Monday, June 29, 2009

Obama, Honduras, Iran: The Contrast

With considerable alacrity, the Obama White House has declared a military coup in Honduras to be illegal. This is despite the fact that both the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress had weighed in against former Honduran President who was ousted in the recent coup. USA Today reports President Obama's response as follows.

"President Obama says that the coup in Honduras was "not legal" and that Manuel Zelaya remains the president.

Obama said the United States would "stand on the side of democracy" and work with the international community to restore Zelaya peacefully. He made his comments after meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Washington."

This stands in marked contrast to Obama's initial standoffish attitude in the aftermath of Iran's June 12 electoral debacle, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won an electoral landslide among all Iranians, living and dead. Within hours, all ballots were counted fromn across the country, despite the remoteness of some locations and the universal prevalence of paper ballots. It took several days of widespread criticism for the Obama administration to voice any concern. In the intervening days, Ahmadinejad's thugs have unleashed a reign of terror against the people of Iran, kicking down doors on streets reputed to be populated with opponents of Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps it took a while for Obama to realise that there was no magic tailwinds of his Cairo speech which was meant as an olive branch to a fractious Muslim world. He may have been stunned at the ingratitude of the ham fisted regime he had been courting with such sweet eloquence.

One thing that was established in the Honduran coup. When there is a "progressive" consensus, Obama will quickly find his voice. Since Islamic radicals are the fascists that liberals love, a blind eye will be turned to their sins.

Iran could be tied in knots by a refusal to sell them gasoline. In their race to go nuclear, they have totally neglected to build their own refineries. When Iranian demonstrators wave signs in English, they are calling to the world to respond. So far, they have gotten tea and sympathy. What a pity. Obama stands shoulder to shoulder with Hugo Chavez in opposing the Honduran coup. Too bad his back is turned to Iran.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

IBM Outsourcing Skilled American Jobs

Wanna know where our jobs are going? The New York Post had a story today that has me fuming. It seems that New York City is shooting itself in the foot when it comes to saving jobs. New York City frequently awards contracts to private corporations. IBM was awarded a 1.9 million dollar contract with the department of finance to improve the city's financial data base. Who did they in turn hire? The New York Post reports as follows.

IBM won a $1.9 million contract with the Department of Finance to analyze its old main databases so they can be improved, but the company has transported "consultants" from Mumbai and other parts of India to do most of the work.

At least 17 employees hired by an IBM subsidiary in India have worked in New York since October, inspecting the city's computer systems, which hold property and other tax records, insiders said.

"It was a dream come true," said Sunny Amin, 25, who traveled from his Mumbai home to the Big Apple -- his first US visit.

Amin, who has an engineering degree from a college in Aurangabad, landed his first job with IBM-India.

While a bit lost at first, Amin said, he rented an apartment in Parsippany, NJ, and commuted by bus. After nine months on Wall Street, he's being sent to another IBM job, in Minneapolis, on his three-year work visa."

This is not a new development. American workers are caught in a vise grip. Workers must compete with computer programmers and tech consultants in developing countries who are happy to work for a fraction of what an American worker needs to survive. Whatever is left over is subject to foreign workers who come on temporary visas. Legally, a company has to prove that they tried in good faith to hire an American worker. But there are ways around that. If you advertise for say a systems analyst for an absurdly low salary, you will have qualified Americans shaking their heads in disgust as they leave a job interview. It can then truthfully be said that the corporation has tried without success to find a qualified American to do the job. Then you hire from India whoever you want. They will earn in America much more than if they worked for the company in their local office. Everybody wins, except the American worker.

For years we have been listening to garbage about how foreigners come to do jobs no Americans will do. Now we are seeing the naked truth. Jobs that were promoted a generation ago as the cutting edge in employment are now being outsourced. Skilled workers are being priced out of the job market just as surely as agricultural workers have been.

It is downright criminal that we are outsourcing valuable jobs at a time when unemployment is approaching the double digits for Americans who must pay a ballooning deficit with battered earning power.

The Post story adds an infuriating touch to the story about outsourcing The Post quotes a union chief as follows.

"It's like a slap in the face," said Robert Ajaye, president of Local 2627, a union of city-employed computer specialists. "We have people in house who could do this job."

Instead, he said, some city staffers have had to "translate" for Indian techies lacking English skills."

That is what I call cold blooded. You outsource jobs and then you bring in the workers most directly threatened to translate for the workers who are being used as pawns to hammer down their wages.

An American citizen has an obligation to pay taxes and possibly to bear arms for his country. This policy of outsourcing American jobs threatens America's tax base and currency. If America wants to help the developing world, let it expand the consumer base in those countries. If a company insists on effectively boycotting American workers, let them pay taxes on their savings. Additionally, American consumers should be political when they make any significant purchase. A company that treats its workers right and does not discriminate against American workers should be given high priority. My next computer will not likely be from IBM. Charity begins at home, and American workers need whatever help they can get in tough economic times. Shame on you, IBM.

P.S. I looked for an appropriate illustration for this article and a thought occurred to me. If you want to slam the lid on American jobs, why not do it in style and use a manhole cover that is imported from India? Put an American steel worker on the dole! Buy from overseas !

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sex Scandals Here, There, Everywhere

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has aroused the ire of an unexpected constituency. Phillip (Phil) Landers, head of the Protectionist Institute for Moral Propriety, (P.I.M.P.) lashed out at the besieged Governor of South Carolina not for disloyalty to his wife but for "outsourcing" the position of mistress.

"It is outrageous that such an important position as gubernatorial mistress has been given to someone who is not even a legal resident ofthe U.S. fumed Mr. Landers. There are so many American women who would be qualified for this position. It is no wonder our economy is in a tailspin. The people of South Carolina have lost thousands of jobs to overseas competition. Governor Sanford should be promoting the workers and people of South Carolina. Instead, he has outsourced yet another position in South Carolina's economy. Meals, hotel reservations and entertainment that could have benefitted the people of South Carolina were instead purchased in Argentina. This is deplorable.


In the interest of bipartisanship, who can forget the story of Jimmy Carter and Dina Pagano. The Globe reported back in 2002 about an oddly warm friendship between Pagano and former President Jimmy Carter that preceded and continued into her now finished marriage. Did they have an affair? The aggrieved ex husband felt threatened by what was apparently a friendship that was far too warm for his comfort level. Photos of Carter and Pagano on a cozy cruise along with other questionable behavior led Pagano's husband to file for divorce. The Globe reported as follows.

"Jimmy Carter Snuggles with Sexy Gal Pal in 'Monkey Business' Photos

Moralizing ex-President Jimmy Carter may be sorry he stepped back into the spotlight this week with his trip to Cuba, especially after he sees the cover of the latest Globe Magazine featuring a photo of himself in a compromising position with a scantily clad former lady friend.

The Globe cover shot shows a comely 24-year-old Dina Pagano perched on the lap of the man the media calls America's best ex-president - the straps of her bikini top falling off her naked shoulders as the couple snuggles cheek-to-cheek, arm-in-arm.

President Carter, who once admitted to lusting after women in his heart, apparently did some lusting up close and personally with the hazel-eyed beauty way back in the mid-1980s, when the incriminating photos were snapped.

"Dina told me before we were married that she'd had an affair with Jimmy Carter," ex-husband John Vanelli told the Globe. "He even kept calling her after she married me and he met with her, too."

Taken aboard a luxury yacht in 1984, the Globe says, "The telltale snap bears a striking resemblance to the infamous 'Monkey Business' photo that wrecked Gary Hart's presidential hopes in 1987."

The tabloid reprints a second pic of Jimmy and Dina nuzzling on the aft deck of the private luxury cruiser.

For her part, Dina denies any inappropriate "monkey business" with the former submarine commander. "Jimmy is a friend, nothing more," she told the Globe.

Asked why she snuggled on Carter's lap as a photog snapped away, Pagano said it was "an innocent pose for a picture, that's all."


Years ago, Barry Farber told a story about the President of Indonesia. I do not remember if it was Sukarno or Suharto. According to legend, the KGB supplied him with some attentive females for memorable evening entertainment. Hidden cameras were used to take compromising photos of the sitting President when he was in fact lying down. Not long afterward, the KGB sent him an envelope with the pictures, accompanied by a note expressing a desire for a cooperative working relationship in the future. For most Brits and Americans, that would have been an iron clad case of blackmail.

The President of Indonesia allegedly sent a note back to the KGB saying as follows.

"Thank you very much for the nice photos of my memorable evening. Please send me more sets of these delightful photos so I can autograph them and send them to my friends."


I would not say that the French require that their politicians have mistresses. But they do take their traditions very seriously. The Independent, A British newspaper reports as follows about mistresses from Louiws XIV to Francois Mitterand.

"NONE of the French will have seen anything ironic in the screening on prime time television, just weeks before Francois Mitterrand's death, of a two-part series on Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV.

Not because France's longest-serving post-war president and the most famous courtesan had anything direct in common, but because the most memorable image - at least in Britain - of last Thursday's funeral was the discreet shot of Mitterrand's mistress Anne Pingeot and their 20- year-old daughter, Mazarine, standing side by side in silent farewell.

If nothing else, the sight of Danielle Mitterrand, who will one day be buried next to her husband in the little cemetery at Jarnac, bidding adieu at the service of remembrance along with Mme Pingeot, proves what we suspected all along: they do things differently in France.

Imagine a mistress of John Major's being allowed to grieve with dignity in a black hat in Westminster Abbey, accompanied by their only illegitimate child, or Camilla Parker-Bowles in mourning with a little Charles born the wrong side of the blanket. Unlikely? Unthinkable.

It was the Anglo-French Sir James Goldsmith, a renowned believer in the formality of keeping a long-term lover in your life, who said that by marrying your mistress you create a job vacancy. For wealthy and powerful Frenchmen, keeping a mistress is more than a tradition. It is an obligation."

All of this talk of Gallic frolics reminds me of a joke.

"In America they say, "It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?

In France they say, "It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your wife is?

In Poland they say, "It's ten o'clock. do you know what time it is?"


What about Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy ?

For years, Italians had an attitude towards mistresses that was very similar to that of the French. Oddly enough, some Italians are calling for his resignation. Most of the cries of indignation revolve around suspicions of drug abuse at some of his lively parties as well as money changing hands.

Silvio Berlusconi is 72 Years old. He owes the Italian people an explanation. What keeps him going? Maybe when his term ends, he could write an article for a men's health magazine.


What I find nauseating is when a politician is caught up in a sex scandal and calls a press conference with his wife by his side Jim McGreevey had a press conference where they should have passed out barf bags. Not only was his wife up there on stage with him but his parents as well. His father looked like he would rather have been running across the DMZ going into North Korea. He looked miserable. McGreevey reminds me of that famous song line, "If it makes you happy, then why the hell do you look so sad?"

**************************************************************************** recounts a famous story about President Calvin Coolidge that almost sounds as though it could have been told in Paris.

President Calvin Coolidge and his wife visited a government farm one day and were taken around on separate tours. Mrs. Coolidge, passing the chicken pens, inquired of a supervisor whether the roosters copulated more than once a day.

"Yes," the man said. "Dozens of times." "Tell that," Mrs. Coolidge replied, "to the president!"

Some time later the president, passing the same pens, was told about the roosters - and about his wife's remark. "Same hen every time?" he asked. "Oh, no, a different one each time," the supervisor replied. "Tell that," Coolidge said with a sly nod, "to Mrs. Coolidge."


President Tito, dictator of the former Yugoslavia had a string of mistresses that would make Bill Clinton look in comparison like an altar boy. The site gives the following explanation of its relatively brief listing of sixteen women.

"Only women with whom Tito allegedly had children or was married to are listed. All the facts are taken from "The Loves of Josip Broz", a book researched with Tito's consent and written by Filip Radulovic. All other women with whom Tito also had relationships of some kind are (in his own words to Radulovic) "too numerous to find out".


There is an amoral argument for monogamy. Societies in which there is polygamy often have a celibate underclass that is easily incited to violence. The polygamous offshoot of the Mormon Church used to excommunicate teenage boys for" crimes" such as holdinghands with a girl or listening to rock music. Coincidentally, this enlarged the pool of young girls available to older men.

When people have overlapping claims for the affections of one person, it can lead to bloodshed. Time is not only taken from an aggrieved spouse but from children who are competing with lovers for their parent's time. Additionally, there is a spark of recognition a father can have when dealing with genetically transmitted emotional and behavioral characteristics. Biblical wisdom is vindicated by psychological and sociological evidence that monogamy is democratic, better for children and ultimately more compassionate.

People who have the safety valve of an affair will be less likely to work out differences in their primary relationship. People who are religious should turn to the teachings of their faith for guidance in matters of family life, but in general venues, monogamy should be defended on a rational basis. When people abuse their bodies with drugs and tobacco, society pays. When they abuse their marriages, society pays the price in unhappy children and in mental illness. There is a case to be made for monogamy that would put an Orthodox Jew, a born again Christian and an atheist on the same page. This is how issues of this nature should be discussed outside of a house of worship with those who do not share one's faith.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Israeli Jokes about Parliament, Mothers in Law

Some Israeli jokes are sequels to serious stories that date back thousands of years. One serious story comes from the Midrash. (The narrative part of the Talmud) In the serious story, there were two brothers who had farms in a mountain. One brother was childless and wealthy. The other had many children yet was poor. They both grew wheat on their adjacent farms. During the harvest season, after they had bundled their wheat into sheaves, the wealthy brother thought to himself, "What do I need so much wheat for? My childless brother has more bills to pay. I'll sneak some of my wheat to his farm."

Meanwhile, the brother with many children said to himself, "My brother has no children. He gives so much charity with his money. I'll give him some of my wheat. He'll have more money to give. That will make him so happy."

Each brother set out a few nights in a row, dragging sheaves of wheat to each other's farm. One night, they bumped into each other at the border of their properties. When they each realised what the other was doing, they laughed, put down their wheat and gave each other a brotherly embrace. And the place where they met is where the Bet HaMikdash, the Holy Temple was later built.

A modern version of the story is told, which starts out the same way, with two brothers on adjacent farms. One is childless and wealthy. The other has many children and little money. The childless brother says "My brother is loaded. What does he need so much wheat for? I have lots of expenses. So he goes to his brother's farm and takes some wheat.

The other brother thinks, "My brother has so many children, and I have none. I should at least have the consolation of greater wealth." So the second brother helps himself to his brother's wheat.

One night, they both bump into each other. When each realises what the other was up to, they become furious and start beating each other without mercy. And the place where the brothers met, that is the same place where the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) building stands today.


The story is widely known of the two mothers who came to King Solomon. They were each claiming to be the mother of a child. Neither would back down. King Solomon offered to cut the baby in half so it could be divided fairly. One mother agreed, the other withdrew her claim so the child could live. King Solomon decided that the mother who cared to spare the life of the child had to be the real mother.

In the joke version, two women came to King Solomon with a young man between them. Each claimed to be his mother in law. King Solomon then said, "Let him be cut in two, then you both will be happy." One of the women said, "That's fine with me!" King Solomon tirned to her and said, You are his mother in law."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Black Eyed Perez Hilton and Brendon O'Connell

I was looking for videos to post of the latest tiff with Perez Hilton, who allegedly was clocked by a member of the Black Eyed Peas entourage. Unfortunately, the Perez Hilton video ends off with a salvo of obscenities. Double entendre is as close as I get to publishing out and out profanity. So anyone who wants to see what I saw will have to go on You Tube.

The one moment of the video that was quote worthy was the following quote from Hilton.

"I write about drama in other people's lives. I don't want any drama in my own life."

Sorry Perez. It doesn't work that way. You go around insulting people. You interrogate a Miss America contestant about her political beliefs and batter her later on with misogynistic insults and you are going to ruffle some feathers. On your whiny video, you admit to willfully provoking a member of the Black Eyed Peas entourage by calling him a "fag". I guess the same word that is now banished from polite utterance is OK for you to use. So the lexicon of words banned by feminists is also OK for you to use at will. It's OK for you to poison public discourse with insults and then you point your finger in righteous indignation when someone throws a punch.

You remind me of a guy from Australia named Brendon O'Connell who uses his "free speech" to bash Jews at every opportunity and then screams about "free speech" when people complain of being harassed by him. I defended his right to free speech and ended up getting slammed by him and his followers. Once I saw a video in which he advocated taking Jewish children from their parents and reeducated in what he believes to be the "right " path. I came to a conclusion that there are a lot better things to do than defend the free speech of those who would deny it to others.

There are of course many differences between Brendon O'Connell and Perez Hilton, mainly in their choice of targets. But both of them are appealing for my sympathy. O'Connell wants to use a system he seems not to believe in. And Hilton condemns physical violence even as he trashes the fence of civility that makes violence unthinkable.

On an abstract legalistic level, it is possible that both O'Connell and Hilton may have a right to my sympathy. But I have priorities. And I only have so many hours in a day to fight for worthy causes. Today and all of this week, I will be very busy, rewinding my old video cassettes. And when I am finished, I don't have a moment to spare for Perez or Brendon until I finish collecting signatures in support of a homeland for Esperanto speakers. Sorry guys. You know how it is.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Protests Against Iran in America

Unrest abroad touches America. Many foreigners study in American universities, bringing not only technical expertise but familiarity with democratic ideals. In America and Canada, there are Iranians living and studying. Some have taken to the streets. As a New Yorker, I do not question foreigners demonstrating against injustice in their countries of origin. Many communities of immigrants live here side by side. I share a lot of their concerns.

I Post most of my articles on It is an open forum. No one strain of political opinion dominates. I welcome this." Preaching to the choir" does not take any special skill. One of the regular contributors, "Spirit of Ralphie" wrote as follows about Iranians protesting in the US.

"You want to fight the Powers Who Be properly?
Then go home and wage political and military
battles there.
It's not America's responsibility to run your country,
or even ensure you have a legitimate political process.
And instead of tying up traffic and demanding we
use OUR resources to see that Iranian elections are
fair and representative, fly back to the land of
your birth and protest and fight there...IF YOU'RE
If you're not willing to spill your own blood, then
please keep quiet and stay out of it.
Your country...your problem"

I tried very hard to find something objectionable about Iranians demonstrating in New York or Washington. The only thing I could think of was the problem of tying up traffic. This does not resonate with me as a reason to even think of discouraging Iranians assembling in America for peaceful protests.

There is a long history in America and other democratic countries of allowing dissidents from abroad to write, propagandise and organise here in the United States. The guiding principle is that the activities engaged in by foreigners must not interfere in America's internal affairs but should be directed towards their own countries in a way that does not break any American laws.

There are many examples of people who organised in America for systemic and regime change in their own countries. A few such instances are as follows.

1) Jose Marti lived in New York for many years and campaigned for Cuban independence from Spain.

2) Cuban exiles have campaigned against the communist government of Fidel Castro, broadcasting TV and radio from American soil.

3) The family of the late Shah of Iran has maintained a research and media centre in America, educating non Iranians about what is going on in that country.

4) For years, Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived in Vermont, promoting his vision of a Christian Russia from his rural compound.

5) Followers of the Chinese religious group "Falun Gong" promote their religion and lobby for civil rights for their persecuted coreligionists in China.

The United Nations is a magnet for aggrieved natives of countries around the world that suffer from varying levels and forms of repression. This should be expected. It serves as a "reality check" for corrupt and authoritarian regimes.

Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops abroad without pressing and demonstrable cause. America's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been bitterly contested by many.

But one thing we can do is to provide safe haven to those from abroad who want to protest what is going on in their respective homelands. It does not involve putting American soldiers in harm's way. It involves a minimum of intestinal fortitude. If any foreign government protests, we can always say "Hey buddy, this is America. They're not breaking any laws." On the other hand, cracking down on foreign protesters would rightly be seen as caving in to foreign pressure.

It should not be assumed that protesters in America have it easy. Iraqi dissidents living in America when Saddam Hussein was in power sometimes received videos in the mail of loved ones in Iraq being brutally tortured. Even with America's protections, secret police operating abroad have sometimes struck at dissidents living in America.

Under current conditions, there is little America can do to help Iranians who are tired of the dictatorship in their country. No one is suggesting sending in troops. We do not have significant trade with Iran, so trade sanctions won't do much. Allowing law abiding foreigners to enjoy our freedom of speech is the least we can do. If we were to fail to extend this courtesy, it would be a national disgrace.

I welcome Iran's dissidents in our country. I wish them success. And I will never tire of hearing them speak out.


I am including with this post a video of Neda Soltani, an Iranian girl whose murder was caught on videotape. In the Shiite tradition, the third, seventh and fortieth days after death are occasions noted with memorials. As Soltani and others are martyred, the streets in Teheran and other cities in Iran will be scenes for their deaths to be commemorated in coming days. This is what brought down the Shah. And this same is going on today, as was reported in a Time Magazine article by Robin Wright.

"Although it is not yet clear who shot "Neda" (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat -- a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of confrontations between the shah's security forces and the revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles. (See pictures of terror in the streets of Tehran.)

The first clashes in January 1978 produced two deaths that were then commemorated on the 40th day in mass gatherings, which in turn produced new confrontations with security forces -- and new deaths. Those deaths then generated another 40-day period of mourning, new clashes, and further deaths. The cycle continued throughout most of the year until the shah's ouster in January 1979.

The same cycle has already become an undercurrent in Iran's current crisis. The largest demonstration, on Thursday of last week, was called by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to commemorate the deaths of protesters three days after they were killed.

Shiite mourning is not simply a time to react with sadness. Particularly in times of conflict, it is also an opportunity for renewal. The commemorations for "Neda" and the others killed this weekend are still to come. And the 40th day events are usually the largest and most important."

As can be seen in the Neda Soltani Video, Iranians are paying in blood for the right to be heard. We are not taking up arms for them. No one has asked that. But the least we can do is to welcome those of them who come to us in peace

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Real Men Don't Use Bottle Openers

I was in shul today. After morning prayers was a dinner to celebrate the upcoming marriage of a member of the congregation. Along with the benediction said over wine at the start of the meal, there was moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. After a short while, someone brought out the beer. None of it was twist tops. Every bottle needed an opener.

I am proud to say that not one person asked for a bottle opener. There are so many ways to open a bottle of beer. Forks, spoons and knives can open a beer bottle in seconds. I could have used my belt buckle, but that would have been socially awkward, so I used the side of a folding chair. A very common way of uncapping a brew is in a doorway. I usually use a key.

A friend of mine has used his teeth. I would not dare attempt such a thing. It would only be a matter of time before one would get chipped. The most popular means of opening a beer bottle is with a plastic soda bottle. You simply turn the soda bottle upside down. There is a plastic rim sticking out and you catch it under the edge of the bottle cap. Once you learn how to do it, it's like riding a bicycle. You never forget how.

The whole world changes its appearance when you are looking for anything in a room or in the landscape that could be used as a bottle opener. You find yourself examining every detail of the urban landscape for something that might be of use.

Look at the room where you are sitting. What could be used if you had to open a beer? Did you ever give it any thought? I am not drinking now. I just enjoy the mental exercise. It took me three minutes to find it but I did. My motorcycle helmet strap buckle is perfect as a bottle opener. There are three additional ways of uncapping beverages that come to mind. For those who have not acquired this essential life skill, please do not despair. There is a web site devoted to this essential branch oh human knowledge. I urge readers to check it out.

So why does anyone need a bottle opener at all? Ever! Real men don't need bottle openers.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bloopers and Banned Commercials

I always like watching gaffes on television. A properly produced TV show has every moment tightly scripted. The worst thing that can happen is even a second of "dead air". Believe it or not, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a news agency with broadcasts in English known as Press TV. When it is functioning properly, it could easily be called State of Insomnia News Network. It features world and local news, as well as sports. Fortunately for viewers, they produced a classic blooper, complete with dead air and mismatched video clips with no sound. I almost feel sorry for the news anchor. I am presenting it with this posting. Apparently, the news anchor never learned how to ad lib when her teleprompter goes down.

There are some commercials that are better than any show could be. The Japp energy bar commercials feature a friendly good Samaritan who is happy to use his Japp energy bar super powers to help strangers in need. Unfortunately, the people he helps would rather be left alone. I don't know how they filmed these commercials, but they are priceless.

The last commercial I am presenting is a 1960's beer commercial featuring Mr. Magoo. It would never fly today. People would say that it encourages underage drinking. Mr. Magoo was a famous cartoon character whose near sightedness set the stage for comic mishaps. Back then, a lot of cartoon characters did commercials, including the famous Fred Flintstone Winston cigarette commercial.

I find that commercials bring back a lot of memories even more effectively than the shows during which they ran. I think that old commercials are an untapped nostalgia market. Check out what I have presented here and see if you agree.

Mr Magoo beer commercial

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Zipcar... A Great Idea But...

A couple of years ago, I needed to rent cars with some regularity. I crunched the numbers. Auto insurance and maintenance made owning a car economically unfeasible. Then a friend told me about Zipcar.

Zipcar bills itself as a way for urban dwellers to pool usage of cars to the advantage of all. It is essentially a group that one joins. Upon acceptance, you get a card with a microchip. When I joined, if I needed a car, I could rent it by the hour. I logged on to the Zip Car web site and looked for cars that were available in the slot I needed them. There were times I needed three or four hours. Other times I needed a car for a day or two. Instead of going to a car rental place, Zipcar gave me directions to one of the many parking garages it rents space from in the city. I would go to the garage with the identifying data for my car. The attendant would bring me the car, and I would put my Zipcar card over the reader on the windshield. At that point, my rental would start. without the Zipcar card, my car would be inoperable. If another Zipcar customer came who did not have a card for that car, it would not work. I effectively paid in advance by having a pay in advance membership plan. The more expensive plans cost less per hour. The less expensive plans cost more.

It was a radical concept. Most of the time it worked. When it didn't customer service ironed things out. I used Zip Car a lot for a while. They had a 25 dollar per half hour late fee, so I was real careful. Additionally, I didn't want to inconvenience anyone who might have the car booked after me. The rules they had about cigarettes and pets in the car were no problem to me. I don't smoke, and unfortunately do not have a dog.

With such a rosy picture, why am I no longer a Zipcar customer?

My first difficulty with them was at the end of a summer rental. I cleared out the car and dropped it off at the local garage. Unfortunately I dropped my cell phone in the car. Within an hour of my dropping off the car, my cell phone account started getting calls placed to the Dominican Republic. There were lots of calls. I had to deactivate the phone. I did detective work that pointed to the garage. I complained to Zipcar. Suddenly the friendly mellow green power people in their corporate headquarters were all business. There was nothing they could do. They would not complain on my behalf. They were rude. They were unsympathetic. I still stuck with them. They did after all have the fine print on their side.

The second little whammy with Zipcar was when I returned the car with a small scrape on the bumper, which I reported to them. They told me that they would get an estimate and that their insurance had a $500.00 deductible. No I could not buy bumper to bumper insurance with better coverage. They didn't offer that. I waited about six weeks, hoping that they would have an in house specialist do a job that would not max out my deductible. About six weeks later, they came up with a bill for the small scrape that was a few dollars shy of $500.00. Again I had no complaint. The fine print was on their side. And I had signed off on it.

I asked the Zipcar man at corporate headquarters if I could stretch out the payment out over four months, since I was already paying them $250.00 a month for a steep discount plan. The man told me that the entire sum was due immediately, that they had no payment plans for such occurrences. I asked him what would happen if I tried paying in installments. He told me my account would be closed and the debt would go into collection. I said "Fine. That is how we will do it."

As promised, my debt went into collection. I paid it out on my schedule, not Zipcar's. It took a good while, but I paid it off. When I made the last payment, I told the collection agent as follows.

"Zipcar had a legitimate claim on me. But they were so harsh and inflexible in dealing with me that I had no choice to let things go into collection. You have been civil and decent. I hope you are getting a good percentage of the debt. Because I feel better about paying you than I do paying Zipcar."

I think Zipcar has a great concept. I hope someone else runs with it. Until then, I rent cars when I must from people with manners who work for a companies that care about the customer. I have gone to Enterprise and other car rental companies. Compared to Zipcar they were a breath of fresh air. I don't believe that Zipcar will be giving them any sleepless nights. What's the score? Enterprise 10. Zipcar? Zip.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Disturbing Reports Coming From Iran

Looking for truth in the news media is like buying bootleg cigarettes in New York City. Anyone can find it. You just have to know where to look. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Iran. I shared with millions of concerned Americans the misconception that Mousawi was a candidate favoured by the Iranian yuppies and Ahmadinejad was a working class favourite. In my daily search for new information about the sitution, I found an article by a specialist in Iran whose focus was on rural Iran. His name is Eric Hooglund. I consider myself fortunate to have found his article, in which he lays to rest widespread misconceptions about Iran.

Hooglund starts off with the surprising information that only 35% of Iran's population is rural. This immediately affects vote calculations for the rural areas, which were supposedly Ahmadinejad strongholds. What separated Hooglund from the mass of talking heads speaking about Iran is his fluency in Farsi and his focus is on the rural areas. In his article, he describes speaking with villagers in Bagh e Iman, a village of about 850 families near Shiraz. In the shocking dispatch from the small town, Hooglund validated Ahmadinejad's claim of a two thirds majority. The only problem for Ahmadinejad is that the lopsided plurality was for Mousawi. Hooglund reported as follows in his article.

"Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock. The week before the vote had witnessed the most intense campaigning in the village’s history, and it became evident that support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s candidacy was overwhelming. Supporters of Ahmadinejad were even booed and mocked when they attempted rallies and had to endure scolding lectures from relatives at family gatherings. “No one would dare vote for that hypocrite,” insisted Mrs. Ehsani, an elected member of the village council.

The president was very unpopular in Bagh-e Iman and in most of the other villages around Shiraz, primarily because of his failure to deliver on the reforms he promised in his successful 2005 presidential campaign. He did have some supporters. Village elders confided, “10 to 15 percent of village men, mostly [those who were] Basijis [militia members] and those who worked for government organizations, along with their families.”

The voting patterns in Bagh e Iman were not a statistical anomaly. The economic concerns of villages in the region as well as their dissatisfaction were regional concerns. A general sense of excitement about the election prevailed as well as a sense that the will of the village would be known when the ballots would be counted. In the past, counting of ballots was transparent. The polls would close at the appointed time and the counting would be a public affair. Last June 12, it became readily apparent to the villagers of Bagh e Iman that something was terribly wrong. Hooglund describes what happened as follows.

"By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country."

Hooglund describes demonstrations in Shiraz in which some participants had come from distant villages. The demonstrations "attracted carloads of supporters from Bagh-e Iman and other villages, including several that were 60 kilometers from Shiraz. "

The information in Hooglund's article has a resonance to it. I wonder how much the reporters know who are not being permitted to leave their studio. How many actually go off the beaten path? How many network reporters know Farsi?

News is coming out of Iran. I pulled up the following letter from a student from from a socialist website. The anonymous writer had been to demonstrations and reported interesting and disturbing developments. In one case, he alleges that Revolutionary Guards were arrested for passing out arms to rebels. He reports as follows.

"University students are still under attack: two students were thrown off the roof of a building today at Tehran University; the director of Shiraz University resigned; at least 50 reformist leaders have been arrested; police still have an order to kill; SMS messaging, and also cell phone communications are shut down; internet is sporadically closed or slowed with parasites; the spokesperson of the Ministry of the Interior was arrested, most likely because he would have let out some unpleasant information.

These events will accumulate, the country, as we know it, is falling apart, and things are happening.

Two bits of information, one funny and one with exciting prospects:

1) State television continued to publish its phone number at the bottom of the screen, and read SMS messages that they apparently received today; although ALL SMS has been shut down since Saturday!! An oversight or just plain stupidity. Doesn't matter, we had a laugh. This gives you a sense of how the country is run with lies.

2) Sixteen members of the Revolutionary Guard were arrested today for trying to give arms to people within the opposition. Three of these men were veterans of the Iran-Iraq war."

15 June: Today, at least 1 million people gathered for a 'silent' march from Revolution Square to Freedom Square. The crowd, which filled the wide avenue, extended further, and at one point it became impossible to move forward. There are no official figures (and those would of course be disputable), but I have never seen a demonstration like this in my life, anywhere!

People walked silently, hands raised. We had been warned to stay indoors, as the police have orders to fire live bullets, and this being Iran, we take that for exactly what it means, but people did not listen.

As night fell, and the crowd dispersed, Bassiji militiamen opened fire on the crowd, killing one (his photo is circulating) and many were injured. The city took flames again, but by this point I had come home. In our neighborhood, there were Bassijis stationed with police at the major square north of the house, pushing people and hitting cars with batons, telling people to go home. Again at 9:30 pm, people made their way to the rooftops to cry out, "Allah Akbar" and "Death to Dictatorship". We heard shots that sounded like tear gas pellets (although they are using some strange nerve gas or other chemical agent, not tear gas) but also live fire.

For those who are willing to look, there are blockbuster allegations out there that must be checked.

1) Our demographic information is way off. The countryside is smaller than we thought, and it is against the government.
2) The protestors want systemic change. and not a tuneup.
3)The demonstration against the government earlier this week had a million participants.
4) Nerve gas might have been used against demonstrators.
5) Revolutionary Guards were caught passing arms to rebels. This means that the government might be fragmenting.

Is anyone checking this out? Has anyone gotten out of their hotel and talked to some of these people? There is a major upheaval going on in Iran right now. As David Duchovny says on X Files, "The Truth is Out There."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thank You Don Williams

The Tibetan monks have prayer wheels upon which are inscribed the order of prayers that they offer as a part of their religious duties. The image of a wheel spinning with the mind elsewhere always seemed odd to me. The idea of using an inanimate device to speak of my inner yearnings seemed odd. The monks seemed comfortably foreign.

Then there was one of the few pieces of assigned reading that resonated in any way as I was growing up. The Courtship of Miles Standish was about an officer who was too shy to approach a girl himself for purposes of courtship. Predictably, his chosen intermediary got the girl. A modern spin on this is the Don Williams song, " Listen to the Radio the lyrics of which portray a tongue tied suitor who tells his beloved that the radio speaks for him far better than he could for himself.

I sometimes feel that sitting back and letting a CD speak for me is sometimes better than speaking for myself. In some ways, gifted singers like Williams are like the village letter writers in the days of rampant illiteracy who extended the gifts of literacy to the unlettered masses.

Don Williams has that gift that enables him to portray and give voice to the simple and tongue tied with an eloquence that resonates as does his voice. Although country music is seen as a distinctly American genre, Don Williams' popularity does not stop at our nation's borders. He has gone on world tour to enthusiastic audiences in the United Kingdom, India and Africa. He was already well known and appreciated in all of those places. I have often had the feeling when watching African music videos that there were certain common thematic qualities that tied African music at least as much to American country music as to any other American genre. Apparently, Don William's African fans feel the same way.

It is not hard for me to understand the universal popularity of Don Williams. I wish him well and hope to hear a lot more from him in the future.

I am presenting below two videos. One is of "One Good Well, and the other is "Till the Rivers Run Dry" from the Don Williams Africa tour.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Roy Moore For Alabama Governor !

Back in 2003, Roy Moore took a stand that cost him dearly. Roy Moore had put up a 2 1/2 ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments on the premises of the Alabama Supreme Court. His logic was expressed in the design of the monument itself, which quotes from those who founded and shaped our nation. It expresses the opinion of Roy Moore and of many that the Bible was a critical part of our nation's ideological DNA.

Unfortunately, Moore was removed from his position after he refused to obey a federal court ruling that mandated the removal of his monument. Moore chose to use the technique favoured by Martin Luther King and by Gandhi of civil disobedience to an unjust law.

Now, Roy Moore is running for Governor of Alabama. He has a philosophy of government that is diametrically opposed to that of the Obama administration. He is concerned about the malignant role of government in the economy that is now being pursued. As the costs of Obama's recovery strategy mount, Moore's opinions are becoming more and more mainstream.

I am excited by Roy Moore's candidacy. He has ideas that resonate with me. I admire his act of civil disobedience that cost him his seat on the Alabama Supreme Court.

One reason I support him is due to the conviction that secularist intolerance can be every bit as oppressive as religious intolerance. There is a certain doctrinaire inflexibility to the application of the idea of separation of church and state in America. I am not comfortable with how some on the Christian right would like to redefine church state separation. But there is plenty of atheist intolerance on the other side as well. Roy Moore should not have lost his job. Had he hung a cross behind his chair or forced Muslims and Jews to testify bareheaded, I would support his removal. But he did no such thing. He expressed a legitimate opinion about the ideological and religious foundations of our Republic.

There will be eternal tension between atheists and believers in in our country. The very existence of atheists makes the valuable point that freedom of religion must encompass freedom from religion. I am concerned about the human tendency to want to force others to think like us. It is for this reason that I welcome Roy Moore in his run for Governor of Alabama. The pendulum of religious intolerance has swung against believers in this country. Roy Moore has taken a principled stand against this. I look forward to him taking other principled stands as Governor of Alabama.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christian Killed For Drinking From Muslim Tea Cup

There is a popular face of Islam that counterbalances its militant face of conversion by the sword. It is the picture of Islamic hospitality to wayfarers. According to Islamic teachings, it is commanded to be kind and hospitable to the wayfarer, to feed him and send him safely on his way, whatever differences there may be later.

It seems that Mubarak Ali was home sick from madrassa the day they taught about Islamic hospitality. AINA (Assyrian International News Agency) reports as follows about the fundamentalist tea stall owner who beat a Christian to death who had sipped tea from a cup reserved for Muslim use only.

"International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that radical Muslims running a tea stall beat a Christian man to death for using a cup designated for Muslims on May 9. The young man, Ishtiaq Masih, had ordered tea at a roadside stall in Machharkay village, Punjab, Pakistan, after his bus stopped to allow passengers to relieve themselves.

When Ishtiaq went to pay for his tea, the owner noticed that he was wearing a necklace with a cross and grabbed him, calling for his employees to bring anything available to beat him for violating a sign posted on the stall warning non-Muslims to declare their religion before being served. Ishtiaq had not noticed the warning sign before ordering his tea, as he ordered with a group of his fellow passengers.

The owner and 14 of his employees beat Ishtiaq with stones, iron rods and clubs, and stabbed him multiple times with kitchen knives as Ishtiaq pleaded for mercy.

The other bus passengers and other passers-by finally intervened and took Ishtiaq to the Rural Health Center in the village. There Ishtiaq died as a result of spinal, head, and chest injuries. The doctor who took Ishtiaq's case told ICC that Ishtiaq had excessive internal and external bleeding, a fractured skull, and brain injuries."

According to the news story, Mubarak Ali is a pious Muslim who employs madrassa graduates who share his bloody knuckles approach to Islamic law.

Government spokesmen can point to laws that prohibit discrimination in public accomodations, but in Pakistan law is interpreted in the local police precinct, where local police enforce local mores and customs.

Amazingly enough, the Makah Tea Stall in which the crime occurred is still open for business. Neither Ali nor his bloodthirsty cohorts have been taken into custody nor even charged. Even the sign that Ishtiaq Masih failed to notice was still up. A reporter from ICC reported as follows.

ICC's correspondent visited the tea stall and observed that a large red warning sign with a death's head symbol was posted which read, "All non-Muslims should introduce their faith prior to ordering tea. This tea stall serves Muslims only." The warning also threatened anyone who violated the rule with "dire consequences."

When Ishtiaq Masih was murdered, it was the crime of Mubarak Ali and his evil employees. Now that the employees are free and the Makah Tea Stall remains open, it is a crime of the Pakistani government. Will they disown this horrible crime by punishing it? Or will they sign on as silent partners of the Makah Tea Stall? The city of Sodom was destroyed for their cruelty to wayfarers. What will become of Pakistan?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Suicide Bombing at Pakstan Mosque

Yet again, there is a suicide bombing in Pakistan. Associated Press reports as follows.

"Friday prayers had just ended when the suicide bomber walked into the seminary office of a popular anti-Taliban cleric and detonated his explosives.

There was little doubt this was a targeted assassination of a moderate religious leader who had openly challenged militancy and extremism, called suicide bombings un-Islamic and denounced the Taliban as murderers and "a stigma on Islam." He had thrown his support behind an ongoing military campaign against them."

It is widely agreed that the aim of those behind the suicide bombings aim to cow the opposition into submission. Even though Pakistan is predominantly Muslim, it is an area of ethnic and religious diversity. Even those who believe they have the market cornered on truth are usually sensible enough to realise that their opponents feel the same way.

Whether in Israel, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, the behavior of those who seek their own brand of "liberation" while struggling for victory is a good idea of what awaits those who must live with their victory. When someone is willing to kill innocent people and then brag about it, they should be ruthlessly wiped out. The means used to achieve victory can contaminate that same victory.
Pakistan is fighting for its life. No one should tie their hands as they fight an enemy with no limits to what they will do to achieve victory. Terrorism in the name of Islam should be ruthlessly suppressed wherever it is found, whether in Thailand, The Middle East, Pakistan or Israel. Muslims who want to establish a good name for their faith can not sit this one out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Iran Goes to the Polls June 12

Iran's election is this Friday, June 12. The economy is a big issue, with inflation in the double digits monthly. Iran's foreign policy is also on the table. The wisdom of gratuitously provoking the west with nuclear saber rattling is questionable to many.

Not to be minimised is the hunger for western style freedoms. Getting pulled over by vice police for showing one's hair or wrists is not appealing to many Iranians. Parties that involve unveiled (!) women and men mixing with music that is considered "unislamic" is something that many feel should be a personal matter. Spending money on foreign military adventures while the country is in an economic slump strikes many as an unsound choice. Increasing the sting of austerity with intrusive puritanism seems to be adding gasoline to the fire.

A lot is at stake on June 12. After Iran's theocratic overseers are through going over the voter rolls, it is hard to imagine much of a choice being left Despite this, Iranians continue to hope.

In a light hearted spirit, I am presenting with this posting an election song that was recorded for Hossein Mousavi, a candidate who is running against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although I do not know how the words translate, the modern attire of many in the video seems to hint at hopes of liberalisation. There is a lot of interesting political posts on You Tube, of which this posting is the most timely. I hope my readers will enjoy it. In the interests of impartiality, I have portrayed in the accompanying photo Ahmadinejad's sometimes awkward attempts to reach out to foreign leaders

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PEPSI ,Jews and Max Blumenthal

Some things get lost in translation. I was shown a video of a Muslim imam. He was urging his viewers to boycott PEPSI. Did he find a building in Tel Aviv that was purchased with a donation from PEPSI? No! Did he find Israeli tanks rolling into Gaza with the PEPSI logo? No! He found something much worse.

The distinguished imam found a hidden message in the name of PEPSI itself. For an English speaking viewer, it is comical to watch the imam explain the hidden message.

"Pay Every Penny to Save Israel."

For a Muslim in a religious town or village, an imam delivering his message on television has the authority of tradition wedded to modern technology. There is no one to correct little inaccuracies such as the fact that there are only 100 cents to the dollar. The imam himself admits that his son knows more than he does about the intricacies of which companies to boycott. Apparently, such information is as popular as baseball scores and MTV are in America.

The imam who was urging a PEPSI boycott was broadcasting in Egypt, which keeps a tight rein on its press. Despite its peace treaty with Israel, it continues to use hatred f Israel as a safety valve.

To shed a bit more light on what makes such thinking appealing, one need only look at Saudi children's TV to see a three year old girl talk about Jews being monkeys and pigs. In both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there is a strong tie between what the government allows and encourages and what is preached in the mosque. The three year old who is speaking did not pull her words out of thin air. She was taught such hatred in government approved schools. The imam was not under the influence of alcohol. Of that we may be certain.

The prospects for peace with Israel look poor indeed when we look at the indoctrination that goes on in Arab countries. It presents a stark contrast to the image of Arabs presented in Israeli schools.

Max Blumenthal made a video of drunken kids running their mouths that has gone viral on the internet. He would do well to contrast how Arabs are educated about Jews and how Jews are taught about Arabs. This would present a far more useful contrast than going bar hopping with a camcorder.

Hatred of Jews seems to be an addiction in the Arab world. The rifts between Shiite and Sunni, Baathist and Islamist are only a couple of the simmering disputes that are given temporary respite by focusing on Jews. Rather than inhaling the opiate of hatred, it would be far better for the Arab world to find a reason for enisting not dependent upon hate.

If the PEPSI speech were that of a fringe lunatic, it could be laughed off. If we are talking about a fringe sect of Islam preaching virulent hatred, it would be merely something to be mindful of. But the video clips of Saudi children's TV and Egyptian religious programming show the face of a state religion with the veil thrown back.

Watching Obama's speech to the Islamic world was like sitting in a darkened bar with only strobe lights and silhouettes visible. Watching video footage from Arab TV is like throwing the lights on and seeing the cigarette burns in the carpet, the tears in the upholstery and being reminded that a night of drinking will not transform ugliness into beauty.

Max Blumenthal's drunk Jews did not look pretty. But the hate from Riyadh and Cairo is stone cold sober. So there is no excuse.

PEPSI is a zionist plot

Arab Children's TV takes on Jews and Pepsi

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rightists Win 17% in Dutch Election

Geert Wilders, Dutch leader of the Freedom party in that country has the political establishment in that country stunned at his performance in that country's parliamentary elections, in which the Freedom Party scored 17% of the vote. Wilders has been outspoken in his condemnation of radical Islam. His production of the film "Fitna" quoted the Koran chapter and verse, portraying it as a piece of hate literature. The strength of his party is its willingness to describe realities banned from discussion in the Dutch political mainstream such as Muslim immigrant crime and hate crimes, terrorism and the falling European birth rate.

Although I welcome the frankness of the Freedom Party and Geert Wilders, I believe that a cardinal rule of marriage and family counseling would serve them well. This rule is "Describe behavior." Do not label." There are people who consider the Koran sacred who do not espouse or practice violence. I would be reluctant to alienate such people by lumping them together with terrorists and thugs who use religion to justify their crimes.

Why is America doing much better in relating to its Muslim minority? Is our approach and strategy fundamentally different? Or are there too few Muslims in America for our example to be instructive to France and Belgium, which have 10% of Muslims in their population.

The mainstream parties in Europe could restore a lot of credibility by addressing frankly the realities on the ground in their countries of skyrocketing crime and hate fueled violence against Europeans by minority subcultures. In banishing pressing topics from discussion, Europe's majority parties have banished themselves from relevance.

Preaching sermons about tolerance and drawing up a codex of forbidden speech and topics has done a great deal to make Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party party popular in Holland. The Vlaams Belang in neighbouring Belgium has also established a strong following . Despite being branded as neo nazi, the Vlaams Belang has made inroads among Orthodox Jewish voters who are concerned about immigrant crime and violence against Jews.

Europe has a toxic mix of economic problems and angry immigrant subcultures. As long as political discourse is censored in the political mainstream, the right will grow until it is the political mainstream.

Obama's European Allies Trounced at Polls

The sun sets in London before it does in Washington. This seems to be true for political trends as well. European countries have seen a seismic shift to the political right,starting in Great Britain, where the ruling Labour party dropped to third place in national elections. The Conservative Party was in first place with 29.9% of the vote. With the United Kingdom Independance Party and other right of centre political parties also doing well, it appears a foregone conclusion that the Tories will be providing Britain's next prime minister.

What caused this massive shift? Revelations about corruption in the House of Commons have certainly angered the public. Everything from home renovations to porn have been charged to the British taxpayer as part of a fringe benefits package that seems to have totally insulated them from public concerns. The Right Perspective reports as follows on the stunning upset.

"The night saw a humiliating defeat for Labour, which has been engulfed in an MP expense scandal and the illogical banning of talk radio host Michael Savage from Great Britain. Labour slumped to third place behind the UK Independance Party (UKIP), whose platform includes withdrawing Britain from the European Union. The Conservative Torry party came out first with 29.9%, UKIP second with 17.2%, and Labour finished with 16.7%."

Elections in continental Europe yielded similar results from Germany, Holland and France. The Washington Post reports as follows of the electoral upset, in which Greece alone moved to the left.

"Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe's largest economies Sunday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus to combat the global economic crisis."

What is particularly odd is seeing countries like France and Germany in which Obama was greeted as a conquering hero repudiate his policies at the polls. Much of the political debate about Obama's economic policies was particularly heated in Germany, which incurred heavy debts after reunification in 1990. The ruling Christian Democrats, who support fiscal prudence were rewarded with a decisive vote of approval from the German electorate.

In addition to fiscal issues, the question of Europe's restive Muslim minorities also pushed many voters to the right, particularly in the Netherlands.

There is little doubt that the political winds from America pushed European voters to the right. American unemployment has risen faster than expected. Even President Obama has warned Americans to expect more bad news, telling the American people that we are" out of money".
Although Congressional elections are two years away, elections in Europe and elsewhere are a far quicker referendum on confidence in the policies of the Obama administration.

European elections have an added significance. Countries governed by parties that share a common philosophy of economics and governance tend to work more closely together. Back in the summer of 2008, it looked like all of Europe was rooting for Barack Obama. The crash of the stock market made his victory all but inevitable. But now when the bills have come in from Obama's stimulus package, voters are coming down with a bad case of sticker shock. Obama has hardly finished unpacking his bags at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when he gets the sobering news from Europe that his European buddies are all moving out. Particularly shocking was Spain, which responded to depression level unemployment by booting its Socialist led government. The Socialists won 38.5% of the vote. The People's Party won 42.3% of the Spanish vote.

The same globalisation that has brought the economies of nations together has merged the political winds that traverse them as well. Europe has historically been far more ready to tax its citizens and to set up a network of social services with a high price tag and a multitude of strings attached. Europeans have decades of experience walking the path Americans are starting on today. As much as Europeans like the Obama image, a close look at his policies seems to sober them up rather quickly. Americans are going to have a chance to grade Obama's performance when they vote for Congress in 2010.

On election night in 2008, Obama found that Americans in Pittsburgh and Poughkeepsie had enough in common with the people of Paris and Berlin to suit him just fine. In 2010, this will be just as true. But I don't know if Obama will be smiling.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bloomberg Hisses, Disses Reporter

New York City has had some pretty boring news coverage of local politics. Thirty years ago, I remember fondly when Jimmy Breslin used to skewer public figures. One obsession of Breslin's which made for great entertainment was with Governor Hugh Carey, who he nicknamed "Society Carey" due to his fondness for hanging out with socialites and wealth people. He once proposed seating Carey at a desk in a stadium and selling tickets so paying voters could watch Carey do a day's work. Whether Breslin was writing about the high and mighty or about common folk, his column alone was worth the price of a paper. If I were a politician, I would consider it an honour to be lampooned with such deftness as was daily fare in Breslin's columns.

I endured three terms of a Koch mayoralty. The man had an ego the size of the City. He was gratuitously offensive and vastly overrated. Crime under Koch was every bit as bad as it was under his successor, David Dinkins. I am proud to say that I never voted for him. I will concede one thing to Koch. He was not boring. He sparred with opponents, sometimes stooping to almost childish levels. But he never pretended to be a unanimous favourite. He did not suppress and deny the loud and raucous. Koch was an afficionado of movies and restaurants. After leaving office, he did movie reviews as well as writing about current issues. He and Dinkins were united in their dislike of Rudolf Giuliani, who showed New Yorkers what a real mayor was and what could be accomplished in New York City.

Under our current mayor, Mike Bloomberg ,the news coverage and commentary has been middle of the road, an even course between soporific and sophomoric. There is no Jimmy Breslin to puncture inflated egos. There is no feisty Ed Koch sparring with hecklers. There is no Nelson Rockefeller giving hecklers a gubernatorial one finger salute. We are dutifully informed by a fawning news media that the problems faced by our city demand the genius and vision of Mike Bloomberg, who even has a radio station named after himself. New Yorkers who want to doze a few extra minutes and hear the time every few minutes have a troika of radio stations for that purpose. 1010 WINS WCBS 880 and Bloomberg Radio all serve the purpose as well. Of all three stations, Bloomberg radio reminds me the most of salt free rice cakes. Both are boring space fillers. One sits in the stomach and the other on the radio dial.

The sickness of boring radio seems to have spread from Bloomberg radio to the rest of the radio dial. Instead of a raucous dialogue with an insatiable fourth estate, New York political news coverage has become as sedate as anything that ever came out of North Korea. Chicago had Mike Royko. Boston had Mike Barnicle. New York never used to lack mayoral critics. For "The city that never sleeps" to have such a lack of satire and journalistic opposition to a sitting mayor is almost sinister. Is it because our mayor makes his living from news broadcasts? I don't know. But it is a matter of historical record that competition in business and in politics results in superior products and battle tested ideas. Lack of competition leads to industrial and intellectual shoddiness.

I was moved to nostalgia by New York Observer reporter Azi Paybarah. During a press conference last week Paybarah asked if the economic improvements in New York City undercut Bloomberg's rationale for seeking a third term, that the critical situation faced by the city required Bloomberg's expertise. A video that has gone viral shows that Bloomberg was livid at the question. When the press conference ended, Bloomberg told Paybarah that he was "a disgrace." Angry Mike was picked up by a live mike.

I salute Paybarah for his single handed effort to restore debate to our narcoleptic body politic. I hope that he will be joined by journalists worthy of the name who will ask tough questions. I hope that the spirit of Jimmy Breslin will again be felt in newsrooms across the city. The video of Bloomberg cutting off a reporter's question is a telling glimpse of the prevailing journalistic mediocrity in our city. We have been a chorus of dutiful enablers to Bloomberg's perpetual drunkenness on praise and adulation. At the bar of praise, it is 4:00 AM. Even in New York, that is closing time. Mike has had one too many rounds. Now it is his turn to buy.

Watch the video below of the Dear Leader responding to a reporter's question.