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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

I had always wanted to make this a recurring blog theme, but it always seems to slip my mind to actually do it. Well, regardless of my excuses, here is my latest blathering based on what I have found while tripping through the websites of the Cabinet departments of the United States government.

(Aside: Previous entries have focused on the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and Department of Agriculture.)

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the 38th (there’s your number for the day) country that became part of the government’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is a government program that allows visitors from participating countries to enter the United States without a visa and stay for ninety days. There are a few more requirements, but the VWP means that a citizen from a participating country who wants to visit the Big Apple (or the Windy City or the Emerald City) does not have to go through the process (which usually involves a great deal of waiting) of obtaining a visa.

Before the latest announcement, there were thirty-seven countries that participated in the VWP. Of those 37, 30 were from Europe and 7 were from Asia.

From the above listing, you will have perhaps noticed two missing continents. One of them is South America. Of that continent’s thirteen countries, none were members of the VWP.

Until now.

Starting in May, the citizens of Chile can now enter the United States without a visa (so sayeth this press release from DHS).

Bienvenidos to the VWP, citizens of Chile! Enjoy the chili of Texas, the Chili’s found everywhere, the chiles found in most supermarkets, and the chilly weather that hits parts of the northeastern part of the United States every winter.

Chile’s admission into the VWP means that the only continent without a participating member is Africa.

From laughs, I should research how many countries require American tourists to possess a visa and how many do not.

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For those of you in the United States who haven’t been following along, I currently live in Thailand.

Thailand, for those of you not following along, is a foreign country that resides outside of the United States of America.

As a foreign country, Thailand has some rules, laws, and conventions that some citizens of the U.S. of A. might find odd.

Thailand has a constitutional monarchy which means, like England (another foreign country), there is a king and queen who sit as the formal head of government.

However, unlike England, it is against the law and is indeed a punishable offense to make fun of or to say anything negative about the royal couple. The name for this crime is lese majeste.

Can you imagine living in a country where you can be punished – perhaps even lose your job – for mocking the head of the government?

Of course you can. You already do.

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I have written before about the concept of setting aside a week to reflect back on a series of events that all happened to have occurred in that calendar week, but in different years.

At the end of January, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) honors those astronauts lost during the Apollo I fire (1967), the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (1986) , and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster (2003).

My previous post postulated creating a Loss and Remembrance Week during April 16 through 22 to remember those taken away and affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech (2007), the siege at Waco (1993), the bombing in Oklahoma City (1995), and the shootings at Columbine High School (1999).

This post is to offer up this current seven-day period as War Week (March 19 – 25) where we can reflect on the meanings, morality, consequences, etc., of the armed conflicts entered into by the United States of America. This week was picked because of a trio of anniversaries that fall within this timeframe:

…March 19, 2011 – The United States (along with others) begins military action against Libya;
…March 20, 2003 – The United States begins military action against Iraq; and
…March 24, 1999 – The United States (along with NATO allies) begins military action against Yugoslavia.

I understand that allies help allies because that’s what friends are for. However, I can hope that in the future that the next time some provocation comes our way that instead of firing up the troops, maybe we can just walk on by and avoid the deja vu of deaths upon deaths. For that hope, perhaps I will say a little prayer during this War Week.

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The Mannski Family was faced with a choice and that choice has been made.

Nearly two years ago (March 2011), the Mannski Unit made the decision to move (temporarily) from our home in Virginia to France. The genesis for this lateral move was the fabulous opportunity presented to my wife to use her PhD for a non-profit.

My wife’s contract expires early next year and we were all set to move the family back to the Old Dominion.

Then, as usual, something out of the blue appeared over the horizon, took a cab to our apartment, and brought a croissant to munch on our balcony while it gave us the following opportunity.

My wife, through the contacts she has met here, has been offered a position with a multi-national corporation (MNC) to use her degree and experience to assist their affiliate in…

…wait for it…

Bangkok, Thailand.

It probably took us slightly over a day to make our decision.

Come the middle of 2013, the Mannski Family will be setting up shop in the Land of Smiles.

For my wife, the professional advancement and experiences offered by this position made her decision easy.

As for me, the non-working spouse who hit the pause button on his career, the choice to move across the globe from our Virginia home was also easy but for a different set of reasons.

I have been bitten hard by the international bug after living abroad for over a year and a half in a foreign country. Seeing new things, experiencing new cultural traditions, and eating new cuisines (to name a few) have been beyond my expectations and I do not want it to end. Thailand will only accelerate and intensify this broadening of my cultural horizons.

Reason Number Two (which dovetails with the first reason above) is that I believe that living abroad will also broaden the cultural horizons of our three children.

However, there is another reason why I am opting to not return to the country of my birth. That reason is because, in over a year away from the United States, I have come to the conclusion that the red-white-and-blue is completely bat-guano bonkers.

From the over-the-top negative tone of the 2012 Presidential campaign…
To the endless red-state versus blue-state sniping seen in news programs and Internet comments…
To the paralysis of its politicians (I point to the debt ceiling limit “debate” of 2011 and the “fiscal cliff” negotiations of now)…
To the lack of tolerance towards those with any dissenting views (I point to the on-line petition to the White House to deport CNN personality Piers Morgan)…
To, finally, my desire that I don’t want the lives of my children cut short courtesy of the “gun culture” of the United States…

For all those and other reasons, I have opted to not reside again in the best country in the world, the United States of America.

I am astounded at how much my perspective has changed after being away for a scant amount of time, but changed it has.

It is my sincerest wish that whenever my wife’s employment with MNC ends (whenever that may be), that the wonderful people and policy-makers of the United States of America get their act together and work together to make the “land of the free / home of the brave” the shining beacon I know it can be.

Until then, I will enjoy the view from the outside.

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Say what you want about the United States government, but for a data-head like me, the offices, departments, and bureaus that comprise the executive department offer a wealth of numbers, figures, and reports that make me positively giddy.

Beside the charts, tables, and figures, the data put out by the United States government lead can reveal new discoveries (at least for me).

Our case study for this post comes courtesy of the Department of Agriculture and its report which is the second outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade for the Fiscal Year 2013 (Link to the actual report, in PDF form, is here.).

You can view the report in all its total glory for yourself, but here are the items of interest I took from it. For those of you playing along at home, all the facts and figures I will be spouting from this point forward are from Fiscal Year 2012 (that would be from September 2011 to September 2012…I have no idea why the government can’t stick to a calendar year, but I guess that’s a thought for another post).

Agricultural products are one class of items where the United States has a surplus of trade. In other words, we ship out (export) more things of an agricultural nature than we ship in (import). In Fiscal Year 2012, the U.S. exported $135.8 billion worth of agricultural good while importing $103.4 billion.

So what are the big items that America exports to the world?

The number one item, according to the report, and this was a surprise to me, was soybeans. The United States exported $19.797 billion of the legume best known for being turned into tofu.

Second on the list was corn ($11.420 billion) followed by wheat ($8.353 billion).

An item I found of interest can be found under the heading “Livestock products”. Not sure why I should be surprised given the number of cattle in the Lower 48 (90.8 million head as of January 1, 2012), but I was surprised to see that a major export of the red-white-and-blue is “hide, skins, and furs” which racked up $2.764 billion in exports, which was more than rice ($1.988 billion) and unmanufactured tobacco ($1.052 billion). That’s a large amount of leather.

What countries are the largest receivers of American agricultural goods?

China takes the top spot as it paid $23.359 billion in exports, which comes out to 17.2%. A close second is our neighbor to the north, Canada, which took in $20.008 billion of our agri-goods. Mexico ranks third ($18.890 billion). Those three nations comprise 45.8% of the countries we export to.

Of note, and I will come back to it later, is the figure that India welcomed in $764 million of American agricultural products.

Looking at the other side of the ledger are imports. What are the biggest items, in terms of dollar value, that the United States ships or trucks in?

Those of you who need your daily jolt of java can be thanked for the fact that coffee beans (and other products) takes the top spot as America imports $7.789 billion of the stuff.

The silver medal goes to the fresh fruit category ($7.618 billion) and the bronze is awarded to fresh vegetables ($5.831 billion). I take this mean that American do in fact know how to eat healthy.

What are the Big Thee countries that the United States imports from?

Canada takes the top spot as the number one import partner as the country with the provinces sends us $20 billion worth of agri-stuff.

The European Union (yes, I realize they are not a country, but I’m only going with what the USDA has provided) sends us $16.6 billion and Mexico comes in third at $16.3 billion.

And know you know.

India (I told you I would come back to this) enjoys a large imbalance of trade with us when it comes to agricultural products. In Fiscal Year 2012, the United States imported $5.4 billion. That means that America imported in $4.636 billion (there’s your number for the day) more worth of agri-goods from India than they bought from us. Just for reference, the United States enjoys a surplus of $19.059 with China when it comes to agricultural items.

So what the heck is the United States buying from India? The USDA report has the answer. From page 11, it says…

From India, the chief imports include food thickeners (mucilages), spices, cashew nuts, and essential oils.

Over five billion dollars is a vast amount of thickeners, saffron, curry, and crunchy nuts.

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On this day, the day after American Thanksgiving, is a day to move away from the turkey recipes and to discuss goose and ganders.

To all the Americans protesting the Israeli’s government use of automated lethal weaponry against the self-governing enclave of the Gaza Strip…

…I look forward to your protests against the United States government use of automated lethal weaponry against the sovereign nation of Pakistan.

To all the Americans protesting the deaths of children in Israeli’s military activities in the Gaza Strip…

…I look forward to your protest against the death of children in Afghanistan at the hands of the American military.

To all the Americans protesting the settlements created by the Israeli government on land seized after wars…

…I look forward to your protests demanding that the United States return California and New Mexico.

To all the Americans protesting the Israeli’s government ignoring resolutions from the United Nations…

…I look forward to your protests against the government of the United States ignoring resolutions from the UN.

After all, the protest-sauce that is good for the goose is good for the gander.

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Based on the height (or lack thereof) of the bars on my WordPress Dashboard that show how many views this blog site has, I can safely assume that few people will care about this current rambling. But for those of you who are here, I thank you and here is my update.

The family and I will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean to spend Hannukah and the New Year in the United States in Virginia (where we hail from) with my wife’s family.

With that being said, I will be off the blog-o-sphere for the rest of this month.

Come January 2012, I will be back with more thoughts about numbers in the news, veridictions, ceditras, and more chapters from my former roommate.

So to all, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Happy New Year.

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