Congress Is Forcing The Private Sector To Take The Lead On Rail Construction

A couple hundred years ago, it wasn’t at all uncommon for an American citizen to live their entire life within the confines of their hometown. Before modern conveniences like automobiles and planes, we were extremely limited in terms of how far we could travel.

Fast-forward to today, and most of us can make our way to anywhere in the country we may need to go. Unfortunately, even planes and buses are limited in terms of their ability to serve everybody, everywhere; price is, in many instances, still prohibitive. And let’s face it: plane travel is more stressful now than it’s ever been.

Because of these barriers, politicians and businesspeople alike have been trying to rally support for new train systems to connect major US cities—even when those cities exist on opposite coasts. High-speed rail, in particular, seems a far-off dream that Americans have been pursuing—without results—for far too long.

Many developed countries in the world have discovered the benefits of high-speed rail systems: China, France, Japan, and Spain have all allocated public funds toward projects of this kind. In point of fact, the iconic bullet train design used in Japan has been around for more than 50 years.

So why is it taking America so long to commit? Let’s take a look.

Geographical Problems

America, unlike some of the smaller countries listed above, is a big place. Our population is not nearly so densely packed, and our major cities are very far apart. Given this fact, planes may remain the most sensible solution for quite some time to come.

Poor Urban Planning

When traveling abroad, it’s not at all uncommon for travelers to be able to walk to most of their destinations—particularly if you find yourself in a place like Barcelona or Paris. In the United States, on the other hand, our cities tend to sprawl for miles, and are constructed in a way that almost actively discourages pedestrian or bicycle traffic. In other words: even if we managed to connect our major cities with a vast rail system, we’d still need to rent a car or a cab once we got to our destination.

Political Impotence

The above problems are almost nothing compared to the political barriers currently in place. The United States’ transportation trust fund is practically broke; and given that, our senators and congressmen keep shunting control over our transportation infrastructure to the states, many of which are even worse off, economically speaking, and which struggle to make progress when infrastructure projects involve neighboring states.

Moreover, poor state leadership has stalled even some of our already in-progress rail projects. The Obama administration in 2009 awarded almost a billion dollars to build a high-speed rail system linking Chicago to Milwaukee. Scott Walker, then newly-elected governor of Milwaukee, turned down his state’s share of the money. It went to California instead, where they know a good thing when they see it.

Baby Steps from the Private Sector

Thankfully, while our prodigiously unproductive Congress continues to debate how best to invest (or not) in America’s infrastructure, the private sector is moving forward with—or, at the very least, publishing proposals for—the construction of various rail projects.

A company called All Aboard Florida outlined plans last year for a privately-owned and operated rail system to connect Miami to Orlando. The rail corridor would be some 40 miles long, and would provide a much-needed transportation alternative for Floridians and tourists alike.

Elsewhere in the country, states are either moving ahead with high-speed rail proposals—as Nevada is doing now with a Vegas-SoCal link—or still bickering about the details, as in Houston, where even the location for the terminal is still in limbo.

I think it’s a fallacy to automatically assume the private sector can do more quickly or efficiently something that the federal government is also capable of. But in this case, where Congress has been dropping the proverbial ball when it comes to infrastructure, maybe it’s time for a little private sector leadership.

The Looming Price Tag

Make no mistake: an organized, nationwide high-speed rail system would be hugely expensive to build and maintain. Estimates from Amtrak indicate that upgrading the Northeast Corridor to high-speed rail could cost somewhere in the ballpark of $150 billion.

Still, the money problem is not an insurmountable one; what remains is deciding on a set of reasonable and logical priorities to put our tax revenue to work. For a common sense solution, look no further than recently minted presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who maintains that a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure could net millions of jobs and shore up our roads, bridges, and rail systems for years to come. Unfortunately, people tend to write off such proposals as soon as they see the price tag, which would be a mistake.

I don’t need to remind you that we spend more on “defense” spending than the next seven nations combined, or that we keep throwing money at dead-end industries like coal and oil. If we decided that we wanted to unite our coasts with a sprawling high-speed rail system, I’m quite certain we could find the political and economic will to make it happen.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

American Tyrants: Four Presidents That Failed Us

Photo credit: House Divided Project (Flickr)

We’ve had some good presidents, and we’ve had some not-so-good presidents. These days, unfortunately, our position on either side of the political aisle convinces us that we can tell the difference.

There’s little question that President Obama has courted controversy for most of his time in office so far, the most recent example being his executive order on immigration. While we’re still awaiting the verdict of history, and I myself am stuck somewhere between calling him a tyrant and naming him a groundbreaker, I thought it might be time to get a little bit of perspective.

Which past presidents became famous for their administration’s failures? I’m not talking about the occasional scandal here and there; no, I’m talking about the U.S. presidents who left the whole country reeling with their terrifically bad decisions.

Below are four U.S. presidents who could be considered the worst of the worst. My essential criteria for determining this are simple:

  1. Their damage affected multiple facets of American society.
  2. They helped to destabilize trust in the U.S. government.
  3. The effects of their decisions lasted into the next administration.

Let’s get started, shall we?

#1: Jimmy Carter

No matter your party affiliation, paying obscene gas prices (and waiting in quarter-mile, bumper-to-bumper lines to fill up your DeLorean) was probably not one of your top-five favorite things in the world if you had a set of wheels in the 80’s. Needless to say, this certainly didn’t do any favors for the U.S. economy–and things got bad. Very, very bad.

But how did we end up in a prolonged Oil Crisis in the first place? And how did the oil investment playbook change as a result? Well, price controls tend to lead to shortages, especially on commodities. Gasoline is one such commodity. Carter, apparently, was not very good with things like economics, which is probably why he implemented the Marx Method of fixing a capitalist economy.

Then again, he also had issues with things like foreign policy, too (which was another reason why OPEC wasn’t doing us any favors on oil). Essentially, the Iranian Revolution could not have happened without Carter’s facepalm-worthy decisions – and to make a long story short, the Iranians decided to take 52 American hostages.

Say what you will about Reagan; at least he managed to get those Americans back on our home turf.

#2: James Buchanan

With some presidents, you have to wonder if they were just bad at their jobs or they were implementing the Joker method of fixing the world by watching it burn. With James Buchanan, I’m thinking he just ran for the presidency because he wanted to live in a white house. Either way, the U.S. Civil War began on his watch: When Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, his reply went something like this: “Do what you want.” Then he promptly abandoned the fort.

He also reacted largely the same way when an economic depression hit the country, called the Panic of 1857. Did he blunder by making some bad decisions in an attempt to fix it? Actually, no. In fact, he took virtually no action at all (or maybe he played a round of golf in Wheatland). Basically, the entire U.S. was going broke; and half the country was ready to split.

And Buchanan just did not want to be bothered by those things. He did, however, want to buy Cuba – and he was willing to mug Spain for it if they weren’t in the mood to sell.

Lucky for us, he practically gave his job to the next guy.

#3: Richard Nixon

Was he a crook?

According to him, the answer was no. As for the rest of the country, the answer was a clear and resounding: Yes, you’re a crook, Mr. Nixon. In fact, whenever you hear about any modern political scandal with the suffix -gate, it’s because of Nixon.

The Watergate office complex was the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and Nixon wasn’t fond of the Dems because, well, he was a Republican. So he decided to bug them, NSA-style, and then lie about it to the American people. Well, it didn’t take long for us to find out; but he quit before we could fire him. If only we had an Edward Snowden back then.

Basically, Richard Nixon might have single-handedly caused an entire generation of Americans to become politically complacent and completely distrustful of government. It even galvanized Congress into amending the Freedom of Information Act. The Watergate scandal is basically why we don’t have much faith in our fearless leaders anymore — and I can’t say I blame us, after realizing that the president was up to his neck in corruption.

#4: Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson apologists may sometimes claim that his only true failure was the unrealistic scope of his ambitions. The truth is much simpler: Johnson was a failure because he had no idea how to follow through on his vision.

In 1964, Johnson delivered a speech about what he liked to call the “Great Society.” It laid out his plans for turning America into a place where we were free from poverty, racial injustice, and even boredom. It sounded like a fine plan, to be sure; but like those of too many politicians, it had little basis in reality – and was ultimately a failure.

His very obvious lack of direction also informed his disastrous handling of the Vietnam War; his plan began and ended with a vacuous mission statement about defeating the communists, but commenced without any obvious endgame in mind.

Arguably his worst failing, though, was his outright corruption. Johnson and his wife, thanks to close ties with then-FCC chairman Clifford Durr, managed to amass a personal fortune thanks to their television monopoly in Austin, Texas. What began as a simple purchase of station KTBC by Lady Bird Johnson in 1943 became instead one of the most egregious examples of an American politician using his position for financial gain.

The Takeaways

With the U.S. still reeling from some seriously stressful mid-term elections, it might be time to readdress the role of the average American citizen in government. It’s never been clearer that many of us don’t see past the red or blue or campaign banners when we pull the lever in the voting booth; we vote with our hearts instead of our heads, and we end up getting losers like these four gentlemen above for no other reason than because they’re not the other guy.

Barack Obama’s place in presidential history remains uncertain; but one has to admire his pioneering spirit, even if it’s legally ambiguous and perhaps ill-timed. To revisit the immigration issue for a moment, I do mourn for a country where the president takes action on his own; but considering how many other immigration bills have been in a holding pattern for years, it’s time something was done.

No matter what you have to say about our president, one thing is clear: for examples of truly failed presidencies, we need only look backward in history – and sometimes it’s not that far back at all.

Photo credit: House Divided Project (Flickr)

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

California Now Has A Law That Defines Consensual Sex

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The California Senate has just passed a bill that would define, in the context of college campuses, precisely what “consensual sex” means. It’s meant to provide a way for colleges to effectively and accurately handle cases of sexual assault.

The bill would require colleges to adopt a standard student conduct policy that would define consensual sex as an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement.” In other words, consenting to sexual intercourse would require the participants to explicitly indicate their intentions – a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.”

If voted into law, colleges across the state would be required to use the new definition in all correspondence, printed materials, and educational orientations. Any school that receives state funding would be beholden to the new law.

The bill is an answer to recent concerns that the rate of sexual assaults on college campuses has reached “crisis levels.” In fact, previous hotspots for unwanted sexual activity, like Missoula, Montana, are now considered just average.

California’s bill is hardly surprising, though it is a long time coming. Universities have been under pressure from a number of sources – the federal government and student activism groups, to name two – to take stronger action against the widespread problem of sexual assault.

Efforts to – for lack of a better term – standardize consent in a sexual context aren’t exactly a new idea. In fact, there are about 800 campuses across the country that have adopted similar policies. What is unprecedented, though, is the fact that this marks the first occasion where a state government has made a concerted effort to collaborate on guidelines that had heretofore been in the hands of the country’s educational institutions and their respective student handbooks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, efforts to standardize sexual consent have not been without their share of critics. For example, Harvard’s recently rewritten sexual assault policies declined to provide black-and-white definitions of affirmative consent, which drew some fire from women’s advocacy groups. Mia Karvonides, Harvard’s Title IX officer, defended the decision by pointing out that there simply is no “standard definition of affirmative consent.”

A particularly contentious variation of affirmative consent policies came out of Ohio’s Antioch University in 1991. The standards required verbal consent between partners for “each level” of sexual activity. They went so far as to insist that moaning doesn’t count. Clearly, educational institutions have been struggling for quite some time to accurately and reasonably define affirmative consent in a way that has something to do with the way real human beings interact with each other.

Regrettably, sexual assault has become an increasingly serious (or at least increasingly well-publicized) problem all across the country. It was reported earlier this year that reports of sexual assault in the military have risen dramatically over the last few years, making personal safety a bigger priority than ever for active duty servicemen and women. Coupled with the rise in sexual assaults on college campuses, one might feel that labeling the situation a “crisis” isn’t unwarranted after all.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Six Of The Best Social Blunders In American Politics


Chances are if a politician is speaking, he or she is trying to string words together that are likely to strike a chord with whatever audience happens to be at hand.

Do politicians ever believe the words they’re saying? Probably. It must happen from time to time.

While a lot of the words that come out politicians’ mouths are unimaginative (if you recall, President Obama’s original campaign slogan was “Yes We Can”), others can be downright stupefying.

There are moments of unintended greatness where politicians say something that’s either incredibly misguided or incredibly stupid, totally by accident. These gaffes are what some politicos live for. Let’s take a look at six of the best gaffes in recent memory:

1. “Chuck, stand up, let the people see you.”

Anyone who knows anything about Joe Biden knows that he is a man who is all too prone to sticking his foot in his mouth. In 2008, then-vice presidential candidate Biden was at a campaign stop in St. Louis when he tried to get the audience to recognize the work of state Senator Chuck Graham (D-Columbia). Biden asked Graham to stand up in order to be recognized by those in attendance. The problem? Graham, a paraplegic, is confined to a wheelchair. The vice president quickly corrected his remark, telling the people to stand up for Chuck instead. They did.

2. “We bomb Russia in five minutes.”

Everyone has to test out a microphone before going forward with a live speech. President Ronald Reagan learned that the hard way. Prior to giving a weekly radio address in 1984, Reagan joked about outlawing Russia before saying that the U.S. was going to commence bombing it within five minutes. While the press corps and staffers in attendance found the The Gipper’s off-the-cuff remarks quite funny, the same could not be said about Reagan’s political foes and other Americans, who thought the comment was insensitive and made in poor taste.

3. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

If Hurricane Katrina never happened, chances are not that many people would know who Michael DeWayne Brown is. Appointed the director of FEMA under President George W. Bush, Brown was in charge of helping restore normalcy to New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana following the unprecedented 2005 storm. Nearly 10 years later, that city is still not the same ­­– a testament to the chaos that unfolded after Katrina hit. Still, shortly after the storm came and left, Bush famously complimented Brown in a quote that will live on forever.

4. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Yes: an educated man who ascended the ranks to be elected to represent his congressional district uttered those asinine words. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R) was actually running for a Missouri senate seat against Claire McCaskill (D) when he said those words on television in 2012. At the time, Akin actually served on the House Science Committee. The worst part about this whole situation? Nearly 40 percent of Missourians still voted for Akin.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

7 Things Public Schools Should Teach But Don’t

Photo credit: superkimbo (Flickr)

Most of us realize by now, no matter how we identify ourselves politically, that our public school system is a bit of a miserable failure. With a budget just the tiniest fraction of what we spend on national aggression/defense, it’s really no surprise at all that our teachers and students alike lack both motivation and results.

The thing is, it’s not just the pitifully small budgets of our nation’s schools that are failing our children, but the curriculum itself.

Public schools exist, at least ostensibly, to prepare young people for life in college and, after that, the “real world.” Nothing else matters – certainly not cocktail party-caliber trivia that we’ll forget right after we take the test.

What we should be giving our children is a practical, working knowledge about how to survive as adults–and a thorough understanding of how the world, our government, and our society really works.

And we’re not. As a survivor of public school, I’d like to take you through the following list of the top seven things that public schools don’t teach our children – and why they’re so important.

1. How to budget

There are few things as important to surviving adulthood than knowing how to budget your money. My very first allowance was just $1 a week, but my parents taught me that I could save for a few weeks and buy something I really wanted. Later on, they taught me to save for college.

Not everybody is lucky enough to have parents like mine; our public schools need to remind kids that saving money and balancing a checkbook isn’t just a decent idea – it’s essential for survival.

2. Basic repair skills

I think it’s criminal that so few young people today could change a tire if they had to. Or install a new showerhead or kitchen faucet. Or even just do some proper lawn care or basic painting and plaster work.

Frankly, someday you’re going to “accidentally” punch a hole in a wall with either a body part or an errant piece of furniture; and you’re going to want to patch it up before your landlord finds out and blows your security deposit at the nearest casino.

3. How the stock market works

I’m not saying that every child in school needs to be encouraged to seek their fortune buying stock in uppity social networks and smartphone manufacturers, but c’mon; how many adults really know how this thing works? Most of us grow up hearing about the stock market on a regular basis, and yet it remains a huge blind spot for the majority of Americans.

4. Sex education

I’m not going to make any friends in the right-wing by adding this one to the list, but I’m going to stand by it anyway; our kids need to be taught about sex. You know why? Because they’re going to “do it” no matter what we tell them, or how vociferously we preach abstinence.

To put it simply, abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. Acting as though it does, and insisting that our kids remain ignorant about sex, is simply irresponsible.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom