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In praise of our nation’s teachers

Politicians gloat when bashing teachers for failing public schools. Surely, the lack of public funding couldn’t possibly have any impact, could it? How dare I even make that suggestion? The GOP would rather starve public education that even consider, for a mere second, a tax increase to insure proper education for our youth. No, that’s not possible whatsoever to increase, even slightly, taxes to educate our youth. The GOP believes in tax cuts and spending, further delivering us into massive debt, then expecting public schools to survive budget cuts without end. The GOP spends, of course, but not on education. They spend mightily on defense and prisons. If a school fails, it’s the teacher’s fault. If the teachers are unionized, oh boy, watch out. The GOP’s venomous assaults on unions stings just as hard as their mouth lashings on immigrants. Yet they rarely offer praise to teachers who save student’s lives like the high school teachers in Broward County on February 14th who so bravely stepped up and even died to protect their students from an unhinged former student with automatic weapons mowing down everyone in sight. Go back a few years to Sandy Hook CT when six teachers including the school principal died fending off another armed and dangerous intruder who also killed 20 first grade children. Can we please say thank you to these and other teachers for their extraordinary commitment to their students? They surely deserve it. Sometimes, they teach in schools that are grossly underfunded, paying for essential supplies out of their own pocket. The GOP backed tax reform bill of 2017 wanted to deprive teachers from deducting some of these expenses from their taxes but it survived somehow. Teachers are devoted to education so they still pay for many of the supplies, even when they are not tax deductible like yachts, condos, and furs. Schools in poor inner cities and rural areas are a mess. The plumbing may not work. Paint may peel from the ceiling. Heat may be sporadic in winter. Yet instead of fixing the decrepit buildings, the GOP siphons off tax funds and shovels them into privately owned charter schools. It’s all about choice they say. I say it’s all about propping up their wealthy donors who own the charter schools and donate to their campaigns. If you want to send your child to private school, that’s entirely your choice. As a taxpayer, I shouldn’t be footing the bill. Neither should you but you are. Teachers are among the lowest paid professions in the country. In some states, the starting salaries are woeful. Graduates avoid the field because the pay isn’t enough to keep up with crushing student loans. The USA doesn’t support higher education either. In poverty stricken areas, students may arrive hungry, in dirty clothes and unprepared. Their parents may be unemployed, on drugs, or working three jobs to stay afloat. Who knows? Until we can link poor people with more essential services, their children will suffer. Those services, by the way, are on the way out. Our government doesn’t think they are essential as me and thousands of others do. Naturally, the funding sources are shoveled into the military or a wall on the southern border to protect us from what? I don’t know, do you? All the dangerous criminals I know are American citizens with the legal right to purchase assault rifles. The word assault should say it all. As for teachers, I applaud them. I admire their dedication and commitment to our youth. They stand strong against a government that doesn’t back them. The government doesn’t back poor old, disabled people like me either. Parents sometimes hold teachers accountable when their children fail, even though it may not be the teacher’s fault. Sure, there are incompetent, inept and bigoted teachers in the classroom who should not be there. Some take advantage of students in inappropriate ways. Some are just not suited for the classroom. The majority, however, are caring, smart and supportive of our students who deserve our backing and loyalty. They deserve a decent wage. They deserve better than what our government gives them. So do our students.

 

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Twenty four years ago

I didn’t write this on January 6, 1994 because I was sick with pneumonia but it was a memorable day. Twenty four ago started as an ordinary day but it ended with me in a ditch, bleeding and unconscious. Nothing has been the same ever since. A car struck me while walking my two dogs after work. My two dogs waited for me to get up and continue their walk. One of them licked the blood oozing from a gash to my face. The ICU admitted me in critical condition. One note said I was “semi-conscious with very limited mobility.” Two weeks later I transferred to a rehab center. By the end of January, I read at the 3rd grade level. My brain was as stale as three day old fruit salad, even though I once read classics, devoured books and read the New York Times every day. My interest in reading had all but vanished. I was afraid I’d be like this forever. Losing part of my mobility was an initial blow because I’d been an active jogger and biker. I ran in dozens of road races, including three marathons. I biked in the Rocky Mountains and hiked in state parks. Initially I had trouble accepting my disability but visits to a group home changed that. I met people who were much worse off than me. Considering I spent time around people who were incapable of feeding themselves it was time to get off the pity pot. I had adjustments to make, lots of them. My brain doesn’t function as well as before. For example, my thoughts and words don’t always mesh. I may not remember your name or how I know you. By evening, I’m not sure what I did that morning. The loss of employment dropped me into near poverty. I’ve scrounged through the trash for aluminum cans to redeem for cash. I water down dish soap to make it last longer and most of my clothing comes from thrift shops. But like the name of the late Maya Angelou’s poem, still I rise. Others live on the edge just like me. There’s no shame in being poor. I found new life through volunteer work. I loved each one of the roles I’ve served in. Maybe there will be more. If it wasn’t for the accident I never would’ve found the time to volunteer as a pet therapist for Gabriel’s Angels, answer the phones in former Gov. Janet Napolitano’s office, helped teach English as a second language to new immigrants, provided comfort to homeless pets, greeted passengers at the airport and so much more. Each of these assignments enriched me in many ways. In 2013 I met a new friend, Diba from Afghanistan, and she introduced me to Islam. Qamar from Somalia guided me too. Two years later, I finally said my Shahada, or declaration of faith. If Allah grants me another day to live, and I hope he does, I am at peace as a Muslim. I am blessed with much more than others although I have so little. All friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, make it so worthwhile. Maybe it took a horrific accident to figure this out. I’m really not sure. I am thankful for the past 24 years. I treasure the community surrounding me, the sisters in our Quran group and for so much more. And I am glad I met Diba and Qamar at the airport. I was always like the aimless wanderer, never knowing quite where to go, but always looking for a place to fit in. I finally found that place and I hope I never lose it. Tomorrow isn’t granted to me or anyone else so I make the best of each day, never knowing when it’s all going to end.

 

 

A Muslim’s Christmas memories

Almost three years ago, I said the Shahada (declaration of faith) and converted to Islam, so I don’t celebrate Christmas any longer. I do, however, have fond memories of the Christmas holiday as a volunteer with Gabriel’s Angels, where I was a pet therapist. I was also an animal shelter volunteer who helped many years for pet photos with Santa at various PetSmart stores. Here are some of those memories.

At Christmas time, PetSmart stores partnered with local shelters and/or rescue groups for a fundraiser called Pet Photos with Santa. PetSmart provided the camera and film then split the proceeds with the rescue groups. I assisted with various shelters/rescue groups for the pet photos. As a regular volunteer, I dealt with thoughtless owners, comforted abused animals, and worked with people whose mission it was to save unwanted animals. I grabbed the chance to surround myself with people whose pets were cherished parts of the family. That would be a welcomed relief.

Because sitting came easily to me (the result of a car accident), I sometimes wore the Santa suit, also courtesy of PetSmart. What a ball I had, even though the beard and the wig were itchy like a crinoline slip. Some big dogs were terrified of having their pictures taken with Santa. I struggled to hold them next to me. One giant dog was so scared me yanked me off the bench and started to pull me across the floor. Good thing I had a strong grip or that dog would’ve swept me out the door. A fuzzball of dog with curly tail lifted his leg on my shoes and left me with a stinky memento. A fluffy gray cat clawed my beard like it was a scratching post. One dog snarled at me and bared its teeth. I refused to pose unless the owner sat between me and the dog. A freckle faced boy wanted to pose with Santa, even though I was a ‘girl’.

At a far west side location, an older man on a horse trotted slowly through the parking lot up to the store entrance. The horse obviously could not enter the store so we brought everything outside. I posed next to the man and his horse for his pet photo with Santa. He left feeling quite satisfied then galloped towards West McDowell Avenue.

That same day, a young couple arrived with a turkey, yes, a turkey. They had purchased the bird for Thanksgiving dinner. The bird stayed in their backyard for a few days. When it came time to kill the bird, both husband and wife balked. He said to the wife, you kill it. She said no, I can’t either. They ended up keeping the turkey for a pet. So, at Christmas time, they arrived at PetSmart to pose with Tom, their new pet, for a photo. The bird cooperated for his first photo opportunity.

Late one afternoon at another store, a woman arrived with a small carrier. I assumed it held a cat, or maybe a rabbit. My mouth felt like chalk when I saw a large white rat. I grew up in New York City and to me, rats were unwanted guests. I would’ve screeched if I ever saw a rat of any color in my apartment. Fortunately, I only had occasional mice and roaches. Still, as Santa I had to act proper and pose with the white rat, even though I squirmed inside.

On bathroom breaks, I rode my scooter through the stores. Customers at one store called out, “Hey, Santa’s on a scooter. Go Santa.” Some even applauded. I was pleased to see people’s attitudes towards disabilities had softened.

Every year I went home feeling rewarded and uplifted about spending the day with people who adored their pets. It was worth all the time I spent stuffed inside a hot, scratchy suit just to see the human/animal bond at work. I needed days like that to renew my spirit. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure I could return to rescue work, especially when I volunteered with the county. How many times could my heart break?

Over the years, I rescued dogs myself from shelters and rescue groups. I had their pictures taken with Santa too. One year, I had six dogs. With the grace of God and a little help from an unknown customer in the parking lot, I got all six dogs into PetSmart. I still have all their photos.

I volunteered as a pet therapist with Gabriel’s Angels for almost eight years. My adopted dog Luke and I visited children at a homeless shelter. Spending important holidays like Christmas at a shelter instead of your own home was often emotional crushing to the families. Every year, several friends collected toys for these children. I was so thankful for their generosity. I wrapped each child’s gift in holiday paper and a bow. Their excitement was priceless as they ripped open the presents and treated them as if they were gold. As an added bonus, I borrowed Christmas music CD’s from the library. We sang along to tunes such as Jingle Bells, Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Luke added his own canine crooning by howling at various parts of the songs. That made the children crack up. Christmas at a homeless shelter was a sobering experience I’ll always remember. Shelter staff and volunteers pitched in to make their holiday as warm and comforting as possible.

At times, I felt so inadequate. So many troubled children passed through with emotional anguish that stretched beyond my position as a pet therapist. Even my training as a social worker didn’t always give me an advantage. I relied on Luke to soothe their wounded souls. But there were times even my dog couldn’t help. I did the best I could but there were times I felt it wasn’t enough.

The flow of unwanted animals into our shelters never seemed to end no matter how many free spay/neuter days we offered the public. Homelessness in the USA was always a problem that could have been addressed with more funding for low and middle-class housing but it never is. I doubt it will be in my lifetime either. In the meantime. I thank Allah for the chances I had to spend time with all these homeless children and for the happy times at PetSmart. May He continue to allow me to now grow and learn in the Islamic community that I now serve.

 

The GOP Tax Plan

It’s a tax plan for the middle class, the GOP says. But is it really? Dig a little further and that’s not what you will find. To pay for this boondoggle of a plan, the allegedly fiscally conservative Republicans are stripping away middle-class tax deductions for student loans, state and local taxes, capping mortgage deductions, as well as cutting Medicaid, Medicare and more. They end the estate tax that benefits the affluent, as if they cannot afford it. There are further erosions to the ACA (Affordable Care Act). Gone will be a provision that requires citizens to have health care or to pay a penalty. Some might say that’s good. Others will face doom and gloom. With millions of young, healthy people exiting the health care market, those who remain will pay even higher premiums, forcing them to possibly cancel their insurance. Public school teachers pay out of their own pocket for school supplies because the Republicans have stripped contributions to education. The current GOP will take away their ability to write off part of those expenses. And they won’t raise contributions to public education either. You can be assured they will, however, increase spending on war, prisons, and restrictions on abortion. The Republican party is on a roll to gut public education further by increasing vouchers to pay for charter schools, most of which are owned by wealthy Republicans. The plan to be voted on is a gift, as always, to the rich and to corporations who, you guessed it, are major donors to politicians. The Republican party is the recipient of many of these donations. The tax bill gives rights to the unborn, lets churches have the power to insert themselves into politics (now prohibited) and even more. Donald Trump is eager to score a win this year since so far, he’s accomplished nothing. No surprise here. The tax will add significantly to the multi-trillion-dollar deficit, a drag on our economy. I wonder why the Republicans are OK with deficits when they have the majority in Congress. If the Democrats proposed a similar spending bill that vastly increased the deficit they would surely vote it down. The Republicans are a party of hypocrites to say the least. They spend like drunken sailors then cut spending. It makes no sense whatsoever. Then of course there is defense spending and Donald Trump’s infamous wall at the southern border. He wants that wall built no matter the cost or the harm to the environment not to mention humans. He wants to spend more and more on the military. Where will all this money come from? Economists say his tax plan will not produce the results he promises. It is simply impossible. Unemployment is already at a historic low of 4%. Trump says it will produce more jobs. Where will the workers come from to fill those jobs since he doesn’t want immigrants? He’s already deporting immigrants by the thousands. Ending protection for Haitians, Nicaraguans and DACA recipients. The tax plan is a poorly thought out plan that even a high school economics class can figure out will not work. The American people deserve better. We are decent, hard workers who love our country. We care deeply about our families, our friends and neighbors. We work hard to clean up the environment with or without government help and lately it’s been without help from the Feds. We are concerned about the fate of unwanted animals and endangered species. We offer help to the needy. We pray well together. We want to live in peace. We don’t want more war. I love my country but am ashamed of my government and the people who helped elect Donald Trump. I wake up every morning praying and hoping he hasn’t started the end of the world. That’s a distinct possibility. As for the tax plan, it’s another of his fiascos that will not make America great. We already were without help from him.

I haven’t said much about 45 lately

I haven’t said much about 45 lately although every day I am embarrassed by his words, deeds, and actions. My opinion of his supporters is about what I feel about for roach powder. I don’t like it and I don’t like them. I am still aghast that someone of lowest intelligence and with the morals of a flea is the president of the USA. I once thought of our country as the greatest in the world. Our president, Democratic or Republican, had the highest standing among world leaders. We were admired, even if we didn’t always deserve it. Now we are mocked, we are laughed at, made fun of for electing Donald Trump as president. Saturday Night Live and other comedians draw huge ratings for their hilarious portrayals of the clownish buffoon sitting in the oval office. Cartoonists depict him as the moronic figure he is. There are dozens of Facebook pages devoted to 45, calling him names like disgusting pig (which of course he is). Moving beyond his childish, immature behavior on Twitter where he makes a fool of himself daily, there are grave concerns. He is no doubt a dim-wit, we all know what. There are millions of idiots who still support him too for degrading our environment, for upsetting our social service network, for his assault on immigration, and I could do on, but what’s the point? Any literate person is aware of the serious injuries he’s caused not just to the USA but to the rest of the world. He’s held back money from valuable UN programs. He pulled the USA out of international treaties and there may be more to come (think of NAFTA). He is dangerously close to bringing death and destruction to millions in East Asia (the Korean Peninsula and Japan) because of his petulant and downright inane comments to North Korea’s leader. Granted, North Korea is a hermit kingdom with a wacky leader but Trump is pushing them closer to the edge. He doesn’t have to be such a bully. The whole world will suffer if Trump launches a nuclear bomb. Mrs. Clinton warned us of the catastrophic danger of putting the nuclear codes in Trump’s hands but voters didn’t seem to think that was a problem. I guess they never saw footage of the devastation caused by the hydrogen bombs that leveled Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I wish I did. To attain world peace, we need a leader with a strong, powerful voice to unite us. Sadly, that is not Donald Trump and never will be. The GOP, with the exception of a few, support this crazy man. Wow, are we in trouble. We Americans should worry about Trump’s tax plans ruining our economy. There is no logical sound way to slash taxes and spend like a drunken sailor on national defense and border as Trump and company continue to do. If Trump wants a border wall then let him pay for it. He’s allegedly a business man with connections. Let’s see them. I hope I live to see 2020, without nuclear devastation, and a new president in office, one who will restore sanity to America. We’ve lost our minds to think Donald Trump can do anything but continue to bring us more heartaches.

 

It’s not a disrespect to the flag

Former San Francisco 49-Niner Colin Kaepernick started the trend last year when he refused to stand for the traditional pledge of allegiance at the start of a football game. Why? He said it was in protest to police brutality and discrimination against African Americans. If Donald Trump won’t dismiss violence by neo Nazi’s then why can’t football players and other athletes take a stand against discrimination? None of the athletes, some of whom served in the military, said nothing untoward against the flag. They in fact support and love the USA. What they object to (and so do I) are the flagrant fouls committed by President Donald J. Trump who day after day, week after week, month after month, since his election, has committed against the USA. I need not repeat what they are. If you aren’t aware of them, shame on you. The unity demonstrated by the NFL on Sunday was impressive. It is a sign that the country can unite behind a common goal to demand decency from ourselves and respect from the president who governs us. We do not need a leader who sends out insulting tweets of a childish, boorish nature. We do not need a president who is unnecessarily taking us closer to nuclear Armageddon. We do not need a leader who insults our allies and pushes them further away from us. We do not need a leader who refuses to follow the rule of law. We do not need an impulsive leader who threatens to rip up treaties signed with other countries (that took years of hard work) because he deems them unfit. We do not need a leader who is dishonest, bigoted and thoughtless. Yet that’s what we have. Every day Trump tosses out a basket full of disgrace for us to sort through. As good decent people, we hold our heads high, try not to become too discouraged or angry, and make it through another day without breaking news that Trump started World War III. I am solidly behind the NFL and all other groups who stand up to the bully in chief. We’ve had enough. We are Americans who help each other in times of need. We are better than the America Donald Trump has given us. Remaining silent isn’t part of my nature. Speaking up and voting may be all I can do to stop the spread of Donald Trump’s misguided agenda but it’s worth my time. Maybe if more Germans had risen up against Hitler, he would’ve been stopped in his tracks. Maybe, I don’t know. I love the USA and if it means kneeling at a football game, then so be it.

America is already great Mr. Trump

 

I really hate writing about Donald Trump. Really, I do. There are other subjects so much more interesting to me than him. But for reasons I still don’t understand, he ended up as the 45th president. Gasp, gasp. From day one when he was inaugurated, he has not just disappointed me but he has frightened as well as revolted me. I fear his brash, reckless and impulsive behavior will ignite a major war, perhaps even a nuclear one, God forbid. As a nation, we are isolated from our once reliable allies, Germany, Mexico and Canada to name a few. Mr. Trump’s tweets are not fact based nor are the statements he issues. He continues his assault on the free press. There does appear to be solid evidence that he colluded with Russia to win the election. Some of his advisors have known ties to right wing neo Nazi organizations. Shame on this. His attacks on the environment are unprecedented. Climate change is real. He bashes Muslims, immigrants, gays Blacks, and others with a smirk on his face that shows a disgusting sense of misplaced pride. I could go on but what’s the point. America under Mr. Trump is scary. The government is in shambles. Late night talk show hosts often joke about Mr. Trump but in reality we should all be afraid, really afraid, for the health, safety and security of our country. His absurd ideas for tax reform are even rejected by Republican economists as unreasonable. He has no ideas for a sound replacement for the Affordable Healthcare Act. He talks about a public/private infrastructure partnership but offers not a single blueprint to make it work. The cost would be staggering and he has no idea how to pay for it. Business leaders beg for immigration reform and he comes up with nothing substantive, just punitive plans to satisfy the hard right. To all of you who voted for Mr. Trump, I ask you why? Why did you vote for him? Why? I believe in the two-party system. I look at Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea to reinforce my decision. But the only way to make government work is compromise. Compromise seems like a dirty word these days. Donald Trump prides himself as the ultimate deal maker. I hardly doubt that. His deal-making skills are crushing the very core of America. We are better than him and his supporters. We cannot let him and the unapologetic bigots who rally around him take down what we have worked so hard to build up. Ours is a country based on diversity, a sense of pride, giving and community. We don’t need him to make us great. We already were. His presidency offers us an opportunity to unite or be defeated by the poison he’s feeding us. Reject and resist the Trump agenda.