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.

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