’t pay for that as well. Maybe FECI thought that it was better to show everyone how much they could take in without concern for the cost of operations and the cost of servicing $1.75 Billion in debt. The report does mention Tri-Rail although it doesn’t mention that Tri-Rail has never been profitable. It doesn’t mention that Tri-Rail costs Florida taxpayers upwards of $85 million dollars per year. Nor does it say that AAF will pull riders from Tri-Rail exacerbating losses. AAF says that they are not competing for the same riders but we know that isn’t true. An AAF representative even went as far as telling a local group that AAF signed a non-compete agreement with Tri-Rail. Not only will AAF sell tickets for travel between Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm, the area covered by Tri-Rail, the study done by LBG included surveys of Tri-Rail riders. After all who better to ask if they would ride a train than people already riding a train? There has been a lot of comparison between AAF and Amtrak’s Acela. Acela serves the northeast corridor which covers the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Boston, NY and Philly have a combined population of 8.4 million compared to Miami, Ft Lauderdale, and WPB which combine for less than a million, 5.7 million if you count the entire population of their counties. While Orlando is synonymous with Disney and tourists with deep pockets, Washington is the biggest Mickey Mouse operation of them all with lobbyists and significantly deeper pockets. AAF representatives have bristled at the fact that the public has not rolled out the red carpet for trains hurtling through their communities 32 times a day. One of the main concerns is what will the taxpayers be on the hook for. Here on the Treasure Coast, with no stops, we’ll be absorbing the costs of maintaining the rail crossings and quiet zones with receiving zero benefit from the train. I don’t know of anyone who will travel 1 hour south to WPB to take a train to Orlando which is two hours north only then to be left without a car. AAF touts that this will all be done with private money or PABs, Private Activity Bonds. If AAF fails then it is the investors that lose not the public. Except that AAF has applied for RRIF loans (Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing), which are issued by the Dept. of Transportation. If AAF used a RIFF loan to pay off the PABs to lower their cost of borrowing, then the taxpayers would be on the hook if AAF failed. $1.75Billion is equal to 33 RIFF loans issued through 2012. By comparison the government (through various depts.) only lent Solyndra $536 Million, Fisker $193million, and A123 $249million. Three massive failures of note (there were others) and what should be a lesson in what happens when the government blindly lends money to speculative private enterprises. Locally we have Digital Domain, VGTI and Torrey Pines if we need a refresher course. What say you?
Grassroots to be Trampled Underfoot by the GOP Marathon
At the start of the NYC Marathon the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is full of people. Over 50,000 long distance runners come over the bridge. For all but a few, there is no chance of winning. For 99.99% it is just competing and running that brings them out. No other sight is like it. Except for the Republican presidential primary. First let me say I like the primary process. Unlike Harry Reid who said he hates primaries I think they serve a vital necessity. Reid would prefer that the party elite decide who you will vote for. So much so the Democrat party has Joe Biden tied to a chair in a basement somewhere. It is rare when the Vice President does not run for the open seat. I prefer that We the People make that decision. I just wish some sanity would come to the process. I wish that the GOP would learn from the mistakes of the past. They have plenty to choose from. (more…)
Here is the first of what I think will be many in a collection of posts and articles about education. Education, because it deals with our children, grandchildren, and the future of our country, has been and will continue to be a hot button topic, and one we need to follow. – Mike L.March Madness! Everyone who enjoys basketball and its competitive nature understands that phrase. March is the month of the college basketball’s super bowl, the NCAA national championship. It is unfortunate that as a country we don’t have a similar passion for our K-12 educational system. In many states we have a grading system for our schools and school districts. This identifies the good from the not so good in public education. There really isn’t any competition within the system, just goals to be judged by. Would our schools be better if there were competition like a field of 64 defined down to #1, the CHAMPION? Our country is known to be highly competitive. Our problem is that the public school system is so big and far reaching what could possibly compete with it? What if there was a semi-private option that was affordable for less than childcare costs? A full day year round program that taught classical education. What if this classical education program was supported by business and philanthropy to help offset the costs to parents? What if this concept was turned into a simple franchise and grew like subway sandwich shops? Would parents take notice of a cut-rate option of a superior educational product? Could such an idea take hold and become a challenger to the undefeated public school system? Competition has always created better products for less cost and private industry has always out performed government at every level. The old commercial of “we don’t make the product, we make the product better” still applies to new and old industries. One exception to this is public K-12 education. With forty-five states adopting common core standards, all public schools (including charter schools) will be required to use the same federal approved curriculum and deliver education in a one size fits all manner. Where responsibility for the education of students has always been centered in the states, it is now being transferred to Washington. Common Core national standards and tests will now be required for states to receive federal funding such as race to the top, title I and potentially the ability to participate in the national school lunch program. It is now time for creative entrepreneurs and business people to take K-12 education and produce a program that is superior to the public choice that currently exists and provide it to the public at an affordable price. What would this model school program look like? Here are a few ideas to get started. Provide a classical education model that excludes progressive models that are corrupting our current system. Utilize a program that has a proven model of success and has been truly tested in the market. Create a semi-private school that would require a small tuition by parents with a corresponding contribution by business, foundation, and wealthy individuals. Keep it simple so the program can be quickly replicated through the franchise model. Let the market place of parents and students drive the need for this program in their local area. It is time for individuals and business to decide the future of our children and our children’s children. Can we unleash the creative juices and entrepreneurial spirits that have always made America exceptional or will we remain in the blob known as public education?
Senator Rand Paul (TN–R) spoke for over 11 hours on the Senate floor the other day against massive unwarranted data collection by the NSA. A part of the Patriot Act which Congress was attempting to reauthorize prior to its sunset provision. The sunset provision is the only thing I like about the Patriot Act. Government has the unique knack of producing outcomes completely opposite of what the bills they pass say they’ll do or opposite of what they’re called. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is not at all affordable. No Child Left Behind seems to have left them all behind. As a matter of fact if the government ran an ice cream store and they served you a two scoop cone of chocolate ice cream expect it to be only one scoop and expect that to look and taste exactly like vanilla. The Patriot Act defies the Bill of Rights. Not exactly patriotic. Sen. Paul took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. So did every senator, congressman and the president . Sen. Paul and others like him understand and respect that oath. Others just treat it like buying a ticket, just a price you have to pay to get in the door. Paul at one point said, and I paraphrase, “at one point in this country you were innocent until proven guilty. Now we’re at the point where if you have nothing to hide, you should have nothing to fear.” That is not what this country is based upon and a few steps down along this slippery slope we find ourselves on. Congressman Peter King (NY-R) says that Rand Paul is wrong. That the data collection does not include personal information and aids the United States in fighting terrorists. King adds that the people who work for the NSA are patriots and are keeping us safe. Who is right and who is wrong? Benjamin Franklin is right. It was Franklin who said, “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Oh but times have changed. No. Liberty and Security have the same meaning. Are we secure? Do we know who is in our country? Do we know how many terrorists have filtered in with other immigrants through our porous borders, north and south? Is your government willing to do anything about it? Yet somehow collecting data on who you converse with will solve all our problems. I say the best way to stop criminals from entering your house is to keep the doors shut and locked. Not wait for lots of people to come in, listen to what they’re saying and then decide which ones are good and which are bad. I’m sure that Peter King is correct when he says that the hardworking people of the NSA are patriots. Of them I have no fear. They are but the tool. I fear their masters, those that control and use the tool. When King says that the data is used to fight terrorists who is he talking about? I’m sure that King is talking about the Islamic Jihadists, ISIS, the ones beheading journalists, the ones killing Christians for being Christians, but King isn’t in charge. King isn’t part of the Obama administration which cannot use Islamic and Jihad in the same sentence. King isn’t part of the Obama administration whose Dept. of Homeland Security drafted a memo talking about home grown terrorists as people who support the Second Amendment, the Constitution, and returning veterans. Are those the ‘terrorists’ being targeted? It was Obama, not King, who has said at numerous military graduations that our greatest threat is climate change. Would that make those who use fossil fuels enemies of the state? Are climate change deniers now the new terrorist? Are we sending in the military to take down those who set their A/C too low? A government that would allow targeting of its own citizens (IRS); that would give guns to criminals to be used against our own law enforcement agencies (Fast and Furious); that would leave four men to die on foreign soil while they sat back, watched and did nothing (Benghazi), is not a government I trust with any more power than legally necessary. If you do not believe Obama capable of all this, of targeting his own citizens, what about the next president, or the one after that, or the one after that. Laws should not change based on who you trust and who you don’t. No body of people voluntarily place someone in power they believe will bring atrocities upon them. Yet, it happens all the same. When people tell you, “That can’t happen here.” Ask them why not? We no longer have the checks and balances written into the Constitution. Instead we have a pen and a phone. The protection of your privacy, and the privacy of your papers and documents, from illegal search and seizure, that is the basis of the Fourth Amendment and the entire Bill of Rights; to limit the government and its powers. Whether those papers are made from velum, the finest parchment, wood pulp fiber, 100% recycled consumer card board, or virtual paper in a cloud. Times may change how we communicate our thoughts, and keep our records, but the right to have those thoughts and records out of the prying eye of an all too powerful government should never change.
Recently the NFL suspended New England Quarterback Tom Brady for 4 games without pay and fined the team a few $million and some draft picks. If you don’t follow football, the suspension and draft picks are a big deal. Four games represents a quarter of the season and losing your star quarterback can mean the difference between a winning and losing season. The money will not be missed as much as Brady. I’ve been trying to find a copy of the NFL report because I don’t like to report on hearsay. I like to review source documentation. Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of the report so we must go with what the NFL and all the news reporters reported, and didn’t report. The most glaring omission in everything I’ve read is the smoking gun. To my knowledge there is no email from Tom Brady to the guys handling the balls telling them to let out 2 pounds of air from each ball. No team equipment manager coming forward to testify what Brady told him to do. To my knowledge there is no direct evidence tying Tom Brady to anything. So what exactly did the report say that made the NFL take the action they took? The report alluded to that Tom Brady would be the person to benefit the most from under inflated footballs. They would be easier to throw in cold weather. Giving Brady an unfair advantage over the opposing team. Well couldn’t the guy handling the footballs have acted upon his own? It is possible. It is possible that the ball guy without any knowledge of what the most important player on the Patriots wants; without knowing if Brady, who makes $millions more than the ball guy, wants the footballs deflated, over inflated or left as is; the ball guy might have taken it upon himself to alter the footballs. Possible but most highly unlikely. The person who wrote the NFL report concluded, with no positive evidence, that Tom Brady most likely had to have known with utmost certainty that the balls were tampered with. So, it’s a game. Who cares? Let’s shift what happened here to Hillary Clinton and the massive flow of cash into the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s time as Secretary of State. Simply put cash flows into the Foundation from all over the world. Remarkably those that give a lot of money have great things happen to them and their corporations. Things that the State Department plays a role in. Like okaying the sale of uranium to Russia. Just one of the many “Wow, look at all the good stuff that happened to me after donating to the Clinton Foundation,” moments reported on recently. “Not a shred of evidence of any wrong doing,” claims Bill Clinton. We can take Bill at his word. After all, his words are valuable. So valuable he raked in $500,000 in speaking fees from companies with projects that needed State Department approval or positive action. Here’s the truth, people. Unless Bill Clinton, or anyone is up on stage burping up platinum pellets and crapping out gold bricks, no one is worth a $500,000 speaking fee. “Not a shred of evidence.” Spoken with confidence, too. Since Hillary destroyed over 30,000 emails from her private email server while serving as Secretary of State. Keep calm, not to worry. Hillary reviewed those emails and there was nothing related to her job as Secretary of State, nothing confidential, nothing that needed, by law, archiving. Just 30,000 emails about bridesmaid dresses and scheduling Pilates classes. I feel better now. So should you. Had the investigator who did the report that put Tom Brady at the center of Deflategate spent only 30 minutes looking at the trail of loaf sized breadcrumbs that Hillary has left behind he would have found Hillary Clinton deserving more, much more than just a four game suspension. What say you?