When Labels Mean Nothing

Bruce Rauner

 

Rahm Emmanuel (at right, above) is a Democrat. Bruce Rauner (at left) is a Republican. So they say, anyway. But their political philosophy looks the same to me.

According to a Reuters story :

The two have been close friends and even political allies, with Emanuel appointing Rauner as chairman of the city’s tourism agency soon after he became mayor in 2011.

They’re having a spat at the moment. Rauner is sticking it to Chicago now that he’s governor of the state. And, because he is up for re-election as Chicago’s mayor, Emmanuel is obliged to say unkind things about Rauner.

But the leopard doesn’t change its spots. They’re still the same breed of political animal.

Rahm Emmanuel is a big shot. He once ran the White House for President Obama. And he talks tough, like Jimmy Cagney or Edward G. Robinson in  those old gangster movies.

The Chicago mayor is certainly no bleeding-heart liberal. He is a Big Business believer who privatizes public services every chance he gets. Here’s a Salon.com writer’s view:

Emanuel’s tenure as mayor has been defined by the kind of aggressive anti-union and pro-corporate initiatives that were once the exclusive purview of the GOP. And politically speaking, the fact that public union membership tends to be disproportionately African-American certainly didn’t help.

That doesn’t spell Democrat to me. But what do I know?

Rudy Giuliani used to be a Democrat. Now he is a right-wing Republican. What happened? Did he have some kind of epiphany? Or did he see a brighter future if he switched labels?

Charlie Crist used to be a Republican but he switched labels to run for Florida’s governor as a Democrat. What happened?  Did the Republican Party drift so far to the right that it left no room for Charlie? And did the Democratic Party drift so far to the right that Charlie could find a home?

Whatever it was, the voters didn’t buy it. They put Rick Scott back in the governor’s mansion. Rick Scott!

How do we keep our faith in democracy after something like that?

If the Democratic rank and file took their democracy more seriously, they wouldn’t let counterfeit candidates carry the party’s banner. They would turn out for the primaries and make sure the folks who get nominated really support the Democratic platform.

The Republicans – especially the Tea Party crowd – are starting to pay attention.

What’s wrong with the Democrats?

Click for the Reuters story.

Click for more on the mayor’s race.

 

What Do Dreadlocks Signify?

 

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Zendaya Coleman, an 18 year-old Disney Channel star, wore dreadlocks to the Oscar Awards (photo above) and drew the following remark on E! News Entertainment from fashion critic Giuliana Rancic (at left):

(She) looked like she smelled of patchouli oil…or maybe weed.

Ms. Coleman was understandably offended.

She called the remark “a large stereotype” and said she chose the style “to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”

I am sure that Ms. Coleman smelled of expensive perfume. And I am sure she was not only beautiful but also squeaky clean.

And I know, as the young entertainer pointed out, that all kinds of people – even children – wear dreadlocks these days.

But I wonder whether dreadlocks have become a pro-marijuana symbol in the minds of some Americans. And, if so, what’s wrong with that?

Many American states are legalizing the use of marijuana. So is my native country of Jamaica.

I don’t know what “patchouli oil” is but I know a little about marijuana. And, as far as I can tell, it’s rather innocuous. It certainly seems a lot less dangerous than alcohol, which is legal just about everywhere.

And it doesn’t smell that bad – kind of musky, I suppose, not what a young lady would choose for an evening out, but certainly not rank.

What was really rank was the fashion critic’s sneering attitude.

Click for more on the story.

 

Bringing up Barack – and Rudy

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Nobody commented on my recent blog about Rudy Giuliani’s verbal slap in the President’s face. But I still think it’s worth discussing. So here I go again.

This is what the former New York mayor said:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America…  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

What I find stunning is not just the part about President Obama not loving America. Who knows what that means? As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out on TV last night, “love” is a slippery word, impossible to define.

But we all know what someone means when they say we weren’t “brought up” right.

It’s a phrase I heard often when I was growing up in class-conscious Jamaica. And if you’re from Jamaica, you know class has a lot to do with color in that society. Generally speaking, the lighter your skin the higher your social status. (I say “generally speaking” because, throughout history, some of Jamaica’s most distinguished sons and daughters have been very dark-skinned.)

Now, Rudy Giuliani is Italian so his complexion is lighter than Barack Obama’s, whose father was Kenyan.

But who in their right mind would suggest that Giuliani comes from a better home?

For most of his childhood, Barack lived with his grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham (shown during World War II in top photo, and with Barack in later years, below). His grandfather was an active service  veteran, his grandmother worked in a munitions factory to support the war effort.

Giuliani sought several deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, and none of his close relatives were veterans, as far as I was able to find out. In fact, according to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, five of Rudy Giuliani’s uncles found ways to avoid service in World War II. So it doesn’t look as if the “Nine-Eleven mayor’s” folks were very patriotic.

And that’s not all.

Rudy Giuliani was brought up by a father who – according to several sources – broke legs, smashed kneecaps and crunched noses’ for a loansharking operation in the 1950s. He served hard time for a stick-up and was involvedin a Brooklyn gunfight in the 1960s.

OK,  you think I’m going with the Italian stereotype, right? Yes, I know that just because your name sounds Italian it doesn’t mean you’re in the Mafia. But facts are facts. Public records can usually be trusted. And those records show that Giuliani’s father, uncle and cousin all had ties with organized crime. Indeed, his cousin was killed in a shoot-out with the FBI.

(Of course, even if you don’t have an Italian last name, you can still be connected to the mob. According to David Halbfinger and David Kocieniewski of the New York Times, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has the same kind of ties as Giuliani. They say the brother of Christie’s aunt’s husband, Tino Fiumara, is a ranking member of the Genovese crime family who was twice convicted of racketeering.}

However you look at it, Rudy Giuliani had a lot of nerve criticizing the way the President was brought up. Giuliani’s family probably was a lot richer than Obama’s. And as a successful lawyer and businessman, his own net worth is $45 million.

But being richer (or lighter-skinned) doesn’t mean you come from a better home.

From all accounts, Barack Obama grew up in a decent home.  His grandparents were hard working, patriotic Americans. Both his American mother and Kenyan father were law-abiding people. So, too, was his Indonesian stepfather, with whom he spent a few years (from age 6 to age 10).

None of them had a criminal record or anything close.

Rudy Giuliani cannot accurately say the same about his family.

Click for more on Giulani’s family.

Click for the real Rudy Giuliani.

Click for more on Obama’s grandmother.

 

The Glaring Oscars Cop-out

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Come on now, do you really believe “Birdman” was the best and most significant cinematic event of the past year?

You haven’t seen the film? I am not surprised. I haven’t and I don’t know anyone who has. Besides, the reviews don’t make it sound  all that great. Here’s what The Guardian newspaper critic has to say:

In its attempt to create a satire reaching for wit and originality, Birdman touches on but mostly skirts around several different themes: The inability of an aging actor to adjust to a changing environment, the nature of our true identity beyond the roles we play in life, the art versus entertainment conundrum, and the inordinate worship of celebrities in contemporary culture.

Unfortunately, despite an Oscar-worthy performance by Michael Keaton in a welcome return to the screen and the film’s engaging moments of true energy, Birdman does not pause long enough between the drumbeat of a jazzy score by Antonio Sanchez, the lugubrious strings of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a pseudo-profound spirituality and its juvenile humor, to say anything meaningful about any of these subjects.

No, Michael Keaton (at left with Ed Norton in the scene above) didn’t win Best Actor. But, oddly, “Birdman” – with its “pseudo-profound spirituality and juvenile humor” got the “Best Picture” Oscar last night. Why?

The reason seems obvious to me.

I think the Academy didn’t want to choose between the civil rights movement and the shoot-to-kill conservatives, so they chose something safe instead.

Why “Birdman”? Why not “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? They flipped a coin, I suppose.

If they had any guts, the voters would have let the world know where they stand. They would’ve gone with the right-wing’s blood lust and crowned “American Sniper,” or sided with the “liberals” and given “Selma” the Oscar.

But guts are becoming less and less evident in American society. And it’s no wonder. Stand up to be counted today, and you’re likely to get hammered.

The stakes are too high for “civil disagreement” these days. It’s a winner-take-all world. Academy Awards aren’t just trophies. The show isn’t just spectacle, glitz and glamor. It’s a political event.

It’s no wonder Salon.com writer Steve Almond thinks it’s time to ditch awards shows. Here’s his view of shows like the Oscars and Grammy Awards:

“Boyhood” or “Birdman”? Beck or Beyoncé? Who cares? We must stop turning creativity into another dumb competition

Almond thinks it’s absurd to pick one piece of creative work over another, anyway. He writes:

How in God’s name does it make even the tiniest bit of sense to compare … works of art, let alone to judge one superior to a set of others? Is “The Brothers Karamazov” better than “Anna Karenina”? Is “The White Album” better than “Exile on Main Street”? Is “Boyhood” better than “Twelve Years a Slave”?

He describes the Academy Awards, which attract a global TV audience of millions, as “gross.” He concedes that:

It’s a celebration of our most popular cultural art form, a chance to recognize the thousands of mostly unsung artists who make the Hollywood dream machine hum. It’s also cracking good entertainment, an ego pageant of the highest order.

But he adds:

The Oscars are also, by any objective measure, a decadent and stupid ritual, an orgy of luxury branding and self-congratulation for an industry already bloated by both. But the reason I find the Academy Awards especially gross has to do with the way the ceremony turns artistic endeavor into a zero-sum game.

Yes Steve, everything you say is true. But the show must go on. There’s too much money involved to quit now.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for the Academy Awards.

Click for the Grammy Awards.

Click for the Telegraph’s review.

Click for other opinions.

 

Life Through a Gloomy Lens

Margot Robbie, Miles Teller to host Oscar technical awards

We haven’t seen any of the movies involved but Sandra and I will be up late Sunday night along with the millions of other Oscar viewers around the world.

I know, shame on me for not going to see “Selma.” But I am at a stage in life when I tend to avoid disturbing experiences, and I am sure the civil rights movie would be disturbing indeed.

I would also find “The Theory of Everything” unbearably disturbing. I am aware of Stephen Hawking’s horrible affliction. And I know he has one of this century’s most brilliant minds inside that stricken body. But I shudder at the prospect of vicariously sharing his life.

I expect that Eddie Redmayne will win the Oscar for Best Actor. From what I’ve been  reading, his portrayal of Stephen Hawking turned out to be a tour de force despite the daunting physical challenge involved.  But that makes me even less eager to watch the movie. According to one critic:

Redmayne’s performance is powerful enough to permeate through the screen and into you – you’ll wriggle your toes in discomfort when Hawking struggles with his paralyzed feet.

As an aging diabetic, I already wriggle my toes in discomfort, thank you. That’s not what I’m looking for when I go to the movies.

As for the over-hyped “American Sniper,” give me a break!

Sorry Sandra, I know how you admire Clint Eastwood, but from what I’ve read, “Sniper” is one more disturbing account of the disastrous impact that war can have on human beings. Again, this blood-soaked epic is based on real life. It’s the story of Iraq War vet Chris Kyle.

(Incidentally, Kyle survived the battlefield only to be shot to death in a senseless incident. The shooter is on trial in Texas as I write this blog.)

Here’s an excerpt from the plot, as described on a web site called Fandango:

As the story opens, we meet carefree brothers Chris (Bradley Cooper) and Jeff (Keir O’Donnell) as they work the Texas rodeo circuit. They’re cowboys through and through, and despite being notably older than the usual enlistee, Chris pays a visit to his local recruitment office and decides to become a Navy SEAL. Later, at the firing range, he draws on his hunting lessons with his stern father to become an expert marksman. A booze-fueled barroom chat with pretty brunette Taya (Sienna Miller) soon leads to wedding bells, and following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Kyle is deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. There, his reputation as a sniper who never misses makes him a legend among his fellow troops, and earns him the moniker “The Devil of Ramadi” from his enemies. 

The nominations are more numerous than usual this year, and it’s hard to guess who the winners might be. But they all seem to reflect the gloomiest side of life. One of the Best Actress nominees, Julianne Moore in “Still Alice,”   plays a college professor who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, for example.

I realize that one of the Best Picture nominees – “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – is listed as a comedy-drama, but the plot doesn’t sound cheerful. I understand that it features the theft of a priceless painting and the battle for a family fortune — with a dash of murder thrown in.

Even Michael Keaton, one of my all-time favorite comedy actors (remember “Night Shift?”), shows up in “Birdman” as a down-and-out ex-star trying desperately to make a comeback. Not many laughs there.

To me, this year’s list shows a depressing absence of the joie de vivre that Hollywood was once famous for.

Click for the nominees and to watch the trailers.

Click for the likely winners.

 

The American Saboteurs

Boehner and Bibi

In centuries gone by, President Obama would have challenged Rudy Giuliani to a duel. But today, slurs against the President’s character are so commonplace they probably just roll off his back.

Here’s what the former New York mayor said recently:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America…  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Giuliani was addressing a private dinner in Manhattan, attended by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other Republican politicians, as well as business executives and conservative media members.

Can you imagine someone saying this about you? Suggesting that you don’t love your country? Suggesting you weren’t brought up in a decent home? Insulting not just you but your parents too?

Where I come from, those are fighting words.

But the Republican Party’s leaders have learned over the past six years that they can insult the President of their country without paying a price at the polls.

Speaker John Boehner, for example. He deliberately got in the President’s face by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress. He didn’t ask the President’s permission. He didn’t even notify the White House of the invitation.

Clearly, this tells the world there are two American governments – Boehner’s and Obama’s.

While Obama’s government is trying to find a peaceful way of ending Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, Boehner’s government is legislating tighter sanctions in a transparent effort to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States. Obviously, what John Boehner and his political pal Benjamin Netanyahu want is an excuse to go to war with Iran.

A CNN poll shows that 63 percent of Americans disapprove of Boehner inviting the Istaeli prime minister behind the President’s back. Only 33 percent approve.

But it’s that 33 percent Boehner cares about. This hard core of right-wing Obama haters has succeeded in giving the Republican Party majorities in both the House and the Senate. They are the political activists of today. They organize, they proselytize, they contribute, they vote.

The 63 percent who disapprove of Boehner’s subversive behavior are too cynical, too “cool,” or simply too lazy to flex their political muscle.

They are one reason for America’s perverted politics. They are the enablers who have ceded power to a rabid minority.

It’s not just Boehner and Giuliani and their bigoted fans who are sabotaging America’s President. The indolent majority are guilty, too.

Click for the Giuliani story.

Click for the poll results.

Click for the politics behind the invitation.

 

The Attraction of Pain

greece

 

I haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I don’t plan to read it. I will not go to see the movie or watch it on TV. Sadomasochism is a big yawn as far as I am concerned.

But a lot of people seem attracted to pain -inflicting it or enduring it, or both. And many others who don’t enjoy pain themselves are fascinated by the pain of others. I suppose that’s the explanation for the runaway success of “Fifty Shades” – and the increasingly graphic violence in today’s films.

The phenomenon is manifested in a wide range of cultural fetishes – from the “no pain, no gain” workouts of wannabe athletes to whips-and-boots sessions in the bedroom.

And it shows up in the austerity economics of misguided politicians.

We probably have the Puritans to thank for the notion that pain is necessary and should even be welcomed as a kind of catharsis. To me, pain is a warning signal that something isn’t working right and needs fixing.

The economic pain that Europe is suffering is an example. Angela Merkel and other austerity disciples apparently believe in some moral imperative that involves inflicting pain on the poor people of Greece.

In a Truthout op-ed yesterday, macroeconomist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. puts it this way:

The northern European countries, most importantly Germany, insist on punishing Greece as a profligate spender. They insist on massive debt payments from Greece to the European Union and other official creditors to make up for excessive borrowing in prior years.

As Baker points out, this punitive policy is self-defeating. It hobbles the Greek economy to the point where making the required payments becomes impossible.

And the human suffering it causes is heart-breaking. Baker observes that:

The tales of hardship are endless: an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, a collapsed health care system. The European Union folks may not know much economics, but they sure know how to destroy a country.

The people of Greece are in revolt against this heartless abuse, and they could be the first of several European countries to recognize that pain – economic as well as physical – is a warning, not a rite of passage.

We can only hope the austerity politicians and the voters who elect them see the abject folly of their ways before it’s too late. If they don’t, they will be in for even more pain than the most ardent fetishists bargained for.

In America, as Republicans, with their cunningly persuasive propaganda outlets, become ever more powerful politically, the specter of a European-style austerity culture lurks menacingly in the shadows.

So far, the nation’s sufferers are the powerless – minorities, children, the aged, the disabled, the uneducated, the gullible… But as the ripple effects widen, the economy as a whole will certainly fail, and the privileged few will feel the lash, too.

And by then it might be too late to fix the problems causing the nation’s pain.

Click for the Truthout article.

 

Shouldn’t Mercy Temper Justice?

In the news this morning:

HOUSTON (AP) — The White House promised an appeal Tuesday after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration and gave a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit aiming to permanently stop the orders.

So, once again, the conservative minority in America is using the courts to implement policies that are politically unpopular.  And with the ultra-conservatives in control, the Supreme Court could very well block President Obama’s progressive agenda.

Here’s the background, according to Reuters:

Obama announced a program in November to lift the threat of deportation from some 4.7 million illegal immigrants using his executive authority. The move bypassed Congress, which has not passed immigration reform legislation despite several attempts.

The program would allow some 4.4 million people whose children are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents stay in the country temporarily.

Another 270,000 people would be able to stay under the expansion of a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that offered deportation relief to people brought illegally to the United States as children, allowing them work. That expansion was scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

The President’s actions met with furious opposition from Republican politicians, although opinion polls show most Americans appreciate the plight of the undocumented and sympathize with them.

Republican legislatures across the country joined forces to block the order in the courts. They argue that the President exceeded his authority.

I don’t think that argument will hold water. Previous presidents have used executive orders in similar situations without being stymied in court.

But I can understand the argument against granting special rights to some undocumented immigrants and not others. I concede it’s only logical that all would-be immigrants should be required to go through the same process. I had to wait in line to immigrate to the United States, and I can sympathize with those who say everyone else should do the same.

But logic is not necessarily the best standard in real life. The human condition is too complex for that. There are always extenuating circumstances, and in the case of America’s undocumented immigrants, those circumstances can be extenuating indeed.

The greatest writers in our culture repeatedly emphasize that mercy should temper justice. And we poor mortals can only hope that justice is tempered by mercy when we stand in front of the final judge.

Click for the AP story.

Click for Reuters.

Click for poll results.

 

 

Should the Press be Free to Lie?

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Thomas Jefferson was a staunch defender of the “free press.” As I understand it, Jefferson, more than anyone, was responsible for protecting press freedom in America.

I wonder what he would think if he were alive today.

Consider this recent item from Media Reform:

Many news agencies lie and distort facts, not many have the guts to admit it…in court…positioning the First Amendment as their defense!

The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, successfully argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

The case involved journalist Jane Akre who was fired by Fox for refusing to broadcast false information about the use of growth hormones in cattle. She won a $425,000 award in a lower court but a Florida Appeals Court jury overturned the verdict.

The jurors did not dispute Akre’s claim that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to avoid offending its advertisers. But they decided there is no law against deliberate distortion of the news and the Constitution protects the press against any such law.

Strangely, advertisers don’t enjoy the same freedom. Here’s what the FCC web site says about that:

When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.

So, advertisers are required by law to tell the truth but “the press” can lie their heads off with impunity?

The FCC says the that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.”  And it promises to investigate complaints that broadcasters distort the news. But so far, I’ve heard of no plans to investigate Fox News despite the broadcaster’s admission of deliberate lying.

Media Reform  is pushing for the labeling of news content according to “ethical journalism standards that have been codified by the Society of Professional Journalists.”

And as a former journalist, I would hate to see the “free press” go, but with self-confessed liars like Fox and the scurrilous trolls and cyber bullies that plague the Internet, I wonder whether it might be time for some kind of restraint.

Click for the Media Reform item.

Click for the FCC and news distortion.

Click for Jefferson’s thoughts.

 

A World of Science and Fiction

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It’s a science fiction world, that’s for sure. But who can tell the science from the fiction?

On this day dedicated to the (fictional?) Saint of Love, the morning’s electronic mail includes a link from my brother Bill to a newspaper story about a hotel in Nagasaki that will be staffed by robots. A sidebar warns gloomily that the end is near for clerical workers because robots can do their jobs – and do them better (photo above).

I am prepared to take the writer’s word on that. When I call Customer Support to get help for some computer glitch, I must talk to a machine before I can be connected to a human (if I’m lucky). Somebody lost their job to that machine.

Yes, middle class jobs are vanishing, as technology makes white-collar workers obsolete and stingy taxpayers support savage cuts in the public service workforce. (I have yet to hear about a robot who could run into a burning building and save someone, however. And I understand firefighters are among those being thrown out of work.)

Many factory jobs became obsolete a while back, thanks to robotic development. And even lowly housemaids are being displaced. My daughter Grace has a robot that cleans her floor in Miami, for example.

And if you don”t have a  romantic ihuman_and_robotnterest to help you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, there are robots for that, too (photo at right).

I am awestruck by the genius of folks who can create these modern marvels. Are we really that smart, I wonder. Or is there a smart sliver of humanity that gets smarter while the rest of us stay dumb or get dumber?

How dumb are we? How’s this item from today’s Newser.com for example:

A newspaper correction issued by the Lexington Dispatch in North Carolina caught fire on the Internet for reasons that will be obvious once you read it: “Boyd Thomas’ letter Saturday contained an error in the headline. He does not believe President Obama is the Antichrist, who will come after the seven kings, according to Revelation. He thinks Obama could be the seventh king.”

Imagine that.  Barack Obama is a Biblical scourge? Surely, there are more diabolical manifestations in today’s world? How about ISIS burning that pilot alive? Is that Satanic or what?

John Kerry says it is. He said recently that ISIS is not an Islamic movement but  “the order of Satan.”

I wouldn’t argue with John Kerry about that. ISIS could very well be something the Evil One cooked up.

I challenge the smartest scientists to prove that no evil force exists on this earth. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the scientists come up with proof of his existence.

But it seems bizarre that anyone would think Revelation’s dire prophecies are manifest in someone as innocuous as Barack Obama, someone so thoughtful, so meticulously fair, so exasperatingly reasonable…

I would think the anti-vaccine crowd present a greater danger to the world. What does Revelation have to say about them?

And what about those folks who adamantly insist that prevailing climate change theories are fiction? Look at all the snow in Boston, they say. If the world really is getting warmer, why doesn’t the snow melt?

You think it could be Satan dumping all that snow on the Northeast and keeping it from melting? Perhaps he’s a Republican and you know how faithfully the Northeast votes Democrat.

Or could it be Obama’s fault? If he really is the Seventh King, who knows what he’s capable of?

Click to read about the new Tokyo hotel.

Click for more on robots.