Visiting DC

Your tax dollars at work!

Visiting Washington, DC, for me is mostly about spending time with my son who has lived there for many years.   He is a pretty good tour guide through the city.  Through the years I’ve seen a great portion of DC, certainly the main visitor attractions, such as the giant pandas at the National Zoo.

I’ve also visited a number of lesser known places, and occasionally have seen something that is only rarely open to the public (like the main reading room of the Library of Congress).   For visitors DC offers many attractions.  For the locals, DC is really about neighborhoods.  And at least from where I have been DC has some wonderful neighborhoods.    Cosmopolitanism is one element of city living I love – the diversity of people.  Every storefront virtually represents another country/culture.

There really are many national treasures in DC, all of which are worth seeing.  Visiting DC in different seasons is also worthwhile as  you see the changing beauty of nature in its parks and green areas.  The National Arboretum is an amazing park in the midst of a metropolitan area.   For me the national park system is federal money well spent.

Narcissus at the National Arboretum

New to me on this trip were visits to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, and the Congressional Cemetery.   The view of Georgetown from the bridge to Roosevelt Island (to me at least) has a European city feel to it.

DC is a marvelous city for museum lovers.  The Smithsonian Institutes museums are first rate.  Special for me this visit was a rare chance to peek inside the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.

The Arts and Industries building was “mothballed” in 2006. It remains closed but is now undergoing renovations.

I had opportunity to join some Smithsonian volunteers on a tour of the rather amazing building.

There are thousands of people who have volunteered through time to help make the museum visitor friendly.  In the photo is one of the knowledgeable and hardworking volunteers who made it possible for me to see this building being renovated.

Here is looking into the East Hall of the Arts and Industries building (the people give you the sense of the size of the building):

Looking up at the central rotunda ceiling:

A now rare view of The Castle (The Smithsonian Institution Building) from within the Arts and Sciences building:

DC is also full of American symbols – natural ones as well as man made, animate and inanimate.

An American Bald Eagle at the National Zoo is one living reminder of our country.

You can find all my photos from this month’s trip to DC at Washington, DC April 2015 Photos.  Saw lots of things I don’t have time to mention in this blog.  Also visited several great restaurants.

You can find links to other photoblogs I’ve posted at Fr. Ted’s Photoblogs.

George & Martha Washington’s homestead at Mt. Vernon

 

A Bright Week Visit to DC

Following the intense services of Holy Week and the exuberance of our Paschal celebration, I had scheduled a few days off to visit with my son in Washington, DC.

John like many DCers doesn’t own a car, so we got around on foot and by public transportation.  Probably just the small town Midwesterner in me, but the Metro appears at times futuristic to me.  Maybe it is significant since we often conceive the idea that the future of our country, if not liberty itself, is in the hands of the leadership in DC.

Some these days see Washington as a ‘sign’ of what is wrong with America.  I remember when John was a child and was really into GI JOE, and the nefarious enemy COBRA.  Lots of memory associations for me at the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art.  Art as a sign – of memories of a childhood, or political forces afoot in America, or maybe hopeful signs of the Chinese Zodiak and years to come.

Of course DC is not just about the present or future, but enshrines the past as well.  The Capitol Columns at the U.S. National Arboretum might be signs of lack of political foresight or that some things really do change in DC.  They may also be a sign that once the government does something, we have to deal with it for the rest of our lives as citizens.  The shadows cast by some of the Corinthian columns conjure up images of past DC figures who haunt or inspire leaders today – hooded specters or maybe heavenly watchers.

To keep things in perspective, the above Bonsai was in training since 1625  and is the oldest Bonsai in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum which is in the U.S. National Arboretum.  This Bonsai tree is considerably older than our nation, and has been “in training” for close to 400 years.  It should humble us Americans when we think about our traditions and appeal to the founding fathers.  This Bonsai was already 150 years in training before the Declaration of Independence was signed.  Our American sense of what is old shrivels before this one Bonsai.

The Glenn Dales at the U.S. National Arboretum are covered with Azeleas which happened to be in full, gorgeous blossom.

The Arboretum is a real treasure of our country, and one that doesn’t receive all the attention from DC visitors or residents that other sights around the city receive.  But for the nature lover and photographer it is a hidden gem.

Lacebark pine cone

There are many unusual and beautiful plants as well as Ikebana floral displays.  And the Arboretum is only one location for floral beauty, for the U.S. Botanic Garden also houses a wonderful collection of plants.

The Botanic Garden was featuring an Orchid show.  The orchid is probably my favorite flower to photograph.

Relatively speaking, I guess most visitors to DC don’t go there just to see the flora.  There is also the fauna at the National Zoo!  And you can get the picture that I didn’t go to DC just to see bricks, mortar and marble statues.

It is as true in DC as anywhere else that birds of a feather flock together – so too for donkeys and elephants!

You can find a set of my favorite photos from my visit to DC at 2012 DC Favorites or you can find all of the photos I took in sets at DC Collection.

A complete list with links to my photo blogs is at My Photo-Blogs.

Special thanks to John and Lauren for their hospitality.

Imagine living in that place in America where Washington’s Monument always looks over all.  There is an American ideal when we don’t lose sight of it.

Snake Eyes

In recent taking up photography as a hobby made me more fascinated with nature than I had ever been in my life.  Just stopping to look at nature in local parks led me to visit zoos and take pictures wherever I could.

Despite a cultural fear of snakes, personally I find snakes and reptiles to be most interesting subjects for pictures.  Maybe I feel safe because they are behind glass walls in zoos and aquariums, but I don’t find them to be fearful beings, but fascinating ones.

Some of them seem to be looking right at you, and you wonder what they would say if they could talk.

Jameson’s Mamba is the name of the snake above.  Deadly venomous.   But when I visit the Cincinnati Zoo, it is my favorite for viewing and photographing. The pattern of the scales over the body are intriguing.    The one above seems ready for serious conversation. No wonder Eve was deceived.   A talking serpent is not as easy to resist as you might imagine.

Nelson’s Milk Snake is non-venomous as are many snakes.  He too is curious about his environment and perhaps about the visitors who come to see him!   Current evolutionary theory says snakes evolved from reptiles with legs.  Some mistakenly think evolution should have moved from legless to legged, but that is not the case.  Even in Genesis 3 the serpent ends up slithering on the ground and loses his legs after the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Grand Cayman Iguana (above) is on the brink of extinction in the wild.  Not a pretty face, but this one almost seems to be smiling.

It is the front feet of  the Crocodile Monitor (above) which I find so fascinating.  They are designed for grasping and certainly look like gloved hands.  It is this genetic similarities between animals of different species that give credence to evolutionary theory.

The above photo of the Komodo Dragon  gives a pretty good look at this reptile’s ear.  They do have ears, but it is a hole in the side of the their head, they have no “pinna” or auricle, those visible folds of skin on the sides of our heads that we often associate with the ear in humans.  They are listening.

The Green Anaconda (above) is said to be the longest species of snake in the world.  This one doesn’t reveal his length, but his piercing eyes seem to plumb the length of the inner you!

The National Geographic Society Museum in Washington, D.C., had a wonderful display of Geckos.   The one pictured above is the Leopard Gecko Morph Striped.   They are considered to be a good pet for those looking for a lizard to bring home to care for.

Just above the surface of the water, only their eyes are visible.  A quick glance and you might think they belong to large frogs.  But beneath the water are full Alligators, lurking quietly, awaiting prey.

Back to snakes, this one above a Burmese Python.  I do find the scale patterns of the different snakes to be most interesting.  Many of us though would prefer watching Monty Python for entertainment.  Not being a TV watcher, I find looking through the glass in the reptile houses to be more invigorating than passively watching the tube.

And back to the Jameson’s Mamba.  It is as I mentioned my favorite snake at the Cincinnati Zoo.  I consider it beautiful, though deadly dangerous.   The snakes and reptiles are part of God’s creation and according to Genesis a serpent lived in paradise too.  The story of his betrayal of Eve resulting in human death enshrines the fear of snakes in human history and mythology.   Some indeed are a threat to humans, but many are not venomous and are the friends of humans consuming rodents and other vermin pests.

You can find links to all my photo blogs at  My Photo blogs.    Zoos enable me to visit the world, and to view even dangerous animals in relative safety and comfort.

Tax Cuts: a Painful Way to Keep Bleeding

The Co-Chairmen of the bipartisan commission to reduce the deficit released a proposal for the commission members and general public to consider as to what is needed to reduce the national debt.  In their comments they bluntly make it clear the reduction can only come with pain to the American people; there is no other way.  Of course Americans have never taken kindly to pain when it comes to economics and thus politicians who vote on policies which affect the nation’s economy tend also not to make the hard decisions in fear of being voted out of office. 

The U.S. Congress is going to take up the issue of making permanent the Bush era tax cuts.  This is being done while simultaneously there are calls to shrink the national debt.  These are the tax cuts that Mike Kimel and Michael Kanell in PRESIMETRICS characterize in this way:

Consider, for instance, that less than two months after taking office GW laid out a plan to aggressively pay down the debt while simultaneously cutting taxes and boosting military spending.  The plan was titled, ‘A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities.’  One can only wonder what an irresponsible budget might have looked like to GW’s advisors. 

According to what I’ve read, making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent will add $4 Trillion (that’s $4,000,000,000,000.00) to the national debt.  One wonders whether any Americans are really fiscally responsible or conservative who can advocate this right now.

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it.  Deficits are when adults tell government what they want and their kids pay for it. (Richard Lamm)

The push for the tax cuts at this point seem to be the usual American nearsightedness when it comes to fiscal issues: we want immediate gratification and don’t want to be troubled by the fact that what we do today will have  future repercussions.  

“… a president who cuts taxes while at the same time driving up the debt is not really ‘cutting taxes.’  He is merely transferring taxes from now until some later date.”  (Mike Kimel & Michael Kanell, PRESIMETRICS)

A president who cuts the national debt, on the other hand, saves you from having to make interest and principal payments on that debt in the future, and therefore reduces you tax bill later. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to make the connection between fiscal irresponsibility today and increased taxes later on.  (Mike Kimel & Michael Kanell, PRESIMETRICS)

We would do well to remember how we got into the national fiscal mess we are in and not perpetuate those same mistakes and then magically hope for a different result.  We might consider the words of U.S. founding father James Madison

“… war should not only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits: but that each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”

It is we the people, or at least we through our elected political leaders, who got US into the current financial mess.  It is the current and past president and the current and past congresses which have made the decisions to  bury us in debt.

Somehow, some keep singing the song to reduce taxes, as if that is the panacea for all that ails the American economy.  Yet the national debt also ails the economy and we are not going to reduce the national debt by reducing taxes,  anymore than someone can reduce their credit card debt by reducing their income.  If we are serious about reducing the national debt, we are going to need a different remedy than reducing taxes to pay down the current debt.

I do not know where the idea that reducing taxes is the best way to grow the economy comes from – but if PRESIMETRICS  measures the data right, then reducing taxes isn’t the panacea needed.  Consider the following based on Kimel and Kanell’s analysis of the data available from 1952-2008 (Presidents Eisenhower to GWBush):

“in recent decades, higher tax burdens have been associated with faster, not slower, economic growth.” (p 120)

“there doesn’t seem to be any evidence here for the proposition that lower taxes result in higher incomes  … lower taxes- at least by themselves- are not the way to increase economic growth.”   (pp 124-125)

“The numbers are pretty compelling.  Lower average tax burdens do not produce faster economic growth, or more jobs, or bring in more tax revenues.  Similarly, tax cuts also do not produce faster economic growth, faster income growth, or more jobs, or bring in more tax revenues.  … Unexamined faith in a principle that is demonstrably false is no way to run a country.”  (pp 129-130)

So, is the idea that tax cuts are beneficial to the economy based upon intuitive assumptions rather than on any statistical analysis?    It seems like it should be true that lowering taxes would benefit tax payers in every way, but the data which PRESIMETRICS studies doesn’t uphold what is a cornerstone of political beliefs for many.

This may be a case where we need to stop believing what we think, and actually examine the data to see what in fact will bring down the national debt and help the economy.  Maybe we actually are going to have to do some of the painful things the bipartisan commission is considering, including both raising taxes and cutting spending.  Ouch!

Or maybe we will continue to pretend there is some magical and painless way to reduce the budget deficit and keep doing all the things we currently are doing. 

Any magic left in these contenders?

In the Harry Potter books and movies, ultimately it is not magic that saves the day and defeats evil, but rather the courage and persistence of its “all too human” heroes to do the right thing despite their weaknesses, even when it is very painful.

Our politicians need to learn a bit of that magic called courage.

Visiting Washington, D.C.

Was able to spend a few days with my son in D.C., which was a joy.  

If you want to see a Collection of my Washington Photo Sets, just click on the link and then click on any of the thumbnail photos to enter the sets.  Once in any set the thumbnail versions of the photos of that set are visible.  Click on the Slide Show link in the upper right hand of the screen to see full size versions of the photos in that set.  

A set of various things I saw in DC can be found at Washington DC Sights.

The DC buildings (paid for by we the people!) truly are impressive,

 The Library of Congress is the most ornate, artistic and extravagant building that I saw in my days in the nation’s capitol.  

DC creates an American mythology mixing an endless collection of monuments to American heroes and leaders with  historical figures of fame from the ancient past and mythological gods and goddesses as well as anthropomorphicized virtues and vices.  Power and might is the message, though interestingly enough little of the current president is evident in the city, unlike the cities and states run by dictators which display more images of their current leadership than their past.

We really had a beautiful evening view of the Reflecting Pool, Lincoln & Washington Monuments (DC at Night) complete with a shining full moon on a cloudless night. 

We took the guided tours that were scheduled through Congressman Mike Turner’s (R- OH) office.  We toured the Supreme Court, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress.  We also did the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  Each of the tours was informative and worthwhile.   Among other things, I learned that the U.S. hasn’t printed any bills greater than a $100 bill since the mid-1940’s.  Checks and credit cards have made the larger bills obsolete.

 I still find God’s creation and creatures to be the most beautiful to see (The National Zoo, Geckos at the National Geographic, US Botanic Garden).   Geckos are a most versatile and fascinating creature, a wonder of God’s creation and one that has evolved into a wide variety of divergent and adaptable reptiles. 

The orchids at the US Botanic Garden were a joy to look at and had a beautiful fragrance.   As usual I took few of people (none of me) and John makes a cameo in a couple of the photos.  You can view some of my Favorite DC Photos.

Best of all, I got to spend time with my son who was a patient tour guide and made lots of allowances for my making the visit into a photo safari.  We did a lot of walking, and saw an incredible number of things in a few days.

Paid Political Ads: You Pay the Price for Campaign Financing

U.S. Capitol

There is a restlessness in voters this year that will once again turn out an anti-Washington, anti-incumbent electorate.   That really isn’t unusual anymore in American politics since both major political parties portray themselves as being Washington outsiders and anti-establishment.  One party is always in power and the other one trying to get back in power.

This message strikes a chord in Americans who see their “independence” being expressed through constantly morphing anti-establishment candidates . The reality is Washington stays the same the more candidates ride a wave of change to office.  The constant anti-establishment “we’re the party for change” appeal keeps things pretty unchanged and unchangeable.  We are constantly balancing back and forth between the Democrats who are now in power, and the Republicans who were in power before and are returning again.  Both parties are the object of our scorn and beneficiaries of our votes.  Both sides appeal to change thus perpetuating the system.  It’s a Sudoku puzzle with only two squares and you can only put a one or two in each of the boxes and no number can be used twice; the solution is logical but not too hard to figure out why so many find it uninteresting.

This year, thanks to the Supreme Court’s opening the floodgates of corporate spending on political advertisements, more “independent” corporations are paying for political ads to flood the airwaves thus effectively jamming any ability for reasoned discourse on important issues.   Consider NPR’s recent piece, ‘Independent’ Groups Behind Ads Not So Independent  which aired this morning.  Countless groups who are investing fortunes in political advertizing under the deceptive guise of being grassroots, local, non-partisan and independent are in fact Washington lobby groups, often funded by the few ideologues who want their particular views broadcast to America.  It is not government of, by and for the people, but rather government for, by and of the few who have the means to pay or the financial backers willing to pay for them.

These groups are all Washington insiders who don’t just play the game of Washington insider politics, they’ve manufactured it and sold it to the public at great profit to themselves and their causes as they get politicians to pay attention to their money and power.

As long as we pay attention to these ads, we pay the price for the American system of campaign funding: money talks and more money talks more often and more loudly.

A real anti-Washington electorate is one not listening to well financed Washington based lobby groups.  The only thing we should pay attention to is what issues and candidates these groups endorse and support because we will then know who the real Washington insiders and powers are.  Follow the money;  the power behind the political parties and the candidates will be revealed. If the NPR story is correct, it will be the real Washington insiders who are paying to keep the system just the way it is because they know how to win the political game they invented and sold to the public.

This is not to say that all those running for office are simply paid for by corporate sponsors and lobby groups.  No doubt candidates believe in some of the causes they champion, and some find themselves stuck in a campaign financing system that encourages these abuses.  Some probably have concluded they have to play the game as the only way to accomplish their goals.  For me, the real anti-Washington fervor should be directed at the ways people with money and ideologues can manipulate the system and the politicians.

Angry voters should demand the system be reformed, so that we quit having to pay the price of well funded lobby and special interest groups making us pay for the system they have manufactured and continue to perpetuate.  A real fight is to take away government of, by and for the corporations and lobby groups, and to return it to the people.  Will this be easy to accomplish?  No, because there is an awful lot invested in the current way of doing things.

Considering DC and Democracy

While in Washington, DC, visiting my son, we did take a tour of the Capitol Building led by an intern from my Ohio congressman, Mike Turner’s office.   As part of that tour, we watched a 13 minute documentary about congress and its role in the American government system.  It seemed to me that emphasized in the documentary is the fact that the house and senate are that part of the American government (of, by and for the people) most closely attuned to the American democratic political tradition.  They most closely represent the diversity of opinions throughout America.  They are that part of government in which debate on and discussion of issues is done within their assemblies and is part of what they are supposed to do.  It is the designed process by which government of, by and for the people comes to its decisions.      (My photos of DC are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/collections/72157625229327976/).

Historically, its roots are in those original debates which the leaders of the thirteen colonies engaged as they struggled with their relationship to the crown in England.  And anyone who has read American history knows those debates were rancorous and passionate.

In a democracy, such rancorous debate is the very means by which decisions are expressed, considered, dissected and decided upon.  (And I will admit by nature I am not always personally comfortable with such passionate and adversarial disagreement.  I hope for and prefer more agreement and greater harmony and tranquility).

John Adams

Certainly even in the days of the second president of the United States, John Adams, there already existed partisan debate and political trickery and dirty works.  Pseudonymous postings in papers that came into existence solely to promote a partisan point of view were common by 1800.  Vice-President Thomas Jefferson worked to politically undermine his President, John Adams.  Though they were powerful co-conspirators in the American Revolution, they became bitter political enemies in the partisan debates in the beginning of the Republic. 

James Madison too engaged in similar underhanded behavior against a government headed by his one time revolutionary compatriots.  He too was not afraid to engage in underhanded dealings to subvert those he disagreed with – not just their ideas, but those he considered political rivals.

It does seem to me, however, that in our current political polarizing partisanship, that some push for ending serious debate.  Some want one party rule.  Some want rivals and opposition silenced. 

Yet the political health of a democracy, like the strength of a species for surviving in a hostile environment, lies in its diversity and variations.  For democracy if anything is based in the consideration of and conflict between ideas; this is also its strength.   Ideas are improved on the anvil of debate, or, to change metaphors, in that heated cauldron which produces stronger alloys and new combinations of polymers with vital adaptability to the changing needs of people. 

Vote.  Pay attention to the issues at hand.  Learn about the debate, not just about what agrees with your opinions.  For a one party system is the basis of every dictatorship and all despotic rule.