Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If the Irish are going to fawn over a foreign leader it should be China's Xi rather than Obama

China's new leader, Xi Jinping at the Cliffs of Moher in
County Clare during his visit to Ireland last February.
Pat Hayes, Mayor of Clare is with him.
Last week's announcement that the next year's G8 summit will be in Northern Ireland set heart afluttering south of the border. 'Do you think ... Could he ... Would he?' A little shutter of excitement at the thought that maybe, just maybe President Obama will come amongst us again.

Memories of his triumphant 12-hour 2011 'homecoming' visit are still fresh, but oh, how the Irish people would love to have even fresher memories. Now, thanks to the G8 summit, there is real hope.

Forgive me if I'm a tad cynical about the Irish hero-worship of President Obama, but his role in Irish affairs thus far has consisted of (a) having a pint of Guinness in a town he'd never heard of celebrating roots he never knew he had and  (b) denigrating Ireland as a tax haven.

I regularly hear that "Obama loves the Irish." Hmm. I'm sure he loves being loved by the Irish, but that's not quite the same thing. If you tell me that President Clinton loves the Irish I'd probably buy that. But President Obama? I don't think so.
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If we want to prostrate ourselves before a foreign leader it would be far better to do so in the full knowledge that we're doing so cynically in the hope that we will get something out of it. That would be preferable to having grown men and women slobber adoringly over a man who is, after all, a politician while seeking nothing in return other than that he accept our adulation.

So if we're going to restrict ourselves to only cynical and hypocritical boot-licking then the question is: Who to woo? Angela Merkel is the obvious choice since she holds our future in her hands, but something tells me false fawning will get us nowhere with her. Vladimir Putin? That would require too much debasement on our part. We have to be able to draw the line somewhere. Prime Minister Harper of Canada would be an intriguing choice because so many Irish people are heading to Canada these days, but we should be able to find plenty of common ground with him without being untrue to ourselves.

No, for me there is only one choice: China's new leader Xi Jinping. We should set our sights on Xi because China is an increasingly powerful player in the global economy, China's government plays a big role in the country's economy and because we have already made a good start with him.

Xi spent a few days in Ireland back in February and by all accounts the visit was a success (aren't they all?). Skepticism aside, the Wall Street Journal's recent long profile article about Xi  was accompanied by only one photograph of him: a  picture of Xi kicking a Gaelic football at Croke Park in Dublin. The picture emphasized Xi's political skills, but also the success of the Irish in entertaining the future leader of the world's largest nation.

At the time of his visit Xi was only in line to be China's next leader, but now it has been confirmed that Xi will be at the top of the Chinese government for the next ten years. He was important then; he's more important now.

During Xi's time in Ireland the NY Times commented on the fact that Ireland's transformation from a poor, agricultural nation into a rich, high-tech one "fascinates Chinese officials." Xi too, apparently, as he spliced in technology and education deals with the Irish government when he wasn't charming the Irish and being charmed by them.

Those few days in February may well turn out to be the most important visit by any current foreign leader, including President Barack Obama's. Xi's visit to Ireland was longer, lower key and much more substantive.

Next year Xi will be in Northern Ireland for the G8 summit. It would be a real coup to lure him south for more "getting to know you" time. More pictures of Xi in romantic Irish settings will do no harm for the exploding Chinese tourist trade. Barack Obama may have hold of Irish heartstrings and Angela Merkel Irish purse strings, but Xi controls both Chinese heartstrings and purse strings and that makes him the most attractive candidate for Irish pandering. Let's get to it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Mets are too dumb to win

Jeff Wilpon, son of the Mets primary owner
Fred Wilpon. The Wilpons just don't
know what they're doing.
{Photo from -
I'm a Met fan and there's nothing I can do about it. I moved 3,000 miles away and still I'm a Met fan. I spent years with no television or radio coverage of the Mets, with not even a newspaper that covers the Mets and still I'm a Met fan. It's a life sentence.

At this stage of my life I know it's pointless to say anything like, "That's it. This time they've really gone and done it and now I'm done with them." It's pointless because I know that no matter what stupidity the team's front office engages in that when Opening Day comes I'll be transfixed, rooting for whatever collection of players is wearing the Mets' uniforms.

But let's get this out there right now: if you're a Met fan and a parent and you have a child young enough that they haven't yet selected their baseball team you should, no you MUST think long and hard before you start showering them with Met caps and shirts and other paraphernalia that will lead them down the same baseball path as you've trod. Why? Because the Mets are run by stupid people and they ain't gonna be gettin any smarter any time soon.

Yesterday the Mets released their schedule and announced their single game ticket prices for the 2013 season. Tickets to Opening Day against the San Diego Padres on April 1 are on sale starting at $63. Sixty-three dollars.

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For your hard-earned $63 you'll gain entrance to Citi Field with a seat in the upper deck in left field, which is almost within visual range of home plate. The game sounds great out there. Of course, the $63 doesn't get you a parking space or a scorecard or a box of cracker jacks. Or, remembering it's April 1 in Queens, you're more likely to want a hot bowl of soup. That'll cost you too.

Given the quality of the team the Mets are going to put on the field next season this is arrogant. Given that the Mets have shown a willingness to trade or simply lose the two most loved players left on the team - David Wright and R.A. Dickey - this is contemptuous.

Yet, if I thought they were going to sell those tickets and that this wasn't a policy that will have a long term negative impact on the franchise I'd say it's annoying, but good business.

However, they are not going to sell those tickets for far away seats at $63 a piece or many of the other seriously overpriced tickets on sale now. That they put single game tickets on sale before Christmas is an indication of how badly their season ticket sales campaign is going. There will be thousands of empty seats at Citi Field come April 1.

That's my biggest issue here. This ticket pricing strategy is an indication that those in charge of the Mets as a business, Fred and Jeff Wilpon who own most of the team, don't know what they're doing. The owners don't know how to maximize the value of their investment.

They don't know how to run a baseball team and they don't know how to run a business. For a few brief years the Mets had a good team thanks to the munificence of Bernie Madoff. The Mets' owners were one of the beneficiaries of Madoff's Ponzi scheme and those ill-gotten dollars helped build a strong team.

Now Madoff is in jail and the Mets owners are repaying a huge chunk of the profits they got from Madoff's funds. They actually have to run the Mets as a profitable business and they don't know how. Oh, and they have repeatedly vowed not to sell the club.

So the Mets are stuck with the current owners and, of course, we fans are stuck with the Mets. This nuclear winter we currently find ourselves in is going to get a lot darker and colder before there is any upside in Flushing. So think long and hard before you buy that newborn that Mets onesie you saw. Your son, your daughter or even your niece or nephew might have a winnable lawsuit against you in twenty years time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Irish citizens voting in American elections? Better if Irish Times focused on disenfranchised Irish emigrants

Over 40,000 Irish citizens emigrated last year.
The Irish Times calls for "four more years" in its editorial today with its endorsement of the Obama Presidency. "Barack Obama can’t walk on water, but this global village is a safer, better place for his years in office."

The Irish Times editorial is completely unsurprising. I doubt there's a newspaper in Europe endorsing Romney. Still, there was one line in the editorial that really got to me: "The truth is, however, that in this shrinking, interconnected global village, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will affect our lives more directly than most of our own politicians – if we don’t have a vote, perhaps we should."

It's an absurd view, but one that will be expressed many times today throughout Ireland, Britain, probably all over Europe. Everyone seems to feel that America exerts such influence over their lives that they should have a say in who runs the country.
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It's silly, but it's kind of grating too. Why America? What about Britain? Britain exerts more influence in Ireland than does America. Why doesn't the Irish Times suggest that Irish people (not talking about Northern Ireland, of course) should have a say in who runs the United Kingdom?

Or what about Germany? The German government has more influence over the lives of the people of Ireland than does the American government. Angela Merkel is a much bigger presence in our lives in this little Eurozone nation than is Barack Obama.

That's all by the by to be honest, but I am interested in the Irish Times's suggestion that non-citizens should have a vote in a country's election. What's interesting about it is that Ireland is a nation that has no problem disenfranchising a bloc of Irish citizens - emigrants.

Ireland has a lot of emigrants. There may be all sorts of reasons why Irish citizens choose to leave Ireland, but it's not a coincidence that the largest emigrant groups are those who leave during economic downturns. Many of those harbor dreams of returning to live in Ireland someday. They would like to have a say in how the country is run, maybe help lay the groundwork for their return by voting for candidates who support policies that make their return more likely.

They're not allowed to be involved in Irish politics, however. Instead, for Ireland's emigrants it's a case of 'of out of sight, out of mind.' "You left so you have no say in how the country's governed. Get over it."

I don't recall the Irish Times demanding that this denial of the rights of Irish citizens to a say in how their own country is run be corrected.

This is a legitimate issue for the Irish Times to editorialize on - disenfranchised Irish people. They should get off their hobby-horse about America's election and actually urge a meaningful change in the Irish system, one that will actually reinstate the legitimate rights of some Irish citizens.

The Irish Times needs to get real, stop fantasizing about Irish people voting in America's elections and campaign to change this real denial of Irish voting rights.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Following the election from New York no different than from Ireland

Debates between the candidates are on TV in New York, but
neither candidate is campaigning in the state. 
Wow! Election season in America is crazy, but by crazy I mean weird crazy, not exciting crazy. I can't get over how much things have changed since I was last in the country for an election.

I've spent last six weeks in America, upstate New York to be exact. It's the first time I've been in the country during election time since 1990 and the first time for a presidential contest since 1984. {That realization has taken my breath away. I was only once of voting age and in the country for an election for President.}

A lot has changed since '84. I was a student that year and I remember the campaigning on the campus and off the campus in New York. People were pushing their candidate. I remember ads too, particularly Walter Mondale's "Where's the beef?" ad. There is none of that in upstate New York this time.

In upstate NY voters can follow the campaign, but they are not engaged in it. I saw no campaigning for President and there are virtually no television ads for either candidate. The reason for this is clear — it's because the state of New York is not a "battleground state." Let's face it, if New York is "in play" Mitt Romney has won. So neither candidate is spending money on ads in this area.

Still, it's odd that there are no ads for President. It wasn't like that in 1984. It isn't just television (or radio) ads either. There are very few yard signs or bumper stickers or anything associated with the vote for President.
Read More:

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Obviously you can follow the campaign, but it's not much different than following the campaign from Ireland. In fact it is just like being in Ireland because everyone in upstate New York is watching what is happening in Ohio and Florida and Iowa and Nevada and anywhere the contest is close. In other words, they're watching what's happening elsewhere because it's not happening where they are.

Of course, people in the area can read about the campaign, follow the candidates closely (and endlessly) on cable news channels, watch the debates, etc just as you can in Ireland. But it's not really participatory democracy.

New Yorkers will vote for the candidate of their choice, but everyone knows that the vote is pretty much meaningless. I don't remember that from 1984, but again I was a student. My memory is that people in New York State were urging voters to choose one of the two candidates (Reagan or Mondale). Today neither candidate makes any effort to woo New York's voters.

Maybe the people of New York should count themselves lucky based on the political ads I have seen. They're atrocious. I didn't watch a lot of TV, but I couldn't enjoy a baseball game without being assaulted verbally and visually by ads for congressional candidates and the occasional state government candidate. The ads are loud, inane, annoying, but, most of all, insulting. They insult your intelligence. All the candidates are for "jobs" and against cutting medicare. Meaningless, childish nonsense.

Those are the positive ads. The negative ads are far worse. One ad I saw spoke about how the other guy "worked in Manhattan." Oh my! Not that! Another ad mentioned how the candidate is backed by President Obama who got campaign funds from someone who behaved a lot like ... (forbidding music) Bernie Madoff. Again, I shudder.

Actually, it's a total turn-off. I can see why so many people are alienated by politics. I can only imagine what it must be like to be living in Ohio where President Obama and Mitt Romney are spending their hundreds of millions of dollars on ads, positive and negative.

Is any of this new? I don't know, but it's new to me. If it was like this in the 70s and 80s I don't remember. Maybe because there are so many channels there are more political ads? Maybe it's the fact that I'm mostly tuning into the news or sports? Maybe it's because there is a recession and the political money is buying more ad time than it would if the economy was doing better? Maybe it's all of the above; I don't know.

What I do know is we don't get these kinds of ads on Irish television. They're not allowed. Same goes for Britain. Maybe that explains why during Irish elections the resources go on leaflets and posters and door-to-door campaigning. During an election campaign Irish people like to tell you they get fed up with political campaigners calling to the door, but that is far, far better than having to endure the constant barrage of TV ads American campaigns bring.

I would much rather have two people ring my bell every night, endure posters on the lampposts and leaflets through my door than bear the repetitive, ridiculous, repulsive television commercials. I really don't understand how you Americans put up with it.