Monday, June 25, 2007

What Mexico Taught Me

For those of you who don't know me personally, I just spent the last couple of weeks on a mission trip in Mexico with my church. It was an awesome experience, which I have felt compelled to share to the rest of you.

The trip was being run through Youth Front, which is a Kansas City based organization that provides a base of operations for local churches that wish to do volunteer work in the town of La C.R.O.C., or Croc as it commonly called. Croc is a neighborhood of Pesqueria in the state of Nuevo Leon, near the capitol of Monterrey, which is perhaps Mexico's most technologically advanced and economically influential city. CROC, which stands for La ConfederaciĆ³n Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos, is a Mexican labor confederation, representing 4.5 million workers in all 32 of Mexico's states.

Compared to even the poorest of Americans, the people of Croc have nothing. Most of the homes in this neighborhood of 3,000 are decrepit, falling apart, with raw sewage running down the middle of the street outside. In some areas, the smell of human waste is gagging. The homes that we built weren't much larger than an average bedroom, essentially a 10' x 15' living space for up to 3 people. Even though these people have little in terms of physical possessions by the standards of a visiting American teen, they are perhaps the most giving people I have met in my life.

An instance that stands out in my mind is when I was out enjoying a snack of spicy dried fish, that someone else had bought thinking they weren't real fish. One of the Mexican boys that I got to know on the trip, Geraldo, happened to be standing by and asked if he could have some. Realizing there was no way I could possibly eat all of those spicy dried fish, I shared nearly half of what I had with him. Geraldo, who is nearly 12 years old, will statistically quit school in two years when he turns 14. I later found out that his father, like many of the father's in Croc, is an alcoholic who frequently beats his wife and his children, including Geraldo. Despite this, Geraldo, like many of the children there, was always willing to share what little he had with a Gringo like me.


During a conversation I had with some of the Youth Front staff, I was introduced to an organization called Operation Blessing International. OBI takes donations and uses those donations to help children, aid in disaster and hunger relief, build water wells, and offer medical services. However, the service that stood out most to me was their "Life Skills and Micro Enterprise" service. For a donation of just $100, a small amount for any middle class American, Operation Blessing will provide professional training of basic skills that would give someone in poverty the opportunity to start a business and bring their family out of poverty. Just $100.

So I've been thinking, what would happen if every middle class citizen in America donated $100 every year to a service like OBI's 'Life Skills and Micro Enterprise' service, and upper class citizens donated $200 a year, for 10 years. Here's the math.

Total pop: 300 Million
Upper Class: (1%) - 3 Million
Upper Middle Class: 15% - 45 Million
Middle Class: 33% - 99 Million
Working Class: 33% - 99 Million

3 Million x $200 x 10 years = $6,000,000,000 (Six Billion Dollars)
45 Million x $100 X 10 years = $45,000,000,000 (Forty-Five Billion Dollars)
99 Million x $100 X 10 years = $99,000,000,000 (Ninety-Nine Billion Dollars) (x2)

$6 billion will help about 60 million people receive training that could bring them out of poverty
$45 billion will help about 450 million people receive training
$99 billion will help about 990 million people receive training (x2)

Total = 2.49 billion people receive training that could bring them out of poverty in the next decade

2001 Estimated stats on poverty:
2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day
1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day

In 10 years, nearly 65% of the world's population living below the poverty line (2001 stats) could be out of poverty.

Operation Blessing International website
OBI 'Life Skills and Micro Enterprise' Service

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Kelsey Smith

First and foremost, I'd like to express my condolences to the family and friends of Kelsey Smith. Though I never knew Kelsey, I know many dozens of people who did know her and from what I can tell from the outpouring of help, she was a great person. I even volunteered some of my time on Wednesday, originally to help search Shawnee Mission Park, but ended up handing out fliers until the announcement came that her body had been found. Edwin Hall, who was charged today for kidnapping and murder, deserves everything he is receiving, provided he is proven guilty.

I am sickened by the media coverage of this tragedy. Granted it is a good thing that it got the coverage it did, as it resulted in the arrest of a suspect and the recovery of her body in a matter of 4 days following her disappearance. Why did it get national and global coverage? Perhaps it was her smile, or her popularity amongst those who knew her. She was a good person. So are all of those who have been kidnapped and killed before her.

Take for instance Kara Kopetsky of Belton, MO. She has been said to share physical characteristics with Kelsey, and though she originally ran away from home, nothing has been heard from her in weeks. The close proximity to where Kara lives and where Kelsey's body was discovered has raised questions of connections that might exist between the two.

Why didn't Kara, or anyone else who has been abducted recently, receive the attention that Kelsey received? I think the answer, though somewhat cynical, is simple: the media tackles stories that seem more outrageous than the norm (like a girl in a sheltered county getting worldwide attention opposed to girl of similar age and build in the same region getting limited local attention.) The unfortunate reality is that not enough attention is given to these cases, and when it is given, it is almost always given to the 'sheltered, intelligent, and beautiful' young women. It's a cruel reality of the world. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who knew Kelsey and Kara and all those out there who have lost loved ones.

Paris Hilton

Why the heck did they release Paris from jail after 3 days?! It's beyond my comprehension, but I'll attempt to actually pay attention to the affairs of a rich heiress/celebrity that I could care less about. The Drudge Report started reporting Thursday evening that she had been released over fears she had become suicidal. Now, 99.9% of the time, this would concern me, but it honestly sounds like a ploy that Paris used to get what she wants, and that is to go spend the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. Boo-hoo. ~Tear~.

Thankfully, just as I was typing this, a new development has come up and she has been ordered back in court. If she in fact is kept on house arrest, it will expose a weakness in the court system, which already is evidently biased towards celebrities. There's the saying that "Celebrities are people too." If this is true, Paris needs to serve all her time. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bush's Legacy

I've been thinking a lot lately about Bush's legacy after he leaves office and how that compares to other past Presidents in his position. Take Harry Truman for example. His presidency started off with him needing to make a major decision on how to end WWII. He chose to drop the atomic bomb on Japan which ended the war in a matter of days.

Bush, faced similar issues following September 11. He could have responded with a limited operation to take out Bin Laden specifically, he could have used the opportunity to help unite the world. His decision was to invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban regime, and capture/take out Bin Laden. His response to Afghanistan, compared to Iraq (which I will get to shortly) was more organized and the overthrow of the Taliban was swift, with minimal casualties. The situation today has remained the same for several years, but compared to Iraq, significant progress has actually been made in Afghanistan. The only major reason troops remain in Afghanistan is to have a base of operations for other tasks, including finding OBL. Perhaps a more imminent threat would be aggressive actions taken by Iran, which borders Afghanistan, putting forces in prime position for any potential ground war with Iran. For this, Bush may be recognized as forward thinking, but no one can forget the catastrophic error when troops let OBL slip through their fingers at Tora Bora in December 2001. Afghanistan, may in the end, be Bush's only bright spot militarily, primarily out of the fact that there are legitimate reasons for being there.

Iraq. What can one say about Iraq? The original reason for invading Iraq was that intelligence reports claimed that Saddam Hussein had been building 'weapons of mass destruction' and had the intention of using them. What few realize, then and even today, is that there was very limited intelligence to support that view at the time. This is why France didn't want to invade Iraq; they had access to similar intelligence and recognized that what the American government was reporting was essentially propaganda, to try and convince the public that this war was necessary. Furthermore, the government claimed that terrorists were basing operations out of Iraq and that there was a threat of future terrorist attacks being launched from there. The last reason was that Saddam Hussein was an evil man who killed his citizens and needed to be overthrown.

Invasion time. The U.S. invades, with the thought in mind that they would be greeted with "flowers and candy" and that they would be in and out of Iraq in a couple of months. Unfortunately, the decision was made to use far fewer troops than was necessary for an operation of that nature. As soldiers come across weapon caches abandoned by the Iraqi Army, they search for WMD's, and when none are found, they must abandon them, due to a lack of troops. No terrorists are found during the invasion. When Bush makes his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, things are looking good for Iraq. Soon, the reality sinks in. Soldiers from Saddam's army, disgruntled about the U.S.-led invasion, soon take back the weapons caches that have been abandoned by Coalition troops. These soldiers launch a guerrilla war against the Coalition, and soon a country free of terrorists (outside of the government) becomes a breeding ground. Multiple terrorist organizations have taken advantage of the lack of organization in Iraq to wage their campaigns against the West. When Bush says that we must stay in Iraq to fight the terrorists, this is him trying to cover his butt, because we left the back door open for the terrorists to move in, and essentially GAVE them the ammunition to start a campaign against us. In the end, the only legitimate reason for invading Iraq, from the three I listed earlier, was that Saddam was an evil man, and that he needed to see justice. Saddam is dead, and now the only reason we remain in Iraq is due to self created problems.

An issue that has been developing over the past few months has been the decision of the U.S. military to place missiles along the European border with Russia, in order to intercept missiles from Iran. This, and recent U.S. missile tests, has spurred Russia to have it's own missile tests and to start lining up its own missiles along the border. This has led Russian President Vladimir Putin to make the threats just yesterday that if the U.S. military build up continues, he will target missiles at Europe, suggesting that some of them will be nuclear. This decision, if not reversed, will quickly create a new Cold War between the United States and Russia. This dangerous situation is only augmented by corruption that still exists in Russia, among them being the censorship of media outlets. If a new Cold War is caused by this incident, than every other poorly planned action by President Bush will be overshadowed, and will secure his reputation as the "President who reversed the progress of the 20th Century."

An interesting development during the past week is Bush's apparent attempt to heal his legacy. He seems to suddenly care about global warming, among other issues. It'll be interesting to see how things unfold at the G8 Summit. I doubt, however, that his "flip-flop" in policies will help heal his image in the last year and a half of his presidency, considering his neglect of some of these issues for the past seven years.