Saturday, April 26, 2008

Was there something wrong with my service?

by Cody Lyon
It’s a scene played out in restaurants across the country:

A meal is finished, the check is paid but soon a dismayed waiter returns to the table to confront a dissatisfied customer.

“Was there something wrong with my service?” the waiter asks with an earnest look of concern on his face.

The question might be answered with a litany of complaints that ends with an unhappy guest, a stiffed waiter and ruffled feathers for everyone involved.

The word “tip” has been called an acronym for “to insure promptness” in the service industry. But in the United States, tipping has become more of an expectation, rather than a reward for excellent service.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word tip as “a gift or a sum of money tendered for a service performed or anticipated."

The practice of tipping was actually a European import. In the United States, tipping took off in the 1920s after overcoming great opposition from those who saw it as patronizing and un-American.

And, up until the 1970s, waiters and waitresses could expect to earn an average 10 percent gratuity on restaurant checks. At some point, during the period from 1970 to 1980, servers across the country got a raise to the current 15 percent.
But even among individual American patrons, tipping habits can vary wildly.

In the United Sates, the current social norm is that a customer in a restaurant leaves 15 to 20 percent of the bill as gratuity. Despite such norms, there are many guests who are not necessarily aware that that servers and bartenders depend almost entirely on tips for the bulk of their pay. To be sure, usually, there are no guides on most restaurant menus, no signs in nightclubs and bars that explicitly describe tipping guidelines and as a result, tip amounts are often at the mercy of the customer’s whim.

Sometimes misunderstandings over tipping can even set the stage for national, cultural and class differences and in worst cases, seterotyping.

At the most basic level, the ritual of tipping raises a perennial question: Why do we still rely on tipping as a legitimate way of making a living?

The truth is, jobs in restaurants and bars that rely on tips as income can be quiet lucrative.

Ask any waiter or bartender in a busy restaurant anywhere across the nation and you’ll likely hear dollar amounts that have been known to evoke envy from many a 9 to fivers.

With that in mind, some experts point to a surprising psychological relationship that develops between the server and guest during service situations in the United States.
According to Michael Lynn, an associate professor of market and consumer behavior at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Management, and a former waiter, there are other reasons why restaurant guests feel compelled to leave extra money for their waiter or waitress, the money we call a tip.

“People tip mostly for social approval of the server,” Lynn said, noting that failure to do so makes the server upset with them.

University of New Hampshire hospitality professor Joseph F. Durocher says the fear of a tense moment looms over customers who are paying for a pleasant experience as much as they are a meal.

“Most people are afraid to tip less for fear of an altercation,” said Durocher, who is the author of the book “The Wealthy Waiter.”

According to a survey conducted by the Web site, 70 percent of a group of restaurant customers the website surveyed felt pressured to tip, even if they felt the service was bad.

But, what about those customers who come from cultures and countries where no such psychology exists, where there is no real desire to seek a server’s approval or perhaps more importantly, places like France where there is no 15 to 20 percent tipping rule?

Unfortunately, this has resulted in many restaurants and bars becoming hotbeds of unfortunate stereotyping and unnecessary misunderstanding and tensions.

As a result, some establishments, especially those in areas with heavy tourist clientele, management allows servers to indicate on a check that service is not included, even allowing for the adding of a gratuity.

“I actually get offended when I’m in tourist spots like Miami and the tips are already added, leaving one no choice, even if the service is poor,” said Markus Schwade, a resident of New York who was born and raised in Germany.

Schwade says that in his country the tip is a reward for good service and not a customary action, let alone the principal part of a waiter’s income.

Antoine Maisani, a native of Paris, co-owns a bar in New York’s East Village. He says because his European friends are so used to the gratuity being included in the check, adding another 15 to 20 percent seems out of place.

“It’s as if you went to China, and in China, the custom was to tip another 40 percent,” said Maisani, arguing that Americans would see this extra charge as outrageous.

Maisani says he has been with groups of French friends in New York for dinners, and when the check arrives, it usually has the tip added.

“I find it upsetting and somewhat offensive, but I understand,” Maisani said.

Professor Lynn, who has written over 25 publications on tipping, says domestic tensions sometimes bubble up due to the fact that more than one-third of the nation’s population is not aware of proper tip amounts. He says that figure varies among various ethnic groups, often fueling cycles of distrust and resentment between servers and customers.

The end results can be hurtful.

Sherie Weldon, a New York resident who once worked in a restaurant as a server, says that she notices a difference in the service she receives as an African American woman.

“I notice the shady service, and sometimes the less- presentable looking food,” said Weldon, who relayed an incident at a high-end restaurant in New York where the service was lacking.

“I guess because of our race, they didn’t think we had the economics to be there,” she said.

Lynn says such disparities could be avoided with a proliferation of better information nationally so all patrons were more aware of the norms.

“We need to get more knowledge about what the tipping norms are into the hands of consumers, which will decrease some of the differences of behavior, which will in turn decrease much of the server stereotyping,” he said.

That does not mean that restaurants in the United States are going to start including the gratuity in the checks anytime soon. Many argue that Americans would not tolerate a uniform service charge added because it would take away the server’s incentive to go the extra mile.

Professor Durocher underscores this belief rooted in the service side with a quote by the 19th-century hotelier E.M. Statler: “Life is service. The one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow man a little more, a little better service.”

The Short End of the Longer Life (New York Times)

Counting Birthdays- "THE NEW YORK TIMES"
The Short End of the Longer Life
Published: April 27, 2008
Ever rising longevity is not a given for all Americans anymore, especially women.

The most startling evidence came last week in a government-sponsored study by Harvard researchers who found that life expectancy actually declined in a substantial number of counties from 1983 to 1999, particularly for women. Most of the counties with declines are in the Deep South, along the Mississippi River, and in Appalachia, as well as in the southern Plains and Texas.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quilliam to combat Islamic extremism (REUTERS)

Apr. 23 - Groups like the Quilliam Foundation in England look to prevent young British Muslims from taking to extremism.

Theologians, Muslim community leaders and former radicals met in London to discuss hardline Islamist ideologies and the reason why many young men join al Qaeda affiliated groups.

Siddhartha Dubey reports.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Debate's Missed Opportunity for a Real Hit Job

Thanks in part to a still common reliance on ‘rabbit ears,’ record numbers of viewers tuned in to the ABC News Democratic Presidential debate this past Wednesday night.

What they witnessed was Barack Obama fumble and Hillary Clinton stretch, under the pressure of trivial irrelevance during the first portion of a live prime time meet up, and the viewing experience left many clearly upset.

What many appeared to be most miffed about was the unusual barrage of seemingly un-important salvos leveled by moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos at Senator Barack Obama.

The truth is, voters should be upset, because if the moderators were looking to perform some sort of hit job on Senator Obama, they could have at least attempted to aim above the belt and attack issues of substance and relevance.

Folks are really not so concerned over whether Obama attended a fund raiser at the home of a 60’s radical or whether his church was friendly with Louis Farakhan. Those juicy tidbits might make for a great shrill headline or a slimy Republican attack ad.

Voters with real concerns might rather know, if for instance, special and corporate interests are looking to curry favor in a future Obama or Clinton administration

In Obama’s case, why not take a closer look at campaign finance money trails and confront the highly promoted “agent of change” about his financially cozy relationships with Washington insiders and corporate influence peddlers?

After all, its those well moneyed players who might someday seek to influence policy that could potentially impact day to day lives across the nation.

During the ABC debate, Obama said “I believe that change does not happen from the top down, it happens from the bottom up.”

He went on to say “that’s why we decided we weren’t going to take PAC money or money from federal registered lobbyists, that we were not going to be subject to special interest influence, but instead we were going to enlist the American people in a project of changing this country” Obama said Wednesday on ABC.

But despite the drum beat of that message, according to an April 11, 2008 article by Matthew Mosk and Alec MacGillis of the “The Washington Post,” “wealth and power also played have also played a critical role in creating Obama’s fundraising machine, and their generosity has earned them a prominent voice in shaping his campaign.”

According to the “Post” article, a large portion of Obama’s campaign money has come from seventy nine “bundlers” who helped recruit more than 27 thousand donors to write checks for $2,300, the maximum allowed. The “Post” reported that donors who have given more than $200 account for about half of Obama’s total haul of $240 million.

According to the non partisan group Public Citizen, Bundling describes the activity of fundraisers who pool a large number of campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) and individuals. Bundlers, who are often corporate CEOs, lobbyists, hedge fund managers or independently wealthy people, are able to funnel far more money to campaigns than they could personally give under campaign finance laws.
The “Washington Post” article says that in Obama’s case, the list of bundlers includes traditional Democratic givers like trial lawyers and also includes partners from 18 top law firms, 21 Wall Street executives and power brokers from Fortune 500 companies.

The bundling groups include businessmen like billionaire Kenneth Griffin who started backing Obama just as he hired a team of lobbyist to urge Congress to preserve a “lucrative tax loophole,” according to the “Washington Post.”

Also on the list, a billionaire casino developer who plans to put a slot parlor in Philadelphia, this, despite Obama’s reported opposition to gambling, according to the “Washington Post.”

Mosk and MacGillis also report that big Obama bundlers include the director of General Dynamics, a military supplier that has seen profits soar since the onset of the Iraq War and has benefited from at least one Obama earmark, according to the Post.

Another revealing peak at Obama’s powerful fundraisers had come earlier in a February 3, “New York Times” article by Mike McIntire. The “Times” reported that Exelon Corporation, the nation’s largest nuclear plant operator is in fact, one of Obama’s largest campaign donors.

That piece noted that Exelon chairman John W. Rowe has been an Obama donor and is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s largest lobbying group.

The “Times” article did not mention that Exelon chairman Rowe, like several other powerful energy power players also sits on the influential, right wing and neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute's Board, an organization some have called an early and leading voice for regime change in Iraq through military action.

According to a January 2008 article in the “Baltimore Sun” last year Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accused Exelon and another company of overpricing electricity to achieve "a massive transfer of money" from consumers.

In the end, Exelon agreed to pay an $800 million settlement.

Further evidence for concern came in a recent “USA Today” report by Ken Dilianian that noted lobbyist representing some of America’s most powerful corporate interests have been major players in Obama’s fundraising apparatus with some members even serving as advisers on his campaign.

That report said that the campaign has received $2.26 million from employees of ten former federal lobbyists.

The “USA Today” report said that those former lobbyist’s law firms were paid “$138 million last year to lobby the federal government” according to the article.

This again, despite a common Obama boast, that he is the “only candidate who isn’t taking a dime from Washington lobbyist.”

In recent months, the Clinton campaign, referring to the Exelon influence, charged that Senator Obama had allowed the nuclear industry to water down a 2006 bill regulating the nuclear power industry.

That charge was met by Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton rebutting that his campaign “does not need any lectures on special interests from the candidate who’s taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any Republican running from President.”

Glass Houses aside, if there were ever a vetting hit job that needed to be done, Charlie and George failed on that point since those Democrats with doubts about Obama often point to these charges of influence by well moneyed insiders, even energy powerhouses like Exelon, as a point of concern for anyone that’s thinking about throwing political support behind a very pronounced message of change in Washington’s influence laden landscape.

Michael Malbin, director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a non partisan think tank told “USA Today” that “it makes no difference whether the person is a registered lobbyist, if the person is raising money to get access or curry favor.”

And, as Ken Silverstein’s November, 2006 “Harpers” article, “The Making of a Washington Machine” noted when he quoted an anonymous lobbyist who said, “big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a player.”

“What’s the value of a starry eyed idealist,” the lobbyist said according to “Harpers.”

So, how much influence might those looking to impact policy expect to exert if Obama makes his way to the White House?

It is, after all, the toxic culture of special interest and corporate influence in Washington that the Obama campaign has built so much of its foundation on during its crusade to take the White House.

Still, who can blame voters for their own often shrill attacks on those who profess to doubt the Obama message? They, like millions of voters are desperate for a political savior to help rectify all these years of inflicted political misery administered by the current secretive and tight lipped White House that has contributed to so much heartache and disparity.

But, the reality is, there are still questions, there are still doubts, all any observer need do is look at the divided polling numbers and infighting among Democrats.

Yes, it is important that our candidates are grilled on the hot seat during debates but the hope was, and perhaps still is, that the coals producing the heat, will eventually stoke up the fire, and ask controversial questions of relevance, not controversial questions of muck. And, it is then, that voters can make a truly informed decision on who it is they can believe in to make that necessary change.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Physical Education Equals Better Grades At School

On a recent afternoon at a public school in New York’s East Village, a mass of first and second graders barreled into a recreation room and charged toward a pile of hula hoops.

Even before the lesson began, the children launched into a flurry of made-up games, dances, jumps and spins. Soon, J. Alexander Nixon, a 27-year-old counselor with the Oasis for Children after-school program, brought the crowd to attention with his first challenge of the day. All the children then joined in a traditional hula spin, the first set in a 30-minute aerobic class for kids called Hula in Motion.

“Parents are more apprehensive about letting their kids play on the street these days,” said Nixon as he wiped sweat from his brow. “With this hula hoop exercise, they get a full workout.”

If the children in this group are like the majority of American children, this after-school hula-hoop class will have been the most, if not the only physically active period during their day.

Fewer than one in four children gets 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although experts now recommend one hour.

Another CDC study determined that on average, only about 7 percent of today’s schoolchildren receive any daily physical education.

Some worry that this has contributed to a national epidemic of inactivity. And since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled, making this generation of youngsters the most overweight children in U.S. history, according to the CDC. Of these children, an estimated 70 percent will probably become overweight adults, increasing their chances for developing ailments like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression.

As more American children show signs of obesity, new physical fitness programs are springing up across the country despite often limited resources (the Hula in Motion program is paid for in part by parent fees and some state funding).

Fitness advocates are seeking to transform physical education into a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity, health and wellness. And while the health benefits of exercise are obvious, more experts are also pointing out that physically fit students do better academically.

Physical education classes appeared in American schools prior to World War I after the federal government mandated them for the purpose of military readiness.

During the 1980s and '90s, thanks to tight budgets and a refocusing of state curriculums, the number of physical education programs started to dwindle nationwide. More recently, local school districts came under tremendous pressure after the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001 to pass standardized tests or face cuts in federal funding.

“No Child Left Behind came on board and suddenly the focus was on testing,” noted Phil Lawler of Naperville, Ill., who has been a middle school coach for 34 years. “Federal funding is going to be cut if they don’t get their reading, math and science scores up,” said Lawler, who is also academy director at PE 4 Life, a national nonprofit organization that promotes quality daily physical education programs.

But advocates like Lawler point to data that shows students actually do better on tests when they are more physically fit.

“If you have more active and fit kids, you are going to see positive changes in test scores,” said Dr. Retta Evans, a health education professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

One example that supports Evan’s assertion is a study by the California Department of Education conducted in 2002. A statewide standardized math and reading test of all fifth, seventh and ninth graders in California public schools concluded that there was a direct correlation between higher test scores in math and reading and higher levels of fitness.

“Physical exercise is the best way to optimize the brain,” said Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “The public has been unaware of the connection.”

Despite such data, advocates say, changing people's perceptions about physical education and making it a priority will take tremendous effort.

“Many administrators have the opinion that PE stands for poor excuse for teacher,” said Nancy Bailey, a health and physical education teacher in Kansas City, Mo.

Programs like PE 4 Life are attempting to change that by educating school districts and community groups through fitness “academies" based on a model devised by Lawler.

PE for Life’s teaching philosophy focuses on wellness and sports rather than athletic skill by grading students on how long they stay in their heart rate zone, rather than how well they throw a ball.

PE 4 Life was instrumental in securing the creation of a national Physical Education for Progress grant program, which has been used to enhance physical education programs across the country. Sixty-three grants of up to $250,000 are awarded each year for training teaching professionals in modern health and wellness-based physical education and for acquiring modern fitness equipment.

Beyond grants, physical education programs in public schools are established at the state and local level. Most states do not require physical education, leaving local districts to decide how much PE to provide and how to pay for it.

For now, programs like New York’s Oasis is working to keep children active and fit through a positive healthy environment, which instructors hope will benefit them beyond the exercise class.

“We hope to arm our children with the tools and confidence to succeed in life” said Rachel Lynn of Oasis. “Obviously, one of those is physical fitness.”

Nixon, the Oasis counselor, says that even though children may not yet recognize the benefits of twirling a hoop, they respond with gusto.

“They light up," he said. “It gives them confidence which helps them all around.”

Big Tax Breaks for Businesses in Housing Bill (NEW YORK TIMES)

Big Tax Breaks for Businesses in Housing Bill
Published: April 16, 2008
Consumer groups say the housing relief bill is adding up to a bailout for big businesses, as automakers and airlines stand to gain billions of dollars in tax relief.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

City plan an attempt to balance scales of justice for Birmingham's poor (BIRMINGHAM NEWS)

Sunday, April 13, 2008
News staff writer

Costs are being figured, but (Birmingham Mayor) Langford said the city might save money with alternative sentencing. He pulled 15 cases in which the city spent more than $378,000 to jail people owing slightly more than $20,000 combined.

Langford called it a tragic irony that Birmingham, a city known for civil rights struggles, has maintained a dual justice system based on financial status. "It is now incumbent on us to become leaders in the field of human rights along with civil rights," Langford said.

Lloyd served 102 days before a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ordered him released based on a handwritten petition Lloyd filed challenging his long sentence.


Former Alabama Governor Turns Tables On Justice Department (Washington Post)

Siegelman Connects His Case to Accusations of Interference

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, April 13, 2008; Page A02

The successful criminal prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman (D) has become tangled in political charges and countercharges that reflect contrasting views about the independence of the Justice Department.

In the two weeks since his release from prison pending an appeal, Siegelman has sharply increased the volume of his assertions that he was railroaded. He says that Karl Rove, who was a White House adviser, targeted him for prosecution to ensure he did not win reelection to the governor's office and displace a Republican there.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gay Men Face Jail in Egypt, Kuwait in Bid to Appease Islamists (BLOOMBERG)

By Daniel Williams-BLOOMBERG NEWS

April 8 (Bloomberg) -For three months, Egyptian police have embarked on periodic sweeps of downtown streets to clear them of presumed homosexuals. The raids, independent observers and human-rights activists say, reflect not simply official disgust. They're part of an effort by governments throughout the Middle East to out-moralize Islamic parties that have denounced the perceived depravity of Arab societies under autocratic rule.

Healthcare Horror Stories- (Paul Krugman at New York Times)

Op-Ed Columnist-(New York Times)
Health Care Horror Stories
Published: April 11, 2008
If being a progressive means anything, it means believing that we need universal health care.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Food Riots in Haiti (Reuters)

Apr 9 - Protests over the high cost of food continue in Haiti, as food becomes issue in the region.

Rising global food prices are affecting the world's poorest people who are finding it difficult to purchase even basic commodities.

Deborah Lutterbeck reports. (REUTERS)

SOUNDBITE: Unidentified person, (Creole) saying:
"We can't live. A kilo of rice is selling at $30 Haitian dollars. We can't afford to feed our children."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Brotherhood of Man

In the April 6 edition of "The New York Times magazine, Professor Beverly Gage offers a fascinating glance at former President Warren G. Harding’s possible racial history, or “negro” heritage, detailed by accounts by historian William Estabrook Chancellor who said Harding was the descendant of a great grandmother who was black.

In the article, Gage points out that United States voters may have in fact, already voted for a black President if one considers the “one drop” rule, which at that time, determined how individuals were racially “classified”..

The one drop rule held that in the United States, any individual with any trace of sub-Saharan ancestry can not be considered “white” unless that person has an alternative non-white ancestry that they could claim.

A historically significant political point, regardless of Harding’s racial makeup, one thing is certain, even in the face of rising outspoken and virulent racism that had manifest, even legitimized itself in the national politics of the 1920’s through groups like the Ku Klux Klan, as President, Harding brought the discussion of race to the table, even in what was then, perhaps the nation’s most most segregated city.

As Diane McWhorter’s meticulously reported Pulitzer Prize winning 2001 book “Carry Me Home” notes, (pg. 463) ‘in October 1921, then President Harding went to Birmingham Ala., for the city’s 50th anniversary celebration where he abandoned his boilerplate speech, instead using the moment to discuss “the problem of democracy everywhere” race.

In a speech there, Harding said “whether you like it or not” “unless our democracy everywhere is a lie, you must stand for that equality.”

According to New York Time’s archives from that year, in a telegrammed response to the Birmingham speech, Marcus Garvey, President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association said negroes did not seek “social equality” a conclusion that was later condemned by several other black equal rights groups of the time.

But Garvey also wrote “the negroes of the world this time when the world is gone wild in its injustice to weaker peoples greet you as a wise and great statesman and feel that with principles such as you stand for, humanity will lose its prejudice and the brotherhood of man will be established.”

Perhaps now, the quest for social equality continues but so to does the hope for a “brotherhood of man,” even in politics as the issue of race continues to play a role among millions of voters.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


FROM CBSNEWS "FACE THE NATION"-Nancy Youssef of the McClatchy Newspapers and the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran tell Bob Schieffer about General Petraeus' forthcoming progress report on Iraq.


Friday, April 04, 2008

NYC Gym Pundits Frustrated Over Hillary Hate


Politics was flowing from mouths faster than the sweat from brows at New York City’s Crunch Gym on Lafayette this past Wednesday as a group of amateur pundits gathered within the downtown house of body worship engaging in more chit and chat than arms on curls.

Background beats from Madonna and Justin Timberlake’s “4 Minutes to save the world” kept heads bobbin while the pundits voiced frustration over continued calls by Democrats and media bullhorns to kick “their girl” off the playing field in the race for the White House this season.

As he sat and strained with a tortured look on his face pushing down a tricep machine, one of them began his diatribe.

“I just don’t get it, she’s like that girl in school with the real big glasses who knows everything, you just can’t trip her up, no matter how hard you try… of course I want her as my President,” he said of Hillary.

But his friend shot back with a sarcastic tone, “that’s not want they want at CNN” as he glanced over at the TV screens airing the nightly punditry from the Cable giant.

“They (the media) are blowing so much smoke up the Obama campaign’s bottom it’s pretty obvious they so want him to win” he said, standing, hands on hips, scoping the happy hour crowd that frequents the East Village institution on this busier than usual night.

Yet another chimed in “I want someone who is going to kick some butt” and “she’s really the only one that I think will do that, forget this coming together with Republicans crap.”

Obviously, there was some anger in this gym pundit’s tone that night, and it wasn’t because his set had been interrupted. Politics seems to be the one excuse an instigator of conversation can use these days when interrupting Downtown Manhattan gym routines.

Later, while pedaling and reading the “Village Voice” on a stationary bike, really fast, as if he was actually trying to outrun the police or a mad lover another pundit was interrupted

“What are you reading that liberal rag for” the instigator said jokingly to the reader pundit on his way to no place.

“Can you believe this cover” he said

On the cover of the alt press king, is a cartoon image of Hillary Clinton, looking less than flattering, as cartoonist often draw politicians, with bandages on her face and all swollen.

“It’s about MSNBC for God’s sake so why so cruel,” he said.

“MSNBC hates her” the biker/reader concluded saying that despite the art-work, the “Voice” article written by Wayne Barret, was an excellent indictment of the shrill antics at the NBC cable network.

But then, as if on cue, the instigator of the gym pundits, allowed his mind to distract into deeper reality, a reality that inspired his own private rage at the way politics in America is conducted today, the way the issues get reported, the frustration with an epidemic of disconnect that some party officials and outspoken elites often appear to embellish when it came to the best most productive ways government can and should affect change in everyday lives.

Why did we not openly discuss the legacies of racism in America and instead focused on shrill, offensive but essentially true words uttered or preached by public figures and ministers? Why readers and viewers hear more about a ‘most dangerous cities’ list as if, entire American cities were somehow places we should not go? Why do we not see or hear about the thousands of Mother’s who shed millions of tears for sons or daughters that have been gunned down on our own streets? Why have we not spoken of the unjust and still racist ways we fund our public schools, a system that perpetuates a festering culture of poverty and an un-prepared workforce?

Why do we not ask our candidates how they would address the shocking high school dropout rates in many of our nation’s cities and rural areas? Where is the talk of providing solid and equal ladders of opportunity in the delta or the black belt of the south? Instead of the negative blasting between the Obama’s and Clinton’s, where are the loud and proud solutions to the ongoing injustice, black, white and elderly, that is on vivid display within our nation’s healthcare system, a system so rotten that many of our people are subject to inhumanity in of all things, their health? How did we all allow ourselves to become so embroiled in such tawdry rhetoric when it came to engaging, challenging and getting to know our would be public servants, especially, our President?

“And while I was in Florida, I asked some people are you upset as voters about being potentially disenfranchised at the Democratic Convention”? said the biker.

Suddenly, the instigator of the gym pundits returned from his trance, and inner rant, continuing yet again in his punditry.

What the biker found in the Sunshine State was several of those quizzed in hanging-chad land had apparently given up on their voices ever being heard in this contest, shrugging it all off and saying “well, I guess so,” he reported.

“That state is so discombobulated,” he said as he wondered aloud.

Then, the biker shared an example of the political “meanness” floating around liberal rumor land about Clinton. A co-worker of his who is an Obama supporter, apparently is under the false impression that if Senator Clinton does not win the Democratic nomination, she would then resign as Senator of New York.

“That would prove she just used New York,” the pundit’s co-worker allegedly said to which both proceeded to take to blast the apparent hate expressed by some Obama supporters towards Clinton as her supporters feel increasingly alienated by people they thought they had shared values.

He then said “look, it’s not that I don’t like Obama, I just like Hillary “more” and I think she could win against McCain and I’m sick of people who say she ought to quit.”

“Don’t these people know history?”

He went on to remind the other that in 1980, current Obama supporter, then Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Edward Kennedy, entered the summer behind candidate Jimmy Carter by 24 states to ten, further trailing Carter by 2.4 million popular votes yet he still did not drop out of the race. Instead, Kennedy took his fight all the way to the convention floor, intent on somehow wrestling a victory from the party.

“I’m really tired of all these whining babies who complain about how the party is being torn apart, this is politics,” said the biker who said it’s Clinton that stands the only chance in winning a general election.

“If they think things are ugly now, just wait until November, I mean, what the hell are they thinking, she’ll kick their ass,” he said.

As the night moved on, a glance over at the leg’s section of the gym brought dread as the observer of the night’s discussion contemplated squats. But then, almost like a convenient distortion from the physical pain that awaited, a curious thought popped up.

A certain news story from earlier that day had not grown legs of its own.

Earlier that day, “Reuters’ had reported on a Quinnipiac University poll that served up a dose of reality from the ground, news that anyone who calls himself political junkie ought to partake of and ponder if they are curious about truths of what to expect come November.

The poll, not only found Hillary Clinton ahead of Barack Obama 50 to 41 percent in Pennsylvania, the report said she runs better against Republican Senator John McCain in that same state as well as discombobulated Florida and the buckeye state Ohio.

Reuters reported that McCain trails Clinton 42 to 44 percent in Florida but McCain leads Obama 46 to 37 percent in the Sunshine State.

The same report said that in Ohio, Clinton has a 48 to 39 percent lead over McCain while Obama would lead McCain only by one percent at 43 to 42 percent.

In Pennsylvania, Clinton leads McCain 48 to 40 percent while Obama leads the Arizona Senator by only 43 to 39 percent according to Reuters.

The countless scattered voices in thousands of other gyms or other places where people gather and unintentionally find themselves embroiled in heated political discussion often represent more of the nation’s voice than they’re given credit.

But it’s still what takes place deep inside the mind that is at the heart of the deeper mission and quest for a better tomorrow.

The people, they all still talk and debate, even in the face of 24 hour news cycle soothsayers with platforms who attempt to convince them that they are either out of touch, perhaps outside the norm, somehow destroying any efforts at unity, which in itself is a ridiculous notion in the end. This is after all, part of the beauty of a free political system, where no matter how much power some believe they have in shaping opinion, it is in the end, individuals who still think and ultimately decide for themselves.

Perhaps, the chit and chat occurring inside this spec of space within the 35 square mile island that is Manhattan, here deep inside this, the nation’s biggest city, has its ear closer to the ground that is America, and yet again, that’s why this all continues with the hope that whoever wins keeps their ear to the ground and their finger on the pulse of that which is all of America.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bear Stearns CEO in hot seat (REUTERS)

Apr. 3 - Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz was in the hot seat on Capitol Hill as lawmakers review rescue plan.

In the days leading up to the fire sale of investment bank firm Bear Stearns, the company was the topic of rumors, speculation and fear that led the venerable Wall Street firm to the brink of ruin.

Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz, testified about those uncertain days before the Senate Banking Committee.

Deborah Lutterbeck reports.(REUTERS)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Clinton leads Obama, McCain in key matchups: poll (REUTERS)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton holds a 9-point lead over rival Barack Obama among likely Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters ahead of the state's April 22 primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday.

Clinton, a New York senator who would be the first female president, leads the Illinois senator 50 percent to 41 percent, the poll found. She also runs better against the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio -- all important swing states in the general election.

In a general election matchup in Florida, McCain closely trails Clinton 42 percent to 44 percent but McCain leads Obama, who would be the first black president, 46 percent to 37 percent, according to the poll.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Reason for Supporting Congestion Pricing In Manhattan.....Cycling

Regarding Reasons to Support Congestion Pricing...The battle between cyclists and automobiles...

Excerpt from my 2006 piece at OMNI

But, truth be told, there is a daily battle taking place on the streets of New York City between automobiles and bicycles.

Automobiles, whose weight is measured in tons and can reach speeds capable of triple digits, maintain the clear safety advantage over the pedaling human eggshells called cyclists.

Cyclists glide through streets on two wheels all the while dodging arrogant SUVs, cumbersome bullying buses and manic trucks on deadlines making deliveries to homes and businesses across the five boroughs.

Yellow Cabs race for fare-paying customers, phantom looking black sedans zip through lanes ignoring all around them, and lost or intoxicated commuters attempt to pass, cut in front of, or compete for parking in the chaotic, poorly policed traffic-choked streets of New York City.

In addition to the unpredictable cars, cyclists must be on the lookout for the thousands of Carries and Bills, who while frantically discussing the evening's plans or an earlier lunchtime meeting on their cell phone, tend to jaywalk, wandering aimlessly into a crosswalk or bike lane, disregarding traffic signals or worse yet, completely ignoring the moving human on the bike headed right for them.

Link to the full Story