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.