Common Sense & An Open Mind

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for the ‘Ground Zero’ Category

Tolls or hidden taxes?

Posted by Free to Think on January 18, 2012

Yet another example of government using underhanded methods to ‘tax’ us without raising taxes:  the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority now faces default after the state passed legislation to divert $450 million of toll revenue a year to non-Turnpike purposes.

In an effort to find yet another way to fund its burgeoning government, in 2007 Pennsylvania passed Act 44, which turns toll charges from a user fee into another general tax.

The money is being siphoned from the PA Turnpike despite the fact that the Turnpike Authority is currently losing $170 million a year before making their Act 44 payouts. The Turnpike, which collects about $900 million in annual revenue, is obligated to make payments for 46 more years.

Act 44 is just one reason why Turnpike Authority debt was increased from $2.9 billion to $7.3 billion, a near-triple increase over the past four years. Interest on escalating debt has shot up from $70 million a year in 2007 to $290 million a year in 2011.

“I don’t think it can continue for six more years,” said PA Auditor General Jack Wagner of the turnpike’s ability to continue covering the financial burden. “The statistics show clearly that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is drowning in debt due to burdens placed on it by Act 44.”

“The turnpike is not facing any immediate financial crisis,” insists Turnpike commission CEO Roger Nutt, although he says he agrees with the auditor general that, “Act 44 funding may have a negative effect on turnpike traffic, toll rates, customer service and other traveler benefits sometime in the future,” and that toll increases would be necessary to meet obligations to pay the state.

Just so we’re clear, Nutt believes that it’s no problem for PA Turnpike drivers to settle for reduced customer service and benefits while being laden with a hidden tax to help pay for unrelated commitments that the state is straining to meet. All while Turnpike commissioners dismiss concerns about their own growing debt.

Similarly, in neighboring New York a steep toll increase on the bridges and tunnels that cross the Hudson River and increases in single-fare rides on PATH trains have been imposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in part to subsidize non-transportation projects such as the World Trade Center project.

But now, the New York and northern New Jersey chapters of the AAA automobile club have filed a lawsuit challenging the toll increases, contending that the increases are “illegal and void.” The suit seeks to forbid the authority to set future tolls that include the cost of the World Trade Center redevelopment.

Michael F. Fitzgerald, a lawyer for the auto club, said that such actions violated federal law and the commerce clause of the Constitution by requiring drivers to subsidize a project from which they would not benefit.

Lawyers for the Port Authority said that the club had no standing to sue the agency. Port Authority officials have refined their position, saying all the added toll revenue would go toward transportation.

The New York Port Authority, where toll collectors often make more than $80,000 a year, is no stranger to bungling mismanagement. One toll taker, Warren Stevens, made over $102,000 in 2011 — $40,614 of it in overtime. At least 11 Port Authority gardeners also made over $80,000 last year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have called for an audit of the Port Authority.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, Ground Zero, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Common Sense about the Cordoba House

Posted by Free to Think on September 11, 2010

It’s been 9 raw years, and the events of September 11, 2001 continue to strike a nerve.

This year, as we commemorate the anniversary of that tragic event, a new controversy looms. A Muslim organization has just won approval to build the Cordoba House, a 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center, just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood. Protesters denouncing the development have held multiple rallies in New York, and fiery debates are taking place throughout the country.

Is it wrong to build an Islamic Center at Ground Zero? Or are we wrong to even consider rejecting such a project?

Of course the Muslim community has the right to build a community center where they want. Freedom is what this country is based upon. But I’d like to point out issues that make this project controversial.

Who’s paying for it?

A concern of many protesters is that no one knows who’s paying for the $100 million price tag.

The building was purchased in July 2009 for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real-estate firm tied to developer Sharif El-Gamal. The center is being spearheaded by Faisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an organization that describes itself as “Improving Muslim-West relations,” and his wife Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA).

The Initiative listed less than $20,000 in assets in 2008 and has received less than $100,000 in contributions since it was founded in 2004. The ASMA has assets of less than $1 million. Their organizations cannot afford to undertake such a major project. According to Ms. Kahn, Cordoba House “funding sources will be independent from the funding sources of ASMA and Cordoba Initiative.” The money will most likely come from overseas, but organizers have been mum about who prospective investors are.

Considering the sensitive location of the site, is it unreasonable to require the names of all donors before approving this project? As the Washington Times says, “It would be ironic and tragic if the same channels that seek to build the Ground Zero mosque also underwrote the attacks that made it necessary to build a memorial.”

Insensitivity

Common sense tells us this is more than your typical zoning issue. Emotions are high in a city where people are still mourning thousands of loved ones killed in cold blood. Sensitivity runs both ways. Of all the places within the vast city of New York, is this truly the most appropriate place to build an Islamic center at this point in time? Will this location facilitate the healing process as the organizers of the project claim?

Ms. Khan expressed surprise that the local zoning dispute quickly developed into a national debate. Khan says that opposition to the plan is akin to discrimination against Jews. “That’s what we feel right now. It’s not even Islamophobia; it’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims, and we are deeply concerned,” she said.

Ms. Khan’s bafflement is disingenuous. It’s easy to understand that some are unhappy about erecting a Muslim Center upon the graves of New Yorkers who died at the hands of radical Muslims.

“Most of the resistance we’ve encountered has been from people who don’t know the Muslim community,” Khan has said. “It’s just fear of the unknown.”

According to its website, among the missions of the Cordoba Initiative is to cultivate multi-faith understanding, strengthen the bridge between Islam and the West, advise policy makers on urgent Muslim-West issues, and build a network of young Muslim leaders to lead the drive for change in future generations. Nowhere in its mission statement does it condemn Islamic terrorist activities. This omission is a sticking point for some in a city that’s still on edge.

The name of the center itself has made others uneasy. For those who know their history, the original Cordoba Mosque was constructed on the foundation of a Christian cathedral in Spain after the Islamic invasion and occupation if the 8th century. The name of the building has since been changed to Park51, referencing the address, with ‘Cordoba House’ remaining the name of the “interfaith and religious component of the center.”

Why not a name less provocative referencing tolerance, peace and coexistence that demonstrates more compassion?

Location

So, why the insistence on this particular location when it obviously hits a nerve? A move just a half-mile down the road would assuage many.  If a deranged, born-again Christian extremist mowed down dozens of atheists and burned down their meeting hall, would building an elaborate church on the site help smooth things over? Wait, why not? Churches are peaceful, benevolent places, and the killer certainly didn’t represent true Christianity.

Constitutionality

I write about liberty, free enterprise, and Americans’ right to tell government to stay out of their way. Does that mean that I think the public has no say in what the institutions and businesses around them do?

No, I don’t believe that at all. Liberty and limited government should also mean the ability to control your own local environment.

Let’s compare the controversy at Ground Zero to a town that’s been accused of ‘zoning discrimination,’ though the situation is very different. The quaint town of Springdale, Utah, just outside Zion National Park, is fighting the national Subway restaurant chain for the right to open a restaurant in their town. Springdale doesn’t want them, nor any other ‘formula’ restaurant. In order to help maintain their small-town character, the town has imposed ordinances banning big chains from establishing businesses there, allowing local businesses only. Do they have this right? The decision is pending.

Other towns across America, from Bainbridge, Washington to York, Maine, have set the precedent with similar statues.

The National League of Cities supports leaders who want to protect their community’s character and economic development. “We’re big on local control here,” says Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the league. “Cities are going to make the best decisions for their communities based on what local businesses want and what local citizens want.”

Selective enforcement of our rights

In the case of the Ground Zero Islamic Center, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that the constitutional freedom of the Islamic center’s builders take precedence over the wishes of residents.

Is it hypocritical that the letter of the law is stringently evoked in this situation, when so many of our constitutional rights have been stripped in the wake of 9/11? If Mayor Bloomberg cares so much about the Constitution, why hasn’t he declared the Patriot Act laws unconstitutional and unenforceable in his city? After all, in the past nine years it has become legal for the government to secretly wiretap your home, demand your phone, library and other personal records without probable cause, or arrest you without formal charge.

If our government feels these crucial rights and privileges are dispensable to combat terrorism, why are we so concerned about the possibility of discriminating against one building permit?

Appropriateness

Even if organizers are legally sanctioned to build their center, should they?

Muslim-American and former Secret Service special agent Walied Shater put it aptly: “Many family members of the 9/11 victims express sincere sadness at the idea of an Islamic cultural center and mosque at Ground Zero, in a respectful and contrite manner, free from the anti-Muslim bigotry found among some politicians and others. The center developers should take their feelings into consideration, and if they ultimately decide to move the center after discussions with those families, I would applaud such a move and feel my rights are still intact.”

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