The Shame of Rochester’s Red Light District

Red light camera (by Derek Jensen)

It’s been 6 months now since Rochester, NY deployed its new red light camera system in an effort to keep us safe.  That is, if you are using the word safe in the same way that you might use the word “fruit” to describe a Pop-Tart.

As I’ve written previously, these systems are not remotely about safety.  That’s just the marketing spin.  In most cases, safety actually declines.  These systems are about generating revenue.

Rochester just revealed its statistics on the first half-year of operation, so let’s see how it’s going.  Police have issued 5,158 automated tickets for running red lights.  That’s a fair number of violators.  I wonder how the accident rates at those intersections compared with previous years?  Apparently, so does the city.  Executive Deputy Police Chief George Markert said,  “It will take some period of time to determine that.”

How can that possibly be?  If you install a system with the expressed purpose of increasing safety, don’t you plan to measure that expected result?  This is not advanced math.  There are doubtless statistics for historical accident rates at these intersections.  Compare those to the rates for the same period this past year.  Is A < B?  Perhaps I’m just cynical. but I’m pretty sure we’ll never see that data.

Okay, so what about the revenue part?  Are we at least raking in cash to the city coffers?  It turns out, not so much.  While the city has collected $141,045 in fines so far, that’s only half the amount that’s outstanding because over 50% of the tickets remain unpaid.  Nearly 1 in 4 tickets are in default or in collections, meaning the chances of ever getting paid are slim.

But hey, $141k isn’t pocket change.  That’s a good profit, right?  It turns out, not so much.  You see, the cameras were installed and are maintained by Arizona-based vendor Redflex Traffic Systems.  Over the same period, they have billed the city $145,164 for operating the system.  Fortunately, there is a clause in the city’s contract with Redflex saying they can’t be billed more than they take in.  So, all totaled, the city has seen a net cash influx of… let me work the arithmetic out here… carry the 1… ah, yes… $0.

On the other hand, they have managed to relocate $141k of money from Rochester to Arizona.  Even if all of the tickets had been paid in full, while they would be sitting on $140k profit, they still would be sending 50% of the money they raise to Arizona.  Doesn’t it seem there should be some tax or fee that could be enacted to raise a similar amount of money from area residents without requiring us to pay double that amount in order to subsidize business in another state?

In summary, it does appear my earlier assessment was wrong.  This venture isn’t about revenue for the city, it’s about profits for Redflex.   And it’s still not remotely about safety.  The city’s complicity in this program doesn’t make them opportunistic or greedy.  It makes them chumps.  There… feel better?

This is why we can’t have nice things

Grandma Party
Democrats are pandering to the senior crowd

The Obama administration announced it was kicking in $6.7 billion to head off cuts to Medicare Advantage—cuts put in place by Obamacare.

These were some of the cuts put in place to reduce the excessive spending on health care.  They were a key part of the package Democrats fought tooth and nail to get passed last year.  They are essential for the new health care reform bill to achieve its projected savings.  And now they are flip-flopping on them.

Why would these cuts be restored?  Well, no one is saying for sure, but given the popularity of Medicare Advantage with seniors and the impending election season, this is pretty clearly just blatant pandering to the elder voting bloc.

The Republicans ruled the 2010 elections largely on the back of seniors they scared by pointing out that Obamacare included cuts to Medicare Advantage, so maybe Democratic strategists are merely trying to avoid a repeat in 2012.  However, House Republicans are now on record as supporting the Ryan plan which not only contains those cuts, but goes on to dismantle traditional Medicare as well.  It seems seniors worried about Medicare should be far more scared of the GOP proposed budget than Obamacare, even without this restoration of benefits.

Medicare Advantage is more expensive than traditional Medicare.  While it makes sense to allow seniors to opt for private insurance over public coverage, it doesn’t make sense for us to pay extra for it.  These cuts should be among the easiest to make.  If politicians can’t stick to even this sort of spending cut back out of fear of losing votes, will they ever be able to make any really hard economic choices?

The Magic 8-Ball says… “Outlook not so good”

I’m calling “bulls*%t” on John Kyl

John KylFirst rule of holes: when you’re in one… stop digging.  This is a lesson Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) has not yet grokked.

Kyl has been lampooned in recent days after his office clarified his wildly inaccurate comments about Planned Parenthood on the Senate Floor last week by telling CNN it was “not intended to be a factual statement.”

Not content with looking like a world class ass, Kyl has now compounded his lie by saying yesterday that he merely “misspoke” on the floor, and that he had not approved his aide to utter the now classic Twitter hash-tag. (#notintendedtobeafactualstatement)

There’s only one little problem Senator:  if we take you at your word that you meant to say 3% of Planned Parenthood activity is abortions, but the 90% number slipped out instead, we have to accept that when you got up on the floor to speak, you intended to offer statistics that didn’t support your point.  Your whole speech was basically an assertion that Planned Parenthood pretty much only existed to kill babies and didn’t serve any other useful purpose.  The truthful 3% number doesn’t really support that position now does it?

Let’s face it, you lied.  You lied with the intent to persuade the ignorant.  And you got busted… big time.

Politically,  it seemed you were better off with the “not intended as a factual statement” excuse. While it was an admission that you were prone to fits of wild hyperbole, at least it didn’t admit that you were a lying sack of s*%t willing to intentionally deceive the public to get your way.

Holding the Debt Ceiling Hostage

John Boehner
Speaker Boehner plans to hold the ceiling hostage for something "really really big"

With the fight over a spending bill settled (for now), another fight is brewing in Washington over raising the debt ceiling. President Obama, who is advocating to raise the level at which the U.S. government is legally permitted to borrow, so as not to cause a default on payments, has said he wants to see a “clean” bill on the matter—one without attachments.

On Saturday night House Speaker John Boehner declared, “The president says, ‘I want you to send me a clean bill.’ Guess what, Mr. President. Not a chance you’re going to get a clean bill.”  Boehner argued that “there’s no plan to deal with the debt we’re facing,” and that Republicans would not vote to increase the limit unless Democrats conceded something “really, really big.”

What makes this so infuriating is the debt ceiling is not a partisan issue.  If the GOP had wrangled their $100 billion in spending cuts last week, or even if Paul Ryan’s budget had been put in place last year, we’d still be on a course to exceed the debt ceiling.  It’s not like the GOP had a plan to avoid it, but the Democrats forced us on a reckless course instead.

There is no remotely feasible “really really big” concession that would cause us to not hit the debt ceiling. None. Further, both sides agree that defaulting on our debt would have catastrophic long-term economic consequences.  There will likely be a non-trivial downside to even flirting with letting us crash into the ceiling.

That this is even an issue is wholly irresponsible.  That Boehner will use his “but I can’t control my crazy-ass Tea Party folks and they’re just nuts enough to pull the trigger” strategy on this to gain likely concessions on lowering regulations, restricting abortion, and lowering taxes is outright extortion.

On the one hand, it’s tempting to hope that this time the Democrats stand firm and call their bluff.  However, there’s a real danger they aren’t bluffing.  Something many voters should consider the next time they opt to send some whacko hack to Washington just to shake things up.   You may get more than you bargained for.


Women at Gunpoint

Planned ParenthoodWe narrowly averted a government shutdown Friday over what basically boiled down to funding for Planned Parenthood.  What’s clear from the guests on the Sunday talk shows this morning is that this issue will rise once again when we get to debate the debt ceiling in the coming months.

The notion this is remotely a fiscal issue is beyond comical.  The total Title X outlay for Planned Parenthood is about $80 million per year, which is not even noise in the scope of the federal budget.

To their credit, the GOP has been reasonably direct about this being an attempt to restrict abortion.  Yet abortion only amounts to about 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, and the Hyde Amendment already makes it illegal for any federal funds to be used for any abortion related activity.

To that end, opponents have been arguing that defunding Planned Parenthood to keep federal monies from being used for abortion is redundant.  The Republican response has been that the funds are fungible.  That is, once Planned Parenthood gets the money, they can’t assure how it will be used.  And while Planned Parenthood could certainly be held accountable after the fact for misusing funds, they need to make 100% sure up front that there is no illegal use.

The right’s desire to prevent loss of life at all costs rather than prosecute it after the fact is laudable. So it can only be assumed they would also support banning guns.  After all, much like the Planned Parenthood funds, guns have legitimate and beneficial purposes.  However, it’s possible to use them illegally as well.  Once guns are out there, their use is fungible.  In order to be 100% sure no one does anything illegal with a gun, clearly they must be banned.

After all, a good argument is a good argument.  If this is the game they want to play, let’s go all in.