Saturday, April 30, 2011
they are closing the auto plants
out here in California
but a major company is promising
employment to laid-off workers
who will transfer to an Oklahoma
many of the families are
making the trek
in long caravans of cars
full of children and
just as in the 30's
their elders had come here
in the same way
now they're going back
with California accents
Grandchildren of the
because Japanese cars are
it's like a little bit of
or a Japanese horror
with an all-American
~ Charles Bukowski, War All the Time: Poems 1981-1984
Friday, April 29, 2011
Jackson Pollock applying paint to his canvas
My very cool friend Maya Grafmuller – who designed my kick-ass logo – mourned the loss of our country’s stellar reputation in a Facebook post yesterday:
First it was Dubya, then Sarah, now the Donald? Man, how embarrassing for us....you know, as a country. I'm just sayin'.
Her friend Beth, who had lived overseas and traveled extensively, agreed:
You know, Maya, you are so right…I have always been proud to say I'm American but I started to get negative feedback so after a while I started saying I was Canadian and no one hassled me.
Beth’s response made me sad. I was compelled to remind them that at least two Oval Office occupants (one recent and one current) are intellectually formidable. William Jefferson Clinton may have self-discipline issues but when it comes to brainpower, he’s a genius. You don’t get to be a Rhodes Scholar – the most prestigious scholarship in the world – by claiming to see Russia from your front porch or answering “All of ‘em” when questioned about what publications you read. I was fortunate enough to meet the guy more than once and can report that he was not only intimidatingly sharp but really likable. Not phony likable like Dubya but genuinely likable. (I never understood how an inarticulate guy whose millionaire parents lived in Kennebunkport could buy property in Crawford, put on a cowboy hat, drag some twigs around for the camera and call himself an average, likable Texas rancher.)
Barack Obama – who, in one of the most embarrassing moments in recent American political history, was forced to provide copies of his long form birth certificate in an effort to prove his citizenship and quell the objections of brainless racists who still aren’t satisfied and will stop at nothing to discredit the brother in the White House – is undoubtedly one of the most eloquent, charming, intelligent men ever to enter politics, let alone ascend to the highest office in our land. I don’t always agree with him and haven’t been shy in expressing my disappointment. But the man is as sharp as the pointiest of tacks and the world knows it.
There are others in America’s political arena whose knuckles don’t drag on the sidewalk when they walk. Anthony Weiner from New York, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Barney Frank from Massachusetts use more of their brain cells than the average Joe the Plumber. Al Franken (D-MN) is surprisingly smart, given that he used to be Stuart Smalley on “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve never met Bubba’s spouse but Madame Secretary strikes me as having a large amount of tolerance (a sign of intelligence, I’m told), talent and intellect. While not politicians, Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow (another Rhodes Scholar) are certainly astute observers of politics with impressive, above-average smarts.
I agree with Beth and Maya that the imbeciles in the Tea Party and the public figures who pander to and use them – Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, the Koch Brothers, et al – are embarrassing. But they don’t represent this country. They’re blips on the political radar screen, temporary darlings of a lazy media, proof that America truly is a melting pot with all types of residents, helpful and harmful. They don’t contribute or enhance anything. Party members congregate in public places at the behest of their overlords and give ridiculous interviews to bemused news crews and display their misspelled signs and leave nothing substantive but litter when they return to the rocks under which they live. They’ll be gone soon, I hope, relegated to political science textbooks and YouTube, where the parents of the future will show their children the clips as proof of what can happen when governments spend more on tax breaks for their rich than on educating their citizenry.
Just because we’ve gone from a democracy to an oligarchy doesn’t mean people despise us. The Leader of the Free World is a man of color, for Pete’s sake! The Donald's racism aside, that’s a powerful symbol for little boys and girls of all colors around the globe.
I’d wager this country is known more for John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Far more people have heard of Michael Jackson than Michelle Bachmann. Sure, people know we’re a flawed nation in many ways – but they still want to be like us and dress like us and come to us and live with us and listen to our music and watch our movies. Our health care isn’t the best, our foreign policy is infuriating and our history includes much of which to be ashamed – as any Native American or African-American or Japanese-American can tell you – but there’s also much of which to be proud in the 235 years of our formal existence.
We’re known for Motown and the Marshall Plan, electronic innovation, the development of the modern public school system, computers, airplanes, cameras, our university system and our support of the United Nations. When people think of us they think of jazz, the polio vaccine, video games, the space program, literature and poetry, nylon and vulcanized rubber and celluloid and Teflon and Tupperware, the Panama Canal, contact lenses and elevators.
What else? Scotch tape comes to mind, and photocopiers and Post-It notes and fiberglass and Broadway and the Smithsonian and ball point pens and Walt Disney and fast food (sorry about that one, world) and bubble gum and Wikipedia and Amazon.com and GPS. Let’s not forget cash registers and the Richter scale and denim jeans and safety pins and hip hop and Aldo Leopold and Andy Warhol and John Kenneth Galbraith and Jimmy Carter and Al Gore and roller blades and Hollywood and Jackson Pollock and Cesar Chavez.
When people think of the United States, they think of cars and soft drinks and the cotton gin and Steven King and Dean Koontz and John Grisham and Danielle Steele and Amy Tan and disposable diapers and The Big Apple and the Windy City and the Big Easy and Ernest Hemingway and Kahlil Gibran and Cat Stevens and Truman Capote and Mark Twain and Langston Hughes and e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson and Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Jean King and Billie Holiday and Michael Moore and Michael Jordan and Jack Kerouac and Neil Armstrong and John Glenn and Upton Sinclair.
The list also includes Bill Maher, Malcolm X, Matt Taibbi and Charles Bukowski. America means cowboys and “American Graffiti” and E.T and Fred & Ginger and Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello and Rowan & Martin and Sonny & Cher and Simon & Garfunkel and the Marx Brothers and the Mamas and the Papas and the Three Stooges and Edgar Allen Poe and Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman and the beatniks and Benjamin Franklin and James Brown and Shirley Temple and Lucy and Desi. It means “Gone with the Wind” and “inherit the Wind” and “Star Wars” and Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson and “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
I really could go on and on.
Suffice it to say that there are probably more photos of Hawaiian-born Barack Hussein Obama hanging in the living rooms of other countries than of Eric Cantor and John Boehner and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the Wench from Wasilla and even St. Ronnie of Reagan combined.
This is a strange period in history, to be sure. And I concede people underestimated Hitler at first too. But Trump the Chump and the Tea Party ignoramuses don’t represent me. As much as I like and respect Canada, I would never say I was Canadian. I wouldn’t want that and neither would our friends to the north.
Source: Self Referential Collapse
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I miss my male friends.
Growing up in the 1970s, I wasn’t the best at making and keeping friends. I wasn’t blessed with athletic prowess and didn’t gravitate to sports like other boys so the male friendship thing didn’t come naturally to me. I had to work at it. For a while it seemed like I was destined to be a loner – the “keeps to himself and is happy being alone” kind, not the “lives in his mother’s basement and one day climbs a tower with a high-powered rifle” kind.
It’s true that things change when you grow up. Once I realized that each friendship is different and different guys define things in different ways – one friend taught me that if a playoff game is on TV, I’d better not call even if I’m stranded and it’s dark and stormy outside and a tornado has been spotted less than 30 miles north of me heading south – my loner days were behind me. I even became versatile, crying and making quiche with one pal and spitting and baiting my own hook in silence with another.
With some of my guy friends, there were no rules and few boundaries. We talked about sex and joked inappropriately and burped and argued and didn’t always chew with our mouths closed.
I had to be more careful with other friendships. One in particular took a long time to develop; my buddy was very sensitive and guarded and I really had to earn his confidence and companionship. He was prone to depression and would isolate himself physically and emotionally, but he was brilliant and unique and I respected the sh*t out of him so it was worth putting up with his quirks. For a few months, we were both dating women in our nation’s capital so we rented a car a few times and made the 10-hour Lansing-to-DC drive together and talked and joked and laughed and shared and bonded. It was a sad day when I helped him move into a ground-floor apartment in another state.
I’ve played darts in a league and ogled women and recruited groomsmen and discovered that I lack the intellectual capacity to play poker. A guy named Thom taught me how to throw a perfect spiral every time. I went on an itinerary-free road trip to Madison, Wisconsin, with a buddy named Brad. A colleague named James taught me how to kayak. My friend David and I watched the worst team in the NFL, the Detroit Lions, lose at the Pontiac Silverdome.
I watched the Michigan State University Spartans play in the NCAA hockey championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, with two pals from work; I consumed more alcohol than was wise and I have a fuzzy memory of us leaving a strip club without cab fare or any idea where our hotel was. I would ask my fellow travelers to remind me how things ended up but I’ve lost track of them.
Sometimes I’d forget and start to cry in front of the guy who wasn’t a crier or suggest to the bookish dude that we shoot some hoops, but those glitches were minor.
Now, as a stay-at-home writer, I’m mostly around just one male, a nine-year-old boy who is more masculine than I was at nine and more athletic than I am now. I don’t expect him to try to teach me poker and I’m pretty sure trips to the strip club aren’t in our future. He already knows how to throw a perfect spiral every time.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
You’ll find guesses from yahoos on Yahoo and reports that are older than the tennis shoes I wore in high school and more newspaper articles than you can count, but it’s difficult to find the answers without spending hours reading and comparing and verifying and sifting through a wagonload of verbiage.
I wonder why that is.
I had heard that President Obama just urged Congress – again – to repeal the $4 billion in tax breaks we give the oil industry each year and the Weeper of the House indicated he might be willing to have a meeting about this. Then his people denied he was willing to listen to some dude who wasn’t even born here and wanted to bring socialism and Islam to the American heartland.
Lest one thinks Obama is just worried about his election prospects as the price at the pump continues to rise, he’s been talking about this for a while. In his State of the Union speech back in January, he had said, “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”
The GOP responded by sticking their collective finger in their collective ears and collectively whistling Broadway show tunes. Remember, this is the political party which apologized to BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe last year that killed 11 men and caused five million barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.
In response to a Facebook status update in which I expressed gratitude for not having to pay $8 for a gallon of gas like they do in Germany, Facebook friend Cindy Sullivan pointed out that we actually pay around $15/gallon but not all at the pump. She provided a link to a report by the nonprofit International Center for Technology Assessment entitled, "The Real Price of Gasoline." Just skimming the executive summary revealed the following:
- The federal government provides the oil industry with numerous tax breaks designed to ensure that domestic companies can compete with international producers and that gasoline remains cheap for American consumers. Federal tax breaks that directly benefit oil companies include: the Percentage Depletion Allowance (a subsidy of $784 million to $1 billion per year), the Nonconventional Fuel Production Credit ($769 to $900 million), immediate expensing of exploration and development costs ($200 to $255 million), the Enhanced Oil Recovery Credit ($26.3 to 100 million), foreign tax credits ($1.11 to $3.4 billion), foreign income deferrals ($183 to $318 million), and accelerated depreciation allowances ($1.0 to $4.5 billion).
- Government support of US petroleum producers does not end with tax breaks. Program subsidies that support the extraction, production, and use of petroleum and petroleum fuel products total $38 to $114.6 billion each year.
- U.S. Defense Department spending allocated to safeguard the world’s petroleum resources total some $55 to $96.3 billion per year.
- The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a federal government entity designed to supplement regular oil supplies in the event of disruptions due to military conflict or natural disaster, costs taxpayers an additional $5.7 billion per year.
- Environmental, health, and social costs represent the largest portion of the externalized price Americans pay for their gasoline reliance. These expenses total some $231.7 to $942.9 billion every year.
- Other external costs amount to $191.4 to $474.1 billion per year. These include: travel delays due to road congestion ($46.5 to $174.6 billion), uncompensated damages caused by car accidents ($18.3 to $77.2 billion), subsidized parking ($108.7 to $199.3 billion), and insurance losses due to automobile-related climate change ($12.9 billion).
Ha! Beat that, Germany!
We ought to stop giving billions in tax breaks to oil companies and subsidizing the petroleum industry. But we ought to stop treating corporations like people and robbing from the poor to give to the rich and busting unions and privatizing Medicaid and Medicare and allowing the nation to default on its debt and engaging in class warfare and killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Libya and telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies too. What we ought to do and what politicians do instead are farther apart than Sarah Palin’s house and the Russian Federation.
Sources: Associated Press, thinkprogress.org, Center for American Progress Action Fund, smartmoney.com, Politico.com, International Center for Technology Assessment.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
It is closing in on 10:30 p.m. as I start to put my thoughts down for Patrick’s blog. It might seem an odd time to do so, but since becoming unemployed I find my early mornings aren’t as early and my early bedtimes aren’t as early as they used to be. I find it amazing that I, a ‘stubble jumper’ from the prairies of Western Canada, now live in New England. I’ve learned a lot about this country but I have to say, I’ve a few questions for all of you, because frankly some of the stuff you guys do doesn’t make sense to me:
Politics – I’ll take ‘A colossal waste of money’ for $53 billion, please, Alex.
I don’t know if anyone down here has noticed, but Canada is having a federal election. The writ (which basically starts the game rolling) came down on March 26, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government lost a non-confidence vote, with the election to be held on May 2. You will notice that this will take less than three months from start to finish. THREE MONTHS to travel a country whose area is more than 100,000 miles larger than the United States. It seems to take at least a year here; two years if you have to have primaries. Why so long, and why do you really need primaries? I know there used to be conventions but no longer. Do you really need to drag this stuff out?
The last election in Canada cost a record $300 million (Canadian) while in the United States, nearly $53 billion (American) was spent for the 2008 presidential campaign. I understand that the population is much greater, but television and radio advertising covers larger areas of population. (I also know that the US has about 10 times the population of Canada but still less area.) I mean, wow! $53 billion!? Couldn’t you have done a lot more good for this nation with that much scratch? That’s $171 per person in the United States vs. $8.77 in Canada. I wish they’d have given me the $171 instead of bombarding the airwaves, internet and all other media forms with attack ads.
I’m not going to delve into parliamentary politics vs. the US system because they’ve both GOT ISSUES! But I’ve got to ask: Electoral College? I understand from my studies (which I undertook voluntarily) how the Electoral College came to be, but guys, it’s OVER WITH! Let’s save a few dollars here, hey?
God Bless America – Great! Now could you tone that down a bit? You’re giving the rest of the world a headache.
As an outsider, I had always perceived this as some form of arrogance. It came across to me and others that America was God’s chosen country and the only one that mattered. America is #1, and the rest of the world? WHO CARES?! THEY AREN’T AMERICA!!
But since living in the United States, I have come to a few conclusions:
1.) It’s not intentional arrogance. I believe that in comparison to Canadians, Americans are far more spiritual. And that’s not a bad thing, really. Though I am reminded of a quote of a friend of mine: “Religion is like alcohol: to be taken in moderation.”
2.) Americans are very patriotic. The spirit and pride in your nation are very clear. I think this is a good thing. I’d just add that that patriotism, like religion and alcohol, should be taken in moderation. Canadians are a not patriotic enough, and patriotism in Canada seems to only raise its head when a Canadian team beats an American team. Then boy, do the Canadians go over the top. Bad form, hosers.
~ Richard Woo
Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers know that I’m in a Matt Taibbi phase right now. I enjoyed reading his book, Smells like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, recently. And by “enjoyed,” I mean, “He’s a fantastic writer who shoots from the hip and depresses the sh*t out of me by opening my eyes to sickening things I never wanted to see.” The book’s last chapter, entitled “The Worst Congress Ever,” contains the following:
It is no big scoop that the majority party in Congress has always found ways of giving the shaft to the minority. But there is a marked difference in the size and the length of the shaft the Republicans have given the Democrats in the past six years. There has been a systematic effort to not only to deny the Democrats any kind of power-sharing role in creating or refining legislation but to humiliate them publicly, show them up, pee in their faces.
Washington was once a chummy fraternity in which members of both parties golfed together, played in the same pickup basketball games, probably even shared the same mistresses. Now it is a one-party town – and congressional business is conducted accordingly, as though the half of the country that the Democrats represent simply doesn’t exist.
This was written in 2006. Although the composition of Congress has changed, the nature of politics and the truth of historian and moralist Lord Acton’s adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” have not.
I love this writer. I hate what I learn from him.
Monday, April 25, 2011
The last time I spoke to my little sister, Jennifer, my 20-year-old daughter, Amelia, wasn’t old enough to drive yet.
It was Christmas 2006 and we were visiting our parents in Atlanta. Jenny, who’s two years younger than I am, brought her 12-year-old son, Joseph. I brought Amelia and the woman to whom I was married, Alessandra, who would leave me three months later. (I’m pretty sure her sudden, unexpected departure had nothing to do with meeting my family.)
My nephew was a sweet boy. His mother was not.
I loved Jenny but I didn’t like her much anymore. She was hard-assed and argumentative and egotistical and confrontational. At one point, when we were all sitting around the dining room table after dinner playing Scattergories, it occurred to me that the moment would have made a good ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit – a boorish, self-absorbed, masculine woman was pontificating about anything and everything and not letting anyone else at the table get a word in edgewise and not even stopping to take a breath, it seemed, until the rest of us felt like inflicting severe bodily harm with a butter knife, a pen, even a car key just to make her stop.
I tried to tell myself that this was the behavior of an insecure woman who had felt overlooked as a child, who had perhaps been overshadowed by her witty older brother, and who was now utterly determined to grab as much attention as possible whether her unwilling audience liked it or not. I clenched my fists and my jaw and bit my tongue and tried to persevere but I just couldn’t take it anymore and I finally blurted out, “Jesus, will you just shut up for a frikkin’ minute?!”
The visit went downhill from there.
Jenny stopped speaking to me completely, and our mom informed me the next morning that my sister and nephew would be leaving that very afternoon to return to California. Jenny had told her that she didn’t feel comfortable around me and didn’t need to take this sh*t from anybody and would spend her holidays among people she loved and that didn’t include me anymore. Or words to that effect. I haven’t seen her or Joe since.
I received a nasty e-mail from her a few years later when she heard that Amelia and I were having a hard time (and were in fact estranged), and I receive occasional updates about her from our mom, although they’re infrequent because Jenny and Mom have their own issues. But for all intents and purposes I find myself without a sibling at the age of 49.
I wish I had just kept my mouth shut and let her use hers to excess. I wish we still connected like the childhood pals we were growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s. I wish she didn’t resent that I might have received more attention when we were kids. I wish she was aware of how cool she had turned out to be – she had moved out to Los Angeles alone after college to carve out a whole new life, had earned a master’s degree, was raising a son by herself, and displayed a strong personality that I secretly envied – and didn’t feel the need to go overboard trying to convince her family that she was lovable. I wish I saw us reconciling at some point, just burying the hatchet and starting over, but I don’t.
I wish relationships weren’t so complicated and difficult for me to maintain sometimes.
Although we’re not even Facebook friends, I visit her page sometimes just to see what my 47-year-old baby sister looks like now.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Newborn, Brovetto Farm
Just under the dairy
a four-day-old calf,
big soft, earth-
already but other-
weary, as if it had
been here many
and was none too
pleased to be
back as a cow
in this cow-hating,
“Next time, try
as a poet,” I
wanted to say.
“Then we’ll talk.”
Or maybe I should
come back as
a cow so I could
present good fortune.
I think I was an
perhaps a scorpion,
a slave or a murderer.
But never a cow
where the dis-
assembly lines at
move so fast
don’t have time
to die and so are
hacked apart, still
struggling to escape.
This one, at least,
would have a pasture
and be milked
instead of killed,
fed well, probably
even talked to.
Still I felt her
saw the shoulder-
shrug look of rotten
luck in her eyes
and the wish to be
elsewhere, the wish to
return and begin
again I’d forgotten
I know so well.
~ John Brehm
Saturday, April 23, 2011
When I checked Facebook this morning, I ran across a link to a story about how Michigan State Senator Bruce Caswell has proposed that children in foster care be allowed to purchase clothing only from used clothing stores.
That’s right. Foster kids aren’t stigmatized and mistreated enough as it is. They apparently need to experience the same blows to their fragile self-esteem that a miserable, piece of sh*t politician from southwest Michigan must have suffered:
“I never had anything new,” Caswell says. “I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was — and quite frankly it’s true — once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.”
Caswell wants foster kids to get gift cards that can only be used at places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other second-hand clothing stores. He insists the plan will save money, though he doesn’t know how much or what the state currently pays to clothe children in the foster care system.
To which political party do you think this insensitive cretin belongs?
I’ve got nothing against “vintage” clothing – in my family of six we share and pass articles around until they're reduced to tatters – and it’s good to make sure tax dollars are wisely spent. But this is offensive. This is nothing more than a loutish politician’s attempt to bolster his name ID at the expense of vulnerable, hurting children.
This kind of crap belongs in a Dickensian novel. And Bruce Caswell may not have been ashamed of the used clothing he wore as a youth, but he ought to be ashamed of the despicable man he’s become.
Senator Bruce Caswell
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
Source: Michigan Messenger
Friday, April 22, 2011
I no longer have a suit to wear to the funeral of Democracy.
See, I’ve gained a little weight and no longer fit into my dark blue suit. I don’t know what I’m going to wear to the somber gathering at which we’ll mourn the loss of the system of government that served us so well…for a while, anyway.
I was on the way home after picking Anita up from work last night when I heard on the radio that although polls are showing that people want Medicaid and Medicare left alone, Washington isn’t listening. Paul Ryan (R-Eddie Munster), the GOP’s go-to guy on Screwing People through Use of the Federal Budget, wants to make Medicare a voucher program and Medicaid a block grant program with $750 billion less in funding.
The Ryan plan forces seniors to pay more for the same benefits, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and jeopardizes vital health care services for millions of low-income Americans. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Pussy) recently went on “Faux News Sunday” and argued that Medicare and Medicaid sometimes provide a “safety net” for “people who frankly don’t need one” and that the shift of the burden from the government to the beneficiary will teach government “to do more with less.”
Cantor is the dickhead who admitted on television that Republicans were emboldened by their success in bending the POTUS over a barrel during recent budget negotiations so now they’re going to refuse to raise the nation’s debt ceiling – causing the government to default on our debts – if they don’t secure more spending cuts.
This is not about cutting spending and streamlining government and balancing budgets. (The endless, unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost over a trillion dollars to date but no one’s talking about bringing our soldiers home.) This is about widening the divide between the rich and everybody else and taking away any chance of bridging the divide. It’s class war, pure and simple. It’s a complex, coordinated, multi-faceted, insurmountable assault on the idea that the supreme power of government is vested in, and exercised by, the people.
- I’m still struggling with the fact that a few months ago President Obama betrayed his vow to end Dubya's tax cuts for the wealthy - the promise that helped him get elected - by agreeing with greedy Republicans on a "temporary" two-year extension of all cuts in order to obtain a measly 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. Based on Treasury Department estimates, the cost of this b*llsh*t move is likely to approach $700 billion.
- I already wrote about how taxpayers are still on the hook for cleanup costs if we have another Deepwater Horizon-esque environmental catastrophe because Congress hasn't changed the law that caps oil companies' liabilities.
- I also already wrote about Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signing a law making it possible for emergency financial managers appointed by the state to go into struggling cities and school districts and usurp the authority of local elected officials, with mostly poor, black Benton Harbor being the first municipality in the state to experience this assault on representative Democracy. And Snyder’s budget proposals are consistent with the “Take from the Have Nots and Give to the Haves” philosophy currently being advanced in Washington and across the nation.
- Last month the Missouri State Senate voted to overturn an anti-puppy mill referendum approved by 52 percent of state voters last year. A few years ago, both houses of the Missouri legislature voted to overturn a proposal approved by 76 percent of voters declaring that the state minimum wage should rise along with inflation.
Want to know who should be convicted for the murder of Democracy? The United States Supreme Court is certainly complicit 'cause of its “Corporations are people too” ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. The nine robed twits aren’t alone, though. They should be joined in a police lineup by David and Charles Koch.
Last summer, The New Yorker magazine featured an interesting and depressing article about the billionaire libertarians who’ve declared war on Everything Obama. The magazine points out that “the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies – from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program – that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.” Another exposé reveals that the Koch network has donated $11 million to federal candidates since 1990, 89 percent of which went to Republicans, and that $1.2 million was spent to help elect conservative Republican governors last year, “including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, both of whom are trying to take away collective bargaining rights.”
Yep, Democracy is clearly dead. Its ass was kicked by Oligarchy. Since there probably won’t be a formal swearing-in ceremony, I won’t have to worry about squeezing into a suit anytime soon.
Oligarchy: noun. A form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
Sources: Think Progress, CNNMoney.com, The New Yorker magazine, Alternet.org
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I don’t get out much.
I used to. I’ve had some cool jobs and have been all over the country and have met interesting people and have done fantastic things. I like to tell anyone who’ll listen about the time in June of 1996 when I visited Washington DC with two bigshot colleagues from the environmental community. (I was lucky enough to work at one of Michigan’s premiere environmental advocacy organizations for 10 years.) We went on the roped-off tour of the White House during the day – it was easier to get tickets back then – and then a few hours later we returned for a private, intimate reception with Bill Clinton, Al Gore and six hundred other tree-huggers from across the country. At one point I was sitting on Dolley Madison’s couch – it was no longer behind a velour stanchion but under me - eating jumbo shrimp as the President of the United States chatted mere feet away. I’ll never forget that surreal moment and I’ll never stop telling the story unless Anita follows through on her threat to shoot me if I don’t.
These days I find myself at home, in front of a computer, writing and net-surfing and listening for my kindergartner's bus to stop in front of the house. Sometimes MSNBC’s talking heads are prattling away in the next room; at other times the clicking sound of my fingers on the keyboard is interrupted only by a woodpecker or a UPS truck or the soft beeps of my coffee maker telling me that it’s turning itself off and any coffee remaining in the carafe will henceforth be cold.
In the 1980s I wore suits; in the 1990s it was jeans and open-collared shirts. Now I’m doing the sweats and t-shirt thing if I change out of my robe at all. I used to communicate with grownups about the earth-shattering and the mundane; now I talk to myself or no one in particular until the kids come home. I’m sure my vocabulary has shrunk along with my list of friends.
Oh, I have hundreds of Facebook friends – some of whom I really like. But I’ve learned you have to put time and energy into your real-world relationships if you want them to continue, and you need something in common. The adults with whom I used to work and drink and throw darts and discuss public policy aren’t raising four preteens and blogging. They’re not chaperoning field trips and settling arguments about lunch money. They’re not watching iCarly and Wizards of Waverly Place, and I doubt any of them is still wearing a robe at lunchtime.
When everything revolves around your children – when you don’t go anywhere without them, really – and your office is the corner of your dining room where your computer awaits, the world gets smaller. Your circle tightens and you sometimes worry that your perspective has become skewed. I find myself feeling excited rather than irritated when the doorbell rings, and disappointed when it’s a kid from the neighborhood wanting to play with one of mine. It’s gotten to where I’m happy to take a call from a pollster or bill collector because at least they’re old enough to drink.
Anita’s set up a few opportunities for us to dine with her friends from work in recent weeks which I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve found that my ability to engage in small talk hasn’t left me and I remember how to act my age. But I still have work to do if I’m going to become the well-rounded middle-aged man that I used to think I’d one day be.
I’m not complaining. I love my family and I dig my life. But it’s not perfect yet. Last weekend I snagged a free 36-inch color television for my children from a sweet, generous Facebook friend who lives nearby. It was supposed to go upstairs but I can’t carry it up there alone and it’s too heavy for Anita. So it’s sitting on the cold, concrete floor of the garage – right next to the two bales of hay we bought for landscaping purposes – until I can identify an acquaintance with muscle to help me out. The kids are allowed to visit their new possession whenever they want. They can’t turn it on but they can imagine.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Today’s the big day.
The media will surely fall all over themselves doing the One Year Anniversary thing for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and began spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010.
It took three months – three months – and almost five million barrels of oil gushing into the water before the experts could figure out how to stop the geyser. (I know I’m not alone in recalling how inept former BP CEO Tony Hayward, tired of the inconvenience the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States was causing him personally, whined publicly, “I’d like my life back,” to which thousands upon thousands of devastated Gulf Coast residents replied loudly and in unison, “So do we, asshole!”)
I remember hearing reporters talking about this-many-feet of containment boom being deployed and that-many-feet being added and trying not to laugh and cry at the same time because the containment booms didn’t work and meant nothing.
Chew on this for a second: 4.9 million barrels of oil equals 206,000,000 gallons.
One year later, consequences include extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats; devastated fishing and tourism industries; unemployment, financial hardship and uncertainty; and the corpses of baby dolphins, porpoises, starfish, sea turtles and other marine life washing up on local beaches.
One might assume that the full force and attention of the federal government are making things better…but one would be wrong. Congress – which is so good at adding insult to injury no matter the topic – has done nothing to strengthen protections for rig workers and the environment. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Congress has failed to pass a single law to make drilling safer than it was a year ago, and the oil industry remains unbowed and relentless in its drive to gain more access to the offshore environment.”
On top of that, oil companies are still relying on the same blowout preventers, containment boom and dispersants that failed last year.
And almost a year after eleven-year-old Malia Obama asked her father, “Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?,” the Obama Administration is apparently leaving other holes uncovered, neglecting to ensure that the newly-formed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has the resources it needs.
Bureau head Michael Bromwich is on record stating that his agency “still lacks the resources, personnel, training, technology, enforcement tools, regulations and legislation it needs to do its job properly.” He also said U.S. offshore drilling accident rates are much higher than Australia, Canada, Norway, and the United Kingdom because those nations put stronger rules in place after major accidents.
Bromwich is the guy who appeared so defensive, prickly and insolent while being interviewed recently about new drilling permits on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show that Maddow concluded the segment by saying, “I have never been more freaked out about this story and those permits than I am now after talking to him. Wow.”
Want to know what freaks me out? Taxpayers are still on the hook for cleanup costs if we have another huge spill because Congress hasn't changed the law that caps oil companies' liabilities at $75 million. (According to Willis Group Holdings, a London-based global insurance broker, total Deepwater Horizon-related losses could amount to $30 billion.) Yet the three mammoth corporations associated with Deepwater Horizon – BP, Halliburton and Transocean – have all seen their profits soar following this little incident.
The NRDC reports that the U.S. House of Representatives will soon vote on legislation that would accelerate the pace of drilling, sidestep environmental safeguards, and mandate drilling in new areas along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and in the Arctic Ocean. Which way do you think the narrow-minded, ethically-challenged, status quo-lovin’, pro-Big Oil Republicans are going to vote?
(Photo credit: Reuters)
Sources: Natural Resources Defense Council, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Huffington Post.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Fascism: n. a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Remember how last month I posted about Rick Snyder signing a law making it possible for emergency financial managers appointed by the state to go into struggling cities and school districts and usurp the authority of local elected officials?
Well, Benton Harbor has the dubious honor of being the first municipality to experience this assault on representative democracy. (The Detroit Public Schools is hosting imaginatively-named emergency financial manager Robert Bobb.) Last Thursday, the city’s emergency financial manager, Joseph Harris, issued an order stripping all city boards and commissions of their authority to take any action. Under the order, the boards and commissions can now call meetings to order, approve minutes of meetings and adjourn meetings. Period. They can’t do anything else without Mr. Harris’ permission.
Benton Harbor residents are poor – the per capita income is $8,965, the lowest in Michigan – and almost entirely African-American. Benton Harbor is actually half of our local "Twin Cities," the other being St. Joseph, across the St. Joseph River. St. Joseph must be a fraternal twin because it sure isn’t identical. Its population is over 90 percent white and its per capita income is almost triple that of Benton Harbor.
Some people know that actors Vivica Fox and Ernie Hudson, the late professional wrestler Bobo Brazil, comedians Arte Johnson and Sinbad, and the late jazz pianist Gene Harris all called Benton Harbor home at one point. Or maybe you heard about the rioting back in 2003, when a mixed-race police officer caused the death of an African-American on a motorcycle. Three-hundred state troopers came into town to stabilize the situation.
I first heard about this place, located west of Kalamazoo in Berrien County, a few years ago because it’s home to Jean Klock Park, a 90-acre park with Lake Michigan frontage that was donated to the city back in 1917. Through the years the park survived a number of development threats – until 2003, when the city announced it was selling some of the park for lakefront residential development.
Lawsuits took place and settlements were reached and then it was revealed that the threat wasn’t thwarted after all because the Whirlpool Corporation, headquartered there, was advancing the idea of a signature golf course and glitzy second home community that would become the “Harbor Shores Golf and Beach Club." So what if the park included rare natural resources like Great Lakes dunes, marshes and wetlands? So what if the poor residents of Benton Harbor enjoy their park? So what if the original donors, John and Carrie Klock, intended to honor their dead daughter, Jean, by providing a special place for children in perpetuity?
Snyder’s predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, refused to get involved, telling residents that the battle was a local issue outside of her jurisdiction. The fact that Fred Upton, an heir to the Whirlpool Corporation founded by his grandfather, has represented the 6th District in the U.S. Congress since 1987 probably had no bearing on her decision.
If anyone outside of Michigan is reading this and thinking, “I don’t care ‘cause I don’t live there,” think again. This kind of “Rob from the Poor to give to the Rich” crap is happening all over the place – in Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and even in the hallowed halls of Congress.
Whirlpool commemorates its 100th anniversary this year, and St. Joseph is preparing to celebrate “Upton Week” in June. I hope the people of Benton Harbor can shake off their doldrums and come to the party – if it’s okay with Mr. Harris.
Sources: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, savejeanklockpark.org, Michigan Messenger
Monday, April 18, 2011
Last Saturday night Anita and I were choosing a movie at our favorite Blockbuster. We had settled on “The Switch,” a Jennifer Aniston film, but at the last minute I decided to check the documentary section and a picture of disgraced über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff on the cover of “Casino Jack: Jack Abramoff and the United States of Money” caught my eye. We decided to leave Jennifer for another night and learn more about Jack instead.
A few weeks ago all I knew was that Abramoff was a bad guy in Washington D.C. who wore a black fedora and ended up going to jail. Then I learned a little more about what a slimy prick he was by reading a chapter of Matt Taibbi’s book, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, entitled “Meet Mr. Republican: the secret history of the most corrupt man in Washington.” But the movie taught me that Abramoff was in fact not the most corrupt man in Washington; he‘s just one of the best examples of the kind of shit that floats and swims in the putrid cesspool that is the United States Government. The film also made me want to drink massive quantities of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey.
“Casino Jack” references the revolving door between Congressional offices and K Street lobbying firms. Lots of top congressional aides leave government, then turn around and persuade/pressure/purchase the same people who used to sign their paychecks, which are now a lot bigger. (The law that’s in place to prohibit this for one year is apparently routinely violated.)
We see Tom DeLay (R-TX) slandering Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and “the liberals” for trying to expose what Abramoff and his political pals were doing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), 15 islands in the western Pacific Ocean with ties to the U.S. The efforts of Abramoff, DeLay and others to prop up CNMI’s factory owners in effect led to indentured servitude, prostitution and the desire on the part of some exploited immigrant workers to sell their kidneys so they’d have money to return to the Philippines and elsewhere. With golf courses, hookers and a five-star Hyatt, it sure was a cool place for political junkets.
We see how Abramoff was apparently so smart that he figured out ways in which to cheat Native American tribes out of millions upon millions upon millions – yes, the Indians are screwed again by the White Man – yet so stupid that he recorded every unethical plan and unflattering perception of his clients in easily-retrievable e-mail messages.
We see how anti-gambling Christians were purposefully and cynically manipulated by a well-compensated Ralph Reed – the creepy, born-again wingnut who looks like a 12-year-old wearing his daddy’s suits – to help get casinos in Texas closed down so Abramoff could swoop in and save the day for the tribes by promising congressional action – for a price.
The movie spends a fair amount of time examining Abramoff’s longtime relationships with Reed and Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform who really ought to be head of the “I Despise Anyone Who Doesn’t View Government as I Do” organization. The three rose to the top of the Republican shitheap at approximately the same time and shared the same myopic, self-serving goals of getting rich and powerful – really, really, really rich and powerful – by any means necessary.
We see the convict Bob Ney (R-OH), who flew to Scotland with Reed and other conservative cronies to play golf on Abramoff’s dime – our dime, really – and then did Abramoff’s bidding in Congress, postulating that if we would just bring about public financing of campaigns, everything would be fixed and the birds would all sing again.
We see how Abramoff arranged for the Malaysian government to meet with Dubya in the Oval Office after cash had been delivered, and how Russian thugs and organized crime had a direct line to the elected officials who were writing bad laws and killing good ones. We see that a number of other ethically-challenged politicians should have gotten in trouble but avoided the snare like cockroaches avoid a flashlight beam. (Former bug killer Tom DeLay knows a little about that.)
The doddering Maverick from Phoenix is in this film. So are Harry Reid (D-NV) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Karl “Piggy” Rove and Newt “I Exude Slime” Gingrich and St. Ronnie of Reagan. Also making appearances are Susan Schmidt – the heroic Washington Post writer who first exposed Abramoff’s grossly improper treatment of Indian tribes – and a bone-headed lifeguard from Delaware and even Jimmy Stewart, whose Mr. Smith went to a far different Washington in 1939.
It’s all about how dismally and possibly permanently corrupted our political system is. It’s about how junkets funded by greedy interests are the norm and regulations are really bad and an unfettered free market is really good and people are stupid, especially liberals and Indians and Filipino immigrants, and what we learn in high school civics class has absolutely no relationship to what really goes on in the
It’s kind of like a Michael Moore movie only without the dripping sarcasm and confrontational street theater that turn off some moviegoers. Toward the end, it references how sweatshop owners in Saipan were not the only ones trying to avoid pesky regulation by the feds; the “Too Big to Fail” financial industry was also spending pretty pennies to manipulate politicians. (We know what’s happened with that.) And it points out how the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, then shows, as the credits roll, a clip of DeLay’s repulsive, ass-shaking performance on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009.
People really ought to see this film. But I know a lot won’t. Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are so much more photogenic.
P.S. Casino Jack was convicted in 2006 of mail fraud and conspiracy and went to federal prison to serve three-and-a-half years of a six-year sentence before being released to a halfway house in June of last year.
P.P.S. This past January, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison on conspiracy and money laundering charges. He posted a $10,000 bond and is a free
P.P.P.S. This just in: Ralph Reed was being considered by The Donald to manage his faux presidential campaign. That noise you hear is Jesus laughing hysterically.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
This is my new logo, designed just for me by my talented, artistic, witty friend, Maya Grafmuller of Los Angeles, California. Look for it on the hood of my car, on billboards, on napkins and stationery, being pulled by planes over beaches in Brazil...the possibilities are endless. Thank you, Maya.
Beneath one little star
My apologies to the accidental for calling it necessary.
However, apologies to necessity if I happen to be wrong.
Hope happiness won't be angry if I claim it as my own.
May the dead forget they barely smolder in my
Apologies to time for the abundance of the world missed
Apologies to my old love for treating the new as the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, that I prick my finger.
Apologies to those calling from the abyss for a record of a
Apologies to people catching trains for sleeping at dawn.
Pardon me, baited hope, for my sporadic laugh.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing with a spoon-ful of
and you too, hawk, unchanged in years, in that self-same
staring motionless, always at the self-same spot,
forgive me, even if you are stuffed.
Apologies to the hewn tree for the four table-legs.
Apologies to the big questions for small replies.
Truth, don't pay me too much attention.
Seriousness -- be magnanimous.
Mystery of Being -- suffer me to pluck threads from your
Soul -- don't blame me for having you but rarely.
Apologies to everyone for failing to be every him or her.
I know that while I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own impediment.
Speech -- don't blame me for borrowing big words
and then struggling to make them light.
~ Wislawa Szymborska
Saturday, April 16, 2011
- In July of 2005, Dolores McNamara, an Irish housewife, won a nine-week rollover jackpot of $160 million.
- On February 18, 2006, a group of eight co-workers from Nebraska who bought a single lottery ticket won the $365 million Powerball jackpot. They received a lump sum payout of $177,270,519, the largest payout ever recorded.
- On March 6, 2007, a $390 million Mega Millions jackpot was shared by two lucky ticket holders, one from Georgia and one from New Jersey. Each winner received $116,557,083 after taxes.
- On August 22, 2009, a player from Toscana won the Italian lottery jackpot, SuperEnalotto. The $205 million jackpot is the largest lottery prize won in Europe.
Anita and I watched a few episodes of “The Lottery Changed My Life” on TLC. It was depressing.
Not because we were envious or didn’t think it could ever happen to us. We pretty regularly visit the nearby Speedway to purchase a few Mega Millions numbers or pick up a Powerball number on the way out of Meijers.
It was because the folks featured in the few episodes we watched were all about themselves and their immediate families and friends.
No one wanted to start up a business that employed 40 people. No one wanted to save a struggling homeless shelter or send a poor kid to college. It was all about diamonds and show horses and 20-room houses and 200-acre properties and Corvettes and caviar.
My friend Randall Glumm sparked a conversation in Facebook this morning about what people would do if they hit the Big One. I was expecting people to mention hybrid cars or concert tickets or something with 10 karats – but the conversation was all about helping others and tapping into our “inherent good” and even supporting National Public Radio.
That makes me feel better. Anita and I would be a little selfish – we do have five kids to put through college and the minivan’s getting a little tired and so are our aging parents – but our daydreaming-out-loud always includes references to the charitable foundation we’d start and the tax ramifications of giving cash away.
How many Cadillacs and Quarter Horse Stallions and homes in Maui can we take with us when our number’s up anyway?
Friday, April 15, 2011
Well, turns out it’s kind of a big deal. The White House and Congressional Democrats are warning that if the $14.294 trillion debt ceiling – the cap set by Congress on the amount of debt the federal government can legally borrow – isn’t raised immediately and we default, interest rates will soar, another financial crisis will be sparked and hundreds of thousands of businesses will be crippled. Also, the sky will fall, evil madmen will fire their laser death rays at heavily-populated areas from caves around the world, SpongeBob SquarePants will become U.S. Secretary of Education and Pet Rocks will make a comeback, sparking riots in Dollar Stores across the country.
Just kidding about that last part.
The U.S. had $14.212 trillion in debt as of last week, putting it $82 billion under the ceiling. We’re set to hit our heads on the ceiling around May 16. No one knows for sure what’ll happen then because it’s never happened before. But everything I’ve read recently leads me to assume it won’t be pretty. According to the Congressional Research Service, "Not only the default but efforts to resolve it would arguably have negative repercussions on both domestic and international financial markets and economies.”
In theory, the limit is supposed to help Congress control spending. In reality, the debt limit is ineffective in controlling spending and deficits. Budget experts say the right forum for that is the debate over the federal budget.
Yeah, good luck with that. There’s no such thing as reasoned debate in Washington anymore. Thanks again, electorate.
The thing that’s missing in much of the coverage of this issue is this: politicians have already committed to incurring the obligations that require them to raise the debt ceiling. In the words of former Congressional Office Director Rudolph Penner, “Much of the political rhetoric is misleading because the money has already been committed and lawmakers are arguing over whether to pay the bill.”
Eric Cantor and his cohorts really are the brown stain on the underwear of politics, aren’t they?
The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since March of 1962. (Ten of those times have occurred since 2001.) I say lift the damn thing again and then reprioritize government spending, focusing not on the wants of the rich but the needs of the not-rich.
And let’s bring our soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan and see if that saves any cash.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney.com, Huffington Post
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Looks like I owe the president an apology.
I found my heart beating faster when he said things like:
- We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.
- As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally born a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. This is not because we begrudge those who've done well – we rightly celebrate their success. Rather, it is a basic reflection of our belief that those who have benefited most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back. Moreover, this belief has not hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale, who continue to do better and better with each passing year.
- After Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn't pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.
- Most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but they like the stuff it buys. Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense. Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare.
- Around two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans' benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%. What's left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That's 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.
- Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12%. But cuts to that 12% alone won't solve the problem. So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table.
- We don't have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I'm President, we won't.
Now THAT’S the Barack Obama I voted for on November 4, 2008!
Interestingly, this wasn’t, as Rachel Maddow pointed out last night in her coverage of the speech, a “barn-burner.” There were no soaring rhetorical heights or dramatic, eloquent applause lines. The president was muted, in fact, as if he didn’t want his vaunted speechifying ability to detract from the message he was imparting. It worked for me.
The president acknowledged that the Rabid Partisan Monster will undoubtedly rear its ugly head following his speech and roar its disapproval and unwillingness to allow cooperation and compromise. But he also played the Hope and Change Card again, reminding listeners that we’ve come together to meet challenges before and surely there are politicians on both sides of the aisle who actually want to get stuff done. When he expressed his belief that “we can and must come together again,” I shouted out to Anita in the other room, “Hey, honey! Barack’s back!”
Okay, Mr. Obama. Prove that these weren’t just words in a speech and I’m back in.
P.S. When did they pass a law requiring that presidents end each and every speech, no matter the topic or audience, with “God bless you and may God bless the United States of America?” If you’re reading this blog, STOP IT, willya?!
P.P.S. Does it irk anyone else that some members of the media are focusing on the earth-shattering question of whether or not Vice President Biden nodded off a little during this address? Way to zero in on what’s important, dickheads. Uncle Walter would be proud.
Sources: Washington Post, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I never see my oldest.
I never speak with her and almost never communicate at all, except for occasional text messages and Facebook posts.
I remember February 26, 1991, as if it were yesterday. I remember the excitement and nervousness and hope and fear and worry and eagerness and amazement when she came out. I remember being surprised that it took two snips to cut the umbilical cord. I remember holding her for the first time, and driving so carefully on the way home from the hospital, and feeling so happy and afraid and different. Everything was different. I felt different and I was sure I looked different and what used to be important suddenly wasn’t anymore and I was a dad. A daddy. Of a baby!
I remember how she used to stand up in her crib in the morning, waiting to be picked up, and how happy and excited she would get when she spotted us. I remember her first birthday and Halloween and Christmas. Man, was she inundated with Christmas presents!
I remember the struggle to find good child care, and learning that the opinions of others, people with more experience and wisdom, didn’t matter when it came to good child care because, well, they were apparently willing to accept things that we just weren’t. This was Amelia.
I remember driving her to school and having her watch me through the window, tearfully, as I drove away. I remember trying to hide my tears.
I remember the first time I chaperoned a field trip, a milestone for every father.
I remember taking her to her first play date, with a little boy whose name I’ve forgotten, at a nice house out toward the Lansing Mall and insisting on exchanging medical insurance information with the boy’s mom, who looked at me as if I were a little crazy but I didn’t care because this was Amelia.
I remember how wonderful her mother proved to be, how loving and dedicated to our baby she was. I remember being surprised that she knew so much and could do so much and took such good care of Amelia, and how comforting it was to know that she had my back so I probably wouldn’t be able to screw up too much.
I remember dropping Amelia on the hardwood floor, right on her face, one terrible day and running next door to borrow the neighbor’s car because my wife had ours and I needed to get her to the hospital because she was screaming so loudly and I thought I broke her. I remember going crazy while they x-rayed her and wondering what I was going to tell her mother and feeling so relieved when the doctor explained that a baby’s face can actually absorb more shock than one would think and it’s a good thing that I hadn’t dropped her in such a way that she hit the back of her head because that would have been an entirely different matter and I was so sorry, so frikkin’ sorry that I wasn’t careful enough because this was my Amelia, goddamn it!
I remember trying to remain her Number One Guy even when her mom and I called it quits. I would be with her as much as I could and I tried to stay on good terms with my ex for her sake and I’d bring her to board meetings and I made her the center of my world – ask anyone who knew me then – and I cried at night in bed in my small apartment because I had ended up doing to my child what my father did to me – leave – and I swore I would never make the same mistake but I did.
For a while we stuck to the Wednesdays-and-every-other-weekend thing, but she clearly preferred being with her mom. One time I took her to Cedar Point Amusement Park and we were walking past the arcades and I asked her how she liked it so far. “I wish Mommy was here,” she responded. She started asking to be taken home early on Sunday nights, then she started asking if she could just stay with her mom. And for reasons that I can’t explain and can’t understand, we grew apart.
I made a huge mistake by deciding not to get a lawyer to help enforce my custody rights because I wanted Amelia to WANT to be with me, not be court-ordered to be with me, so I would go weeks without seeing her.
I remember letting her have sleepovers with friends at my apartment and thinking if I had to take care of somebody else’s kids in order to see mine, that was fine with me. I remember entering her in an “Absolutely Incredible Kid” contest sponsored by a local radio station and her winning. I remember taking her to Lake Michigan and having to explain why it smelled so bad (massive alewives die-off). I remember proudly bringing her to the office with me for “Take your Daughter to Work” Day. I remember coming home with two turtles from the pet shop, red-eared sliders named Franklin and Oliver, because she liked turtles. I remember teaching her how to parallel park.
But I never sent her off to prom in a shiny, poofy dress.
I never saw her graduate from high school.
I made so many mistakes.
I stopped knowing the names of her friends and if she had a boyfriend and what her favorite radio station was. I made an appearance when she had surgery, and I tried to be there when she and her mom started having problems, and I surprised her by bringing her soup once, and I even went to court with the two of them to help get her out of trouble for a driving infraction. But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Tier One.
We went a year without speaking at all. She even changed her last name to her mother’s. That hurt. But then we reconciled, and I had such high hopes that we could figure out a way to be connected again, like when she was little and we’d sit on the floor in the kitchen in the morning and eat Oreos and laugh and pretend we were watching a movie – she called it our “movie veeter” – or we’d dance in the basement to Cameo and Babyface. But it hasn’t happened.
People tell me I need to be patient. She’ll come back to me in her own time, they promise.
But I don’t know. It looks like I might have this gaping hole in my heart forever.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Republicans can kiss my ass.
Defenders of tax cuts for the rich can kiss my ass.
John “Oompa Loompa” Boehner and Eric “Pussy” Cantor and Paul “Eddie Munster” Ryan and Mitch “The Turtle” McConnell and General Electric can kiss my ass.
And ill-intentioned people in politics and the media who obfuscate and distract and mislead and mischaracterize and marginalize and slander progressives and discredit our information sources and invalidate our facts can just plant a big one on my large, white ass.
Clinging to the falsehood that they’re all about reducing spending, Republicans went into last week’s budget debacle, er, debate threatening to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way. Their way meant $32 billion in cuts – at a time when the federal deficit is soaring and our fragile economic recovery is slower than Rush Limbaugh in a relay race.
Then, all of a sudden and out of the blue, Republicans were pledging to crap on women by defunding Planned Parenthood because of abortion. (Ninety-seven percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are contraception, cancer screening and sexually-transmitted disease screening and treatment. Only three percent of the almost 11 million services provided in 2008 were abortions – and the organization can’t, and doesn’t, spend taxpayer funds on that legal medical procedure.) So Obama the Spineless agreed to $38 billion in cuts – more than the Dark Side originally demanded.
“Obama wants to always lead by compromise,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz last night. “There are times when you can bring about compromise but there are times when you need to take a stand.”
Hear that, Mr. Obama? TAKE A FRIKKIN’ STAND.
I’ve tried to temper my criticism of the president. I didn’t want to be accused of aiding his opponents or coming off as naïve or unyielding. But enough is enough. I’ve had enough of Barack Obama whining about being shellacked and capitulating to the enemy before the first shot is fired and legitimizing conservatives’ bogus, outrageous claims by responding as if they’re worth considering.
The American people want jobs, not greater restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.
No one wants to privatize social security except rich, greedy Wall Street players who are sure to gain from such a move.
No one’s clamoring to “reform” Medicare and Medicaid except the health care companies who stand to benefit from privatization. These are well-run, efficient and cost-effective programs that make the difference between poverty and middle-class status for literally millions of Americans. Yet it’s rumored that they’re next up for reshaping and the president might be convinced to mold the clay.
If Republicans are so interested in curbing deficit spending, why did they force Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? (The U.S. Treasury estimates the total revenue loss from the tax cuts will come to $3.9 trillion over 10 years.) And what about the endless, unwinnable wars we’re waging in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost over $1 trillion to date? Gee, could it be that it’s not really about restoring fiscal integrity to Washington, but rather about robbing from the poor to give to the rich?
As Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) explained to Ed Schultz on the same telecast, “The country is not broke. We’re simply not taxing corporations enough. GE paid no taxes on $14 billion in profits. We’re not taxing the millionaires and billionaires enough. The total revenues going to the government as a percentage of the GDP are lower than at any time since 1930.”
Say what you will about Bubba Clinton, but the guy didn’t take his marching orders from pompous little pricks in the lower chamber of Congress. In 1993, he came into office facing a deficit. He raised taxes without a single Republican vote (and Republicans whined and bitched and screamed about the inevitable loss of jobs) and left his successor with a budget surplus and 22 million more jobs.
Now House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is telling his friends at Fox that he and his ilk were emboldened by last Friday’s funding deal and will demand major concessions before agreeing to raise the nation's debt ceiling (the statutory limit on federal debt).
Think about this: regardless of whether you agree that the debt ceiling should be raised to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its loans, Cantor is admitting that now that their rich pals have received their $700 billion in tax cuts, House Republicans are willing to bring about a worldwide financial crisis in order to further shrink government. Shut down the government? No problem. Take away home heating assistance for poor people? No big deal. Slow the economic recovery, cause schools to close and bridges to crumble, and flip the middle finger at the millions of unemployed in America? Yes, we can.
Thanks again, electorate.
Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation and one of my favorite talking heads, wrote this sobering warning:
“Our system is responsive only to voices at the top of the social pyramid — the bankers and businessmen who are raking in record bonuses and the professional upper middle class, which is recovering much faster than the nation as a whole. There is only so much social distance a society can take. The social science literature shows that as social distance increases, trust declines and aberrant and predatory behavior increases. The basic mechanisms of representation erode, and the social fabric tears. ‘An imbalance between rich and poor,’ Plutarch warned, ‘is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.’"
This is clearly bigger than whether Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s jersey belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or if Pia Toscano being eliminated from American Idol is a blessing in disguise.
In his book, Smells like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire, Matt Taibbi wrote, “America is a country that has been skating for ages on its unparalleled ability to look marvelous on the outside. We’ve long had things arranged in such a way that our public exterior is always shimmering and clean – our airports, our food courts, our anchormen, our chain restaurants, our fleets of bombers, and our warehouses full of nick-free products in polymer-coated packaging. For most of the uglier things that are under the surface – the bitterness, the rancor, the greed, the selfishness, the loneliness, the isolation we feel from each other, our inability to communicate and empathize – we’ve found ways to keep these things out of sight. They can be heard, maybe, and read all over the Internet and elsewhere, but not seen – and in any case they have always been subordinate to our legend of supreme competency and efficiency. We may be many things, we Americans, but we always get the job done.”
Even our marvelous president conveys coolness and competency. But he’s not getting the job done, at least not for the non-millionaires in America. At least not for union workers or progressives or poor people or children who will be going without for years to pay for the mistakes we’re making now. I do believe the veneer is finally peeling, Matt.
I get it: Obama doesn’t care about liberals. His former chief of staff, Rahm “See how bold and edgy I am ‘cause I say ‘fuck’ a lot” Emanuel, made that crystal clear by allowing the public option, a “must have” for progressives, to be taken off the table early in health care reform negotiations. But who does the president care about? Who does he work for? Obama is supposed to at least occasionally block the other team’s attempt to score a touchdown, not receive their passes, run with the ball into his own end zone and call it historic.
There are 237 millionaires in Congress. While about one percent of Americans are millionaires, 44 percent of the politicians in Congress have that status, according to CBS News. That’s who Barack Obama seems to serve these days. His slick, vacuous, pandering re-election campaign commercial may claim otherwise, but actions don’t lie.
Anyone who wants to refudiate that can kiss both cheeks.
Sources: Campaign for America’s Future; The Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC; The Nation; Huffington Post; CBS News; Dr. Margaret Polaneczky, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College; The Raw Story; Mother Jones; Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire by Matt Taibbi.
Monday, April 11, 2011
I watched the First Annual Comedy Awards on Comedy Central last night before succumbing to slumber. I’m therefore thinking of humor this morning and have decided to share my opinion about who deserves comedy kudos and who doesn’t.
Funny is subjective. I know this. And our senses of humor change and evolve. I don’t really laugh as hard as my six-year-old does at the antics on Nickelodeon, and poop jokes don’t bring me to my knees like they do the toddler next door. I’ve found that some comedians used to make me bust a gut within 30 seconds of walking onstage and now, after ten minutes or so, I reach for the remote. (Interestingly, Anita doesn’t share my sense of humor, although she laughs at my jokes out of love and tolerates my late-night Comedy Central viewing because, well, there’s only one television in our bedroom.)
It’s not an all-encompassing list. I’ve included people I probably shouldn’t have and omitted people who belong here somewhere. And since I’ve only seen Steven Wright and Rodney Dangerfield in person, most of my exposure has been through the magic of the Boob Tube. (Heh heh, I said “boob.”) There’s probably something to be said for being in a crowd of laughing people.
Anyway, this is what I think:
There are the comedians who crack me up every time, the ones who I try hard to catch if I see their names in TV Guide: Ron White, Paula Poundstone, Steven Wright, Rita Rudner, Colin Quinn, Jack Black, George Carlin, Kevin James, Ray Romano, Ralphie May, Patton Oswalt, Pee Wee Herman, Sarah Silverman, David Spade, Wanda Sykes, Gene Wilder, Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari.
Those who are not only funny on stage but probably a riot to hang out with: Kathy Griffin, Tracy Morgan, Jim Carrey, Ricky Gervais, George Carlin (up until 2008), Chris Rock, Dane Cook, Larry David, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy.
There are those who I wished I liked because I know I’m supposed to but they just don’t tickle the funny bone: John Cleese and the Monty Python people; Don Rickles; Zach Galifianakis; Rowan and Martin, Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin and the Laugh In people; The Wayans brothers; The Kids in the Hall.
Those who are dead and I’m sad ‘cause they were hilarious: Paul Lynde, Leslie Nielsen, George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Walter Matthau, Flip Wilson, Chris Farley, Richard Pryor, Charlie Callas, Gilda Radner, Rodney Dangerfield, Dudley Moore.
Those who are dead and I’m not as sad as others are: Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Jackie Gleason, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Andy Kaufman, Laurel and Hardy, Soupy Sales, Redd Foxx, John Belushi, Bob Hope.
Those who used to make me laugh but their careers seem to be dead: Bobcat Goldthwait, Judy Tenuta, Rita Rudner, Chris Tucker, Elayne Boosler.
Those who are not funny and should STFU and sell shoes instead: Dennis Miller, Larry the Cable Guy, Jay Leno, Carrot Top, Gallagher, Gilbert Gottfried, Mike Myers, Bob Saget, Pauly Shore, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Andy Dick (heh heh, I said “dick”), Tom Arnold.
Those who I respect but don’t laugh at: David Brenner, Tim Allen, Howie Mandel, Louie Anderson, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Billy Crystal, George Lopez, Conan O’Brien, Rosie O’Donnell, Adam Sandler, Jonathan Winters, Chevy Chase, Margaret Cho, Cheech and Chong, Roseanne, Bill Cosby, David Letterman, The Smothers Brothers, Lucille Ball.
Those who used to make me laugh but not anymore, really: Dana Carvey, Joan Rivers, Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, D.L. Hughley, Abbott and Costello (with the exception of “Who’s on First?” which still makes me laugh every time), Richard Lewis, Bob Newhart, Robin Williams, Penn & Teller, Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Foxworthy and – this one pains me – Betty White.
Those who make me think: Janeane Garofalo, George Carlin, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Lewis Black. (Dennis Miller used to be in this category before The Change. Now he just makes me queasy.)
Those who have good writers and can deliver a line but probably aren’t as funny in real life: Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Sasha Baron Cohen.
Speaking of jokes, there are some that are as funny to me today as they were a thousand times ago when I first heard them. This includes Steven Wright’s, “I poured spot remover on my dog and now it’s gone.”
I told you, comedy is subjective.