Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ahira

Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow

Art That's ALIVE


I love spoken word poetry.

I mean it. I really love it.

One of my favorites is Daniel Beaty’s “Knock Knock.” Check this out:



I’ve watched it countless times but it never ceases to move me; I find myself jumping to my feet at the end every time, joining those in the audience in giving Mr. Beaty a standing ovation for his awesome, powerful performance, his utterly amazing gift.

So I was glad that my friend Lee Antonia Tobar included me on the list of people she tagged in Facebook to share this clip of another truly amazing performance by another amazing man, Shane Koyczan:



I found myself reacting the same way at the conclusion of Mr. Koyczan’s “Remember How We Forgot.” I lept to my feet, applauding loudly as tears streamed down my face, as if I was among an appreciative audience in some smoky Canadian pub or performance space instead of alone in my living room in my Lansing-area house.

I don’t really know why these artists reduce me to tears. I don’t know why the sight of a real live majestic Tiger at our local zoo makes me cry. I don’t know why the sight of a black kid and a white kid holding hands on the playground or Anita planting flowers in front of our home with one of our daughters or one of our dogs licking my son’s face while he laughs turns my eyeball faucets on but they do. It’s a cross that I bear, I guess, and I’m resigned to it. I’m glad, in fact, that I’m moved or touched so easily, even if it is a little odd and at times downright embarrassing. Better to feel too much than not enough, right?

Katie Makkai’s “Pretty” is another memorable, provocative performance. This clip will be required viewing for my three daughters – and my son:



Lee also shared an outstanding clip of the DC Youth Slam Team – Hannah Halpern, Amina Iro, Reina Privado and Asha Gardner – competing in this year’s Brave New Voices Grand Slam Finals in Washington, D.C. I’ll be making sure that my kids see this video of these amazing young women in action:



I’ll close this post with Jill Scott’s “Nothing is for Nothing.” Ms. Scott’s been on my “People I Dig” list for a long time because of her music; she moved up to the top tier when I stumbled upon this clip:



Thanks, Daniel, Shane, Katie, Hannah, Amina, Reina, Asha, Jill and Lee.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's All Good

So Happy Together - The Turtles

It's Not So Bad After All



It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and negative and cynical and pessimistic these days, with all the negative news and information, all the lies and crimes and bad things happening in Syria and Washington and right down the street. Newspapers and news broadcasts – with their “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality – don’t help, and folks understandably turn inward, don’t vote, focus on friends and family, become depressed, and just ignore issues and developments over which they think they have little, if any, control. The resulting inaction and malaise add to the frustration experienced by those who are paying attention, and contributes to the chasm between people, the sense of isolation, the “me vs. the world” attitude, the hopelessness that actually helps to maintain a dreary status quo.

And then someone shows us - reminds us, really - that the world’s still beautiful, life’s still good, a positive attitude can still be justified.

For me, the video posted below is the best reminder. I know it’s not new. (It was used in a Super Bowl commercial and was posted in Facebook years ago.) But it’s worth sharing, and watching, again and again. I like it so much because it’s not cheesy or contrived or treacly. It’s real. Natural. It makes me happy. It even counters the negativity associated with the fact that we live in a Surveillance Society where everything is filmed and nothing is private.

That’s not always a bad thing.




Monday, October 28, 2013

Free Air Guitar

Perfect Day - Lou Reed

Fast Food and Football Dads



So I was sitting in my uncomfortable lawn chair on the sidelines at our local junior high's football field one night a few weeks ago, watching my son’s practice and lamenting the cold, gray, drizzling weather with the other parental regulars. Normally our conversation is limited to football – the other dads discuss specific plays and formations and positions and I pretend to know what the hell they’re talking about although they sound like they’re speaking Latin with Caribbean accents to me – but for some reason that night two of the other dads felt like talking about politics.

These aren’t the most urbane fellows in the world, mind you, and this is not the bluest community in the nation so I wasn’t surprised that the discussion immediately turned to trashing Obamacare, ridiculing the idea of global warming, deriding gay marriage and objecting strenuously to the crazy notion that this country’s fast food workers deserve to be paid a living wage. I only made one attempt to participate – when one of the guys said, “It’s pretty stupid to decide to work at McDonald’s and expect to make a sweet paycheck,” I responded with, “Maybe they don’t have any other options” – but was quickly shot down by the others, who insisted the solution to low wages at one job is just to find a second one too.

“I saw a study,” one dad declared, “that people on welfare make an average of $30 per hour while working folks like you and me only bring home $20 per hour.”

“I’ve been in politics since 1999,” the other claimed, “and I’ve known Obama for a long time. He’s not a good dude.”

“If we pay fast-food workers $15 an hour like they want,” the first added, “pretty soon we’re gonna be paying $40 for a Big Mac.”

I started to ask for evidence or examples but decided to bite my tongue and keep my bleeding heart socialist views to myself. I didn’t want my son to pay for my opinions, either on or off the gridiron. I did tell Anita as soon as we returned home that my sitting in the rain at football practice for two hours three nights a week should from this point on be viewed as a supreme sacrifice and proof positive of my noteworthy devotion to our children.

When I checked my e-mail a few days later, I opened a message with the subject line, “The real cost of a Big Mac.” The sender claimed that “a whopping 52 percent of fast food employees’ families are forced to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to put food on the table or see a doctor because they’re paid poverty wages.” We’re all subsidizing the greed of McDonald’s, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Subway and Papa John's to the tune of nearly $7 billion in tax dollars each year. If the franchises – which are enjoying increased revenue and profit margins – paid their workers $15 per hour, the price of a Big Mac would likely go up $1, if that.

(Click here to read, “Fast-Food Wages Come With a $7 Billion Side of Public Assistance.”)

For a lot of us, the issue is less about the hourly rate than it is about simple fairness. As the Service Employees International Union’s Mary Kay Henry told Business Week, “Unfortunately, this growth in income inequality has become acceptable. They’re not doing anything illegal, but it’s completely wrong that they are earning record profits and people are living in poverty and using taxpayer subsidies to make ends meet.”

(Click here to read “Fast Food Companies Probably Can Afford to Pay Workers More.”)

The e-mail sender closed her message with, “It's time to hold fast food CEOs accountable for a deliberately flawed business model that hurts both workers and taxpayers.” I happen to agree. It seems unwise to ignore the plight of the almost four million Americans who work in the fast food industry, especially when all of us are picking up the slack.

Let's just call this what it is: another example of class warfare, where the rich get richer at the expense of the working class. And let's find a way to get the facts out to the football dads and others whose ignorance is perpetuating the status quo.


Click here to read “Not You Too, Wendy’s and Taco Bell!,” January 10, 2013. And click here to purchase Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser’s alarming expos√© of the fast food industry.


Sources: TIME.com, CREDO Mobilize, BusinessWeek.com.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Um, Tower...

Gold on the Ceiling - The Black Keys

Debt Ceiling Default 101 by Rob Ellsworth



My friend Rob Ellsworth, a Georgetown University graduate and former congressional staffer who co-founded the Majority Group, a bipartisan lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., wrote the following compelling essay about how anti-American the Tea Party truly is:

After shutting the government down for weeks, laying off 800,000 Americans, and putting the U.S. at risk of becoming the first major western democracy to default on its obligations since Nazi Germany in 1933, the Tea Party essentially achieved nothing other than looking foolish, putting every American's personal and business finances at risk, and jeopardizing our country's stature in the world. The irony of all this? (1) They scored no major policy victories in this fragile agreement (if this agreement even passes) and they even failed at a feeble attempt to take away their own Congressional staff's employer contribution on health insurance (which by the way, is no different than what private companies offer employees and it is most certainly not a "special exemption" from Obamacare; I digress...) and (2) The real costs of a manufactured government default to score conservative ideological purity points would not only exceed the costs of "Obamacare" on our economy (by any estimate - see below), they could also make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House again. So good goin' Tea Party! The Nation and the rest of the Republican Party must be grateful to you for "sticking to your principles!"

To sensible Americans (and I would mostly argue to moderate, business-minded Republicans who need to take their party back), before you vote for any of these "Freedom Fighters" and "Liberty Crusaders" again, here's what the debt ceiling default they've exposed our country to would actually mean to YOU:
  • You could see a spike in interest rates on credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and autos. Usually a rise in interest rates signals a growing economy. But when interest rates rise because the market is pricing in credit risk (due to an inept Congress playing chicken with reality) that comes right out of your pockets.
  • You could see the purchasing power of the dollar shrink dramatically, making the cost of virtually all goods and services explode (from milk and bread to gasoline and damn near everything else).
  • You could see a delay on tax refunds, social security payments, veterans' benefit payments, and military salaries.
  • You could see the stock market plummet if this deal falls apart; an initial hit by the end of this week and if nothing is resolved over the next two weeks when the Treasury actually can’t make interest payments, you will see an immediate collapse that makes the 2008 financial meltdown look tame. I agree with Warren Buffett's assessment: "this is a political Weapon of Mass Destruction" (but I know most Republicans don't think the 4th richest man in the world has enough "capitalist" street cred for their taste).
  • You could see a default on Treasury securities that would cause a margin call and subsequent credit freeze (If you think it’s hard to get a mortgage or Refi now? Just wait!)
  • You could see the U.S.A., the country with the deepest and most liquid financial markets on earth lose its key attribute: an ability to capture “flight to safety” investment dollars from global investors and institutions (these aren't just rich people, think: pensions and retirement funds). America would be unnecessarily ceding its hard-earned reputation as the safest place on earth to park one’s money. Not because of our inability to meet obligations (we can), but because our Congress is completely ignorant to basic finance. This is totally self-inflicted and unnecessary, regardless of our need to restructure and reduce our short term and long term debt obligations. And to be clear, I truly support doing a "Go Big" long term debt plan, but not under these absurd conditions. An extreme sect of Republicans has chosen the riskiest and wildly most expensive way to deal with our fiscal predicament. In the short term, a fragile economy needs more investment from the public sector, especially with interest rates near zero. By not investing now in transportation and infrastructure, we'll pay almost twice as much in interest down the road. We can solve this short term problem by finding trillions in long term savings through balanced tax and entitlement reforms done over time. It's common sense and it will relieve the need to have these silly debt ceiling fights every couple of months. In fairness, the President needs to lead on this front. He hasn't. And he doesn't deserve an out simply because Republicans are worse. 
  • You could see costly outcomes regarding an enormous outstanding pool of Treasury bonds and bills. Short-term government bills are used to grease the wheels for many financial transactions and provide a benchmark from which other assets are priced. If the value of that debt was suddenly drawn into question, markets could quickly seize up. Again — good luck getting a personal or small business loan. Imagine 2008-09 on steroids. This is not "good for business," I promise.
  • You could see the government have to balance its budget overnight. This sounds like a fiscal conservative's dream, but it is impossible because pulling that much money out of the economy too quickly would choke economic growth faster than you can imagine. Goldman Sachs estimates it would lop 4% off of GDP, strain foreign relations, wallop the stock market and destroy credibility we have left with investors. This must be done over time.
  • You could see the increase in U.S. interest rates increase the percentage of government revenues applied to debt servicing instead of being reinvested in any number of domestic priorities that create jobs and increase tax receipts. Again — totally self-inflicted wound.
Is any of this fiscally conservative?

Is any of this patriotic?

Hell No. (I'll answer the rhetorical questions for you.)

Unless Congress lifts the nation's self-imposed debt ceiling, the Treasury will have less than $30 billion cash on hand tomorrow which will be wiped out quickly. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Treasury will owe a $6 billion debt interest payment on October 31, $43 billion in Social Security and Medicare payments on November 1 and $29 billion in interest due on November 15.

Some say, "No problem, the Treasury still brings in enough cash per year and per month to pay interest on the debt." But this misses the point that day-to-day cash flow is all that matters. And there are plenty of days when the Treasury takes in far less than $10 billion in tax revenue. With reserves dried up and faced with an interest payment in excess of daily revenue, our country could be forced to default if barred from borrowing more. This has little to do with deficits and lots to do with day-to-day cash-flow mechanics. Even immensely profitable companies utilize debt to bridge short-term cash-flow gaps.

The global financial system is built on credit. That's just the way it is. And credit needs collateral. Lenders prefer safe collateral, and Treasuries are considered the gold-standard, "risk-free" asset. They are basically the cornerstone of the global financial system. At least $2.8 trillion in Treasuries act as collateral in short-term lending markets.

Finally, this would all be silly if it wasn't serious. Hopefully the net positive of this is a final wake up call for moderate, business-minded Republicans to take their party back from the fringe. Mainstream Republicans expected the Tea Party to drive them to the country club and wait outside. Now the Tea Party has hijacked the Board and the social calendar. It's time for moderates in both parties, most importantly out in the country, to rise above this and reach a sensible long term deal and move on.


The author with that other Beltway insider

Monday, October 7, 2013

Not Afraid

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron

I Pray that They'll Pay



“Elections alone aren’t going to change the path America is on. Organized revolt, massive civil action and economic boycotts at the very least would be the beginning of a perpetual commitment to protecting public governance from private takeover. Our system is a farce. Every candidate that can assume a position of any real power is vetted by corporate power. To believe otherwise is to be ignorant and live in a fantasy world. Americans that continue to invest in this fraud only empower it.”

I ran across these words, taken from The Frank Factor’s website, while surfing the net for the latest on the federal government shutdown (click here to read, “At Least the Giants Didn’t Shut Down the NFL,” October 2, 2013) that’s monopolizing the news these days. Not only are between 800,000 and one million federal employees currently furloughed (or like the Capitol police, are working but not getting paid until the shutdown is over), but the ripple effects are scary:
  • Head Start programs are leaving out thousands of children.
  • Federal courts could shut down soon.
  • Defense contractors are furloughing workers.
  • If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling — which is tied, unfortunately, to this clusterf*ck — by October 17, predictions for the fallout in the financial markets are catastrophic.
  • Veterans Administration’s pension, education and job training programs could be suspended.
  • Consumer confidence could be impacted by an extended shutdown — right when we’re entering the critical holiday shopping season.
  • About 70 percent of the intelligence community’s civilian workforce has been furloughed.
Nothing like having fewer folks working to identify terrorists to make us infidels feel safer, huh?

I also ran across an interesting piece by Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum. Read what he points out in “The Shutdown in Ten Infuriating Sentences” about what’s really happening and who’s responsible:

At its core, the dispute over the budget and the debt ceiling isn't complicated at all. But it is full of misconceptions and urban myths. Here are the 10 facts worth remembering past all the obfuscation:

1. Democrats have already agreed to fund the government at Republican levels.

2. Despite what you might have heard, there have only been two serious government shutdowns in recent history, and both were the result of Republican ultimatums.

3. Democrats in the Senate have been begging the House to negotiate over the budget for the past six months, but Republicans have refused.

4. That's because Republicans wanted to wait until they had either a government shutdown or a debt ceiling breach as leverage, something they've been very clear about all along.

5. Republicans keep talking about compromise, but they've offered nothing in return for agreeing to their demands — except to keep the government intact if they get their way.

6. The public is very strongly opposed to using a government shutdown to stop Obamacare.

7. Contrary to Republican claims, the deficit is not increasing — it peaked in 2009 and has been dropping ever since, declining by $200 billion last year with another $450 billion drop projected this year.

8. A long government shutdown is likely to seriously hurt economic growth, with a monthlong shutdown projected to slash GDP in the fourth quarter by 1 percentage point and reduce employment by over a million jobs.

9. No, Democrats have not used debt ceiling hostage-taking in the past to force presidents to accept their political agenda.

10. This whole dispute is about the Republican Party fighting to make sure the working poor don't have access to affordable health care.

I was chatting in Facebook yesterday with my friend Michelle, a Canadian who said she didn’t understand why it’s so terrible to implement universal health care, especially in a country that claims to be so Christian and compassionate. She even quoted scripture:

“The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” ~ Matthew 25:40

People who benefit from the status quo always oppose change, I responded, and greed always trumps compassion. (I didn’t share my opinion that religion is a tool of manipulation rather than a system of beliefs for many conservative politicians.)

We agreed that an uprising here is actually likely.

Anita and I have talked about this a few times. We think the late, great George Carlin was right when he said that the one percent doesn’t want a population of people capable of critical thinking; well-informed, well-educated Americans who are united in the knowledge that we’re getting the shaft aren’t going to help the rich get richer. They want us to remain content with rising unemployment, substandard schools, a crumbling infrastructure, unresponsive police, corporate greed and political corruption.

They want us just smart enough to run their machines and mow their lawns. They want us distracted and divided. As long as they can pay politicians to grant their every wish, send their kids to private schools, keep the middle class occupied and preoccupied and are safe in their gated communities, the struggles that result from their myopic machinations are of no concern to them.

Since I highly doubt that David and Charles Koch — the billionaire brothers who fund the Tea Party and impact our collective future about as positively as a pair of oily pimples impact a prom queen’s face — read “What’s the Diehl?,” I’ll point to them as prime examples of the type of contemptible scourge to whom Carlin was referring. (Click here and here to read more about these pitiful phalli.)

I’m not sure that a true revolution could take place here. Look at the ridicule with which Occupy Wall Street activists were met when they tried to protest class warfare. (Click here for a post about that movement.) I watched the Green Revolution that took place in Iran in 2009 closely — when Iranians took to the streets to protest alleged rigged voting that led to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election — and was distressed to learn that 150 people were reportedly killed by the regime (including Neda Agha-Soltan) and countless others were arrested, jailed, raped and tortured.

I paid attention to the “Arab Spring,” the revolutions and demonstrations that have taken place over the past three years in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria and elsewhere to protest inflation and unemployment, human rights abuses, Authoritarianism and corruption. I’ve written about Russian protests in 2011 (click here) and the dire situation in Syria right now, where people of all ages are risking their lives and standing up to their own brutal, tyrannical government (click here and here and here).

As inspiring as those occurrences were and are — as much as I like envisioning Americans having the gumption to get off our couches, take to the streets and yell, nonviolently, that we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore — I’m afraid of two things: 1) that there would be violence and bloodshed, and 2) that the majority of us would remain inside, watching Long Island Medium and drinking Long Island Iced Tea.

Want to know what’s really revolting? The clueless contempt that GOP politicians have for those forced to abide by their rules and decisions. Consider Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Nebraska) response when asked if he would relinquish his paycheck for the shutdown’s duration:

“I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

How about the response that Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina) gave to the same question? She said, “I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line.”

Wow. Talk about short-sighted and self-absorbed.

As I was writing this post, I received an e-mail message trumpeting the fact that 24 recent polls found Democrats “have a very real chance to take back the House in the wake of the government shutdown” and urging me to pitch in $3 to “make sure Republicans pay for their recklessness.”

I pray that they’ll pay.

“If democracy means anything, it means that if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.” ~ Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times




Sources: Mother Jones, The Frank Factor, NBCNews.com, ThinkProgress.org.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Let Me Out

Green Day - Closing Time

At Least the Giants Didn't Shut Down the NFL



So the federal government is closed.

As I write this, we’re in Day Two of our first government shutdown since 1996 (when Newt Gingrich threw a temper tantrum because Bubba Clinton wouldn’t give him a good seat on Air Force One). An estimated 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed, the lights are turned off in many government offices, and clinical drug trials and disease-prevention work have been hampered. Government websites are outdated and ineffective, people camping in our national parks had to pack up and leave, and our lazy media are advancing a false equivalency that makes my skin crawl.

Google’s homepage yesterday commemorated the 123rd birthday of Yosemite National Park - yet the 761,000-acre park was closed. 

Contrary to what you’ve probably heard, this shutdown did not happen because President Obama and Democrats in Washington refused to negotiate in good faith with Republicans. As my friend Bill Perry said, “This is about the GOP shutting government down for a law that was passed legitimately. The Affordable Care Act was passed, signed into law, upheld by the Supreme Court and reaffirmed in the last election. The GOP needs to get over it. They lost and shutting down the government is not the answer!”

That’s of course not what you’ll hear on Faux News or from your congressional representatives if you, like me, are unlucky enough to be represented by a Republican. Here’s an e-mail message I received from my congressman, Rabid Mike Rogers:

I hope this finds you well. I write you today to update you on the federal government shutdown. I appreciate the opportunity to contact you on this issue.

Last night the House and Senate were unable to agree to a Continuing Resolution to fund the government. As a result, the federal government is now shut down, except for essential services.

I am extremely disappointed in this outcome. It is unfortunate that we've come to this point – a shut down absolutely should have been avoided. Unfortunately, President Obama and Democrat leaders in the Senate have refused to discuss, negotiate, compromise, or in any way work with the House on a plan to fund the government.

House Republicans have now passed four different plans that would fully fund the federal government. The latest proposal would fund the government and simply require Congress and the Executive Branch to enroll and experience Obamacare the same way the American people will. It's only fair. This morning the House also proposed a conference committee with the Senate which would resolve differences between the two bodies. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected this and every other proposal we've offered.

I strongly believe that our leaders in Washington must work together to find solutions that make America stronger. That is why I have always worked in a bipartisan way to address the issues Michiganders care about. I am disappointed that some have chosen this week to play politics instead of get serious about their governing responsibilities.

While I continue to work on a solution, rest assured my office will be open and working every day to keep assisting constituents in Michigan's Eighth District, answering questions, and doing casework. In the mean time, other essential government services will go on. For example, our troops will be paid, Social Security checks will go out, and the Postal Service will still operate. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 877-333-MIKE.


I thought about contacting his office and asking why he and his conservative cohorts are such lying douchebags but decided against it. I don’t want the former G-Man’s minions to send some cloaked dude with chloroform and a revolver to my house in the middle of the night.

This shutdown could cost an estimated $1.6 billion a week in lost economic output. According to NBC News, that translates to about $300 million a day or $12.5 million an hour.

So we pay rank and file Congressional politicians $174,000 per year to cost us $300 million per day? (The Weeper of the House is paid $223,500.) Math was never my forte but this seems like a poor investment.

It’s more than a little challenging to get facts instead of spin and opinions about this partisan, GOP failure-fest, so here’s what President Obama said about the situation:

This shutdown is not about deficits. It’s not about budgets. This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days. I know it’s strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda, but that apparently is what it is.

Strange indeed, POTUS. And it’s strange that in this day and age, Republicans can burnish their image just by pointing fingers and regurgitating disingenuous talking points.

Yosemite Valley photo by Sue Langley
Want to know what really infuriates me? According to Pew Research Center, “the GOP has drawn even with the Democrats as the party seen as able to better deal with the issue of health care.”

Really, public? Seriously?

Lucky I don’t put much stock in polls, as regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers know, or I’d be pulling out what few hairs remain on my head.

At least the public “opposes a proposal to cut off funding for the health care law as part of any budget agreement,” according to Pew.

If the public doesn’t vote these GOP rat bastards out of office in the next election, I’m moving to Kazakhstan. It can’t be any worse.




You’ve got to check out “Jon Stewart's Rockin' Shutdown Eve” below:




Sources: USA Today, Mike Rogers, Pew Research Center, Washington Post, The Daily Show, NBC News.