It's Hard Out Here for a Black Politician

First, there was the exposé by the New York Times of the Congressional Black Caucus' profligate ways, spending more on catering than on the scholarships it gives out to black college students. The story has not provoked the outrage you might expect.Maybe folks are in the don't-air-our-dirty-linen mode, but , pardon the mixed metaphors, the cat is out of the barn. Several days after the Times story laid out the Caucus's cozy relationship with corporations and their ability to influence some of the legislators to vote against the interest of their constituents, there was still no official response from the Caucus. Maybe they're hoping the story just goes away.

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Then former DC Mayor Marion Barry clawed his way back into the headlines. A D.C. City Council investigation has accused the former mayor, now a member of the council, of public corruption for securing a $15,000 contract for a former girlfriend and taking a kickback.

Barry has had his share of run-ins with the law but they've usually involved his personal life: drug possession, failure to pay taxes. This is the first time the former working class hero has been accused of reaching into the taxpayers' pockets. Barry denies it, noting that even his many enemies "have never implied that I took a penny that wasn't owed to me."

The drama around New York Gov. David Paterson never ceases. Last week, the guv was demanding that the New York Times squash rumors it was about to run an exposé of his sex life. This week, the paper cast a jaundiced eye on his closest aide, David W. Johnson. The newspaper noted that Johnson was arrested twice as a teenager on felony charges for selling cocaine, once to an undercover cop and that he had another arrest for misdemeanor assault in the 1990s.

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In a statement, Paterson noted how long ago the drug arrests happened. "David Johnson has demonstrated, over the course of his adult life, that people can change their personal circumstances and achieve success when given a second chance," he said. "I will not turn my back on someone because of mistakes made as a teenager."

The paper noted that the governor has made domestic violence one of his key issues and that Johnson, who rose from driver to a $132,000 a year aide, has been involved in a number of altercations with women, including charges of assault that were later withdrawn. Like we said, it's hard out here.

Money in Mobile Africa

Business in Africa is no small-time affair. Bharti Airtel Ltd., India's largest wireless phone company, is negotiating to spend up to $10.7 billion for the African assets of Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications. The move is Bharti's latest effort to gain a foothold in one of the world's fastest growing mobile phone markets. Last year, talks for a $24 billion deal with South Africa's MNT Group fell through.

With most of the world's cell phone markets saturated, mobile operators are looking at the developing world, where opportunities remain for massive growth. Africa is one of those markets, with low penetration by mobile phone and technology bringing prices down to where more African consumers can afford them.

The Kuwaiti company, known as Zain, operates in 17 African countries, including Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent. The sale would not involve Zain's assets in Morocco and the Sudan. Bharti has 120 million cell phone subscribers globally.

The Big Mobile Party

The Mobile World Congress is the biggest party in the global mobile phone industry. Some 100,000 people turn up in Barcelona to talk, meet, make deals and dissect the latest cellular devices, services and inventions.

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The talk of the show for the last four years has been the company that's not there: Apple. The Cupertino, California computer giant revolutionized the mobile phone business with its iPhone, then overturned the relationship between mobile operators and their customers with its App Store, which offers more than 100,000 software products that run on the iPhone.

Google entered the market two years later with Android, a mobile software platform it offered to manufacturers that would tie into its search capabilities. Some 20,000 apps are now available for Android. Microsoft, which has repeatedly failed to make much of a dent in the mobile market, unveiled Windows Mobile 7 at the show, a complete re-do of its software for cellular phones that it says will appear on devices by Sony Ericsson, Samsung and HTC by year-end.

Some competitors are joining forces to combat the Apple and Google juggernauts. Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer and chip maker Intel, announced in Barcelona that they would jointly develop a mobile operating platform called Meego. And a group of mobile operators, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint-Nextel and Deutsche Telekom say they will create a way for developers to create applications that will run on all the phones they offer.

Hambourgeur War

In what must be a new low point for tolerance, a leader of France's right-wing National Front party is objecting to halal hamburgers on the menu of a fast-food franchise. Marine Le Pen, vice president of the anti-immigrant party founded by her father, complained that the French chain, Quick, is offering only burgers that meet Muslim dietary standards in some of its stores.

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"Those who don't want to eat halal won't have a choice, "Le Pen declared. "I find that unacceptable." Quick, a French chain that has struggled to compete with American giant McDonald's in its own country, decided to serve halal burgers in eight of its 300 stores, in areas with significant Muslim populations. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, estimated at 3.5 million.

In the eight stores, the bacon on the "strong bacon" burger is replaced by strips of smoked turkey, and the beef is slaughtered according to Muslim rituals. The company says it is testing the halal dishes on the menu and that the "experiment" would go on for several months.

Meanwhile, Le Pen complained that Quick customers who don't eat halal were being forced to pay a tax to Muslim organizations that certify the food. The certification bodies collect a small fee per kilo of meat examined. Kamel Chibout, president of the regional federation of the Paris Mosque, noted that consumers pay all sorts of taxes for products they don't use. "For example, take the guy who pays road taxes but doesn't own a car," he said.

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Marina's hamburger outrage may be related to the fact that she is running for office in regional elections this spring.