06 November 2006

Politics as usual

Is anyone else disgusted with the estimated $2.6 billion being spent on the mid-term elections? Does anyone else find this unacceptable? I am absolutely flabbergasted by the way our political process has been high jacked by political action committees (PACs) and big money contributions. If ever there was a reason for real campaign finance reform this is it.

If you think that big money is only going to the republicans, think again. I heard a story on National Public Radio recently how businesses are hedging their bets and funneling money into both the democrats and republicans coffers. The majority of this money is spent on attack ads which have no substance and rarely tell a voter anything about the candidate. Unfortunately Americans are stupid enough to believe the attack ads because we are lazy and refuse to do our homework. We refuse to critically think about the issues and instead accept what is told us or merely vote along party lines.

People talk about making the political system accessible to the American people. But this type of campaigning shows me that only those that are rich or those with one hand in the pocket of a multiple PACs can win. That goes for both parties. We have truly lost our representative democracy. When are we going to take it back?

02 November 2006

Open Letter to the Democrats and Republicans

Something unique is occurring this election season. I hear more and more people fed up with Washington. The media is quick to seize upon this and proclaim that people are fed up with the republicans and Bush’s failed approach in Iraq. Of course, the media never listens to anyone but themselves. If they listened closely they would hear the discontent of the American people with the entrenched two-party political system.

I have heard some people refer to the two-party system as the repubicrats and the democlans. Is there really a difference between the two parties? Yes and no. The differences are only apparent when it comes to the fringe topics like abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and flag burning. When it comes to spending like a kid in a candy shop there is no difference. When it comes to doing what is best for the country beyond their term in office they both chose political self-preservation for short-term gain over smart, long-term solutions. When it comes to making the hard choices they both prefer to focus on nonsensical, unimportant issues that are easy to solve instead of digging into the details, rolling up their sleeves and solving the problems that vex us now and will vex their grandchildren in the future. When it comes to presenting real ideas and talking about the issues both parties prefer to attack and attack and attack the other instead of propose, debate in a civil manner, compromise and solve.

I firmly believe that the republican and democratic parties have completely lost touch with what is important for America and its citizens. The republicans have absolutely squandered their opportunity for the last six years to be the party of ideas and solutions. The people speak out and our elected officials do not listen. These parties have no answers for me. In fact, I have no choices in this election. I can vote for either the democrats or the republicans and comfortably know that our national debt will increase, pork barrel spending will remain the same or increase, our borders will not be protected, we will not be given choice when it comes to our inadequate education system, and our hemorrhaging social programs will not be overhauled. I know this because the political system we have now is impotent. I know this because there are NO leaders in either party.

So democratic and republican candidates, what am I to do? You do not give me a real choice. I can’t vote for the progressives (just a different name for socialists) or the libertarians (come on, this is not an option).

This is a particular problem in Missouri this year in the senate race. McCaskill is clueless. Anyone that thinks the Bush administration can control the price of gasoline is an idiot in my book. How can I elect a senator that has no understanding of supply and demand and the futures markets? Then there is Talent, or as I like to say Talentless. I have met the man and am far from impressed. He was one of the brain trust behind the $100 rebate to Americans when gas prices were increasing and stupid people in SUVs were complaining. Instead of making sure that America is the leader in renewable energy technology (which would be a good thing for our economy, no?) he thinks more of the same is needed. The man is merely a talking head for the republican party. I doubt he has a single unique thought attributable to his own intellect.

That is how bad it has become. We are left with a choice of the lesser of the two evils. Is that really a choice? I suppose my only choice is to write myself in this year and hope that a real candidate will emerge in future elections. Until then I will dream the impossible dream of a REAL third party option.

Photo by KCthinker. Cat in doorway, San Juan, Puerto Rico

08 October 2006

Society in Decay

My soul had been filled with hope and new energy upon my return from the Dominican Republic. Being back in the United States and listening to politics-as-usual, senseless shootings of innocent girls, and the general ridiculousness of our society I have found my soul aching with the same feeling that I had before I went on my trip. It is no wonder that many teenagers have an empty feeling nowadays. Can someone please tell me what we have to be joyful about in the United States other than the obvious freedoms that come with our representative democracy? Yes, freedoms are great to have, but if you feel there is no hope how can you make the most of those freedoms? If you feel like there is nothing more to life than the disconnected relationships we have and the latest X-box game, how can you feel love and hope. I know I do not find joy in the crap coming out of Hollywood. Yet most people tend to spend most of their free time watching TV instead of talking or reading or living.

Our society is in decay. If you have not noticed this you need to get your head out of the sand. I have said it a hundred times and I will say it again. We have come to value selfishness over selflessness. We have come to believe that the American Dream is to be famous. We value things more than people. We have lost touch with what is important because we value money over relationships. We need to reconnect with each other on a more personal level than a My Space page or a blackberry. Take a look at the news for all the evidence of how our society is rotting. More prisoners than we know what to do with. Violent crimes against children. Sexual exploitation being sold on the internet, TV, and radio. People killing people over the most trivial things.

The true American dream I believe is the dream of most every person on this planet (I say most because there is the minority whose dream is to inflict suffering on everyone else). The American dream is to have the opportunity to do unique and creative and awesome things no matter where you come from. From the simplest to the complex; whatever it may be it is the dream within each of us to soar and achieve whatever we set our mind to. That is what makes humans so unique. We have the ability to reach for the stars. We have that imagination. We can have that determination. We must recapture that dream. We must hold it within our souls so that it may warm us and comfort us even during the most trying times. We owe that to our parents, our grandparents, our children, and our grandchildren.

I do not have all the answers. I just know with every fiber of my being that we are heading towards a cliff. The only way to avoid the cliff is to turn away from it. We must figure out what is really important and what is not and make changes in our lives so that our children do not grow up to be selfish empty shells.

The start is as simple as turning off the TV and computer. Reach out to a real person.

07 August 2006

"When what you have done in the past looks large to you, you haven't done much today." ~ Roycrofters: Epigrams of the Day

06 August 2006

La Romana, Dominican Republic Batey Water Study: Part I

I recently went to the Dominican Republic for an opportunity to give back. I went under the auspices of testing water in rural areas of the Dominican Republic. More specifically the bateys (think small villages) in and around the sugar cane fields (think fields of corn) outside of La Romana. I never went to the beach or the resort; I was too busy for that and I did not seem to mind in the least. My experience rejuvenated my soul and filled my heart with hope.

If you have read any of my other posts, you will get a sense that I have been somewhat depressed. I am frustrated with our consumer-driven, selfish culture. A culture which now thinks that being famous is the American dream. I am angered by our government’s lack of will to deal with the real issues in favor of the easy, petty ones. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to go to La Romana and begin what I hoped would be a new journey. My education and training have largely been focused on wasting tax payer dollars (another frustration which has seated itself fairly deeply in my soul). I wanted to actually use my education and training to help people that really need it and want it.

To make a long story short I became involved in the La Romana project because my wife took a drive through West Virginia and read Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer. In the past year my wife has visited Rwanda with Dr. Farmer, participated in a medical mission to Haiti, and organized a global health symposium in Kansas City. Through her I was introduced to a local math teacher who has been working in Haiti. Through him I was introduced to a woman who has been going to La Romana for many years conducting medical missions to the bateys. As part of the medical mission she had long been wondering what the quality of available drinking water was in the bateys (dirty water makes it difficult for people to remain healthy). She wanted to replicate the program started in Haiti. She has also worked with a local engineer for a few years and was wondering if I could go down to La Romana and work with him and train him. The task of collecting and surveying the water sources in the area is immense. There are over 120 bateys outside of La Romana that the medical missions serve.

I arrived late at night because of a lengthy delay in San Juan. Danny, the local engineer, and his wife met me anyway. I was grateful that they waited as long as they did. Although I could probably find my way to the dormitory I would be staying at, it was late and I was in a country I never had been to before. Did I mention that I do not know any Spanish? Danny drove me to the dormitory where all the mission groups stay. When I arrived the team from Azusa Pacific College was fast asleep. I lay in a bunk bed and sweat away my first night in La Romana.

The Azusa Pacific College team welcomed me as if I were part of their team. They were a small group of 6 women and 4 men. Each day they would visit one or two bateys and hold a medical clinic in the batey’s church or school. Because Danny and I made our own schedule I only saw them in action twice when our paths happened to cross. I commend these college students and their professional leaders for the work they do. If it were not for the medical missions the people in the bateys may not receive any medical care at all. I would be exposed to this kind of selfless service again and again during my stay in La Romana. Good people using their vacation to help people who need desperately need it.

Photos by KCThinker. La Romana, Dominican Republic, July 2006

"It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do." ~ Roycrofters: Epigrams of the Day

18 July 2006

Voter ID?

In the last Mexican election voters were required to show ID. The election was hailed by many international observers as a model election. To be fair, there are accusations of fraud, but it is Mexico; do we really expect anything less?

Now let's look at the United States. Many states like Georgia and Missouri have passed laws to require photo ID to vote. This sounds like a simple measure to prevent fraud. This should be straightforward and easy to implement. No additional equipment should be needed. But the usual suspects are claiming that these kinds of policies that are intended to limit voter fraud limit access to the process. Yes, there are people that do not drive and travel and therefore would not necessarily have a driver's license, passport, or other type of ID. So let us work to get them the necessary ID. I suppose the naysayers would rather allow illegal aliens and others not elegible to vote to participate in our representative democracy.


28 June 2006


Okay. I get that flag burning is seen as unpatriotic and some people have a problem with it. Do we really need an amendment banning it? Aren’t there more important things that need to be debated and legislated than flag burning? Is flag burning a matter of life or death? Does flag burning limit our pursuit of life, liberty, and the American Dream? How exactly does an amendment banning flag burning affect the American people? The only flag burning I see is being done by people not in this country (e.g., Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.).

By the way, the proper way to dispose of a used and tattered United States of America flag is summarized as follows:

“There are several ways in which you may give your American flag the proper retirement without showing disgrace to this great country. If you would like to dispose of the flag yourself then the most fitting way is to hold your own, private ceremony. The U.S. Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferable by burning." After your flag has been burned, the ashes should be buried.”

This begs the question: “If I burn it for disposal purposes would I be breaking the law if the anti-flag burning amendment were passed?”

The real answer as to why the Republicans are hell bent to debate such trivial issues like flag burning is a simple one. In the run up to the fall elections, the politicians are acting like second grade school children. They figure that by “debating” such legislation as flag burning, gay marriage, and the Iraq war they will have ammo come fall. They can point to their opponent and say that he/she is an unpatriotic, pro-gay that does not support the military. In other words, it is a simple child’s game being played with our tax dollars. It galls me that people in such seats of responsibility can be that careless, inconsiderate, selfish, and moronic.

Off hand I can rattle off at least 10 things that are more important than a flag burning amendment.

1. MEDICARE REFORM – Fix the ill-conceived Medicare program before it totally cripples our economy. Any expert worth their salt has been saying for years that this is a huge looming problem. The completely ridiculous and costly prescription drug plan only makes matters worse. Thanks for mortgaging my children’s future for AARP votes.

2. SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM – Fix the ill-conceived Social Security program before it totally cripples our economy (notice a trend here?). Again, thanks for not discussing this to pander to the AARP crowd. And yes, John Kerry, saving social security includes cutting benefits. Anyone that can do math can understand that the current system is not sustainable without HUGE payroll tax increases that will result in an enormous burden on generations to come.

3. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION – Enforce the existing laws, hold employers accountable, and secure the border. This should be a simple fix but both parties are playing the numbers here. Both parties want the future Hispanic vote.

4. BALANCED BUDGET – Stop being irresponsible with our tax dollars and start being fiscally responsible. Here again, pork = reelection.

5. ENERGY POLICY – Figure out a meaningful energy policy to start eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels. The United States of America should be the leader in this field. It just makes economic sense, whether you agree with Al Gore or not. And to all those limousine and leer jet environmentalists, get off your high horses and embrace the wind farms that ruin your precious view. Don’t preach to us and then go all NIMBY.

6. HEALTH CARE – It is a crying shame that the “richest” country on the planet cannot provide adequate health care to all its citizens. (I say “richest” because we have an $8 trillion national debt and much more than that in consumer debt.)

7. REAL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM – Stop giving me the bullshit line about it limiting free speech. Not much of a level playing field if I run against someone who happens to be a multi-millionaire with lots of money to spend on radio and TV adds and I being a simple civil/environmental engineer have very little money to spend on such frivolities. Personally, the ads never affect me because I happen to be able to look at the facts instead of swallowing every hook, line, and sinker on TV. Not to mention that the billions of dollars wasted on these elections is morally reprehensible.

Okay, I could only think of 7 things. At least it would be a start in the right direction.

If the waste-of-skin politicians cannot even do 1 of the 7 things I listed above, they should at least provide us with some flag burning safety legislation. I mean, a serious fire could be started by accident while waving around that burning flag. Not to mention the toxic fumes released by burning the polyester flags. EPA could get involved and do a risk analysis. NOAA could do an analysis of the proper weather conditions for flag burning. OSHA could draft some safety regulations. It would at least justify some of the fat in those governmental organizations.

Photo from http://www.theodora.com/flags/new8/flag_burning_1.html

13 June 2006

What are you offended by?

It seems lately everyone is immediately offended by something, no matter what the context is or how inconsequential that something may be. Feel free and try my little quiz below to see how you rate on the offensive meter.

1. Are you offended by a fictional book which questions the pillars on which a religion was built or a severely battered woman who clings to life in a hospital because her husband came home in a bad mood and didn't like her cooking?

2. Are you offended by the nativity scene in a public square at Christmas or a homeless person shivering to death in the cold of December?

3. Are you offended by little girls and boys dressed up as witches and devils and cowboys and hobos at Halloween or a known child molester set free to rape, molest, and possibly kill children?

4. Are you offended by a football locker room in pink or politicians deciding that it is too difficult to implement HIV/AIDS programs in Africa so why bother?

5. Are you offended by Bill Cosby telling the truth or a man fathering several children by several different women and not supporting any of them?

6. Are you offended by a sports team with a native Indian mascot or a mother holding her dying child with no hope because she cannot get the medicine or clean water she needs to care for her child?

7. Are you offended by cartoons questioning the violent nature of a religion or the religion itself being used to justify violence?

8. Are you offended by God on our money and in the pledge of allegiance or that one of the richest countries in the world cannot provide adequate healthcare to all its citizens?

9. Are you offended by teaching safe sex in any context to stop the spread of STDs and unwanted pregnancies or insisting that only abstinence be taught because of religious reasons?

10. Are you offended by providing a cervical cancer vaccine on the grounds that it may or may not increase the likelihood of kids having sex or NOT providing a life saving cervical cancer vaccine that will save thousands of women every year?

11. Are you offended by two loving and committed gay people joining in holy matrimony or the 50 percent divorce rate among heterosexual marriages (not to mention the fly-by-night marriages of the Hollywood elite)?

Yes, these examples are extreme opposites. But they drive home the point of what is important and what really is not. If you thought the first example was more offensive than the second in all of the above, your priorities are really screwed up. I recommend getting out more and looking beyond Survivor, 700 Club, Lost, or American Idol. Take the earbuds out, turn off the ipod and smell the roses.

If you thought the first example was more offensive than the second in some of the above, there is still hope for you. Try to understand what is important and what really does not amount to a hill of beans in the greater scheme of things.

If you thought the second example was more offensive than the first in all of the above, I commend you. You have opened yours eyes and see that there is more to life than the meaningless and ridiculous crap we seem to put up with everyday. But let me ask you one more thing, what are you doing about it?

Photo by KCThinker, Waterfall, Catskills, New York

01 June 2006

The Ruling (Dullard) Elite

I shook my head when I heard Representative Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) denouncing the recent FBI search and seizure of documents from Representative William Jefferson’s (D-Louisiana) office. The fact that the FBI had a warrant made no difference to Mr. Hastert. The fact that Mr. Jefferson had hid $90,000 in his freezer made no difference. The fact that a judge had issued the warrant to the FBI to conduct a search of Mr. Jefferson’s office made no difference. The gall of Mr. Hastert to say there needs to be separation of powers and that the FBI could not conduct a warranted search of a U.S. representative’s office shows us average Americans, yet again, just how out of touch our government officials are with the real people. Let me get this straight, warrantless wiretaps can be conducted in the name of national security, but warranted searches in support of a bribery investigation of a U.S. representative is off limits. Oh, I see, it is okay if our rights are trampled on, but lord forbid you investigate a U.S. representative because heaven help you Dennis Hastert will get all over you.

They have no clue. The only time these morons seem to listen to us is when they think they can easily garner our favor by enacting some worthless legislation such as the $100 gas tax holiday that was recently proposed. I am insulted that these representatives and senators think I am that dense that I do not see through their political pandering. I am insulted that these cretins think they know better what is best for this country and me. All they know how to do is spend the future away through self-serving pork barrel projects and unaffordable entitlement programs.

We need to throw the bums out – democrats and republicans. We need to form a Common Sense party. We need term limits to fire the career politicians. (Think how long some of these guys have been in there. Is that good? I say no.) We need real campaign finance reform. (Sorry McCain, your reform sucks.) We need elected officials that will put the interests of the American people as a whole above the lobbyists. We need elected officials that will think beyond their re-election cycle and consider the impact their legislation has on future generations of Americans.

I rue the day I have to tell my daughter that we knew we could not afford Medicare and Social Security long before she was born and we did NOTHING about it.

Side bar: Did you know that more than $4 BILLION was spent overall on the 2004 election cycle? You can provide a lot of poor people with clean drinking water for that amount of money.

Photo by KCThinker. Perennial Garden, Powell Gardens, Kingsville, Missouri.

28 April 2006

Who is to Blame for High Gas Prices?

A while back I was in Paris, France. Next to the restaurant we were eating at I saw a drunken homeless guy passed out. Amazingly enough he managed to hold up his hand in the hope of getting some money. Unbeknownst to him, his cheap wine was spilling from his bottle onto the ground. That is how I equate our addiction with oil. We are vastly ignorant of the world around us, but we complain and demand that something be done about high gasoline prices while we willingly fill the tanks of our cars and trucks.

How about some perspective? No one complains when they pay $7.50 a gallon for bottled water or Coca Cola or Mountain Dew at the gas station (take a 0.5 liter bottle for $1 and do the math – 1 gallon is approximately 3.785 liters). By the same token, a 0.5 liter bottle of $3 a gallon gasoline is about $0.40. There is significantly less processing and handling with water when compared to gasoline.

No one was complaining when oil was less than $15 a barrel (a barrel is 42 gallons by the way) and gasoline was less than $1 a gallon and oil companies were losing money and laying people off. No one was complaining when gasoline hit $2 a gallon. Now with gasoline breaking the $3 a gallon barrier again this year people are clamoring for “help” and our politicians are more than ready to oblige with ridiculous legislation in order to garner our support in the upcoming election cycle. The latest Senate bill includes an increase in refining capacity and development of known oil reserves in ANWR and in the Gulf of Mexico which is important in reducing gasoline prices and our dependence on foreign oil over the long-term. However, words cannot begin to describe the exasperation that I have with the following portions of this bill:

  • A gas tax holiday rebate for consumers of $100;
  • Suspension of deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for six months to make more oil available for consumer use; and
  • Consumer Anti-Price Gouging Protection
The $100 rebate check is the most irresponsible idea to come out of Washington D.C. in recent times. This is a meaningless gesture by our government representatives to garner favor in an election year. First, the $100 will not solve the problem. It only puts a small band aid on a larger, gaping wound. Second, we have record deficits and are borrowing more than $1 billion a day. Now you want to spend even more money that the federal government does not have. Third, it will do nothing to lower gas prices.

How exactly will this work? Do both my wife and I get $100 because we both drive? Do we get $300 because we have daughter? What is the cost of producing the checks and sending them out? How much more of a burden will this have on the federal deficit? I personally do not feel comfortable with borrowing $100 from my daughter and future grand children to satisfy the reelection goals of career politicians.

Suspending oil deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will have NO affect on gas prices and is also very shortsighted. Without increased oil refining capacity the extra oil will have NO impact on gas prices. Instead, the legislation should have included measures to unify the formulations of gasoline so that these refineries do not have to make a certain blend for a certain part of the country.

I am no apologist for the oil companies; however, they are making money because we consume a large volume of gasoline and diesel. Exxon-Mobil sold 89 billion gallons of gasoline last quarter. Higher consumption means more sales which translate into more profits. The profit margin per gallon of gas is roughly $0.09 per gallon. State and federal taxes per gallon average $0.459 per gallon (The federal government gets $0.184 per gallon). Who is gouging who? I would posit that they are making money through volume and not through price fixing. Will you suggest price controls? We saw how well that worked in the 1970’s.

Doesn’t the federal government already tax the oil companies’ profits? What exactly would be gained by taxing them more? Where was the government when oil companies were losing money and jobs because of the low price of oil and gasoline? The people to blame for their obscene profits are you and me because we do not reduce our consumption. We belly up to the gasoline trough on a daily basis.

Oil prices will continue to go up as China and India begin to surpass our consumption rates. That is a fact. Will the federal government continue to have inquiries and hand out checks because the law of supply and demand increases gasoline prices? The days of $1 or even $2 a gallon gasoline are long gone. The days of $3 and $4 a gallon gasoline are here. Deal with it. Use it as an opportunity to see that America has an oil addiction. Use this opportunity to look forward and invest in new technology that will make America the leader in alternative fuels and energy. We can sit around and mope and institute worthless stop gap measures, or we can heed the early warning and create and prosper by a different path. Change is upon us and unless you realize it and act upon it America will become nothing more than an addict wandering around mumbling about how it needs more oil.

If you want to do something about high gasoline prices sell your SUV, buy a diesel (my diesel VW Jetta wagon gets on average 45 mpg) or hybrid automobile, car pool, bicycle, walk, or use the bus. Stop bitching about it, because we are all part of the problem. And if you drive a large SUV like an Excursion, Yukon, or Hummer I do not want to hear your woes. You made your bed now sleep in it.

Photo by KCThinker. Street sign on side road in the Black Forest, Germany.

12 April 2006

It is Time for a Revolution

It is time to take back our government from the special interests and the wannabe movie star-like representatives and senators. It is time to kick out the Democrats and Republicans and try something new. They have had more than 100 years to figure it out and I have had it with them. Okay, every once in awhile they have done something right (civil rights legislation, for example), but the last 15 years have seen our government representatives turn into adults with nothing more than a grade school mentality. They argue like two third graders except with bigger words and an all too willing press corps.

It is time to call bullshit on both parties. I am sick of both parties dodging the big issues in favor of steroids in baseball or complaining about how unfair the college bowl championship series is or finger pointing after Hurricane Katrina or why a United Arab Emirates company should not run some of our ports or using a controversial topic like immigration to pull out the race card. (Look over there stupid Americans while I screw you over here and over here). I am tired of hearing one party complain about the other parties’ ideas without proposing their own ideas. I am tired of our politicians changing their stances at the drop of some stupid poll that sampled two hundred people. I am sick of the pork barrel spending projects. I am disgusted by the lack of responsibility these government representatives have for our hard earned money (we are borrowing over $1 billion a day to keep this country running). I am flabbergasted that these folks do not have a single unique idea in their heads and care more for their political careers than their country.

This country needs leadership desperately. Neither party has impressed me lately. I think a comparison of the Al Franken show on Air American and the Rush Limbaugh show on the EIB network sums it up best for me. While listening to Al Franken recently I heard that the Republicans were screwing up national security and do not have a plan. Tuning into Rush Limbaugh I heard that the Democrats were screwing up national security and do not have a plan. I think both are right in a manner of speaking. Neither party has a clue nor are they willing to stick their necks out for fear of the electorate. It is a bloody shame because the time to act with common sense is upon us. We need to get serious about our skyrocketing national debt, the impending social security and health care crises, failing education, illegal immigration, and a myriad of other important topics. Let’s figure out what went wrong when something goes wrong and fix it instead of playing the blame game and having hearings after hearings after hearings, and months and years later rehashing it again because we learned nothing from all those hearings. We keep making the same mistakes over and over. Partisan bickering does not do this country any good.

We need real leaders who are willing to fight the K Street special interests and do what is right, not what is politically expedient for their careers. We need to work together to solve problems. We need to take back our representative democracy.

I used to think that the Democrats had it right. Then I decided that they did not and started voting for Republicans. Now I find myself with no one to vote for. Voting for the lesser of two evils at this point is not a real choice. Is it wrong to want real choice when it comes to our elected representatives?

Photo by KCThinker. Root in rocks with leaves and water. Catskills, New York.

31 March 2006

Immigration Reform

Nothing bothers me more than having a complex issue boiled down to a simplistic statement on a cardboard sign while waving a Mexican flag. Americans are not racist for suggesting that immigration reform is needed. This is not a black and white issue and the time for immigration reform is long past due.

Do I mind that there are illegal immigrants here in the United States? Yes and no. I do not like that these people are thumbing their noses at our laws; however, American was built by immigrants. I am the son of immigrants.

Do we need illegal immigrants? It seems that some companies are not willing to pay top dollar for jobs that are not very desirable and Americans appear to be unwilling to do the "dirty" and hard jobs. Illegal immigrants provide cheap labor to these companies, keep prices down for Americans and, undeniably, illegal immigrants work harder than most Americans. However, I do not buy the excuse wholesale that illegal immigrants do the work that Americans do not want to do. That may be the case in some jobs, but I think Americans would do the work if those jobs paid more. Some Americans are losing their jobs to cheaper illegal immigrant labor - this is particularly prevalent in the construction industry (where people are willing to work - just not at cut-rate wages).

Should illegal immigration be a crime? Technically, it is already. If I were to enter another country by sneaking across a border, I would be entering illegally and breaking that country's laws. If I entered a country and started working on false identification, I would be breaking the law. That said, what do we do with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants? It does not make sense to round them up and deport them. It does not make sense to charge them with a felony. But it is also not fair to allow them easy legal status when those who come here legally have to jump through so many hoops. We need to implement immigration reform that requires them to register and start the process of becoming legal immigrants. However, this kind of “amnesty” means nothing without significantly tightening our border. We need a guest worker program of sorts.

Illegal immigration has burdened our social systems (health care and education), particularly in the southern states. Illegal immigrants go to the emergency room for minor issues like colds and never pay the bills and our schools have to spend money on English-as-a-second-language programs. Illegal immigration encourages identity theft. I would rather see Spanish and Mandarin Chinese being taught as second languages to grade school children. My parents came from Germany in the late 1960’s and have learned English. They did not expect the country they have adopted to learn their native language.

Our politicians need to think about this reform carefully and not rush headlong into reform for the sake of political maneuvering in the upcoming 2006 election cycle. Our politicians need to listen to the American people not the mobs of illegal immigrants protesting immigration reform. Smart immigration reform and not knee-jerk reaction will set us in the right direction. We need a debate where ideas are shared. Immigration reform without effectively dealing with the borders is not reform only maintenance of the status quos. Without addressing the border situation we will land right back where we started.

And please, get informed about the complexity of this issue before you start protesting. Don’t be a simpleton.

Photo Credit: High school students dance as they protest house bill HR4437 which calls for tougher border protection and immigration laws in San Francisco, California. Tens of thousands of Latinos protested across the United States, the fifth day of snowballing protests against plans for what they say is a racist a crackdown on illegal immigration.(AFP/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

28 March 2006

What Are We Leaving our Children?

Why does no one stand up and say that we cannot place the burden of $9 trillion of debt on our children and grandchildren. We have to make sacrifices, we have to cut spending and have a balanced budget this year, not in five years. I compare this to a college student taking a cash advance with their credit card so that they can deposit the money into their checking account to pay the minimum balance on the credit card. And I know college students that have done this. Another example of fiscal irresponsibility is home owners that take a home equity loan to pay off their credit cards. You may be consolidating your debt, but you are still taking a loan to pay off a loan. That does not sound very responsible, does it? Well, neither is borrowing more money to pay the interest on the debt you already have. And I know senators and representatives that have done this.

Could you look your child in the eye and apologize for not having any food to eat or clothes to wear because you went out and spent all the money on a TV you did not need? It seems that our government representatives are too busy buying TVs.

Numbers of Interest:
  • $8,347,486,113,319.40: National Debt as of March 23, 2006
  • $27,800: Your share of the national debt
  • $184 Billion: 2005 Net Interest on the National Debt. More than Education, Homeland Security, Environment, Agriculture, Healthcare Research and Foreign Aid combined
  • 2023: Year when Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Interest on the Debt will exceed all federal revenues
  • 60%: Amount Total Federal Spending must be cut to balance the budget by 2040
  • 2.5 times current tax levels to bring budget into balance in 2040
  • $35.6 Trillion: Social Security and Medicare (parts A,B, and D) shortfall

All numbers are from either the Government Accountability Office (http://www.gao.gov/) or the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of the Public Debt (http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/).

Photo by KCThinker, Frieburg, Germany, 2005

22 March 2006

The Beauty of Nature

On my way home today after spending three days in snow-choked Nebraska, I saw a beautiful site that reminded my of the beauty of nature and the wonder of spring. In the distance on east side of the road I saw a large tree with a swarm of black birds around it. As I approached, the throng of birds started moving away from the tree in the form of a strand of DNA. The teeming birds made it appear as though the DNA was twisting as it moved away from the tree, almost as if the tree were unfurling its DNA. Nature and its mysteries never cease to amaze me.

Photo by KCThinker. Butterfly in flowering bush, September 2004.

18 March 2006

The “Threat” of Out Sourcing

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death." ~ Anais Nin

The term “out sourcing” creates very different responses depending on who you talk to. Out sourcing is a reality of today’s global economy. It is a phenomenon that we can not dismiss in favor of protectionism and isolationism. The world becomes more and more interconnected everyday. Thanks to the boom years in the 1990’s, thousands of miles of fiber optic cable have been laid and now countries like India and China are taking advantage of that infrastructure. Information can be shared faster and more efficiently than at any time in our history.

What does this mean for the United States and Europe (the “old” economies)? We have to change and “go with the flow” so to speak. We can be unrealistic like the French youth who look to the past and see the socialistic comforts their parents enjoyed, or we can face reality and change our attitudes and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead in the global economy.

I understand that this is something that is very difficult for many people to accept; particularly those that have lost jobs due to out sourcing. Economies change, and with that change come hardships. Our economy in the United States has been changing over the last few decades from one based on manufacturing to one more reliant on information technology. U.S. companies are slowly adapting. And yes, there are growing pains.

But let us look at out sourcing more critically. Jobs are transferred from someone in the United States or Western Europe to countries where wages are less. This reduces operating costs for the companies (since the name of the game in the corporate world is “profit”). Share holders want returns on their investments. Unfortunately, these share holders and the stock markets in general have become greedy and even if a company meets the quarterly goals the stock can take a hit. That is the reality.

From a different perspective, the job that went to India, or elsewhere, provides an income for a family. That family’s standard of living has been raised. They can now afford more materialistic things. They may buy American made products, providing growth for American companies. The American companies may in turn expand their business and hire additional employees stateside.
Okay, still not good enough for you? The worker in a foreign country has a job that provides for his family. That person is less likely to be embittered and join with extremists bent on violence.

A colleague of my wife’s was recently remarking that he was worried for his children because of all the jobs being “exported” to India and China. Upon hearing this, my initial response was that he should be worried; especially if his kids are not learning the skills they need to survive in the global economy. It seems that everyone is concerned, as well they should be. However, no job is certain. You would still have to compete with other Americans in a non-global economy. You still have to out shine your peers. Your peers today are just across the ocean or south of the equator.
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew." ~ Abraham Lincoln

Manufacturers of horse drawn buggies had to adapt with the advent of the automobile. We have to adapt to the changing economy by being better educated and better trained and more flexible. There are many opportunities out there for those Americans willing to adapt. It just requires work, something not many Americans are used to or willing to do.

Photo by KCThinker. Tree along fence line.

14 March 2006

"That's the way things come clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they've been all along." ~ Madeleine K. L'Engle

I Want a Do-Over

Don’t you wish that sometimes you could ask for a do-over like you did when you were in grade school? That is the attitude I have with a lot of things in life right now. From the subject I chose to study at university to our elected politicians, I want a do-over.

This is not to say that my job as a civil/environmental engineer is not stable and has not rewarded me. I have a good job with a good company. Sometimes I just wonder if I was meant to do more. I think there are many people like me that come to a point in their life when they ask themselves whether what they are doing is worth it. Approaching my mid-thirties, I am asking myself “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I have many options thanks to a great education and supportive wife. What can I do that will make a difference and answer my question. There always seems to be an excuse for not taking the risk and sticking my neck on the line. Regardless, something needs to change.

Some of my options, as I see them, are teaching and public service. I feel the need to use my education and experience to make math more interesting for kids. I hear horror stories about the lack of a decent education our children are receiving from our public schools. I hear that there is a shortage of math and science teachers. I think I could fill that gap. America needs more students interested in math and science. Unless we change our attitude towards education in this country, America will continue to fall behind. Countries like India and China will be the centers of research. They have the desire. Americans’ only desire is to wallow in mediocrity and spend our future.

My other option is public service. The latest debacle over the Dubai-based company running American ports has left me very disappointed, even ashamed, with our politicians, the media, and our citizens. My encounter with a citizen in Columbus, Nebraska recently hit it home for me. I was speaking with this gentleman about the ports deal and he summed up his opinion by saying that he did not want any Arabs running our ports. It was the way he said; almost racially. The politicians taking stock of the political winds and making an issue of the ports to gain political capital for the next election cycle made it worse for me. From the moment the deal was announced I did not think this would be an issue. Former President Carter was reported to be in support of the deal. Rush Limbaugh was in support of the deal. Bill O’Reilly was in support of the deal. Heck, former President Clinton has been reported to be working behind the scenes for the Dubai-based company. If these four agree on an issue, I would think one of two things would happen: the world would end or the ports deal would be a non-issue. I did not count on the third, a complete lack of common sense by our media and our politicians.

Last week I was New Jersey for work. On my way back to the airport I was flipping channels and trying to find some decent talk radio station. The best reception was Air America and the Al Franken show. I had found the polar opposite of Rush Limbaugh. Rush constantly attacks the Democrats and Al was attacking the Republicans. This is what our political system has turned into. Each party attacks the other for political expediency. Al was complaining that President Bush was out to lunch on the ports deal and is weak on national security. Rush was complaining the Democrats have no plan and are weak on national security. Listening to both made me realize that we need a major political change in our country. The minor issues are blown out of proportion to draw attention away from a total and complete lack of regard of the bigger issues.

An independent candidate for governor in Texas, Kinky Friedman, summed it up best for me by saying the following in an article by John P. Avlon on FoxNews.com:

“There are very few Republicans and Democrats left in Texas,” Kinky says from his ranch in the Hill Country outside of Austin, where five dogs run around and Fox News plays on the TV in the background (not a plug, just a fact). “I think there are just people who are disgusted with politicians; people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

He describes the two-parties as “the Crips and the Bloods, playing little insider games with each other, like neighborhood bullies…. The only time they got off their asses is to attack each other. And they’ll do it forever. They’ll never stop until there’s an alternative available.”

I am disgusted by Washington, D.C. and the complete and utter lack of common sense. Stupidity seems to hang over the town like thick smog choking the intelligence out of our duly-elected politicians. Here are two examples of the absence of leadership in Washington, D.C.:

The first is the most recent, the Dubai ports issue. Clamoring about national security issues, the Democrats and Republicans focus on the security risks involved with handing over management of the ports to an Arab-owned company. Never mind that the United States would still be in charge of security. Never mind that our porous border is more of a security risk than the ports (read the Tom Clancy novel The Teeth of the Tiger for a scenario in which terrorists enter the United States by being smuggled across the border). If someone wanted to get something in through the ports they can do so whether the managing company is American, Arab, Chinese, African, or European. Do you really think the Dubai-based company would spend billions of dollars to blow us up when they can bribe the right people for far less? Again, distract with a minor issue and ignore the major one. To top it all off, we get knee-jerk reactions like inspecting 100 percent of containers (do you realize how many come into the country?) and mandating that ports are managed only by American companies (have you forgotten that isolationism and protectionism are not good attitudes to have in a global economy?). The Dubai-based company was pursing capitalism, not terrorism.

My second example is less obvious, Social Security reform. I blame President Bush for botching this one. I will soon be 34 years old. I fully expect that I will not see a penny of the money I pay into the Social Security system when I retire. I want control over my money. To President Bush’s credit he put it out there. He realizes that there is a problem and that we need to address it now and not in 2017 when some far flung estimate says we really need to start worrying about solvency. However, President Bush did not want to compromise. The Democrats would hear nothing of any meaningful reform and did not present a realistic plan. No honest conversation was started. The reform suggestions of the Concord Coalition, a bi-partisan think tank, are ignored in favor of pandering to AARP members. Here again, tough decisions that would not garner political capital are side stepped because the prevailing attitude of these men and women running our country is that “We do not need to do anything because the problem is so far off and I do not want lose all my AARP votes.” Instead the problem still looms out there and becomes more and more unmanageable as more and more baby boomers retire. My daughter will be paying for the inaction of our so-called leaders today. The facts are that we need to cut benefits, increase FICA taxes, and provide a personal savings plan option. Please read Running On Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It by Peter G. Peterson for a sobering reality check and to understand why Social Security reform is needed now.

Where have all the leaders gone? There used to be real leaders in this country; business men and politicians that sought real solutions to problems that vexed the nation. We are led by the dumb and dumber crew. Today’s leaders are more interested in amassing a power base, dolling out political favors, and acting like movie stars. They are courted by special interests that flaunt money and power. Both Democrats and Republicans maneuver their staff into lobbying positions in a game of nepotism.

I would like to think of myself as an independent. I think we should provide health care to those that need it. I would be willing to look at universal health care. We could make our companies more competitive by reducing the health care costs they currently incur through a nationalized system. We also need to look at prevention of diseases instead of fixing the problems. An emphasis on prevention will reduce health care costs. We also need to streamline our health care system (I was dealing with paper work from an automobile accident more than a year after my accident).

I would like to see less taxation and a more frugal government. We have a national debt of more $8 trillion. I know these are boring topics, but these are real issues that require our politicians to make tough decisions. We need to make significant cuts in spending. Tax increases are not an acceptable solution in my opinion. I liken it to personal behavior. I cannot give myself a raise just because my expenses increase. I need to cut my expenses to be in line with my income.

I do not see meaningful leadership from our President on down. I have lost faith in our elected officials and their ability to do what is right unless it helps their political “bank”. Maybe I need to jump into the fray and start my own campaign of common sense leadership. I would like to think that I would be immune from the political intrigue and the need to accumulate power. I would like to think that my common sense would filter the smog of stupidity and prevent me from becoming yet another talking head. Or maybe I should just become a math teacher to give young men and women the tools to succeed in life and hopefully guide some of them to a career in science and engineering.

Photo by KCThinker. Flock of birds on farm field in Iowa.

22 February 2006

The Hypocrisy of Washington, D.C.

A company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is purchasing ports in the United States. The Bush administration once again screws it all up by not talking to the right people ahead of time to smooth the waters. The administration is once again seen as being “secretive”. When will those clowns learn? All of sudden everyone is in an uproar. They complain of the security risks involved with selling the ports to an Arab company. A company based in UAE. The UAE happens to have had some shady dealings with terrorists in the past, but has cleaned up its act and is now cooperating with the United States. On the whole from the beginning I thought this was a non-issue. I was wrong. Left and right have united in outrage over this deal; another knee-jerk reaction by ill-informed people using this issue as an opportunity to show boat and claim to be tough on national security. Now they want hearings to show boat some more and position themselves for the next election cycle.

Today I was listening to NPR and they were talking to some Senator (does it really matter which one – they are all worthless) about the sale of the ports to this UAE company. A merchant marine called into the show. He has not agreed with a single position of the Bush administration until now. He has worked on cargo ships that have been into U.S. ports and recently a port in UAE. He claims that the UAE port is one of the most modern and efficient ports he has ever seen. He complained that ports in America were substandard. After seeing what he has seen he stated that he would welcome the UAE company to run ports in the U.S. And to add icing to the cake, he stated that the Senator that was on the show did not have a clue. Here is someone who has real experience in this matter and does not feel threatened by an Arab company taking over operation of these ports. Has anyone mentioned that security will still be controlled by the U.S.?

Why would a company spend billions to buy ports only to smuggle something into the U.S. to blow us up? They are trying to make money - that is called capitalism not terrorism. This is the same country that is
investing $15 billion in aerospace. What forward-looking country would risk an investment like that on bombing a has-been, backward-looking country like the U.S.? Am I missing something here? Please let me know where my logic is failing. It would certainly be cheaper to bribe some officials to get the job done or just smuggle the explosives into the country through our porous borders. Which brings me to the hypocrisy of our politicians... Why get your panties in a wad over the purchase of six ports by an Arab country when hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of pounds of contraband are smuggled into our country every year across the U.S.-Mexico border? Because our border security is a politically sensitive issue and these politicians would rather insult the relatively small Arab population than the growing Hispanic population. Border security would require real work, hard decisions, and practical solutions. Our Senators and Representatives are too busy basking in the glow of the media lights than to roll up their sleeves and get real work done. That is the sad truth and that is why more and more people in this country do not have a positive outlook towards the future of the U.S.

11 February 2006

“For hatred can never put an end to hatred. Love alone can.”
~ Passage from The Dhammapada

05 February 2006

The Power of a Cartoon...

Outrage over a cartoon? This is what the world has come to. So some Dane wants to express his opinion that Islam is a religion of violence. Is there any evidence to the contrary? Usama Bin Laden threatens to destroy the United States and even attacks the United States, and continues to threaten the United States in the name of Islam. Moslems seem to have no regard for life and kill other Moslems. Some harebrained idea that by killing people in the name of Islam you get to go to heaven and have your way with some virgins (makes you wonder what is promised the female terrorists). Daily we see images of suicide bombers that appear to have their direction from the Islamic faith. In the name of Islam, innocents are beheaded and the whole grizzly scene is captured on tape to be replayed to the delight of millions on Arabic speaking news stations. A cartoon is published that in the artist's opinion, Islam is a religion of violence and all of sudden riots break out that lead to the destruction of foreign missions in Syria and Lebanon. Why should we believe that Islam is not a religion of violence? I do not see important Islamic figures making important speeches denouncing violence. I do not hear Islamic religious leaders calling for peace. THE CARTOON IS THE WAY THE WORLD SEES ISLAM. Maybe instead of rioting and complaining about how we are constantly offending Moslems, Moslems everywhere should sit back and wonder why exactly the world has this notion that Islam is a religion of violence. Maybe Moslems should realize that actions speak louder than words. Maybe Moslems should be concerned that a minority in their faith have hijacked Islam for destructive purposes. Maybe they should look at the root cause for religious extremism - poverty, lack of opporunities, corrupt governments, and poor education. Where does all that money go that Moslems obediently tithe? Maybe they should take responsibility for their faith. Stop blaming the heathens for the way Islam is portrayed - start looking inward at their own faith.

To top it all off, a contest was held to find some demeaning portrayal of western religion. The best they could do is put a bomb in the arms of Jesus. Last I checked there were no lunatics running around bombing people in the name of Christianity. Bush may be a Christian, but he is not bombing anyone in the name of Jesus, he is just bombing. Then the publishers were surprised that there was no outrage by Christians - no riots, no mass protests. Just goes to show that most extremists just do not get it.

I wish we could just ignore the Middle East. Forget the oil and let the region fall back into the Middle Ages as it desperately wants to and routinely acts like. As far as I am concerned the Middle East has not shown me that they are ready and willing to be part of the 21st century. Now we have a lunatic in Iran that wants nuclear capabilities. A country run by extreme religious fanatics. Wonderful (heavy does of sarcasm added here).

The other thing that bothers me is that once again religion is used to propagate hate. I tire of religion and the people that use it to justify violence, stupidity, laziness, ignorance, and small mindedness. I myself have no need for religion. I used to, but I have come to believe that religion in one form or another has been created to comfort those who need comforting, for those who need to believe in a purpose of life, and most importantly to control people. I believe in a supreme being, but that is as far as I will take it. To think that some all powerful being would give a rat's ass what we do on Earth is ludicrous. A God that picks and chooses who can get into heaven is not the type of God I subscribe to. A God that demeans a sex, a race, or a class is not the type of God I would want anything to do with. I shun religion of any kind that says that I have to believe a certain way to be accepted by a God. You do not need religion to be a good, moral, kind, thoughtful human being. You do not need religion to do good works. You do not need religion to be just. If you live your life well, are kind to those in need and those not in need, I believe that God would be pleased and let you into heaven, even if you were not a devout subscriber. Stop thinking about the afterlife and start thinking about the now. Life is too short to create suffering; it is better spent helping people, building a good life, and doing good works.

To see all the controversial cartoons and decide for yourself, visit Michelle Malkin's website.

16 January 2006

Lately I have been hounded by an occasional depression that seems to grip me in its tight clutches for a time. During this time I am so sad. I feel like the world is going fast as it can towards a cliff. No one knows how to use the brakes. We are on a course of disaster because no one can see what I see. No one understands like I understand. I want to scream at the top of my lungs so that everyone can see where we are headed, but no sound comes out. Despite all that we have gone through in thousands of years of human history we are still very immature as a society. We are still divided by political ideology, class, religion, race, and sex. We value possessions over our relationships with people and our community. We value selfishness over selflessness. During my lapses into the darkness I imagine what kind of world my daughter will grow up in and I am only drawn into the darkness more. I have a sense that we will be falling on hard times soon. There are too many pressures on the world economy and geopolitics for there not to be a consequence to our immaturity. We seem to be bound for the stars, yet because we are always looking into the future we ignore the lessons of the past and this more than anything keeps us from progressing to the next step God intended for us. Unless we can truly embrace each other regardless of the invisible divisions that keep us apart we will remain a society of children with adult faults. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this all too well. He was shouting it out at the top of his lungs. Millions of people have heard him, but too few have actually understood the message and acted upon it.

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

08 January 2006

"If you have always been spoon fed, how will you learn to feed yourself?" -KCThinker on people who only listen, read, or believe one source of information instead of getting all the facts before they make a judgement on something.