Monthly Archives: March 2011

High-Speed Rail?

It seems that since I graduated from college (10 years ago) there has been talk about high-speed rail across the Midwest.  With a  network of lines connecting Chicago, Detroit, Indy, Cinci, St. Louis, KC, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities this would revolutionize travel and bring the Midwest together like a pseudo Europe.  Ten years have passed and we are still at the talking stage (maybe some more diagrams and plans have been drawn though).  I will admit to this, I love the idea of high-speed rail.  However, I am not sure it will become a reality in the next 20 years.

The East Coast has a “high-speed” rail in the Acela rail line that runs between NYC and DC (and sometimes up to Boston).  I enjoyed taking the Acela when I needed to go to NYC or Philly – there were no security lines like at the airport, you could use your cell, there were plugs for your laptop, an ample amount of space, and a food car.  However, if I would have had to pay out-of-pocket, I don’t think I would have ever chosen that method of travel.  It was significantly more expensive than the regular Amtrak, not to mention just simply driving.  The issue with the Acela is that it was not really “high-speed” in the way that European or Asian trains are.  Due to regulations regarding rail travel and the number of cities that dot the landscape in the East, the train routinely has to slow down and averages less than 80 MPH most of the time.

While the Acela is profitable rail line for Amtrak, one has to wonder if that same financial success would carry over to the Midwest where business travelers are fewer and the distances between metropolitan areas is greater.  If the same number of hurdles that occur on the East Coast (such as speed regulations) also pop up when looking at a Midwest rail network, then I don’t see it being feasible.  The overall investment to make a true high-speed rail network in the Midwest would be daunting as you would have to, in most cases, lay down new lines to avoid routing through cities and avoid traffic with regular Amtrak traffic and the freight lines.

While there are significant benefits to a high-speed rail network across the Midwest (decreased highway traffic, decreasing air traffic, enabling a higher level of tourism), I do not see the economic costs outweighing the benefits to investors.  If the government became involved (as they are with Amtrak) one has to question the validity of spending tax dollars on such a venture when we still are trying to figure out how to pay for the programs we have had in place for years.  No, at this point I am going to lump high-speed rail in the Midwest in with electric pickups and free internet – great ideas that are very far down the road.

-Sam the Eagle

High-Speed Rail?

It seems that since I graduated from college (10 years ago) there has been talk about high-speed rail across the Midwest.  With a  network of lines connecting Chicago, Detroit, Indy, Cinci, St. Louis, KC, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities this would revolutionize travel and bring the Midwest together like a pseudo Europe.  Ten years have passed and we are still at the talking stage (maybe some more diagrams and plans have been drawn though).  I will admit to this, I love the idea of high-speed rail.  However, I am not sure it will become a reality in the next 20 years.

The East Coast has a “high-speed” rail in the Acela rail line that runs between NYC and DC (and sometimes up to Boston).  I enjoyed taking the Acela when I needed to go to NYC or Philly – there were no security lines like at the airport, you could use your cell, there were plugs for your laptop, an ample amount of space, and a food car.  However, if I would have had to pay out-of-pocket, I don’t think I would have ever chosen that method of travel.  It was significantly more expensive than the regular Amtrak, not to mention just simply driving.  The issue with the Acela is that it was not really “high-speed” in the way that European or Asian trains are.  Due to regulations regarding rail travel and the number of cities that dot the landscape in the East, the train routinely has to slow down and averages less than 80 MPH most of the time.

While the Acela is profitable rail line for Amtrak, one has to wonder if that same financial success would carry over to the Midwest where business travelers are fewer and the distances between metropolitan areas is greater.  If the same number of hurdles that occur on the East Coast (such as speed regulations) also pop up when looking at a Midwest rail network, then I don’t see it being feasible.  The overall investment to make a true high-speed rail network in the Midwest would be daunting as you would have to, in most cases, lay down new lines to avoid routing through cities and avoid traffic with regular Amtrak traffic and the freight lines.

While there are significant benefits to a high-speed rail network across the Midwest (decreased highway traffic, decreasing air traffic, enabling a higher level of tourism), I do not see the economic costs outweighing the benefits to investors.  If the government became involved (as they are with Amtrak) one has to question the validity of spending tax dollars on such a venture when we still are trying to figure out how to pay for the programs we have had in place for years.  No, at this point I am going to lump high-speed rail in the Midwest in with electric pickups and free internet – great ideas that are very far down the road.

-Sam the Eagle

Climate Change – from The Right

In reading a story on Politico today, they mentioned that Tim Pawlenty (whom I neither endorse or disparage) might be too “green” for the Republican nomination.  That thought struck me as very interesting as they were discussing Cap and Trade legislation.  It seems that with Cap and Trade economics and the environment go hand in hand but that one is pulled out to suit the needs of the author/speaker.  The part that I found interesting was that there is a perception that being environmentally friendly is not line with Republican principles.  The problem that Republicans have with Cap and Trade legislation was that it had/has a significant negative impact economically especially when balanced against the small forward steps it has environmentally.

It seems that in the latest rise of the “green movement” Republican have been painted with broad brushstrokes as not being pro-environment due to business ties, voting against legislation that is not economically friendly, and pushing for more drilling and mining to further energy independence.  I think the reality is different though.  A line I heard on the campaign trail in 2010 was a good step towards reclaiming the environmental mantel that Teddy Roosevelt created.

“I am a conservative. I believe in conserving; whether it is our budget, your tax paying dollars, or our environmental resources.”

How can Republicans take the next step though?  While I doubt the media will ever embrace a “Green GOP”, we can certainly make in-roads that will cause them to have to fact check a little bit harder.  While the default answer is always “tax-breaks” I am going to avoid that.  It is too easy and too hard at the same time.  The next answer usually given is that the GOP needs to not be so friendly with Oil Companies.  To that I don’t really have an answer except to say that the Oil Companies are the some of the largest investors in alternative energy.

The real way Republicans make an impact environmentally is by encouraging conservatism with the wallet – explain how “going green” and embracing an ecologically friendly(or friendlier) lifestyle save you money.  Senators and Representatives needs to have information about Energy Efficiency posted on their websites.  Republicans need to embrace building codes that encourage green material usage and products that save energy.  Currently, building codes are very restrictive if you want a geo-thermal heating/cooling system, solar panels, personal wind power etc.  We need to put rules in place regarding construction waste and disposal.  We need to lift the restrictions on alternative energy sites (including Nuclear).

The unfortunate thing about this latest Green movement is that the perception of the masses has made the reality.  So many people think narrowly about “being green” – I need to buy a hybrid, I need to plant a tree, lets recycle, oil companies are the devil, burning waste is bad.  The truth is that buying a hybrid doesn’t actually save most American’s money over the first 5 years of ownership when compared to a similar style tradition engine.  For example – the Ford Fusion Hybrid gets an average (straight combo of city & hwy) MPG of 38 and the regular version gets an average MPG of 28.  Saying gas is $3 per gallon you have a difference of $300 per year.  The price difference between the two is close to $300 PER MONTH.  So, explain how THAT is a good investment.  Burning our waste can actually help clean out our landfills and provide power.  With new technology, the waste can actually provide a similar amount of power to that of coal (and I was told by one of the plant officials at my local University that burning tires actually provides MORE energy than coal with a similar, if not reduced rate of carbon emission).  However, public perception is such that most areas are unwilling to try this as the public outcry from the uninformed would be huge.  The point being that the driver of the green conservation is coming from such an angle that it is preventing people from knowing real ways to save money and save the environment, instead they are pushing an agenda that only a minority will adopt but a majority take at face value.

As stated above, what Republicans can do is change the discussion.  Let approach being green from several different angles.  Will we ever appease the fringe of the Sierra Club? Probably not.  Can we do enough to make a significant change for the betterment of our environment? Most certainly.  As with all things, education is key.  Republicans are neglecting this and letting the left control the conversation when as conservatives, we should educating people on how that goes beyond our wallets (and how conserving beyond our wallets can actually put money back in them).

-Sam the Eagle

Cash for Clunkers – a look back

I was thinking about this the other day as I inhaled the foul exhaust fumes of an early 90’s mid-sized sedan – “Cash for Clunkers” was a great idea ruined by government compromise (the official name is CARS or Car Allowance Rebate System). It feels like two sides came together – the green movement and those who represent manufacturing states and hashed out a plan that sounded good, but didn’t really work (hey, welcome to American politics post Reagan). I will admit, I actually had an idea similar to this plan back in 2005-2006, so I was really excited when this came to fruition. However, as it played out, I was saddened to see such a great concept amount to nothing more than a political ploy.

Our country has an obsession with the automobile. Nearly every major city has an “Auto Show”, ever sporting event is sponsored by an Auto maker, and everyone is aware of the rise and fall of Detroit (only partly related to autos – that is a different post at a different time). I would say that 99% of American’s over the age of 16 feel like they should own a car (and almost that many do). However, not all of us are able to afford a decent car, or our definition of decent is quite varied. The point of CARS was supposedly to take older, less fuel-efficient autos off the road and replace them with newer models. In a method near and dear to the hearts of politicians in DC, stipulations were attached (full list here –http://www.cars.gov/official-information/index.html or try Wikipedia).

Now, think back to the last time you took a drive over 20 minutes or more. How many vehicles did you see? Out of those vehicles, how many were more than 15 years old? I admire classic cars (even if I can’t drive a stick). Heck, if I could I would drive an old pick up around or, better yet, The General Lee. The point of this is simple, if you saw or smelled any car older than 15 years old, then you know CARS failed. The program was designed to increase our overall MPG as a nation, create cleaner air by taking “dirty cars” off the streets, and stimulate the automobile market during a time of decreased spending. It did all three of those, but in such small quantities that you wonder if the paperwork was worth it.

This is where I should skip to the end and tell you what SHOULD have happened…but first a few stats. The program was initially allocated only $1 Billion and ended up costing around 3. the program started on July 1, 2009 but didn’t actually stat with the whole “trading in of cars” thing until July 24, 2009 (I am not sure why the 3 week delay, maybe too many salesmen were taking their smoke breaks). We took in just under 700,000 cars overall before the program ended. I encourage you to head over to Wikipedia to read more (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_Allowance_Rebate_System).

Here is the thing about all of those stats above – they could have been so much more impactful.

  • The first step I would have taken was to only allow cars manufactured in the United States and made with over 65% US parts eligible under the program. This would have made sure that government dollars went towards our citizenry instead of helping to pay for jobs in Mexico, Canada, Asian and Europe.
  • Secondly, I increased the trade-in value on certain cars. If one of the purposes is really to get rid of the worst offenders, then lets do the job right. Nobody should be driving an 86 Caravan around anymore.
  • Thirdly, I would have put criteria on the type of car one is able to purchase. People should not have been using government funds to upgrade their 92 Grand Prix to a 2009 Lincoln MTZ.

If you look through the list of un-allowable vehicles, which basically should not have existed, you will see that MPG was a concern (some versions of vehicles were allowed to be traded in if they had 6 cylinders, but not 4). The problem is, MPG doesn’t give us anywhere near the complete environmental impact of the car. Emissions should have played a very large role. A car can get 20 MPG and be polluting at a greater rate than one that gets 15 MPG (would you rather put your nose to the exhaust of my 2005 SUV or a 1995 Ford Taurus). While MPG has not always improved, the emissions of vehicles can be counted on to improve in each new generation of a vehicle thanks to new technology.

The problem with CARS/”Cash for Clunkers” is that beyond of falling short itself of what it could have been, it represents so many similar program in our Country. We have people in Washington who want to do the right thing, they just either don’t know how to do it or compromise their way into yet another failed program that ends up wasting our tax dollars.

-Sam the Eagle

Requested – The US role in Japan

I recently had a friend and commenter here ask if I would put up some thoughts on what our role should be in Japan after the devastating series of events over there.  In one simple word, the answer is this – HELP.  There are two ways I am going to approach this situation, from a humanistic approach and from an economic approach.

The United States, whether we like it or not, is who everyone in the World turns to during a time of crisis.  We are the wealthiest nation on Earth with abundant resources (both natural and human).  While we struggle daily here to allocate those resources in the most beneficial manner, nobody outside our borders sees that.  All they see is USA = $$$, and that is correct.  We owe it to the rest of the world to lend our services and aid when they are in their greatest time of need.  Some nations came to our aid after 9.11 and regardless of their contributions, the gesture was looked upon with great warmth.  If the most powerful nation in existence feels that way, imagine how OUR aid could make THEM feel.

On an economic level, it is imperative that Japan be rebuilt as quickly as possible.  The economy will live in is now world-wide.  Japan is a major player in the economy, both with imports and exports.  The longer Japan takes to return to its place in the world market the more it impacts the domestic economy.  We export a high amount of food to Japan and we import a myriad of products.  As with other major players, our prominence is intertwined with the success of our partners.

Bottom line, while many things in this country need to be fixed, we need to look outside ourselves and help Japan for the betterment of the world.

-Sam the Eagle

Requested – The US role in Japan

I recently had a friend and commenter here ask if I would put up some thoughts on what our role should be in Japan after the devastating series of events over there.  In one simple word, the answer is this – HELP.  There are two ways I am going to approach this situation, from a humanistic approach and from an economic approach.

The United States, whether we like it or not, is who everyone in the World turns to during a time of crisis.  We are the wealthiest nation on Earth with abundant resources (both natural and human).  While we struggle daily here to allocate those resources in the most beneficial manner, nobody outside our borders sees that.  All they see is USA = $$$, and that is correct.  We owe it to the rest of the world to lend our services and aid when they are in their greatest time of need.  Some nations came to our aid after 9.11 and regardless of their contributions, the gesture was looked upon with great warmth.  If the most powerful nation in existence feels that way, imagine how OUR aid could make THEM feel.

On an economic level, it is imperative that Japan be rebuilt as quickly as possible.  The economy will live in is now world-wide.  Japan is a major player in the economy, both with imports and exports.  The longer Japan takes to return to its place in the world market the more it impacts the domestic economy.  We export a high amount of food to Japan and we import a myriad of products.  As with other major players, our prominence is intertwined with the success of our partners.

Bottom line, while many things in this country need to be fixed, we need to look outside ourselves and help Japan for the betterment of the world.

-Sam the Eagle

Some off the wall ideas?

I realized that lately I have been getting away from the point of this blog.  You can go anywhere (and probably do) to read the usual GOP parrotings, but this is supposed to be something different.  This is supposed to be a place where an unusual thought could be flushed out (only to lead nowhere – but hey, then we are just like Congress).

So, do you have any thoughts on what we can do to make a better America?  Lets hear them.

– Sam the Eagle

The Debt Dilema – quick summary

I have heard from a few saying that my point was not clear in my last post.
Basically, it boils down to this: trying to address a massive debt by only cutting spending is not a real solution. The United States Government needs an increase in income paired with the spending cuts to make a sizable dent in the massive debt we have. This does not automatically translate to a tax increase, but closing some tax loopholes couldn’t hurt the situation.

– Sam the Eagle

The Debt Dilemma

 

I am quite confident than any person reading this blog knows that the United States is currently buried under a mountain of debt (like the size of one of those in Tibet, not the lush rolling hill type mountains in the Eastern US).  This issue right now though is how best to tackle this debt.  The current prevailing strategy in the US House (controlled by the GOP) is to cut current spending…and push for lower taxes.  The US Senate is using a different method, that of hoping the House can figure out something so they can claim credit.

 

 

In what may be a futile exercise let’s look at some of the debt tackling philosophies through characterizing it as your average family’s bills:  We will use the monthly income of 6K per month, 1500 House payment, 1250 in childcare, 1000 in groceries, 750 in “other spending”, 500 car payment and an average 1K credit card payment towards debt (30K debt overall).  As you can see, that comes out to 6K with no additional savings, a “balanced” budget.

Government spending

Government spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Continue reading

The Debt Dilemma

 

I am quite confident than any person reading this blog knows that the United States is currently buried under a mountain of debt (like the size of one of those in Tibet, not the lush rolling hill type mountains in the Eastern US).  This issue right now though is how best to tackle this debt.  The current prevailing strategy in the US House (controlled by the GOP) is to cut current spending…and push for lower taxes.  The US Senate is using a different method, that of hoping the House can figure out something so they can claim credit.

 

 

In what may be a futile exercise let’s look at some of the debt tackling philosophies through characterizing it as your average family’s bills:  We will use the monthly income of 6K per month, 1500 House payment, 1250 in childcare, 1000 in groceries, 750 in “other spending”, 500 car payment and an average 1K credit card payment towards debt (30K debt overall).  As you can see, that comes out to 6K with no additional savings, a “balanced” budget.

Government spending

Government spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Continue reading