Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sounds smart...

Vince Guaraldi Trio - O Tannenbaum

Real trees are the bee's knees

I always thought using fake Christmas trees was better for the environment than cutting down real ones. It just seemed wrong to erect a dead tree inside my house, pour water in the metal stand at its base to slow the process of needle-shedding all over my carpet, stack a bunch of gifts underneath it where they’ll stay for mere hours, then drag it out to the curb on the first or second day of the New Year to be picked up by the city along with the 20 or 30 others that I could see lining the street.

Turns out I was wrong. Again.

An article in Organic Gardening points out that artificial trees are made from materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and metal. And PVC is not good. The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition warns that “the manufacture of PVC creates and disperses dioxins, which include the most toxic man-made chemical known. Released into air or water, dioxins enter the food chain, where they accumulate in fatty tissues of animals and humans, a potential risk for causing cancer, damaging immune functions and impairing children's development.”

Eighty-five percent of the fake Christmas trees used in the U.S. are imported from China (where one can assume conditions at the factories are less than ideal). Because they can’t be recycled, they end up in landfills after we’re finished with them – and they only last an average of six to ten years before we dump ‘em for a newer model.

And get this: the longer we have fake trees in our house, the more likely they are to become toxic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But real trees can be mulched, composted, chipped or fed to birds and animals. Discarded real trees can even be used as erosion barriers or sunk in ponds for fish habitat. And Organic Gardening makes the case that “Christmas tree farmers are leaders in conservation agriculture. Their product emits healthy oxygen during its 15 or so years of growing, requires little to no supplemental irrigation, and thrives in tough terrain that is otherwise unsuited for agricultural crops.”

New trees are planted every year, while metals and the petroleum used to make plastic are nonrenewable resources.

The shedding needles thing is a minor inconvenience when you think about the overall benefits of choosing real trees under which to pile all the wrapped merchandise that we probably don’t need and in my case can’t really afford.

I should have known, actually, since I almost always prefer “real” to “fake.”

To view a real vs. fake tree comparison table created by the National Christmas Tree Association, click here. To learn how communities are recycling and reusing real Christmas trees, click here.

Sources: Organic Gardening, National Christmas Tree Association, Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, U.S. EPA.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Frank Sinatra - My Way

To Be Frank

Today’s post is a tribute to Barney Frank, the fiery congressman from Massachusetts who announced his retirement yesterday after more than 30 years in Washington.

I respect Frank, who’s three months older than my mother, because he’s amazingly intelligent, strong and witty. I may be wrong, of course, but from what I’ve seen and read over the years, he’s really tried to represent his constituents and do what’s best for the country as opposed to lining his own pockets and feathering his nest as so many other politicians seem to do.

The former chair of the House Financial Services Committee has become known for fighting for the middle class, battling big banks and working to clean up Wall Street. (His efforts led to the sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, which established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created a more transparent financial services industry and required more disclosure of exotic derivative trades.)

Sure, he got in trouble back in 1990 for fixing traffic tickets for his lover. And sure, he was cozier with former Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson than I would have liked during the Wall Street bailout of 2008. But just as I refused to let Chappaquiddick define that other Massachusetts liberal, Ted Kennedy, in my eyes, I refuse to let any negatives trump the fact that Barney Frank has spent three decades in public service and should be commended for it.

Incidentally, it couldn’t have been easy to come out of the closet back in 1987 – becoming the first member of Congress to do so voluntarily – and incur the wrath and scorn of homophobes, bigots and jerks on both sides of the aisle. He deserves a tip of the hat for that alone.

Some people are uncomfortable when a volatile, self-confident, gay, Jewish liberal who’s quick on his feet amasses fame and power and achieves important goals. Others think it’s cool as hell to watch and there must be something very special about such a person.

I’m in the latter category.

Sources: Washington Post, Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post.

Monday, November 28, 2011

John Lennon - "Gimme Some Truth"

Now they're stealing our right to vote

This is why people who say the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans are full of sh*t:

Ari Berman, in an August 30 story in Rolling Stone magazine entitled, “The GOP War on Voting,” revealed that conservatives have mounted an orchestrated, systematic, nationwide campaign to impede, turn away, confuse, restrict and otherwise prevent people who want to exercise their right to vote from doing so.

From the article:

In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process. All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting.

Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year – perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP.

I also learned that in Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers and the governor are seeking to change the way the state's Electoral College votes are awarded, proposing to allocate them according to wins in individual congressional districts, rather than giving all 20 votes to whomever wins the state. (Pennsylvania has gone for the Democratic nominees in every presidential election since 1992.)

And in Colorado, there’s a big argument over whether voters who’ve missed recent elections should be mailed a ballot, with the Republican secretary of state insisting on excluding people who skipped an election cycle.

Let’s not forget conservatives’ concerted campaign against ACORN – the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – in 2009 which led directly to the organization’s demise.

ACORN, which organized the poor, disenfranchised and disadvantaged (traditionally Democratic constituencies) on issues like predatory lending and affordable housing, living wage, Katrina relief, gun control and, of course, participation in the electoral process – an agenda which Republicans opposed – was shut down after an ethically-challenged conservative activist named James O’Keefe released selectively-edited videos that made it look like ACORN employees supported prostitution and cheating on taxes.

The ensuing “controversy” – spurred on by the same lazy, irresponsible media that made Sarah Palin a star and more recently cast Occupy Wall Street protestors as bongo-beating hippies defecating in our parks – served to stem the flow of public and private donations going to the organization and cause Congress to pass a “Defund ACORN” resolution. Although it was eventually pointed out that the videos had been doctored, it was too late. ACORN, which had conducted large-scale voter registration drives since the 1980s, was forced to disband. The GOP had achieved its goal.

The next time people try to foist another false equivalency on me about the two parties being equally corrupt – and I’m thinking of one snide little acquaintance in particular here – I’m gonna refute their irresponsible claim by pointing to this post, these facts, this orchestrated campaign by the GOP to take away people’s right to vote.

Say what you will about the Democrats – about them receiving the same campaign contributions from Wall Street as the Republicans, about their greed and sex scandals and inability to get anything done – but at least they register people to vote instead of intentionally, maliciously stymieing ‘em.

Sources: Washington Post, Rolling Stone.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ben Howard - The Fear

Sunday poetry

A Modern Man

I'm a modern man, a man for the millennium, digital and smoke-free. A diversified multicultural postmodern deconstructionist. Politically, anatomically, and ecologically incorrect. I've been uplinked and downloaded, I've been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I'm a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal multitasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond. I'm new wave, but I'm old school, and my inner child is outward bound. I'm a hot-wired, heat-seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice-activated and biodegradable. I interface with my database, and my database is in cyberspace, so I'm interactive, I'm hyperactive, and from time to time I'm radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, riding the wave, dodging a bullet, pushing the envelope. I'm on point, on task, on message, and off drugs. I got no need for coke and speed, I got no urge to binge and purge. I'm in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb, a top-gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps, I run victory laps. I'm a totally ongoing bigfoot slam dunk rainmaker with a proactive outreach. A raging workaholic; a working rageaholic. Out of rehab, and in denial. I've got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal agenda. You can't shut me up, you can't dumb me down. 'Cause I'm tireless, and I'm wireless, I'm an alpha male on beta blockers. I'm a non-believer and an over-achiever, laid-back but fashion forward. Up front, down home, low-rent, high-maintenance. Super-size, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready, and built to last. I'm a hands-on, foot-loose, knee-jerk headcase. Prematurely post-traumatic, and I have a love child who sends me hate mail. But I'm feeling, I'm caring, I'm healing, I'm sharing, a supportive bonding nurturing primary caregiver. My output is down, but my income is up. I take a short position on the long bond, and my revenue stream has its own cash flow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds, I watch trash sports. I'm gender-specific, capital-intensive, user-friendly, and lactose-intolerant. I like rough sex, I like tough love, I use the F-word in my e-mail, and the software on my hard drive is hardcore, no soft porn. I bought a microwave at a mini mall; I bought a minivan in a mega store. I eat fast food in the slow lane. I'm toll-free, bite-sized, ready-to-wear, and I come in all sizes. A fully-equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically-proven, scientifically formulated medical miracle. I've been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed, and I have an unlimited broadband capacity. I'm a rude dude, but I'm the real deal, lean and mean. Cocked, locked and ready to rock. Rough tough and hard to bluff. I take it slow, I go with the flow, I ride with the tide, I got glide in my stride. Drivin' and movin', sailin' and spinnin', jivin' and groovin', wailin' and winnin.' I don't snooze, so I don't lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty, and lunch time is crunch time. I'm hanging in, there ain't no doubt. And I'm hanging tough, over and out.

~ George Carlin

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pigs and Police

Janet Jackson - Control

Under the Gun

In the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment to the Constitution reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

I was scanning newspaper web sites on my laptop last night while Anita and the kids watched a movie and I read that U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords – the congresswoman who was shot in the head by a 22-year-old freak named Jared Lee Loughner at a constituent event in Casas Adobes, Arizona, on January 8, 2011 – served Thanksgiving dinner to troops at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson on Thursday.

To put it simply, I couldn’t frikkin’ believe it.

Loughner had used a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine to shoot Representative Giffords and 18 others outside of a Safeway in the Tucson suburb. Six people died, including nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who had accompanied a neighbor to the event to “learn more about politics.”

The lesson is this: as long as powerful special interests like the National Rifle Association are buying congressmen and calling the shots, to pardon the pun, in Washington and anyone can purchase deadly weapons from places like the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson, where Loughner snagged his piece, no one is truly safe in this country – not even at suburban grocery stores on Saturday mornings.

Interestingly, Giffords was a gun rights supporter although the NRA still gave her a D+ rating, presumably because she’s a Democrat.

She continues to recover from the critical injuries she suffered that day, undergoing rigorous physical, occupational and speech therapy and astounding observers. Given that her miraculous recovery – and it’s just that: miraculous – means one less person has died at the hands of a gun-toting loser who hid behind the Second Amendment, the NRA ought to raise her rating and maybe buy her a new car or something to boot.

Then I came across an article pointing out that the GOP presidential contenders are all touting their support of the Second Amendment – Perry and Santorum have been interviewed while pheasant hunting, Gingrich and Cain have spoken at NRA conventions and Romney, after backing gun control measures in Massachusetts, now presents himself as a strong Second Amendment supporter – while President Obama’s been virtually silent on the issue.

From the article:

Obama's support of strict gun control measures before becoming president makes it difficult for him to claim he's a Second Amendment champion, even though he signed a bill allowing people to take loaded guns into national parks. But he's apparently decided that his record backing gun safety is nothing to boast of, perhaps because of the power of the gun lobby and its opposition to anything smacking of gun control.

Yes, the gun lobby is powerful. But roughly 67 percent of the 16,272 murders committed in the United States in 2008 were committed with firearms, or about 10,886. That’s a lot of pain and suffering and loss and broken families. If Republicans want to pander to the NRA nuts, Obama should pander to gun control proponents.

Mr. President, you can’t have it both ways. You’re no Mitt Romney.

Do it for Christina-Taylor Green.

Christina Taylor-Green

Sources: Detroit News, Los Angeles Times,, Daily Mail, ABC News.

Friday, November 25, 2011

If you're dropping cash today anyway...

I'm boycotting Black Friday. Which means I won't be snagging tons of toys for my tots and loot for my loved ones. Considering how much I give of myself here at "What's the Diehl?," don't I deserve a donation from you? Click the "donate" button on the upper right and make my holiday happy, willya? Pretty please?

Country Joe McDonald - Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag

Fixin' sh*t.

Some guys can change car engines or guitar strings.

I have a hard time changing my mind.

Some guys can fix clocks and install ceiling fans and lay new floors and rewire electrical systems.

If I have writers’ block, I can’t do anything.

Some guys can cook and paint and sing and rebuild. They can take care o’ business, determine what’s wrong and make it right again. They can make cars, bikes, houses and lives better with their bare hands.

I’ve had to search the internet to find out how to change a fuse.

I used to watch my dad install and repair and renovate and enhance, and I’d pass him tools and grunt respectfully as he went to great pains to explain precisely what he was doing. I never got it, though.

Some people just have the aptitude, the knack, the confidence, the intuition. Not me. It used to be an issue – I wondered what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t like other guys, but I couldn’t diagnose that problem either – until I decided I’d just have to make friends with handy people and hire professionals to fix what broke, what stopped working, what died, what ceased to do the job.

This was a fine strategy when I had money to spend and time to make and keep friends. But now that funds are so tight and friends have taken a back seat to family, there’s more of a need to find out for myself why the porch lights don’t light, the toilet doesn’t flush, the lawn mower doesn’t start and the garage door ignores my push of its button. ‘Trial and error’ has thus far been heavy on the error.

I’ve accumulated an impressive array of tools over the years. I really need to find out what they do.

I’m lucky I have a patient, accepting partner – who, fortunately, is no slouch in the home repair department – and kids who could break more than they do but don’t. I’ve promised Anita that when the money starts rolling in, when I sell my book or hit the lottery or find a benefactor willing to underwrite my writing, I’ll fix what ails us and restore our home to showcase condition.

Even Michigan’s own Tim Allen, star of TV’s “Home Improvement,” probably wasn’t as good at googling as I am. And no one is better at finding a parking spot at Lowe’s.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sounds of Blackness - "We Give You Thanks"


Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell, 1943

No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.

~ John Greenleaf Whittier

When I was young and still with my parents, Thanksgiving was Rockwellian, with a kids’ table and football and parades and conflicts with relatives and an abundance of succulent food, sweet potatoes and cranberries and stuffing and pumpkin pie with whipped cream and turkey, of course, white and dark, and enough to provide several sandwiches worth of leftovers.

Then when I was on my own, there was less food, fewer eaters, not as much noise and confrontation and fewer dirty dishes. The day became about taking inventory and measuring progress toward goals.

One year I catsat on Turkey Day, warming a dry, flavorless TV dinner in a friend’s unfamiliar microwave and eating it alone in her sparse dining room. I felt sorry for myself and acknowledged out loud that things don’t always end up the way we want, that being tied to particular outcomes, assumptions and expectations can indeed be a mistake.

This was the period during which I thought about how different my Thanksgivings had always been from those of Native Americans, people who rely on missions and not moms, and citizens of other countries who don’t adhere to Hallmark holidays and capitalist calendars.

Now, with love and family again, the noise and good food are back. The five courses, kids’ table, trashed kitchen and leftovers are again part of the Thanksgiving experience (as is Black Friday, sadly, although that’s going to change). But there’s still a nagging feeling that gratitude is lost amidst the Very Special Episodes and bottles of wine, that the true meaning of this holiday has, like the others, become twisted and obscured by time and distractions.

Seems like the Leader of the Free World should be too busy, at least this year, to grin and pardon a turkey for amused photographers. Seems like every day should include the giving of thanks, not just the one day in November that marks the onset of shopping.

I’m thankful for my family – my challenging, stunning, loving and sensitive wife, four sweet, smart, exceptional children, amazing parents, and other relatives who are out of my life but still in my heart – and friends and health and home. I’m thankful to be free and able to say whatever I want. I’m thankful to not be alone, to not have to eat TV dinners or depend on the kindness of strangers. I’m thankful that I know what I know and still have so much more to learn. I’m thankful for music and fire and nature and the internet, for nearby hospitals and not-for-profit organizations, for laptop computers and playful puppies and people willing to be pepper-sprayed for what they believe. And I’m thankful that there are readers for what I write.

Not just today, but every day.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget
that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Santana - Black Magic Woman

Bah Humbug to Black Friday

While googling “Boycott Black Friday” to learn why others feel the way I do about the dreaded day after Thanksgiving – when patriotic Americans line up outside department stores in the dark and get funneled inside like cattle heading to slaughter so they can spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need because the items have been marked down REPRESENTING HUGE SAVINGS FOR THE CONSUMER – I ran across an editorial in the Baltimore Sun that touched upon why I’m boycotting the big event:

Unemployment is high, national debt is mounting and the government appears utterly incapable of doing anything productive. The Middle East is roiled, Europe is teetering on the brink of financial collapse, and China is beefing up its military. But the real threat to America may be this: Toys "R" Us is opening at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart stores will open at 10 (two hours earlier than last year), and Target, Macy's, Kohl’s, Best Buy and others will open at midnight. Is nothing sacred?

It struck me as wrong when we were told back in the last quarter of 2001 to forget about fallen towers and dead human beings, to just go on with our lives and stimulate the economy. And it strikes me as wrong today, a decade later, when so many are suffering, sacrificing, camping in the street and rinsing pepper spray from their eyes, to stick our collective fingers in our collective ears and head to the Big Box superstore – the one that drove Mom and Pop out of business with Chinese imports, slave wages and tax abatements – to snag another multipack of toilet paper and a discounted plasma TV that we don’t even need.

I understand "Black Friday" – which some believe was so named because it marks the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit or are "in the black" – has become important to retailers. (Some are reportedly so dependent on the holiday shopping season that the fourth quarter produces all the year’s profits and compensates for losses incurred in the other three quarters.) What I don’t understand is why it’s become necessary to forego sleep and congregate in front of retail establishments with strangers, counting the minutes until we’re admitted inside so we can pay less for merchandise that the 1% hopes we won’t do without.

I’ve participated in Black Friday. I’ve fought over parking spaces in the wee hours and saved spots in line for people who thought they could hold it until they were allowed inside by crabby rent-a-cops but found they were wrong. I’ve waited with hundreds of other groggy, unkempt shoppers in massive crowds so that I could hand over my money to harried cashiers too busy to make eye contact and too stressed to smile, pleased that the contents of my overflowing shopping cart would soon be stuffed into the minivan, headed for the walk-in closet that serves for a few weeks every year as a holding room for items that will find their way under the dead tree we’ll erect in our living room and adorn with blinking lights. I’ve ignored the gnawing feeling that consumerism is wrong, that conspicuous consumption of unneeded objects is obscene at a time when children are starving, people lack jobs and health care and the planet’s finite resources are fast depleting.

I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t support retail outlets that underpay and overwork their employees just because my kids think they need presents and the more the better. I can’t continue to betray my principles and put more money in the pockets of the same greedy Fat Cats who drink champagne on Wall Street balconies and laugh at protesters, mocking the misery of the poor, the unemployed, the least among us.

I’ll try to convince my loved ones to buy less, buy local, and be more grateful for all that we already have. I’ll try to persuade my mate and our kids that there are plenty of days to shop, plenty of steals and deals to be had, lots of opportunities to have fun spending money without acting like mindless sheep hypnotized into submission by brightly-colored advertisements and “Black Friday” coupon books.

Did you know that people have been seriously injured and assaulted by fellow shoppers on Black Friday, and that a 34-year-old Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in 2008 when the doors opened at a store in Valley Stream, New York? (The term “Black Friday” has taken on new meaning for his family.) I like a good deal as much as the next guy, but sheesh. I think I’ll declare a different day as the official start of the holiday shopping season. Like maybe April 1.

A California mall on Black Friday in 2006

Source: Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Train - Marry Me

From Grassy Knoll to Touching my Soul

The world became better 43 years ago today at 2:16 a.m., thanks to two legal immigrants from India named Daulat and Prabha Singh.

That’s when Anita Kumari Singh joined us.

Wait a minute! Before you stop reading because you assume this is just another self-serving love note to a woman you don’t know or care about, think again.

You need to know why Anita is so special, not just to me but to all of us.

She connects with anyone, from the pushy telemarketer who interrupts dinner to the teenager who bags her groceries at Kroger. And it’s not fake or contrived; she’s genuinely interested in communicating with other people, learning about them, sharing opinions and chuckles and information in order to turn a mundane contact into a positive experience, a good if fleeting memory.

She defines “devoted” – whether as a mother, mate, daughter, sister, friend, employee, homeowner, even dog owner. She spends her last $5 on treats for her canines (the expensive, duck-flavored sausages they like the most) and is as good as that other Asian-Indian, Calcutta’s Teresa, at sacrificing for others and putting them first. She cherishes all her family members, likable and not, and goes way out of her way to maintain good relations with her relations.

She becomes irritated when I curse or make crude jokes – not because she’s prudish but because she thinks I degrade myself and send yucky energy out into the world.

She believes people are basically good, that they deserve the benefit of the doubt, that we all have something to offer and are deserving of respect – not because she’s naïve, but because that’s the way she wants the world to be. She wants to think the best of people, to trust, to expect kindness from others, acquainted or not, because life is better when you’re looking for rainbows than for mud. When you send out good energy, she’s taught me, that’s what surrounds you. Not always. But a lot more often.

She added my daughter from my first marriage to her already-pricey membership at the Michigan Athletic Club so I’d have something to use to lure Amelia to visit, something to offer my firstborn besides myself. Although money is tight on what’s essentially one income and our four preteens have more needs than a piano has keys, Anita’s found ways to make sure they want for nothing while still providing me with a laptop, health insurance, a cell phone and a car. She makes life easier and better for all of us and asks for or expects little in return.

Speaking of the kids, they have no idea how lucky they are. As long as they’re well-behaved and do their best in school, Anita’s willing to overlook the expectations of others and let her kids be kids. She’ll teach them the importance of giving to others and she won’t tolerate selfishness or disrespect but she sees how wonderful they already are and doesn’t feel the need to tamper too much with perfection. Initially I thought her parenting style might be too lax but now, watching how good and happy each child has become, I see her wisdom isn’t limited to finances, academics or professional pursuits. She’s not perfect – no one is, of course – but she’s surely the next best thing.

She’s hip and together one second, corny and disheveled the next. She can be tough and formidable at 6:00, silly and goofy at 6:15, and sexy and alluring at half past. She paints and cleans and washes and dries and fixes and organizes and buys and cares and schedules and juggles more and better than anyone I know. When I expect cynicism, I’m met with tolerance. When I expect exhaustion, she gets a second wind. When I expect frustration, she exhibits more patience. And when she does lose it, finally lets something wear her down or stress her out, she doesn’t take it out on others like I do. She mutters in the shower or escapes into “House Hunters” on HGTV.

I’m not saying Anita is the only one who does these things. I’m just saying she’s the best.

I like to think I’m worth her love and generosity, that I earn what she gives me and take only what I need. But truth be told, I’m not and I don’t. What I claim when we argue and what I know in my heart are two different things. Anita deserves so much more than she gets from me, from everybody.

Happy 43rd birthday to the love of my life, the best thing that ever happened to me, my teacher, my best friend, who gave me hope and joy and happiness at a time when they were as obvious to me as a congressman’s ethics. Thank you for being too good for me, so loving and patient and giving and forgiving that I can’t live without you. And thank you for making not just my world better but everyone’s, through your unique qualities, large heart, impressive mind and inherent goodness.

November 22 used to bring to my mind the assassination of our 35th president. Now, to me, it represents the day 43 years ago when Daulat and Prabha Singh gave us all the best gift ever.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Roots - Why (What's going on?)

Nation's Capital Still a Cesspool

Aerial view of Congress courtesy Roto-Rooter

“BREAKING: Supercommittee Downgraded to Just Another Shitty Committee.” ~ Andy Borowitz

I heard on the radio this morning that the 12-member Congressional “supercommittee” charged with figuring out how to reduce the federal deficit will announce its failure to do so today.

This is supposed to mean Draconian budget cuts will automatically kick in, decimating defense spending and social welfare programs on which many people rely. (Programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and veterans' benefits are supposed to be spared the budget ax.)

Politicians were supposed to figure out how to enact $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next ten years. Although they’re paid a minimum of $174,000/year plus benefits and work just 53 percent of the year, they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it.

So now the automatic cuts, known as a sequester, are supposed to occur but rumor has it politicians are trying to figure out a way to stop ‘em. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the required cuts of up to $454 billion to the Pentagon would be "devastating" and leave a "hollow force.” And some lawmakers are reluctant to face angry constituents when they head home for the holidays.

Economists warn the supercommittee’s poor performance could lead to volatile markets and another downgrading of the country’s credit rating.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
The official announcement hasn’t yet been made but the blame game has started. Democrats said Republicans were refusing to budge on Dubya’s tax cuts for the rich, which the Dems want to scale back and the GOP wants to extend. And Senator Jon “Not Intended to be Factual” Kyl (R-Arizona), who lies about everything – from how much of Planned Parenthood’s funding pays for abortion to why President Obama won’t “secure our borders” – went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday to blame Democrats, saying, “If you look at the Democrats' position it was, 'We have to raise taxes. We have to pass this jobs bill,’ which is another almost half-trillion dollars.”

Yeah, those pesky Democrats, with their damn insistence that we spend money to help unemployed Americans instead of lining the pockets of the rich and killing Muslims overseas.

Committee members reportedly also argued about payroll tax cuts, closing tax loopholes for corporate jet owners, and Grover Norquist’s insistence that Republicans honor their ridiculously irresponsible pledge to refuse to raise any tax of any kind at any time for any reason (see my recent post entitled, “Bathtubs and Rat Butts”), among other sticking points.

You know, I never had high hopes for this committee – see my August 25 post entitled, “Oh, this is just super!” – but I promised to reserve judgment until the committee announced its final plan.

Now that we learn the plan is to not have a plan, I’m free to express my disgust, disdain, dismay, dissatisfaction and disappointment at the complete losers who sat on this body and not only failed to complete their important assignment but decided to give us, the American people, the taxpayers who sent them to the cesspool known as Washington to represent our best interests, yet more proof of government’s dysfunction and impotence.

Is anyone still wondering why people are protesting in the streets all over the place?

Sources:, CNN, The Guardian,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seurat's "Grande Jatte" updated

Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams - Too Much Too Little Too Late

Sunday poetry

I Am

I am a pair of little boy's boots protecting his feet from
the muddy rain puddles.

I am a rainbow filled with many different colors just
after rain fall.

I am a morning breeze on the first day of school in
September, 8:00 when you get on the bus on the first
day of school.

I am a long day of summer ready to be filled with pool
parties and laughter of children playing in their back

I am a blank book urgently waiting for an author to
put adventure, action and mystery into me.

I am a football field waiting for the players to rip up
the turf as they speed to the touchdown.

I am a lion roaring in a wild safari on a hot summer
day in Africa.

I am a small Sprite soda, eager to be guzzled by a
yelling and screaming fan in the Michigan State
Football Stadium.

I am Bryant Singh Welch.

~ Bryant Singh Welch, age 10

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Protecting and Serving

Courtesy Occupy Cleveland.

Beautiful Iran

Sorry, Iran

Did you know that the United States shot down a civilian Iranian airplane in the summer of 1988, killing 290 innocent passengers and crew, including 66 children?

On July 3, 1988, near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S.S. Vincennes, a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, destroyed the commercial aircraft as it flew its usual flight path over the Strait of Hormuz from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.

In 1996, a settlement was reached in the International Court of Justice obligating the U.S. to pay $61.8 million – an average of $213,100 per passenger – in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims. But the U.S. has never apologized or admitted responsibility for the deaths, which included citizens of India, Pakistan, Italy, Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates in addition to Iran.

Looks like not all who commit terrorist acts are brown-skinned Muslims with towels on their heads.

Did you know that the current GOP presidential candidates are being asked if, as president, they’d attack Iran in order to foil its nuclear ambitions? The current front-runner, Mitt “Flip-Flopper” Romney, pledged that Iran “would never obtain a nuclear weapon” during his presidency and he’d have no problem using military force. (Herman Cain demonstrated a surprising devotion to geography by stating that it’s not ‘practical’ to attack Iran because it has mountains.)

Did you know that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said “it’s the policy of this administration that Iran cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon and no option has ever been taken off the table” and that Vice President Joe Biden has publicly stated that Israel, Iran’s Number One enemy, has the right to attack Iran?

Did you know that back in 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with the United States with everything on the table, including its nuclear technology, but Dubya refused?

Did you know that India has had nukes since 1974 and has refused to sign an international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)? Or that Pakistan has had ‘em since 1998 and has refused to sign the NPT? Or that Israel has had ‘em since 1979 and has refused to sign the NPT?

How come these countries can have nuclear weapons (and refuse to sign the NPT) but Iran can’t? Surely it has the right to defend itself. Is Iran more of a threat to the U.S. than Pakistan – which harbored Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of September 11, for ten years – or North Korea, which has had ‘em since 2006, or Russia, which has had ‘em since my mother was a nine-year-old schoolgirl?

I used to chat online with a young woman from Tehran who opened my eyes about Iran. (I referenced her in a post back on June 30 entitled, “On Independence Day.”) She taught me that contrary to what I was led to believe by my government and media, Iranians aren’t ignorant, savage, America-hating terrorists. The Iranian people love Americans and they want peace, she told me. Our governments and politicians are the problem.

Our online conversations took place before Iranians took to the streets to protest the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June of 2009. Ahmadinejad’s opponents all claimed the election had been rigged and the results manipulated. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians protested in Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad and throughout Iran. Protestors were killed – the shooting death of 26-year-old Neda Soltan in Tehran by a member of the government militia on June 20 received worldwide attention and further galvanized the movement – and arrested by the thousands.

Courtesy Hamed Saber
Seeing the citizens of Iran risk their lives to stand up for themselves, to fight for fair elections and justice and truth, impressed me a lot, especially as compared to my fellow Americans who hadn’t yet gotten off their couches to protest class warfare at Wall Street and elsewhere. I gained even more respect for the Iranian people and a new level of intolerance for those who inaccurately represent Iran or kiss Israel’s ass. (You hear me, Joe Lieberman?)

As we know from our experience with Iraq – weapons of mass destruction, anyone? – neocons and warmongers will create their own facts to bend or hide the truth as needed. Hopefully the GOP’s unyielding commitment to fiscal responsibility will prevent government hawks and wingnuts from adding the Islamic Republic of Iran to the list of sovereign countries made to suffer from costly U.S. military aggression.

Sources: ABC News,, Washington Post,,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Throw me a bone, willya?

I know people aren't crazy about being solicited - I'm not either - and it seems like everybody wants a piece of you. But I don't receive a salary for this and sometimes I really feel like a dog, digging and barking and hoping someone will paws for a minute and rub me behind my ears. Click on the "Donate" button and put a few biscuits in my bowl, willya? I'll wag my tail for you...

Joan as Police Woman - Game of Life

Bathtubs and Rat Butts

My friend Frank shared an article on Grover Norquist with me in Facebook yesterday. The article, entitled, “Patriotic Millionaires to Grover Norquist: Move to Somalia,” describes how Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform (AFT), met earlier this week with six millionaires representing a group called Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, whose members each make more than $1 million/year and believe that since America has been good to them, it’s their duty to give back.

Group members are currently making the rounds in Washington to promote a tax increase on the country’s richest Americans from the current rate of 35 percent to 39.6 percent. (The group points out at its website that “letting tax cuts for the top 2% expire as scheduled would pay down the debt by $700 billion over the next 10 years.”)

Grover Norquist
Common ground could not be found with the anti-tax crusader, according to the article. Norquist – who, it’s been said, opposes “any tax increase of any kind at any time” and is therefore a key obstacle to deficit reduction – predictably labeled the millionaires “Democratic Party hacks” and scurried back into the dark hole leading to his dank, putrid lair.

Let’s take a quick look at the guy, shall we?

A Harvard graduate, Norquist founded AFT at the request of St. Ronnie of Reagan, he claims, back in 1985. The group’s infamous anti-tax pledge, which obligates those who sign it to oppose any tax increase without an equal tax cut to offset it, has been signed by 41 U.S. Senators, 236 U.S. House members, ten governors and 1,263 state legislators.

He’s known for having said, “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Why anybody in Washington listens to a guy who says such irresponsible and immature crap – and means it – is beyond me.

As a teenager, Norquist volunteered on Tricky Dick Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968 (and as recently as 2003 displayed a Nixon campaign poster above his bed.) He’s worked with Dubya, Newt Gingrich (Norquist co-authored 1994’s yucky Contract with America), Arnold Schwarzenegger and that paragon of virtue known as Karl Rove, has long opposed health care reform and cap and trade proposals, and sits on the boards of the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.

Norquist must have lots of frequent flier miles; he spent time in Afghanistan, Angola and Mozambique organizing anti-communist rebels, visited the tiny African country of Lesotho to promote private-property rights, and has for years traveled all over the United States to promote his narrow ideology.

Jack Abramoff
I learned from reading Matt Taibbi’s Smells Like Dead Elephants, in a chapter entitled, “Meet Mr. Republican: The secret history of the most corrupt man in Washington,” that Norquist is close buddies with disgraced former über-lobbyist and ex-convict Jack Abramoff – who’s currently popping up all over my television on his redemption/book tour, having been released from federal prison last year after serving three and a half years for conspiracy, mail fraud and helping to make Washington the smelly cesspool that it is today. (I wrote about Abramoff back on April 18; see my post entitled, “Casino Jack and Tennessee Whiskey.”)

Ralph Reed
Norquist apparently worked with Abramoff and Ralph Reed – the creepy, unethical, plastic-looking dude who went on to serve as director of the Christian Coalition in the early 1990s – at the College Republicans National Committee (where Abramoff succeeded Norquist as chief). The unscrupulous triumvirate eventually worked together on a number of “almost comic backroom escapades,” as Taibbi calls them, to defraud clients, line their own pockets and lure ethically-challenged politicians into the tangled webs they wove. (According to the U.S. Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform allegedly “served as a ‘conduit’ for funds that flowed from Abramoff's tribal clients to surreptitiously finance conservative grassroots lobbying campaigns.”)

A profile in Rolling Stone magazine entitled, “Grover Norquist: The Soul of the New Machine,” written years ago, describes Norquist as presiding over “cold-blooded” policy meetings at Americans for Tax Reform where the common vision was “an America in which the rich will be taxed at the same rates as the poor, where capital is freed from government constraints, where government services are turned over to the free market, where the minimum wage is repealed, unions are made irrelevant, and law-abiding citizens can pack handguns in every state and town.”

"My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit," Norquist told the interviewer, “because that person doesn't need the goddamn government for anything."

This scares me.

Grover Norquist is to me another example of what’s wrong with American politics – from what I’ve read, he’s a callous, self-centered, zealous, ultra-conservative opportunist with a narrow perspective who earns a huge paycheck for bending the ears of the powerful.

Few can argue that “drowning government in a bathtub” would be in this country’s best interest.

Thankfully, fewer people seem to give a rat’s behind what Grover Norquist thinks.

Sources: Huffington Post, Rolling Stone magazine, Smells Like Dead Elephants by Matt Taibbi (2007, Black Cat Publishing).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Aretha Franklin - Dr. Feelgood

Politics make me sick

Dorli Rainey
Is it just me, or does the GOP talking point about intrusive government, excessive taxes and burdensome regulations seem older than the 84-year-old woman pepper-sprayed by police at an Occupy Seattle protest a few nights ago?

President Obama’s health care reform law – known derisively as “Obamacare,” as if the president caring about 47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance is a bad thing – has been under the conservatives’ gun since the moment it was signed into law, which I find somewhat amusing since it didn’t include a public option but its “you must purchase coverage” mandate represented a boon to private insurance companies. Mitt “the Flip-Flopper” Romney, John Boehner, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and other right wing loons have tried to make it a symbol of government overreach and anti-business socialism. (Please forget that Romney approved universal health care for Massachusetts as governor in 2006. That was then and this is now.)

Now comes news that a Gallup survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found that 47 percent favor repealing health care reform, with 42 percent supporting it. Eleven percent surveyed were mindless idiots who had no opinion.

Interestingly, the survey also found that “50 percent of Americans believe the federal government has a responsibility to make sure everyone has health coverage, compared with 46 percent who do not.”

No contradiction there.

The U.S. Supremes will begin hearing legal arguments next March from 26 states and an independent business group that want Obamacare struck down as unconstitutional. The court is expected to issue its ruling next summer.

Gee, I wonder if the same court that sided with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation in Citizens United v. FEC in deciding that corporations have the same rights as people will support a Democratic president’s attempt to extend health coverage to uninsured Americans in the middle of his re-election campaign. (Actually, former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter, a health care industry expert, predicts the Supremes will uphold Obamacare’s constitutionality.)

I’ve been consistent in my disdain for polls and polling. I don’t think our founders intended for us to formulate public policy based on what a bricklayer in Boston or a hairdresser in Houston think about the issues of the day. Everyone has a right to their opinion, of course, but those opinions are not supposed to determine my happiness or limit my options, just as I can’t force my views down someone else’s throat. I want those who know what they’re talking about to shape government programs, those who’ve studied an issue and gained experience in a particular field, not resentful ignoramuses swayed by superrich puppet masters who use front groups and false advertising to shape public opinion and amass more wealth at our expense.

Speaking of “intrusive government,” how come Obamacare and other programs that help the middle class are “intrusive” but it’s okay for government to control women’s bodies, determine who can and cannot marry, require schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, decide our national motto, bail out the banks and send the police out to rallies to shoot, beat, jail and mace those exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly? Talk about intruding.

Supporters of Obamacare – officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – say the law will reduce the soaring growth of health care costs over time and provide medical care to millions of families who currently have no protection. Although I wasn’t its Number One Fan, the legislation was just signed into law in March of last year. So I’m willing to actually give it some time to work before trashing it.

Then again, I’m not a Republican presidential candidate or a member of the 1%.

Sources: Yahoo News, Center for Public Integrity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brotherhood of Man - United We Stand

I dig Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich photo courtesy Jay Westcott/Rapport

I’m reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed right now.

It’s the bestselling story of a middle class, middle-aged, accomplished woman with a Ph.D. and financial resources who goes undercover as a waitress, cleaning lady, nursing home aide and low-level Wal-Mart staffer for three months in three states to experience what those in poverty experience every day and night just to put a roof over the heads and food in their stomachs.

This is how the book, which came out a decade ago – I know, I’m slow – is described:

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity – a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

It’s certainly changed the way I think about those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. I’m not too far up that ladder myself and have always respected those in the service industry but I’ve even more empathetic now thanks to Ehrenreich, an award-winning author of 21 books who writes in a compelling, easy, direct, sometimes funny voice. I’ve added her to my “People I Dig” list and I haven’t even finished the book yet.

I wasn’t surprised when I learned that she’s disgusted about Occupy Wall Street protesters being evicted from Zuccotti Park by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday. In an interview with The Guardian, this muckraker and champion of working people said, "One of the appalling things here is that there are so many Democratic mayors involved in these crackdowns or in Bloomberg's case, someone who is seen as a liberal.

"And where in all this was Obama?,” she added. “Why couldn't he have picked up the phone at some point a couple of weeks ago and called the mayors of Portland and Oakland and said: 'go easy on these people. They represent the anger and aspirations of the majority.' Would that have been so difficult?"

I know some protesters see Democrats as being as complicit as Republicans in the corruption of our system and don’t want the OWS movement to be co-opted by any politician. This doesn’t mean the Leader of the Free World, the guy who’s supposed to speak for all of us, not just those with Wall Street addresses on their business cards, can’t make a speech – not a muffled statement but a speech – in support of those sacrificing their time, comfort, safety and reputation to stand against greed, class warfare and the kind of economic injustice that Ehrenreich so skillfully describes in her riveting exposé.

I can relate to her evolution on the issue of voting too. She told The Guardian that for years she had “maintained the importance of going out to vote” but now she’s sympathetic to the argument of some OWS protestors that voting doesn’t mean anything given the corruption in politics. I’m struggling with the same question: does voting really matter anymore? Seems like more of us need to “think outside of the booth” to have an impact on today’s political landscape.

I urge you to read Nickel and Dimed if you haven’t already. Ehrenreich’s website is here.

OWS protesters being evicted from Zuccotti Park courtesy AP/Craig Ruttle

Source: The Guardian.