New Year’s Resolutions

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“It’s that time of year again…”

When the clock strikes midnight in a few hours from now, I will be very happy to see the end of 2015 and to look forward to beginning of 2016. Overall, 2015 was a very challenging yet rewarding year for me with many new experiences, new perspectives on life, and changes to my lifestyle.

I immersed myself in traveling to different cities and countries, becoming better at being a teacher, and developing my abilities as a writer through this blog that I’ve been experimenting with for the last few months. I think that I have grown as a person into someone more mature, wise, and knowledgeable.

2016 is going to be another big, life-changing year for me and over the next few weeks, I will be divulging about how my life will be different soon and what changes will be made to this burgeoning blog of mine as well.

I have never really been that big on New Year’s Resolutions but I think that it is an admirable concept to try your best to set goals and make improvements for the coming year. As human beings, we must always try to improve and better ourselves in any way that we can. Without further ado, here are my personal resolutions in 2016:

1) Continue to improve my Spanish language skills and reach an advanced level of proficiency.

2) Develop the layout, style, and substance of my blog and develop a stricter and more refined posting schedule.

3) Improve and become better as an English as a Second Language Teacher so that my students can continue to benefit from my knowledge and expertise.

4) Working out at the gym, running, and other forms of exercise are important to do for myself three to four times per week. This also goes along with maintaining a good diet and nutrition in order to stay healthy.

5) Make an effort to stay in touch with my family and my close friends around the world wherever they are.

6) Learn how to dance Salsa and develop some moves. I’m really serious about this one in particular.

7) Keep traveling, exploring new places, and gaining a better appreciation for different cultures and ways of life. This will prove to be key for me in 2016.

To all of my readership and those who support my blog, Thank you very much and I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year. Here’s to a great 2016!

 

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Expanding National Service

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“Congress agrees…but will that turn into actual legislation in the future?”

If you are a young American thinking about what to do next with your life after finishing high school or college, and you’re interested in serving greater causes than your own personal goals and pursuits, you should seriously consider becoming a volunteer. You may have your own preferences when it comes to serving but what matters is that you choose to do something to give back to those in your country and those around the world who are less fortunate than yourself. Your career goals, your family, and even your friends will understand if you choose to put things on hold for a few years, especially if you’re in your 20s still. You may like your volunteer service so much that you choose to make a career out of it too.

Currently, in the United States, a country which continues to be divided more and more along political and economic fault lines, I think it is vital that young Americans choose to put their differences aside and contribute to bettering their country or the wider world in some measurable way. Volunteering or serving a community can help you to become a better person and a better citizen. There are many options out there if you decide to take the leap and apply for some programs. Not only will you be doing good for a school, a community, a city, etc., you will be helping your own future out with the experience, knowledge, and skills that you will gain from the type of service you commit to.

Contrary to popular belief, joining the Military, while a very noble and brave pursuit, is not the only way to serve one’s country or community. There are many other options for those of us in the United States. The most popular volunteer programs include AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, CommunityHealth Corps, Teach for America, City Year, FEMA Corps, etc. Those are some of the most well-known and reputable organizations and agencies that have successfully made in a difference in the lives of thousands of people both in the United States and around the world. Besides these national programs, there is also thousands of other more local and community-based volunteer service organizations located in different towns and cities across America. While the options to serve are out there in global, national, and local settings, most young people do not commit to any type of service after college and choose instead to go into the private sector and begin their careers right away.

While the number of applications number in the thousands and continue to grow for service programs like Teach for America and the Peace Corps, there are not nearly enough spots available for all the young people who would like to serve but can’t due to a lack of funding or not enough spaces for them. Demand is not the overall issue when it comes to the issue of national service but rather the supply. Less than 1% of the American population currently serves in the Military and while other national service programs enroll tens of thousands of volunteers and the competition to get accepted is intense, only 25% of adult Americans are known have served in some capacity, which is quite a low number when you think about it.

Senator John McCain of Arizona and U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal recently wrote an excellent Op-Ed article for CNN where they also argued for an expansion of choices and options when it comes to national service for young Americans. They both believe that this issue is non-partisan and should be heartily agreed upon by both political parties and the American public as well. They go on to discuss the idea of a year or more of mandatory national service in order to foster a greater sense of citizenship, mutual investment, and commitment among young people for the country and the world. I agree with their sentiment wholeheartedly.

While there are a great amount of people my age who commit a few years in their 20’s to public and national service, many of my fellow citizens do not have the chance to or do not want to. Mandating a year or two of national service for all American citizens after college or high school would be an excellent policy idea and would be a great benefit to institutions like Teach for America, AmeriCorps, etc. Creating the opportunity for every young American to give back to their community and country is a noble endeavor and can only help the future rather than hinder it.

Overall trust in the American government, national institutions, and even other citizens are at all-time lows. Expanding opportunities for young Americans to serve would be a great way to begin to restore that faith and confidence in our civil society, and to rebuild that national fabric that holds us together as one people. Recent legislative efforts like the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps have been great in expanding national service in certain ways by increasing AmeriCorps membership by 250,000 volunteers per year and focusing on putting more resources towards improving our national parks and forests respectively.

However, none of the legislation thus far has gone far enough to make at least one year of national service mandatory for every citizen and to provide enough opportunities and programs available to make it a feasible commitment. I would hope that the next President and Congress will strive to involve more young people in building a better America and a better world. One or more years of national service from millions of young Americans would make such a positive and sizable impact on the country as a whole. It would be definitely worth the money it would take to make this public policy idea a reality.

As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Sources:

1.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/why-volunteer-programs-like-the-peace-corps-teach-for-america-reward-children/2012/02/02/gIQAOXl8mQ_blog.html
2.) http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/10/opinions/mccain-mcchrystal-national-service-legislation/
3.) http://www.nationalservice.gov/about/legislation/edward-m-kennedy-serve-america-act
4.)http://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/10_0421_saa_implementation.pdf
5.) http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2015/8/senators-john-mccain-michael-bennet-introduce-bill-to-expand-national-service-opportunities-for-american-youth
6.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brown/americorps-funding_b_1280200.html
7.) http://www.people-press.org/2014/11/13/public-trust-in-government/
8.) http://21csc.org/

A Walk In The Woods

“I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost (1874-1963)

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Caleb Smith State Park, New York

Made In America?

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Have you ever noticed this small yet important detail when you’re out at the store buying a consumer good whether it’s a pair of pants, a carpet, or some brand new shoes? For those of you who are confused right now, there’s a tag attached to the item indicating that the final product was “Made in …..” which indicates the origin of the country the good has come from. I doubt that most people notice this small detail when they’re out shopping and it’s probably not their biggest concern.

However, I do believe it’s very important as consumers to know where our goods and services are coming from and to what sort of quality they are made. It’s also important to ask the question of these companies who make these consumer products, both foreign and domestic, how well are they treating their employees and what do they pay them for their hard work? Do they receive good health benefits and vacation time? Are the working conditions in their factories and shops safe and hospitable?

I have noticed that most of the clothing, household items, and electronic products that I have bought were not made in the United States. I am not against wearing or buying consumer goods that were created and manufactured in other countries. However, I do worry that we are relying too heavily on these foreign-made products in our daily lives instead of having some of these same goods made in the U.S.A., which could improve the lives of many people looking for decent-paying jobs. Many abandoned and dilapidated factories, plants, and mills could be re-opened again if we change the way we look at free trade.

According to the official and most recent numbers on United States International Trade Data, there was a sizable overall trade deficit in goods and services of $43.9 billion dollars in October of 2015. Since ‘The Great Recession of 2007-2008’, the trade balance has not changed greatly in terms of lowering the overall deficit. Over the past five years alone, the monthly trade deficit has ranged from $40 to $65 billion. There has been very little sign of this trade imbalance being decreasingly significantly or being entirely eliminated recently. This means that the U.S. is importing a much larger quantity of goods than we are exporting overseas. While some people would argue that this is not a big deal, I would say that in order to grow the economy at a higher output and decrease unemployment further, increasing our exports overseas with the stamp “Made in America” should be a higher priority especially with the upcoming presidential election.

With the decline in American manufacturing, the U.S. has increasingly looked to its trading partners overseas to fill the void that has been created. Due to free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and the recent passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many American companies and jobs have moved overseas causing the trade deficit to increase over the past generation. This has led to many good-paying middle class jobs with health and other benefits to disappear. There has also been a steady decline in the Unions and their total membership and influence within the U.S.

Examples of the shift towards the growing importation of manufactured goods and products that used to be made in here at home can be found in companies such as Wal-Mart and Apple. These iconic companies that were created by Americans such as Steve Jobs and Sam Walton have changed significantly like many others since their early days. They have become multi-national in nature and have expanded their facilities and operations to multiple countries around the world. Even though their company headquarters are in Silicon Valley and in the heartland of Arkansas, these companies are not taxed like other U.S. companies and carry out their manufacturing and production of goods from overseas suppliers.

American workers are known to be more expensive to train and hire than those workers found in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. That’s an unfortunate truth that has led many companies to take the easy way out by calculating how much they would save due to the fact that foreign labor is cheaper. For these firms, there is little to no need to worry about strict labor laws that don’t exist outside the U.S. and other parts of the Western world. For example, huge multi-national companies such as Apple have used subsidiary companies like the ‘Foxconn Technology Group’ for years in order to manufacture their iPhones and other high-tech products. There have been many investigative reports done by The New York Times and other news outlets about the harsh working conditions, poor salary, long hours, and reported suicides and riots occurring at these plants in China.

In a lot of developing countries, the taxes associated with doing business are much cheaper which allows a lot of big manufacturing firms to operate there more freely. Even though multinational companies have to pay U.S. taxes on the profits that they earn from products that they make and sell in other countries, Apple and others can avoid paying these taxes by re-investing their profits made from outside the U.S. on overseas factories, stores, warehouses, etc. Because of that, they won’t have to pay the higher taxes. It’s a significant loophole that hasn’t been closed yet and allows U.S. companies to store billions in profits overseas. “Apple is not alone in this strategy. U.S. companies have $2.1 trillion in foreign profit stashed overseas, according to Capital Economics.”

Once the multi-national companies decide to move their manufacturing and production operations overseas, it’s very difficult to bring them back to the U.S. Competitors like China have the infrastructure and a vast amount of workers willing to work in the factors for these supplier companies. It is the responsibility of companies like Apple to break their agreements with manufacturing giants like Foxconn if they ever decided to move their production operations back to the U.S. However, Apple would have to invest in billions of dollars to build these new factories and pay these workers a fair wage with benefits. This proposition is entirely unlikely to occur in the near future for Apple, Wal-Mart, GE, and others to move their manufacturing back to the U.S. due to the higher taxes, the higher costs of the workers and their desire to make the most profits that they can secure.

Free trade is a complicated subject but I decided to write about this issue because I think as consumers, we should know where our money is going. I am guilty like many other Americans in supporting these popular multi-national companies who have gotten away with sketchy business practices and who have shied away from creating jobs here in the U.S. However, it’s never too late to be informed about where your clothes, your cars, and your electronics come from. Do your research and be informed about these issues.

Globalization and free trade have lifted millions of people out of poverty and allowed many countries to boost their economies but it’s also led to a higher amount of competition, the stagnation of wages, and many environmental concerns. I am not a protectionist and I believe that some free trade is good. However, it’s more important than ever that we support fair trade and business practices from these companies. Workers around the world should be treated fairly with good wages, good health and vacation benefits, and they shouldn’t be taken advantage of whether they are located in Saigon or Detroit.

We have free trade with other countries so that we can exchange goods and services with them to better our economies and our peoples. Lets’ not create a situation where we are importing more goods than we should be at the expense of the American worker and taxpayer. These companies need to be held accountable for what they do both here in the U.S. and overseas.

I would encourage everyone reading this entry to think about where your goods and products come from. If you have the chance and opportunity to do so, I would argue that you should try to buy from the U.S. companies making the goods and services right here in America. I am not against buying foreign goods either but we have to know whether these large companies out there are playing by the rules and are not being exploitative.

By ‘Buying American’, it’s good to show those small businesses and firms that we still support them and that we want them to succeed. If you would like to support buying American-made goods and products, check out this website: http://madeinusachallenge.com/ (Made In America – Master List)

Sources

The Ripple Effect

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Which chocolate will you decide to choose?

Throughout the course of our lives, actions and events occur that we don’t see coming or have little control over. While these small events and actions seem unimportant at the time, their results continue to spread and manifest in changing things about yourself, and your path in life. This is known as the ‘Ripple Effect’, and is often overlooked by certain people who refuse to recognize that actions have consequences and what we say or do now has lasting effects on who we will become in the future.

The most famous example signifying the ‘Ripple Effect’ is when drops of water or other objects, fall into a larger pool of water causing ‘ripples’ to manifest themselves while affecting the initial state and changing its physical makeup. Similar in overall meaning to the ‘Ripple Effect’ is the ‘Butterfly Effect’ and also the ‘Domino Effect’ often cited in sociological terminology.

The older you get, the more you realize that certain things in life are going to be outside your control. Some people refuse to recognize this fact and try to direct and manage everything in life to prevent any surprises, twists, or turns that will come your way. However, this approach is a recipe for disaster because it is a fact that we cannot control everything that happens to us and that it is pointless to try to do so.

I don’t want to turn this into a “Predestination v. Free Will” debate because that is too black and white for a world that has a lot of grey matter. If you had asked me about the concepts ‘Free Will’, ‘Destiny’, and ‘Fate’ when I was ten years younger, I would have said that I have complete control over my life and that my destiny is totally in my hands. At my current age and the older I get, I believe that it is a intertwining mix of destiny and your own will that sees you through both the highs and lows of life.

From my own personal experiences, especially as I enter my mid-20’s, there have been many unexpected occurrences that have changed my life in different ways which would have been unimaginable to me in the past. I never would have thought that I would become an ESL teacher, move overseas and travel to different countries, and change my career path for the time being. There are cities that I have visited, cool experiences that I have had, and lessons that I have learned about life that would not have had happened had I stayed in the same town, kept my first job after college, and not gone out of my way to meet new people, make new friends.

It’s occurred to me now more than ever that we should not plan for everything in the future because the future is not up to us and life can throw unexpected curveballs when we least expect it. Instead of ‘cursing our fate’ and ‘falling into gloom and doom’ about the things we cannot control: (job security, natural disasters, deaths of family and friends), we should make an effort to change what we can control to benefit out lives: (relationships, where we live, and our physical and mental health.)

‘Free Will’ for human beings is limited as is ‘Pre-Destination.’ I would like to believe that I have some control over my life and the direction(s) it can take. However, I cannot change anything about my past and I am limited in what I can do about my future. Do not feel totally helpless about your future because you still have the power of decision-making, reasoning, and foresight, which can help you with your personal and professional goals.

It’s much easier to be angry at the world and to curse about the wrongs that have been committed against you but it won’t do much to make you feel better or to improve your future. Instead of feeling powerless, take charge and do your best with what you have now. Make every day a chance to improve yourself in some way so that your future will be a little bit brighter than before.

Never give up, and if challenges and set-backs come your way, meet them head-on and have the resolve to face them given your previous experiences in life. As was once said famously by the character, Forrest’s mother, in the critically acclaimed film, Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest, you never know what you’re going to get.” Even if you get a bad chocolate every now and then, there will still be plenty more to choose from.