Monday, January 16, 2012

A Ride on the Southwest Chief

Last spring on one of our drives around Santa Fe we took a road marked to Lamy and found ourselves at a rustic train station. Much to our delight we learned the Amtrak train Southwest Chief stopped daily on its runs to and from Chicago and Los Angeles. We had fun talking with the station master and decided that we would have to find an opportunity to take the Chief.

Murray and I had enjoyed taking trains like the Denver Zepher and the California Zepher back in mid 60's and so when we received an invitation to a wedding outside of Los Angeles we decided that this provided the opportunity to ride the rails again. We made our reservation about six weeks in advance and were pleased to get senior tickets at $55. The jump to a roomette was simply too much money so we decided to stay with reserved coach. So on a Thursday in August we made the short 12 mile drive to Lamy where, at no charge we could park our car in the small dirt parking lot. Typical of many days the train was late. We were in no rush and took that in good stride. When several hours later we boarded we sank into our spacious seats and became fascinated with some of the neighboring scenery that seemed fresh and new to us even through we were close to home.

We soon began exploring the train and found we really liked to hang out in the sightseer Lounge Car. While we had brought books to read, music to listen to and magazines along we found our time was spent enjoying conversations with fellow travelers and watching the scenery change. When the attendant came for dinner reservations, we made one and found it fun to be seated with strangers, enjoyed a lively conversation while eating a respectable dinner.

We arrived only slightly late into LA and were delighted with exploring the station before linking up with a reserved car to take us to the suburb where the wedding activities were to be held. The very dramatic art deco ticket windows and waiting room is roped off but it is possible to get good views and to take pictures.

Following wedding activities we boarded for our return trip home... again the train ran late but this just didn't bother us and we enjoyed our 15 hour trip back to Lamy. Certainly the trip has inspired us to explore other long distance train travel.

Some highlight to train travel:

1. So much more relaxing than flying or driving.
2. Meeting interesting people and having lively conversations.
3. Possible to plan a trip getting on and off the train along the way to visit places of interest.
4. Enjoying the rhythm of the train... a chance to let go of every day worries and just be present to the moment.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Republicans hijacked term Conservative

When did we lose the modifier, "fiscal," from the brand name, "conservative?" The term conservative has taken all kinds of meanings over at least the past century. As a political economist, my training and therefore my belief structure is founded upon prudent (read that-sensible) personal and public financial principles (read that rules for living when related to personal, and laws and regulation when related to public). By that measure, I am a conservative.

The Republican Party has captured the label, "Conservative," but its actions are far removed from the intended definition. Viewing the most recent past, when this party was in control of the Federal Government, it managed to raid the Treasury in two ways. It cut taxes and sanctioned two unfunded wars. It is not a party of fiscal conservatism.

Now I get to the dilemma of current day conservatism dealing with progress. In its present day form, conservatives are antithetical to moving forward. This problem does not exist in fiscal conservatism, i.e., living within one's means. In my lifetime there were several balanced budgets, most the result of ending wars. These occurred between 1946 and 47 and 47-48 as a result of reductions after World War II. Again balances happened between 1950 and 51, 55 and 56 and 56 and 57, the first 3 within the Truman Administration, the last two under the Eisenhower Administration. During this time, the highest marginal tax rate that contributed to such result was 91% and the economy for the most part, thrived.

A balanced budget was achieved between 1999 and 2001. Both parties like to claim a budget surplus at the end of the Clinton Administration. The final outlays shown in the Report of the Treasury were deficits, but with the addition of off budget elements, there was a surplus. It is difficult to determine from published documents whether a budget led in the end to a surplus or deficit. The only telltale is whether the total deficit increased or decreased. The deficit clock on 6th Avenue in New York was turned off in 2000, but turned back on in 2002. Before 2001 it was a Democratic Administration in charge, succeeded by a Republican one that ran deficits for every year it was in power and turned the clock back on.

While my philosophy of fiscal conservatism concludes that government must balance its books, I consider this necessity to be one of over time and not every year. Thus, I am opposed to a Constitutional Amendment that would require a balanced budget for each year. This leads me to my final thought. During periods of recession it is necessary for government expenditures to exceed receipts. This principle stems from consideration of the components of Gross National Product (GNP), consumer expenditures, private and public investment, and other public expenditure. Those who call for reduction in public expenditure, especially investment, during periods of recession should review the economic history of the U.S., especially what occurred in 1929-30.

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