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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fixing a Badly Broken System

Some 800,000 employees of the federal government have been turned into political pawns and are being held hostage because the US president is having another temper tantrum.

All of a sudden there is a 'national emergency' at our southern border. Isn't it strange how this situation has been going on for a long time, but all of a sudden, as Robert Mueller is closing in on him, the president decides this is a 'national emergency.' He insists that only a huge, multi-billion dollar border wall or fence (he keeps changing his story) will solve this 'emergency.' So he has refused to sign legislation to keep the government funded, after initially agreeing to sign it, until he gets money for the wall.

This has resulted in 8000,00 federal employees and untold government contractors being denied their paychecks. This is just latest attempt to distract the public from his legal woes. He decided not to sign the bill after being warned by his advisors at Fox 'News' and other conservative pundits that his 'base' wouldn't approve. Without funding, several federal agencies were forced to close. That means that workers at these agencies were sent home and are now in their third week without pay. Other workers, deemed 'essential,' are forced to work without pay.

The pain these workers are feeling is real. Many will be unable to pay rent or mortgage payments. Some will be unable to buy food for themselves and their families. Other bills will go unpaid. And what does the president suggest these unfortunate people do? "Make adjustments," he says. How does one "make adjustments" when there isn't enough money to buy groceries? Some have signed up for unemployment benefits, while others are taking any job they can find.

This isn't all on the president, of course, although most of the burden is on him. Senate Republicans are also to blame for refusing to even vote on a bill that the bully-in-chief won't sign.

I have a couple of thoughts to prevent this from happening again.
  • Government shutdowns, whether partial or complete, should not be allowed for any reason.
  • If Congress refuses to do its job and pass a budget, government agencies should continue operating with the same budget as the previous year.
  • The American people should have the right to a vote of no confidence.
  • Federal workers forced to work without pay during a furlough should all call in sick, as some TSA workers are doing.
  • If both houses of Congress refuse to pass a budget in a timely manner, all members should be forbidden to run for reelection.
  • Members of both houses should be confined to the chambers of Congress without food, water or bathrooms until they pass a budget.
  • No one should be allowed to leave on vacation, whether it be the summer recess, the winter break or any other recess, until a budget is passed. Who else gets to go home for vacation while leaving critical work undone?
In addition,
  • there should be term limits for both houses: two six-year terms for senators and three two-year terms for representatives. There already are term limits for presidents, governors and other government positions. Being elected to high office should not be a lifetime career.
  • Campaigning for any federal office should be allowed for no longer than six months before an election. It works in the United Kingdom, so why not here? No campaigning means no campaign-style rallies, no television ads and no print ads for or against any candidate.
  • Members of Congress and administration officials should receive the same benefits and annual cost of living increases that are provided to other federal workers.
Of course, many of these suggestions will never happen because they would require the approval of the very Congress they are meant to contain. I can't imagine career politicians doing anything to curtail their power and opportunities to enrich themselves.

The American political system is badly broken; perhaps it is terminally ill. We must find a way to fix or replace it.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Why I Hate Winter

Anybody who has followed this blog for a while knows how much I hate winter.

It isn't just the cold, or the snow, or the dark days with only a few hours of sunshine.

No, it's also all the stuff that is necessary, or that happens, because of the snow and the cold.
  • I hate having to bundle up in my heaviest winter coat just to take my dogs for a walk. 
  • I hate dealing with gloves, which have to be removed on one hand whenever I stop to pick up my dog's poop. 
  • I hate the boots and the Yak Trax, which keep me from falling on ice and packed snow. 
  • It's the steamy eyeglasses whenever I walk through the door. 
  • It's the winter hat that gives me static-filled 'hat hair.'
  • It's the perpetually dry, cracked skin no matter how much lotion I apply. 
  • It's the static electricity that zaps me whenever I touch anything, from kitchen faucet to one of my dogs. 
  • I hate the sound of my furnace running incessantly. There's something about the sound -- the frequency, perhaps? -- that drives me crazy.
  • I hate falling down on the ice and snow, which I do at least once each winter. For someone with osteoporosis, the thought of falling and breaking a bone is not fun.
  • I hate having to waste water (I live in the desert where water is scarce) by leaving faucets dripping overnight to keep pipes from freezing.

Is there anything good about cold, snowy winters for someone like me who doesn't ski, snowboard, snowshoe or ice skate? Freshly fallen snow on the mountains does look nice, but I can live without it. For those of us who live in the desert, snow brings much-needed moisture. But it's needed mostly in the mountains, not in the valleys. The ski resorts, or course, love lots of snow. For me, not so much. 

So no, there really isn't anything good about cold and snow. The only comforting thing about this winter, which has brought more snow than I have seen during my previous eight winters here, and much colder temperatures, is knowing that each day brings up closer to spring!

Friday, January 4, 2019

I Am Ashamed

I am ashamed of the American government.

  • I am ashamed that the president and his obsession over a border wall has resulted in more than 800,000 federal workers and untold contractors who support many vital services being furloughed and receiving no pay. In reality, he doesn't care about a border wall. He cares only about winning, regardless of how many people he causes to suffer.
  • I am ashamed that the president, whose countless trips to his myriad golf resorts has cost US taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, is suddenly so concerned about the federal debt (that has skyrocketed since he took office) that he has canceled the scheduled pay increases of federal employees three days before they were to take effect.
  • I am ashamed that this country under the current president has engaged in a trade war with China that threatens the jobs of thousands of auto workers and farmers. 
  • I am ashamed that this so-called leader of the free world has consistently attacked leaders of our country's staunchest allies such as Great Britain, Germany, France, Canada and Australia.
  • I am ashamed that the president has cozied up to dictators such as Putin and Kim Il Jung.
  • I am ashamed that the president continues to attack in a very personal way anyone who dares to disagree with him or his policies. I thought people outgrew name-calling as young children.
  • I am ashamed of his ongoing temper tantrums, his always scowling face and his defiantly crossed arms. I've seen preschoolers who act better than this petulant man-child.
  • I am ashamed by his constant attacks on our military and its leaders
  • I am ashamed by his ongoing attacks on American intelligence agencies
  • I am ashamed by his frequent attempts to use American government institutions to either suit his own purposes or to try to skirt the law.
  • I am ashamed by his constant attacks on the free press and his cries of 'fake news' whenever a media outlet releases a story that criticizes him.
  • I am ashamed that the Republicans, who have had control of both houses of Congress for the past 2 years, have refused time and time again to stand up to the occupant of the White House and to do what is right for America, not what is right for the Republican party and the billionaires that it serves.
  • I am ashamed that the current administration thinks it's fine to take children from their parents and keep them locked in cages for months on end.
  • I am ashamed by the Republican efforts to remove legislation and policies that have protected our air, water and land from pollution and destruction, and that have protected endangered species. 
  • And I am ashamed of those who condone and support the current government's actions outlined above.
Don't tell me that I and others who are embarrassed or ashamed should pack up and leave the United States. That won't happen. We have as much right to live in this country as do the racists and fascists who support this administration. (No, I'm not saying that everyone who supports this administration is a racist or fascist, but some are).

As American citizens, we, at least for the moment, have the right and the freedom to express our opinions. It is, in fact, our duty to stand up for what we believe. Just as Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr., stood up for their beliefs when they saw injustices, it is our duty to call out America's political elite for their hateful, self-serving actions.

There was a time when people looked to America as a land of opportunity, as the leader of the free world, as an advocate for human rights. Sadly, that time has passed. We are now the laughing stock of the world.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year, New Hopes

It's 2019, the start of a new year.

I gave up making resolutions a long time ago. But I do have a few wishes in mind for 2019. I hope that
  • the United States rids itself of the current corrupt, toxic administration and truly does "drain the swamp."
  • the US Congress puts aside its partisan fighting and greed and finally starts doing what is best for the people of this country -- all the people, not just billionaires.
  • people finally realize that all parts of our planet, both other animals and plants, mountains and water, play an important role in supporting life on earth. It's time to stop plundering the environment and slaughtering animals for profit or 'fun.'
  • my eye problems will become a distant memory
  • the US will find a solution to the immigration mess that is both humane and protects our country
  • citizens of this country will realize the things they have in common far outnumber their differences
  • people stop trying to force others to live according to their religious beliefs
  • Congress enacts sensible gun laws that keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them while protecting Americans' Second Amendment rights
  • more states follow California in forbidding pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits that aren't from a rescue group 
  • the war on wolves and other apex predators ends

These are my hope for 2019. None are easy to achieve, but all can become reality. People I know have had enough drama and death in 2018. Let us hope that the new years brings more love, more peace and more kindness, to ourselves and to others.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Final Thoughts for 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, I want to thank everyone who visited my blog this year.

I write because it is something I really enjoy, and it's a skill that comes naturally to me. I first discovered that I have a talent for writing when I was in middle school and was encouraged to write for the school newspaper. Later, I put my talent to good use during most of my professional life, as the director of communications for a large California humane society, and then as a public affairs professional for the federal government.

In 2018, this blog was visited by readers from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, US Virgin Islands, Unknown Region (I have no idea where that is, and apparently neither does Google), and Vietnam. That's 38 countries around the world!

Wherever you live, thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed what you found here, and I welcome your comments and shares. I hope to see you again in 2019!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kicking 2018 to the Curb

I am very happy to soon put the year 2018 in the rear view mirror.

This was not a particularly good year for me. Every year has its ups and downs, of course, and 2018 was no exception. My eye problems continued, leaving me with limited vision in one eye after repeated surgeries. I picked up a 'bug' of some sort in Ethiopia that left me quite sick for nearly a week. Other transient health issues appeared. My investments have tanked, along with those of anybody invested in the US stock market. Family issues abound, with resolution yet unknown. Two of my dogs have taken turns being sick. And the year's parting insult is an apparently infected finger that is very painful and swollen. There is no obvious cut or other damage. I'm hoping that soaking it in warm water will help.

On the plus side, I got to travel to some amazing places. I went to Ethiopia and got to see the endangered Ethiopian wolf. I traveled again, twice, to Yellowstone, to Colorado to see the gorgeous fall colors, to Tanzania on a wildlife photography safari, and to Alaska to photograph grizzly bears. I also visited Nicaragua, and I met a friend in Rio de Janeiro for a two-week adventure in Brazil's Pantanal in search of jaguars, giant anteaters and other amazing animals.

But overall, I'm more than happy to kick 2018 to the curb. Let's hope 2019 brings more peace, more stability and less insanity to the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Finding Respite Through Beauty

This has been, and still is, a tough year for many people.

The stock market is plummeting. The country is deeply divided. Major manufacturing companies are undergoing massive layoffs. The federal government is more dysfunctional than usual. Senior administration officials are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. Several others have been indicted or have pleaded guilty to prison-worthy crimes. Parts of the government are shut down because Congress hasn't been able to come up with a budget that pleases his majesty in the White House. 

So I decided to try and lighten the mood a bit by posting on my personal Facebook page a photo every day until Christmas. I decided to share a photograph of one of the beautiful things I have photographed. I've been doing this for the past 10 days or so. 

With Christmas just a couple of days away, I asked my FB friends whether they wanted me to continue after Christmas. So many people said I definitely should keep posting a beautiful photo every day, that I will continue to do so until they get tired of looking at my photos or I run out of fresh material to share (highly unlikely). One person noted "Don't you dare stop! In these difficult days, your photos bring me joy."

I started thinking about what she said, and I do realize that beautiful things -- be they photographs, seeing something beautiful in person, or even listening to beautiful music -- do, in fact, bring me joy. That's one thing I like about my home office. Although the rest of the house is decorated in the Southwest style, my office walls are filled with images of wolves, elephants and leopards. An African wood mask is on one wall, and on another wall is a large wooden elephant head given to me by my daughter. 

Some may not find beauty in a photograph of an elephant or a wolf, but I do. These are things about which I care deeply. These animals are beautiful in their own way. I love sunrises. I love beautiful landscapes untouched by humans. I love the intense gaze of a female leopard as she looks directly at me. I love the affection shared by an orphan elephant and the man who cares for her, as she wraps her trunk around his hand. That is beauty, too. Some find beauty in a bird, or in a colorful flower, or in seeing a mountain reflected in a lake.

The world is crazy. The normal -- whatever that means -- order of things is topsy turvy, not just in the United States, but around the world. There seems to be so much more bad news than positive news. So finding respite, if only for a few moments, is so important to my, and others', mental health.

I treasure my photographs, not just because they bring back memories of where and when I took them, and of the friends with whom I shared experiences. They also bring me joy. Looking at an image of a stunning sunrise or sunset fills me with awe. And it brings me joy to know that my photographs bring happiness to others, that perhaps they brighten an otherwise sad day, that maybe they inspire others to become more aware of the beauty that surrounds them.

So take a break from this upside down, anger- and hate-filled world. Find, and savor, whatever beauty makes you happy.