My absentee ballot arrived: time to do my duty

On Friday, my overseas voter absentee ballot arrived from the Election Board of Johnson County, Kansas, where I am registered. I have the option of responding by email, fax, or mail. I have the right to vote as a citizen, even if I live overseas. And I have a duty to exercise that right. Here is my rationale why I will vote for Joe Biden for President. You are welcome to agree or disagree and, hopefully, you will exercise your right to vote your conscience if you are a United States citizen. I just want to share my rationale in case it helps anyone else sort out their own mind.

A candidate should be evaluated on two things: their position or accomplishments on issues and their character. The domestic issues that most matter to me are the economy, healthcare, and how we are progressing towards our founding promise of all people being equal. The foreign policy issues that matter most to me are security, diplomacy/international relations and climate change.

Let’s look at President Trump and Vice President Biden on these issues, considering their position and accomplishments:

The economy – the extent to which a President deserves credit for the economy is debatable, but let’s assume that they do for the sake of this argument. Until the pandemic arrived, President Trump’s economy was going gangbusters, building off an economy that began growing under President Obama after his administration inherited the Great Recession and turned things around. Vice President Biden had a major role in managing that recovery. Jobs creation under President Trump continued at roughly the same pace as it did under President Obama. However, there are now almost five million fewer Americans with jobs than when President Trump took office. The only part of the economy seemingly doing well now, is the stock market, which seems completely out of whack and benefits mainly the wealthy. “But it is because of COVID!” you might say. Well, if you want to take credit for the good times, you have to take responsibility for the bad times. And right now, the economic times are pretty bad.

President Trump led the renegotiation on NAFTA and has challenged China on trade issues, which were the right things to do, but have brought about seemingly little benefit. Especially on the China trade war, it has resulted in significant tariffs for imports which American consumers will pay and the recent attacks on specific technology companies seems poised to divide the world into two technological spheres, which will ultimately be bad for American companies and workers. President Trump continues to make promises about bringing back jobs in industries such as steel-making that are hollow and out of touch promises. President Trump’s tax cuts enlarged already historic economic inequality. While acknowledging that the Obama/Biden administration’s approach to China – hoping that by engaging them, the Chinese government would become more open and more democratic – was not successful, Vice President Biden’s economic positions seem better-placed to create economic growth for everyone, not just the wealthy.

My conclusion on the economy? President Trump rode a upwards wave, cut taxes for the wealthy, and has expanded the deficit. His approach is not sustainable. Vice President Biden will ultimately create more jobs and an economy which benefits everyone, not just the stockholders.

Healthcare – Here, the decision seems especially clear. Under the Obama administration, Vice President Biden helped enact the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare” as Republicans dubbed it). This brought healthcare coverage to millions of Americans and is now very popular. President Trump has continued to attack the ACA and has continually promised to present his alternative, and missed his promised deadlines, multiple times throughout his term in office. I fundamentally believe that healthcare is a right. Vice President Biden’s approach is quite conservative, not a radical “Medicare for all” that his Republican critics claim, but he will move us closer to the goal of healthcare for all than President Trump will.

Related to the healthcare discussion is the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While any administration would be challenged by a pandemic, President Trump is on record as having continually misled and downplayed the seriousness of the virus. His administration did not show leadership on this issue, domestically or internationally. And pulling us out of the World Health Organization does nothing to increase Americans’ health and safety. The Obama administration effectively dealt with Ebola, and despite Senator Mitch McConnell’s claims, left behind a literal playbook on how the Trump administration could deal with pandemics.

On healthcare related issues, I trust Vice President Biden much more than I trust President Trump.

Progress towards our founding promise – Our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and we have been working on getting closer to that truth ever since, including expanding it to include women and to address the stain of slavery, America’s original sin. I see a system in America that structurally perpetuates inequity and the system needs to be changed so that all Americans have equal opportunity. President Trump does deserve some credit here: his administration championed, and he signed, the 2018 First Step Act, which led to reforms in the criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color. There are additional bipartisan bills that he has signed such as the one that gives paid parental leave to federal workers and another that requires airports to provide proper space for mothers to breastfeed. And President Trump appointed five openly gay ambassadors.

And this is interesting to me, because since he first announced his candidacy, President Trump has been using divisive, sexist, and overtly racist language and statements. Under his watch, the State Department ordered embassies and consulates abroad to no longer fly the rainbow flag symbolizing LGBTQI rights during pride month. And the track record of his conservative judicial appointments seem to indicate a return to the 1950s rather than a reflection of the melting pot that America is today. The Obama/Biden administration has a stronger overall record of creating more equity, especially in representing women and people of color in their administration and in the judiciary. And the Biden/Harris ticket itself is simply more representative of the demography of America than the Trump/Pence ticket.

Security – In a world that is ever more interconnected, security remains a concern. One of the unfortunate legacies of the September 11th attacks has been an increased fear of Americans towards the world. Looking at the promises President Trump made around building a wall along the border with Mexico and deporting illegal aliens, he hasn’t accomplished much other than caging children and tearing apart families who are refugees or seeking asylum in the United States. And the Obama administration actually deported more illegal immigrants than the Trump administration has. Vice President Biden supports comprehensive immigration reform and are generally more friendly to immigration overall, which aligns with the approach I think we should take. Immigration should be managed but it isn’t a bad thing, and America should be a safe shelter for those seeking asylum and refuge.

Has the world become safer under President Trump? His engagement of North Korea has not produced any results and President Trump’s bromance with Kim Jong-Un has likely encouraged him rather than brought him closer to the negotiating table. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has undermined United States credibility, as has his abandonment of our Kurdish allies. Recent progress in relations between Israel and some Arab states is positive, so some credit is due there. On China, President Trump vacillates between antagonizing and praising Xi Jinping, sending mixed signals while the country has fully undone the “one country, two systems” agreement in Hong Kong and inches closer to domination of the South China Sea.

And then there is the question of Russia and President Trump’s odd fealty to Vladimir Putin. This is the biggest reason I don’t trust President Trump on security.

Diplomacy and international relations – Related to security, this is where I see a particular strength of Vice President Biden. Under the Obama administration and further under his career in the Senate, Biden fundamentally is oriented towards facing challenges in concert with our allies. President Trump has withdrawn from international commitments and left the world uncertain whether it can rely upon the United States. Vice President Biden has indicated the need to strengthen those relationships.

President Trump’s rallying cries are “America First” and “Make America Great Again”. His words and actions these past four years, indicate that he sees the world as a zero-sum game. “America First” means “America Only” and “Make America Great Again” means “At the expense of everyone else”. I fundamentally reject both notions. An American President is sworn to defend and protect the United States. I think this can best be accomplished by looking for ways in which to create more safety, security, and prosperity by working with other countries rather than trying to go it alone. As an American living overseas, I can easily see the damage done to our ability to influence world affairs, especially those that affect us, by President Trump. Vice President Biden can gain us a place back at the grown-ups’ table.

Climate change – The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and that it is happening because of human activity. President Trump continues to deny the science, support the fossil fuel industry and now wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. This is too important an issue to ignore, one that will affect our children – heck, one that is already affecting us! Vice President Biden’s track record in this isn’t perfect – he supported fracking and “clean coal” – but his plans to invest in renewable technologies and help shift us to a cleaner, more climate-friendly economy are a necessary step to address this issue.

Character – Finally, let’s consider President Trump and Vice President Biden on their character, tone and demeanor. The Presidency of the United States is a powerful bully pulpit. The occupant’s words and actions reflect on his or her fellow Americans. And the conduct of the President should serve as an example for us and for our children. They do not need to be perfect, but they should be someone to whom we can look up.

I had hopes that once he stepped into the Oval Office, President Trump would become a president for all Americans. To grow into the office, to appeal to the greater good, to inspire us to work for the values we share. Instead, from the very start, he has continued to demonstrate a pettiness and a divisiveness that is distasteful. And the lying. Politicians are known for bending the truth a bit but President Trump says anything he wants, with no regards for accuracy.

Vice President Biden is spoken well of by all who know him and all who have worked with him. He has three qualities that are critical in a leader: he is a fundamentally decent human being, he has the capacity to empathize with others, and he is humble enough to admit his mistakes and learn from them.

Every election is the “most consequential election of our time” because every election shapes the future. We won’t know for many decades, what the real impacts of these decisions are. But my sense is that politics in America are getting more extreme, more hostile, than is good for us. And the damage being done to our international standing, will lead to the decline of America being the greatest power – and a force for good.

I think Vice President Biden is a better choice to address where the United States is now, and where it needs to go in the next four years.

Intolerance Masked as Patriotism

Facebook exposes you to the most interesting memes, some of which make me think that people don’t take the time to read them before clicking “like” or sharing them with friends and family. Case in point, this “patriotic” post asking people to support the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

At first glance, who could be against the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools? It was the standard when I was a student and, other than the “under God” phrase (added in 1954 during the Cold War) which some could construe as state promotion of religion, it seems relatively harmless. In fact, when I was in high school, my drafting teacher, a devout Catholic and believer in separation of church and state, told students that they could omit the words “under God” if they chose to.

My real concern with this internet meme is the way it stifles freedom of speech. Notice that if you like the idea of saying the Pledge in school each day, you simply click the “like” button. But if you leave any comment (even a comment of support), that is tantamount to saying you don’t support the recitation of the Pledge in classrooms.

This mindset, that there is no room for discussion or dissent (even though such dissent is Constitutionally protected), is anathema to the concept of democratic freedoms. Think of the authoritarian regimes around the world – China, Iran, North Korea, and plenty of others – where those who speak out against the government are imprisoned, tortured, or even executed. The freedoms and values the United States flag represents include protecting those who choose to speak up against the government and those very same freedoms and values!

It strikes me as very unpatriotic to demand unquestioning obedience and very dangerous as well. The founders of the nation recognized the dangers of blind obedience. We should, too.

 

Is America’s Fiscal Future Safe in These Hands?

As part of the Budget Control Act passed this month, a twelve-member Join Committee on Deficit Reduction has been charged with recommending at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the next decade.  They have until November 23 to make their recommendations.

The committee’s recommendations will then be put to a simple up-or-down vote by Congress, with no amendments, filibusters, etc. allowed.  The recommendations have to be passed by December 23 otherwise a $1.2 trillion package of automatic spending cuts would come into effect.

Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Top row are members of the House of Representatives: Co-chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Dave Camp (R-MI), Fred Upton (R-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Xavier Becerra (D-CA).  Bottom row are members of the Senate: Co-chair Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kerry (D-MA), Max Baucus (D-GA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rob Portman (R-OH).

First question on my mind: Do these twelve congresspeople sufficiently represent America?  They are overwhelmingly white (83% vs. about 66% in the general population) and male (92% vs. 50% in the general population).  Now, I realize that a committee of twelve national politicians will not necessary mirror the United States population, nor do they need to.  But it seems that when we talk about “sacrifices” in the budget, these sacrifices are disproportionately borne by women, children, and people of color. 

The public schools in the wealthy suburbs seem to face fewer cutbacks than the inner city schools.  The unemployed factory worker seems to run out of resources long before the unemployed hedge fund manager.  And considering that you have to be at least 25 years old to run for the House of Representatives, is anyone looking out for the interests of the infants and children who will end up inheriting the results of any deficit reduction legislation?

Second question on my mind: With the committee evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, what is the likelihood that they will actually reach a compromise?  The six members of the House of Representatives are up for election in just over a year, so they will be careful not to rile their base. 

Of the six Senators, one of the Republicans (Kyl) has announced he will retire at the end of his term.  The other two Republicans were just elected in 2010 so they have time to repair any damage with their base that comes from compromising or, from a Tea Partier’s view, selling out.  Among the Democrats, Murray was just elected in 2010 and the other two Democrats do not face re-election until 2014.

Is there some hope that at least one Senator will cross over the line on the “no new revenues” position so that a balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases can be found?  While I’d like to hope that the Senators can rise above partisanship and make some sound decisions, nothing I’ve seen recently gives me any reason for optimism.

Additional Reading: OpenCongress.org article about key budget, spending, and tax votes of the committee members.

 

Blinders On and Heading Off a Cliff

Economist

This cartoon from this week’s Economist magazine summarizes how I feel about the debt limit debacle going on in Washington right now.  While I think there is blame to be shared by all sides, the obstinacy of the Tea Party Republicans to not accept any revenue increases, even if they are only in the form of closing tax loopholes, shows a fiscal illiteracy that is reckless.  The deficit cannot be tackled through spending cuts alone.

I was discussing this over lunch this afternoon with a mixed crowd of Thais, Australians, and a Canadian.  They all would like to know why American politicians are behaving like this.  I’d like to know, too.

 

About Fat Cats and Corporations

In the July 9 issue of The Economist magazine, I read this interesting article about why it is so difficult to stir up public sentiment in the United States against the wealthy.  For example, why do so many people get riled up about the idea of eliminating the tax cuts for the wealthiest people, when we’re talking about 2% of the population who are radically better off than the other 98% of the population?

One paragraph in particular caught my attention:

“The point here is only that Americans do not seem to mind about the widening inequality of income and wealth as much as you might expect them to in current circumstances. By and large, they have preferred opportunity to leveling; equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.  The trouble with this is that America is a long way from providing equal opportunity.”

I continue to wonder why it is that when you talk to people individually, they are very much in favor of creating truly equal opportunity.  Somehow, though, en masse, they become reverse Robin Hoods who support the taking from the poor and giving to the rich.  Even more confusing when it is against their own best interest to do so.

Senators Call for Bipartisan Budget Decisions

I read an interesting NY Times article yesterday about the efforts by Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Saxy Chambliss of Georgia to create a bipartisan conversation about the nation’s budget deficit.  This as Congress makes a grand show of nipping at the budget’s heels by cutting things like Head Start early education for children.

budget-deficit-us

While I may be a cock-eyed optimist and a tad naive, I think most Americans can handle straight talk.  They are willing to make sacrifices if things are explained to them clearly and without a lot of added fright.  I’d like my Senators to join in this bipartisan approach, so took the time to send them the following email:

Dear Senator:

I’d like to encourage you to join with Senators Chambliss and Warner in their effort to hold an honest, bipartisan dialogue about our national deficit. 

The current talk in Congress focuses on cutting discretionary spending, which only makes up 12% of our budget.  Much of it goes to important programs, but even if we cut it all, we still would have a long way to go to fix the deficit.

I’d like you to be a part of an honest discussion that acknowledges that cuts in spending will have to include defense, healthcare, and social security costs.  I’d also like you to acknowledge that revenue increases will also be a necessary part of the solution.

Please stop playing politics with our nation’s future.  Join Senators Chambliss and Warner and others who will rise above politics and find a bipartisan solution to repair our nation’s finances.

Thank you.

That’s the action I’m taking.  What action will you take?  How do you think the deficit should be approached? 

In other news, I’m heading out this morning on an overnight border run to Singapore (previous entry).  Figured that the flight is the same price if I stay overnight, I’ll have time for dinner with friends, and I don’t have to get up so early to catch my flight.  Except that I went to bed early and managed to have the garbage collectors wake me up at 4:30 as they rattled the bins on the street.  Thankfully, this trip will include lunch at Din Tai Fung with two other Xangans.

 

American Exceptionalism

While waiting in a hotel lobby to meet a friend for lunch, I read a front-page article from USA Today: “Obama and America’s Place in the World.”  The article talks about the way President Obama addresses questions of American exceptionalism and Republican attempts to capitalize on this in order to paint the President as un-American, without having to use those words.

American exceptionalism, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a belief that the country is unique and exceptional in comparison to other countries.  Historically, it did not mean that America was better than other countries, but in the past few years the term has been coopted by those who would like to give that meaning to the phrase. 

British writer G.K. Chesterton noted in a 1922 essay, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence…”  The Declaration’s introduction defines this ideology as liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.

The ammunition used by those who believe that President Obama is un-American doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, is his response in April 2009 (his opponents have to go back twenty months to dig up dirt on him, it seems) to a question by a British journalist about whether America is uniquely qualified to lead the world:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

This strikes me, a passport-holding American who has traveled widely and has spent more than five years living overseas, as a tremendously reasonable, level-headed statement.

What also strikes me, as an American who has seen the way many countries in the world are rapidly moving from “developing nation” to “developed nation” status, is that no amount of arguing how exceptional we are or aren’t is going to help us compete in the 21st century.

Discussing the growth of China with a friend who recently spent two years working in Shanghai, he noted that in just the past few years, China has built the world’s largest high-speed rail network (already some 4,600 miles), and they are on track to have as much as 16,000 miles built by 2020.  Compare this to America’s infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers currently grades as a “D” and will require more than $2 trillion to repair.

Is America exceptional?  No doubt it is.  But the issue isn’t whether we are exceptional or not, it’s whether we are willing to do the work necessary to remain exceptional in the century to come. 

I think all of our mothers taught us that it is immodest to brag.  We may well be the smartest kid in class (or at least want to think we are), but announcing it to our peers rather than spending our time studying for the next test is the surest way to become the schoolyard dummy.  That’s a form of exceptionalism, too, but not one that I suspect any of us want to bequeath to our future generations.

What say you?

Related to this: do you remember the bruhaha surrounding a photo of President Obama reading a copy of the very insightful book “The Post-American World?”  Blog entry from September 2009 about it.

Inform Yourself and Rock the Vote

rock-the-vote-18x24rev On Tuesday, November 2, Americans will head to the polls in an important mid-term election. The outcomes of elections have a real impact on us from the national level to the local level. The best electorate is an informed, involved one. Whatever your political leanings, I encourage you to take a look at the following tools to make sure you have the best possible information with which to make your voting decisions.  These links come from OpenCongress, a non-profit and non-partisan public resource, independent from Congress and any political party.

To find who your current senators and representative are, use their zipcode look-up tool.

RaceTracker – See who the candidates are, learn about their positions, and get a snapshot of the fundraising race.  This is a collaborative wiki project, so if you have information about a particular candidate, this is a great place to add your knowledge and share it on a fully-referenced, free and open-source platform.

AdTracker – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision allowing outside groups to spend unlimited money on campaign ads, it’s more important than ever that we have transparency in how these ads are affecting the election and exactly how they’re funded.  AdTracker is a wiki project for tracking and watching all the ads in congressional races across the country and providing background info who’s sponsoring them.  It provides a unique view into the advocacy work of low-profile independent political groups.

Voting Records – We typically find out about candidates’ voting records when they are being spun by their competitors, but on OpenCongress it is possible (and easy) to look at the actual vote data yourself.  From your senators’ and representative’s profile pages, click the “Votes” tab and search for any topics you’re interested in.  Looking at the actual data gives you a more accurate picture of how your lawmakers really voted on the issues that matter to you.  To find more votes, check out our one-of-a-kind listing of Hot Bills by Issue Area.

Compare Votes – In this election more than in most, independence from party leadership is considered an especially important trait.  Our head-to-head vote comparison tool gives you a view of party loyalty that you can’t get elsewhere.  Compare the voting records of any two senators or representatives to see how often they vote with their colleagues and on what votes in particular they agree or disagree.

Bill sponsorship – In addition to vote records, it’s important to look at the bills your incumbent candidate has proposed.  From senator and representative profile pages, click the “bills” tab to browse or search all sponsored and co-sponsored bills.  Even more than votes, the bills lawmakers support are indicative of their overall vision and ideology.

Money – Last but not least, take a second to look at your candidates’ campaign funding sources.  Time and again it’s been show that campaign finances are directly related to how members of Congress vote.  Click the “Money Trail” tab on your senators’ and representative’s profile pages to see which industries and special-interest groups have donated to them.  This is who they’ll likely owe favors to if elected to Congress in the next session.

open-congress

If you need help finding out where to vote on Nov. 2nd, try this simple tool from Google and the New Organizing Institute. I sincerely hope the resources in this email help you make a satisfying decision at the voting booth.

Source of most of this content: OpenCongress.org

 

Is America Saudi Arabia?

Not to get bogged down in this topic, but I was amused to read this quote in a newspaper article today:

“Ground zero is hallowed ground to Americans,” Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat, in West Virginia’s Third District, said in a typical statement. “Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?”

What the Saudi government would or would not allow in their own country is irrelevant to the question at hand.  Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy.  The United States is a federal constitutional republic and a representative democracy.  Is Mr. Maynard proposing that we change our system of government so that we can meet out religion freedom (or the absence thereof) in the same manner as the Saudi throne?

Oh, brother!

There are a couple of salient points made in an op-ed on NYTimes.com that I want to highlight:

The problem with [Republicans’] claims goes far beyond the fate of a mosque in downtown Manhattan. They show a dangerously inadequate understanding of the many divisions, complexities and nuances within the Islamic world — a failure that hugely hampers Western efforts to fight violent Islamic extremism and to reconcile Americans with peaceful adherents of the world’s second-largest religion.

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Food for thought…

Musings on Southern California

Los Angeles area. Twice I’ve moved away.Despite this, I find myself returning from time to time to see what has changed.In some ways, little has. Los Angeles is an enigma, the literal expression of a Tinseltown ideal. But there are some signs of change, interesting ones. I think of the gentrification of post-World War II housing in the cities surrounding Long Beach, units that were sold to bachelor soldiers and new families working at the Douglas Aircraft plant in the late 1940s and 1950s as Southern California experienced its post-war boom. I think of an increase in community events such as farmers’ markets and street fairs. Slowly, I recognize signs of renewal, of things that were always so new that they seemed like facades on a movie set.

Perhaps the biggest strength of Southern California is the rich diversity here. Of all the places I’ve lived in the US, I’ve most noticed that creeping change brought about by immigration here. When I first lived here nearly twenty years ago, there were certainly many different cultures present, but it has been wonderful to see how those cultures have blossomed, become increasingly visible and become such a part of the Southland fabric. Not living here anymore, it is hard to say how integrated those different cultures have become.But their visibility is a first measure of health.

Despite that, I don’t know if I would enjoy living here again. The weather is nearly ideal, yes, but it is still too suburban and sprawled an area for my tastes. Despite the buses and bicyclists, signs that there are at least some alternatives to individual car ownership, it is an example of that American dream that existed hand-in-hand with the post-war era: a dream that promised prosperity, growth and limitless consumption. A dream that gave everyone a sunny optimism and friendly, if plastic, demeanor while isolating everyone in their steel and glass bubble, ensuring no real connection.

This critique isn’t just about Los Angeles, of course.It is symptomatic of American culture in general, a good example of what I don’t appreciate much about life here and what I don’t miss about it.

It is easy to get caught up in the list of the things I don’t like, easy to identify the reasons that I don’t live here anymore. It is worth the effort, though, to categorize the things that are positive about the Southern California culture. There is an admirable optimism here that contrasts markedly with the nearly fatalistic outlook of the society where I currently live, one that believes fate, chance and inescapable karma have pretty much written your destiny. There is a continual push here, even amidst the congestion and traffic, to improve the quality of living and the breathability of the air.These are no small things.

Maybe these are just the musings of an expat, required every time I cross the border from current home to previous. Required because I have to understand why I no longer live where I once did. Required because – a common theme of long-term expats – I cannot help but to feel a bit of alienation in my homeland, a sense of being set apart from the rest of the society in which I was raised.

Time, then, to set those musings aside, turn on the radio of my rental car, and make my way to the local In-n-Out Burger for a double double, animal-style, with grilled onions.