Monday, July 29, 2013


Three Times a Lady - Commodores

Okay If I Remove Your Gall Bladder?

“I hate men who are afraid of women's strength.”

~ Anaïs Nin

Gretchen Whitmer bummed me out yesterday.

Senator Whitmer (D-East Lansing), leader of the Democrats in Michigan’s 38-member State Senate, pointed out in a Facebook post that in 2006, there were 12 women senators; today there are just four. (And Senator Whitmer is term-limited so she’s out at the end of next year.) She included a link to an article highlighting the fact that in addition to the four seats in the senate, women currently hold only 24 of the 110 seats in the House of Representatives; this means women comprise just under 19 percent of the state legislature, the lowest ratio in more than two decades. (The national average is an also-low 24.2 percent.)

I find this depressing.

It’s partly why Michigan’s women got the shaft last year. In December 2012, Republicans pushed legislation through in the lame duck session that effectively bans health insurance companies from covering abortions and places new burdens on abortion clinics in an attempt to close them down. And you probably heard about Democratic State Representatives Barb Byrum and Lisa Brown being gagged last summer by their GOP colleagues – literally – for daring to use the word “vagina” during debate over bills restricting abortion. (Brown famously said, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina but ‘no’ means ‘no’” and Byrum loudly demanded the right to explain an amendment she sponsored but wasn’t being allowed to discuss.) Republicans determined that they “disrupted decorum” and revoked their speaking privileges for a day.

I guess taking away the right of women to control their own bodies isn’t enough; we apparently need to take away their right to speak in order to really prove who’s the boss.

There’s no shortage of reasons why we need to correct this shameful gender imbalance. Interestingly, researchers have found that women legislators provide increased access to government for traditionally disadvantaged groups of people. And a 2010 study actually found a direct link between the number of women in a group and that group’s ability to cooperate and be effective.

I don't understand...
It just makes sense for people who are affected by Lansing’s laws and regulations to help craft ‘em. Who knows more about women’s bodies than women? Who knows more about their safety and educational needs, the challenges they face that are unique to their gender, how it feels and what it means to be female in a world dominated by men? I live in a household that includes a woman and three girls. The idea that I can speak for them, predict their behavior or even understand them more than half the time makes about as much sense as thinking I’m qualified to remove your gall bladder, manage your money or pilot the Boeing 737 that takes you to LAX.

It’s ultimately not Republicans’ fault that bad public policy is emerging in Lansing. Gerrymandering notwithstanding, you can’t blame ‘em for trying to get all they can get while the gettin’s good. It’s really the fault of a lazy misinformed electorate that chooses to put these out-of-touch white guys in charge.

A Michigan Lawmaker
If you love your mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece or grandmother – or if you like it when lawmakers actually understand the impact of the laws they write – you should support Senator Whitmer’s quest to recruit female candidates and advocate for more women in policy-making roles. Only Republicans jackasses and Neanderthals want to keep women in the kitchen and out of the Capital.

Click here to read, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Texas Men Explain Why So Many are Joining the Fight.” And click here to read, “State By State Proof of the GOP War on Women and Why Their Bills Should Be Defeated.”


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bhai Wants In

Morning Star - Mustasch

Sunday poetry

Monthlies at the Morning Star

The plans have been laid through December.
I gotta ask, Bianca,
Alexis, Sandra, how can you commit
so far in advance? I don’t even enjoy
telling you at three thirty in the afternoon
where I’ll be at six.
Don’t you ever get disturbed
watching past seasons of 60 Minutes all day
and come night feigning old age by drinking
an eleven dollar bottle of Pinot
chugging a spring roll
and consuming Ken Burns documentaries until the point of bleed?
Don’t you get disturbed? Bianca,
are you sometimes confused
for that porn star who’s angle is to be hairy? Bianca,
are you that porn star who’s angle is to be hairy?
I was in a community, once,
and panicked outright, locking myself in the dressing room
of a Baby Gap.

~ Joseph Goosey

For more absurdist poetry that even vacuum cleaners enjoy, visit Clutching at Straws.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Long Strange Tripster

The Internet - Fastlane

First World Problem with Comcast

July 19, 2013

Tom Karinshak
Senior Vice President of Customer Experience
Comcast Corporation
Comcast Center
1701 JFK Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Dear Mr. Karinshak:

I’m writing to let you know how incensed I am as a result of spending the past few days dealing with almost unbelievable professional ineptitude and nonexistent customer service on the part of Comcast.

I tried for two days to reach someone to make payment arrangements for a past due amount on our account in order to avoid interruption of our service. I called your 1-888-266-2278 number again and again and repeatedly navigated your automated phone system, trying to speak to an actual human being. I was told to call back – your system was supposedly down, whatever that means – or transferred or placed on hold over and over.

Each time I had to wait an excessively long time for a customer account executive to become available. I had to explain what I was trying to do over and over again. I was told more than once that your system is down and I need to call back later. I did not get callbacks from you as promised (which means I didn’t leave the house, take showers or do anything else that might cause me to miss calls that never came).

When I finally spoke to someone named Serena, she told me arrangements could not be made without a post-dated check. I obtained this and started calling again. In addition to Serena, I spoke at various times yesterday and this morning with Samantha, Aaron, Shirley, Joe, Jessica, Beatrice, Robert (supposedly a supervisor) and finally Emily, who took down our bank account and routing numbers, provided me with a confirmation number and promised that our service would not be interrupted.

Then at 10:18 this morning, you went ahead and suspended our internet and cable TV anyway. (I was automatically redirected to Comcast’s “Your service has been temporarily suspended; pay now” website and none of our TV channels were “authorized” anymore.) When I was finally able to reach a customer account executive – Tangela – I was told that the system is down again and you can’t access my account. I told Tangela that you already accessed the account when I gave you my banking information and you provided me with a confirmation number but she insisted there was nothing she could do and I should just wait for a callback from Comcast, although she had no idea when that would be.

After waiting for more than 90 minutes and hearing nothing, I called again and after several minutes on hold, was told by Cicero that my only option was to wait for a callback. I insisted on speaking with his supervisor, Keewana, who restored my cable TV but not my internet. I had to call back and speak with Nirvana, Muhammad (who hung up on me) and Shasta before my internet access was finally restored. I was able to start my day at lunchtime. (I learned my phone service had also been suspended – I could only make calls to Comcast – but that too was restored after a frustrating delay.)

That’s 15 – yes, 15 – different Comcast employees and several hours worth of stress and aggravation.

I utilize the internet connection for my job. I can’t send and receive messages and documents, reference relevant web sites or communicate with contacts when there is no internet connection. It’s not merely an inconvenience like losing cable TV; it affects my livelihood.

I realize this is a First World problem, there’s no such thing as customer service anymore, and now that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, Comcast is free to be a heartless, bullying, grossly incompetent jackass with no repercussions. Still, it would be nice if someone in the Comcast labyrinth gave a rat’s behind about how you detrimentally affect the lives of those who pay hard-earned money for substandard service and significant stress. If I could bill you for the time and aggravation you cost me, you’d owe me a big ol’ chunk of change.

Thanks for the worst “customer experience” I’ve had in 51 years on Planet Earth.


Patrick Diehl

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Children of Distance feat. Patty - Emlékezz rám

Sunday poetry

Children On A Shelf

Once upon a time they say,
kids went safely out to play.
They walked to stores safe everyday.
But now, some don't come home.
Beneath purple mountains majesty,
everyday, child tragedies.
The country suffers maladies,
and most just grieve alone.

No one locked their doors at night.
Now, we're boarded up too tight.
Scared of vigilante fights,
and another child has died.
Long ago and far away
dreams came true, but now won't stay.
Freedom has a price you pay.
The politicians lied.

So, put your rifles across your chests.
Hide your guns like all the rest,
but, don't ever think you did your best
to save us, or yourself.
We're not free, to live, but die.
Fathers worry, mothers cry.
In darkened homes they wonder why
their children...are on a shelf.

Washington is full of graft.
Politicians, unfair laws, craft.
All the way to banks they laugh,
they have so much to burn.
We wonder just how long we'll last.
We've gone back too far, too fast.
There is no future in the past.
But, some men never learn.

So, put your rifles on your chests.
Hide your guns like all the rest,
but, don't ever think you did your best
to save us, or yourself.
We're not free, to live, but die.
Fathers worry, mothers cry.
In darkened homes they wonder why
their children...are on a shelf.

~ Christopher Kalish

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Rachmaninoff's Vocalise - Itzhak Perlman

I Wish I Lived in Jersey City Today

I planned on posting about my recent exasperating experience with my internet provider until it was pointed out that 100 vigils are taking place in cities across the country today, organized by the National Action Network, to pressure the feds to investigate civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer. (Zimmerman got off scot-free because his trial was held in Seminole County, Florida, which is 78.2 percent white, and the prosecution team was infuriatingly inept.)

The mere thought that I would post about such a relatively meaningless hullabaloo on the same day that Trayvon was being commemorated by hundreds of thousands of Americans was offensive so I’m switching gears and posting President Obama’s remarks on Trayvon, made yesterday, which are more than a little compelling. (As I shared in Facebook, if the only thing the President of the United States had to do was give speeches, Barack Obama would be the best president in the history of this more perfect union.)

Although vigils are scheduled in cities from Wichita and St. Louis to Bowling Green and Jersey City, nothing’s planned for Lansing, where I live. So at some point today, my family and I will put down our iPhones, turn off the television and gather in our living room to remember Trayvon and reflect upon how evil and beautiful life can be.

I’ll bitch about sh*t that doesn’t really matter another day.

I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues -- immigration, economics, et cetera -- we'll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week -- the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case -- I'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact -- although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let's figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it -- if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there's been commentary about the fact that the "stand your ground" laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three -- and this is a long-term project -- we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I'm not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I'm not sure that that’s what we're talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I've got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they're a full part of this society and that they've got pathways and avenues to succeed -- I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we're going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are -- they’re better than we were -- on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union -- not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Sources:, The White House, National Action Network.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Kurt Cobain photo by Ian Tilton

Tommy Tutone - Jenny (867-5309)

In Which I Defend Jim Carrey's Ex

Carrey Sunning with Satan

I’ve been seeing articles and Facebook posts that trash Jenny McCarthy and I’m wondering why people think the behavior of a former Playboy playmate, MTV dating show host and paramour of Jim Carrey is newsworthy.

One commenter even described her impending addition to the View gaggle as replacing a right-wing wench – Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who departed, thankfully, on July 10 – with a left-wing wench. I don’t recall her playing a major role in politics at any point in the more than three decades that I’ve been an observer. The reason she’s getting heat, apparently, is because she’s had the courage to publicly question the wisdom of vaccination regimens.

(Although I’m in no way related to McCarthy or affiliated with this country’s anti-vaccine movement, I did write negatively about vaccines before. See “A Shot in the Dark,” December 10, 2012.)

It’s unfortunate that the Powers That Be – in this case Big Pharma, traditional medicine and the whorish media – find it necessary to discredit and marginalize individuals rather than responding to the claims and questions posed by said individuals. There is a connection between vaccines and certain diseases and conditions like mental retardation, dyslexia, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), arthritis and others. Certain vaccines that contain foreign tissues and chemicals do suppress our immune systems and affect some of our organs and body parts. And some studies have found a link between vaccines and autism. So why not counter these studies and assertions with facts and science rather than throwing stones at Hollywood actresses?

I ran across an article in Salon, a publication that I used to respect, entitled, “Dear ABC: Putting Jenny McCarthy on The View Will Kill Children.” If that’s not an excessively provocative and irresponsible title for an opinion piece, I don’t know what is. The New Yorker, another publication that doesn’t usually embrace juvenile hyperbole, claimed that McCarthy’s views are downright dangerous and hiring her to appear on television represents “a strike against reason and progress and hope.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Seriously? I can think of 50 examples of strikes against reason, progress and hope more deserving of national hand-wringing than putting an opinionated, middle-aged, yellow-haired celebrity on a vapid TV show that’s tied with a 50-year-old soap opera as most popular among 18- to 49-year-old housewives.

Sources:, Salon, New Yorker.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Denis's Place

Photo courtesy Cathy Markel

Churchill - Change

Bedfellows Arguing About Politics

Anita and I didn’t see eye-to-eye last Saturday morning.

We were talking initially about the George Zimmerman trial but our conversation roamed and meandered a bit and I found myself arguing that everything in this country (and world) has gotten worse. I mentioned climate change, police brutality and politics and said the differences with the latter are that 1) the influence of big money – exacerbated by a Supreme Court decision granting the same rights to corporations that people have – is stronger than ever, drowning out all other voices, and 2) although politics has always had a dirty, corrupt underbelly, nowadays the crooks don’t even try to be covert – improper relationships are no longer hidden and unscrupulous actions are either denied or justified – because they know nothing bad will happen if their machinations are revealed.

I referenced the attempt last month by Republican legislators in Texas to add more time to the 24-hour day so that they could ram a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks through the process (see “Wild Night in Texas as Abortion Filibuster Leads to Disputed Midnight Vote,” June 26, 2013) and the news that Texas Governor Rick Perry’s sister, a vice president at United Surgical Partners, stands to benefit personally from the new law. Politicians aren’t even trying to keep conflicts of interest and blatant misrepresentations out of the public eye anymore, I complained.

Anita replied that a lot of this stuff has been going on forever – she mentioned Tammany Hall, which I had to look up – but as we get older and the things to which we pay attention change, we notice them more. And because I was perturbed by the disappointing outcome of the Zimmerman trial, she said, I was probably just looking for reasons to be annoyed and despondent.

She might be right. But there’s no comfort in knowing that things have always been imperfect either. In fact, it’s even more depressing to realize that we’ve come so far and yet learned so little.

After our discussion I signed into Facebook to see what people were saying about the Zimmerman verdict. I soon became entangled in heated exchanges with members of the Stand Your Ground contingent. I was amazed at how quickly the “If You Don’t Like the Message, Attack the Messenger” credo was invoked. I was actually called a turd by a grown man for challenging his assertion that Zimmerman had a “duty” to defend himself from a scared, unarmed teenager an imminent threat of attack.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sources:, Yahoo News, The Atlantic Wire.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Open Letter to Black Folks and Others Who Have Been Poised to Riot

As we await the verdict in the George Zimmerman case - the jury is currently deliberating whether Zimmerman is guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year - I'm straying from the usual "What's the Diehl?" format to repost a compelling letter I found in Facebook:

Let’s keep this short and sweet...Open letter to Black folks and others who have been “poised” to Riot

REGARDLESS of the verdict, we must realize that Trayvon Martin has changed all of our lives and quite possibly the scope of American police investigations at large. Hence, there is no NEED to riot. We have already “rioted” with our words, our demands, expressions, and unwillingness to take this anymore. If nothing else, this case has fundamentally changed the minds of those who devalued another’s life based on the color of their skin or the one who has made assumptions about who looks “suspicious” because of how they APPEAR to you.

Some wonder why this case has garnered so much attention. Well, let me enlighten you. NOTHING happens in a vacuum. Since the inception of this country, we have had to suffer and even asked to embrace the gradations of humanity. Persons are judged in STAGES of their humanness. Humanity was never simply bestowed upon one because they had human DNA, it had to be EARNED – fought for. Some people were simply less than human….are simply less than human.

What did this case show us? Those days may be fewer and farther between, but they are not OVER. So when people say, “Oh, you know those people will riot….just like they did in back in 1992” (Note they don’t want to be judged by their past but will never cease to judge you by yours), the difference is we have been POISED not to riot but to EXPECT a “not guilty” verdict. If it took 46 days to merely get an ARREST – an ARREST – I think that speaks volumes. So regardless of what wrongs you perceive have been done to you (and they have), REMEMBER you have no presumption of innocence and no right to stand your matter what the LAW says. It does not apply. You will be arrested, and you may even get killed. And there will be every justification in the world given for why this had to happen.

So on Monday, or whenever judgment day is, keep in mind, even with a “not guilty” verdict, all is not lost. For we have all been Trayvon Martin and that in itself is a form of justice that no court of law can take away from us.

Signed an American Citizen and Mother of a young Black male who is big for his age,

~ Te Holman

Ms. Holman and her son

Bohnet's Path

Photo by Steve Bohnet

Hungry Heart - Bruce Springsteen

On Subsidizing Agribusiness and Giving Hungry Folks the Bird

This is one of those posts that are intended to inform more than to persuade. It’s a pretty safe bet that I don’t need to convince “What’s the Diehl?” readers to care about hungry kids more than agribusiness. If you’re a GOP politician, however, it’s a different story.

I’m referring to the fact that conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a farm bill two days ago that included around $195 billion in subsidies for “farmers” (read: agribusiness) over the next decade while eliminating food stamps and nutrition programs completely, calling them “extraneous.”

The bill – which was introduced with a rule allowing no amendments – passed by a vote of 216-208. No Democrats voted for it, while only 12 Republicans voted against it.

What an obscene, blatantly political move.

Republicans know their bill won’t survive the U.S. Senate or a White House veto; they promised a separate vote on food stamp funding “soon.” Isn’t this the same party that always demands “certainty” for business when it comes to tax policy? How come hungry, low-income families aren’t entitled to the same certainty?

It’s questionable whether the two chambers can reconcile their differences and come up with something before current funding runs out in a few weeks.

The bill passed by the Senate back in May included about $4 billion in cuts to food assistance (which I thought at the time was also obscene); if that proposal was a slap in the face for poor people, last Thursday’s move was a huge middle finger to those who are forced to forego medicine and gas and choose between paying the rent/mortgage or putting food on the table.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Senate Agriculture Committee chair whom I used to like a lot, described the House move as “an insult to rural America.” I’m not sure why she focused on rural America – to me, it’s also an insult to urban and suburban residents, anti-poverty advocates, food bank employees and supporters, public policy devotees, parents and anyone else who thinks it’s criminal to let kids go hungry while lining the pockets of corporate agriculture.

Here in my state, food assistance for 1.7 million Michiganders is threatened. The number of people in the U.S. who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has continued to grow; last April, 47.5 million were receiving food benefits worth $132.46/month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (As I’ve shared before, Anita and I spend twice that much to feed our six-person family each week.) That’s about 15 percent of the population, or one in seven Americans. Of those, 47 percent are children under 18 and eight percent are seniors.

Yes, you read that correctly. Almost half of those who depend on food stamps are kids.

Things seem to just keep getting worse and worse. And if this revelation of what today’s Republican Party is all about doesn’t motivate people to go to the polls and boot these callous pricks out of office, I don’t know what will.

Click here to read, “House Republicans Punish Their Own States by Eliminating Food Stamp Program (with chart),” July 12, 2013. Click here to read, “Yes, You Should Be Totally Outraged by the Farm Bill,” July 12, 2013. And click here to read, “Snap to It, Congress! Stop Spending So Much to Feed the Hungry!,” June 1, 2013.

Sources:, Washington Post, Detroit News, The Atlantic.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What a Dive

Radioactive - Imagine Dragons

Usually I post a music video that has some connection - the title, a lyric, the name of the artist - to the day's essay. This one's an exception; it's included solely because it was suggested by my 12-year-old son, Bryant, and it's fun to watch.

Taxes, Seagram's, Push Polls and Telephones

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I had just finished doing the dishes last night and was looking forward to grabbing one of the beer-sized bottles of flavored Seagram’s that we bought last weekend and maybe signing into Facebook when the phone rang.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike talking on the phone?

I really dislike it, even when it’s Anita, my mother or one of the kids on the other end. So when I answered last night and was asked if I could spare 12 minutes for a survey, I winced. I envisioned the survey taker sitting in a stuffy, windowless basement office somewhere, empty pizza boxes stacked in the corner, trying his damndest to find people willing to complete his lengthy survey so he could earn $5 per call. So I begrudgingly agreed.

He said the survey was about business taxes on equipment. I couldn’t really see such a survey taking 12 minutes but I told him to go ahead. He then began asking about taxes in Michigan: did I support replacing most business taxes with a straight six percent tax on corporations, which has already been done, and did I believe it’s important for municipalities to be able to afford police, fire, road repair, schools and libraries? (I answered ‘no’ to the former and ‘yes’ to the latter.) Then he started in on a series of questions relating to an upcoming proposal to do away with taxing businesses on equipment and trusting the legislature to replace that lost revenue with other savings.

If I understood the guy correctly, the proposal – which will appear on the August ballot – phases out the tax that businesses pay on commercial and industrial equipment and guarantees that local governments will receive “most” of what they need to fund essential services through implementation of a new “use tax.” Local governments have already had to close schools, lay off public safety workers, close parks and let roads crumble in recent years due to declining state revenue sharing. This sounds like just another tax shift to me.

After the ninth or tenth question about this obviously Republican-backed, pro-business proposal, I finally said, “Look, I don’t mean to be a jerk because I know you’re just reading from a script, but I. Oppose. This. Proposal. And. My. Mind. Is. Made. Up.” He responded with, “Okay, but can I just finish running through these questions so I can complete the survey?” I took a deep breath and relented.

He then had me rank, on a scale of one to ten, how much I cared what various individuals and entities thought about the proposal. Governor Rick Snyder, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and the Michigan Manufacturers Association scored zeroes; teachers, librarians and local officials fared better. Then he started his next question with, “Since Michigan is at a big disadvantage in terms of luring new businesses here because of our high taxes...” “Wait a minute!,” I interrupted. “Taxes aren’t the only factor that businesses consider when deciding where to relocate. They look at the quality of schools and the transportation infrastructure and the crime rate and whether there are parks and...”

“Sir,” the guy cut in, “would you consider yourself a Democrat?” I hate the restrictive, one-dimensional aspect of that label and I’ve lost more than a little sleep because of Democrats at the state and national levels but I said, “Does the Pope live in Vatican City? Listen, I oppose any more attempts to reduce taxes on businesses and shift the burden to those least able to shoulder it. If that sounds like a Democrat, so be it.” The guy actually sighed – I guess I was the one who was taxing – and plunged ahead with his push poll.

I’m proud to say I ignored my rising blood pressure and answered his remaining questions – about my ethnicity, household income level, educational background and other divisive demographic characteristics – until the wonderful, magical moment when he finally said, “Okay, that concludes this survey and I want to thank you for your time.” I was pleased that I hung in there. I was pleased that I helped enhance the dude’s completed survey rate. I was pleased that I spoke up for the little guy and overcame my almost debilitating aversion to conversing on the telephone. And I was pleased that Anita let me have the last Black Cherry Seagram’s instead of the last Watermelon Splash Seagram’s, which is like fetid cough syrup and was probably concocted by a tax-phobic, Grover Norquist-loving conservative.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I Whip My Hair Back and Forth

Photo by Nikita Welch

The Beach Song - The Graves

Sunday poetry

Photo of a Girl on a Beach

Once when I was harmless
and didn’t know any better,

a mirror to the front of me
and an ocean behind,

I lay wedged in the middle of daylight,
paper-doll thin, dreaming,

then I vanished. I gave the day a fingerprint,
then forgot.

I sat naked on a towel
on a hot June Monday.

The sun etched the inside of my eyelids,
while a boy dozed at my side.

The smell of all oceans was around us—
steamy salt, shell, and sweat,

but I reached for the distant one.
A tide rose while I slept,

and soon I was alone. Try being
a figure in memory. It’s hollow there.

For truth’s sake, I’ll say she was on a beach
and her eyes were closed.

She was bare in the sand, long,
and the hour took her bit by bit.

~ Carmen Gimenez Smith

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Eyes Have It

Walking on the Moon (live) - The Police

Living In a Police State

I’ve written about how my feelings about God have changed. I believe I’ve written about how I no longer feel respectful toward politicians and judges. But I can’t remember if I’ve written about the evolution of my attitude toward the police.

I don’t like ‘em anymore.

I struggled for some time, unknowingly and then knowingly, to maintain respect and admiration for the men and women in blue. The heroism displayed daily by some in law enforcement – as exemplified by the 23 New York Police Department officers and 37 New York Port Authority officers who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 – is truly moving and commendable. It takes a special individual to run toward gunfire, chase bad guys with weapons, check out dark alleys and abandoned buildings and put themselves in harm’s way.

Ready for the but?

Rodney King
But more and more, I see and hear about instances when cops have gone too far. The big stories stand out – Rodney King, Malice Green, Amadou Diallo – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve written about seven-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was shot and killed by Detroit SWAT officers while sleeping on the couch in a home they raided on May 16, 2010. (See “Who’s turning their porch lights on for Aiyana Jones?, July 6, 2011, and “Justice for Aiyana?,” October 5, 2011.) I still lose sleep over this case – the first trial for the police officer who ended her life resulted in a hung jury; a new one’s been scheduled for July 25. (Click here to read a Nation piece entitled, “Why Aiyana Jones Matters,” June 13, 2013.)

The latest travesty to foster my insomnia involves not a human being but a Rottweiler named Max.

You’ve probably seen the gruesome and widely-circulated video of uniformed police in Hawthorne, California, shooting Max four times, the dog’s jerks and spasms causing witnesses to cry out in horror. (The video is reposted below and you have been warned.) Some say Leon Rosby’s dog lunged at the officers while they were arresting his master; my repeated viewing of the video found that the officers’ use of deadly force was excessive and unjustified. I understand that stress levels were high and that dogs are sometimes indeed threats to police but Max began to retreat after the first shot; it didn’t deserve to be shot three more times. (The officers involved have received several death threats since the clip went viral. Click here for more.)

Scott Olsen, the 24-year-old Iraq War veteran whose skull was fractured by a police projectile during a demonstration in Oakland, California, in October of 2011, also comes to mind. Olsen, critically injured, had to be rushed to the hospital by other demonstrators who were themselves fired upon by police while trying to help him. And who can forget Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying non-violent students during a sit-in on the UC Davis campus in November of 2011? I still see memes about that one on my Facebook newsfeed.

To protect and serve banks?
Closer to home, I’ve run into incredibly rude – even demeaning – police officers who’ve seemed to go out of their way to ensure a disconcerting experience. In January of 2011, someone close to me was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal in a right-turn lane and then arrested for driving with a suspended license. (She never saw the notification that her license had been suspended for not having proof of insurance during an earlier stop.) The insensitivity and arrogance of the several officers who insisted on handcuffing my friend and hauling her off to jail were infuriating. This person’s young children were there, witnessed everything, and were of course distressed. I’m no expert on police protocols but this just didn’t have to go down the way it did. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge at this point how much worse it must be for people of color.)

Let’s not forget the horrible abuses during the Civil Rights Era and the anti-war demonstrations of decades ago.

There are several websites and indexes devoted to instances of police brutality. (Click here and here and here and here and here.) How do law-abiding citizens make the case that police agencies are supposed to protect all of us and not just the homes, businesses and institutions of well-off white people?

A young factory worker in Bangladesh
who had the nerve to protest
deplorable working conditions
This is of course not just an American problem. Police have been accused of brutality all over the place. But since my travel these days is pretty much limited to the mid-Michigan area (with the exception of the occasional 12-hour drive to Georgia to visit my parents), I’m taking a parochial view.

Anita pointed out recently that I’m sometimes long on complaining and short on suggesting solutions. In this case I’m not sure what the solutions are. Sensitivity training? Longer probation periods for new hires? Psychological evaluations? Anger management classes? Letters to our legislators? All I know is that from now on, I’m assuming every cop I see is a dick unless he or she proves otherwise. It used to be the other way around.

Of course most cops are good and things would be a lot worse if no one patrolled the streets or enforced the rules. But isolated incidents became patterns a long time ago. And in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., no stranger to police brutality himself, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

P.S. After writing this I signed into Facebook and instantly saw a story on my newsfeed about 35-year-old Douglass Zerby of Long Beach, California, who was shot and killed by police as he watered a neighbor’s lawn back in December of 2010. (Police mistook the water nozzle for a handgun.) A jury just awarded the dead man’s family $6.5 million and found two Long Beach police officers negligent and liable for his death. Tip of the iceberg.

Sources: The New Yorker,,,,, The Nation,,, KABC-TV.