Friday, August 3, 2007

Yours, Mine, And "Ours"

When your Lightning Round editor-in-chief first came across this week's lead story, the opening paragraphs had me thinking "kicker." Then it rose to the lead story. The former USSR's experiment with democracy is evaporating before our eyes because of a youth movement backed by the powers that be. But the threat isn't the return of Communism. It's worse.

(NOT SO) FREE LOVE. Russia isn't breeding enough, according to the Kremlin. So the "Nashi" ("Ours") organization is running a camp called the Love Oasis, where youths are encouraged to have sex. So far, it sounds like reconstituted hippiedom. But get beyond that, and you're looking at reconstituted fascism.

From the London Daily Mail:
But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy.

Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.
Author Edward Lucas compares Nashi to the Hitler Youth, explaining how the movement feeds on the bleak prospects of the average Russian life. Just like Communism used to, it offers hope to the hopeless, offering good jobs and good friends. Old reds, meet the new reds.
In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting. For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologize". With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.

Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet-era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalin-era military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.
Is this the same country that embraced perestrokia and glastnost? Not anymore. And if Nashi gets its way, nobody will remember either of those terms:
Just as the Nazis in 1930s rewrote Germany's history, the Putin Kremlin is rewriting Russia's. It has rehabilitated Stalin, the greatest mass-murderer of the 20th century. And it is demonizing Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically-elected president. That he destroyed totalitarianism is ignored. Instead, he is denounced for his "weak" pro-Western policies.
The kids are eating it up.
Terrifyingly, the revived Soviet view of history is now widely held in Russia. A poll this week of Russian teenagers showed that a majority believe that Stalin did more good things than bad.
People complain about ignorant Americans, lame-brains threatening our democracy. At least ours is strong enough to survive. We fear it might not be long before we once again find ourselves talking about ICBMs and mutually assured destruction. Kinda makes Gorby's boldness all for nothing, doesn't it?

O CANADA! After W. won a second term, you heard a lot people talk about moving to Canada. Many did. In fact, the numbers cited by ABC News are at a 30-year-high:
In 2006, 10,942 Americans went to Canada, compared with 9,262 in 2005 and 5,828 in 2000, according to a survey by the Association for Canadian Studies.

Of course, those numbers are still outweighed by the number of Canadians going the other way. Yet, that imbalance is shrinking. Last year, 23,913 Canadians moved to the United States, a significant decrease from 29,930 in 2005.
The reason people make the move isn't surprising, but the perceptions are saddening:
Jo Davenport, who wrote "The Canadian Way," moved from Atlanta to Nova Scotia in December 2001. She also cites political reasons for her move, saying that she disagreed with the Bush administration's decisions after 9/11.

"Things are totally different here because they care about their people here," she says, explaining that she's only been back home once or twice.
Most commenters to this piece at ABC seem to be saying, "Good Riddance!" And in Arizona, they're saying, "Heh, gatta make room for all dem Mezkins."

POR NADA. Wal-Mart has found another way to keep prices low south of the border. Employ volunteer baggers, employees who work for nothing and collect only tips.

From Newsweek via MSNBC:
Wal-Mart is Mexico’s largest private-sector employer in the nation today, with nearly 150,000 local residents on its payroll. An additional 19,000 youngsters between the ages of 14 and 16 work after school in hundreds of Wal-Mart stores, mostly as grocery baggers, throughout Mexico—and none of them receives a red cent in wages or fringe benefits. The company doesn’t try to conceal this practice: its 62 Superama supermarkets display blue signs with white letters that tell shoppers: OUR VOLUNTEER PACKERS COLLECT NO SALARY, ONLY THE GRATUITY THAT YOU GIVE THEM. SUPERAMA THANKS YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING. The use of unsalaried youths is legal in Mexico because the kids are said to be “volunteering” their services to Wal-Mart and are therefore not subject to the requirements and regulations that would otherwise apply under the country’s labor laws.
Granted, many of Mexico's home-grown store chains follow a similar practice, but not on Wal-Mart's scale.
And in its defense, Wal-Mart says it fully complies with a 1999 agreement covering the teen-aged baggers that the Mexico City municipal government negotiated with the Supermarkets and Department Stores Association of Mexico. The company also says it goes beyond the obligations of that accord, awarding bonuses twice a year to baggers who maintain high grades in school and also providing accident insurance that covers the kids not only when they are on duty, but also when they are en route between home and workplace. The company’s written statement cited a study conducted by the Mexican government and a U.N. agency that found that teenagers participating in the baggers’ program were less likely to use illegal drugs than peers who panhandled or hawked merchandise on city streets.
So the next time you see a panhandler on the streets of Nogales, your Lightning Round encourages you to say, "Go work at Wal-Mart!"

IT'S FOR YOU. An 85-year-old Maine man continued to lease his phone from AT&T until just recently, more than two decades after it became legal to own your own phone, paying nearly five bucks a month for something his daughter quickly replaced for a one-time fee of only $7 to a discount store. What did that monthly fee go for? A wall-mounted, rotary-dial albatross. You would think AT&T would do a Microsoft and push an upgrade his way. Apparently not.

From the Bangor Daily News:
Right away, [the daughter] said, she picked up the gold receiver and dialed the customer service number on the bill to cancel the [leasing] service. The friendly operator on the other end attempted to dissuade her, offering her uncle a 20 percent discount off his monthly rental fee and reminding York of the benefits of leasing.

"She said that if something goes wrong with that phone, they’d have a new one here the next business day," she recalled. "I was thinking to myself, ‘If something goes wrong with that phone, I’ll go to Wal-Mart and get one the next day.’ But I didn’t say it." She
It seems a lot of people, mostly elderly, continue to lease phones simply because they don't know they can own one. It's not illegal, but it is unethical, consumer advocates say. Still, AT&T continues to preach the leasing doctrine.
A call to the company’s leasing service headquarters in Florida resulted in several minutes of listening to a recorded on-hold message explaining the advantages of leasing a telephone. These included the next-day replacement service cited by York, as well as assurances that a leased phone will have "a real bell ringer" and be hearing aid-compatible. In addition, said the recording, "You can be assured that your lease supports jobs right here in the good old U.S. of A!" There is also a "lease rewards card" that offers discounts on prescriptions and hearing aids.
Your Lightning Round wonders if they lease telegraph keys, too.

DOG DAY AFTERNOONS. Don't have the time to be a full-time pet owner? FlexPetz lets you time-share a dog by the day.

From the AP:
For an annual fee of $99.95, a monthly payment of $49.95 and a per-visit charge of $39.95 a day, (discounted to $24.95 Sunday through Thursday), animal lovers who enroll in FlexPetz get to spend time with a four-legged companion from Cervantes' 10-dog crew of Afghan hounds, Labrador retrievers and Boston terriers.

The membership costs cover the expense of training the dogs, boarding them at a cage-free kennel, home or office delivery, collar-sized global positioning devices, veterinary bills and liability insurance. It also pays for the "care kits" — comprising leashes, bowls, beds and pre-measured food — that accompany each dog on its visits.
Just don't call it a "rental."
"Our members are responsible in that they realize full-time ownership is not an option for them and would be unfair to the dog," said [FlexPetz founder Marlena] Cervantes, 32, a behavioral therapist who got the idea while working with pets and autistic children. "It prevents dogs from being adopted and then returned to the shelter by people who realize it wasn't a good fit."
True. But we know some cats begging for equal opportunities.

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