Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Golf Summit: Any Talk About Jobs?

OK. I’m on vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado, where the sky is blue, the sun is hot and snow still sits on the top of the mountains above 11,000 feet or so. And trying to run at this altitude is dicey. You’re sucking air and praying for oxygen. But I’ll keep at it. Not much else to do besides biking, hiking, fishing, drinking and eating.

I expect I’ll keep posting regularly from here. Even though I give my entire editorial staff time off when I’m on vacation, somebody (me?) has to keep a watchful eye on current events, major and minor, not the least of which is Hef’s ex-girlfriend Crystal, who appears to be recovering from the stress and disappointment of the non-nuptials.

And, in the years that we’ve come to Breckenridge, I’ve noticed that few people are up at 3 a.m. or so — just like in Northeast Ohio. Go figure.  So I’ll try to opine in the early a.m. while others are doing whatever the hell they are doing at that time of day. I digress.

Anyway, we all know that the Golf Summit held yesterday on the links in DC was more about public perception than substance, although it was billed as a way to talk about the nation’s growing budget deficit and what to do about increasing — or not — the debt limit.

I hope they talked about jobs.  Our nation’s debt — and government spending — are big issues. But getting Americans back to work — and creating quality new jobs for a growing workforce — are the issues people are most interested in. Wonder if that is true Inside the Beltway?

Here’s an interesting perspective from Katrina vanden Heuvel writing in WaPo, “Speaking out for good jobs“:

Weiner’s roast, Palin’s belligerent ignorance, Gingrich’s implosion captivate Washington. Posturing over deficits and playing chicken over lifting the debt limit dominate the economic conversation. The reality facing Americans gets lost in the hubbub.

It is as if an impenetrable fog separates Washington’s follies from America’s agonies. In Washington, the economy is said to be in recovery. Restaurants are full; housing prices are going up. Republicans think it’s time to replay old conservative favorites: Curtail aid to the unemployed, roll back financial and health-care reforms, repeal what left’s of the stimulus while pushing to slash spending and taxes. The Obama administration wants to brag on the 2 million jobs created over the last 15 months, despite “bumps in the road.” The Democrats are so cowed by the elite’s focus on deficits that they are afraid to put forth a jobs plan. Outside of the scandal du jour, the city is fixated on how much and what to cut.

But out in the rest of the country, the damage wrought by the Great Recession worsens. Twenty-five million people are in need of full time work. Teenage unemployment is at 24 percent; among black male teenagers the figure approaches 50 percent. Home values are down one-third from their peak in May 2006 and sinking. Millions of families face foreclosure. Wages aren’t keeping up with prices, particularly for basics like food, gas and medicine. Schools are laying off teachers and shutting down services. College costs are soaring.

Washington offers no answers. The administration wants to “win the future” while getting credit for saving the economy from free-fall. Republicans gleefully obstruct any government action, confident that Obama will get the blame for the struggling economy. Inaction becomes routine. As Paul Krugman put it, “policy makers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there’s nothing they could do.”

For the unemployed and underemployed, and for the sinking middle class, the daily struggle to stay afloat consumes most of their energy. As former labor secretary Robert Reich put it: The jobless “lack the political connections and organizations that would otherwise demand policies to spur job growth. There’s no National Association of Unemployed People with a platoon of Washington lobbyists and a war chest of potential campaign contributions to get the attention of politicians.” This in stark contrast to the billionaires and Beltway elites currently orchestrating the austerity campaign.

Last week, Mitt Romney, while meeting with some people in Florida who are unemployed, joked that he also was unemployed.Hate to say it Mitt, but that’s the kind of elitist Inside the Beltway view that doesn’t have all that many people in the rest of the country laughing.


Hugh Hefner and Reality TV

I guess if he gave any thought to this at all, Hugh Hefner would most likely think it’s weird that I’m sitting here at 3 a.m. in my pajamas pounding out a blog post for my millions thousands handful of daily readers. After all, Hef sits around all day in a bathrobe, surrounded by beautiful women some 60 years his junior, overseeing a publishing empire that I expect is worth millions.

Still, the latest story about Hef strikes me as more than a little weird.

In case you have been spending all your time waiting for a tweet from Anthony Weiner and missed the news, Hef and his fiance, Crystal Harris, have called off their nuptials scheduled for this weekend and slated to be filmed for broadcast on the TV network Lifetime. OK. To take the advice of the great American philosopher Forrest Gump: shit happens.

Still, here’s where the Hef story takes somewhat of a strange turn. The New York Post reported yesterday — and Jonathan Capehart opined about it in WaPo — that Crystal planned to ditch Hef at the alter in front of the TV crew and sell an exclusive interview for $500,000. I report. You decide.

Here’s from the New York Post article:

Hugh Hefner‘s wedding to Crystal Harris was called off after she secretly planned to ditch the Playboy mogul at the altar in return for a $500,000 media deal, Page Six has exclusively learned.

Harris, 25, was shopping for a big-bucks deal to tell all after she ditched hapless Hef, 85, in front of 300 guests at their wedding at the Playboy Mansion on Saturday, to be filmed for a Lifetime TV special.

Yesterday it emerged that the pair had called off the wedding following an argument on Sunday, and the blond bride-no-longer-to-be immediately moved out of the mansion.

Harris had reportedly been secretly seeing Dr. Phil McGraw‘s son, Jordan, for months behind Hef’s back. Jordan is her songwriting partner, and they were seen cozying up at the Chateau Marmont in March.

A source told us, “Crystal wanted to ditch Hef at the altar. Her plan was to walk up the aisle and say she couldn’t go through with it. The wedding was to be filmed for a reality special, and her refusal to marry him would be a sensation. She was looking for a tie-in deal of around $500,000 for the exclusive ‘I ditched Hef at the altar’ interview. While there was interest, Crystal didn’t get an offer anywhere near half a million.”

The former Playmate started dating Hefner in January 2009, and they got engaged last December. It is not known if the Sunday argument was sparked by Hef finding out about her plan to humiliate him. But Harris’ manager, Michael Blakey, told us reports about her cheating with Jordan were “absolutely incorrect” and “total fiction.”

Of her plan to ditch Hef in return for a lucrative media deal, Blakey said that was “not true, to my knowledge.” He said of their split: “I have no idea what happened. All I know is that it was an amicable breakup.”

The cancellation is unfortunate timing for Playboy: Its July issue hits newsstands Friday, with Crystal on the cover. The coverline, according to sources, is “America’s Princess: Introducing Mrs. Crystal Hefner.”

This is interesting in kind of a bizarre way. But I’ll admit it. I wouldn’t have watched the wedding — or not — and any subsequent interviews.

Saying that, I wonder if any of the reality TV producers tried to film the conversation between Congressman Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, who returned to DC yesterday following a trip to Africa with her boss Hillary Clinton.

Now that would be interesting.

Just sayin’.

Don’t Know Much About History?

Ah, what would Sam Cooke say? Cooke opined in a hit song, Wonderful World, released in 1959 (and made popular with another generation — imo — in the flick Animal House in the late ’70s):

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the french I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Wow. They don’t record songs like than anymore.

But Sam’s point remains valid. Doesn’t appear that many high school students in the U.S. know much about history these days.

The NYT reports: “U.S. Students Remain Poor at History, Tests Show“:

American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.

Over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Federal officials said they were encouraged by a slight increase in eighth-grade scores since the last history test, in 2006. But even those gains offered little to celebrate because, for example, fewer than a third of eighth graders could answer even a “seemingly easy question” asking them to identify an important advantage American forces had over the British during the Revolution, the government’s statement on the results said.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision” of the United States Supreme Court in the past seven decades.

Students were given an excerpt including the passage, “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct.

“The answer was right in front of them,” Ms. Ravitch said. “This is alarming.”

Oh, well. Today’s miscreants — tomorrow’s voters. Sigh.

By the way, say what you want, at least Sarah Palin knew Paul Revere made his way through Boston on horseback.

OK. In case you are bored at work and want to take a short break from Facebook and Twitter, here’s Sam Cooke.


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.


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’.