Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Education: Part 1

"One of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get.”
William Lowe Bryan

“Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a snake, In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
“Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

I can still remember those words and vividly picture Ms. Malti acting out this scene from Macbeth. She would be hunched, knock-kneed and deliver it with her best witch's voice and a chilling cackle. It was my first foray into Shakespeare and it moved me in a way no teacher or subject ever had before. I was in the 5th grade, all of ten years old, and decided that day that I wanted to and needed to write. That single moment changed the way I viewed school forever. The passion, delight and energy, with which she brought the words off those pages to life, inspired me in a way that I had always sought but never knew I was missing. 

This to me is the single most important purpose of an education – to lead to that single, solitary moment when a spark is ignited, a connection made, in a way that lights up a child’s brain activity to open their mind and engage their senses with sheer delight. 

It is not about text books, subjects, grades and exams. It is about finding that unique passion within each child, and shaping and nurturing it once discovered. 

Some must be inspired to dance, some to fix cars, some to write, some to bank and some to rogue but that is the journey we must all make through childhood, and the breakthrough that helps us become the adults we are passionate about becoming. 

So I ask where have the teachers like Ms. Malti gone?  Those who teach because it a passion they want to impart and share for Shakespeare’s words or Vernier’s Callipers.

I look at the education system today in America and India and wonder what happened. I hear of the horror stories from parents paying $30,000 a year in fees, for a 3 year old child’s pre-school in New York. Or read about thousands of Engineering graduates in India, whose prospective employers say they don’t even have the basic proficiency to string together one coherent thought. And once hired, have to be re-trained for months to address "inherent inadequacies" in their education (“India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire” – Wall Street Journal). 

In fact, many graduates are finding that they need to supplement their degrees with further education because the skills they possess are not adequate to get a job. Another report published by Pratham, a child-focused nonprofit, paints a dire picture on rural education. In their 2010 report they state “as things stand, more than half the children in Standard 5 [10-11yrs old] will be incapable of completing even elementary education except by blind promotion without regard to the actual learning levels.” 

Much is said about India having the greatest advantage in the global economy in the next 20 years because they will have the youngest population in the world; with half its 1.2 billion people below the age of 25 years. But to my mind this advantage over US, Europe and China will be totally negated if we are unable to provide them with an education.

Meanwhile, in America, once known for its great school system credited with providing the US with its greatest competitive advantage over the last two generations, things are also desperately and completely broken. I defer to a brilliant 2009 documentary called “Waiting for Superman” to sum up the current state of US education system; “In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50% less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90% of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.” 

According to the 2010 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report, the United States ranked 14th out of 34 developed nations for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics. What is startling is that a mere twenty years ago it was on top. 

There are many neighborhoods in the country where children know more people who are in prison than graduated college. Multiple social and community experiments have produced more than disappointing results and even though the average amount spent per student has increased dramatically from $393 in 1960-61 to $9,683 in 2006-7 (source: U.S. Department of Education, 2010). We have learned that throwing money at the problem does not solve anything. 

In fact, it seems to have actually made the school system worse and accelerated its decline. This, while creating a bureaucracy so vast and so complex that it makes India’s stifling bureaucratic mess look like child’s play to navigate. 

The last but most important part of this broken puzzle is the teachers union who seem to have a stranglehold on the system with iron-clad teacher’s contracts that protect teachers blindly while doing nothing for school children. A school principal in America today is unable to fire a non-performing teacher who has tenure. All they can do is shuffle him around the system by passing him off to other schools (and accepting their non-performers in return) or until last year send them to the infamous rubber room that existed in New York. This was a room where teachers awaiting disciplinary action were sent to sit around idly, while receiving full pay, as their grievances went through the union-designed system which could take years; of course as long as the teacher gets paid, the union get its monthly dues.

Ultimately, I look to America and India not only to drive the future success of our increasingly inter-connected global economy but also to remain the two greatest beacons of democracy in an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world. Failure is not an option. 

However, imagine for a moment a world where people no longer have basic reading, writing or math skills. Or worse yet, one where the small percentage still privy to a stellar and frighteningly expensive private education all grow up aspiring to become investment bankers and hedge fund managers. 

One where kids no longer dream about being astronauts or veterinarians or firemen. Consider a world without literature, doctors, inventors, policemen, laughter and leadership. 

If we don't allow our children to dream, or stifle their thinking by depriving them of the spark a great teacher can provide, we will be clipping their wings before we ever let their imaginations take flight, and limit their reality forever.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Of Defiance and Fairytales: 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

"Sachin Tendulkar has carried Indian cricket on his shoulders for 21 years. So it was fitting that we carried him on our shoulders after this win…"
Virat Kohli

Unlike my fellow billion plus countrymen I got my perfect fairytale ending to the 2011 cricket World cup. My fairytale was not contingent on the Little Master getting his 100th International century, but on MS Dhoni rightfully taking the mantle from Sachin Tendulkar as India’s next great cricketer to enter the pantheons of cricket history. I am sure if you ask Tendulkar, he will say that this personal milestone is inconsequential and pales in significance to his being able to finally hold the only trophy he has coveted but did not have on his mantle or on his twenty-one year long list of superlative achievements.

In many ways this was the perfect World cup, not just because India won on home soil or that it was the first for a host nation to ever accomplish this feat. It was just a perfect world cup all around in my view. Even the losing teams were able to walk away with their heads held high. First, India vanquished the last title holders, Australia, in the quarter-finals. One did not feel bad for this team in so much as one felt sad for the way his countrymen had started to treat the Captain, Ricky Ponting. It was as if Australia had forgotten how many years they have dominated every form of the game under him, including winning 3 consecutive World cup trophies. However, Ponting scored the century of his life to single-handedly lift his team out of trouble and save the reigning World champions the ignominy of a humiliating defeat. So while Australia exited the tournament, being vanquished by the favourite, Ponting got to silence his critics and walk away with the last laugh, head held high.

Next India faced Pakistan, the black horse of this cup. The match was billed the “match of all matches” based on rivalry between these two teams and animosity between these nuclear armed nations, who have fought 3 wars. Pakistani fans are as passionate and jingoistic about their cricket as Indian fans. The backlash for players can be as severe as it is in India, from the press and fans. So it is pretty amazing to me that even though they lost to India in the semi-final, the Pakistan team managed to win the respect of every Indian.  Not just because of the heart and passion with which they played, but more so due to the actions of their captain, Shahid Afridi, who demonstrated on the greatest stage in the world that he is a true sportsman, a gentleman, a spirited opponent, a leader and great ambassador for the sport. I think his actions in defeat even managed to placate otherwise heartbroken Pakistani fans, many of who turned around and started to root for India in the final. Perhaps, it also had something to do with the olive branch India’s Prime Minster offered to his Pakistani counterpart by inviting him to watch the match, in what would be their first meeting and thaw in relations since the Bombay terror attacks on 26/11 derailed peace talks. At the end of the day all of us off the field, especially our leaders, need to remember that the most important thing about this sporting rivalry is not the violent days of partition, the extremist elements that support terrorism, the wars we have fought over territory or the other things that divide us but the fact there are many more things that unite our nations and people’s – much like our passion and fervor for cricket.

This brings us to April 2011. Another day that will no doubt now be etched in the same spot reserved in all Indian memories as 1983 was. The last time India won the World cup by shocking the world and beating the mighty West Indies. In fact, 1983 is so deeply imprinted in the nation’s memory that survey-takers in the 2011 Census were told to ask people who couldn't provide a birth date whether they were born before or after that last World Cup victory! So it was again today but this time India were the favorites’ from the start, perhaps a much greater burden to carry than the team in 1983 that was not even expected to make it past the qualifying rounds. A team that has been touted as the greatest in a few generations of Indian cricket, if not ever. A team that has already won the 20/20 World cup and reached no. 1 in the ICC rankings in test cricket by dominating the last few years. They were no. 2 in ODI rankings behind Australia coming into this World cup and had only one thing left to prove. In the end, this fairytale victory is a testament to Gary Kirsten who has coached India for the last four years and this was his last day. He has turned the potential we Indians have always said our teams have on paper and brought that to life in the field, in every department. It is equally a validation of Mahindra Singh Dhoni's fearless leadership. If Kirsten has helped the Indian squad realise their on-field potential, then it is Captain Cool who has made them believe in themselves in a way I have never seen with any Indian side before. Dhoni never looks rattled on the field, no matter how dire the situation. He never loses his cool and he never panics. This has clearly rubbed off on the boys, who seem to take the lead from Dhoni’s fearless and selfless leadership and his never say die attitude. In fact, it is the only ingredient I felt was missing for years from numerous great Indian sides. It was the same X factor that the Aussies had; that self-belief and attitude that a match is never lost, over or won until the last ball has been bowled.

We should spare a thought for the Sri Lankans, who were also looking for a fairytale send-off for one of the greatest spin bowlers the game has ever seen. Sadly, Murali’s farewell on the International stage was both wicketless and as part of the runner up team. However, it is also true that he is the only member who was part of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World cup winning squad that became the first team in history to bat second and still win, defeating the team that would dominate world cricket for the next decade; Australia. Murali got his send-off and honors in his home ground in Sri Lanka after they dispatched England with a 10 wicket annihilation. The team performed brilliantly and carried themselves with great élan in this World cup and was after all the underdogs. Again Sangakkara and his lads can walk away with their heads held high and proud of the fact that they are a young team with tremendous potential.

So I believe we all got our fairytale today in a number of different ways. Kirsten leaves with the knowledge that he shepherded his herd to the greatest triumph any coach can. Tendulkar can retire as the greatest cricketer ever, along with Sir Donald Bradman, and hold every record in the game until he dies, or much after. And Dhoni demonstrated today, to his many critics, that fearless leadership involves making decisions, some that turn out to be correct and some that go horribly wrong; that if one has the courage of one’s convictions, steely resolve, a never say die attitude and the coolness that would turn a cucumber green with envy, then it is possible to dream really big, carry the burden of 1.2 billion people on your shoulders and deliver…Jai Hind!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Open Letter to India

“The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.”
Bess Myerson

A social revolution is afoot around the globe. People, who have been stepped on, downtrodden by top-down economic prosperity that never trickled down to them and brow beaten into years of giving up their hard earned wages to corrupt officials and wretched politicians, are saying no more. Granted all the current unrest is restricted to the autocratic and dictatorial regimes in North Africa and the Middle East but mark my words that this phenomenon will spread to India, China, Russia and Brazil. I know people will consider it sacrilege that I would dare to compare the deeply democratic systems of India and Brazil to the shams that mask the authoritarian ones of Russia and China. But I feel compelled based on the extent of corruption that exists in all these countries today. The lack of rights of the common man is equal in all, and justice is an ideal that seems confined to the pages of history books or gathering dust in law journals, for all practical purposes. Today, money can buy whatever kind of judicial outcomes one seeks, if one can pay. I understand that I paint this picture with very broad brush strokes but such is the need of the hour. In my mind this crisis in India is dire, and it is a crisis. Unless we wake up and take control of this cancer, it will destroy our country and everything that our grandparents shed their blood for and died giving us.

I long ago gave up the notion of getting rid of corruption in this world. Where there are human beings there has and always will be corruption. Even the Western world is not immune to corruption. So having corrupt people is not the issue but the degree to which corruption has increased, in India, with liberalisation is what gravely concerns me. I have been away ten years and in that time the level, depth and pace of corruption has not only increased dramatically but more frighteningly it seems to have become acceptable and almost legalised as a means for not only doing business but going about day to day life. It has spread from politicians, public servants and the bureaucracy to a societal cancer that is rapidly destroying our soul, blinding and eroding our essence. I no longer believe that economic prosperity will help lift the poor and instil a sense of patriotic duty in the rest of us. I can no longer close my eyes and bury this harsh and ugly reality under some fantastic rate of economic growth or the hype the media feeds us every day. We can no longer justify it simply because we are told that this has been our way from time immemorial and that is why we should accept it. We can no longer stand idly by while we sell our country to the highest bidder.
 
My critics will point to the 2005 Right to Information Act and even the social audits that have been instituted as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) but I argue quoting Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, India’s Chief Information Commissioner; when he told the Wall Street Journal that people requesting information have been threatened and even murdered to protect the culprits. "The number of murders has been mounting, and that's a cause for grave concern." (http://on.wsj.com). Even during the NREGA audits there have been numerous instances of intimidation and official interference like a senior Congress party politician in Nagarkurnool, elbowing his way onto the dais to try and take control of audit proceeding to defend local politicians and contractors (http://www.nytimes.com). Ultimately, it does not matter how many transparency laws or right to information acts are passed if there is no protection for the people trying to exercise this right. And when the people meant to uphold and enforce the law can also be bought then where is the recourse for the aam aadmi? If we believe that by simply passing more laws we are making progress towards a cleaner government, then I contend that our democratic ideals are no longer high enough or worse yet we are deluding ourselves.

I am also fully aware of the realities and know that is easy for an NRI to say we should stop bribing the policeman, the motor vehicle department employee or the electricity board. But I believe that if a person in India is to stand on principle, today, they would have to live without electricity, the ability to drive and probably without food and shelter. It is fast becoming impossible to be an honest person. I am told you even have to bribe someone to receive your tax refund! If this is progress then we were better off living in the era prior to liberalisation. Today, not only are the politicians amassing vast amounts of wealth but also cutting every corner on the delivery of projects simply to make even more money. They are not only looting the nation but raping it by delivering sub-standard services and infrastructure. The recent Commonwealth Games, 2G and now the ISRO's spectrum scam are examples of how corruption has now grown into a nexus with the private sector. Even our great army has been sullied by the Adarsh Housing scam where flats meant to be allotted to widows of the Kargil conflict were given to everyone but a single widow. This Congress government has demonstrated that they are without a doubt the most corrupt in our history. It seems our current leaders have taken a page out of Machiavelli’s book when he said, in the Prince; “since love and fear hardly exist together if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

If 2010 was the year of uncovering scams, as the Times of India and Outlook have declared, then it is equally the year of our politicians no longer displaying any fear, shame, or professing any sense of remorse because they are all complicit and all above the law. If the Congress party is serious about prosecuting corrupt officials then why did it take Sonia Gandhi more than a month to say anything on the 2G issue? And why was Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, silent? In my book only the guilty stay silent because the innocent have nothing to hide, and therefore no reason to wait to proclaim their innocence. Why are the accused, other than having resigned their posts, still smiling? Because they know that there will be a prolonged investigation by some agency whose chief has been appointed by the government and it will drag on just long enough for the public anger to dissipate and people’s attention to move onto the next scam. Nobody will ever be prosecuted and life will go on. This time we should all say no more - and demand real transparency and meaningful accountability. Nobody should be above the law.

I still believe the vast majority of our country is honest and hard-working, but there is a small and very powerful majority that has become completely corrupt. Consider this a plea from India’s most vocal cheerleader, her greatest admirer, optimist, and eternal patriot. I believed in her and saw her potential much before anyone else. I believed she would become a global economic powerhouse during her darkest days and the lowest ebbs of the license Raj. And never stopped believing in her despite the tremendous odds and the contrary viewpoints of every expert. Today I feel she is dying. If we do not act now then it will soon be too late to act. Because GDP growth rates, new highways, bullet trains, a rising SENSEX, industrial productivity and the number of Indians on Forbes rich list won’t matter - when the aam aadmi decides that he would rather die fighting for justice and equality, than let his hungry children watch the corrupt official slap him one more time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rethinking Possible with AT&T Wireless

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
Abraham Lincoln

I was watching TV the other day and came across a new advertising campaign for AT&T Wireless. The campaign seems like a bold push to dispel the myths, and counter the myriad complaints about the poor performance of their network. A fact that has been amplified by their exclusive Apple iPhone agreement. It has been widely reported that their network has been unable to keep up with data demands of iPhone users. This AT&T advertisement uses scenarios best described as a mix of hyperbole and reality to counter these perceptions and tries to persuade us with a tagline that challenges us to “Rethink Possible.”

The funny thing about this new campaign and particularly the tagline that struck a real chord with me is that, as an AT&T wireless subscriber, I had already begun rethinking what is possible with my AT&T device and service. Perhaps, not quite in the way that AT&T and their ad agency intended.

Granted their advertising is about the data network speed but surely one can assume that if the data network transmits at light speeds, enabling us the ability to do things we could not have imagined or dreamed possible - like changing a train reservation while standing on the platform because we made eye contact with a beautiful woman on another train, and then went on to marry her and produce the 54th President of the United States of America...all because of AT&T’s magnificent network. Given that I can Rethink Possible in such an amazing way for data you would think it would also be possible to make a simple, old fashioned voice call - no problem. Well, you would be dead wrong. Forget the fact that it is impossible for me to walk down a street in Manhattan just one short block without the call dropping but I cannot even walk across my living room. For those unfamiliar with Manhattan apartments, think of the most spacious ones as small walk-in closets, and I can assure you that ours is far from spacious. It has become impossible to have a cell phone conversation unless I am standing or sitting in one place. Not only do I have to check the signal strength before I sit down but I also find that I need to restrict my movements while on the call. Any sudden moves or gestures could well lose that elusive signal and result in a dropped call. On average I make 4 calls to finish one 2 minute conversation. I remember having more freedom of movement when my phone line was tethered.

Admittedly, I am not the most technologically advanced being, but my understanding of the purpose of voicemail is that it’s similar to the answering machine. A caller can leave a message if we are unable to answer the phone for any reason. If this is also your understanding then perhaps you will be able to explain to me why AT&T’s voicemail service routinely seems to send incoming calls directly to my voicemail when I am ready and waiting eagerly for the call. Then, as if to add insult to injury, it often only alerts me up to 3 days after I received the call to tell me that I have a voicemail. By which time I have either met with the person or the issue has been resolved over email. I can tell you that AT&T is responsible for my growing reputation of tardiness when it comes to returning calls.

The other day I got an urgent text message and immediately called my friend. She texted saying she needed a babysitter on short notice. When she answered my call she sounded perfectly calm and not frantic like I expected based on the urgency of her text. I probed and she seemed confused and finally said “what are you talking about?’ When I told her I was responding to her super urgent request for a babysitter, she laughed and said that she had sent me the text on Monday morning. It was now Wednesday afternoon. Co-incidentally, she sent me another text last weekend, this time a picture of her baby. Now a week later, my AT&T wireless phone still shows the status as “retrieving” her text but will not let me cancel this rather lengthy retrieval or delete it. I must call and ask her how many million gigabytes she has sent or maybe it would be better if I emailed.

Everywhere I look I see people with smart phones. It used to be that only men in suits carried them but now its women with strollers, nannies with kids, schoolchildren on the subway, delivery men and even clergy. Apart from the fact that I often want to hit all these people when I see them walking down the street staring at their smart screens while stupidly walking into traffic and into me...I plan to get one too. My dilemma is simple – what is the point of a having a smart phone if one has to use it on a dumb network? Frankly, the only reason our family is holding out on the iPhone is because our friends at AT&T wireless are the only people offering it. Besides, since I am currently unable to make a simple phone call I have been forced to rethink what else might not be possible on my smart phone like sending pictures, streaming video, downloading music, rich media texts, IM, online gaming, emailing and video chat.

The AT&T wireless signal is another great mystery. It was somewhat explained when Apple recently announced that the “algorithm” they were using to calculate the AT&T signal bars on the iPhones was inaccurate. Assuming AT&T uses a similar algorithm on their dumber phones it might explain why I often have all 5 bars but am unable to use my AT&T wireless phone as anything more than a brick. But it does not explain why my wife’s phone, on Verizon’s network, always works no matter how few bars her phone indicates and no matter where we find ourselves. In fact she uses her phone when there are zero bars showing, and is routinely able to make and receive calls no matter where she is. Be it in the dark basements of large department stores, on desolate highways, in undersea tunnels or from the deep inner recesses of large office buildings. Meanwhile I can be found standing on the widest part of the street, away from the tallest buildings, carefully avoiding the path of the trees and the direct rays of the sun, all the while looking and praying for a signal that says I can once again communicate with the world. I would wager that if we found ourselves stuck down the shaft of the deepest mine, anywhere in the USA, her Verizon phone would have a signal and save us while my AT&T phone would allow us to take final pictures and video of ourselves while slowly running out of air.

I also noticed a rather curious claim on their new advertising campaign: “AT&T Covers 97% of Americans.” I had to stop and think about this one. It’s an ingenious way to be quite disingenuous (leave it to those brilliant admen) because the brain thinks it just read and registered that AT&T’s network covers 97% of America. Which seems rather impressive but hard to believe given my personal experience. It also slyly says nothing about the quality of their coverage or what those lucky 9 million people left without AT&T coverage do. From first-hand experience in New York, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Erie, Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Buffalo, Boston, most of Rhode Island and Menlo Park, to name just a few places, I can tell you that their coverage quality is unequivocally and equally crap everywhere. My advice to AT&T is to take the hundreds of millions dollars they are currently spending on advertising trying to convince people that their network actually works, and spend it on upgrading their network so it that does actually work.

As for me, a loyal 10 year veteran of AT&T wireless, this new advertising campaign has finally made me rethink the possibilities, and decide to become Verizon’s newest customer. Who says advertising does not work!
  
CHECK OUT: The Daily Show bringing my words to life!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Political Silly Season

“I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you. None of us are perfect...”
Christine O'Donnell

This quote is not from a spoof on Saturday Night Live or Sabrina the Teen Witch trying to make new friends in high school, but the opening lines uttered in an advertisement being run by a candidate who is running on the Republican Party ticket for the Delaware US Senate seat. Don’t get me wrong. Given how broken Washington is these days, I am even willing to give witchcraft a shot – hell, it could not make things worse. As for candidates, forget about being perfect. What troubles me greatly is not isolated cases of people dabbling in witchcraft, but that all of them seem to lack even the most basic qualities of leadership. I am talking about clear, rational thinking, problem solving skills and an ability to articulate their positions. Case in point is the New York Governor’s race where we have one man who wears black gloves, and represents the ‘Rent is 2 Damn High’ party, and even a self-confessed Madam who professed rather astutely that "businesses will leave this state quicker than Carl Paladino at a gay bar." I guess at least she does have some indirect gubernatorial experience, having supplied female escorts to the last Governor of New York, which is more than we can say about any of the other candidates. The recent debate also included a former Black Panther member, Freedom Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates. Then, on the Republican ticket, we have Carl Paladino, who it seems is willing to “take out” reporters when he is angered about being questioned about his love child. He has also stated that he believes homosexuality is a bad life decision and one that children should be taught and encouraged not to make. Finally, we have Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat and consummate politician. His father was the first Italian American Governor of New York and he, too, has spent his entire life in politics. A fact that should have been a great weakness and Achilles heel for him, at a time when the one thing the whole country agrees on is getting rid of career politicians. You know something is very wrong when, in this environment, Cuomo seems like not just the sane choice for NY Governor, but the only one.

Everywhere I look I see voters being asked to choose between mediocre and less mediocre, corrupt and less corrupt, sane and less sane candidates.  In Connecticut there is a Democrat running for Senate who misspoke about his military service; but it seems he misspoke on five separate occasions over as many years. Richard Blumenthal claimed he served in Vietnam when in fact he never left the shores of America. I realise there is a very fine line between politics and lying, but how do you trust a man who has a tendency to misspeak until he is caught doing it? On the other side we have Linda McMahon, who has reportedly spent upwards of $42 million of her personal fortune to make her bid for the Senate seat in the old fashioned manner – by buying her way in. She is the owner and was the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which she and her husband built from a small regional company into a global multi-billion dollar empire. A self-made woman but one who is also widely criticized for her decision to classify all wrestlers working for her company as independent contractors rather than employees, purely so that her company would not have to shell out for their Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Perhaps, we do need some cut throat, no bullshit, take no prisoners type people to break the current deadlock in Washington and get this country moving again, but my problem is, again, that on the issues that matter to me, I have not been inspired by her. I also do not get a sense that she has a plan or vision. It feels more like she is seizing on the current voter anger and discontent against establishment politicians and using it as an opportunity to fulfil some personal milestone of a type A personality. I am not convinced that we are in good hands with her, but still encourage people to vote for her as she is certainly a better choice over someone who blatantly lies.

I want to move now to the race that personifies mediocrity, nay, in fact it takes mediocrity to another even more shallow level that I once never imagined possible. If you have not figured it out yet, I am talking about Nevada’s Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. These candidates have much more in common that the political pundits have given them credit for. For one, each is not only running against the other, but has the added distinction of running against himself and herself. If you think Joe Biden has foot in mouth, then you need to hear some of the gaffes these two have made. While there are too many to list individually, I did pick my favourite gem from each candidate. Angle, during the primary, said that she wanted to “phase out both Social Security and Medicare.” Reid for his contribution stated that Obama was likely to succeed because he is "light skinned" and speaks with "no Negro dialect." Angle has also shown that she has one of the Democratic Party’s strongest traits - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. When Angle won the Republican primary a few months ago Harry Reid looked like very old toast, but today it’s a really tight race. I feel sorry for Nevadans, but then again it is the home of Las Vegas, and the people of this state have always loved a blind roll of the dice.

Back in New York, we have Mr. Charles B. Rangel, the 80 year old member of the US House of Representatives who serves New York’s 15th District, and has served it since 1971. Since 1971! This means he has held his current office for close to 40 years and nearly served 20 consecutive terms. The House Ethics committee recently charged him with violating 13 ethics and federal regulations. Serious charges that include misusing his office to raise millions for a college building bearing his name, failing to report income tax on properties he owns, and using a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem as an office while stating that it was for living purposes. Rather than do the honourable thing and resign to clear his name, he has not even made an attempt to explain the charges against him. Instead, Mr. Rangel decided his best defense was offense. He stood up on the floor of the House of Representatives and challenged members of both parties to kick him out. He defiantly told them that if they think he is guilty of violating House rules, then "fire your best shot at getting rid of me through expulsion." He then proceeded to hold a very public and lavish 80th birthday party at New York’s exclusive Plaza Hotel. I am not sure what shocked me more; the fact that he genuinely seems to think he did nothing wrong or that members of both parties have so many corrupt, dirty little skeletons in their own closets that they have quietly faded into the night hoping voters will be the judge and jury for Mr. Rangel.

Finally, there is the junior Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand and all the endorsements she has received during her short term. She filled Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat by special appointment and is now up for re-election. While Mayor Bloomberg recently stated that he will not endorse either Schumer or Gillibrand, he was clearly dazzled by her at a dinner the other night, enough to give her attractiveness a solid endorsement. He told the media, “I did not ask her where her dress came from or anything, but she’s a pleasure to sit next to and she certainly looked good.” Earlier this year Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, lauded Gillibrand for being the “hottest member” in the Senate. This seems to be the general consensus on Gillibrand’s service so far. When Gov.Paterson, who is legally blind, was asked by a reporter for his assessment of Gillibrand’s appearance, he replied "Well, I never noticed it, but upon information and belief she is a very pretty woman.” And he added “I think her real influence on people has been in the areas of agriculture and in the areas of national security and in the areas of finance, where she is real hot.”

My advice to all you voters is to go ahead and vote for the wrestler, the witch and the wardrobe. Even if they don’t change a damn thing in Washington, they certainly cannot make things any worse. Besides, we would at least be far more entertained while we continue to watch our tax dollars being used for wasteful spending and corporate bailouts, and we would have much better looking people to hate. And that folks is progress in my book!