Monthly Archives: June 2011

What Happened To All The Shovel-Ready Jobs?

Well, I guess we really are going to have an election in 2012. And everybody from the announced to the unannounced Republican candidates to Prez O is talking now about the issue that really matters: jobs. Unfortunately, it’s still mostly talk, with no action or easy fixes for creating quality jobs for those millions of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed.

At least Obama admitted yesterday that his nearly trillion dollar stimulus package hasn’t quite cut it — finding that jobs aren’t quite as shovel-ready as his policy wonks thought.

Here’s from an article in Commentary, “Obama on Lack of ‘Shovel-Ready’ Jobs: Whoops, Our Bad!

President Obama handed GOP operatives everywhere a gift at the Jobs Council meeting today. With a big grin, he noted, “Shovel-ready was not as — uh — shovel ready as we expected.” His remark prompted hearty laughter from others on the panel, including GE’s Jeffrey Immelt.

This comment won’t do much to tamp down the narrative from both liberals and conservatives that Obama isn’t serious about job creation. In addition to criticism from the NAACP and the Romney campaign, a Politico article today also has environmentalists carping Obama hasn’t done enough to produce “green jobs.”

The image of Obama snickering about shovel-ready jobs as his corporate executive advisers yuk it up next to him also hands Republicans yet another populist attack to use against the president. And that’s on the heels of a New York Times report that Obama held a DNC fundraiser at the White House to pander to Wall Street “fat cats,” as he once referred to them.

Obama made his remarks yesterday in North Carolina during a meeting of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And it’s good that leaders in government and business are focused on jobs and the economy, but it sure appears that the heavy hitter Corporate Chiefs who are on the jobs council have come up at least initially with a grab bag of really small ideas.

Here’s from the Christian Science Monitor, “Jobs council to Obama: Here’s how to create one million jobs quickly“:

With a weak job market weighing on his presidency, Barack Obama heard ideas Monday from a private-sector task force of some two-dozen business executives on how to boost employment.

Neither President Obama nor most economists see quick fixes to the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate. But the president’s official jobs council offered a list of “fast-action” proposals that the council said could create more than a million jobs without the need for major legislation from Congress.

The proposals come as the economy has slowed to a disappointing crawl, and as Washington policymakers are mired in tense and politicized negotiations over the federal budget. Some new jobs policies could potentially help both the economy and offer the president a chance to stand above partisan politics, locking arms with leaders from the business community.

Obama didn’t offer any major policy announcements after meeting Monday with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Durham, N.C. But the council’s proposals include:

• Form business partnerships with community colleges to train more workers for today’s open jobs.

• Streamline permitting processes to speed more construction projects. Council members Jeff Immelt of General Electric and Ken Chenault of American Express said some simple steps could achieve this goal “without undercutting the protections that our regulatory system provides.”

• Make it easier for foreign tourists to obtain visas to travel to the US.

• Help small employers get more loans with help from the Small Business Administration.

• Help construction workers pick up their tools again with a campaign to upgrade commercial and government buildings for energy efficiency. Obama also touted this so-called Better Buildings Initiative Monday while visiting Cree, a maker of energy-efficient lighting in Durham, after the jobs council meeting.

Wow. And that’s the best and brightest suggestions from the leaders of American business? We’re sunk. Oops. I digress.

Well, maybe I’m being overly critical and cynical, Here’s an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who heads the jobs council, and American Express CEO Ken Chenault, “How We’re Meeting the Job Creation Challenge“:

Our objective for this first set of recommendations [see four points listed above] was to identify areas where the private sector and the administration could accelerate job creation immediately without the need for major legislation from Congress or actions that would have a long runway.

But it’s not enough.

To truly bend the curve over the longer term, we need a more strategic view. Over the next 90 days, we will turn to addressing the actions needed to make a more significant, longer-term impact. This strategic approach will emphasize a number of areas for job growth. First, we need to focus on fast-growth companies and small business. Second, we need to make America the most attractive place on Earth for high-tech services and manufacturing jobs and to accelerate foreign direct investment in the U.S. Finally, we need to address the competitiveness of America’s infrastructure. The Jobs Council will deliver recommendations on these more strategic questions in September.

By year-end we also will have looked at and made recommendations on building and improving systems for national competitiveness, including R&D investment, tax policy, visa reform and high-skilled immigration, as well as applying business concepts (like the Lean Six Sigma approach) to regulatory processes. Some of these ideas, by their nature, require bipartisan legislation and therefore may take longer to move forward, but they are all critical.

America needs more growth. The United States needs to reverse trends that developed over a long period of time, and the solutions aren’t easy politically, socially or economically. The economic decisions we make now will determine American job creation and competitiveness in the years to come. Government, business and labor need to work together to get this done.

Wonder if GE will commit to not outsourcing any more jobs or building factories in countries outside the U.S.? Oops. I digress again.

OK. We need to find a solution to growing the economy and creating jobs for American workers who need and want them. And if the business leaders on the jobs council can take a more strategic approach, then go for it.

Too bad somebody in the administration didn’t take a more strategic approach two years ago when we starting pitching billions at jobs that weren’t quite shovel-ready.

Just sayin’.

Photos That Don’t Lie: Giffords and Weiner

To say the least, there is a lot wrong about the story involving Anthony Weiner. And it’s not just about morality, ethics, decency and common sense. It’s about how these and similar situations — involving elected officials both Republican and Democrat — diminish the public’s view of government and those who we elect to represent us and make the tough decisions in the public interest.

The point. For every Weiner there are many more like Gabrielle Giffords who have a sincere interest in public service and who often pay a terrible personal price to stand up and be counted in a forum that should reflect the best that this country can offer.

And two photos released over the weekend tell just about everything you need to know about the contrasts between the two members of Congress. One shows Giffords celebrating the miracle that she is alive and progressing toward recovery after being shot in the head by a madman while she was meeting constituents in Arizona.

And the other shows Weiner — and you have to wonder what triggered that madness.

In the midst of all the commentary about Weiner, here’s an interesting opinion article in the NYT by Ross Douthat, “The Online Looking Glass“:

At 46, Weiner isn’t technically a member of Generation Facebook, but he’s clearly a well-habituated creature of the online social world. The fact that he used the Internet’s freedoms to violate his marriage vows isn’t particularly noteworthy. That’s just the usual Spitzer-Schwarzenegger routine performed on a virtual plane. What’s more striking is the form his dalliances took — not a private surrender to lust or ardor, but a pathetic quest for quasipublic validation.

In all the tweets and transcripts that have leaked to date, there’s no sign that Weiner was particularly interested in the women he communicated with — not as human beings, certainly, but not really even as lust objects either. His “partners” existed less to titillate him than to hold up mirrors to his own vanity: whether the congressman was tweeting photos of his upper body or bragging about what lurked below, his focus was always squarely on himself. If Bill Clinton was seduced by a flash of Monica Lewinsky’s thong, Weiner seems to have been led into temptation primarily by the desire to boast about his own endowments.

In this sense, his tweeted chest shots are more telling than the explicitly pornographic photos that followed. There was a time when fame and influence were supposed to liberate men from such adolescent insecurity. When Henry Kissinger boasted about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac, the whole point was that he didn’t have to worry about his pecs and glutes while, say, wooing the former Bond girl Jill St. John.

Not so in the age of social media. In a culture increasingly defined by what Christine Rosen describes as the “constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves),” just being a United States congressman isn’t enough. You have to hit the House gym and look good coming out of the shower, and then find a Twitter follower who’s willing to tell you just “how big” you really are.

Writing in the late ’70s, Lasch distinguished modern narcissism from old-fashioned egotism. The contemporary narcissist, he wrote, differs “from an earlier type of American individualist” in “the tenuous quality of his selfhood.” Despite “his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem.” His innate insecurity can only be overcome “by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma.”

This is a depressingly accurate anticipation of both the relationship between Weiner and his female “followers,” and the broader “look at me! look at meeeee!” culture of online social media, in which nearly all of us participate to some degree or another.

Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before — a “vast virtual gallery,” as Rosen has written, whose self-portraits mainly testify to “the timeless human desire for attention.”

And as Anthony Weiner just found out, it’s very easy to get lost in there.

Here’s a news flash.

While chasing the treadmill early this a.m. I heard on Fox News that the city of Dallas is going to proclaim Tuesday LeBron James Day.

And in honor of the King’s ability to disappear during the fourth quarter in any game that means anything, all workers in Dallas will be able to leave their jobs 12 minutes early.

Ouch.

A Good Night’s Sleep: Why It Matters

I don’t sleep much. Even if you count an afternoon nap and dozing in front of the TV following the warm glow of Happy Hour, I’m lucky to get four or five hours of shut eye each day. Looks like more and more people are starting to join me with less and less sleep.

And that ain’t good.

Jane Brody has an eye-opening view of all this in a recent NYT “personal health” column, “A Good Night’s Sleep Isn’t a Luxury; It’s a Necessity.”

Studies have shown that people function best after seven to eight hours of sleep, so I now aim for a solid seven hours, the amount associated with the lowest mortality rate. Yet on most nights something seems to interfere, keeping me up later than my intended lights-out at 10 p.m. — an essential household task, an e-mail requiring an urgent and thoughtful response, a condolence letter I never found time to write during the day, a long article that I must read.

It’s always something.

What’s Keeping Us Up?

I know I’m hardly alone. Between 1960 and 2010, the average night’s sleep for adults in the United States dropped to six and a half hours from more than eight. Some experts predict a continuing decline, thanks to distractions like e-mail, instant and text messaging, and online shopping.

Age can have a detrimental effect on sleep. In a 2005 national telephone survey of 1,003 adults ages 50 and older, the Gallup Organization found that a mere third of older adults got a good night’s sleep every day, fewer than half slept more than seven hours, and one-fifth slept less than six hours a night.

With advancing age, natural changes in sleep quality occur. People may take longer to fall asleep, and they tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening and to awaken earlier in the morning. More time is spent in the lighter stages of sleep and less in restorative deep sleep. R.E.M. sleep, during which the mind processes emotions and memories and relieves stress, also declines with age.

Habits that ruin sleep often accompany aging: less physical activity, less time spent outdoors (sunlight is the body’s main regulator of sleepiness and wakefulness), poorer attention to diet, taking medications that can disrupt sleep, caring for a chronically ill spouse, having a partner who snores. Some use alcohol in hopes of inducing sleep; in fact, it disrupts sleep.

Add to this list a host of sleep-robbing health issues, like painful arthritis, diabetes, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, hot flashes in women and prostate enlargement in men. In the last years of his life, my husband was plagued with restless leg syndrome, forcing him to get up and walk around in the middle of the night until the symptoms subsided. During a recent night, I was awake for hours with leg cramps that simply wouldn’t quit.

Beauty Rest and Beyond

A good night’s sleep is much more than a luxury. Its benefits include improvements in concentration, short-term memory, productivity, mood, sensitivity to pain and immune function.

If you care about how you look, more sleep can even make you appear more attractive. In a study published online in December in the journal BMJ, researchers in Sweden and the Netherlands reported that 23 sleep-deprived adults seemed to untrained observers to be less healthy, more tired and less attractive than they appeared to be after a full night’s sleep.

Perhaps more important, losing sleep may make you fat — or at least, fatter than you would otherwise be. In a study by Harvard researchers involving 68,000 middle-aged women followed for 16 years, those who slept five hours or less each night were found to weigh 5.4 pounds more — and were 15 percent more likely to become obese — than the women who slept seven hours nightly.

Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist in Scottsdale, Ariz., and author of “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan,” points out that as the average length of sleep has declined in the United States, the average weight of Americans has increased.

OK. We’re sliding head first into the weekend and many use Saturday and Sunday as days to snooze for a few extra hours.

Sweet dreams. It’s good for you.

And I’ll still be up hours before Mr. Sol as a pajama-clad citizen journalist trying to sort fact from fiction in stories involving the Weiner, Afghanistan, Newt, the jobless economic recovery,the crisis in education, MLB’s designated hitter rule and so on.

Good grief. No wonder I can’t sleep.

Anthony Weiner and Crisis Communications

For pajama-clad citizen journalists, the Anthony Weiner Twitter debacle is the content gift that keeps on giving. And things are heading south for the congressman to such an extent that he had to call Bill Clinton and apologize for a sex scandal. That’s rich.

Weiner represents a very liberal and Democratic dominated district in New York. He may be able to survive this mess, especially if it turns out that he did not violate any laws. But what does this say about some of the people we elect to represent us, about the news media, and about the standard advice that most everyone has memorized now about crisis communications?

E.J. Dionne Jr. has an interesting perspective in his WaPo article, “Anthony Weiner and the tweet road to oblivion“:

At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?

The breaking point for me was the Anthony Weiner story, not just or even primarily for what he did but because it came at the end of what old Thomas Jefferson might call “a long train of abuses.” You really do wonder what’s happening to our democracy and those who serve it.

The Weiner circus is bad enough. Social networking has taken us where human nature always threatens to go: downward. Do we want to give politicians incentives to limit their thinking to 140 characters? Will Weiner’s experience — and former congressman Chris Lee’s adventures on Craigslist — encourage politicians to question whether constituents want anything close to the level of detail about their lives that fans expect from pop stars and marquee athletes?

Weiner’s self-destruction is a terrible blow for cable television bookers and will create a certain sadness among liberals who are short of troops willing to take it to the other side from one five-minute news cycle to the next. And let’s simply stipulate that all the negative adjectives being thrown Weiner’s way are justified.

What’s amazing is that the Scandal Management Handbook, 36th edition, offered him the perfect way out. When caught, fess up immediately, declare right from the start that you are a victim of a terrible addiction, go into treatment and disappear for a while.

You are rarely challenged these days when you take a loss of virtue and turn it into a medical condition. And you avoid the problem of encouraging your allies to defend you on a matter about which you know you are guilty. Weiner’s congressional colleagues are reluctant to defend him because they accepted his denial and feel badly burned.

The advice from the public relations handbook on how to manage a crisis is essentially as follows: take responsibility, disclose the bad news as quickly as possible, offer a sincere apology, initiate steps to correct the problem.

Weiner understood this up to a point. According to Politico, he even offered to provide PR assistance to a “porn star” and sexting buddy. Here’s from the story:

The next day, Weiner asked Lee if she needed assistance in crafting a message to put out to the press and public. “Do you need to talk to a professional PR type person to give u advice? I can have someone on my team call. (Yeah, my team is doing great. Ugh).”

It’s not clear, though, if Weiner was referring to having someone on his congressional staff help her – which might violate House rules – or wanted a private sector PR consultant to help Lee handle press inquiries. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that she has ordered an ethics probe of Weiner and the New York Democrat said he would cooperate.

Maybe it’s time to rewrite the textbook crisis communications response to emphasize two key points that Weiner and others in similar situations apparently don’t get.

  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t do things that are going to trigger a crisis
Wonder what advice Bill Clinton gave the congressman?
Just askin’.
 

Weiner and Sarah: Apology?

OK. I said last week that I wasn’t going to touch the Weiner story. But the story that paints the New York congressman as an ethically challenged social media guru — someone expert in both digital photography and texting — is too rich to pass up this early a.m. And it’s one of two stories dominating the news cycle. The other. The midnight ride of Sarah Palin.

In the PR biz, the standard advice in crisis management is to take responsibility — and apologize. Congressman Weiner was a little late in taking responsibility, or even admitting any involvement in sending photos of himself to woman around the country. But he sure knows how to apologize.

Here’s from Dana Milbank, opining in WaPo, “Anthony Weiner’s apology-fest“:

Have you received an apology yet from Anthony Weiner? If not, you haven’t been listening.

He apologized to his wife: “I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, Huma.”

He apologized to the young woman he sent the lewd photo to on Twitter: “We exchanged some text messages, mostly for me to express my abject apologies for how she got dragged into this.”

He even apologized to his main tormenter, the conservative publisher of BigGovernment.com: “I apologize to Andrew Breitbart.”

Anybody left out? “Everyone that I misled — everyone in the media, my staff, the people that I — that I lied to about this — they all deserve an apology. . . All of you who were misled, the people who I lied to, I have an apology for all of them.”

In all, Weiner spoke of an apology or apologizing or being apologetic 19 times in his news conference during which he finally came clean — or partially clean — about his rude behavior with women in social media. He offered up the word “sorry” 11 times, expressed “regret” 18 times, spoke of his responsibility 14 times, and used various and sundry other expressions of shame and remorse.

Regrets were offered to “my constituents, my friends, supporters and staff,” to “the many people that put so much faith and confidence in me,” to “the people I care about most.”

Wow. And to think I used to make big bucks advising people to do that. I digress. Well, if nothing else, it looks like Weiner knows how to apologize.

Then there is Sarah. And the great thing about her is that she never says she’s sorry.

The latest flap. She kinda put a new spin on the old story about Paul Revere while she was visiting Boston during her non-candidate bus tour. And not only is she not apologizing, she says she is correct and her supporters are rewriting history.

Here’s from WaPo — and for you believe in media conspiracies to undercut Sarah get this, the writer is Rachel Weiner — “Fight brews over Sarah Palin on Paul Revere Wikipedia page“:

Supporters of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin have taken to Wikipedia, where they have been trying all weekend to revise the page on Paul Revere to reflect her recent comments.

In her trip to Massachusetts last week, Palin flubbed the history of Revere’s ride, saying that he rode through Boston ringing bells to warn the British that the revolutionaries were armed and ready to fight. Revere actually rode quietly, to warn the revolutionaries that British troops were headed their way.

As first noticed by the blog Little Green Footballs, Palin fans have been attempting to add her version of the story to Revere’s Wikipedia page — a source of research information for more than half of college students. Other users have been deleting the changes as they appear, arguing that what Palin said in the past week should be kept separate from a page about an event that happened hundreds of years ago.

Palin is hardly alone among politicians for getting American history wrong. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) made a similar gaffe on a trip to New Hampshire earlier this year, placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in that state.

Where Palin is unique is in her — and her fans — defiant attitude. Bachmann admitted on Facebook that “it was my mistake” and turned it into a joking jab at Massachusetts. Palin, on the other hand, went on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend and defended her version of events.

“I didn’t mess up,” Palin said. “I answered candidly and I know my American history … Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there.”

Defending Palin, some commentators have pointed out that Revere did tell the British about armed colonial militiamen — after he was captured and held at gunpoint. According to “Paul Revere’s Ride” by David Hackett Fischer, Revere was trying to lead his captors away from Lexington (where Sam Adams and John Hancock were hidden) by saying that danger awaited them there.

And for those who delight in advancing the “Sarah is stupid” mantra, here’s a story on NPR with host Melissa Block that quotes Professor Robert Allison, Chairman of the History Department at Suffolk University, as saying that, ah, Sarah basically got the Paul Revere story right.

BLOCK: So Paul Revere was ringing those bells? He was a silversmith, right?

Prof. ALLISON: Well, he was – he also was a bell ringer. That is, he rang the bells at Old North Church as a boy. But he personally is not getting off his horse and going to ring bells. He’s telling other people – and this is their system before Facebook, before Twitter, before NPR, this was the way you get a message out is by having people ring church bells and everyone knows there is an emergency.

And by this time, of course, the various town Committees of Safety, militia knew what the signals were, so they knew something was afoot. So this is no longer a secret operation for the British.

Revere isn’t trying to alert the British, but he is trying to warn them. And in April of 1775, no one was talking about independence. We’re still part of the British Empire. We’re trying to save it. So this is a warning to the British Empire what will happen if you provoke Americans.

BLOCK: And Sarah Palin also was saying there that Paul Revere’s message to the British in his warning was: you’re not going to take American arms. You know, basically a Second Amendment argument, even though the Second Amendment didn’t exist then.

Prof. ALLISON: Yeah. She was making a Second Amendment case. But, in fact, the British were going out to Concord to seize colonists’ arms, the weapons that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was stockpiling there.

So, yeah, she is right in that. I mean, and she may be pushing it too far to say this is a Second Amendment case. Of course, neither the Second Amendment nor the Constitution was in anyone’s mind at the time. But the British objective was to get the arms that were stockpiled in Concord.

BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.

Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.

I’m just reporting the news.

Sorry about that.

Creating Jobs: A Fork in the Road?

The great American philosopher Yogi Berra once offered this advice: When you come to a fork in the road….take it. When it comes to creating jobs — or not — it looks to me as though members of the administration and Congress have reached a fork in the road.

Last Friday we learned that the economy — in the midst of what at best has been a jobless recovery — added only 54,000 new jobs in May. And I read this, but can’t verify it. Of those 54,000 jobs, half were at McDonald’s. Here’s from a NYT article about the employment numbers:

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the nation added 54,000 nonfarm payroll jobs last month, after an increase of about 220,000 jobs in each of the three previous months. The gain in May was about a third of what economists had been forecasting. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, edged up to 9.1 percent from 9.0 percent in April.

“The economy clearly just hit a brick wall,” said Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics. “It’s almost as if it came to a complete standstill.”

Oh, mama.

Other than the Inside the Beltway think tank policy wonks, it doesn’t appear that many have their shorts in a knot over this. We should. It means that 25 million Americans can’t find full-time work. Many more are working part time or are trying to cobble together a number of temporary assignments. Others have just dropped out of the job market altogether.

Glad I’m not running for re-election in 2012. I digress.

Here’s an interesting NYT article that adds some perspective on this mess: “Washington War of Ideas Overshadows Need for Jobs“:

A run of disappointing economic data, punctuated by Friday’s employment numbers, is emboldening Congressional Republicans in their standoff with the White House over the best way for the government to encourage growth.

Republicans said the slow pace of hiring in May underscored the need for sharp cuts in federal spending and regulation to spur corporate investment. They have refused to increase the debt ceiling, the maximum amount the government can borrow, without an agreement to make such cuts.

They argue that Democratic efforts to revive growth through public spending programs have failed as the economy remained weak and unemployment high almost two years after the end of the recession.

“You talk to job creators around the country like we have,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said Friday. “They’ll tell you the overtaxing, overregulating and overspending that’s going on here in Washington is creating uncertainty and holding them back.”

Democrats counter that Republicans are unnerving businesses by sowing uncertainty about the government’s willingness to pay its debts, and that immediate budget reductions would cut jobs and undermine growth.

Since the end of the recession in June 2009, private employers have added roughly a million jobs. During that same period, however, governments have cut 1.1 million jobs, underscoring the impact of reductions in public spending.

Hmm. Let’s see. Cut taxes and government spending and regulation with the expectation that the private sector will create jobs. Or provide billions more in federal government spending and stimulus.

Looks like we’ve reached a fork in the road.

By the way, I found out over the weekend that Her Royal Hotness, Pippa, is a runner. I included that gratuitous reference only to wake up the Internet search engines. See how easy it is to be a social media guru.

Go figure’.

Kurt Vonnegut: What Would He Think?

I share two things with Kurt Vonnegut, the author whose many books and short stories resonated with readers beginning in the 1960s and 197os. Vonnegut and I share a birthday, November 11 (although years apart). And we both worked as publicists for large American corporations. He worked in the gulag at General Electric before moving on to become one of the world’s most famous and well-read writers.

Over the years, I’ve read most of Vonnegut’s books, and his themes still resonate with me and I expect many others in my generation who grew up during Vietnam and Watergate. During that era, unless you had your head stuck so far up your ass that it was rubbing the inside of your belly button, you almost had to notice that our government and elected officials are not above lying to the American people and that war isn’t as romantic or heroic as depicted on TV and in the movies.

Here’s from an online biography:

American author Kurt Vonnegut combined satiric social commentary and black comedy with surrealist and science fictional elements. His best known works are Player Piano (1952), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969; film, 1972), and Breakfast of Champions (1973). Known for his outspoken political opinions, Vonnegut also produced a host of essays, articles, and short stories. A number of his works have been translated into television or film, and he graced a few of these with cameo appearances. Vonnegut was also a graphic artist, and illustrated a number of his works himself.

Common themes in Vonnegut’s work include the dehumanization wrought by technology, as well as by bureaucracy and media indoctrination. Sexuality and violence and the myths that spring up around them are also common themes. While Vonnegut’s work has sometimes been criticized for flouting accepted narrative conventions, for “sophomoric simplicity”, and for vulgarity, there is no mistaking the passion of his underlying arguments — for pacifism, for socialist equality, and most of all for the need for common decency. Yet what separates Vonnegut from other social commentators and political do-gooders is that he never seemed compelled to elevate himself above the rest of humanity. He portrayed himself, as he did nearly everyone else (hero or villain), as a dumb schmuck struggling to do his best, despite mispatched mental programming and an unsteady world.

Vonnegut died four years ago. But his books are enjoying a renaissance as we are stuck in the sinkhole of Afghanistan, waiting to see who in Pakistan gets to put the finger on the nuclear trigger, and facing a whole host of domestic issues involving social welfare spending and programs.

Here’s from NPR, “Kurt Vonnegut: Still Speaking To The War Weary“:

Kurt Vonnegut’s blend of anti-war sentiment and satire made him one of the most popular writers of the 1960s, a time when Vietnam dominated the headlines in a way the country’s current wars do not. On Thursday, the Library of America is republishing four novels written when Vonnegut was at his height of popularity — Cat’s Cradle; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions.

The central theme in Vonnegut’s fiction from the 1960s is the irrationality of governments and the senseless destruction of war. In a 1987 interview, Vonnegut said he was determined to write about war without romanticizing it.

“My own feeling is that civilization ended in World War I, and we’re still trying to recover from that,” he said. “Much of the blame is the malarkey that artists have created to glorify war, which as we all know, is nonsense, and a good deal worse than that — romantic pictures of battle, and of the dead and men in uniform and all that. And I did not want to have that story told again.”

And more:

In a 1991 interview, shortly after the Gulf War, Vonnegut said he was saddened by what he saw in America.

“We have become such a pitiless people,” Vonnegut lamented. “And I think it’s TV that’s done it to us. When I went to war in World War II, we had two fears. One was we would be killed. The other was that we might have to kill somebody. And now killing is Whoopee. It does not seem much anymore. To my generation, it still seemed like an extraordinary thing to do, to kill.”

Since we are sliding head first into the weekend and nobody is on Facebook or Twitter because they aren’t at work, if you are looking for a book to read pick up one of Vonnegut’s.

He spoke first to the generation that grew up with Tricky Dick Nixon. But he still has something to say.

 

Jobs and the 2012 Presidential Election

OK. I’m not going to touch the Weiner story. And with fretting over the congressman and his Twitter account, Sarah Palin and Snooki, the lamestream media have their hands full these days. Hope reporters, editors and TV Talking Heads don’t miss the big story: the economy, jobs and how this could play out in the run for the White House this year and next.

It now appears that the U.S. economy — in the midst of a jobless recovery from recession — is beginning to slow. Here’s from WaPo, “U.S. economy: Manufacturing slowdown the latest sign the recovery is faltering“:

The economic recovery is faltering, and Washington is running out of ways to get it back on track.

Two bright spots over the past few months — manufacturing and job creation by private companies — both slowed in May, according to new reports Wednesday. The data come amid other reports of falling home prices, declining auto sales, weaker consumer spending and a rising pace of layoffs.

Just a few months ago, the economy seemed poised to finally strengthen. Business confidence was rising, and extensive government efforts to foster growth were underway. But those hopes are being dashed. Forecasters who once projected economic growth of 3.5 to 4 percent for the year have slashed their estimates with each round of disappointing numbers.

Instead of accelerating, the U.S. economy is puttering along at a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent — barely enough to bring down joblessness slowly, if at all.

That means that millions are unemployed, many are underemployed and others have given up looking for work altogether. That’s not good news for Prez O as he looks to keep his job in 2012.

Here’s from the NYT, “Economic Data May Be Key to Obama’s Job“:

No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.

Seventeen months before the next election, it is increasingly clear that President Obama must defy that trend to keep his job.

Roughly 9 percent of Americans who want to go to work cannot find an employer. Companies are firing fewer people, but hiring remains anemic. And the vast majority of economic forecasters, including the president’s own advisers, predict only modest progress by November 2012.

The latest job numbers, due Friday, are expected to provide new cause for concern. Other indicators suggest the pace of growth is flagging. Weak manufacturing data, a gloomy reading on jobs in advance of Friday’s report and a drop in auto sales led the markets to their worst close since August, and those declines carried over into Asia Thursday.

But the grim reality of widespread unemployment is drawing little response from Washington. The Federal Reserve says it is all but tapped out. There is even less reason to expect Congressional action. Both Democrats and Republicans see clear steps to create jobs, but they are trying to walk in opposite directions and are making little progress.

Republicans have set the terms of debate by pressing for large cuts in federal spending, which they say will encourage private investment. Democrats have found themselves battling to minimize and postpone such cuts, which they fear will cause new job losses.

House Republicans told the president that they would not support new spending to spur growth during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

“The discussion really focused on the philosophical difference on whether Washington should continue to pump money into the economy or should we provide an incentive for entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow,” said Eric Cantor, the majority leader. “The president talked about a need for us to continue to quote-unquote invest from Washington’s standpoint, and for a lot of us that’s code for more Washington spending, something that we can’t afford right now.”

There really are some big fish in the skillet these days: government spending, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the war in Afghanistan among them. But when we get to making decisions in 2012, we’re going to be looking at jobs and the economy. And as a nation, we might not like what we see.

Sarah and Snooki: Stupid?

OK. As Dutch Reagan would say, “Here I go again.” The first and generally only thing that most liberals — especially women — can say about Sarah Palin is that she is stupid. I opined about that last week, and for this pajama-clad citizen journalist up most days before the crack of dawn to separate fact from fiction, it’s getting more than a little tiring.

Without asking her to reveal her SAT scores, Palin appears to be plenty smart enough to have the lamestream media chasing themselves around the country reporting on a non-story — and complaining that the non-candidate (at least at this point) won’t grant them access or interviews.

Wow. For Mitt Romney and the gaggle of other Republican presidential candidate wannabes this kind of media coverage would be a wet dream come true.

Here’s a view on all this from across the pond, from The Guardian, “Sarah Palin’s mystery bus tour keeps US media guessing on 2012 bid“:

Sarah Palin has arrived in Philadelphia on day three of a mystery bus tour that is swamping US media coverage of the Republican race for the White House, leaving her rivals struggling to win attention.

Palin, who began her road trip in Washington, is refusing to provide an itinerary for the media, in what is being interpreted as payback for the hostility she faced in the 2008 election.

“It’s not really an intention to play cat and mouse,” she said. But the tactic has worked spectacularly to her advantage, with reporters gleefully turning her tour into a chase and guessing game about her next stop.

Reporters are enjoying the novelty so much that there is even a Twitter hashtag, #wheressarah, logging sightings and speculating on her next venue.

When reporters do catch her, the inevitable question is whether she intends to join other Republicans in seeking the nomination to take on Barack Obama in 2012. She insists she has not made up her mind. “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know,” she says.

The 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate may be engaged in an elaborate tease but, after a few months in which she largely dropped out of public view, the bus tour has renewed speculation that she is contemplating joining the contest.

She even admitted to reporters she had been thinking about what kind of campaign she might run, saying it would be non-traditional and unconventional – a bit like her bus trip.

On Tuesday night, Palin made a brief visit to Donald Trump, who flirted with a presidential bid earlier this year, stopping by the tycoon’s Trump Tower condominium in New York before heading out to dinner. She greeted a few tourists and joked to reporters that she would encourage Trump to stop contributing to Democrats.

And another perspective from Morning Joe Scarborough, “Why Should Media Care About Sarah Palin’s Big Fat Weekend of Nothing“:

On Morning Joe, co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were in agreement that they didn’t understand anyone’s fascination with Sarah Palin’s bus tour sweeping the East Coast. Mika suggested, “I don’t know what’s going on there” and Scarborough wondered why they were even wasting time talking about it.

Scarborough declared, “if she decides she wants to run, we’ll talk about it,” but until then he was concerned more about the media’s role:

“So she goes out, she does a big old fat weekend of nothing politically. . . . I’m not knocking Sarah Palin, but the press just swarms around her. It’s like ‘ok Donald Trump is gone, so who do we go to now?’”

When it comes to using the news media to promote herself and her views, do you really believe that Sarah Palin is stupid? LOL

Of course, if they aren’t chasing Sarah Palin around the country, journalists would be in even more of a feeding frenzy on the story unfolding in Italy. It appears that Snooki had an encounter with the police in Florence.

Here’s from the Daily Mail, “Brace Yourselves. Snooki is up to mischief again as she feigns injury after car crash … and is branded a national embarrassment“:

She may have put two Italian police officers in hospital with whiplash, cuts and bruises.

But it seems the car crash she was involved in yesterday is just one big joke to Jersey Shore’s Snooki.

The smiling MTV reality star was pictured today wearing a neck brace in the Renaissance city of Florence – although apparently she didn’t seem to need it.

In what appeared to be mere tomfoolery for the cameras, the 23-year-old TV star is seen whipping off the neck restraint while bursting into fits of laughter.

It comes just hours after Snooki, real name Nicole Polizzi, had her driving licence taken off her following a fender bender, which saw her plough into the side of a police patrol car.

Her behaviour has prompted the president of a national Italian-American group to brand Snooki as the country’s worst ever export.

UNICO President Andre Dimino told celebrity website RadarOnline: ‘She really is the lowest of the low and will do anything for attention, even hitting a police car.

Wonder what Sarah Palin and Snooki think about reporters, editors and TV Talking Heads who spend the bulk of their careers covering these stories — and about how easy it is for celebrities to manipulate the news media these days.

I bet they think the reporters, editors and TV Talking Heads are pretty stupid.

Just sayin’.