Sunday, March 31, 2013

Peace Girl

Dog Is Dead - Do the Right Thing

Sunday poetry

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
“The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

~ Denise Levertov

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Land Day 2013

Today is Land Day, which commemorates the day in 1976 when the Israeli army killed six Palestinians, wounded 100 more and arrested hundreds of others protesting Israel’s plan to expropriate Arab land for “settlement and security purposes.” It is considered a pivotal event in the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The Hives - Puppet on a String

Grieving for Grace

AR-15 Rifle: courtesy New York Times

“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we've moved on to other things? That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are.”

~ President Barack Obama, March 28, 2013

I've said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t want my four kids slaughtered at school by a nutcase with an automatic weapon. I don’t want any more youngsters to be shot – not at school, at home, on the playground, at the mall, at their friend’s house...not anywhere. No more. Something must be done.

I was at two schools this past week – my son’s middle school and the elementary school that my two youngest attend – to watch students perform in talent shows. This year, in addition to thinking, “That girl has an amazing voice” and “That kid knows his magic tricks,” I found myself thinking, “These kids are just like the ones who were shot to death in school one sunny morning a few months ago” and “What’s to stop a guy with a gun from walking three feet into this school, turning left and terrorizing a classroom full of kindergartners?” I even found myself looking at both school principals and thinking, “Are they prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect my kids?”

Is it wrong for me to think these thoughts?

Is it wrong for others not to?

I belong to a Facebook group entitled, “Occupy the NRA” that posted a compelling status update yesterday. It said in part:

As the Connecticut state flag still flies at half-mast to remember the slaughter of children and teachers, the NRA punishes Newtown parents with robocalls reminding them how special assault rifles are. Three miles from Sandy Hook, the second-largest gun lobbying firm, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, spends millions directly marketing assault rifles to children as young as 9.

If you want gun violence to end, these organizations must be confronted with a ferocity as if your child was in the crosshairs. It's been more than three months since Sandy Hook and we can't even get background checks. We are losing this battle on every front and it’s because we are not as engaged as the other side, not even close. I don't know what you want to hear or what will motivate you. This is just the truth.

How can any parent not be as engaged as the other side? According to a New York Times story entitled, “Months after Massacre, Obama Seeks to Regain Momentum on Gun Laws,” polls show that nine out of ten Americans support universal background checks, including seven out of ten NRA members. The article also says, however, that senators are threatening to filibuster gun control proposals scheduled to come up next month and that “a ban on certain styles of semiautomatic weapons is virtually assured of defeat.”

How is this possible? How can any one group have so much sway over public policy? The article also says the NRA is activating its base to ensure that “congressional offices and town hall meetings over the next week will be swamped with competing agendas on how to combat gun violence.” An NRA spokesman is quoted as explaining, “What we face right now is the most dire threat to the association and to our freedom.”

Oh, now I get it: the NRA is more important than American schoolchildren. When the NRA talks about “freedom,” they really mean, “The freedom of small-penised NRA members to buy and show off their big guns whenever and wherever they want,” not “the freedom of mothers and fathers to send their sons and daughters to school knowing that they won’t get their heads blown off before lunch.”

Click here to read, “Men With Loaded Rifles Intimidate Moms Gathered At Gun Safety Rally.” And click here to read “Rifle Used in Killings, America’s Most Popular, Highlights Regulation Debate.”

I’ll close this post by sharing a photo of a beautiful little girl, seven-year-old Grace McDonnell:

Grace was best friends with the daughter of a woman named Susan Ludwig, a mother of two Sandy Hook children who wrote a riveting open letter that ought to be required reading for all Americans. (Click here to read the whole story.) Susan Ludwig’s children lived; Grace did not.

It’s more than disappointing that any single lobbying group can thwart the will of the people and direct the movements of our lawmakers like puppeteers controlling marionettes. It’s nauseating. Repulsive. Criminal, in fact. How many more people have to die before protecting “Second Amendment rights” becomes less important than protecting kids like Grace? Isn’t she all the motivation we need?

Sources: New York Times,, Occupy the NRA,

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Seven-year-old Poonam in Bhopal, India

Umphreys McGee - Red Tape

Josh Fielder on Red Tape

My friend Josh Fielder authored an essay about the gun violence/gun control debate back in January that proved to be one of the top five most popular posts at “What’s the Diehl?” He’s back with an interesting piece about how we treat those who defend our nation that’ll probably also overshadow the thousands of posts over which I've toiled in the last two years.

Shortly after the Civil War, veterans were required to travel all the way to our nation's capital in order to collect their pensions and/or military benefits in person. With such a large population requiring those services, there was a huge backlog of paperwork. These massive mounds of records and documentation were stacked in government offices and bound with red tape. Thus is the origin of that lovely government phrase.

As our country has grown, modernized and streamlined, one would think that we have progressed past that point. Yet today we still have stacks and stacks of unprocessed veterans’ claims piling up in offices around the country. They may not be wrapped with actual red tape any longer, but the phrase still couldn't be more appropriate.

No real soldier would ever insist that they needed a lengthy heads up before they could stand up and fight for this country. These men and women do what is required of them without hesitation. Yet when the military is done with them, they're passed on to different departments that are severely understaffed and underfunded and made to wait for months – sometimes years – before their wounds or disabilities are addressed.

As a veteran myself, I've gone through the process and have found it very disheartening. I can only imagine, with great difficulty, how it is today for our returning soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen. I recall the feeling I got when someone thanked me for my service or shook my hand or I saw a yellow ribbon sticker on the back of a car. While these gestures are heartwarming and remind us to "Remember the Troops," it would be better to remind Congress to remember our veterans as well.

Every member of the military sacrifices something, whether it be their time, comfort or family (I missed my daughter's first steps and words while deployed), but some have even sacrificed a limb, an organ, their sight or hearing. Very few veterans will ask to be acknowledged for what they've done. I think that it is our duty to not only remember their service and sacrifice, but to ensure they’re taken care of after they hang up their uniform for the last time.

We may have progressed as a country, we may have become a more modern society, we may be more connected than ever to one another's plights. But it’s deplorable that we still allow the same "red tape" we had 150 years ago to prevent our soldiers from getting what they need and deserve.

Josh, 38, is a Virginia native who served in the U.S. Air Force at the National Security Agency for six years. The son of a sheriff’s deputy, Josh is a single father of two teenagers who runs a custom-made dog collar business, RBD Pet Outfitters, and promotes social, political, economic and environmental change in his spare time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Looking Up

Kat Dahlia - Gangsta

Pudgy Politician Packin'

“Maybe this is crazy, but I think the right to own a gun is trumped by the right not to be shot by one.”
~ Andy Borowitz

I was scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed yesterday when this photo of an overweight white fellow packing heat caught my eye:

Seems it’s a guy named Jonathan Stickland, a Republican politician from Texas whose website describes him as a “Conservative Christian Republican” who supports “limited government, transparency, limiting regulation and most importantly [representing] the voters, not the lobbies.”

Stickland, who represents the 92nd District in the Texas House of Representatives, obviously doesn’t mean the gun lobby when he says “not the lobbies.” It’s a pretty strong expression of support to pose at your desk with a Glock G38 affixed to your right hip.

Interestingly, Stickland’s photo appeared directly above a link someone posted to an interactive map depicting all the gun deaths that have occurred in this country in the 98 days since the Sandy Hook massacre. In just 13 weeks, gun violence has killed at least 2,243 people, according to Huffington Post. (Slate magazine’s gun-death tracker puts the number of people who've died as a result of gun violence since Newtown even higher at 2,923.)

Not surprisingly, one can find a number of pro-Second Amendment groups in Facebook, including “I Love My Gun Rights” and “Protect the Second Amendment.” These groups post images and memes with captions like “Gun control means using both hands,” “Washington didn't use his right to free speech to defeat the British, he shot them” and “Guns don’t kill people – well, unless your (sic) stupid of course!” One group administrator captioned a photo of hundreds of handguns hanging on a closet wall as follows: “This must be heaven.”

I can’t relate to anyone who defines heaven as hanging out in a closet with more weapons than there are pins in a bowling alley.

Last Thursday, Congress passed federal legislation addressing firearms – the first since Sandy Hook. You might assume the new laws tighten federal restrictions aimed at preventing criminals from getting guns, right? Wrong. The laws were advanced by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and actually weaken federal firearm law. Six gun provisions were passed as riders attached to the continuing resolution funding the government through September. While all six had been federal law since 2004, each was approved by Congress on a year-to-year basis only. Now, four of the provisions are permanent.

Click here to read “The First Federal Gun Laws To Pass Since Newtown Are All NRA Approved.”

I don’t understand this. Like Jacobim Mugatu, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2001 film Zoolander, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. How is it that politicians can get away with passing pro-gun legislation mere weeks after 20 first graders are massacred in their classrooms by a guy wielding his mommy’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle? How can these NRA puppets sleep at night or look in a mirror?

Speaking of crazy, did you catch Fox News’ Lou Dobbs agreeing with a network contributor that Americans need assault weapons to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda operatives and invaders from Iran? The fact that the Fox News channel reaches 102 million households is a lot more worrisome to me than the thought of Persian soldiers storming our beaches.

There was a lot of coverage last week of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) announcement that Senator Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) bill to ban assault weapons wouldn't be considered because it didn't have the votes. (This is in spite of the fact that polls show over 60 percent of Americans support it.) According to, “Feinstein’s proposal to prohibit military-style weapons will still get a vote as an amendment to the gun legislation that Democrats debate. But she is all but certain to need 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to prevail, and she faces solid Republican opposition as well as likely defections from some Democrats.”

Did I mention that I feel like I’m taking crazy bills, and that I don’t understand how these folks can look in a mirror at night? I knew that Harry Reid’s testicles were smaller than popcorn kernels but I didn't realize so many of his fellow lawmakers were similarly endowed.

Which brings us back to State Representative Stickland, the tubby dude who feels the need to roam the halls of the State Capitol Building in Austin armed to the teeth. He must feel threatened by all the savage Injuns and shuffling zombies found in the Lone Star State. I’m thinking not everything is bigger in Texas.

P.S. We just had a pro-gun rally here in Lansing last Wednesday that was attended by hundreds. Not all the fools are in Texas.


Sunday, March 24, 2013


Sonny Boy Willliamson - Sad to Be Alone

Sunday poetry

Sad and Alone

Well, this is nothing new, nothing
to rattle the rafters in the noggin,

this moment of remembering
and its kissing cousin the waking dream.

I wonder if I'll remember it?
I've had a vision of a woman

reclining underneath a tree:
she's about half naked and little by little

I'm sprinkling her burial mounds
with grass. This is the kind of work

I like. It lets me remember, and so
I do. I remember the time I laid

my homemade banjo in the fire
and let it burn. There was nothing else

to burn and the house was cold;
the cigar box curled inside the flames.

But the burst of heat was over soon,
and once the little roar was done,

I could hear the raindrops plopping up
the buckets and kettles, scattered out

like little ponds around the room.
It was night and I was a boy, alone

and left to listen to that old music.
I liked it. I've liked it ever since.

I loved the helpless people I loved.
That's what a little boy will do,

but a grown man will turn it all
to sadness and let it soak his heart

until he wrings it out and dreams
about another kind of love,

some afternoon beneath a tree.
Burial mounds—that's hilarious.

~ Maurice Manning

Friday, March 22, 2013


David Bowie - Fame (Live on Soul Train)

Reluctant to Read and Write

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
~ Thomas Gray

I just don’t feel like writing lately.

Most writers know this feeling. This is when you’re supposed to steel yourself and write anyway, put your chin up and your nose to the grindstone and force yourself to purge whatever you can, anything you can so that sentences and paragraphs appear on paper regardless of their usefulness or cohesiveness. I’m not sure why it’s so important to do this even when you don’t feel like it but that’s what this blog post is.

I also don’t really feel like learning anything.

I regularly visit a number of websites and blogs – everything from Bartcop and The Big Slice to Opposing Views and Consortium News – and there’s no shortage of informative posts and links in Facebook. But so much of what I see is negative and depressing. I just don’t feel like taking it all in.

Just this past week I read about the Senate Majority Leader’s impotence relating to gun control legislation. I read about fracking and dictatorships in Syria and Detroit. I clicked on links to stories about the Keystone pipeline, the 10th anniversary of our criminal folly in Iraq, the Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970s and the involvement of the Catholic church, the conviction of two males who raped a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, and the resemblance of an actor who plays the devil on the History Channel to President Obama. Oh, and I read about an 11-year-old girl being impregnated by her 21-year-old neighbor in Houston.

Is it any wonder why I’m reluctant to read?

I used to watch Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher religiously. I don’t anymore.

I used to read The New York Times, TIME magazine, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek frequently. I don’t anymore.

I used to look forward to blogging every day. I don’t anymore.

Given all that’s wrong in the world today, ignorance really is bliss.

So that’s why Sarah Palin’s always winking and smiling.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Photo by Adrienne Parks

Michael Franti & Spearhead - Hey Hey Hey

Hey Hey! Ho Ho! GMOs Have Got to Go!

The folks in Washington, D.C. are about to make another big mistake.

There’s a legislative rider being advanced that, if passed, will open up the floodgates for the planting of new, untested GMO (“genetically modified organism”) crops. This scares the you-know-what out of a lot of people.

I’m late to this party. There’s so much other crap going on in Lansing and Washington that I just haven’t had time to write about every important issue (e.g. GMOs, the Keystone Pipeline, Sarah Palin’s rack). This is intentional on the part of the evildoers, I'm sure, who want to keep us scrambling on so many fronts that our opposition is fragmented and ineffective. (And no, I’m not wearing a tin foil hat.) But the thought of chemicals being injected into our food – and of me feeding my trusting children untested, genetically engineered “frankenfoods” that could prove carcinogenic or turn them orange or whatever – gives me the creeps.

I’m not an expert on health and nutrition – I’d like to say I buy organic as much as possible but I don’t – but it seems like standing up to biotech lobbyists who’re trying to sneak provisions into Continuing Resolutions that trash serious scientific and regulatory review of our food supply is the right thing to do. It’s not about insider politics or anti-corporatism. It’s about whether food produced with GMOs is safe and consumers have a right to know if it’s been modified.

The specific provision, which a group called Food Democracy Now is calling the “Monsanto Protection Act,” would strip judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumers, farmers and the environment. According to the group, “this provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by USDA illegally. It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review.”

The group says the judicial review process is a vital check on federal agency decisions that could negatively impact on public and environmental health.

Food Democracy Now wants voters to demand that Senator Barb Mikulski (D-Maryland), who chairs the relevant Senate Appropriations subcommittee, pulls this “dangerous and unconstitutional rider” and supports any amendment that would strike it from the Continuing Resolution.

Sounds good to me.

Senator Mikulski’s phone number in Washington is 202-224-4654.

For background information on Monsanto and the Organic Consumer Association’s “Millions against Monsanto” campaign, click here.

Sources: Food Democracy Now,,, Organic Consumers Association,

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Iraqi Girl

Frank Sinatra - That's Life

Sunday poetry

Life at War

The disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles. The feeling
resembles lumps of raw dough

weighing down a child’s stomach on baking day.
Or Rilke said it, ‘My heart. . .
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness . . . but no, as though

its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus
do I carry it about.’
The same war

We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
our lungs are pocked with it,
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it:

the knowledge that humankind,

delicate Man, whose flesh
responds to a caress, whose eyes
are flowers that perceive the stars,

whose music excels the music of birds,
whose laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
whose understanding manifests designs
fairer than the spider’s most intricate web,

still turns without surprise, with mere regret
to the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
runs out over the entrails of still-alive babies,
transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp-fragments,
implosion of skinned penises into carcass-gulleys.

We are the humans, men who can make;
whose language imagines
lovingkindness we have believed one another
mirrored forms of a God we felt as good—

who do these acts, who convince ourselves
it is necessary; these acts are done
to our own flesh; burned human flesh
is smelling in Vietnam as I write.

Yes, this is the knowledge that jostles for space
in our bodies along with all we
go on knowing of joy, of love;

our nerve filaments twitch with its presence
day and night,
nothing we say has not the husky phlegm of it in the saying,
nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness,
the deep intelligence living at peace would have.

~ Denise Levertov

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Little Surfer Girls

Photo by Adrienne Parks

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start the Fire

The Piano Man Cements my Cynicism

I ran across a pretty enjoyable video in Facebook the other day featuring one of my favorite artists, Billy Joel, appearing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville earlier this year.

I’ve always liked Billy Joel. I grew up listening to “Just the Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out,” She’s Always a Woman,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Big Shot,” “Honesty,” “Allentown” and his many other hits. (My all-time favorites include “Goodnight Saigon,” “She’s Got a Way” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which came later.) Joel is one of those artists who’s more than a singer or piano player; he’s part of my life, and hearing certain songs takes me back to places I left far behind and sometimes miss.

So when I stumbled upon this clip on my newsfeed, I clicked on “play” right away. As you can see from the video – reposted below – Joel’s taking questions from students in the audience when one guy stands and asks if he can accompany Joel on one of his (the student’s) favorite songs, “New York State of Mind.” Joel considers the question for a few seconds, shrugs and says, “okay” and the kid joins him onstage and sits down at the piano.

The next six minutes are heaven to people like me: people who love it when singers from their childhood prove they still have their sound, their talent, and when noteworthy interactions between artists and their surprisingly talented fans occur. (I’ll never forget attending a Patti LaBelle concert at Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan – now called “DTE Energy Theatre” by some but not by me – sometime in the late 1970s when she invited a fan onstage to join her on a song who, to the audience’s pleasant surprise, had a great voice.)

It turns out that the student, Michael Pollack, is one of the best piano players I’ve ever heard in my life. The way he tickled the ivories so naturally, with such skill and talent and prowess, is really something to see. He’s stunningly good. (“Guy’s got chops,” Joel declares after their collaboration.) He and Joel sounded great together too: their talents combined as if they’ve shared stages for years. To me, it seemed like a rare and magical moment.

After the clip ended, I scrolled down to read some of the comments posted by previous viewers, a smile still on my face. “I love this” and “Bill Joel’s still got it” were mixed with “That kid is amazing” and “When can we buy their record?” Then I read the comment that I wish I’d missed. The meeting was likely a set up rather than the organic crossing of paths of two significantly talented strangers.

Pollack is pals with Joel’s saxophonist, Richie “Rico” Cannata – which he apparently admits during the Q and A, although I can’t hear well enough – and is an experienced and not-unknown prodigy who has his own official website. (The video clips at the site are fun to watch.)

I never cared that Joel dated Elle McPherson and was married to Christie Brinkley from 1985 to 1994. It didn’t matter that he’s battled substance and alcohol abuse (he spent time at the Betty Ford Center in 2005). I wasn’t especially impressed when I learned that he’s an Obama supporter and an atheist who’s received honorary degrees and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. (Read critic Mark Deming’s 2011 guest post on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here.) To me, he’s always been just an amazing musician, a raw and honest singer and piano player, a real human being whose songs are part of the soundtrack of my life.

So I’m just a little disappointed that he might have pretended in front of an audience of Vanderbilt students to not know of Michael Pollack. It’s not important in the whole scheme of things, of course, but I prefer it when surprise encounters are genuine and I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.

The Piano Man and Kid Pollack do sound good together.

Update: My friend Jim Callahan just told me about the time he attended a Billy Joel/Elton John concert, then met the Piano Man afterward, spending 30 minutes chatting and drinking coffee with him. It was good to hear that Joel's just as gracious and cool as I thought he was.

Here's the page with the comments to which I refer above.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Stacey Kent - What the World Needs Now

Sunday poetry


Fifth grade, summer of the green one-piece.
I was waiting out in front of the YMCA, downtown
Orlando, and there was a man on a motorcycle
under the portico where Mom picked me up.
I was in the green suit like skin, barefoot
on the hot concrete. Dancing. For the first time
I could see how a man could have been a possible boy.
That was the day I didn't step away, go back inside.
He had water-blue eyes, a long beard, no shirt,
and jeans I knew to be "bell-bottoms," but they had
no bells. His body was muscle smooth,
like a horse. Those pants had seams running
down the center of the legs. Useless seams.
I could feel my finger wanting to...
Finger! I put it in my mouth. I put a second finger
in, like a baby. He held his helmet in his arm,
like a football. "Hi," I said. But I meant

Can I ride? I meant around the parking lot. I meant
sit on the bike for one minute. I meant
I don't have
a real mother. (Where was my mother?)
I felt wings grow out of my back from the straps
of the green suit. I stepped toward his motorcycle,
stepped out of my story. I only wanted to prove that
I wasn't afraid, wasn't like her. He said, "No, it's hot!"
Too late. I'd already pressed my knee against the silver pipe.
I heard the fizzle, the spit, felt
the bright pain and the shame. On my kneecap
that afternoon remains: Black heart of scar.
The beginning of the girl in two pieces.

~ Heather Sellers

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's a Long, Long Road

Alicia Keys and Adam Levine - Wild Horses

So Long, Senator Levin

Courtesy Associated Press

Just who do you think you are, Senator Levin – the pope?

I met Carl Levin, Michigan’s senior U.S. Senator, once – I attended a meeting in his Grand Rapids office years ago when I was working in environmental protection and he was considering legislation to protect the Great Lakes – and was impressed and intimidated by his wisdom and intellect. At the time he was being depicted in his campaign literature as a rumpled, Columbo-esque professorial type, a “regular Joe” kind of fellow, so I wasn't prepared to be floored by his vast public policy expertise and knowledge of political nuance and mechanics. I don’t recall what became of his proposal but I remember to this day thinking I was lucky to be able to sit across the table from such a formidable man.

I had mixed feelings when I heard that Mr. Levin, who’s represented Michigan in the U.S. Senate since I was a junior in high school, isn't running for re-election when his current term expires in 2014.

On one hand, 34 years is a long time in any job and fresh blood might be in a good thing. (State Democrats just selected a new party chair, Lon Johnson, to replace Mark Brewer; Brewer had only held that gig for 18 years.)

On the other hand, Senator Levin, 78, has probably done more for my state than anyone in office today. He’s worked to improve education, keep gas prices low, ban drilling in the Great Lakes, clean up Detroit’s riverfront and promote energy efficiency and alternative-technology vehicles (which is odd since he opposed raising mandatory fuel efficiency standards but whatever).

He did rub me the wrong way a few years ago when he proposed the indefinite detention of American citizens by the U.S. military, without charges or trial, if officials think they might be terrorists. (He insisted he had the backing of the U.S. Supreme Court.) But he’s supported gun control and embryonic stem cell research, wrote the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, voted against sending soldiers to Iraq and has earned an 84 percent lifetime rating from the American Civil Liberties Union. (I know it’s not cool to like the ACLU but I do.) And as chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, he wields considerable power. (I always like it when someone representing me is in control.)

Furthermore, he’s pro-choice, supported stimulus spending in 2008, wanted to allow travel between the U.S. and Cuba, believes in the separation of church and state, opposes making English our official language, supports consumer protection and affirmative action, voted to repeal automatic Congressional pay raises and opposed making it harder to vote in federal elections. Did I mention he received a zero percent rating from the Christian Coalition? (That factoid alone warrants a complimentary blog post.) Oh, and he voted against a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning. (Has there ever been a dumber proposal in the history of humankind?)

The man may look like a “kindly old shoemaker,” as Jon Stewart has called him, but he’s one of the toughest, shrewdest politicians around. (Click here for video highlights of him giving Wall Street investment bankers a hard time.) I sure wouldn't want to be summoned to appear before Carl Levin.

One never wants to agree completely with any politician – I’m told that doing so brings on a nasty skin rash, an inability to digest solid food or both – so it’s good that Senator Levin’s voted the wrong way at times. His record includes few of these blemishes, however, which is downright surprising given the extensiveness of said record.

The only names I've heard so far of folks who might want to replace him include former Michigan Governors Jim Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm, State Senator Gretchen Whitmer and Congressman Gary Peters, all Democrats, and state Attorney General Bill Schuette and former Congressman Vern Ehlers, both Republicans. (Saying Bill Schuette and Vern Ehlers are the same, however, is like saying hot dogs and filet mignon are both meat.) Regardless of which candidates emerge in the coming months and who ultimately succeeds Carl Levin, the shoes he’s leaving behind are going to be awfully challenging to fill. Thank you for your service, Senator.

Update: According to Lansing-based political expert Walt Sorg, Schuette’s already said he’s not running. The list of potential Republican candidates also includes former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Congresspeople Mike Rogers and Candace Miller and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley. And possible Dems also include current Congressman Dan Kildee and former Congressman Mark Schauer.


Friday, March 8, 2013

I Feel Ya, Mr. Guitar Man

Louis Armstrong - The Bare Necessities

$5 for Bear Cub Photos; We’ll Throw in the Salmonella for Free

My state lawmakers are like nasty little children who've been inadvertently locked in a candy shop and can’t resist the urge to not only steal candy but leave wrappers strewn around, break glass jars and counter tops, spit on the floor and urinate in the display cases. They don’t care about others or about the future – they’re all about ME and NOW.

There are exceptions, of course. Some of the more mature legislators – those with foresight and consciences – are trying to block the delinquents, return the candy, straighten up the counter tops and pick up the garbage and broken glass. But they’re outnumbered, unfortunately. There’s too much candy being stolen, too many mistakes being made at once. And to make matters worse, the police and passersby outside are just like the miscreants – they all share the same selfish, ill-advised, illogical opinions – so there’s no one to listen to those who object to the terrible behavior, no one to put a stop to it, to end the trashing of the once-beautiful store before it’s too late.

Except, hopefully, the electorate.

The latest unruly behavior relates to Senate Bill 48, a proposal to amend the Large Carnivore Act to allow people to handle, pet and photograph black bears up to nine months old or weighing up to 90 pounds at roadside attractions masquerading as accredited zoos. The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives approved the bill 56 to 52 yesterday; it now goes back to the state Senate (which approved the bill last month) as a formality and then to Governor Rick Snyder (R), who’s expected to sign it into law.

According to the Associated Press, “the legislature passed a similar bill last session, but it was vetoed by Snyder. It had been tied to another bill Snyder had concerns about, but he encouraged the Legislature to re-introduce this bill on its own this session.”

For the actual text of the legislation, click here.

It doesn’t matter that the Michigan Humane Society and real zoos like Potter Park in Lansing, Binder Park in Battle Creek, John Ball in Grand Rapids and the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak have all communicated their strong opposition to the legislation. All that matters to the misguided, unscrupulous GOP politicians and their supporters who currently control all three branches of state government is that a single facility, the Oswald Bear Ranch – which is located in the Upper Peninsula and which raises money by letting tourists hold and pose for photos with real live bear cubs – insists that Senate Bill 48 is good economic policy, especially for a struggling area like Newberry where the roadside petting zoo is located.

Experts know that bears of any size and age can pose a significant threat to humans. But expertise means about as much as science and logic to politicians who put public health at risk in order to satisfy a single constituent.

In the words of the Michigan Humane Society, “We believe strongly that raising baby bears in captivity and using them for profit is wrong, and sends the wrong message about safety around bears. Qualified wildlife rehabilitators do not put baby bears on display or allow for the petting of the animals. We should not weaken our laws just to allow these roadside zoos to profit by exploiting these animals.”

Displaying an astonishing level of compassion and professionalism, Dean Oswald, owner of the Oswald Bear Ranch, told, “You take a young puppy dog, he'll nip at you, but you slap him and he won't nip any more. Bear cubs are the same way. At three months, they might nip, but by four months we have them pretty well calmed down. They put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces."

That’s what I want to do – pay $5 to hold an 80-pound wild animal with sharp claws and teeth while it’s slapped by an untrained petting zoo employee until it submits to my picture-taking. I wonder how many folks will smile if they suffer bites and scratches or catch roundworm, rabies, tuberculosis, salmonella, leptospirosis or another disease.

I sure hope voters are paying attention and will send these judgment-challenged twits packing the first chance they get. If making Michigan a “right to work” state (read: sticking it to unions), limiting public assistance, cutting business taxes, making it tougher to recall state officials, ignoring the will of the people who voted down the state’s anti-democratic emergency manager law or further restricting the right of women to control their own bodies aren't enough to send folks running to the polls, maybe this latest example of myopia and idiocy will be.

Michigan used to be such a cool candy store.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Potter Park Zoological Society is a client of Singh & Diehl LLC.

Sources:, Michigan, the Center for Michigan,, Michigan Humane Society.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Ballade Op. 15 for piano by Teresa Carreño

I’m a Little Sad about Hugo Chávez and I’m Not Afraid to Admit It

“While I don't approve of everything that Chavez said or did, he at least worked to improve his citizens' standard of living instead of selling them out. You can't help but respect that.”

~ Will Kraft, on the Internet

Hugo Chávez, the populist President of Venezuela since 1999, died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer and I’m a little sad about this.

I know some people think Chávez, just 58, was a jerk, an anti-Semite and a foe of the United States. I don’t. My understanding is that the guy had a big heart, an unwavering commitment to his country and a huge set of you-know-whats. You can’t help but respect that.

I’ve never been to Venezuela, the urbanized country on the northern coast of South America that has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world. But I’ve read about Chávez because I had a brief fascination with Brazil, Venezuela’s neighbor to the south. Some say he made life better for poor Venezuelans – poverty dropped from 71 to 21 percent during his tenure and the percentage of malnourished residents dropped from 21 percent in 1998 to just five percent today – and others insist the country’s gains in the areas of education, health and poverty were inevitable in spite of his policies.

I think the truth is that he was a flawed but talented leader who refused to march to the beat of my country’s drum so he was labeled an unscrupulous dictator by the corporate powers that determine what we’re told. (And no, I’m not wearing any tin foil as I write this.) Anyone who is as reviled as Chávez was by American politicians is probably in actuality not that bad a fellow.

Click here to read a disappointing piece at entitled, “Why Democrats Shouldn't Eulogize Hugo Chávez.”

What I like about Chávez is he wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it. In the fall of 2006, he delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly the day after Dubya addressed the same crowd and said, “The Devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulfur still.” (He called President Obama a “clown” in late 2011 but had referred to him as an “intelligent man” in 2009 so I’m giving him slack.) He also called our 43rd president a “donkey,” defined himself as “anti-imperialist” and “anti-capitalist,” presided over a nation that offered universal health care to its people and hung out with the leaders of Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Gee, I can’t imagine why this nation’s puppeteers and media overlords would develop a negative attitude about an independent guy like Hugo Chávez.

I know why Jewish folks weren't his fans. For one thing Venezuela is 92 percent Roman Catholic. As referenced above, Chávez counted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Israel’s Enemy Number One – among his friends. And he said in December of 2005 that “a minority has taken possession of all of the wealth of the world” which some interpreted as thinly-veiled anti-Semitism. (He also famously accused his opponents of being “poisoned by those wandering Jews.”)

Maybe if I were Jewish, I’d hold a different opinion about the guy. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the sway Israel holds over my country’s foreign policy – and with the fact that the U.S. provides Israel with $8.5 million in military aid each day – especially as it relates to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

I remember Chávez offering to help Hurricane Katrina victims back in 2005 – faster than the U.S. government, in fact – and saying he would provide free home heating oil to low-income Americans in East Coast states during a cold spell in 2007. Contrary to what you may have heard about this “tin-pot tyrant,” Venezuela under Chávez regularly held fair, certified elections and he was elected each time with over 60 percent of the popular vote despite vigorous campaigns against him. (When the topic of smooth, fair elections arises, the U.S. should probably keep its head down and its mouth shut anyway.)

Sure, Venezuela experienced economic challenges (including a banking crisis in 1994), has been deemed “corrupt” and has a high homicide rate and a drug trafficking problem. But Hugo Chávez brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums – and that alone warrants kind words on the occasion of his passing.

I don’t hear many folks in Washington talking about doing that here now.

Rest in peace, Mr. Chávez.