Watching television in America is always educational – a useful reminder of what a bizarre country this is. Earlier this week, I tuned into a CNN discussion in which an orthodox rabbi – Rabbi Shmuley – was demanding that Iran be thrown out of the UN, and the world body be turned into a league of democracies. Then last night, I turned on and there was Rabbi Shmuley again – only this time, he was flogging a book based on thirty hours of interviews he had recorded with Michael Jackson.
There are so many questions raised by this – should I take Shmuley’s views on UN reform, more or less seriously, because he was a confidant of the king of pop?; why did Jackson, a former Jehovah’s witness, choose to confide in a Lubavitch rabbi?; is Shmuley rushing the bookout for the benefit of mankind, or does he have baser motives? Read more
The closing press conferences at the G-20 yesterday gave a nice chance to compare and contrast the style of the French and American presidents. Obama was asked only one question about the G-20 itself; all the rest were about Iran, Afghanistan and health-care. He was his usual, polished, languid self – his answers are lucid and long, probably too long.
Sarkozy, by contrast, was a bundle of nervous energy and excitement. While Obama has two basic facial expressions – serious and beaming smile, Sarko’s face is in perpetual motion; grinning, grimacing, gurning. When one question struck him as eccentric, he just laughed, shrugged and rotated his finger by his ear – to show that he thought the questioner was batty. I can’t imagine Obama doing that.
Sarko’s press conference was in a much smaller room than the ballroom assigned to the US president, so it was possible to sit just a few feet from him. Unlike the American press corps, the French media seemed genuinely interested by the G20 and Sarkozy was postively enraptured. He proclaimed a “veritable revolution” in the regulation of banks, adding – “It’s really historic what’s happened. There’s no longer an Anglo-Saxon world and a European world. We’ve transcended that theoretical opposition.” Although he was too tactful to put it that bluntly, Sarko clearly thinks that it is the French model that has won out – he made the point several times that the new G20 rules on bonuses are based on laws already adopted in France. Another longstanding French goal, the crackdown on tax havens (which are very annoying if you are running a high-tax economy like France) is also now being advanced by the G20. “Tax havens, banking secrecy, that’s all finished”, trumpeted Sarko. Read more