Category Archives: book

“The Absentee Ballot”

 

hammer_sic3aFor generations, Italy has inspired transplanted writers. From personal narratives to cookbooks, from history books to blockbuster fiction, its enchanting culture and historical legacy has helped to churn out manuscript after manuscript. Although I was fascinated by its history, transfixed by its culture and wowed by it cuisine, my Italian experience, as I write about in The Absentee Ballot, falls into an entirely separate category of “back from Italy” books: surviving liberalism and living to tell about it.

Unlike those who vowed to leave the U.S. if George Bush was elected, I had simply decided to follow my Italian husband who was returning home after spending several years in the U.S. My husband had motivated my move, and in chapter one, I explain what motivated my book.

Historically, there have always been hypercritical Europeans, but the shameless assault that I was seeing emanate from American leftists prompted me to give a broader perspective on a Europe that I found strikingly different from the one championed in their blogs, e-mails and newscasts. European attacks on U.S foreign policy and culture weren’t new, but the rhetoric that was spewing forth from American liberal circles had become unbearable.

More and more Americans jumped on the bandwagon, and the America bashing intensified. It became hip to be an Amerihater.  With the casualties rising in Iraq and no WMD to be found, they became bolder in their criticism.

Not only were these Americans blinded to the notion that they were living in the greatest country on earth, most of them hadn’t a clue about the practical effects of the policies which they advocated. George Clooney might have filmed a commercial for the former communist running for Prime Minister of Italy, but his Italian experience is quite atypical. His American paycheck, his reluctance to learn the language and his lakefront villa opulence keep him from grasping the frustrations of a typical hard-working Italian, so how is he qualified to comment, let alone recommend a candidate.  I wonder if he has ever attempted to reach the center of Milan on a train, bus or subway when strikers have shut them down. Because I used the train and the subway, I wasn’t as lucky. Then again, I was, because I was able to witness socialism at work.

Looking down, I watched impassioned hippies march through the otherwise car-packed streets, while flags and banners waved as thousands of people chanted and played music. The sea of red had the odd Soviet flag sprinkled here and there. Some protestors screamed into megaphones, while others sang the communist worker’s hymn. Not being a communist myself, I didn’t recognize what the song was until I watched the news later that night.

CGIL (ex-communist union) had turned out thousands of people, including children, to manifest in over one hundred towns across Italy.  The strikes varied in complexion from city to city, but the scioperanti, as they are called in Italy, used this occasion to protest a panoply of issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan to environmental policies. In Bologna, they took over a Benetton shop.  Elsewhere, anti-Big Mackers organized a three day event against McDonalds.

Every drumbeat and bell struck in squares across Italy signaled new grievances. Ding: Global warming. Dong: Unfair layoffs. Bing: No War. Bong: More vacations. However serious or ridiculous the grievance, the habitual strikers used any and every excuse to march and complain. I guess Machiavelli was right: the power wears out those who don’t have it. Berlusconi and the right had worn them out just as Bush had exasperated leftist Americans.

Strikes were inconvenient and periodic monkey wrenches, but there were other more critical errors in the liberal utopia, namely multiculturalism which is fundamentally altering Europe’s cultural landscape. And because Italian isn’t a widely spoken language, their struggle with immigration doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Italians have struggled with illegal immigration and waves of refugees from Africa, because of their preference for multiculturalism over assimilation. The crisis has been compounded by the severe religious divide between the Catholic majority and those Muslims calling Italy their new home.

The battle between the leftists and those vying to preserve Italy’s storied culture is growing increasingly bitter.

It wasn’t just embarrassment or adding members to their roles that interested the communists. They also used the religion of the immigrants to beat back the dominant faith which they despised. Near Siena, well-known for the palio, a centuries-old horse race in the town square, religious tensions were stoked by a communist mayor, who, without seeking the approval of those living in Colle Val d’Elsa—a village just outside of Siena, brilliantly decided to provide public funds to build a mosque on a public park. The locals were outraged, not because of racism or bigotry toward Muslims in the town, but because they weren’t asked their opinion. There was no referendum.

Construction has begun and minarets will soon tower above the small cobblestone streets and medieval frescoes. Score one for those Marxists who would love nothing more than to snuff out the “opium of the people.”

At times, politicians on the far right utilized rather unorthodox strategies to affect the growing Islamic influence in Italian society.

Roberto Calderoli, a La Lega politician, planned a “pig day” to protest another planned mosque in Bologna.  “I place myself and my pig at the disposal of those who are against this mosque,” he said, offering to tour the construction site with his pig, after which the ground would be “considered infected and no longer suitable” for building.  Although the pig day proposal shocked many Italians, only 28% of the population supports any new mosque construction.

Immigration is a main concern of both Americans and Europeans; so is racism.  

It didn’t take long for me to recognize a peculiar connection between swastikas, old soviet flags and banana peelings. During European soccer matches, all were liable to end up littering soccer stadiums in appalling displays of racism.

At Milan’s San Siro soccer stadium, Zoro, a player for Messina, heard taunting so severe that he threatened to leave the field.  Other players convinced him to stay and play, but the next time he traveled to Milan for a game, he was greeted with a sign that read, “Peanuts and bananas are the price of your fame.”

I wonder how the elites, the self-loathers and the race-baiters would get along in Europe.  From human rights to UN resolutions, these folks are constantly in search of European approval. But how would they fair living inside their socialist utopia, and would they be surprised at the life they would find?  Would Jesse Jackson continue cashing in on corporate shakedowns and exploiting every race related issue to get mug time on television?  In Europe, he would have plenty of opportunities.

If Jesse and Al could help ease European racial tensions, then maybe Al Gore would be happier in Europe under its proactive environmental policy.  But, could Gore really last? He would have to alter his rather liberal use of electricity—reported to be twenty times that of the average American household.  Electricity in Europe, like fuel, is much more expensive

It would be costlier to operate his SUVs and private planes and then there are also the inconvenient “time outs” from driving in the city. When pollution levels reach a certain level inside the municipalities, the government bans city traffic and declares a pollution free zone.

If Gore lived inside an Italian metropoli, he’d have several options, starting with the many systems of mass transit. If the busses, trains and subways are not available because of strikes, there are always other viable alternatives, such as riding a bicycle or a horse.  Somehow I don’t see Al Gore riding the subway or a horse.

If it wasn’t striking workers grinding the transportation system to a halt, it was the ‘save the earth’ crowd’s efforts to ease smog in the cities and municipalities. But as inconvenient as those interruptions were, Italy’s outrageously high taxes had an even greater impact on the lifestyles of Italians, and me. Italians are known for their creativity, and their tax-evading maneuvers required every ounce of it.

I learned the routine rather quickly. If I requested a receipt for any labor completed, the bill was usually higher. Cash was always welcome and utilized more often than I was used to in the United States. My friends were refreshingly honest about their Swiss bank accounts, and would occasionally recount their tax escapades. One of my favorites was a friend who had made trips to Switzerland for years.

One afternoon when it came time for him to cross into Switzerland, the border patrol directed him to pull to the side of the road. They needed to search the car, and they did.  They looked through his briefcase, his jacket, the car and in the trunk, but found nothing and let him pass through. The only place they hadn’t checked was underneath his hat, which was where the smuggled cash was hidden. His behavior might seem extreme and deceitful, but the strain and limitations of the tax system had forced him to find another way.

High taxes, multiculturalism, environmental treaties and overbearing unions were just a few of the many socialist surprises that I found had been misrepresented by socialist sympathizers in the American mainstream media. However, their most egregious propaganda—the one that prompted my book—is their suggestion that Europeans hate America.

Getting along was easy. Europeans hadn’t held it against me that I was American, just as I hadn’t held it against them that they were not.

My neighbors didn’t seem to mind having a Yankee in their backyard. As a gated country club community, Monticello wasn’t necessarily a typical Italian neighborhood, but it was almost bizarre to see how the American flag functioned as a brand. I was amazed to see kids wearing sweaters of old glory or shirts with “I love the U.S.A” scribbled across them.  None of them had “I love Germany,” or “I love China” t-shirts. It was America they were wearing.

Surely, part of this curious admiration was due to the great marketing of the flag by designers in the U.S. However, if Italians felt loathing or even indifference toward the U.S, they would avoid dressing themselves in red, white and blue.

The most recent U.S. Presidential election, provided voters a clear choice, perhaps the most unambiguous in decades. The background of candidate Obama enticed voters with a chance to make history, while his eloquence before the teleprompter invoked comparisons with Reagan. Since his presidency has begun, however, it has been his frightening policy proposals like healthcare that have functioned as a collective double espresso to the voters.

The triple espresso is The Absentee Ballot.

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Obama: a Plant?


A friend forwarded me an e-mail detailing the possibility that Obama could be a plant, by going back through his past and examining various inconsistencies and troubling questions which have gone unanswered. Perhaps many of you have received these viral e-mails, like the one claiming Obama is a Muslim.

Come on. Conservatives need to stop investigating Obama, start looking at the polls and wake up. However entertaining, none of these viral e-mails addresses the real problem: the poll respondents who have him in the lead. Therein lies the problem.

Americans don’t care that Obama is a socialist; why should they care who planted him? Just this weekend, while greeting voters, Obama was confronted by a plumber who said, ‘you’re going to raise my taxes, aren’t you,’ to which Obama replied, ‘I just want to spread it around.’ That’s codespeak for socialism, Marxism and all the other redistribution ideologies that have failed over the last century or so.

The bottom line is this: Americans are ignorant and ill-informed. They believe Obama will be powerless to harm the country or their bank accounts, even though he will have both houses of Congress in his pocket to enact any tax increase he wishes.

Voters will get exactly what they deserve when they elect an anti-American socialist on November 4. Despite the complete and utter failure of the Bush administration, the polls shouldn’t be close. Voters should look at the impressive characters supporting Obama (Chavez, Castro and Ahmadinejad), at his background and philosophies, his past as a street thug intimidating banks to make loans to people who couldn’t afford them and his involvement with Acorn, Ayers and Rezko. And most importantly, they should examine his ideology.

That this election is close is a testament one of two realities: the stupidity of Americans, or their sudden embrace of Marx and wealth redistribution. Neither of the two conclusions is comforting.

In response to the financial crisis of last week, Russia’s communist newspaper Pravda headlined with ‘The triumphant return to the teachings of Marx and Engels.’  Perhaps on November 5, we’ll be staring at a similar headline in The New York Times.

Obama’s European Vacation

The site of the planned Obama speech in Berlin is generating a significant amount of buzz in the German press. The Obama folks and their socialist admirers wanted the Brandenburg Gate, a controversial choice for both Americans and Germans. As a symbol of German unification, many natives wondered how Obama had helped tear down the wall; after all, he was still a law student at Harvard. And as the site of one of the most historic addresses ever by an American President, many devoted Reaganites felt the mere idea was tantamount to sacrilege.

The Brandenburg uproar forced Obama’s posse to settle on the Victory Column, yet another controversial choice. Deputy leader of the free Democrats argued (from der Spiegel)

“The Siegessäule in Berlin was moved to where it is now by Adolf Hitler. He saw it as a symbol of German superiority and of the victorious wars against Denmark, Austria and France,” the deputy told Bild am Sonntag. He raised the question as to “whether Barack Obama was advised correctly in his choice of the Siegessäule as the site to hold a speech on his vision for a more cooperative world.”

Historical ignorance aside, the most disturbing part of the speech, is the speech. When has an American Presidential candidate ever given a campaign address in a foreign country? But more importantly, when has a foreign presidential candidate ever addressed an American audience? I can’t think of one, which makes me wonder why Obama has thought it prudent to stand before a European audience to rally admirers, most of whom aren’t eligible to vote.

And memo to the American press who will cover this speech, and who continue to mischaracterize Obama’s European support as widespread and sweeping: Europeans aren’t monoliths. Just because you might have spent two months at a foreign bureau, presumably sharing croissants with American journalists, doesn’t qualify you to make a judgment about Obama’s messiah status in the old continent. Just because Germans are disturbingly obsessed with Obama, doesn’t automatically correlate to an Italian fervor over a McCain defeat. There are many plausible explanations for the German-Obama swoon:

  1. Perhaps as the most racist European country, Germans are suffering from ‘white guilt’
  2. They hated Bush more than other Europeans, so they view an Obama victory as a Bush rebuke.
  3. They heard rumors that Obama likes wienerschnitzel.
  4. The largest portion of Obama admirers are former East German communists and recognize a fellow comrade when they see one.
  5. They fell in love with Michelle Obama after she admitted to not previously being ‘proud of America’.

Obama to Make Berlin Speech?

To some conservatives, Obama’s habit of invoking Reagan’s name on the campaign trail in an admiring, deferential way, has come across as self-serving and transparent. I suppose it’s akin to former vice-President Dan Quale’s mention of Kennedy in the debate with the “what’s his name” he ran against the first go-around. Even though, honestly, I didn’t see the harm in it.

So, I’ll give Obama a pass for his opportunistic use of the father of modern conservatism’s name, though it’s tedious nonetheless. However, I wouldn’t be inclined to forgive a speech at the site of one of the greatest addresses by a President.

From Der Spiegel:

Plans for a visit by Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic candidate for president of the United States, have moved forward — slowly — in Berlin, where he may give a speech before the Brandenburg Gate this summer.

Evidently, Germany’s ambassador is keen on making it happen.

Germany’s ambassador to Washington, Klaus Scharioth, has reportedly worked for weeks to convince Obama’s campaign that the candidate’s only large European appearance should take place in Berlin.

I wonder if the Ambassador has been in touch with the McCain campaign to inquire about his European schedule, if he has any. Hmmm. I’m also curious if there is any historical precedent for a US Presidential candidate making campaign speeches to foreign audiences.

Kennedy and Reagan both made major addresses, but on both occasions they were delivered by Presidents, not aspirational wannabes.

Update: Looks like the Chancellor’s office has put the brakes on the planned speech:

From Der Spiegel:

“The Brandenburg Gate is the most famous and history-rich site in Germany,” the Chancellery source said. In the past, the location has only been used on very special occasions for political speeches by world leaders. In the past, the location has been used only on very special occasions for political speeches by world leaders. And it has been reserved for use only by elected American presidents, not candidates. And it has been reserved for use only by elected American presidents, not candidates. The decision on whether the Democrat can speak at the location ultimately lies with the Berlin state government. The decision on whether the Democrat can speak at the location ultimately lies with the Berlin state government. Chancellery officials are concerned that the Brandenburg Gate could be turned into an “arbitrary stage” that other campaigns could also seek to use in the future. Chancellery officials are concerned that the Brandenburg Gate could be turned into an “arbitrary stage” that other campaigns could also seek to use in the future.

It’s a traditional practice for US presidential candidates to visit Germany before the election. It’s a traditional practice for U.S. presidential candidates to visit Germany before the election. However, the source pointed out that agreements can only be made with elected presidents. However, the source pointed out that agreements can only be made with elected presidents. The source also noted that a the German federal government would also be equally pleased to play host to a visit by Republican candidate John McCain. The source also noted that a the German federal government would also be equally pleased to play host to a visit by Republican candidate John McCain. The door is just as open for him, the source said. The door is just as open for him, the source said.

Wesley Clark: The Audacity of Stupid

From the Politico :

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron,” Clark said.
“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

Had the above criticism come from former Secretary of State Powell or Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf instead of a failed NATO chief whose chronic addiction to Presidential runs has proven tedious, the foolish outburst might have been taken more seriously. But given the erstwhile General’s track record, the disrespectful remarks just fit right in with his arrogant profile and his affection for fantasy.

In 2003, Rush Limbaugh gave us a history lesson, when he compared Clark to another wartime officer in Civil War General McClellan. It was a great psychological dissection, but I was more interested in Clark’s achievements as a prominent military figure in the 90’s.

As NATO chief, Gen. Clark, on the other hand, urged his Pentagon bosses to let him introduce ground troops into the war against Serbia, and he even was willing to use military force to stop the Russians from occupying an airport at Pristina, Kosovo.

But Gen. Clark was badly wrong on both counts. If he had not been overruled by his superior, there would have been unnecessary casualties resulting from the deployment of ground troops. And if his subordinate, British Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, had not refused Gen. Clark’s order to confront the Russian troops–who wound up cooperating with NATO peacekeeping efforts–the outcome could have been disastrous.

In 1994, while nearly one million Rwandans were being slaughtered, Gen. Clark advised President Clinton against America’s intervention, despite the U.N.’s unwillingness to stop the holocaust. But Gen. Clark speaks glowingly of NATO’s success in stopping Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing, for which Mr. Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And now, he dismisses the liberation of nearly 25 million Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s murderous rule as a Bush foreign-policy failure.

He reportedly circumvented both Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton on numerous occasions in speaking directly to the media and the president. In fact, the situation got so bad that Gen. Clark was relieved of his NATO position several months before his term ended, and in a major snub, neither Mr. Cohen nor Gen. Shelton attended his retirement ceremony.

Mr. Clark should take a moment of self-reflection before making any further ill-advised attacks. Does he honestly think anyone with an iota of intelligence would believe him over the scrappy, sometimes maddening, but always sincere, war hero who just might defy all odds to become President?

Something positive did result from the interview, however. ‘Face the Nation’, the Sunday show no one watches, might have three viewers next week instead of two.

Obama’s Secret Weapons

Tiger Woods dons a red shirt on tournament Sundays. Michael Jordan never forgot to put on his North Carolina Tarheel shorts underneath his Bulls uniform. The long-standing relationship between athletes and their superstitions, good-luck charms and pre-game rituals is considered largely innocuous by sports fans, rather a side-note to the victories and defeats. Sure they might get a mention during a half-time feature, but for the most part, their pre-match voodoo goes unnoticed and unreported.

We might not care if our athletes or next door neighbors are superstitious, but our Commander-in-Chief, the nuclear passé-partout daddy, carrying around lucky stones, golden monkeys and little eagles for luck?

Are American voters aware that the “yes we can” candidate, is so unsure that he can, he is jiggling some stones in his pocket hoping that he will?

The Global Scelto: Barack Obama

Like I explain in my book, The Absentee Ballot, recognizing traits unique to the United States and Americans became easier after I had been abroad for a while. I didn’t notice our idiosyncrasies because they bombarded me daily.

One of the most glaring American deficiencies is our obsession with acceptance. We are consumed by wearing the latest trend, living in the most beautiful house and driving the best car. I was reminded yesterday when I parked outside of a golf shop and sat in the car while my husband went inside. I watched a man exit the store and open the car door of a late model black Mercedes, with shiny rims and windows with a gangster tint, sitting in the spot adjacent mine. His hair was perfectly coiffed, his clothes spiffy and a diamond encrusted Rolex sparkled on his wrist. My mind then drifted to a Milanese Rolex dealer who once told me that Rolex only makes the diamond face for the American market; Europeans would never wear them. Sure, they might buy a watch costing five-hundred thousand Euros, but it wouldn’t contain diamonds and no one would ever know.

This story does have a point, apart from materialism. The diamonds we wear, the Guccis we carry, and the BMWs we drive aren’t for our benefit. They are for the benefit of the guy at work and everyone else we come in contact with. Like this psychological need to impress, we have become unhinged in our recent desire to re-curry favor in the international community. It’s like there are three hundred million Sally Fields standing on the world stage demanding “like me, really really like me.”

Barack Obama isn’t just the first black American to receive a major party nomination; apparently he’s the only one who can make the world like us again. A Washington Post article starts out by pointing to our tattered reputation abroad. It goes on to explore the global reaction of Obama’s nomination.

From India: Sunila Patel “A black president of the U.S. will mean that there will be more American tolerance for people around the world who are different.”

It’s nice that Ms Patel is concerned about our racial tolerance, but maybe she should worry about the fissures within her own community. Just how tolerant are the Hindus toward the Muslims and vice-versa. And how evolved is a society based on a caste system and one in which males having more value than females.

From Britain. “Obama is the exciting image of what we always hoped America was,” said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a British foreign policy institute.

What were you hoping America was? Tolerant? Racially diverse? Multicultural? Compassionate? One question. Who was the last black, or nominee of Indian or Pakistani descent to become Prime Minister of Britain? Maybe I missed him or her in my history books. Perhaps Mr. Niblett is simply excited at the possibility of having a fellow socialist in the Oval Office.

From Germany: Obama also has strong support in Europe, the heartland of anti-Bush sentiment. “Germany is Obama country,” said Karsten Voight, the German government’s coordinator for German-North American cooperation. “He seems to strike a chord with average Germans.”

Which average Germans would those be? Is she referring to “evolved” citizens like herself who work in think tanks and universities, or the ones desecrating Jewish graves and inciting racial violence throughout the Fatherland?

I voted twice for Bush, and he has proven worthy of a spot in a ‘who is the worst President in the last hundred years?’ debate. The dollar is a shadow of its former self, healthcare costs have skyrocketed, gas prices have ballooned, relations with our allies have suffered, wages have stagnated, and our federal budget has expanded to unprecedented levels. And for all of the Bush apologists who point to an increase in security, try traveling internationally. While machine gun toting and profiling Italian police roam Malpensa airport in Milan, our security asks us to take off our shoes. I’ve smuggled cheese each and every trip and until they catch my cheese, I won’t admit that the country is safer.

Bush’s poor performance aside, when did a President become a reason to celebrate or despise a country? Do we hate Venezuelans because of Chavez? Are Iranians evil because of Ahmadinejad?

It is too simplistic to characterize a nation based on the election of its President. It is also unhealthy for Americans to elect a President based on a desire to be liked.