Visiting Family

A fourteen hour layover in Seattle was my first stop in the United States. Arriving about 9:30 in the morning, I took the convenient light rail into downtown and conducted my most important business: drawing a money order and then mailing it, and my inch-thick Thailand visa application, to the Thai consulate. After a long wait, a surprisingly helpful postal employee walked me through the steps of buying the money order, properly addressing the express mail envelopes, and then packing everything correctly.

2013-08-02 -1After a browse around the Pike Place Public Market and lunch at a cute French restaurant nearby, I visited the Seattle Art Museum to see “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion“. This exhibit, which runs through Labor Day weekend, has more than 100 dresses from Japanese designers such as Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, and Rei Kawakubo. These designers revolutionized the way we think of fashion. I only wish Tawn could have attended the exhibit, which he would have found fascinating.

2013-08-08 03In the afternoon, I went to my aunt and uncle’s house and spent time with them and my cousins. Their daughter is about a year old and I last saw her in March at my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary, so it was nice to see how much she has grown since then. My uncle prepared some excellent wild salmon on the grill, so I was well-fed.

P1270235My red eye flight departed Seattle about midnight, heading east to a rainy Cleveland. A two-hour connection allowed me time for breakfast and a shoe shine before I caught my flight into Kansas City.

2013-08-08 04The next several days in Kansas City were spent visiting family members, attending football (soccer) games and gymnastics lessons, and the like. Four and a half days was enough time to see everyone, catch up, and then move one before wearing out my welcome. Unfortunately, no time for a side trip to Omaha or Quincy, though.

 

Kansas City to Los Angeles

After about eleven days in Kansas City, it was time to begin the return trip, a lengthy journey that would take me more than 56 hours from door to door.  The first leg was from Kansas City to Los Angeles, cashing in some credit card points I had for a one way ticket on American Airlines.

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It has been nearly a decade since I’ve flown American.  Now that they are in bankruptcy, the last of the major carriers (other than Southwest) to have gone through that process, I was curious to see if there was a perceptible air of distress among the employees.

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I have to say, while none of the employees were spectacularly friendly, they didn’t seem to be any worse for wear than the employees of any other major US airline.  They did their jobs, tried to smile from time to time and be pleasant, and got me safely from point A to point B.  Knowing many people in the airline industry, and being a former employee myself, my sympathy extends to them during this uncertain time.  The only thing that is certain is that they’ll not make it through bankruptcy without some amount of pain.  Most likely, this will include losing a large portion of their pensions.

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There was some holiday spirit in the air, though, despite the bankruptcy.  This gate at Kansas City was decorated for the season, ready for a charity flight they do for disadvantaged children.  I’m not sure if it is an actual flight – that’s become quite expensive to do anymore – but they board the children on the plane, let them visit the cockpit, have them sit down and enjoy snacks and a drink, etc.  All in all, a nice treat for children who may otherwise never get such an experience.

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Flying into the greater Los Angeles area, we were treated to clear skies and great visibility.  Here’s a shot of the city of Riverside and, smack in the center (to the right of the freeway), the University of California, Riverside campus.  I actually attended UCR for six months in the first half of 1990, before moving back up to Santa Clara University to finish my studies.

Video of our landing in Los Angeles.

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A shot of my plane after arrival in Los Angeles.  The construction for the expansion of the Tom Bradley International Terminal is in the background, the new saw-tooth roof clearly visible.  Also, two Boeing 747s, the one on the left from Fiji Air and the the one on the right from China Airlines.

My cousin Jackie, Alex’s younger sister, picked me up and helped me kill several hours.  We ran errands to Trader Joe’s and a few other stores.  We stopped for In-n-Out burgers, where we saw a family of three who had dragged their suitcases all the way from the airport to get a burger.  That’s about a two-mile walk, depending on which terminal they came from.

In the evening, we met Gary and William for dinner at Lukshon.  I’ll share pictures from that fantastic dinner tomorrow.

 

On the Way to Kansas City

Now that I’m safely back in Thailand, let me share some highlights from my recent trip to the United States.  This first portion covers the trip from Bangkok to Los Angeles and San Francisco on my way to Kansas City.

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Self-portrait on the Flight Information Display Signage.  Thankfully, I scheduled a 12:40 pm departure which meant I didn’t have to get up too early or rush to get to the airport.  Instead, time for a leisurely breakfast before hailing a taxi.

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On the climb out of Bangkok, I could still see some lingering effects of the flooding.  While these rice paddies normally have water in them at this time of year, you can see how the vertical boundaries between many of the paddies have been erased.  The water is still high enough in this area to the northeast of the city that water flows across dikes and roads, combining multiple paddies into small lakes.

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The connection through Taipei was smooth and we landed about thirty minutes early in Los Angeles in the mid-afternoon.  Here, I snap a photo of my plane before boarding a bus at the remote parking area.  Winds were very high and were blowing offshore, the opposite of the usual direction.

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Los Angeles is a great place to see the world’s largest passenger airplane, the Airbus A380.  Qantas sends multiple planes there daily, one of which is hidden behind the other in the picture on the left.  Singapore Airlines also sends an A380 to LAX (above right) and Korean Airlines and Air France will soon join them, too.

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I connected to Southwest Airlines for a flight up to San Francisco.  Had I realized that my 6:00 departure was going to be delayed, I would have hustled over from the international terminal and tried to make the 3:30 flight instead.  While waiting for my flight, a teenager practiced his violin, playing very well for an appreciative crowd of passengers.

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A young girl gets her start as an aviation enthusiast, watching the planes as her father “flies” her through the air.

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My high school friend Ryan, pictured above with his 2-year old son, picked me up at the airport and we were able to catch up over dinner – Vietnamese noodles! – before I crashed on an air mattress at his house.  While I was only in the San Francisco area for about 12 hours, it was very nice to be able to see Ryan and his family again.

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After some coaxing, Elliot decided it would be okay to pose for a picture with Uncle Chris before heading to the airport.

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The weather on Friday morning was crisp and clear, allowing for a beautiful view of San Francisco as we took off to the north, climbing towards Oakland. 

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After buying Midwest Airlines, Frontier adopted their practice of serving fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies onboard.  A nice touch at an airline that is hard to distinguish from all the other domestic carriers.  After a tight connection in Denver, I arrived in Kansas City about 5:45 Friday evening.

 

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.

 

Proposed Changes to Politcal Terms

The thought occurred to me the other day that maybe the problem of the never-ending campaign, in which it seems America has no sooner finished one election season than another begins, would be to change the length of terms to which politicians are elected.

Currently, the President is elected to a four-year term with a maximum of two terms.  Senators are elected for six-year terms, with approximately a third of the Senators up for election every two years.  Representatives are elected for two-year terms with the entire House of Representatives up for election at the same time.

What, then, if we changed the President to a single, six-year term with no chance for re-election?  Senators could remain a six-year term, but modify it so half the body changes every three years.  Representatives could be increased to three-year terms.

It would seem that the upshot would be a bit more time between election seasons, allowing for more opportunity to govern.  Especially for the President, since he or she could not be re-elected, there would be more freedom to govern based on one’s positions rather than the poll results.

What do you think?  Would there be any pros or cons to this plan?

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.

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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.