Uber Deception on the Benefits of Congestion Pricing

An Uber executive writes an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe touting the benefits of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in Boston. Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy, says that it’s a fact that traffic in Boston is among the worst in the country and that are mass transit systems need new investment. But his argument is based on sleight of hand and misdirection and his claims of Uber’s selflessness are misleading.

Before looking at Salzberg’s claims, I should note that congestion pricing and per-mile tolling have long been part of some politicians’ wish lists. As recently as 2016, the Legislature considered a bill to begin a pilot program to tax drivers based on the number of miles traveled. Earlier, the former state governor Deval Patrick floated the idea of toll gates at every exit on every highway in the state. So, this is not some pie-in-the-sky isolated proposal by Salzberg and Uber.

Now to begin, Salzberg claims that “all vehicles should pay to use the roads,” implying that unless you’re paying a toll you’re driving for free. This is false. We arelady pay for the privilege of driving on Massachusetts roads through a use tax that is the gas tax. In fact, we pay 26.54 cents per gallon in state tax 1, which in 2016 brought in $766 million total, a significant growth from prior years due to both an increase in the tax from 24 cents in 2013 and the rebounding economy. Now, advocates will claim that increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles is lowering the amount of gas consumed (that’s not a bad thing!), but as we can see that is a very long term problem, not a short term one. However, the bottom line is that Massachusetts taxpayers are indeed paying a road fee to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars per year in just gas taxes.
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They Get You Coming and Going

There are basically five major highways in and out of Boston: The Southeast Expressway from the south, the Mass. Turnpike from the west, Route 93 from the northwest, the Harbor Tunnels from the east, and Route 1/Mystic Tobin Bridge from the north. Of those, three have tolls on them: the Pike, the Tobin, the Tunnels.

Years ago, the Tobin had tolls coming south and going north, but eventually the northbound tolls were dismantled in order to make at least one of the two daily commutes less hellish. But to compensate, they doubled the southbound tolls, of course.

Flash forward several decades and the tolls are coming back.

A spokesman with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) said crews installed the infrastructure for all-electronic tolling on June 2. The equipment is now visible as drivers enter the Tobin Bridge in the northbound direction.

Except they didn’t bother to tell anyone. There’s a reason for that. Commuters from north of Boston have complained for years that they bear the brunt of tolls because there are no good options for getting in the city with paying a toll whereas drivers from south of the city have never had a toll. So every time the topic comes up, politicians north of the city have a field day. I suppose someone at the Transportation Dept decided it would be better to ask forgiveness than permission.

But, you may say, the total tolls aren’t changing! Whereas the single southbound toll was $2.50, now it will be $1.25 each way.

Yeah, and if you believe that it will stay that way for long, I have a bridge in Boston to sell you.

Goodbye Science, Goodbye Reality

Half of Massachusetts’ Legislature has passed a new Transgender Bathroom Bill that throws out both common sense and biological science in order to accommodate a couple hundred people in the state … at most. The other half of the Legislature is sure to pass it and the governor has pledged to sign it.

Not only does the bill allow people to use whatever bathroom they choose based on their current preference, it also removes the word “sex” from many laws and replaces it with “gender identity.” Of course, they also included a provision to punish anyone who would “improperly claim a gender identity.” How exactly, in the midst of this insanity would you determine that? If we’re letting people re-define their own reality, maybe their reality includes a fluid gender identity. Once you’ve opened Pandora’s box, everything is on the table.

Meanwhile, I find it ironic that people who claim that Christians are anti-science and many of the same people who point to climate change as “settled” science, now reject scientific facts that have been in place for all of time.

Here’s the reality: You are born a man or a woman. I’m sorry if you have different feelings. I wish I could fly. It doesn’t make me a bird.

And speaking of a lack of grip on reality, the sponsors of the bill think the Founding Fathers would be proud of them. No, the Founding Fathers, if they knew what would happen to their new country, would probably have shut down the whole experiment and ask King George to take them back. Sorry, guys, the empire is no better off.

When Politics Wasn’t About Destroying the Enemy

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We have become so intractable in our societal discourse that we can no longer tolerate even anyone who attempts to bridge the divide.

Case in point: Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker is defined as a moderate Republican because of his liberal social views on homosexuality and abortion. He is set to speak at a GOP conference this weekend that is connected to conservative interests. Keep in mind that Baker has in no way signaled that this indicates he is changing any policy position. Also bear in mind that this is not some extremist organization, but the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Yet, his mere decision to address this group has earned him opprobrium and a disinvitation from a prominent LGBT group’s event. His sin consists of planning to be in the same room as Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Las Vegas, even though Baker has worked closely with the LGBT group in Massachusetts to advance some of its agenda, including increasing the number of state contracts going to businesses owned by LGBT people.1

How do we account for such an extreme reaction? Because the art of polite discourse is dead in the 21st century. It is no longer permissible to associate with or even converse with those who disagree with us. Our ideological opposites are enemies to be defeated. They must isolated, shunned, and cast out. We must crush their bones beneath our booted feet until we hear the lamentations of their women and children.

We are seeing the same when a state’s government passes a law that others find unacceptable, such as North Carolina’s new law that require people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their sex as determined by their DNA or Georgia’s unsuccessful and Mississippi’s successful attempts to pass a religious liberty law that acknowledges freedom of religion and prevents compelled speech in relation to, once again, homosexuality. In these cases, it is activist corporations and liberal politicians leading the charge to punish these states.

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This “crying game” just leads to more voter apathy

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If you want to an illustration of why people are increasingly turned off by politics and elections and why there is so much voter apathy, the race for Massachusetts governor provides a timely example. The two candidates, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley, had their last debate last week and one of the question they were asked was “When was the last time you cried?

Yes, really, that was an actual question asked by a member of the Fourth Estate. It wasn’t the only inane question asked of them. Here are the others:

  • Would you rather win the Lottery or the election?
  • What’s your signature dish in the kitchen?
  • What’s the best Halloween costume for your opponent?

Seriously? Are we so bereft of substantive topics in this election that we resort to fluff? The crying question is especially egregious because it plays to a troubling trend in our society, that somehow one can only be electable if one is vulnerable or soft-hearted. Bunk. It’s stupid and it turns off potential voters who are become more and more convinced that voting doesn’t matter because it’s all either show business or a popularity contest and that the candidates are just the next set of interchangeable bought-and-paid-for politicians who really serve themselves first and their deep-pocketed supporters second and voters a distant third or fourth.

Of course, this silly political theater doesn’t end with the crying question because Baker’s answer created another fake furor. Obviously, neither candidate would admit crying over a TV commercial or something truly personal, but offered up a nugget designed to pander to a voting bloc. In Baker’s case, he described crying recently when he told a gathering about an encounter he had in the 2010 gubernatorial race with a big, burly fisherman who regretted bringing his sons into the family business and thought he’d ruined their lives.

Never willing to accept a fluffy answer to an irrelevant question, the local media have gone into full frenzy mode with one question: Who is the mystery fisherman who shed tears with Baker four years ago? Baker didn’t remember his name and admitted that some of the details from what he said in the debate are hazy and may not be accurate. From Gloucester to New Bedford to the South Boston waterfront in between, a legion of reporters have fanned out to … what? What’s the point?

When they find this guy, what will he add to the final days of this campaign that could help voters decide which candidate to support? But that question has been superseded in the minds of the Gotcha brigade by one they deem more important: Why can’t they find this guy? Every where they go they are either met by shrugs or silence from the fishing community. (Gee, that some working class guy who shed impromptu tears with a politician over something he’s cleared ashamed of wouldn’t step forward to be exploited in newspapers and local TV is incomprehensible to me.)

Meanwhile Coakley, who is behind in most polls, is trying to take advantage of this non-issue by questioning Baker’s integrity and using fishermen as props for her own political ambition.

And the rest of us, the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, sit on the sidelines and gape at the spectacle. Or I suspect in most cases, they yawn and turn the channel to the Simpsons. This whole bluster and kerfuffle amounts to nothing. No matter who wins on Tuesday, this whole situation will be forgotten by next Saturday.

But the longer-range consequence is that potential voters are ever more turned off by the elections–whose campaigns now stretch from one voting day to the next–and become even more disengaged by a political process that seems to be more about building the egos of politicians, the resumes of wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins, an d the influence of special interests than about serving the common good of the people of this Commonwealth.

Mass. to spend $1 million per year for 12 jobs

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The administration of Mass. Governor Deval Patrick has announced a program whose aim is to get more women in executive positions by funding yearlong graduate fellowships in state government at full salaries. In the first year, they will spend $1 million for 12 women.

Yes. $1 million for 12 women. In a state with nearly 7 percent unemployment, where they tell us we can’t cut taxes because of “vital” spending for the needy, we’re spending a million bucks to give 12 women jobs in state government. Typical liberal thinking.

For one thing, if you don’t think that these jobs won’t become fodder for patronage, you’re kidding yourself. Not in the first year, of course, but soon enough the recipients of these “fellowships” will be the daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces, and goddaughters of the well-connected and politically influential. Heck, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr has made a career of exposing all the patronage hires and nepotism in state government.

Second, it’s a typical liberal approach. What’s the problem? Not enough women in leadership positions in the public and private sector. Solution? Give 12 of them jobs and then wave your hands while vaguely intoning the words “role model” and mentoring and talk about seminars that sound like typical job skills training. In this case, skills training for female graduate students with the right political connections.

Will it bring down the “glass ceiling”? It does, it will be entirely by accident. But then liberal government programs aren’t designed to fix things. After all, we’ve spent trillions on the War on Poverty and there are more poor people than ever.

Elizabeth Warren’s “Fauxcahontas” problem

Elizabeth Warren’s "Fauxcohantas" problem

ELizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Massachusetts, was recently embroiled in controversy over indications that she has claimed in her academic biography to have minority status because of Native American heritage.

Storified by Domenico Bettinelli · Sat, May 05 2012 11:30:13

The story began with a report in the Boston Herald that Warren’s employer, Harvard University, included her on a list of minority faculty because of supposed “Native American heritage”, which the candidate rarely mentioned on the campaign trail and which the campaign scrambled to substantiate.
Harvard trips on roots of Elizabeth Warren’s family treeElizabeth Warren’s avowed Native American heritage – which the candidate rarely if ever discusses on the campaign trail – was once touted…
As the story progressed, it came out that Warren had listed herself in directories of minority faculty at several universities as far back as 1986. Warren defended her actions by saying she simply wanted to meet other people with “tribal roots”.
Warren: I used minority listing to share heritageDemocratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, fending off questions about whether she used her Native American heritage to advance her ca…
Of course, the idea of “tribal roots” is pretty farcical considering that it’s her great-great-great grandmother who was Cherokee. That makes her 1/32nd Cherokee, which is so diluted as to be dismissed by most geneticists as anything more than a genealogical curiosity.
How to Determine Your Native American PercentageMany inhabitants of the Americas have Native Americans heritage. Many people would like to know the percentage of their bloodline for gen…
In fact, I would have more claim to being Irish, English, Scottish, Russian, French-Canadian, or Jewish, than Elizabeth Warren has to being called Native American. On the other hand, if her background were the Kaw tribe, she’d be okay as that’s the only one of all the US tribes that goes as deep as 1/32nd.
Blood quantum laws – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaBlood Quantum Laws or Indian Blood Laws is an umbrella term that describes legislation enacted in the United States to define membership …
Which brings us to the latest jokes and humor. A Facebook friend posted a funny status update about how the Warren campaign was addressing the controversy head-on and linked to a “campaign ad” which was really this video.
Tim McGraw – Indian Outlaw (official music video)timmcgrawnumber1hits
So of course, I posted it on Twitter because it was so hilarious.
The latest Elizabeth Warren campaign ad addresses the #fauxcahontas controversy. #masen #mapoli http://youtu.be/NevytosR4XADomenico Bettinelli
Which resulted in this humorless liberal’s response.
Look #ScottBrown they have an ethnic-name-tag #fauxcahontas. Good luck w/that ugliness. You’ll get all the IndyVote @bettnet #masen #mapoliSuzanne Williams
@SuzanneWilliam4 And yet it was Elizabeth Warren who decided to use a fake ethnic heritage to pump up her biography. Which is uglier?Domenico Bettinelli
She tried to play the elitest academic card.
@bettnet How familiar are you w/academia, not including student? Genuine question. Not criticizingSuzanne Williams
But I could counter that easily.
@SuzanneWilliam4 My wife worked as a college professor until she had our first child 6 years ago.Domenico Bettinelli
@bettnet Then u kno culturally diverse facultiesr rspctd & ntwrkng for it is COMMON. For learning. She didn’t lie. U just want her to have.Suzanne Williams
This left my jaw agape. Was she really suggesting that Warren was justified in her outrageous claim because it helped with her academic career? This is a lame defense.

But it’s all part of the liberal academic elite idea of identity politics. What’s not important is whether your claim to victim/oppressed/minority status is truly valid, so much as that you claim it. Yet this Suzanne Williams seems it’s justified on the grounds of helping with faculty networking.
@SuzanneWilliam4 Telling a lie with a reason is still a lie. If she can be native A, then so can I along with most Americans. Stop spinning.Domenico Bettinelli
@bettnet Not spinning. Don’t accuse me of it. Do U really blv she tried to get a pass as a NatAmer? It sounds outragous bc it is. It’s crazySuzanne Williams
@SuzanneWilliam4 U said it urself: She wanted respect as a native American when she has no real basis for calling herself such.Domenico Bettinelli
@bettnet Not what I said. Ethnicity & culture are a very big part of academia Not sure how to explain that to you but I don’t really care toSuzanne Williams
I do understand what she’s saying. The problem is that she can’t understand why I would think it’s wrong. It’s wrong because claiming an ethnicity and culture of a minority status doesn’t help that minority group but disenfranchises them by watering down what it means to be them. Real native Americans suffered for decades (and continue to suffer in many places) from discrimination and disenfranchisement. But if someone with a golden spoon in her mouth like Elizabeth Warren can claim to be native American, then she would be a sign that things aren’t as bad for native Americans as they really are.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, but trying to capitalize on it as part of identity politics is wrong. I’m proud of my Jewish grandfather who escaped the Cossacks in Russia as a young boy and came to America to found a successful business, but I’m not going to offer my name for listing in directories of Jewish faculty or businessmen or anything else. Likewise, I’m proud of my French-Canadian Acadian heritage which I can trace back to French nobility that escaped the guillotine during the Revolution, but I’m not going to fly to Paris and walk into Versailles as if I own the place.
Elizabeth Warren may not have done anything illegal, and it may not even rise to the level of unethical conduct, but it’s unseemly, especially for someone who wants to be a US Senator, and it smacks of an attitude and mindset that our country can do less of. 
In fact, it reminds me of our current senior Senator from Massachusetts. And we already have one of those.

The first victim of bullying was morality in schools

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The big news in Massachusetts right now is the effort to passage a comprehensive anti-bullying bill in the Legislature, which some say is the toughest in the nation. Yet critics complain that it doesn’t go far enough. But can any legislative action really find a solution to the causes of bullying among children?

Phoebe Prince was a 15-year-old immigrant attending high school in the rural Western Massachusetts town of South Hadley. By all accounts, she was in a living hell constructed by jealous female classmates and their male accomplices, angry that she had the temerity to date a popular guy when she was new to the school. In January, fed up with the bullying, Phoebe hanged herself at home where her younger sibling found her. Since then, anger and outrage has erupted against the teachers and administrators who some say knew or should have known about the bullying and did nothing. The outrage turned into the predictable scene of grandstanding politicians vowing to pass a law to fix the problem.

But can any law really fix what’s wrong here? I doubt new laws can fix pretty much any of our problems, yet we’ve grown accustomed to demanding such action when the news reveals another outrage or horror that evades easy fix. We don’t like to consider that the way to deal with such social problems doesn’t allow a quick fix.

So what’s the solution? It might be easier to look at the problem. In another Massachusetts school district an administrator was criticized for proposing a ban on middle-school girls showing cleavage with the scanty clothing. That’s right, 12- and 13-year-old girls. This is apparently a problem because they’ve already banned midriff-baring clothes and exposed underwear. As a father, there’s no way one of my girls is leaving this house at at any age with such clothing. That’s my job as a father. It seems not all parents see it that way.

The proposal was shot down because it “unfairly” targets girls. In that case, I’m okay with a ban on cleavage-baring clothes for boys. Seriously, the real problem here is evinced with the school committee member’s backtracking comments after the proposal’s failure:

“My personal experience in the classroom and supervising the classroom was that exposed cleavage was distracting to students in the classroom. As a result, I just thought I’d bring it up,” said School Committee member Fran Simanski of the Tantasqua district, which serves students from Brimfield, Sturbridge, Wales, Holland and Brookfield. “I have zero interest in being any kind of moral compass.” (Emphasis added)

Right there is your problem. He states, almost matter-of-factly but definitely defensively, that he doesn’t want to be a moral compass. In fact, it is a matter of public educator orthodoxy today that “imposing” morality or any kind of traditional values forbidden. Thus, the people in charge of our children’s formation and education for six hours per day have abdicated responsibility for helping parents set their moral compass. Meanwhile, every other societal structure concerned with inculcating moral behavior in youth has been attacked, marginalized, or perverted: churches, Scouting, sports leagues. Many children still receive proper formation in these places, but far fewer than once there were. At one time, parents could rest assured that society was just as concerned as them with ensuring their children became moral adults. But now too many adults are more concerned with being cool and admired by kids.

Ask anyone who was in school before, say, 1960, what it was like. Children were expected to live up to certain standards of decorum, dress, and, yes, morality. Today, we’re having a hard time keeping small-town kids from turning “Lord of the Flies” on each other. Good thing educators have “zero interest in being any kind of moral compass.”

Photo by John Steven Fernandez – http://flic.kr/p/4BsDQy

“Hate” speech code removed from bullying bill

I wrote a couple of days ago about an anti-bullying bill coming before the Massachusetts Senate that contained unrelated language adding “hate speech” about sexual orientation to the legal definition of libel. If passed, it could conceivably have opened up ordinary folks writing on web sites and in other places (people like me, in other words) to being used for holding Catholic views on homosexuality.

Fortunately, the offending language was removed just before the vote when the bill was re-written by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The new bill, S2313, does not have any of the libel language in it.The bill, which passed unanimously, now goes back to the House for another vote.

Thanks to MassResistance for sounding the warning on this one.

 

Bullying law includes “hate speech” provision

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MassResistance brings to our attention today a new anti-bullying bill about to be voted on in the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday, March 11, the day after I post this, but perhaps already past by the time you read it. The legislation is a response to some widely reported instances of bullying in local schools, including one where a poor girl who recently immigrated from Ireland was hounded and ostracized to the point of suicide. The cases are universally awful and heart-wrenching, but cry out for local remedy. If parents and educators took responsibility for what’s going on in their own schools, such incidents could be reduced in number or eliminated all together. But, as usual, legislators of all political stripes must earn their paychecks, as it were, and propose new legislation every time something bad hits the news.

In this case, more than a dozen anti-bullying bills had been advanced in the House and Senate this session and they have all been whittled down to one bill being voted on by the Senate tomorrow: S.2283 (PDF).

But as is also very usual, such public and demagogued legislation often has unrelated bits and pieces—stuff that might be unpopular with a lot of people—tacked on so as to present a quandary to politicians. Do they vote against the bill because of these unrelated provisions to which they object and appear uncaring? (“Think of the children!”)

“Hate” speech code

MassResistance points out that S.2283 has one of these poison pills embedded within it, a provision that amends current libel law to expand the list of groups it’s unlawful to speak against. Chapter 272, Section 98C of the Mass. General Laws currently reads:

Whoever publishes any false written or printed material with intent to maliciously promote hatred of any group of persons in the commonwealth because of race, color or religion shall be guilty of libel and shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

(Ironically, Chapter 272 is titled archaically, “Crimes against chastity, morality, decency, and good order”.)

The new version of this section proposed by S.2283 would say (emphasis added):

Whoever publishes any false material whether written, printed, electronic, televised, or broadcast with intent to maliciously promote hatred of any group of persons in the commonwealth because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, or disability shall be guilty of libel and shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

So the question then becomes, “What does it mean to ‘maliciously promote hatred’ and what is the definition of ‘false’?” Note, as well, that in every other section, the bill addresses the bullying and abuse of students, this section casts a wide net and addresses and protects everyone who fits those categories.

Ladies and gents, is this a new speech code, like the ones we’ve been seeing pop up in Canada and Europe? But what about the First Amendment, you ask. Ah, but libel and slander are not constitutionally protected forms of speech. Will those of us who speak publicly about the immorality of homosexual acts and the whole homosexual subculture be labeled as “haters” subject to criminal prosecution? And while I can’t imagine the present US Supreme Court upholding this law if it’s challenged, I’m not so confident of future Courts, if the trend toward judicial activism continues.

I put the question to the lawyers out there: Is this something to worry about? In any case, it might be worthwhile, if there’s still time after you read this, to contact your Senator and express your distrust of this bill. Speech codes are never good for democracy.

Update: The Senate passed the bill unanimously yesterday.

Photo by Caveman (Kickin’ 66 with Pete Zarria) – http://flic.kr/p/5qoRbB

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