Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking the Train! Ridership up in Midwest

I just got an email from the Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance. Amtrak is showing record ridership on Mideast rail routes this year. As we look toward rebuilding our rail infrastructure, not only here in Minnesota, but around the nation, this is encouraging news.

Here's the press release:

Midwesterners love their trains!

Amtrak recently released its annual ridership and revenue numbers and the report revealed that people across the Midwest are riding the train in record numbers.

Here are a few highlights from the report:

  • The Empire Builder – beginning in Chicago and traveling through Minnesota on its way to the Pacific Northwest – is Amtrak’s most popular overnight passenger train. More than half a million people rode the route last year.
  • Ridership totals on the shorter-run corridor services is up 55% across the Midwest during the past five years.
  • The Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee has seen a 49% increase in ridership during the past five years and recently topped three-quarters of a million riders during the past year.

As Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz, chair of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, put it, “These numbers confirm what state and federal officials are increasingly realizing – expanding and improving passenger rail service makes sense for the Midwest.”

These numbers are an affirming sign for local and statewide advocates of expanded passenger rail infrastructure in Minnesota. It is important that we have a variety of transportation options, including rail, as our state looks to enhance our economic viability and quality of life in the 21st century. Passenger rail – including a high-speed route from Rochester to the Twin Cities – will ensure the accessibility and capacity we need to meet those goals.

Upcoming Election
Election Day, November 2, is less than three weeks away. If you haven’t already done so, the Alliance encourages you to ask where your state and federal candidates stand on rail. The upcoming legislative and congressional sessions will be very important for the future of rail. Most important, don’t forget to vote.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Taking the Democratic Party Survey: Why I am a Democrat and Why I'm Currently Discouraged.

I have been getting TONS of email from national Democrats, asking me for money, asking if I've seen the President's latest You-Tube video, asking me for money....

Today, I received a survey asking me to share my opinion on the current state of the Democratic Party...since there was a place for long answers, I filled them out...and then decided to post them here, because A) this was the one place that some random web surfer might read them (I know they won't get read at party headquarters) and, B) because heaven knows it's time for a blog post.

So here are my responses.

How would you describe the current political climate? (Optional):
As a Democrat, I feel demoralized. In his first days in office, President Obama appointed two tax cheats (a Democrat who cheats on his taxes is just as bad as a Republican "Family Values" man who cheats on his wife.) Timothy Geithner felt like part of the same Wall Street Gang of thugs who got us into this mess in the first place. Then, the President was a month overdue before responding in a major way to the Gulf Oil Spill. He has done a lousy job selling his program, and when Democrats point out the missteps taken by the White House and ask them to please try and do better, they are told to "Stop Whining" by Vice-President Biden. So, the current climate: Grim and Uninspiring.

What do you believe the Democratic Party stands for? (Optional):
I think that's in flux right now...but here's what I think the Democratic Party SHOULD stand for:

A strong America.
A debt-free America.
An America that MAKES things again.

The Democrats know that, with the proper oversight, Government need not be an enemy. Instead, as long as our government remains free and open, it can be a powerful tool. Allowing groups of ordinary people to band together to create something larger then themselves (examples: The Space Program, Victory in World War 2, the Interstate Highway System, the Transcontinental Railroad, etc.). Government, again, kept under proper restraint, and driven by groups of activists, is also the only tool that has achieved the civil rights of the American People (The end of Slavery, the Enfranchisement of Women, the end of segregation.)

In times of great need, Government has successfully served as the great engine which restarts the economy...getting us moving again following the Great Depression, providing the needed economic mobilization to triumph over fascism. While these are the large examples, this pattern has been repeated in smaller crises throughout the century.

The Democratic party knows that, in order to create the conditions of prosperity and stability, taxes are necessary. Democrats know that the upper class may occasionally meet with success solely by their own efforts, but are more often aided by the efforts of their workforce, the public education system, the public police system, the public transportation infrastructure, the national defense, and, often, by doing direct business with the government.

Because of this, Democrats know that these people deserve to pay more in taxes, to support the society that supports them so well.

Democrats know that money taken from the top, and reinvested in the bottom creates a rising tide that raises ALL boats, not just those of the few...and brings financial growth and benefit to a greater portion of society. (Their prosperity, in turn, allows them to be customers of the rich...helping them well from this too.)

Democrats value and respect the entrepreneur. They understand that his vision and energy are a key part of the driving force of our economy. At the same time, they know that he is not the God-Like Figure imagined by Ayn Rand and her supply-side disciples. True Entrepreneurs thrive in an environment laced with infrastructure: Transportation, Police, Education, Energy, workforce. Because this successful businessman achieves success in aworld which has been tamed for him through the efforts of his fellow citizens acting together as a government, it is also understood that that self-same business person must pay to support that infrastruture. Not being a god-like figure, the entrepreneur is not to be placated by deferments, and releases from his obligation to provide support for the infrastructure without which his success would not be possible. Unlike Ayn Rand and her modern followers, Democrats do not heap sacrifices from the public treasury in the form of tax breaks at his feet.

Democrats know and respect the worker's role in economic success. Democrats also know that, by keeping the working class prosperous, a larger customer base is established, and the seeds of further economic growth are put in place, seeds which the business owner will harvest.

Democrats understand that, human nature being what it is, those who have money will seek to keep as much of it as they can. They will share no more with their workforce than absolutely necessary. They will voluntarily contribute to the infrastructure that supports them almost nothing. They will favor short-term profit over long term growth. Democrats understand that, while free market capitalism is the best way to run a successfull society, that it has an Achillies Heal. Left to its own devices, the free market will tend to stagnate, concentrating success and wealth in the hands of a few. Left in it's natural state, the only way to bring change is through periodic catastrophic failure. To avoid both the stagnation and concentration of wealth, which leads to tyranny of the few over the many, and at the same time to avoid economic catastrophe and devastation which leads to periods of anarchy, terror and hardship, Government is needed to bring stabilty....while it does tend to remove the highest of the high points (enjoyed only by very few), it also reduces the lowest of lows...and that helps the population as a whole.

Democrats should know that they need to be fiscally responsible...keeping the national account square, paying as they go, breaking this rule only in economic emergencies (such as the present crisis), and returning to normalcy as soon as possible.

The Democrats know that people often need a helping hand to lift themselves up. That children need a good education to rise in the world. At the same time, Democrats have come to understand that welfare should be a hand, not a handout, and that while there are no limits to our desire to help, there are limits to the amount of help we will give to those who will not help themselves.

Democrats know that this country must become as self-sufficient as possible, and especially in the area of energy.

Knowing that there is no one magic bullet that will replace foreign oil as a source of power, Democrats are ready to apply the power of Government to fund R & D that is not yet attractive to the private sector in search of the short term sure profit.

Democrats understand that these efforts will pay off in a big way, giving America a commanding lead in the renewable energy field, providing us, once again, with a a product to sell to the world, reversing our negative balance of trade.

Democrats should never be ashamed to be America. Democrats should never shrink from defending her. At the same time, Democrats know that "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and that a foreign policy that, while always serving to advance American interests, does so with fairness and a a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.

Why are you a Democrat? (Optional):
I am a Democrat because I believe in a strong America. I believe that this nation should offer both political and economic freedom to all. I believe that the Democratic Party's record on the economy for the last 80 years speaks for itself. Economics, practiced with a Keynesian bent, has created a wide-spread prosperity in all segments of this society. Supply-Side economics has concentrated wealth in top 1% of our society, during the years (from Reagan on) that supply-side economics have been in the drivers seat, we've seen this nation become a debtor to the world. We have seen our manufacturing jobs move overseas. We've seen government have to ride to the rescue of the Savings and Loan Industry and now the Financial Sector...all because we've removed the regulations in place that keep one company from growing so big that it crowds out the others, growing so big that it becomes "too big to fail".

I am a Democrat because I believe that,in the long run, the Democratic party has a better history of taking care of the nation as a whole (rather than of it's leading citizens). I believe the Democratic party, for all it's faults, and they are many, is a better steward of the economy and of our political freedom.

There are times when, as a Democrat, I become discouraged. There are times I become discouraged because the left wing of our party has seized control, forgetting that, while we believe in an active government with a strong role to play, we are NOT a socialist party. While we believe in a fair and level playing field, we are not a "leveling" party...we do not seek to enforce equality of outcome.

At the present time, I am discouraged for other reasons.

President Obama is a pragmatic centrist. He understands the need to use government to stabilize the economy and has done a fair job ending the free fall. The American Recovery and Reinvestment act has represented a strong investment, not only in jobs, but also in building for the future. Back in the day, people called the CCC "make work" - but today, as we enjoy our parks, roads, etc. we realize what a debit we owe to the men who worked in the program and the government who, not only saved them from starvation, but bequeathed a legacy to us. I strongly believe that some 20, 30 years hence, we will look back at the ARRA and realize that we made some good moves.

Obama's appointment of Geithner and the moves to bail out Wall Street are probably necessary, even though they leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Less excusable are Obama's constant early efforts to meet the Republicans more than half way. Screw Them....the new Radical Republican party of Bush, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Fox, Beck and Boehner have never shown the slightest consideration for us. Those of that ilk have never shown the slightest indication to wish to reason together, or compromise...they are radical fundamentalists. Their motto is "join us or die"....our motto in regard to the radicals should be: Cathago delenda est. To any others who wish to talk, then yes, we'll hold out the hand of friendship...but those kinds of Republicans are damn few and far between theses days (and the few that remain are being driven from their party by the Christine O'Donnells and Sarah Palins of the nation.)

Because of the President's need to play nice, there are those who have argued that the stimulus package was too SMALL- big enough to make Americans nervous about the debt, not big enough to create movement in the economy fast enough.

On the Gulf Oil Spill, the President was, quite frankly, on the wrong side...even before it happened. As a nation, to remain strong, we MUST break the addiction to fossil fuels. And yet the President was advocating offshore drilling off the most populated areas of our coastline.

A mere month later, the BP spill proved the folly of that approach in a major way. President Obama did reverse his drilling policy, but he remained silent on the spill for over a month, while the Gulf coast suffered.

From the stand point of policy, President Obama (far from being too far to the left, as his Tea Party critics paint him) has been, if anything, too much on the side of the establishment and big business. For the most part, I can live with this...especially since he heads a party who can tend to drift too far to the left if not properly skippered.

But in terms of shear political performance, the ability to sell your policies and vision to the people, President Obama has just not done a good job of staying out in front. His minions have even been bitter, when we, the foot solders of the party have criticized their approaches, they tell us to "quit whining"about their political ineptittude...and yet they still send me emails...up to three a day...asking me to give money to the DNC.

Well, sorry guys...but no. No little (but big to me) check for you this year. I will work with my local party to reelect my Congressman, Tim Walz. I'll work with my local Democratic party to make sure that we return our local legislators to the State's House and Senate....but as for you in Washington...no...no cash for you...not until you get your act together.

Who knows, an enemy Congress actually helped spur Bill Clinton on to great things (Welfare Reform, a Balanced Budget)...maybe having a bunch of nuts in the House will help put some hair on Obama's chest. He has great potential, but so far, he hasn't lived up to it.