Sunday, July 31, 2011

The wealthy and taxes

Just yesterday during a radio broadcast I heard that a growing trend in camping is kids being flown into camp on private jets.  Hard to make sense of this during these difficult financial times for so many.

The budget debate continues to rage in Washington DC, as it has here in Minnesota. One of the proposals locally and nationally was to increase the taxes, back up to their previous levels, for those with the greatest resources.

I found a strong rationale for increasing the taxes on the wealthy from Darrell Egertson in today's StarTribune...

1. They have the most to protect -- with a strong military, good police force and firefighters.
2. They have the most to be grateful for, including that America has made it possible for them to become so wealthy.
3. They need a strong economy, which requires all people to have sufficient funds to buy the products of their firms. If products can't be sold because people are unemployed and broke, they have to lay off workers, further reducing demand, requiring even more layoffs.
4. It's not just the Christian thing to do, but the moral thing, found in all religions.
5. Because they can.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Concert and stroll around Lake Harriet

The Willie August Project
Last evening we took in a concert by a jazz trio, The Willie August Project, at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.  This smooth contemporary jazz group was named after one of the musicians grandfathers.  How cool is that?

Following the concert we enjoyed a summer's stroll around the lake.  It was great to see so many walkers, bikers, sailers, swimmers and even a few folks fishing.  We stopped to chat with some of the people fishing off of a dock. I learned that Lake Harriet is one of the most under fished waters in the state, given its great wealth of pan fish, walleye, muskie and bass.  Don't tell anyone!

Following is a link to concerts throughout the summer at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.




Black-Eyed Susan

Ducks at dusk
Lone duck

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pictures from Wisconsin

Last weekend I had the pleasure of staying at my brother and sister-in-law's Wisconsin cabin. In addition to the wonderful company it was nice to see butterflies, moths, tree frogs, caterpillars and loons.

The dragonfly blog entry from earlier in the week was also of pictures taken while staying at the Fish Lake cabin.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fighting elephants and donkeys

"When the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers." - Kikuyu proverb

Native grasses growing in park
Seems this proverb needs only a slight update to pertain to politics in today's U.S.A. ... When the donkeys (Democrats) and elephants (Republicans) fight it is the grassroots (common folk) that suffers. We saw this most recently in Minnesota when our two major political parties could not come to a resolution on the budget.  Rather than work collaboratively to solve the budget solution they deferred a strategy for balancing the budget for a later date.  One of the sad consequences was the decision to borrow from our children in the public schools to meet the government's financial need.

It is looking like a train wreck is in the works at the national level, as a game of chicken is being played over raising of the nation's debt limit.  It seems the elephants, being prodded by the Tea Party, are the biggest culprits for the suffering grass.  It is their unwillingness to compromise or to raise taxes that threatens to derail our nation's commitment to the common good.  We can not cut our way into prosperity. We also know from recent experience that the trickle down effect doesn't work.

The biggest elephant in the room is the enormous military budget, which is getting very little discussion by either major party or the media.  We shouldn't be subsidizing the defense of Japan, South Korea and a multitude of other nations who have the fiscal resources to manage for themselves. Being the world's policeman is something we should reconsider.

I hope that as the elephants fight they will not totally destroy the safety net for those living on the margins during this difficult economic time. How we support our children, elderly and those living on the margins of society will certainly impact our nation's 'homeland security'. To read further about how our national security is being threatened I recommend the following article, "Republicans, Zealots and our Security" by Nicolas Kristof.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trumpeter Swans liking climate change?

Trumpeter Swans
I was thrilled to see a pair of Trumpeter Swans and three cygnets on a drive yesterday.  They were 20 miles west of the Twin Cities, nesting in a wetlands just off of Highway 12.

In researching trumpeter swans I discovered a World Climate Report Blog that indicated that these swans are actually increasing in numbers over the past 40 years. So despite the floods, droughts, strong winds and melting ice caps, the Trumpeter Swans are doing better than they were earlier in the 20th century. Nice to know something is fairing better, isn't it?

Further down the road I discovered a White-tailed Deer and a couple of spotted fawns grazing near a field of corn.
White-tailed doe and fawns

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reducing food deserts

Michelle Obama is leading the charge against childhood obesity.  As a part of her "Let's Move" campaign she's working to provide accessible fresh produce and meat to urban and rural areas that don't currently have such access.  An article "Supervalu joins White House push to open stores in poor areas" documents some of the progress she is making with the food industry.  An interactive map of the United States can identify food deserts; places without stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables.

4-H participant with cabbage
Having worked in North Minneapolis for 15 years I often witnessed kids standing at the bus stop with a candy bar and can of soda in hand. Not the kind of breakfast one would wish for them. While accessing quality food doesn't mean that people will necessarily eat nutritionally, it certainly helps to make it more likely.  The rise of urban farmers markets and locally grown produce is also supporting healthy eating movement.

Hat's off to Supervalu, a Twin Cities based corporation that is helping to make nutritious eating available to more of our nation's children and families.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Update on Victory-Peace Garden

Victory-Peace Garden

Following are pictures of the seven raised beds from the Victory Peace Garden at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church.  The Victory-Robbins 4-H Club planted the garden and is doing a great job of maintaining it.  They've already donated 27 pounds of produce to the PRISM food shelf. As you can see, much more is on the way!

Congratulations to the 4-H as they celebrate 100 years of service in Hennepin County

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jackass or carpenter?

Morning dock
"Any jackass can kick over a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one." This sage observation came from Sam Rayburn, a Democratic lawmaker from Texas who served for 17 years as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Pardon the language, but it seems we've got a nation brimming with jackasses. Politicians and others are quick to tear down the other side.  It seems many politician's sole mission is to see that other politicians are not re-elected.  What is their plan to get things on track, that seems to be considerably more murky.

Anonymous, snarky comments, and even distorted pictures of politicians are rampant throughout the internet. Talk radio has certainly fanned the flames. As the state of Minnesota and our national leaders are deeply divided over tax and spending decisions I hope that more of us will look toward creative solutions that involve collaborative efforts. The current name calling and pledge create a toxic environment that makes it impossible to reach the necessary compromises.

If our two party system refuses to work together, perhaps it is time to look at a third party!

So, what will it be for you and me, a jackass or carpenter?  Let's draw up some plans together and get hammering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mink sighting at the park

I was glancing out my dining room window and much to my surprise I saw a mink bounding down along the edge of the street, by Bassett Creek Park.  Having never seen a mink in town before at first I figured it must have been someone's pet ferret that had escaped and was looking for greener pastures. I got my camera and followed it into the park.  Upon closer examination I discovered it was an American Mink.
Mink live throughout most of North America.  As a semi-aquatic creature they often live near water.  Mink eat rodentsfishcrustaceansamphibians and birds.  I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the vast array of wildlife in our suburban neighborhood.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Como Conservatory

 Last week I visited St. Paul's Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  Following are some shots from the conservatory and its outdoor Japanese garden.

I was pleasantly amazed in this day of "user fees" that there is still no ticket purchase required to enter either the zoo or the conservatory, simply a suggested minimum $2.00 donation.  What a great community service!

They seemed to make good use of volunteers at the garden and conservatory.  Despite the misperception by many, it is neither cheap or easy to effectively utilize volunteers.  It requires recruitment, screening, training, support and recognition.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Role of government in society

Great Blue Heron
Given the great budget impasse we've had here in Minnesota, which also reflects a similar state of affairs in Washington, one has to ask the big question.... What is the role of government?  Should it be only for defense and some basic infrastructure and public education needs?  What is its role in serving as a safety net for the poor, young, handicapped and elderly? A MinnPost article suggests that the vulnerable may get hammered by the upcoming Minnesota budget, "Groups serving poor and disabled worry about budget deal".

When infrastructure needs aren't properly monitored and met we see poorly maintained roads, and even collapsing bridges. The sick, unemployed, and elderly people suffer when adequate care isn't accessible through publicly subsidized support (i.e. taxes).  Sometimes those that don't receive adequate care can even cause harm to society, as is noted in an article in today's StarTribune, "Did the system fail a budding killer".

Great Blue Heron with morning sun
In days of old it was the role of family to care for those in need. Those without family support people could find themselves sold into slavery or begging for a living.  The breakdown of many families and the wide spread distribution of family members makes this approach to care giving impractical in the 21st century United States.  So, we have relied on government assistance: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, AFCD (aid to families with dependent children), Unemployment Insurance, etc.

Some suggest that religious institutions might take on the role of care providers.  I know from recent communication with the CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches that they are in no way capable of taking on the huge role government plays in providing services.  In fact, they receive considerable government funding to provide supportive services to those in need, and receive only a very small portion of their budget directly from congregations.  The faith-based mentoring program for which I recently worked, Kinship of Greater Minneapolis, recently lost its federal funding to mentor children of prisoners.

So, if as many Republicans are suggesting that government dramatically reduce its role of providing "entitlement funding", how will care be provided to disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Giving Tree

White Poplar

White Poplar

I thought of "The Giving Tree" story by Shel Silverstein, when I visited the tree that I loved to take pictures of at the park recently.  It  had been cut down and was still lying nearby.

Monarch Butterfly

In its state of dying it is still managing to provide a perch for birds and butterflies.
Song Sparrow

Pictured are a Song Sparrow, Monarch Butterfly and Eastern Kingbirds on the White Poplar.

An amazing bit of serendipity occurred just this morning, shortly after I took the picture of the Kingbirds.  I met a friend who was on his way to pick up the White Poplar.  He plans to use it in his work making and repairing rustic furniture.  I discovered this after I had already come up with the Giving Tree theme for this blog the night before...
Eastern Kingbirds

Friday, July 15, 2011

Community garden on Oahu

I came across the Manoa Community Garden while hiking on Oahu.  It is over 20 years old, and one of many serving the Honolulu area.

I inquired of one of the gardeners who was working there about rabbits.  He said they didn't have a rabbit problem... however they have rats.  And, if you eat produce that has been nibbled on by a rat you can get very sick.

I'll take rabbits over the rats any day ;-)